Monday, April 07, 2014

Darkness (John 11:1-45

Arise O Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.

As a child, I had an overpowering fear of the dark.  My heart would race, my breathing would quicken and I would run toward a door or the nearest source of light.  A Scooby Doo night light was a trusted friend.  I would do anything to assure I was not left in the dark.  

This fear reached its pinnacle when I was 7. I grew up in an extremely large family.  On any given weekend, I was surrounded by 30 to 40 cousins.  The older, teenage cousins had a twisted sense of humor. One Saturday, I could not find my baseball.  Two of the meaner ones told me it was  in the old shed.  I immediately stiffened with fear.  

The old shed, way out in the back of field.  No windows, and old wooden door.  It was hot, musty and full of spiders and crawling things.  I was terrified to go near.  They noticed that i did not make a movement.   I heard the taunts “chicken?”  So, I pursed my lips, stood straight and walked directly toward the shed.  Reflecting on it later, not once did I stop why and how it would be in there - and how did they know.  

I walked slowly toward it, eyeing this horrible structure.   I did not want to go in.  Chicken.  I stopped at the old door, turned the knob, and it creaked as it opened.  opened the door and peered in.  I could see outlines of old furniture, covered with sheets, and farm tools.  I took a deep breath and took a small step into the shed.  

Just then, I felt two large hands push me on my back.  I was hurtled into the shed by the force of their shove. My head hit an old cabinet and then I heard the door slam shut and the door latch lock.   It was total darkness, and i let out a horrific shriek.   I was yelling, banging on the door.  All I could hear were my cousins laughing as they walked away.

I sat there in my terror.  I imagined movements in the dark and was sure bugs were crawling on me.  My head was bleeding.  I was scared, angry and could not catch my breath.  No one seemed to hear me or care.  I felt trapped in the dark with no way out and the world seen to go on it’s way.  I felt alone and abandoned.

In reading our Gospel, I thought of that dark shed and Lazarus. Specifically, his time before his death, and how he felt.  No one ever seems to remark on what he was going through.  Of course, theologians speak of Jesus and his mission, his compassion, his prayers and the miracle.  Others speak of Martha and Mary and their mourning.  Even the crowd is spoken about. 

Yet, Lazarus, is left to being described as a bandaged figure who walks like a mummy into the light.  So let’s imagine Lazarus, full of life, going to work, laughing with his sisters, going through the normal routine and then everything changes.  In an instance, his world is turned upside down.  From everyday to darkness, sad to painful. Joy into grief.  He thinks, how can this happen to me.  Sitting in the room, simply hoping.   

Maybe crying and saying “I am scared. Yet he knows that his friend, the one who loves him, will come.  He needs Jesus.  And then nothing.  His sisters ask and Jesus does not respond.  He prays and seemingly no answer.  Jesus seems to ignore the one he loves, in fact he goes the other way.  

Lazarus is hurt.  The abandonment, anger and fear.  The darkness of despair probably envelops him before the darkness of the tomb.   The world goes by and no one is paying attention.  Imagine his cries “Jesus, where are you.  I need YOU!”   In many ways, we are Lazarus.  His story is not unlike ours.  Because each one of us has suffered in some way.  Some, may be suffering now.

We have a happy marriage or relationship and then those words.  “I do not love you anymore.”   Illness stops us in mid stride, and you wonder is you will ever be the same.    Your job is being realigned and you are not part of the alignment.  You cannot lose that weight and you hate yourself.  All you do at home is fight with your parents, spouse, children.  Constant conflict.   I can have just one drink.  Or death has taken away the light from you.  

Life is a dark place and it is terrifying. Let’s be honest for all our strength, our posturing, even with strong faith.  It is difficult, no, it is almost impossible to willing walk into sorrow and suffering.  No one wants to encounter the darkness of life.  I do not care if you are a Christian, agnostic, atheists, or a seeker; abandonment and darkness is scary. No one wants to be alone.  We do not want to feel hopeless, or even die.  We want the light.  

And Lazarus is no different.  So on those final days. Lazarus waits and waits.   Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days.  Eventually there is no hope left.  The door of his life is shut and he is bound with the wrappings of despair.  He is dead to the world and Jesus knows it.  This is the only place in the Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples that someone is dead.  

Yet Jesus knows and he moves toward Lazarus through the distance  He senses, he understands.  Because when a relationship is bound in love.  There is no distance. And when the relationship is bound by divine love, no place or darkness is beyond God’s reach.  Jesus walks, prays, comforts, cries.  He says the name Lazarus - which means God is my help.  And God is our help. 

Jesus looks toward the tomb and says Lazarus, “come out.”   Lazarus, wrapped in despair, his life seemingly ended, enveloped in total darkness.  All hope, all faith is buried with him.   Then his soul hears something.   He cannot move because hopelessness is holding him back.  

He hears that voice again.  Is it a dream wedged between the constant nightmares. He hears in clearly “everything will be ok.  I am here.”   The one tiny speck of hope, begins to grow.  The voice gets louder and hope becomes larger.  The door of the tomb slowly opens and little by little, light fills the darkness.  

He struggles to get up, attempting some semblance of his former bearing, yet he knows that life will never be the same.  Jesus calls again -  “Come out of the darkness and into the light my child.”   The first thing his out of focus eyes see is the love of Christ. Despite the past and the darkness, Lazarus understand that everything will somehow be ok.  Like a buried seed in the ground, it was dark, with the hopeful expectation of the light.

That is our hope, that is our faith.  That is the love of the one we follow.  Despite the tomb and the despairing darkness of life.  Jesus is always near. These are not archaic stories that happened long ago.  They are true now.  The Lord did not only act then, God is acting now.  The love of God is real, day in and day out.  In our darkness, in our tombs, he is near.  

There is a knowing that somehow that in the darkness there will be an inextinguishable light, and indescribable love.  Always there near, searching for you.  That day, locked in a shed, I knew deep down that my grandmother would look for me. Her love would not let me be gone for long.  I must of fallen asleep and then I heard her voice.  

I banged on the door and shouted and by doing so, I noticed the light.   Light seeping through the cracks of the door. It was probably there all along, yet I did not see it in my fear. She unlocked the door and I fell into hers arms, and cried and cried.  She held me and eventually the tears turned into laughter.  I imagine Lazarus fell into the arms of Jesus, and he cried and cried and the tears eventually turned into laughter.  He knew that Jesus would be there.

Eugene O’Neill wrote a play about Lazarus after the miracle. In the play, a crowd has gathered at Lazarus’ house to speak to him.  Lazarus emerged from the tomb and "began to laugh softly like a man in love with God?  Then Lazarus, in serene acceptance, uttered his first word, "Yes!" He affirmed all he saw around him in a way he never had before.

They began to ask questions, Lazarus, what was it like to die? What did you see? What did you experience?" Once again, Lazarus began to laugh the laughter of pure joy. Then he  said, "There is only life. There is only laughter, the laughter of God. It soars to the heights; it resounds to the depths. There is no death, really. “ 

We were born of the laughter of God and we move toward the laughter of God. There is only life. "Therefore, we must learn to live, to celebrate, to love, to accept, to affirm. We must learn to participate in God’s love of life.  We are never left alone.  

With Christ, it is never the end of the story.  In our darkest time or tomb never give up hope because there will always be a voice calling you saying.  “I am here, Come out into the light.  Come to me.  Come. Everything will be alright.”  

In your darkest time, listen because he is calling you.  Sense, because he is near.  Reach out your arms, because you will fall into his arms.  Yes.  Because he is always there. The light in the darkness, turning our despair into joy, and our pain into laughter.   

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Sacred Now

An old acquaintance who tends to be a bit rigid in his religion came up to me and asked, we no, stated "When are you going to learn?  All you talk about is the poor.  They are killing themselves.   If we don't change the culture, if we do not change morality, the world will collapse.  Jesus is not coming back a happy man."  I smiled and asked how his knee replacement surgery had affected his running.  He looked at me surprised and quickly changed the subject.  I wondered what it was like to know the mind of Jesus and his particular mood upon arrival.  Interesting.

I wished him well, turned around and just then a raindrop landed on my forehead.  At that one instant, i found so much joy in the sacred present.  The mystery of water, the mystery of the now. The previous conversation was an ancient relic.  The potential argument or irriation began to collect dust.  

When the raindrop touched my forehead, nothing else mattered.  I stopped in mid stride.  So natural.  I did not intentionally stop, my body became still as if to say "wait.  This matters, the present is now, and you are being blessed.  Stop.  It was a sacred moment."  Maybe that one drop created for me at the moment found me.   Maybe Jesus was reflecting his particular mood.  Either way, I was blessed by the sacred present and rain, my own body made me stop.  The holy present touched with joy and gratitude.

I want to live like that always. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Charles Rehberg

I was blessed with the opportunity not only to know Charles, but to sit and observe his work as a person of faith.  When Deacon Jenkins called and let me know that  he we being welcomed by the Holy Angels, I was in the midst of planning Holy Week services.  Some of my strongest memories of Charles revolve around Holy Week, and with God, we know there are never simple coincidences.

While the most important memories of Charles were spoken by his grandson.  I want to briefly describe his faith.   The faith that radiated throughout this Church, throughout his life.  And his faith is seen in this beautiful Gospel passage from St. Luke.  I find the faith of Charles, evident in the story of Simeon. For both Charles and Simeon, it is a story of of a life where a dream is realized

In the Gospel, Jesus is a little over a month old, and Mary and Joseph bring him back to to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice because it was required by the law. The family is poor and all they can offer are two young pigeons.  As they walk to the temple,  a faithful and good man, who has spent his life serving God and others, is jolted. 

He gets up from his place on the side of the Temple, with the Holy Spirit upon him, he reaches out to Mary and Joseph and asks to hold Jesus.  He takes the Lord into his arms, and understands that after all these years, after all the dreams, the work and prayers, his eyes are gazing into the eyes of Jesus.

Like Simeon, Charles practiced his faith and waited in hopeful expectation.  Throughout the years, he was always an active and engaged member of each congregation in which he worshipped.   His faith was natural and steadfast.  Yet, many did not realize he was serving because he put himself in the background, supporting, allowing the beauty to unfold.     

His faith and service always pointed to something greater.  Waiting patiently, quietly for God.  In prayer, in worship and in humble service.  I want to share some examples. Charles often served as the crucifer during the Eucharist.  In liturgical terms is the person who carries the cross in mass.  Each time Charles carried the cross,  he was always erect, proud, and held the cross high. 

He carried the weight of the cross, yet one noticed, because he held it in such a way that all eyes were drawn to Christ.  As it should be.  That was Charles, that was his humble, supporting faith, waiting upon the Lord. 

As mentioned earlier, Holy Week holds the strongest memories of his faith.  Specifically the Tenebrae service.   Tenebrae means darkness and during this service we reflect on the Lord's trial, suffering and the resurrection.  Charles was always the thunder during Tenebrae.    Let me explain.  Near the conclusion of this beautiful service the lights are turned off and the entire church is completely blanketed in darkness.  
Suddenly,  you hear thunder in the background, and then a single candle is brought from its hiding place.  A glowing light piercing the darkness and through the thunder, it is placed on a stand in front of the altar. 

Charles was the one, out of sight, standing in a darkened hallway in the back of the church, creating the sounds of thunder. The thunder represents the earth groaning under the weight of the resurrection,  the triumph of eternal life over death.  In the darkness, off to the side, arms swinging, large smile on his face, he was the one creating the sound, the sound that represents eternal life, the light to brighten any darkness.  

Isn’t it fitting that Charles was the thunder.  In the darkness, humble, yet strong.  His faith resonated throughout this Church.  That was Charles, that was his humble faith.   

And then the faithful servant Charles, supporting his beloved Gloria, as she lived out her faith as a Deacon.   In this Church, in this Diocese supporting her, so that she could love, support and serve others.  Charles, working, supporting, off to the side, so that others could be served.  That was Charles, that was his humble faith.

Charles did not admire Christ, he sought to serve Christ in this world. Like Simeon, off to the side of the temple, Charles looked upon Jesus and was fulfilled.  The final words we hear from Simeon are these “Lord you have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.  For these eyes of mine has seen the Savior.”

And that is why when God whispered his name, I know Jesus was excited because a trusted friend returned to his side.   When Charles you were free to go in Peace as the Lord you had humbly served had promised.  

As he moved from life to everlasting life, Christ was there to meet him.  Like all those years in this place, Charles holding up the light of Jesus as his fellow brothers and sisters walked to meet Christ face to face, Charles erect, straightforward, guiding the way.  

Go Forth upon your journey 
Go from this world.
May the Saints lead you into paradise.
May the choirs of angels welcome you with their song
Rest in the arms of Christ the Shepherd. Charles, you are gazing upon his face.

My friend Charles, till we meet again.  We will miss you. We will miss your smile, your faith, your steadfast belief.  But now you are home.    Look upon the face of Christ and smile,and while your are looking into his eyes, whisper our names as we whisper yours.

Go forth until we meet again.  You are home faithful servant.  You are home.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Goodness. Mt 5:38-48. Cathedral Church of St. John

Let us always hold the sacred and the mystery in our lives.  So we pray - Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?

Take a moment to reflect on this simple fact - You are created in the image of God. We carry the DNA of the creator of the universe.  Allow the enormity of therealization to sink in.  I am not speaking of physical characteristics - eyes, hair color, body shape or parts.  Nor flowing robes and booming voice.  

We carry the characteristics of God that cannot be described.  So then, how would you describe them?  Well, they have a tendency to make our hearts beat with joy, our minds expand with wonder, our souls filled with hope.  Those little things like acceptance, joy, sorrow, forgiveness, love.  find myself deeply entranced withgoodness.

In Genesis, when God looked upon each creation, it was good.  Yet, when God created us, it was Very Good.  And it is true.    Go out into any public place and look at people.  It does not matter the sex, race, size or nationality, watch them smile.   Not their laugh, but their smile. It comes naturally, effortlessly.  

Their entire body changes, a softening, as if the divine moves out from them and into the world. I yearn to see the goodness in everyone and everything. So it seems that with each newscast, goodness seems unrealistic.  A live-inboyfriend harms a 4 month old baby in the most unspeakable way.   A struggling 15 year boy kills his 12 year old friend.

A 9 year old is kicked to death by the woman who gave him life.    An 18 year old child of god is killed by another child of God in an unpronounceable region of Afghanistan. Our first reaction is anger, revenge, even hate. I have a relative who always responds with Kill em.” He adds - they should be shot, hung, tortured, castrated.

While I try to understand my relatives rage, he also tends to categorize others on their race, social or legal status.  The barriers he creates, makes it easy for him to objectify, differentiate, categorize.   I wonder if he takes a moment to think about their being created in Gods image.  

In reading the Gospel, I sense that Jesus while speaking in a kind, loving, and compassionate way, has a sense of urgency.  Pushing his apostles to look at the world differently.  Asking us to recognize the possibility, the divine goodness within us.  We often forget the reality Jesus was facing.  His world was just as violent, just as vengeful as the world we are living in.

And his followers have expectations of him.  John the Baptist calls him the Messiah.  All the years of oppression, murder, hate pent up among his followers and Jesus is the chosen one.  It is time for payback and retribution.   And then this beautiful man says:  Forgive totally and Love completely.  Take it and return it with goodness.

Imagine their reaction and disappointment.  They want revenge and punitive justice.  And who could blame them?  Eye for an eye gives temporary fulfillment.  Forgiveness? how does my need for an equal amount of violent retribution become satisfied?  Jesus what are you saying?  I can relate.  

If someone would injure my family, my first reaction would be to retaliate.  That proverbial fist would curl up. Isnt that the easiest path? Yet following him, truly following him is never easy. It tests us, it makes us uncomfortable.  We tend to ignore it, find reasons not to chose the tough Jesus option.  Or as one anonymous saint wrote:  It is easier to die for Christ than to live for him.

Yet Jesus always shows us the way.  Imagine the love in his eyes, for those who persecuted him, beat him, and nailed him to the cross.  Through the pain, he focused on his tormentors goodness and asked the Father to forgive.  It seems impossible and implausible, and isnt it comforting that this is who we follow?  

The disciples who originally questioned forgiveness, watched, listened and their lives became reflections of his goodness. How can we not try to do the same?  Last week they aired the mug shot of the woman who kicked her son to death.  No hope in her eyes.  I thought of her as a young child, arms outstretched seeking security, love, goodness.

I am sure someone returned that innocent goodness with horrific violence.   Despite what we think, or her horrendous act,  I cannot help but believe in Gods goodness, through his tears, looks at her as his child and the goodness within her.  Seems impossible and unfair, yet this is our amazing God.

Maybe a Lenten discipline is a simple prayer, Lord let me replace anger with goodness.  Allow ourselves to lean into the heart of Christ and open our eyes and hearts.  To seeking the goodness in ourselves and in one another.    The longer we pray this prayer, I believe we can transform.  

When we see the goodness in one another it becomes profound while anger and hate are less palatable.  Evidenced in little ways:  Maybe saying I love you when it is not like you to say it.  Goodness within you

Putting our ego aside and not trying to win every argument. Not always wanting to be first or right.  Goodness around you.  Maybe saying to someone we live with or work with:  Your smart, your beautiful, you look nice, You are good. The impact it has on a life, on that person because it comes from you.   The seemingly impossible becomes possible. We develop the capacity to move from kill, hate, and retaliate to forgive, welcome, come into my arms, how can I help.  Goodness evident in the world.  It is who we are, who we were created to be.  

The longer i spend on this earth the more I yearn for goodness. I would rather be disappointed in someone than not give them a chance. I would rather be hurt than not allow myself to see the goodness in everyone I meet.  Whenever there is doubt, it is reaffirmed in little ways.  

Recently I viewed a video of a group in Norway that assists children in Syria.  They set up a hidden camera for the purpose of determining if people would help a child.  The setting was an outdoor bus stop and it is snowing.  A young boy has no jacket and is sitting in the cold.  He is shivering, rubbing his arms.

Different people approach and one by one, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all different races, respond to this boy with  goodness.  They take off their coats and gloves and give them to this child.  With each layer they give to the boy, each glove, each coat, each scarf, the frost of the earth melts away and the warmth of goodness emanates from them.  

The final shot is of the 2 of them sitting at the bus stop and it is snowing. The 20 year wearing only a t-shirt and the little boy wearing the jacket of the 20 year old.  They are smiling at one another.  The Kingdom of God

My brothers and sisters, look around, look at everyone you encounter today and take in that divine imagine of goodness within them. Maybe you can smile and others can sense your goodness.   We are loved by a loving and good God.  See it in yourself and in one another. When we know goodness, we know love, and in doing so, we meet Christ.  

And in case you do know it or have not been told - You are good.  I love those smiles and the goodness in each one of you gives me hope for that beautiful Kingdom of God.  Amen

Monday, February 17, 2014

Forgiveness (Matthew 5:21-37) St. James Taos Feb 16 2014

Let us always hold the sacred and the mystery in our lives.  So we pray - Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”

A few years back I spent time with man who was by all outward appearances the epitome of worldly success.  Mike was the President of a large corporation. Everyone wanted him to serve on their boards and if there were an article on business, his words were the first quoted.  

Mike was always seated at the head table and to top it off, he was known for his philanthropic work and level of giving.   Because of this, I was teamed with him for a charity fundraising project.  The Priest and the Titan of Industry placed together on a specific project. Work for the common good, yet our lives held little in common. 

I noticed how people reacted in his presence.  He was used to getting his way, people were deferential in his presence.  When he spoke it was with certainty.  Over the course of a few meetings, I noticed that he made it a point of sitting next to me. Now i would like to think that it was my charm, my engaging sense of humor or my brilliant intellect.  

No. Sorry.  I knew the real reason.  To the secular world, a Priest is somewhat of a novelty or even an oddity.  It is like seeing that young punk rocker with blue hair.  It get’s people to wondering. Why? And it was no different with Mike.   Our conversations turned into extended question and answer sessions about about faith and God. 

He would ask: “what does you guys believe about abortion” “war” “assisted suicide” even the devil.  The list of questions went on and on and on.   My answers generated more questions.  One day, he probed the topic of forgiveness.  In a light hearted tone he said, “I have so many sins that if i walked into a church, it would fall down”  While joking, there was a sense that he actually believed it.  

Despite the public face, deep down he felt unacceptable.  With a serious look, he asked “how can God forgive someone that is bad, with so many sins?” I responded that recognition is a start and that slow turning toward the face of God starts you moving in the right direction”  I added that it was also  “Easy, we follow a loving God.”

He gave me an incredulous look, God - loving, never heard of God as loving or forgiving.  The only God I know judges and condemns, you mess up and you pay.  God scares me.  It was as if all our meetings led to this time.  

He told me that he grew up in a stern household in West Texas.   It was ingrained into him that you have to be strong, successful, you have to go along to get along.  The old “God only helps those who help themselves.” And if   you mess up, there will literally be hell to pay.  He was always proving himself, often at the expense of others, often only with self concern. 

In building his success, he destroyed all around him.  He read off a laundry list of sins that sounds like those Jesus was reciting in today’s Gospel.  Lying, anger, cheating. I could see the agony in his tired blue eyes when he said: “My boy and girl put up with me, but they don’t care, they are grown.  Treat me like I treated them.  Would not care if i lived or died.  Look what I have done, how can God forgive someone like me? 

In reading our Gospel, I thought of Mike, and despite his power and success, there was this pain.  Broken, standing on the edges of love and acceptance. If Mike listened to our Gospel today, he might have recoiled.  All those faults, how can anyone live up to the expectations, how can God forgive me?

Yet, like everything else that Jesus says, all that he does, his words are more than words. Jesus lists the sins, but is pointing to repairing broken relationships.  Think of all the times in our lives, maybe even now, if we wonder - am I good enough.  There is something in our lives, something we really cannot reconcile.  Does God forgive?  Can I forgive?  Can I forgive myself?  

Throughout the years, I have found the most difficult forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. The most unbelievable realization is understanding that despite our past, our angers, our divorces, our sins, our many failures, we are forgiven.  That each one of us is accepted and loved unconditionally by a loving God.  

A Priest once said, If Jesus Christ has forgiven you all your sins and washed you in his own blood, what right do you have not to forgive yourself?”  For many, the image of God is one that is distant and vengeful.  Out there meeting out judgment and requiring a certain course of action in order to be welcomed. 

But let’s ask ourselves, all the stories of Christ reaching out to someone on the margins, Jesus always meeting everyone where they were in life, before transformation, meeting them at their pain.  Where did we get this? What kind of God do we believe in? A record keeper or rights and wrongs or God who sent his son to us.  

Each time I look at that cross and that beautiful man on the cross, I am reminded that perfection is truly impossible, and divine love is not. God came down and proved how beautiful, how meaningful we are.  Each one of us, in all our failures, pains, and faults are accepted.  Because we believe in the God of third, fourth and one hundred chances.   

As it was beautifully stated - You are more than the choices that you've made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,  You are more than the problems you create, 
You've been remade in love.  We spend so much time looking back or worrying about what lays ahead that we forget the love available now.  Imagine all the pain, arguments, judgements, hate that would be eased if we fully embodied this realization.  

Think of it.  Loved, no conditions, no requirements.  Loved.  That day when powerful and successful Mike looked at me with tears, and asked in broken sentences how God could accept, how God could forgive him, I could not say much, I only relayed a story.  

Several years ago in a large city out here in the West, rumors spread that a devout Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus.  The reports reached the Bishop.  He decided to check it out  There is always a fine line between an authentic mystic and the lunatic fringe. It is true, ma’am that you have visions of Jesus, asked the Bishop.  Yes, the woman replied simply. 

Thinking he could trip up the woman the Bishop continued,  “Well next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.”  The woman was speechless, “You want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?” Yes, exactly.  I want you to ask him and then tell me.  

Well ten days later the phone rang in the office of the Bishop.  The Bishop invited her to his office, sat in his chair and with a cleaver smile he waited.  When the woman arrived, he said - did you do what I told you, did you ask Jesus to relay to you my sins?  Yes, the woman replied. 

The Bishop leans forward into the woman, his eyes narrowed and he said - “Well, what did Jesus say?” She took the hand of the Bishop and gazed deep into his eyes.  “Bishop, she said, “the exact words of Jesus were:  Tell him I can’t remember.”   Imagine that - it is amazing grace, indescribable love, a loving God.  

A few months after the event I ran into Mike.  He told me he could not get out of his mind this forgiving and loving God and decided to take a chance.   He summoned the courage to darken the doors of an “empty” Church. A time when no one was around.  In the silence, he looked at the cross and began to cry.  He could not stop, and he cried and cried.  

For the first time, he thought, maybe God wasn’t so bad after all.  And the walls did not come tumbling down.   He told me is going to try, try and get to know this new face of God.  The kind, forgiving God that he had never known. He told me is also working on this forgiving himself and if that goes well, maybe he will have the courage to call his son and daughter and ask their forgiveness, and mend that relationship. 

I blessed him and warned him that it is hard work, he will stumble and he will be set back. It is not a one sentence, a one time occurrence or a simple statement to make you feel good.  He laughed and reminded me that luckily Jesus can’t remember.   My brothers and sisters, all of us have this past, all of us have regrets, all of us look have a tendency to look back.  

Yet the love and life of Jesus Christ points to our hearts to this moment.   Do look back, nor forward. For the rest of this day and hopefully the rest of this week, for the rest of your life.  Know this, You are God’s beloved, a special person. And there is nothing you can do that will change it.  You are loved and accepted.  Hold it, pray it, share it.  The world will never be the same. Because the only thing that Jesus does remember is the sound of your name, calling you back into his arms.  

Thanks to Brenning Manning for always directing and Tenth Avenue North for the words "You are more..."

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Our eyes meet

I was at a stoplight today. A homeless woman was holding a sign. 4 lanes of traffic, I could not give her money. 

She was maybe 45. She looked lost. Lost in her pain, lost in society, everyone ignored her. Dirty clothes, dirty sign. Please help. I bet she was a cute child whose eyes, at one time, held hope and smiled brightly. What happened that led her to this corner?  

No one looked at her. They looked ahead. It is easy not to make eye contact. She put her sign to windows. help.  I noticed a man squirming. I can imagine people silently urging, wishing the light will turn green. 

I watched her and our eyes met. Do I continue to make eye contact? How could I even ask this question? 

I tried to smile but I felt useless.  I could not give her money, she was too far away. A smile? I felt silly. They say money won't help, but I cannot ignore this child. Yet somehow I do. My red truck is a world away from her concrete corner. The light turned green and I moved forward.

All I could do was wish her peace. 

As I drove off, I wondered how many diverted their eyes when Jesus was on the cross. Those eyes that held love, and now no one is looking back, looking into this eyes.  He is in pain, searching. Look away.  

The only eyes that look back are the eyes of his mother. Did she try to comfort him with a smile. Did it help Jesus just knowing that someone was looking back. 

On this corner, a woman on her cross. 

Maybe when a person is on the cross, on their own painful, dirty cross, I will try and look into their eyes. I may learn something about them. I may learn the mystery of love, I may learn something about myself. 

Lord give me the heart, the eyes, the love to look into their eyes. 


Friday, January 31, 2014

Further thoughts on being a Missionary

Since returning from the time at InHouse, I have been wrestling with the word Missionary.  In many ways we are missionaries,  we go out into the world, we carry the name Christians.  However, it seems we are embarrassed by the term?  Would we call ourselves missionaries to our friends and families?  A friend who recently attended InHouse, described the number of calls he has received about using the term to describe our efforts.

Many of our brothers and sisters, of all walks, do not like the term missionary.  It is offensive. So,    why are we using it? Do we  pack it away?   It has a dark history, it has baggage and pain. But not dealing with the term is far too easy.   Yes, I see it,  in many ways, i feel it.  I try to understand it.

I have been praying, how we can forgive the term.  How do we forgive our collective past?  How can I ask forgiveness?  Maybe the answer is Christ.   Maybe we should just keep going back to Christ. Go back, again and again.  Go to him constantly.  We believe in the one who loves with an indescribable love.  The one who becomes flesh and blood, then and always; transformation.

I need to be open to transformation, of self and the word.   My ego seems to get in the way, but I need to get back to Jesus.  Maybe the problem with the term is that in the past, it has always been on our terms.  As missionaries we have always asked others to change.

Maybe being a Missionary means that like Christ, we must be open to a new birth, to transformation in the arms of the Divine.   We must transform, so that instead of boundaries, we build those bridges.  Missionary, means that with transformation, we embrace instead of folding arms.  An open hand instead of a pointed finger.

Missionary - not what we give, but what we receive.