The story of Abraham (Abram) and Lot begins with Abraham's father Terah. He left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled west to Haran with Abraham, Sarah and Lot, his brothers son. He received a calling from the Lord: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation”. Thes promise given to Abraham included a land, a nation, and a people. Abraham obeyed, taking Sarah and Lot with him, along with their servants and possessions, and settled at Shechem.
Suppose you are are old like Abraham and you hear the promise of God. You must think you are dreaming. For his whole married life he and his wife Sara wanted to have children. They accepted already the fact that they most likely would die childless. In a way he saw his nephew Lot as his son. But today this promise is spoken by God to Abraham indeed. We as human beings make often promises. And we try to keep them, but we do not always succeed. But as for God....He will keeps his promise always. When we listen to the voice of God things can change. Today, we hear the promise that transformed Abraham and Sarah to their core. And through Abraham God speaks to us the same promise. When we listen to our fears and doubts, we panic. We might even conclude that the God of the universe can’t do what he promises. That could have been the same with Abraham and Sara but Abraham was a man of faith as St. Paul tells us.
He believed in the promise of God. Sara did too, although she had her doubts when it comes to conceiving a child on her age. And that is understandable, human wise spoken. We should not be too fast to judge for how many times we doubted God's promises, deep within us. Maybe just a little....but it is still doubt. If we would continue after the passage we read today, we see that the God starts to fulfill his promise by sending three messengers to Abraham and Sarah, with the announcement that the birth of the long-promised son is immanent. Promises made. Promises kept. And God continues to fulfill his promises with mankind.
He promised to send his son to the world to show us his love and to open for us the entry to paradise. In that he fulfilled the promise he mad through the prophets. And as Paul writes, the promise of God comes through the righteousness of faith and not through our adherence to the law. It depends all on our faith! Yes, we still do good deeds but these come forth from our faith.
“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God”, says St. Paul. It rhymes with Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is one of the most familiar of all the psalms, and it deserves to be. Its dramatic sweep, from lament and outcry to God to triumphant rejoicing, tells the story of every life lived in faith. This is the psalm Jesus prayed on the cross. And it is a very comforting psalm. Jewish tradition associates Psalm 22 with the feast of Purim, the celebration of Queen Esther’s rescue of her people from the murderous plots of Haman when they were in exile. A witty Jew has summarized the whole of Jewish history and religion as: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!” That’s Psalm 22 for you. The Psalm holds a promise as well. We are not alone and we never will. Loneliness and isolation and abandonment are abolished by Psalm 22. “From you comes my praise in the great congregation.” From you? Yes, because nothing we do is fully our own. Our lives are sacraments in God.
Jesus makes a promise as well today. That he will undergo great suffering and be rejected by the priest. BUT after three days he will rise again. But the disciples could not cope with it. And probably they were like little children. They often only here the first part of what your saying. Let's say: “you can go outside but....”. The disciples had no clue what Jesus was talking about. They were not ready for the message. But Jesus planted that little seed in them and promised them the resurrection. Eventually, after all the denial and running away, they understood what he said back then. The underlying message is that we should be willing to give up our lives for Christ as well. We love our crosses in Christianity. We have them everywhere and some even around their neck. But Jesus is not so much interested whether we display the cross but whether we take it up, as he says in today's Gospel. The question is whether the disciples, and so you and I are ready for that.
Will we leave behind that which does not serve the greater goal? Will be work to mature in spirituality? Will we turn from anger and refuse to hold a grudge? Will we stop putting ourselves first and start looking for who we can serve? Will we die to all the things that we need to let go of? Because only in that way we will mature in faith and trust in God and become true followers of Christ. Only in that way we can see the promise that God has in store for us....and everybody else. Amen.
The First Sunday of Lent presents the love and patience of God for and with mankind. In our first reading today, we learn that after every calamity God renews his covenant with mankind. In order for God to we have to turn towards God. A covenant is made between parties and can never be one-side. God needs us to put our trust in him completely. God made a Covenant with Noah and his descendants at the time of the great flood. We could call that a total lock-down and isolation. We during this pandemic can imagine how Noah must have felt locked up in that Ark.
However, that is how God saved Noah and his family in the great Ark. The story of Noah shows us that the rainbow will appear after the storm is over. We are going to hard times during this pandemic but God will lead us through it. Eventually the rainbow will appear….in Gods timing. In the story of Noah we are saved also. He reaffirmed the fundamental truth that God truly loves us, no matter what where we come from or what we have done. If we turn back to God he will turn back to us. When you read the Book of Genesis you could get the impression that the Ark was build over night. Or at least in a short period of time. But of course we know that would be merely impossible, looking at the size of the Ark. It is more likely , and is also documented by research, that it took years or maybe even decades to build. And the great thing is that God throughout that time, probably kept on calling people back into his loving arms. He used Noah himself and his building of the Ark for that. But we know from Genesis that the people did not return. Only Noah and his family were righteous in the eyes of God.
no one wanted to change their lifestyle and to embrace God. They rejected him and his mercy, as so many people do in our world. It is not something that God chose but that mankind chose. The Symbol of the Ark could not come on a better time for us. This the right time to use the symbol of the Ark to give hope to people. It looks like we are stuck in the Ark of our homes and shut of from the world and others. But God manoeuvres the Ark through the stormy and most difficult challenges of this time. God will lead those that he has called and chosen. However, for some reason many are also called back into his loving arms. The reason for that we do not know. It is a painful experience that we have to give so many people into the mercy of God. People we love and that were dear to use didn’t survive the Covid storm. And we pray for them to be home in Gods love. In Genesis God chose eight people, the family members of Noah, and kept them from the raging waters of the storm. Why? We don’t know exactly God motivation but this is a learning story to remain close to God.
God saved Noah’s family. They kept their faith, and in the end, God rescued them and made a Covenant with them. The Early Church taught us that through the waters of baptism have been forgiven in Christ. Baptism that countless people had received from the very beginning of the Church. In that way we are called and gathered into the Ark of God, his One Church. It is Christ Himself who is the head of that Church and the Holy Spirit is his Vicar. Christ as the Head will Guide us and navigate us through the stormy ‘seas’ of this world. Even through the stormy ‘seas’ of this pandemic. In the Gospel we hear that Jesus isolated himself from the world and went into the desert. In a way it was not voluntarily but he was led by the spirit. He had to social distancing for a while to overcome the temptations that we are all prone to. The Lord Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan in the desert just right after His baptism at the Jordan. He stayed for days and forty nights in the desert the Gospel tells us. The same amount of time as Noah in the Ark. This is a symbol of a very long time and not necessarily the literal number. The enemy wanted to persuade the Lord to prevent him from doing the will of God. Satan struck hard with his efforts in trying to tempt the Lord.
Satan's temptations were temptations of power, physical needs and egoism. Through this we are also called to resist the temptations, which is not an easy thing. But no one ever said that being a follower of Christ is easy. This is why, during this season of Lent, all of us are called to control our desires and remain ever faithful to the Lord. That is why we are all called to remember our Christian faith and calling in life, to be genuine followers and disciples of the Lord. Especially in this season of Lent. We are all called to follow the Lord with a renewed faith and conviction and love one another as he loves us. We are called to be more Christ-like in our actions. We should be more loving and compassionate towards others. We are called to Christian charity and love.
Let us all make this season of Lent meaningful and fruitful. May the Lord continue to bless us and guide us, and may He strengthen us to fulfill his call. God made a Covenant with us. In order for the covenant to work we need to stay close to the Lord and answer his call to go out in the world and make it a better place. Amen.
Today, as we start the season of Lent, we will be marked by ashes and told, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The time of Lent is season of reflection on our own experiences with dust and ashes. We can find new meaning in it again and again. Sometimes we get stuck in life, in our job, in our relationships with family or friends or in our spiritual life. We keep on digging in the dust. When have you found yourself stuck, digging and then find yourself in a big hole. When have we been consumed by anger, regret and grief? When have you desperately tried to fix a situation through your own effort? How many times were we the cause of division and grieve of others? All of that is a part of the dust. It bears no life in it.
Slowly, I began to realize that my frantic activity, desperation and frustration were getting me nowhere. At one point it will dawn on us that we need to increase our prayer life and seek union with God. We need to forgive and let go of all the anger and anxiety. When we pray intimately we are able to experience peace and tranquility. It is then that we realize that we should have get rid of the baggage way before. Sometimes when we are struggling in the dust, God gives us what we need right in that place. As we look back, we can see that God meets us where we are and changes right there. God in Jesus has entered into all the dust, the dirt, the struggle and sorrow of our lives and meets us there. Jesus meets us in the dust and reminds us who we are. He reminds us that we are but dust and that we are dependent on God. Without we are nothing.
If we trust in ourselves we are left to our own strength we will fail at one point. We will find ourselves stuck in sin and shame. All human efforts and activity will lead us deeper into the dust. We are dust…. But God makes beautiful things out of dust. Let’s not forget that he created us out of the dust. In the beginning, God formed us all from dust of the earth and breathed into us the breath of life. And God keeps on breathing his life in us. Each moment, life is given to us from a Divine origin, we don’t have to do anything for it. And at the final breath, God takes us up in his eternity. God makes beautiful things out of dust. He breathes his Holy Spirit in it and makes it to come alive. The word for spirit in Greek and Hebrew is the same as the word for breath. God’s spirit is as close as our breath. We have it available every moment of our life. We only have to accept that free gift from God.
We have the intention to refuse the breath of Gods spirit and instead breathing in toxic air full of anger, gossip, anxiety, despair, judgement, aggression, division, pride and shame. We get filled up with things that leave us depleted and makes us long for fresh air. No matter how toxic the air is that we breathe, God always seeks to cleanse us from all of that. He breathes into us the Holy Spirit, as an individual but also as a community. The Season of Lent allows us to intentionally seek that cleansing and renewal. We can do that through practices of confession (repentance), fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Lenten practices are meant to step away from our self focused attitude and open us up for the life-giving Spirit of God. They’re intended to draw us more fully into God. We are called to loose the bonds of injustice and setting the oppressed free.
In Lent, God works on our renewal in the Spirit. We are set free from focusing on our self, so that we might serve others. In Lent, God works to make us who are just dust a blessing to the world. Remember that you are dust but also that God makes beautiful things out of dust. Let’s us pray that we make room for God in the Season of Lent so he can breathe in us his spirit so we will be a blessing to the world. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany or the Sunday next before Lent if you want. The readings point out to the transfiguration, so it is a kind of "second" transfiguration Sunday, though this feast is in August. It is also St. Valentines day today, which connects with the them of the Love of God. The Lectionary gives us two beautiful readings from Second Kings and the Gospel of Mark. Elijah’s ascent to heaven and Jesus’ transfiguration. These are mystical stories where heaven and earth meet in an extraordinary way. The narrative combines the eternal with the human experience. The Transfiguration describes a Theophany, God’s eternal presence. Mark tells the story with a beautiful simplicity. Jesus goes to a mountain to pray, accompanied by his closest friends, his inner circle.
They see him transfigured in dazzling white clothes. They see him surrounded by the glory of God, and talking with the great prophets Moses and Elijah. This reflects Moses’ transfiguration in Exodus 34. If you remember, he comes down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the covenant, his face shining so brightly from his encounter with God. The people were scared and covered their faces. The mountain is a a bridge between heaven and earth. The Transfiguration describes a mystical moment. A visible manifestation of the union of human and divine in Jesus. Like the Israelites in Exodus, Jesus’ friends are terrified by what they have seen. Terrified and in awe of that glimpse of God’s eternal glory. In the climax of the scene, Gods voice speaks and confirms Jesus identity as the Son of God. “This is my Son the Beloved; listen to him!” This experience is a turning point. Jesus, reminds us of his unity with God. The Transfiguration is a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and the road to his passion, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem.
Transfiguration Sunday is a bridge between Epiphany and Lent, where Jesus’ journey to the cross is the central point. The Transfiguration is a revelation of Christ’s glory. It uncovers for us the veil between heaven and earth. The story of Elijah’s ascent to heaven is another such meeting of heaven and earth, an experience of God. Elijah knows where he is going; the company of prophets know where he is going; his student and protégé Elisha knows where he is going. In an echo of Jesus’ instruction to tell no one, Elisha insists: keep silent. He knows, but he is not ready. It is touching and profoundly human that Elisha will not leave his master. He stays with him as long as possible. He accompanies him on his journey as long as possible. This is a reflection of Peter who was not able to stick with Jesus until the end. Elisha holds on to his friend, human mentor, inspiring prophet and healer. The holy man who is in intimate communion with God. He pleads with Elijiah: “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit,” he says.
These revelations of God’s glory—are stories of human grief. Elisha accompanies his beloved mentor as far as he can, until he can no longer see him. He then tears his clothes in lamentation. Peter, James, and John too are reluctant to let go of the human manifestation of God’s eternal light. They want to make make dwellings for the prophets, to keep them with them. They do not want their beloved to leave them behind. Today we’ve heard two stories of crossing over, journeying toward the threshold of life and death, the temporal and eternal. It could be a scene from a hospital or hospice! Family and friends are gathered to hold vigil at the threshold of life and death. They want to accompany their loved one as far along the journey as they can. There may be a glimpse of the light shining around the traveler, which embrace the person in awe. He might already heading to the light even heading has already turned his or her face. “Please, while those that are surrounding him/her plead “to build them a house” so they may stay. Or maybe, since you must go, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit”.
Both stories are encounters with the divine. They are reminders that God walks with us on our journey to unity with the infinite, mystical and what we cannot know. We can feel God’s presence, even if we have to let a loved one go. Because we experience that they will not be lost forever. They are not far from us and we will meet again. In the stories of Jesus’ transfiguration and Elijah’s ascent to heaven, the dead are not lost nor the living left behind. Grief and suffering are transformed by the spiritual knowledge that we shall be together in God’s love again. A wonderful perspective in the light of our human suffering. Let’s thank God for his comforting presence to us. Amen.
Readings Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147, Corinthians 9: 16-23, Mark 1:29-39
If you read some parts of the Gospel you might get the impression that Jesus was some kind of miracle worker. But yet, that comes with the rest of his ministry. His concern is first with the soul of his brothers and sisters and sometimes healing became a part of that. Be it in a physical or spiritual way. Hence, after healing Peter’s mother-in-law Jesus leaves the crowds in order to pray. Everything that he does is inspired by his heavenly Father. In prayer he receives the power to do what he is called to do. Paul follows Christ’s vocation in his famous passage that he has become all things to all people. That means that he preaches the Gospel in a way that people can take it in. He comes to them where they are in life. That is something the Church seems to forget so often. We know all his famous line to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”. We need to accept that fact that not everyone is ready to understand at the same time. Back to the Gospel. Everyone loves it when Jesus shows up. His presence makes a difference. Things happen. Mother-in-laws are healed, the sick are cured and demons are cast out. Lives are changed. This is true not only for the people of Capernaum in Jesus’ time but also for us here and now. Jesus is still able to heal, yes even in the midst of a pandemic.
But just like we go to a doctor when we are sick, we need to come in the presence of Our Lord. We need to confess we cannot do it on our own and He will surely come to us. He comes to our house as surely as he went to the house of Simon and Andrew. It happens when we pray for or with people that miracles happen, little ones and big ones. Those experiences are real. Jesus is present and active in our lives and the world. Those are the kind of things for which people line up at Jesus’ door. These kind of situations helps people’s faith greatly of course. We feel His presence and see the results. God is good!
But what if nothing happens? When wake up into the dark periods of life? We know all that life can be hard and it does not go like we want it. In our eyes the wrong things happen. Faith can be challenging in these moments. In those times it seems if darkness is all around us. We don’t see the presence of Jesus anywhere close. Sometimes people think God abandoned them and so they will abandon God and faith. So what do we do when Jesus walks off, symbolically spoken, and we feel alone? There are times that it happens. In the Gospel Jesus will get up in the early morning hours, in the darkness, and goes to a deserted place to pray. Watch the last two words: to pray! So he is not abandoning us. It is all about prayer for him and for us. It is about what is happening in our spiritual life, between us and God. No matter how dark it may seem, Jesus never leaves us. Maybe it seems that he is absent, but in reality he invites us to move to the deserted place. He calls us out of comfort into the vulnerability of the wilderness. It is a deserted and desolate place where we are alone in prayer with our Heavenly Father. We all have deserted places in our lives: accepting the limitations of disease, the pandemic, broken relationships, loneliness and grief and the struggle to make ends. There are so many wildernesses we are trying to escape. I am sure you could each name your own wildernesses and desert.
We people often don’t like deserted places, we don’t like silence. We want to avoid them because these place make us fearful and sad. There is nowhere we can hide. We have to face ourselves and the dark and lonely places within us. We are confronted by things done and left undone. In the wilderness we have to admit we are not in control. It is a place of great importance and a place where healing can happen. There is a price though! We must trade the comfort of the house for the risk of the desert. The wilderness prayer is a prayer of surrender. It does not ask for things to happen but just let it be and give it to God. Wilderness prayer doesn’t ask for circumstances to be changed but that we will be changed. The wilderness contains great opportunities for spiritual growth. Jesus goes to the deserted places of our lives to draw us there. He went first so we can be alone with him there. It is a sacred place where have communion with him. In the spiritual desert there is only God and nothing but God. Jesus is drawing us deeper into the heart of God. Ironically, it takes that desolate place to make It happen. The place that we thought was barren and without any promise or future. Maybe it is the dark night of the soul that happens and calls our soul alive again in that barren place.
Jesus is in the deserted places of our lives. It is there that the message of the good news starts. Good news comes alive in the empty and desolate places. Jesus eventually leaves this deserted place to go proclaim the Gospel in the neighboring towns. New life arises from the deserted and empty places. The good news of Christ comes from the wilderness. “Everyone is searching for you,” the Gospel says. It was only the disciples that found him. Maybe because they were the only ones willing to go to the deserted place. Where were the others looking for him? Where are we looking for him? Where are we searching when darkness overcomes us. In the safety and comfort places of our houses maybe? We also need to go to the deserted places of our life. The places that we think bring nothing good. These places we think are barren, empty, will be the place where we find Jesus….praying for us and hopefully with us. That is how we regain strength to do what needs to be done…just like Jesus did. Amen.
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
The lectionary of today is all about the authority to speak on behalf of God. The evangelist Mark talks about the legitimation of Jesus in his Gospel. He says of those listening to Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Basically Jesus violated a "min lockdown" as it was not to permitted to do something on the sabbath. It shows us that God is not bounded to our man made rules. God made the sabbath for men and not the other way around. However, when Jesus is in the synagogue there is someone in need and that has always priority....sabbath or not. Jesus told us already what the most important commandment is: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is what we should do always and everywhere. Jesus gave us the example.
The people in that synagogue knew the scribes. In their eyes no one was authoritative as a prophet, other than Moses. But hearing the young preacher from Nazareth they might hear the reflection of Moses’s words in the first reading for today: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people: you shall heed such a prophet.”. this first reading is not only about the prophet that has the authority but also warns those that don’t have the authority to speak on behalf of God. We know from scripture that true prophets are recognized but rarely anyone heeds to their words. We seem to prefer miracle workers over prophets. We usually find it hard to accept the directness with which the prophets speak. It is much easier if God through some miracle worker solves our problems.
Throughout history, movements came to make easy knowledge of the divine possible. In our modern world people often focus on meditation, instead of studying the Bible. We make much effort to avoid the words of the true prophets who speaks with authority. The First reading tries to bring our focus back on the one that speaks with authority. The problem with Paul’s congregation was that the educated ones made fun of the ones that were less educated. Paul had great compassion for the weaker members of the ekklesia. His letter teaches us that was afraid to be stumbling block to new Christians. He would do anything to support the weak so they would be saved. He was not interested in things that didn’t matter. We today focus on the wrong things. We bragg about having a great building, choir among other things. Paul would probably say: Good for you. But do you also welcome the stranger, the poor and the weak? Do you do what it takes to build up the body of Christ?
Paul spoke also with the authority as an apostle. He walks in the line of Jesus to speak with authority but also have compassion for the weak. Jesus always, made sure that the least of his brothers and sisters, were given equal status. He made sure that they knew that God loved them and that God had no patience with hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He spoke and lived and acted in the name of the one who sent him to the world. He points always out to the one that came to shine his light on us: Jesus Christ! The one that speaks with authority and came to give his life as a ransom for many. He is the One in whom we should rejoice. Amen.
The narrative around Jonah, as we heard in today’s first reading does not need much introduction. In the story Jonah receives direction of God to go and preach in Nineveh but he goes into a different direction as we know from the story. But God does not easily takes no for an answer. It is the same in our lives, God will move us in the direction he wants us to go. It might not be so dramatic as in the case of Jonah, but he will get us where he wants us to be. Escaping God’s call is not easy at all. In the story Jonah ends up being swallowed by a big fish… likely a whale. He gets a divine inspired time out. Then Jonah repents and prays and the fish spits him out. Now Jonah does what God wants from him: going to Nineveh and preach there. He hurdles his way through the city with basically the shortest homily ever. But it turns out it is the most effective message ever. The people of Nineveh repent and they turn away from their sinful ways. God has mercy on them and decides not to destroy the city after all.
Not something that Jonah really wanted so God is about to teach him another lesson. In the last part of the story we see Jonah getting upset with God (yes, God can handle that). Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there and sat under it in the shade. God let’s a bush come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head. Jonah was very happy about the bush. Then a worm came and destroyed the bush. After that a sultry east wind made the sun beat down on his head. It made Jonah so upset that he wanted to die. God asked Jonah: ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ Jonah told God that he was angry enough to die. But God answered Jonah: ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? Notice this last line in the dialogue. It shows us that God cares for all of his creation and wants to extend his mercy to all.
Jonah was a Hebrew, one of God’s chosen people. He had shown himself faithful in his desire to follow God’s ways. But Jonah’s faithfulness has its limits, and Jonah discovers what those limits are. When God tell him to go to Nineveh he does not want to go and tell the people thereof God’s love and mercy. Jonah doesn’t want to go and for a good reason. Nineveh was the capital of the ruthless Assyrian empire, an empire that had terrorized the Israelites. The people of Nineveh were the Israelites’ sworn enemies. So no wonder Jonah resisted when God told him to go and preach about God’s love and mercy. For Jonah knew that God would be merciful in the end. Jonah is not so sure he wants to see Nineveh receiving God’s grace. We have that in our own lives ourselves. Showing mercy and forgiveness to the people that have hurt us is difficult. What happens to Jonah at the end, is a perfect example of someone fighting against the reality of God’s mercy and grace. Jonah is convinced that the Ninevites don’t deserve it. But he is convinced that he deserves the blessings God offers him. He is caught in this cycle of judgment, in which we are so often caught up in.
Just like is often the case with us, Jonah cannot extend to his enemies the same grace God has offered to him. It’s a pattern of judgment we all get caught up in at times. We judge ourselves worthy or unworthy, despite the evidence of Gods grace. We judge others too in one or the other way. We become trapped in a cycle of judgment. We seem to be unable to extend compassion, empathy and love. This is basically what Christ teaches us in the Gospel “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”. And we all know the story about the woman caught in “adultery”. They want to force Jesus into a discussion about the law. But he does not let it happen and refuses to condemn the woman. He only tells the bystanders: “let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone”. In all of his ministry, Jesus teached the same thing that God tried to teach Jonah. Namely that God is not obsessed with right and wrong, guilt and punishment, success and reward. God is obsessed with loving us just as we are. Because He is a relational God….He is our heavenly Father and he loves us. Time and again, particularly with those on the margins, Jesus sets aside judgment and shows us what compassion looks like. The Jesuit Priest Father Boyle once said: "there is an idea that has taken root in the world. Namely that there are lives out there that matter less than other lives.” To move past this idea the solution is service. When we serve another, we move toward experiencing the kind of compassion. Service frees us for compassion because it puts us in relationship with those that we are likely to judge.
When Jonah finally goes to Nineveh after his time in the belly of the whale, he simply walks a straight line through the city, preaches his seven-word sermon, and leaves. He does not stop to learn about who the people are like. He does not interact with them. The result is that he has no capacity to imagine their lives or empathize with the trials and challenges they have. He fails to go for service and relationship. And so Jonah remains trapped in ignorance and judgment. How can we ever truly know the other, if we cannot emphasize with the, often traumatic, experiences they had? In order to faithfully follow a relentlessly relational God, we need to find ways of compassion for people’s whose experience is not ours. We need to understand that God is the God of second chances. This is a lesson for both the Clergy and the laity. But especially for the leadership in the Church. It is disappointing to see how often the Church is judgemental and shows a lack of empathy and compassion. We are called to set aside judgment and focus on what we have in common: our identity as beloved children of God.
We belong to God and God is love. Love is what God chooses over and over again. Even for Jonah, in his anger, even for the religious authorities with their judgmental attitude, even for the Ninevites who persistently violated God’s ways. God chooses to love even us, even in our ignorance that prevents us from showing love and compassion to others. It is this love that is most fully revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Thomas Merton said ones” Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is Gods business and not ours. All that is asked from us is to show love and compassion. God is calling us as well to go on our way to Nineveh. He wants us to go to that place and that people we cannot imagine are worthy of God’s love. God calls us to love others and not stop to ask whether they deserve it. We can run from that call, but God eventually will have the last word. When we heed to Gods call what wonderful things can happen in ourselves and in the world around us. Amen.
If you listened carefully to the readings from this weekend you noticed that they are all about being called? God calls Samuel in the middle of the night. On three occasions Samuel does not realize who it is that calls him. Neither does Eli, until the third time. Old Eli was a priest. Yes, they had priests back then! Christians did not invent that ministry! Ancient Judaism had priests long before Jerusalem became a holy city and long before Solomon built the temple and long before the Romans destroyed the Temple. And so, did the non-Jewish pagan religions. Priests offered sacrifices to the gods on behalf of the people at an altar. We stand in a long tradition. The third time Eli realizes it is God that is calling and so he tells the young boy what to do. And Samuel gives himself to God. God’s calling comes in unexpected ways. In ways that we do not recognize as the voice of God. These stories always make me reflect on my own calling into ministry. It is enough to make you stop and consider your own call. For myself it is a calling i don't easily forget. I accompanied someone to the oncology department of a hospital for their medical treatments. It was then that a deacon who served as a volunteer chaplain and whom I knew, came by a brought communion to the patients, prayed with them and encouraged them. Immediately it came in my mind: “that is something I want to do”. It was God calling me through that person. However, I took at least 4 years before I decided to study. Theology to become a chaplain/spiritual counselor. At that point I had no clue in which direction God would lead me. But it was clear to me that God called me to ministry. Before that I did not saw myself as qualified for ministry. But the Bible shows us that God calls people that are willing to be taught be him.
When you say yes to God, he will do the formation part. He forms your character for ministry, with the help from other people of course. If we could summarize the lesson of today's gospel reading, we can say that Jesus has called us by name to be his disciples. It is Jesus who calls us. So, it is Jesus who calls us. What does it mean to be called? The English word comes from the Greek word kaleo and means to command or request to be present, to come. For example, someone is called to testify in court. The Latin word for all is vocare from which we get the word "vocal", as in vocal cords, a part of the body we use to speak. From vocare we also get the word vocation, which means a calling to a particular profession. In the church, we use the word primarily to mean a vocation to religious life, to the priesthood, to the diaconate or to some other ministry. So Jesus calls us into his service. We are ordinary people that are called into his service. We are nothing special. We are simple people, just like his disciples. The disciples were simple fishermen of which there were many near the Sea of Galilee, ordinary people. They did not have a degree. They probably could not even read or write. They lived simple, ordinary lives.
He comes to us exactly where we are.
In today's gospel Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him that has found the Messiah and brings him to Jesus. It shows us that we are called to bring people to Jesus. As Nathaniel is approaching Jesus, Jesus states, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false!” WOW! This is quite a statement coming from God’s son!! Don’t we wish all Jesus is saying that about any of us? Nathaniel is called a man of integrity. However, Jesus' statement caught Nathaniel off guard, in his mind came the, immediate questions. Wait a moment? How do you know what I am like? How can you make such a statement without knowing me? Indeed, Nathaniel comes right out and asks Jesus, "How do you know me?". Jesus' response must have sent shivers down his spine: "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you!" It Flabbergasted Nathaniel again. But why? Because it revealed that Jesus was God! Very pious Jews like Nathaniel practiced a very curious habit; they would pray and study the Scriptures under a fig tree which was the symbol of Israel. Unlike the Pharisees who tried to be seen of men reading and praying they would find secluded places under a fig tree and pray and meditate on God's Word in private ... with no one around or to anyone’s knowledge! No one would have known he was there! Thus, it was clear to Nathaniel what Jesus had just said; only as God could Jesus had seen Nathaniel under that fig tree! Only an Omniscient God could do this or know this, and to have known he was there BEFORE Philip had called him! God sees the ones that are fit for his service. It does require a degree or special qualities. Only a good heart and faithfulness is what counts for God. And if he calls us, he leaves it up to us to say yes. God is not the kind to force us into his service. He calls. He waits. He calls.
Once God calls you it is extremely hard to say no to Him. He is a very persistent God. I can tell you that much! He waits. Some of us hear his voice and answer to his call. If we would describe it in radio terms, we would say that we need to tune in on His frequency to hear his voice. At that point we can hear him calling as he called Samuel, and if we have the courage we can answer: “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens”. Amen.
The baptism of Jesus is a moment of special grace in our story of salvation. Not only did he join us in our state of being, but also joint by the two other persons of the Trinity. The gospel uses the simple phrase that “the heavens were opened”. This is a powerful statement. Today’s gospel is the beginning of Jesus journey. And through that each of us is asked to travel, through our own baptism.
Each of us needs a sense of purpose in our Christian living. When we set out for a journey, we prepare for that journey. We need to make an idea what we need and by what means we travel. The same when we make a spiritual journey. Peter summarized the journey of Jesus’s life. “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are invited to make Jesus’s purpose our own.
The sacrament of baptism is always a joyful occasion. There is happiness when a child is welcomed in their family. And there is happiness when a child is welcomed in the Church. In being received into the church family, they become our brothers or sisters in Christ. They become adopted children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. The joy of the occasion is visible when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font. They are proud that their child becomes a child of God through baptism. When the water is poured out on their heads it is a great moment. For the parents and godparents, not always for the child. Sometimes they cry. The child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil, the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is somehow uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Just like other decisions are made for them by their parents when they are little. In the Gospel Jesus rebukes his disciples when they prevent children from coming to him. ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them, for too such as these the kingdom of God belongs.’
Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism. They become followers of Jesus through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and what it means to us. It is also good to reflect whether we fulfill our Baptismal to become true followers of Jesus. In the way that we follow his guidelines and not human guidelines. For Jesus his baptism was a turning point in his life. It was a day of new beginning, as it should be for us. On that day he began his public ministry during and gave himself to God and people. He did not come to be served but to serve. This is a great reminder for all in ordained ministry. He came to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that journey for all of us, he was confident of the favor of his Father. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you’. And through our Baptism in Christ, our Heavenly Father speaks these words about us. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him life a dove. Though Jesus was baptized as an adult, the meaning is the same for all of us, whether we are baptized as a child or adult. It is a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ in our own special way. In our Baptism God gives us also the assurance that his favor rests on us. And just like Jesus the Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our journey in life. On that day we became a member of Jesus’ family of disciples, the church. It is a joyful moment that contains the power shape our lives in a completely new way. It reveals God’s purpose for our lives. For the rest of our lives, we try to fulfill that what we received on that day of new beginning. We try to follow Jesus on our journey. And just like Jesus fell under the pressure of the cross, so we will fall under the pressure of our own burdens in life. But with His help we will rise up again and continue on our way to our heavenly homeland.
We are baptized as children and confirm that as an adult. As adults we are able to say yes to the Lord with all our heart and mind. It is not until our adult years that we can hear Gods calling as the prophet Isaiah did. ‘O come to the water all you who are thirsty, Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.’ The Lord won’t stop calling us, but it is up to us to hear his voice and answer him: “Yes Lord, here I am”. The word of God will be fulfilled sooner or later. Our response to the Lord’s call, can be slow and take time. But his call remains powerfully creative and will fulfill the purpose he has in mind for us. Amen
Today we find ourselves in the landscape of Matthew, in story where the shepherds and the manger has been gone to the background. It is a story that features some strangers from Persia that are being called “Magi,”. Maybe astronomers, inquirers or what we would call scientists maybe! They followed the light to find the newborn king…the Word incarnate, the logos, “the Christ.” But also, the story of Herod who gets in their way and that of the holy family.
It is typical the story of our world. This is the story of human leadership that lead the nations. It is a story of an increasing darkness and danger. It features the selfishness of those that in power. Especially that of all human tyrants in the person of Herod. For Israel, Herod and his family represents a vasal and failed king. He is a king that complied with the enemy of the Jewish people. You can compare it with the those that complied with the Nazi’s in World War II. No wonder that the Jewish people were looking for the real King to appear. Those familiar with the biblical narrative will recognizing in Herod all the negative attributes of the tyrants throughout the history of the world. We have names as Stalin, Hitler, oppressive regimes like those in China and Iran. Sadly, enough the list is endless unfortunately. The people in Jesus’s days would recognize the events in Jesus’s life as the history of Israel. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, the City of David, spends time in Egypt, where God rescued the people from slavery.
The last evil and obscure verse we read at the end of today’s Gospel. “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’” Rachel is a reference to one of Jacob’s wives, believed to be buried in Bethlehem; and Ramah was the place of mourning for the Exile. The lectionary gives us this genocide of the innocent in the Christmas season. It should make us think how those in power value human life. Be it in a war, children in poverty or the innocent child in the womb. Matthew offers a subtle distinction which can be easily overlooked. Instead of blaming God for this evil to happen, Matthew refers to an Old Testament prophecy, “then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet.”
A subtle change where Matthew changes the words of the prophecy to take the blame away from God. This evil occurs because of human beings, not because of God. Like it is with so many things in our world, including this terrible virus we are battling. The message Matthew gives suggests that not God summons evil to accomplish divine purposes, but that the scripture knows the tragic human destruction throughout history. But nevertheless, not even this evil as cold and merciless as the murder of innocent children, can destroy God’s ability to save.” We ought to join Rachel, who represents everyone, who mourns the loss of children to such a tyranny. Because of that the Son of God, the Light and Life of the world, is sent into exile. The terrible rage of Herod proves his helplessness, in the light of tyrants like Herod past, present and future. The child survives, returns, and lives on to this day! We also learn also about the Light in its unending battle to transform darkness into Light. The Light cannot be destroyed, but it can be forced to withdraw for a while. The light can be shut out by darkness. In our times we are surrounded by darkness in many ways. There are many Herod’s, great and small, in our days as well. But this darkness is not only outside of us but also within us. We must also contend with the Herod in our own souls. We are also capable of shutting the Light out that lives inside of us and cannot see the lights in others.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes it in the words, “Christ lives in me.” Mystics throughout history have referred to that light inside of us. All of them agree that this light appears by grace. It has a divine origin and is given to us by our Creator God. At Christmas we are to celebrate this coming of the Light. It is not just a nice narrative, but a calling as well. We are called to let this light being born within each one of us. The Christ we promise in our baptism to seek and serve. It is our duty as Christians to love as Jesus loved and love our neighbor as ourselves. The Holy Innocents, the victims of Herod’s holocaust, died for the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Of course, they were not aware of that. They were the first martyrs of our faith who were mourned over by their parents. And you can imagine that these parents must have asked themselves: “why, why, why”. This Second Sunday of Christmas means to ask us, whether we will keep the children alive. Will we allow the light to be born inside of us? Will we let Christ come close to us and not shut him out as some kind of little Herod? Can we join with those Holy Innocents to bear witness against the Herod’s of our own time?
Let us pray that the eyes of our soul, or of “our heart”, as Paul calls it be opened so that we can regain new hope and bring that hope to the world. May the prayers from those that went before us and of all the innocent children come alive in us this day. And may those prayers encourage us to fight for justice and oppose the Herod’s of this world. Amen.