Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hope Is Alive... vast, it's overwhelming - and yet, so elusive at times, it's a bit scary...

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Word:
2 Kings 4:42-44 (Elisha's receipt of the first fruits of harvest are shared with the people; there was some left, as God willed)
Psalm 145:10-18 (The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs)
Ephesians 4:1-6 (Paul calls for unity of the spirit through the bond of peace)
John 6:1-15 (The Bread of Life Discourse, Prologue: Jesus feeds the multitudes on five barley loaves and two fish)

and: (UMC) Romans 5:1-11 (In justification through Christ we are given hope, which does not disappoint because the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit)

Sign for Our Times:

Bang Your Head!
Thankfully, you won't find this one along the road. Today I have to be thankful for the creative person who had enough time on his or her hands to come up with this!

The lesson I have brought home from the weekend's 'worship experiences' (a term I have to consider carefully, as it could easily be taken improperly) that I'm very human.

I also admit I was wondering where I would go with this, considering I'd already dealt with the Bread of Life Discourse right after Easter. After I'd finally said "Done!" to the daily musings I'd posted during Lent and Eastertide, I realized that this is something that I wanted to continue doing, as it was a way to sort out mundane life and find the better moments in them.

Theologically, I'm sure most readers will have read or heard it all before - Jesus feeds thousands on five loaves of bread and two fish. This leads to the lengthy discourse that it is not merely physical hunger that Jesus is satisfying. But it is in the way that this miracle is described by John that strikes me as important today.

It's clear that the disciples lack the resources to feed such a large group. When asked, Philip says that even two hundred days' wages - 7-1/2 months of labor - would not be enough to feed everyone more than bread crumbs. It's also clear that these men - all considered adults (with the possible exception of John), couldn't seem to think outside the box. When a boy offers the five loaves and two fish, Andrew comments what is plainly evident - that this isn't going to be enough.

It's the boy's humble offering, though, that makes all the difference in the world. Through this act of selfless charity and innocence, all are fed to the full, with a dozen baskets of excess to boot. It is not what is given, but what is behind the act of giving that makes all the difference.

There's a lot to learn from this, stuff that I as yet still see just moments too late.

As I made my way home with my son this morning, I discovered that one of the tires on my car needed air. I stopped to take care of this, having my trusted gauge - an inexpensive item no motorist should be without, as many air stations don't have the built-in gauges. As I was attending to my low tire, another motorist pulled into the station. He asked me if the unit had a built-in gauge, and I answered that unfortunately it didn't. About thirty seconds later it came to me that it wouldn't take that much time to offer the man the use of my gauge and simply wait while he attended to his car. By that time, though, he had left.

And that's just a small thing. Place on top of that so-called 'conventional wisdom' when it comes to dealing with anything out of the 'ordinary': caring for an aging parent who can't take care of him/herself the way s/he once did; struggling with raising a child with autism or any life-changing condition; even struggling to make healthy choices regarding diet and physical activity. These challenges in life are answered with hope through the Bread of Life.

The constant reminders of what is wrong in our world numb us to the point where we begin to give up hope. Yet hope is indeed alive. Hope will rarely let adversity take the upper hand. Hope opens the door for inspiration, for thinking outside the box, to make possible that which seems utterly impossible.

My dear wife practices Reiki - in a simplified nutshell, she is a spiritual healer. Today she confided in me that she is compelled to reach out to people in deep need, even when she knows well enough that their track record most likely got them to this low place. She said it makes her crazy doing so (her words), but the compulsion is too great to walk away. She 'gets it', though, where many others do not. She doesn't go to lengths to explain it; she just does it. The explanations can come later for the interested.

That's what Jesus would do - and what the next four Sundays will address - the explanation of how he makes possible what would otherwise be a dream, left to die without hope of fulfillment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Sheep

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Word:
Jeremiah 23:1-6 (RC - "Woe to the shepherds who have misled and scattered the flock of God's pasture...I will raise up a righteous shoot to David")
2 Samuel 7:1-14 (UMC - "Should you build me a house to dwell in?")
Psalm 23 (RC - The Lord is my shepherd)
Psalm 89:20-37 (UMC - He shall cry to me, 'You are my God, who brings me victory')
Ephesians 2:13-18 (RC; 2:11-22 UMC - Christ is peace and hope to all)
Mark 6:30-34 (RC; +6:53-56 UMC - Jesus had pity on the people assembled, for they were as sheep without a shepherd)

Sign for Our Times:

Motorists traveling through parts of Arizona may encounter this "Sheep Crossing" sign.

Sheep raising is more prevalent in the western US than in other parts of the country. It's even bigger in other parts of the world - New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland come to mind as places where sheep might outnumber the human population in places.

That said, it is often hard for us suburban and city folks to identify with all these shepherding references in the Bible. Even though we're savvy enough to understand that this was a steady profession at the time of Jesus, we can't easily wrap our brains around the concept.

Today I heard those references put in a context that I most readily understand - music.

It's really quite simple - God is the Composer; Jesus, the Conductor; and we are the musicians; members of the band, as it were. If the band's supposed to be playing a ballad and the guitar starts 'rocking out' (or the piano player gets rather funky), Jesus is going to leave the band on stage and go after that wayward musician. And if the singers don't harmonize well? The sound produced is not very good. But when there's good harmony? Oh, what beautiful music we can make! (Thanks, Father Dennis!)

Do we listen to each other? Do we listen to God? Do we have an ear trained to understand that some of us are meant to be drummers, and others more suited to the clarinet, the glockenspiel, or the French horn? Or, as Isaiah writes, Are we like sheep gone astray; every one to his or her own way?

It's the director's (or conductor's) mission in music to interpret what the composer has written and assure that Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony indeed sounds pastoral. Yes, music is a subjective area - and many a contemporary artist has tried 'updating' a classic piece of music, putting a different spin on the original composition. Those who are successful at this do so without removing the feel and overall ambience of the original. In another context, while improving the wheel it's not reinvented.

At this point in the cycle of readings, the stage is being set for one of the greatest of Jesus' presentations of God's eternal concert. He will speak to the assembly at some length; and then, being as considerate as he is, will feed the large crowd - not just with words, and not just with food; but with his very essence. Beginning next week and for the next five weeks, we will once again consider Jesus as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Hope, Promise, and Salvation.

Prayer: God, you created us with such great potential - and yet, many times, we act much like sheep in the pasture. Help us to see Your will, your plan, your composition for life and the part we play in it. And may the music we raise truly be a worthy song in praise of Your glory, power, wisdom, and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When The Going Gets Rough...

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Word:
Amos 7:12-15 (Amos, a shepherd and 'dresser of sycamores' is chosen to serve God as a prophet)
Psalm 85:9-14 (Justice shall walk before God, and prepare the way of His steps)
Ephesians 1:3-14 (In Christ God has given us every spiritual blessing)
Mark 6:7-13 (Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach: "Whatever place does not welcome you...leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them")

Sign for Our Times:

Between the long winter, the wet spring, the uncertain summer thus far, and the lack of resources, it doesn't take much to feel that just about every road has become rough.

Life's road can be pretty rough at times, too.

There are times, it seems, that the road that leads to Heaven isn't even paved; let alone the condition of the pavement where it is in need of work.

On Saturday I came to another level of understanding that the road ahead for several people I know and love is going to be even rougher than they've experienced up to now. And by the very fact that I know this adds the probability of several rough places I will have to make my way through carefully.

The "Rough Road" sign warns of two things. First, it tells the traveler that he/she must use extra care and safe practices to traverse this stretch safely. Second, it's a warning to "use at your own risk." If a safer route is available, it might be in your best interest to alter your route.

Sometimes, though, there is no choice. You might have to get to somebody who lives on that sorry stretch of road - or you might live along it yourself. And you really think it's about time that the appropriate jurisdictional authority would get over here and fix the road, making it safer for travel once more; but it just doesn't want to work out that way. If you were one of those types who knew the roads "like the back of his hand" you'd pray that they'd just close the road altogether; but as long as somebody lives there, the road - with its many bumps, dips, and potholes - has to remain open, regardless of how desolate it looks or how impossible it seems to have to use it.

If you're a person who's never experienced a rough spot in your life, you are indeed blessed and hopefully thankful. But I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of adults have traveled at least one rough road in life's journey, and usually more. Some have never known the joys of a smooth ride through any part of life. And no matter how optimistic an outlook you have on life, our best guess is that the location of our golden years is far from the idyllic utopia we mapped out in the dreams of younger days.

Whether we're an unlikely prophet like Amos, or pressed into service such as the Apostles, or just trying to make it through another day, we're all on a journey. Yesterday's events for me were a reminder that the journey gets a little rougher along the way. It's a blessing to know that this journey is not one you travel alone. A firm sense of faith, a hefty helping of hope, and lots of love go a long way to smooth out the rough spots. Please pray with me today for those people in your life who are going down a rougher road. Most likely they did not choose that route deliberately. Please also pray for the people whose rough lives and situations are known only to God who, as the prophet Isaiah writes, can exalt every valley, level the mountains and hills, straighten the winding road, and make the rough places plain.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose"

The Fourth of July  - United States' Independence Day

Sunday's (7/5) Word:
Ezekiel 2:2-5 (God appoints Ezekiel as the next prophet to the "rebellious" Israelites)
Psalm 123:1-4 (Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (The Lord to Paul of Tarsus: "My grace is sufficient for you")
Mark 6:1-6 ("A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, and among his kin, and in his own house")

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose, and nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free...
--from Me And Bobby McGee (1969) written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster

Sign for Our Times:

(Hey, it looks patriotic.)

How can all this get tied together in a neat package? That's ultimately what I'm hoping for.

For openers, it is the second of the summer holidays here in the USA. On July 4, 1776, the representatives of the Second Continental Congress in essence told King George III of England and his Parliament: We're mad as hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore! And while they were at it, Thomas Jefferson gathered enough inspiration to write perhaps the single most important document this nation will ever have: the Declaration of Independence. The gentlemen of the Congress were not declaring war, even though they were more or less already engaged in one. After all was said and done, they recognized that they had nothing to lose by making a public and formal declaration of their grievances with their colonial masters.

I will guess that most of us neither fully understand nor appreciate what work it takes to achieve the sense of freedom we enjoy as citizens of the United States. There was certainly no vacation or picnic back in 1776. There were no scenic routes to travel; no "purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain." All that would come later as benefits, if you will.

Is it possible that we can become spoiled after 233 years of varying degrees of autonomy "from sea to shining sea?" Yes, definitely. One need look no further than a comparison of different periods of our nation's history. From the imperialistic nature of our Western conquest to the discrimination of people and cultures both within and outside our borders to the stranger stories of our present time; from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam. It's all there.

But it's not unique.

Ezekiel was sent to the Israelites as God's prophetic messenger at the beginning of the Babylonian exile, some six centuries before Jesus. The nation had been taken captive; the temple in Jerusalem destroyed. The people and their leaders had come to take their freedom for granted. Their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt - the first Passover - and their subsequent exodus to the Promised Land was a distant memory. By the time of Jesus, some of that had changed - but some things had become worse in the fracturing and fissuring between Jewish sects. And for the ultimate freedom of all, Jesus gave himself. Humanity had lost just about everything, it had little else to lose.

While you are out and about this weekend along our highways and byways, visiting the sites and enjoying the sounds, whether it be in the open country or in one of the big cities that has added to this nation's fame and fortune, and everyplace in between, remember that the freedom we enjoy was not taken lightly by those who fought to gain it. More importantly, that we have freedom in the first place is a gift of God, and not limited to Western civilization. As many fight to gain freedom for others, it is not our way of life imposed upon another way; but rather, that all might recognize that they are truly blessed and that all may be truly free.

God, source of all freedom,
this day is bright with the memory
of those who declared that life and liberty
are your gift to every person.

Help all the people of this nation
 - from our leaders to those known only to You -
to continue a good work begun long ago.
Make our vision clear and our will strong:
that only in solidarity will we find liberty,
and justice only in the honor and dignity
that belongs to every life on earth.

Turn our hearts toward the family of nations:
to understand the ways of others,
to offer friendship,
and to find safety only in the common good of all.

We pray this be granted in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. -Amen.

--taken from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers (1989)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops