Saturday, October 26, 2013

October 27 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14
Today’s Reflection:
A few months ago Pope Francis caused quite a stir with his response to a social issue that has been a defining cause of the church in the last few decades. When asked a question about gay and lesbian people, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” In five words he summed up much of what Jesus tried to teach us: those of us who call ourselves Christian are God’s examples and the guides in the world for the world: God is the judge. Because we do not want to wait for his judgment, we prefer a system with an authority who provides an answer. Popes and many other religious leaders willingly accept the mantle of judge we hang over them. Each of today’s passages take us to an event when God is the judge and see the various responses to his judgment.

By the fourteenth chapter of Jeremiah, the people of Israel have reached the point that they recognize the many sins they and previous generations have committed and they beseech God to forego the impending punishment. Their pitiful pleas go unanswered and they blame God (while still recognizing that he is the one true god). Their thinking followed the logic that even though they messed up, God - as God - could fix it. They missed the part of the confession that led to a right position (contrition, humility) with God. Instead they continued repeating the same sins.

Paul, in these verses near the end of 2 Timothy, knows his execution will happen soon and accepts it as a judgment of man which he contrasts with the judgment of God. Though the human powers can take his physical life, he maintains confidence that God’s ultimate judgment will find him to have been a faithful servant who did as he was commanded. He saw himself as nothing more than a mouthpiece for God and by being that voice and nothing more he kept in the right relationship with God. If God spared his physical life as he had done in the past, there was more for him to do. If God did not, then his part of the work was complete.

Jesus’s parable in Luke 18:9-14 puts the two approaches toward relationship with God in the characters of two individuals. The Pharisee held on to the same idea as the Israelites in Jeremiah: I am so much better (judgment) than everyone around (and it goes double because God made me this way). Meanwhile the tax collector, a person of some authority with his position, demonstrates the Pauline attitude, recognizing he is at the mercy of God. I cannot find any translation in which Jesus’s lesson is not absolute. The moment we take for ourselves any authority that belongs to God, we have moved into the wrong relationship with God and are the ones facing judgment.

The rebels we want to be reject the law of the Old Testament. The humans we are seek rules for the New Covenant. Pope Francis’s statement about his role as judge, or rather his role avoiding judgment reminds us that we are God’s examples and guides in the world for the world. Christ’s Covenant is based on our relationship to him. Our charge to live his teaching as examples of Christ and guide people to him demand that we build relationships with the people in the world. The better we do at building relationships, the less judgment will be needed. I think God prefers relationship to separation; I know I do. When we keep this in mind it may be just a little easier to be and example of Christ in our next encounter.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8
Today’s Reflection:
In my building I provide the first line of technology support. When a computer, printer, copier, phone, etc. does not work the way it is anticipated to work, someone yells for me (it is a small building). Very often fault lies in the “anticipated” way the machine should work because it does not match the way the machine actually works. A little bit of education resolves that problem. When there is an actual issue with a machine, my next step is to stare at it thoughtfully for a few moments, press a few buttons and then turn it off and back on. A simple reset almost always solves the issue with the machine. The readings today reflect times when God did a reset with his people.

The Jeremiah passage begins with God about to turn Israel and Judah back on. They had been turned off because of the broken covenant. Conquerors overran the land and carried the people and livestock away. Because the people violated the prior covenant, God put in place a new covenant with the people coming to the land. This covenant bridged the first covenant with the people and the covenant we have through Christ. God promised he would not punish all the people for the sins of some, but that each person would be held accountable for his/her own sins because God placed the law in their hearts rather than restricting it to scrolls in the Temple. The law was not replaced; it became personal to each individual.

By the time Jesus arrived, the religious powers had again turned the law from the personal guidelines God made to an oppressive black/white application of the law. With the absolute application of the law, some groups benefitted and some did not. Jesus’s parable of the old woman pursuing justice until the judge relented, giving her the justice she should have had from the beginning because her protestations wore him down, demonstrated how God’s justice for us all is swift, but that humankind can pervert the intention of the guidelines for that justice into ways that profit them at the expense of God’s justice. The widow’s faith/determination/persistence delivered the expected justice that did not always happen in the society. Jesus reminded those hearing that their faithful prayers would bring God’s justice - the key being the faithful prayers.

In the passage from the second letter to Timothy, Paul recognized certain sacred writings extant throughout Timothy’s life that instructed people in the faith. He declared that they were able to perform for Christians under the salvation covenant what the law did for the Israelites before: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The teaching of salvation through Christ was the reset that came under this latest covenant. Instead of the law, the covenant was based on the relationship with Christ (God).

Pauls history as a Jewish leader gave him experiences that few others had. When he warns the church about groups turning or twisting the teachings to their benefit he knows how this was done from first-hand experience. Jesus’s teachings only gave two rules; everything else was guidance on how to live and bring honor to oneself and God. Paul knew that whether it was law or teaching people would alter, interpret, or emphasize it in ways that would most benefit them and warned the church to beware of anyone whose teaching did not follow the intent of Jesus’s teachings. So many of Jesus’s parables, like the one today, pointed out how misguided people (religious leaders, judges) were by enforcing the letter of the law while completely missing the intent.

God provided opportunities for nations and individuals throughout history to reset.  They realized (or were conquered and exiled to drive home the point) that they had strayed from God’s direction and then had the opportunity to return to the right relationship with God. What a great relief to know that when we break the covenant and stray from God’s intent we are always welcome back.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Peace and Greetings to all of you.

I know it has been quite a long time since I have posted to this blog, but I have made a commitment to Roy that I am going to get back on the horse regarding this weekly blog - reflecting on Sunday's readings (with my perspective from the Roman Catholic Lectionary, while Roy's perspective is from the Revised Common Lectionary).  Since I returned from church this morning, I have been contemplating what to post here today.  Roy did a nice job reflecting on the readings for this weekend (as he always does), so I have decided that for this week (my first week back) that I am going to post/write something else - with a little bit of reflection on healing, why I have been away for so long, and why it is important to break open the Word weekly.

So let me start with why I have been away for so long...

And I guess you could say that I am being vulnerable in my writing.

Some of you know through my writing and reflections that I have served a Catholic parish music director, organist and liturgist for the last 13 years.  When I was 19 years old, I was hired in a very large suburban parish to take over a music program that was falling to pieces.  I was a sophomore in college and had just started getting into my theological and pastoral studies at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio.  On September 30th, just two weeks ago, I resigned from that position.  I must admit that the 13 years went by quickly, but it is becoming more and more "real" to me that I will be leaving a community that has loved and cared for me for the last 13 years.  Many things have happened over the last 13 years in that community that have formed and shaped me into who I am today - through two college degrees, lay ministerial formation in the seminary, as well as advanced studies is grief, bereavement, trauma/loss, palliative care, and pastoral counseling.  I also advanced my liturgical skills and knowledge during that time, as well as my musical skills and ability.  Quite a combination I must say.  But nonetheless, a combination that can lead to ministerial burn out.  During my time at my parish, I also took on a full time job at Catholic Charities in the arena of bereavement and grief.  During the last 6 years, I found many ways to use the healing properties of music while working with bereavement and grief clients; truly rewarding. 

But within the last year, things started changing for me in parish life, and my bereavement/grief profession.  Staff changes occurred, personalities changed, schedules changed, and my own personal situation changed.  A new awakening to "what I was doing" and "why" came to light.  This past spring I entered a period of discernment on where I wanted to go in this ministry, and what I wanted and needed from it.  Through that discernment period came the realization that it was time to move on from the parish, and that I needed to make a decision on when I was going to begin my departure.  So, as I have said earlier in this blog, on September 30th, I gave my 30 day notice to my pastor that I would be leaving at the end of the month.  I think I may have stunned a lot of people - and it has been very hard these last several weeks since I have announced my departure.  So many people have come up to me and have thanked me for my 13 years of service to the parish community.  Last weekend, after telling my choir that I was leaving - the entire alto section of the choir sat there are cried during Mass.  I must admit - that was rough! 

During the discernment period - I came to the conclusion that I needed a lot of healing, and that my healing journey was about to begin, but not until I physically removed myself from the parish community.  I discovered that I needed healing from relationships (work, personal and family), as well as healing from being on an ever-crazy liturgical and work schedule.  The crazy schedule is part of the reason why I have been away for so long...but also realizing that I have been struggling with anxiety and depression over the job, as well as dealing with disc herniation in my back which generally cause terrible sciatic pain down my left leg (which I have been dealing with for two years).  Within the last several months, a new position opened up for me at Catholic Charities, and I decided that it was time to take well as turn in my resignation to my parish.

Why do I say all of this?  What does this have to do with healing?

The gospel reading this weekend for Roman Catholic's is Luke 17:11-19.  It is the story of the ten lepers that Jesus met as he was journeying in Jerusalem.  The lepers looked at Jesus and said, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"  Jesus then tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and miraculously - they were cleansed.  One of the lepers, after realizing that he was healed, returned to Jesus, fell at his feet, and thanked him.  The leper gave GLORY to GOD for the healing that had taken place.  How often do we turn to God and give glory for the healing that takes place in our lives?  How often do we think about what need healing in our lives? 

I have realized within the last 6 months that I have needed (and continue to need) healing.  I would encourage you this week to make a list of what needs to be healed in your life.  It might be from a physical malady, or maybe it is emotional healing.  Maybe you need healing with members of your family who have caused harm or burden in your life (I can attest to this).  Maybe you need healing in your professional career/work life.  Take those burdens and put them at the foot of the cross.  Then ask God for healing.  Then give praise and thanks.  Break open God's Word and let God in to your heart.  It is through the silent times and the silent hours that God speaks to us the most. 

It is good to be back and it is great to be writing again.  I look forward to getting back to breaking open the Word with all of you weekly. 

Peace and blessings on your week.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

October 13 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19
Today’s Reflection:
Protocol schmotocol. So much of protocol serves only a bureaucratic function and slows down my personal productivity. As a result, I skirt it whenever I can. Needless to say, that does not make me popular with the beneficiaries of the bureaucratic function, but it does allow me to be more efficient at accomplishing my daily tasks. Today’s passages recall how some individuals serving God worked around protocol issues.

The passage in 2 Kings could be the plot of a spy novel with the degrees of diplomatic intrigue. Communication lines get crossed. Messages are misunderstood. Cultural differences create angst and distress. The hero does what heroes do and saves the day. Israel was unique among countries in that the prophets did not work for the king, they worked for God and quite often called the king out for various misdeeds. Therefore, protocol required that the Aramean king send a letter to the king of Israel asking for his military commander be cured of his affliction by the prophet of whom they had heard. Because the structure was different in Israel, it caused great distress in the palace because the king had no way to grant the request and saw it as a provocation rather than an earnest request for assistance.

Fortunately the prophet knew what was going on and had the commander come to him, but again did not follow the expected protocol for the Arameans. He sent a messenger out with directions for the great and powerful leader. Worse yet, they were simple directions: bathe seven times in the Jordan. For a society that was guided by strict protocol such simple steps did not live up to the extensive ritual they expected. Nevertheless, when the leader consented and followed the directions, he was healed.

So many points can be made from the passage, but he primary point is that God controls the situation regardless of who is involved. When we follow his direction, everything works. Protocol means nothing, which was Paul’s point in 2 Timothy when he commented about arguing over “words.”  The world was being forced to change from a law based religion system of worship to one that was based on a loving relationship between God and the follower. Jesus’s encounter with the lepers further demonstrated the point. Faithful, loving obedience to God’s direction achieves more than we can imagine.

Sadly, the church of today continues to argue over the “words” Paul warned against and to exclude the “foreigner”  that Christ so generously welcomed. We often prefer the protocol over relationship because protocol gives us the black-or-white definiteness we seek: yes or no is easier than maybe. Relationships do not give us a that definitiveness we find comforting, but they provide even deeper rewards.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 6 - Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10
Today’s Reflection:
At my job we are in the middle of a major project that will extend into next year. To move forward to the next major step with one of my tasks,  there was a significant amount of information I needed to gather and organize for analysis. One of our partners told me where I could find the information and I spent the better part of a day gathering it. When I began looking at the information I gathered, I realized that it was largely useless. My first response was to warn my department secretary that she may hear profanity coming from my office. After stepping back and taking a few deep breaths, I decided to mine the information for what was valuable. Most of what I was looking for was not there, but when I changed my attitude, I found some value in what I had.  The scriptures today have us considering where we are focusing our energy. When we focus our energy in the right direction we find ourselves in the right place with God.

The prophet Habakkuk found himself in a land with much injustice and wickedness.  The righteous recognized situation and sought God’s intervention. They wondered if God heard their cry and he sends a message through the prophet: it will come.

Psalm 3 helps us have that focus. It directs us to not be disturbed by the wicked, but instead focus on the Lord. The wicked and everything associated with them is temporary. The things of the Lord are eternal. When we let ourselves focus on the wickedness and wrongdoing, that is where our mind rests - and it opens us to those ideas and can lead to a separation from God.

Paul warns Timothy of the same thing. Do not be concerned with the things happening to him and challenged faced by the young church. He reminds Timothy of the generations of faith in his own family that came before him and the essential facts of faith on which he should focus and celebrate. Wickedness and greed are a part of the world as much as faith and generosity.  Choosing to dwell on the activities of faith keep us in the righteous path with our Lord.

Jesus says basically the same thing to the apostles. They asked for more faith and he assured them they had sufficient faith to accomplish anything they wanted. They perceived Christ’s faith as something to be desired, but did not recognize the faith they have within themselves. His direction to them was, learn how to manage what you have. He wanted them to remember all the things they were able to do in his name instead of focusing only on the things he had done.

Having our mind in the right place makes all the difference in our connection to God. The world around us holds so many distractions that it is easy to find ourselves looking at them, frustrated by all that is going on. When we are willing to give up any control we think we have over the evil in the world and focus on the things we are able to do through our faith, the more at peace and right with the Lord we will be. Avoiding being drawn into the wrong is challenging, but we have the tools to do it - Jesus told us we did; we just have to make the best of what we have and we will be astonished at what can happen.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts.