Hello from San Francisco. Starting life in the City by the Sea and what a beautiful city it is. Still moving in, but I did stop by the Paulist Bookstore at Old St. Mary's located at the entrance of Chinatown at California and Grant. There are a couple of other neighborhood photos and I have the help of a Fortuneteller right across the street from my room I will always know what is going to happen.
Over the years I have tried to share with you my experience, strength and hope regarding our faith in Christ Jesus. As we say in AA, we “trudge the road of happy destiny.” It is an apt description of our journey in faith together. It is all about the road - the journey; the destination will take care of itself. The destination is the Kingdom of God and the fact is we have already arrived there, or here if you will. Jesus says “the Kingdom of God IS at hand.” Rules, doctrines even papal pronouncements will not save us; only accepting the invitation into God’s realm will do it. Only by living in our lives the death and resurrection that Jesus lives in us will do it.
The primary invitation into God’s realm is found at the beginning of John’s Gospel: The next day John the Baptist was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples* heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.”
We live in a sea of mercy and love, the sea of redemption but many of us are
unaware of it. Perhaps the realm of God is like a public swimming pool. One of my Paulist professors in the seminary taught himself how to swim by reading a book. We can read the book, learn all the technics, know all the safety rules - becoming experts in the art of swimming but none of it means anything until we dive in. Many Catholics spend their entire lives sitting by the side of the pool, reading the rule books, and never experiencing the joy and failure of actually swimming; and being held by the very water they may fear.
The entry fee into God’s realm is that we be a sinner. There are no self-righteous, perfect, egomaniacs in God’s realm only avowed sinners. Jesus says: “I came to call sinners, not the self-righteous.” The entry fee is simply to accept the unconditional love of God and to share this Good News with others.
Life in this sea of mercy and love is all about expanding our awareness of God’s saving presence. In this pool, this community of faith we call Church, is about becoming more and more aware of the other swimmers - enjoying the fact that the sea of love and mercy is sustaining and holding us all up so that none of us drown. Each and every day, everyone we see from afar or touch - all are living in the realm of God; many just don’t know it. All of us are in the same public pool - no exceptions.
Some folks are swimming well, others not so much. The future of our parish, the future of the Church depends not so much on well conceived plans, programs or even homilies but on how well we come to aid those in trouble, to make sure that all are welcomed here no matter what - no exceptions. The Christians of the first century were not noted for their creeds, or eloquence, or fancy liturgy but in how they loved one another - cared for one another. It is still true today. May people say of us, “see how they love one another.”
I believe this is only the second time in forty-two years that I have actually preached on Mother’s Day. This past Wednesday marked my 42nd year of ordination. Now I feel like I am between the proverbial rock and a hard place because the day after ordination my mother said “don’t ever preach about mothers on Mother’s Day.” It isn’t that she didn’t like being a mother but she was tired of the insipid things she heard priests say on Mother’s Day. They don’t know what they are talking about and she didn’t want me following suit; and she was absolutely right; I don’t know the first thing about being a mother.
Thank God we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension today, for I will have something to talk about. We need to view this feast in context. The context is much larger than we may think. The ascension and resurrection were not just event that took place 2,000 years ago; but event that are happening right now, in us. Jesus is rising from the dead in us, each day. Jesus is ascending in us daily. The feast of the ascension is the feast of our empowerment. We along with the disciples are the ones empowered from on high to do in our day what Jesus did. The ascension isn’t about Jesus going away but rather plunging ever more deeply into a world in need of healing through us. Jesus’ ascension took place in a very broken world; there were still the diseased, the crippled, those on the edges of society not allowed in. We celebrate the ascension today in a very broken world, starving for healing, love and acceptance. Jesus Himself was crushed beyond recognition in His passion and death. But, Jesus witnessed to and believed in His heavenly parent; Jesus witnessed and believed in His mother Mary and this witnessing and believing changed everything.
Most of us did not grow up in Hallmark Card or Norman Rockwell family paintings. Each of us, like the disciples in our readings today have been given a legacy. While I know very little about motherhood I do know my mother. She was not perfect. She suffered from agoraphobia and her idea of a hamburger patty was a hockey puck on steroids. Still, she loved me deeply and I found trust and comfort in her presence. Despite weaknesses she had strength and faith beyond imagining. She taught, not by a lot of rules but by example. I never remember either my mom and dad having to beg me to attend church because it was obvious how much it meant to them; and in that elevated my own expectations.
Jesus learned about His Jewish origins and faith tradition through His mother, He believed them and lived them. Jesus in turn taught not with rules but by example and told us to go forth and do likewise. Good parents want their children to soar, to live life free and happy. Good parents know how to set their children free.
That moment of setting free or being set free is one fraught with anxiety and we see that played out in our readings. How are we going to get along without Him? Jesus thinking, I hope they will be alright - and they will be alright because of what I have given and will give them. Suddenly we feel alone, maybe abandoned; we have to assess what we have and sometimes we just stare, looking back, looking forward — stunned. Then we take those first tentative steps, and realize that we too can soar.
Today we remember and celebrate our source. Most of us are far removed from the moment we were first set free. Most of us know that we don’t always soar. We have times of doubt, feelings of inadequacy, wondering if we can make it through another day; so we remember our source be it our natural family, or an adopted family and always our faith. This feast of the ascension is our constant invitation, to live, to love, to soar with abandon.
“Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight, I got a feelin something ain’t right…, Clowns to the left of me — jokers to the right — Here I am — stuck in the middle with you…” Steelers Wheel — from the movie Reservoir Dogs — captures the mood of our service this evening.
Being stuck in the middle is not a comfortable place to be, just think of getting the middle seat on an overbooked airplane. Or think of being at a stand still, idling on I-5. We are often stuck in the middle, between yesterday and tomorrow, between yes and no, between going forward or retreating.
The words of this song aptly describe the position of Jesus at this moment; stuck between two thieves, stuck between a jeering mob and people who love Him, stuck between earth and heaven.
What to do? There were many moments in the Passion Story where Jesus might have opted out to change the ending of the story, but He didn’t. Jesus believed in His mission, maintained His integrity and stayed true to His and His heavenly Father/s fundamental option for the poor and the oppressed. Integrity is not a virtue vividly evident in our society, certainly not in our politics at the moment. Integrity is a gritty and strong virtue that has real consequences and to achieve it we need to get comfortable being stuck in the middle.
St. Francis stood in this position with the poor of Assisi. Gandhi stood in this position with he poor of India against the powerful British Empire. Martin Luther King stood for the rights of blacks in our own country, Archbishop Romero stood in the breach for the poor of El Salvador, Mother Theresa for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, Dorothy Day on the streets of NYC, those on flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania farm on 911. These people all believed in their mission, stood fast and accepted the consequences.
I think I can presume that none of us consider ourselves in league with the likes of these people and yet, we are. They are our sisters and brothers; their lives call out the best in us. They have lived the great truth of the cross and the heresy that I love to proclaim — Jesus doesn’t save us from anything but shows us the way through — redeems all of our doubts, fears and anxieties leading us to new life. All these people began in a life blessed with all they need and yet each of them heard the cry of the poor and responded with their lives no matter the cost. They caught the spirit of integrity of the cross, the life and mission of Jesus and asks us to go and do the same.
We are living amid much fear and anxiety — some are calling us to retreat and give up our cherished values of justice and acceptance so all can pursue a life of freedom and liberty. The cross calls us to utter a profound NO to retreat and a profound YES to all calling out to us in desperation. We can be the clowns or jokers to the left and the right or we can take up our cross and revel that we are stuck in the middle with each other as we trudge the road of new and fuller life for all.
Easter Homily 2016
Tonight we remember our origins and celebrate our destiny. We began in darkness, hearing the Spirit of God hovering over troubled waters, and we end in communion at the banquet of the Lord. Each year we Passover, from fear and slavery to new life in Christ. We remind ourselves that we are Kingdom people, we are living and growing in the realm of Christ’s victory over darkness, fear and death and learn each year the LOVE is stronger than death.
Outside the city of Portland is shrouded in the darkness of nightfall. There are a multitude of darknesses in almost every corner of our planet. Hatred, war, terror, the homeless and hungry, greed and narcissism, the darkness of ignorance and and apathy. So much darkness we can be brought to our knees. When we are brought to our knees, we might, just might hear the silence in the darkness. “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…” It is in darkness and silence that God spoke the first creative Word.
Perhaps the greatest darkness we feel is the darkness of grief and loss. Grief over the death of someone we loved to be sure. Then there is the darkness of hopelessness, that life isn’t turning out the way we expected it to be. There is a line of dialogue in the movie the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that goes: “will you stay? I don’t know what I shall do, nothing has worked out quite the way I expected. Most things don’t but what happens instead is the good stuff.” That movie is all about letting go, plunging into darkness and finding new life on the other side.
The strong women in this evening’s Gospel rise up in the darkness of early morning. Undeterred they go to the tomb, ignore the stone that has been rolled away and plunge into it’s darkness to find even more darkness; the one they loved is not there. In the darkness they remember, remember the hope and the life that Jesus promised and their first response is to run to the others, to run to community. This is when the good stuff really begins. I believe there is a lot more dialogue, a lot more chatter than what is presented in the Gospel stories. Can you imagine the excited chatter as each try to fill in the blanks of what others have just said. “Well, Jesus said this, and Jesus said that, and Oh, oh, do you remember when he…. the list must have been endless and excited.
The question in the movie and the question in the Gospel is “will we stay?” There are two places where I feel very safe, in the rooms of AA and here with you in prayer. Both places are places where I can plunge into what ever darkness I am experiencing, here I can bring my brokenness, fears, anxieties, failed hopes and dreams. This is where we can bring all of that and have it transformed into light.
We are Kingdom people. We are the salt of the earth and light for the world. Here we receive the strength to light up all the dark corners of our world, to care for the poor and oppressed. This table unites heaven and earth, and this table draws us together to be promise and h