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Advent 2 2018 Peace

Christ’s coming, Paul tells us was to reconcile the world to God; to bring two estranged parties back together. God had created people to live with Him in the Garden of Eden. This was to be a life of communion, of pastoral bliss with humans and the rest of creation living in harmony, with the earth providing sustenance for all, apparently with little painstaking work. An Idyllic garden it was to be, with the creatures being blessed to live their lives in shalom. But you know the story – the humans rebel, not appreciating what they had and poking God in the eye with a sharp stick. Yes, God had said, “eat of everything…except.” Well, they had eaten and the problem was now manifest. Knowing the difference between right and wrong – good and evil – they were now responsible for themselves before God. And they knew it. That’s why they were hiding from God when He came looking for them. Once we’ve sinned; once we’ve gone against God, there is nothing we can do to “not have done that.” We can’t…
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Advent 1 2018 Hope

Advent is a period of waiting, a period of assurance, and a period of expectation. During Advent, we remember and join Israel’s desire and promise that God would come and redeem her, restore her to Himself as His people. For us, we recall and imagine the faithful coming of God to fulfill that promise and we remember His promise to the disciples to return yet again and gather us to Him. The four Sundays of Advent each have their own theme. This year we will use the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love for these reflections.
We know the story of Job and his quandary. He believes himself to be righteous and yet his world has literally been destroyed, except for his wife. Her advice to him is “curse God and die.” Job is miserable, sitting in ashes and covered with boils on top of everything and everyone he has lost. Seeing her husband suffer, her solution is to just go all the way and give God a reason to kill you – curse Him and get it over with. Job, his wife and Job’s friends believe th…

Kingdom Power

Mark’s travel narrative, or the central section of his Gospel, stretches from chapter 8 through chapter 10. In this section, Jesus is traveling, after the Transfiguration to Jerusalem to be killed. During this trip, we get some of the most interesting and frustrating passages – for Jesus no doubt, and us as we almost groan at the lack of perception of the disciples. We can’t dump too much on them though, because we have the whole story and they didn’t - they’re just trying to make this up as they go – and they seemingly trip over their own feet almost with every step. For Mark, these guys must have seemed clueless but he wouldn’t have called them that.
This section is a tour de force of the central part of Jesus’s teaching – that the kingdom of God isn’t run along the same lines as the world is. And so here we have a series of vignettes telling us that the power of God isn’t in the flash-bang, in your face raw power that Israel was expecting and that neither the disciples or we fully g…

Don't Focus On Your Sins - God Doesn't

Oftentimes we are told that the way to come to God is to be sorry for your sins and to ask God to forgive you of them. Whether we are discussing the Sinner’s Prayer, an altar call, or “praying through,” this idea that focuses on our sin is ubiquitous in Christendom and a common refrain on religious radio and television shows. This theme is often supported with the story of the Prodigal Son who we are told, came to his senses, felt bad, and decided to ask to be a servant. These ideas will preach and they have for centuries. 
They’re wrong. 

The invitation from God isn’t “feel bad and ask for forgiveness.” Rather the invitation of God is to return to him; to come home. In this sense the Prodigal Son story is correct – come to your senses and come back where you belong. But what about our sins? 
Well, God says He will not pay attention to them. Why and when does God not pay attention to our sins? The answer is simple – when we come home. It is the coming home that matters. This return invol…

Ministering Angels

"Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1.14.

Wow! Did you read that? Angels serve for your sake. Sent from the throne of God and Jesus, angels serve your interests. Let's try and wrap our heads around the implication of these things. The Creator God made the world for you to live in - as his own image and in his presence. Even though we messed that up, that same Creator God sent his Son into the world to reveal to us the Father; the Father's character and love for humankind. He did that for you. Then, after the ascension of the Son, the Father sent the Spirit - his own Spirit into our very beings to nudge, to witness, to correct us on our journey of transformation into the most perfect image of God - the likeness of Jesus. But even more fascinating still, the angels are sent from the throne of God for you.

The entire enterprise is focused - from God's perspective - on you. The …

The Current Catholic Quagmire

The Catholic Church is at least putatively an organization oriented toward forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. In fact, Paul tells his readers that his ministry is specifically one of reconciliation - between Man and God, and between all persons. Paul will also tell us that he doesn’t quite understand why disciples go to court with disciples - surely the body of Christ has the wherewithal to discern justice within its members. The entire rite of penance is to correct and restore rather than punish wrongdoing, and that within an atmosphere of confidentiality and grace. Your priest, after all, isn’t supposed to publish your transgressions in next week’s parish newsletter or assign you inhumane or even harsh penance. This is intended to communicate God’s and our acceptance of imperfect humans as our brothers and sisters, and to restore them to right standing with God and the community. Christian discipline isn’t intended to punish but rehabilitate. It is understandable then, at lea…

The Kingdom of God Is Now

We have mentioned a number of times and we will no doubt mention it again, that Christianity isn’t only about something that happened 2000 years ago. Oh yes, the coming of the Christ in real time was the hinge point of all history but if we simply think of our faith as expressive only of that coming, we have missed the purpose of the incarnation.
The Gospels tell us of the event and provide little future thinking. Their purposes included to authenticate the life of Jesus and to establish his claim to be the Messiah and the savior of the world. Within the Gospels there are indications that the events recorded will impact the future,  but their themes are God’s keeping His promise to Israel.
It isn’t until we enter the world of Acts and read the epistles that we get the idea firmly established that the message of Jesus is applicable to all, and is expected to have an impact far into the future. The Spirit is given to empower and help the new communities of disciples grow in the character…

Now Abide These Three

Love, Paul tells the Corinthians never fails; it never ends. In speaking about the gifts of the Spirit he tells them eventually some of their current gifts will end but that there are three things that will continue: faith, hope, and love. These last three are related to one another in a variety of ways for disciples of Jesus. Faith, probably better understood as faithfulness, fidelity, or even allegiance speaks to an on-going alignment with Jesus as our teacher and mentor. Living our lives in consonance with the way in which Jesus lived his is the very basic expectation of a disciple and the first evidence that a disciple is, in fact, a disciple. Being gentle, being kind, and such like, but at the same time not failing to align ourselves with Jesus and the God to whom he points are the parameters of a disciple’s life.

Hope provides a bit of the reasoning that we can continue to be disciples, and points in a couple directions. Hope as we know, isn’t the childish, “I hope I get a red wa…

The Enterprise

Over the past 2000 years, Christian communities have largely come to focus - almost exclusively - on doctrinal tenets and common activities that occur “in church.” This isn’t surprising overly much because the history of the early church at least was in many instances and locations - although certainly not all - characterized by rejection by established systems including Jewish and Roman social structures and authorities. It is understandable then that the communities would begin to focus on their times together, protected from outsiders and buttressing each other’s faith and commitment. They still lived their lives, but having defined communities likely allowed them an identity that was both concrete and safe.Over time - and certainly after the faith was putatively “legal” - and for a number of social reasons no doubt, the local sign of the community became their meeting places and having been shaped in fear their practices became tradition and sources of comfort and normalcy. They w…