Chinook Winds and Christ

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chinook windsOn my recent vacation in the Canadian Rocky Mountains I learned about the chinook wind. The chinook wind is a rapid climate phenomenon produced by specific atmospheric conditions interacting with the stark geography of the high mountains. If all the proper conditions line up correctly a chinook wind is produced which is a steady stream of warm air that flows down from the mountain tops into the valley below on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. This wind has been known to sometimes melt thirty inches of snow in the course of a single day! The largest temperature shift produced by a chinook wind was recorded in the seventies when the wind moved the temperature from forty degrees below zero to forty-five degrees above zero in a twenty-four hour period. In the frigid cold of a Canadian winter the chinook wind is a promise of spring and an end to winter.

The beginning of Mark’s gospel can almost be read as the movement and power of a chinook wind! Jesus appears on the scene, he is baptized by John in the Jordan, he overcomes the temptations in the desert and he begins his ministry by calling his first disciples. He casts out demons, he cures many people of their illnesses and in today’s gospel we have our Lord healing a leper. “If you wish,” says the leper, “you can make me clean.” All of this within the very first chapter of Mark’s gospel!

Mark wants us to know that in Christ the grace, life and salvation of God has poured forth into our world and into our hearts – so long frozen and locked in sin and death! Something utterly new and unique is occurring within this man called Jesus! Jesus teaches, he heals, he casts out demons, he calls people with his own authority and he neither acts nor speaks like the scribes and the Pharisees.

It is interesting and telling that it is the people in need – the leper, the person who is ill, the one possessed by a demon, the poor, the flock without the shepherd – who first recognize this and realize that something new is occurring. The leper kneels before Jesus and says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Those persons caught up in their own power and need to control – be that political, religious or social – do not recognize (throughout the gospel story) Christ both for who he, himself, is and for the grace and salvation he brings. They are locked within themselves. The people who are in need, the people who recognize their poverty are the ones who are open to the great wind of mercy, life and hope that Christ brings and who receive that life!

Christ brings life and healing but we, on our part, must recognize that we need life, that we are mortally wounded and that, without Christ, we are lost! We must be honest enough to continually admit our need, our frailty and our weakness. This is not just a recognition for the beginning of our faith journey but rather an honest assessment needed for every day of our faith journey! Christ does not come just to encourage or to applaud our efforts. Christ comes to give us life and salvation and without him we are both lost and we are dead!

Today’s gospel passage ends by saying that Jesus remained outside in the deserted places, yet “people kept coming to him from everywhere.” They recognized and they knew that something utterly unique was occurring in this man named Jesus – the very pouring forth of the mercy and life of God into our world! May we also recognize this.

Eli and vocation promotion

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samuel-and-eli2It is helpful to know some of the background to today’s first reading. Eli had two sons but neither were fit by their actions which were sinful to receive the blessing of God. When Eli finally realized that God was calling Samuel this would have been in his awareness and he would have realized that God’s call to the youth Samuel was also a judgment on his two sons. They would not receive the blessing; rather Samuel would. Eli could have tried to thwart what was going on in favor of his two sons but he did not. When he realized what was occurring he instructed the youth (who was not his son) to respond by saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Eli was faithful to God and that very faithfulness aided the young Samuel in answering God’s call for him in his life. Eli is a witness to faithfulness, to looking beyond self-interest and to doing what is right for the next generation.

Here is a question and a challenge that I want to put before all parents, grandparents and adults in our community. Have you ever encouraged your child, your grandchild or a young person you know to just consider a possible calling to the priesthood or religious life? If you have then you stand with Eli and his witness. If you have not then frankly you have no right to ever complain if you ever believe that a priest or religious is too busy to meet your needs at a certain time.

Yes, vocations to priesthood or religious life are a mystery of God’s grace but vocations also do not emerge from a vacuum. I think we would all view it as foolish if a farmer were to think that a crop would just automatically spring up from an unworked plot of land. Yes, for a good crop there must be the grace of good sun, good rain and good temperatures (all of which is beyond the farmer’s control) but there must also be the work of tilling the ground, planting the seeds, and plucking the weeds. Often, we expect an abundance of vocations from unworked land! It doesn’t work that way. And it is not just the job of the priest or religious. That is another myth. It is all of our job. It is the Church’s job to stand with Eli and to be a witness as he was a witness – a witness to faithfulness, a witness to looking beyond self-interest and a witness to doing what is right for the next generation.

In John’s gospel the first words spoken by our Lord is the question we hear him ask the two disciples of John who are following him. “What are you looking for?” This question is put before each one of us. It is put before each follower of Christ and it is put before each generation of the Church. It is asked by our Lord to the young generation and only in answering this question will joy be found. To downplay the question, to try to ignore the encounter, to try to qualify and set limits for our youth is to do a disservice. The question must be asked! Every follower of Christ must answer! Every generation must answer! It is the job of the Church to stand in witness with Eli – to help and encourage the young Samuels.

Epiphany – You shall be radiant at what you see

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Flight~ Rose Datoc Dal

“Flight by Rose Datoc Dall

Have you ever noticed that there is a lot of walking and journeying in the Christmas story? We have the calm and silence of the manger scene but before, after and all around that is almost constant movement. The angel Gabriel is sent to announce God’s plan to Mary. Once Mary gives her “yes” we are told that she sets out “in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Joseph and the very pregnant Mary have to journey to Bethlehem to register for the census and because of Rome’s census the whole world seems to be in movement! Then, once the child arrives, the small family has to flee to Egypt for protection! The shepherds are told to leave their flocks in order to see this newborn child and the three magi arrive from the east searching for the newborn king of the Jews and once they encounter him they are told to return home by a different route. The only one who seems incapable of movement is King Herod sitting on his throne and grasping onto power in suspicion and fear.

Here is a quote by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, “Brothers and sisters, break free from whatever ruts you have settled into! Whoever does not want to be set free – well, suit yourself – but don’t say you are living in Christ’s spirit. You can continue in the old ways and be a part of Christianity, but not of God’s kingdom. You can live in Christianity but not in Christ; the gulf between the two is great. You can settle down and feather your nest and think, “Now I’ve got it made,” but you’ll never win eternity. That is something altogether different. The “city” we have now does not interest us; it cannot last. Instead, we seek the future city – the one God sets before our eyes – of which Christ is ruler.”

“Instead, we seek the future city – the one God sets before our eyes – of which Christ is ruler.” In the prophet Isaiah, we hear these words, “Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you … Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance … (but then the prophet goes on to add) … Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow …” If there is a glory to the Christian it is not in our own merit nor is it in chasing after what the world holds and values – our radiance and our glory as Christians is found it what we see and what we seek – the future city, our true home, the Kingdom of God which God has set before our eyes.

So, the life of the Christian must then always be a life of movement and journeying by its very nature! The Christian is not allowed the luxury of “settling down” in this world with it’s limits. Herod was quite content to settle down in the limits of this world and he committed atrocities.

“Rise up in splendor!” the prophet proclaims to us. Rise up in the grace of Christ! Rise up in your worth as a child of God! Set your life by that worth and nothing else! Rise up in defending the dignity of all our brothers and sisters against the “Herods” of our time with all their sad thoughts and fearful plans! Live by what God has set before our eyes – the future city where Christ is ruler! Don’t just take the name “Christian” but live in the Kingdom, live in Christ!

Walk! Walk with the angel Gabriel and the shepherds and the magi! Walk with Isaiah and the prophets and the great company of saints! Walk with Joseph and Mary! Walk with our Lord himself! We are meant for the Kingdom of God and only there alone will our hearts find rest.

Rise up in splendor! You shall be radiant at what you see!

Rejoice! God’s freedom is not our freedom!

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Third Sunday of AdventScripture tells us that God’s ways are not our ways and neither is God’s freedom our freedom.

We look at the world and we see the injustice, the wrongs committed, human dignity is denied, nations threaten other nations, fear is pervasive and confusion seems to abound. We profess that God will certainly answer all of this but, so often, we then just assume that God will answer it as we would – through a show of power, force and dominance!

We are not alone in this, it has been the human fallback since the beginning – a sad result of our fall from the Garden of Eden. The people of Israel also held this. Their land was occupied by the world’s superpower, their kingdom was destroyed, their culture and religion was at odds with all of their neighbors yet, the idea of a messiah began to grow in the heart and hope of Israel, but they easily assumed that it would be a strongarm messiah who would vanquish the Romans, overcome all foes and restore Israel as the nation above all nations!

How little we understand the freedom of God.

God would send the messiah but simply and quietly – not leading an army but rather feeding the poor, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom. The political oppression of Israel and the tumult among the nations was just the backdrop to the true story of God’s messiah and the oppression he came to confront and overcome – the oppression of sin and evil rooted deep in the human heart.

John the Baptist understood something of the freedom of God, so when he was questioned about his identity and the hope of the messiah, he was able to respond, “…there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” The messiah is not recognized because God’s freedom is not understood. God does not need the force of the world’s power nor is God bound by the terms of the world in accomplishing his will. God’s word is enough. God’s Spirit has been given.

The single most important event in human history (outside of creation itself) is accomplished by Jesus in his death and resurrection in a small part of a vast empire and the powers of the world barely noticed it. God’s freedom is shown in this! Now, in Christ – as adopted sons and daughters – we also have been given this freedom and this hope.

Here is a simple question to reflect upon that can lead us, I believe, into a little deeper awareness of the freedom of God and now our freedom as his children. The question often asked at this time of year is “How am I, how are we, going to celebrate Christmas?” But here is a different question, “How am I, how are we, going to give Christmas?” Christmas is the celebration of God’s light and God’s freedom breaking into our world! How can I give that light? How can I live that freedom? It is an appropriate question to reflect upon on this third Sunday of Advent when we rejoice in the coming of Christ! Christ came that we might have life and that we might live the life we receive for others! Christ invites us into the very freedom of God.

How am I, how are we, going to give Christmas and learn (in a deeper way) the freedom of God?

“Be watchful!”

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Icon of ChristA few weeks ago we had the reading of the parable of talents in Matthew’s gospel. Three servants are given different amounts of treasure to invest for their master while he is away – one is given five talents, the second is given two and the third is given one talent. On the master’s return we learn that the first two servants doubled what was entrusted to them (and were therefore rewarded generously by their master) while the third servant buried the talent in the earth that he had been given. He neither lost nor gained anything for the master and was therefore chastised for his laziness and was punished by being cast into “the darkness outside.”

I refer to this because I think we can learn something from this parable about what our Lord means when he says, “Be watchful!” in today’s gospel.  The action of the third servant – in contrast to the first two servants – was the opposite of being watchful.  The burying of the talent entrusted to him was, in essence, an act of ignoring the master. 

It is safe to assume that the third servant, after tucking away his talent, went about the business of his day and what he wanted to accomplish – not really thinking about the master until the day he showed up again. The first two servants, working to increase the talents given them, were active and they were continually thinking about and focused on the master’s return. They were not going about their own plans but were planning and working for their master even as he was away. Their doubling what had been entrusted to them demonstrates this attitude.  The first two servants were watchful where the third was not.  The first two disciples were mindful of the master. 

The watchfulness that our Lord calls us to is not a watching in order to be entertained or amused or even scandalized by the ever-present corruption of sin and evil that we find in life.  All of this is a passive watching.  The watching that our Lord calls us to is an active engagement – just like the first two servants.  This is where we find ourselves, these are times and situations we find ourselves in – now, what are we going to do about it?  How will we live our lives today in a way that increases what the master has entrusted to us?  The first two servants worked hard – anticipating the return of the master.  They did not just sit passively bemoaning the state of things. 

By working hard, the first two servants demonstrate both their obedience to and even their love for the master.  The third servant might have spoken quite eloquently about how he had hidden the talent away in order to present it safely back to the master upon his return but, in reality, his heart was not connected to the master.  The third servant was more focused on what he wanted to do and what he wanted to accomplish with his time.  The first two servants show their love for the master by their willingness to work hard, get messy in the process and even risk what had been entrusted to them in order to bear fruit. 

The watchfulness our Lord calls us to is a watchfulness found in a life being lived in faith, in hope and love and in service to one another.  The prophet Isaiah (from the first reading) knew this type of watchfulness when he wrote, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!”  “Be watchful!” says our Lord – live in such a way that your life anticipates and yearns for the return of the Master!     

 

Closed Secularism and the Failure of the Third Servant

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Parable_of_the_Talents_002.jpegIn Mt. 25:14-30 we find our Lord sharing the parable of the talents. Three servants are given different amounts of treasure to invest for their master while he is away – one is given five talents, the second is given two and the third is given one talent. On the master’s return we learn that the first two servants doubled what was entrusted to them (and were therefore rewarded generously by their master) while the third literally buried the talent away that he had been given. He neither lost nor gained anything for the master and was therefore called out on his laziness and was punished by being cast into “the darkness outside.”

The three servants did not own these talents. This is important to note. The talents were given and entrusted to them by the master upon his departure with the expectation that they would be returned and increased upon his return. The master is the only one in the parable who has a rightful claim on the treasure. I do not believe that the parable is about developing our own skills, gifts and abilities (as important and praiseworthy as this might be) but rather about something much deeper and transformative. The Christian has been given things by God in Christ – things that we have no claim to on our own – and the Christian is expected to make these things grow and will be judged accordingly.

Before getting into what I believe is one set of things given to us by God in Christ I would like to propose that the temptation to live according to a closed secularism – so prevalent in our world today – is the temptation and failure of the third servant. (For a helpful presentation of the distinction between a “closed” and “open” secularism, I would refer you to the book Church, Faith, Future: What We Face, What We Can Do by Fr. Louis Cameli.)

The third servant, out of fear, buried the talent entrusted to him. God calls us to the freedom of his Kingdom but such a freedom can be frightening. Remember the Israelites yearning to go back to the bondage of Egypt? Burying something away is a way of side-stepping and avoiding the responsibility of freedom. Burying also means ignoring. It is safe to assume that the third servant, after tucking away his talent, went about the business of his day and what he wanted to accomplish – not really thinking about the master until the day he shows up again. The first two servants, working to increase the talents given them, were active and they were continually thinking about and focused on the master’s return. They were not going about their own plans but were planning and working for their master even as he was gone. Their doubling what had been entrusted to them demonstrates this attitude. Finally, burying is choosing the lesser and valuing it over that which is higher. In our modern sensibility we stumble with this imagery but the highest goal of the servant should be that of seeking to fulfill the will of the master. The third servant placed his own security and his own designs over the task entrusted to him by his master. He therefore chose that which was lesser.

In the choice for a closed secularism we are in essence burying what has been given us. We are choosing the world before the Kingdom of God. We are side-stepping the true freedom of living as a son or daughter of God with its duties and responsibilities (and abundant graces) for the shallow pseudo-freedoms of choosing our next form of entertainment and/or distraction. We are ignoring the call and promise of God for the business of what we think our day should be about and therefore we are choosing that which is lesser over that which is greater.

Now, what has been given us by God in Christ that we have no claim to on our own? One gift, I believe, are the theological virtues and when we choose to live according to the narrative of the closed secular we, in essence, bury what has been given and entrusted to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the theological virtues have their origin, motive and goal in God. These virtues, in the Christian understanding, are gifts from God and can only be brought to fulfillment through our having relationship with God. If God and the realm of the divine is bracketed out of our reality we sidestep the responsibility of the freedom of a child of God, we ignore God in favor of our plans and preoccupations and we lose sight of the greater in favor of that which is lesser.

Faith, rather than being the virtue that confirms our belief in what God has said and revealed is reduced to an allegiance to what I and my particular group believe and hold to be true above all else. Hope, rather than being that virtue anchored in the coming Kingdom of God – the virtue which pulls us forward through the tumults of life – becomes (at best) a naïve optimism rooted in the ever-changing slogans of the day. Charity, rather than being the love of God above all things for his own sake and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God, becomes a bargaining with a God relegated to the role of being the source of my comfort and a care for those people within my own personal echo chamber – a care which allows only a grudging acceptance for those people without.

How do we avoid the failure of the third servant? We learn from the first two servants. We do not bury what has been given us by co-opting and choosing to live by the narrative of the closed secular. We remain active, living in such a way in the reality of today as to keep the Master in our thoughts and anticipate his return. We live in such a manner as to make the talents of true faith, hope and love grow in our hearts and in our world!

The temptation of closed secularism is the failure of the third servant. As in all the parables, there is much to learn here if we have the ears to hear.

Do not let self eclipse the Son.

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get behind me satanI am not much into church signs and I am glad that we do not have one here at St. Dominic’s because I am not witty enough to post a profound thought each week. I did see one church sign thought the other day that I did like though. It was, “Do not let self eclipse the Son.” Since we all survived the recent solar eclipse we can now breathe a sigh of relief! But the church sign thought is good and it connects well with the today’s gospel (Mt. 16:21-27).

We are told that after our Lord shares how he must go to Jerusalem, suffer and be killed; Peter takes him aside and begins to rebuke Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter’s self – expressed in his view or our Lord and his view of how our Lord is to fulfill his mission and how the Kingdom is to be brought about – attempts to eclipse the Son. The temptation is there for all of us. In subtle and not so subtle ways we can easily fall into the same error – we can try to tell God how to do his job, we can try to tell the gospel what it really means but this is foolishness. It is like the moon trying to tell the sun how to shine. No real light is shed, only shadows are cast.

What struck me for the first time in praying over this gospel is that Jesus “turned” before rebuking Peter. Peter had taken Jesus aside. Peter was conversing with and rebuking our Lord to his face. By then turning, our Lord already had his back to Peter when he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” It would do us well to take our Lord at his words here. We are told that our Lord was tempted in every way but never sinned. Our Lord is tempted by this rebuke and these thoughts of Peter. Peter’s words, even his care for Jesus in that moment, was an obstacle for our Lord. In Jesus’ response we can see that the thought is there with which our Lord wrestles, “Maybe there is another way to fulfill the mission? Maybe there is another way to usher in the Kingdom? Maybe I do not have to go to Jerusalem?” The temptation is there and it is real but our Lord does not sin. He does not turn away from God’s will. Rather, he very physically turns his back to this limited, human way of thinking which is not God’s way of thinking.

Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans (Rom. 12:1-2), “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” This is part of the path of discipleship – to learn how to turn away from our human ways of thought and to think as God thinks. It is not easy. In fact, it might actually be the hardest part of discipleship. We like our presumptions and our views and our way of doing things. Lord, you mean this too? This also has to be offered up and denied and taken to the cross? Our Lord responds, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

But how do we go about this renewal of the mind according to the will of God? We turn and we turn to God! There is something almost dramatic and even jarring about our Lord’s turn from Peter and his words “Get behind me, Satan!” Our thoughts and presumptions can entangle and trap us, even those which on the surface seem so normal, so commonsensical and even caring and reasonable. There is a power to the sharpness of our Lord’s response. No, there is another way. There is God’s way and by that way I will live, whether understood by others or not! Jesus shows this to us in this moment and he shows that all things – even our presumptions, our thoughts and our way of doing things – must give way to the truth of the Kingdom.

Do not let self eclipse the Son. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind!

Christian Community and Charlottesville

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In light of the violent and tragic events that have occurred in Charlottesville, VA a dear friend asked me what can one person do “on a regular basis to fight racism and some of what’s going on in this country/world?” It is sad and frightening what is going on in our country and what we see happening in our world. We must reaffirm that there is no place for bigotry, prejudice and violence in our country, our world and in our hearts as Christians and, I think, we must do this as we also reaffirm and in many ways, rediscover, the value and unique power of Christian community.

In Matthew 18:15-20, we read that our Lord gives his disciples some instructions on the reality and role of Christian community. “If your brother sins against you,” our Lord says, then go and tell him the fault, if he fails to listen then take one or two others along with you and if he still refuses to listen then tell the Church and if he fails to listen even to the Church, “then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” It is worthy to note that Jesus often entered into relationship with the Gentile and tax collector throughout his ministry and that he sought their healing and salvation. Jesus then gives to the community the authority to bind and loose. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Our Lord then doubles down on the unique power and authority of the church community. “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The power of the Christian Church, the power of our Christian faith, is a weak power. We do not have the force of arms or military or police might, neither do we have economic or even (in our increasingly secular age) social might. What we do have is the presence of Christ in our midst and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This alone is that power that can bind and loose and that can open and call forth the grace of heaven through prayer.

Like many people, I have viewed the imaged coming out of Charlottesville including the video that recorded and interviewed a group of white supremacists during these sad and horrendous days. I was truly shocked by the vitriol, hatred and anger expressed by these people and I was also extremely saddened for them because I saw people locked in fear and hate. Theirs is a pseudo-community. Despite the bravado and the appeals to white unity there is no community there. They are people locked in a sad echo chamber stoked by the negative isolation of social media, resentment, fear and ignorance. They are imprisoned in their hate.

To this pseudo-community we are called to be community in Christ – the only community that can both bind and loose and here is found our unique and weak strength. Because Christ is with us and the Holy Spirit has been given us we can both bind and loose. Through the living of Christian community, we can work to truly bind those forces in society and in the human heart that seek to separate and isolate each one of us in resentment and fear. Through the living of Christian community, we can even help to loose those brothers and sisters who have become bound and imprisoned by resentment and fear. This has been my prayer and my hope since I have viewed those sad images coming out of Charlottesville. Pseudo-community only leads to a sad mockery and false caricature of true community as well as human dignity. All the pseudo-communities of our time must be met by the true community of the disciples gathered in prayer, truth and the mercy and the grace known in Christ.

In Christian community we are united by the presence of Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are also united in the recognition that we are all sinners who stand in need of a savior. Scriptures tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). This is the dynamic of true Christian community – not a community where everyone looks the same and thinks the same – but a community where we come to know the perfect love of Christ and where we are set free from those fears that bind us. Christian community is a community of sinners being set free by the perfect love of Christ!

There are many sad and broken things that lie at the root of the violence and hatred given expression in Charlottesville the past few days. One of these, I believe, is a crisis of true community in our society. People are isolated, people are lost, there is pain, uncertainty and fear and in such circumstances the false appeal of pseudo-community can be strong and alluring. This is all the more reason for us to strive in humility, love and grace to be Church – the community where Christ is present and where the Holy Spirit is given and the only true community that has the power to bind and to loose.

Charlottesville and the Call to be Community in Christ

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Charlottesville, VAIn light of the violent and tragic events that have occurred in Charlottesville, VA a dear friend asked me what can one person do “on a regular basis to fight racism and some of what’s going on in this country/world?” It is sad and frightening what is going on in our country and what we see happening in our world. We must reaffirm that there is no place for bigotry, prejudice and violence in our country, our world and in our hearts as Christians and, I think, we must do this as we also reaffirm and in many ways, rediscover, the value and unique power of Christian community.

In Matthew 18:15-20 our Lord gives his disciples some instructions on the reality and role of Christian community. “If your brother sins against you,” our Lord says, then go and tell him the fault, if he fails to listen then take one or two others along with you and if he still refuses to listen then tell the Church and if he fails to listen even to the Church, “then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” It is worthy to note that Jesus often entered into relationship with the Gentile and tax collector throughout his ministry and that he sought their healing and salvation. Jesus then gives to the community the authority to bind and loose. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Our Lord then doubles down on the unique power and authority of the church community. “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The power of the Christian Church, the power of our Christian faith, is a weak power. We do not have the force of arms or military or police might, neither do we have economic or even (in our increasingly secular age) social might. What we do have is the presence of Christ in our midst and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This alone is that power that can bind and loose and that can open and call forth the grace of heaven through prayer.

Like many people, I viewed the Vice media video that recorded and interviewed the white supremacists during these horrendous days in Charlottesville. I was truly shocked by the vitriol, hatred and anger expressed by these people and I was also extremely saddened for them because I saw people locked in fear and hate. Theirs is a pseudo-community. Despite the bravado and the appeals to white unity there is no community there. They are people locked in a sad echo chamber stoked by the negative isolation of social media, resentment, fear and ignorance. They are imprisoned in their hate.

To this pseudo-community we are called to be community in Christ – the only true community that can both bind and loose and here is found our unique weak strength. Because Christ is with us and the Holy Spirit has been given us we can both bind and loose. Through the living of Christian community, we can work to truly bind those forces in society and the human heart that seek to separate and isolate each one of us in resentment and fear. Through the living of Christian community, we can even help to loose those brothers and sisters who have become bound by resentment and fear. This has been my prayer and my hope since I have viewed those sad images coming out of Charlottesville. Pseudo-community only leads to a sad mockery and false caricature of human dignity. All the pseudo-communities of our time must be met by the true community of the disciples gathered in prayer, truth and the mercy and the grace known in Christ.

There are many sad and broken things that lie at the root of the violence and hatred given expression in Charlottesville the past few days. One of these, I believe, is a crisis of true community in our society. People are isolated, people are lost, there is pain, uncertainty and fear and in such circumstances the false appeal of pseudo-community can be strong and alluring. This is all the more reason for us to strive in humility, love and grace to be Church – the community where Christ is present and where the Holy Spirit is given and the only true community that has the power to bind and to loose.

The God who tramples the waves of the sea.

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Julius Sergius von Klever Tutt'Art@ (36)

“Jesus Walking on the Water” by Julius Sergius von Klever

 

Matthew’s presentation of the occurrence of Jesus walking on the water (Mt. 14:22-33) is not about showing Jesus as someone with magical or superhuman powers but rather about showing Jesus as the one who can do what God alone does.

Matthew, fully conversant with the Hebrew Scriptures, knows the connections and they are alluded to in his telling of this miracle. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Job (9:8), we hear that it is God “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” Here we find Jesus walking calmly on the water, trampling the waves of the sea. In Psalm 144:7 we hear the cry of the creature before the Creator, “Stretch forth thy hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me from the many waters.” Here, Peter having taken some steps in faith becomes fearful, he begins to sink and he cries out, “Lord, save me!” We are then told that Jesus immediately “stretched out his hand,” took hold of him and lifted Peter to safety. God alone is the one who can stretch forth his hand and rescue us from the waters that threaten to drown us!

There is a third connection, I believe, and it is from the first reading (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a). Elijah, the prophet, is told to go outside because God is passing by. There is a strong and heavy wind but God is not in the wind. There is an earthquake but God is not in the earthquake. There is a burning fire full of fury but God is not in the fire. Finally, after all this, there is a tiny whispering sound and the prophet hides his face because he knows that now God is passing by. In the Gospel, the wind is rolling and the waves are crashing but God is not found in this tumult and chaos rather, quietly and calmly Jesus walks on the water. Christ (who does that which only God can do) neither fears nor needs the tumult and power of the forces of the world to make his presence known because he is the Lord of Life and all creation bows before him. The “tiny, whispering sound” which underlies all things and all creation is the full grandeur of God!

Our lives and the tumult of our world can get chaotic and overwhelming. God is not in the strong wind because God is more than the wind. God is not in the waters that threaten, that can overwhelm us, because God tramples on the waters.

Matthew, in his Gospel, is making use of this occurrence of Jesus walking on the water, to say something utterly unique about Jesus. Jesus is not just another mystic or guru and neither is he a person with magical or superhuman powers because none of these figures would be able to trample the waters because none of them would be more than the waters. Jesus does what only God can do. Jesus is beyond the tempests of life and creation precisely because he is the Lord and Author of Life! And the Author of Life is also the Lord of Mercy! Jesus, who does what only God can do, tramples on the waves of the sea and he stretches out his hand to save us even as the waves threaten to overwhelm. “Lord, save me!” is the only authentic cry of the creature before the Creator and Savior.