Vessels of the Spirit

“Jesus said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

To be made well.  It is something that everyone wishes for when they fall ill or suffer from a longterm illness or condition for which there is no cure.  The desire to be made well is a desire that springs from within the deepest parts of our being; we want to be made whole as a human being, to have the ability to move freely and to exercise our free will through the movement of our bodies.  The desire to be made well is often thought of in the most immediate terms – in the wellness of the body.  The desire is to appear strong, to have the appearance of being a person that is complete and able to do the things that everyone is able to do.  But, the first reading of this desire leaves much unattended that is equally important to the well-being of humanity.  The desire for wellness can also be thought of as a desire for wholeness throughout the human person.  It is a desire to have wholeness not only in body but also wholeness in spirit and in mind.  We desire to be complete and to have our dignity restored as a person created in the image of God.

The question that Jesus asks of the man is a question that we might think we should take as our own.  It is a question that reflects our need to feel helpful, needed, wanted by others.  As we survey the landscape of creation, it does not take long to see the truth of what living in a tragic, fallen creation means.  With just a cursory glance of our surroundings, we can identify people that are struggling with the affliction of poverty, disease, malnutrition, physical disabilities, mental disabilities, infectious diseases, terminal illness….

scaldatoarea-vitezda-ierusalim-12In this scene, Jesus witnesses the same tragic reality of creation.  Jesus sees a man that is struggling with a physical affliction.  The man sits by a pool intended for healing and wants to move into the waters “when they are stirred up” to find the healing that he desires so deeply.  Jesus enters into the scene, witnesses the tragic condition of the man, and extends the grace of God flowing through the power of the Spirit to the man that is in front of him.  Jesus enters into the tragic reality of creation in an effort to reconcile humanity to God through that same Spirit that abides in us, adopted children of God.  It is the same Spirit that enables us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” that moves through Christ and empowers Jesus to achieve the mission the Father sent him on – to restore the dignity of humanity by walking a life of servanthood that we are able to witness.   Continue reading

The Idol of the Self

The voice of the prophet is rarely is an easy one for us to receive and to heed within our lives.  Prophetic voices have a way of making us look at the self in a way that creates a feeling of discomfort, and it is a voice that pushes us to look deep within the self to recognize the ways in which we need to repent if we are to be in right relationship with God and with each other.  The prophetic voice is the voice of challenge to change our ways, to listen to the call of God, and to recognize the ways in which we fall short of living a Eucharistic life inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

A recent glamour shot from my Facebook profile

In today’s world, perhaps the most ubiquitous image of the self is increasingly going to online platforms that have been grouped into the category of social media.  Through this new medium we have the opportunity to present a particular view of ourselves to the world.  In essence, we are able to present a curated version of who we are as a person, and it is quickly becoming another way of how we define who we are as persons within the broader context of creation.  Through social media, we are able to share the glamour shots of our lives, the new events that are taking place, and the ways in which we are experiencing success.  Like no other time in history, we have the ability to create a public persona that speaks only to our strengths and highlights the very best part of ourselves to the public.  We are encouraged by these outlets to put more and more media of ourselves out for public consumption in order to get the “likes” that we need in order to grow followers on different platforms, to boost our self esteem through those likes, and to establish ourselves as people that are well connected precisely because of the number of friends or followers that we have on the different social media networks.  The pressure to become popular has morphed into something that now reaches across the nation and the world through the ubiquity of social media likes and follows.  Continue reading

Abiding through Christ

“Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. (John 6:56 NRSV) ”

Abide.  It’s an old word in the English dictionary, and perhaps, it is not a word that we are accustomed to using – or at least not in the way that Jesus might mean in this evening’s Gospel lesson.  It is a word that carries many different meanings and has been used in different ways over the evolution of the English language.  In modern times, it is a verb that we might associate with accepting a decision or acquiescing to an act of a body, a culture.  In similar fashion, we might also use it in the negative to say things that go against our code of being cannot be tolerated.  I might say that I cannot abide in one behavior or another because it is such an affront to my being as an individual.  It is rare that we would use the verb as a synonym for living or dwelling in a certain place or geography.  If a person were to ask you, “Where do you abide?” or if someone were to tell you that she “abides in Dallas,” I am quite certain that I would look at them with a very funny look and think to myself that the person was from a different planet altogether.  A person that speaks in such a manner we would probably think of as being a bit “off” or at least completely out of touch with contemporary society.  The last and final meaning of the verb abide is to continue without fading or being lost.  While not as archaic as using abide as a synonym for to live, it is definitely not a word that is in common usage in that sense.  We would probably defer to a more common word like remain, last, or continue.

As I read the Gospel lesson over this past week, the verb lept off of the page for me, and I began wondering what might be the best understanding for this word abide within the context of John’s narrative and within the Bread of Life discourse.  Though a straight translation of abide as to dwell or to live works with the reading, I am not certain that such a straight forward translation really gets at the heart of the truth behind Jesus’ words.  In lieu of taking only a single definition of abide for the full meaning in the context of the lesson, I landed on the combination of two of the definitions.  I get the sense that what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that He is not only going to dwell in us but also that he is not going to forget us.  Jesus is going to dwell in us in a way that will not be lost or will not fade if we are able to accept Jesus’ words.  The key to this abiding is that we welcome Jesus into our lives – that we take the same stance as Peter and share that with others as we move and live and have our being.  Like the disciples in the text, we have the choice to accept or reject Jesus.  If we are able to find it in our hearts to accept Jesus as the Bread of Life, Jesus is telling us that he is going to remain with us without fading.  If, however, we reject Jesus in the way that some of the disciples do, then we are not giving Jesus the ability to abide – to remain within us, to dwell in us, in an unfading, eternal way.

Over the past several weeks, most of my sermons have focused on what it means to feast on the bread of life through our relationships with each other, which is also a focus on what it means to be in communion with each other.  The final reading from John 6 this weeks brings all of this home as Jesus tells us that those that eat his flesh and drink his blood will abide in him and he in them.  Jesus is committing himself to be in common union with the faithful disciples that do their best to live their lives according to the teachings that Jesus gives to us.  He is providing for us an example of what it means to be fully invested in a relationship with another person and to remain in that relationship in spite of differences.

The teaching that Jesus gives to us today is perhaps the most anti-cultural teachings for the present age in America.  In the present day, we segregating ourselves more and more into more or less single-minded communities along different lines of demarcation – including political and religious.  We have forgotten that being in true community – being in a common union – also means living with each other when we find a small difference between us.  The common reaction to these differences in the present time is to simply leave the relationship behind and find a new community – a new group that will speak with a single mind on practically every issue – or at least on every issue of any significance.  As groups form along these lines of demarcation, it also means that we are not able to live in relationship with someone that is different than us in one way or another.  When I leave persons that might share a different view of one issue or another, I do not give myself the benefit of learning from another because I am no longer able to truly listen to what is being offered, and Jesus is trying to teach us that our lives of faith also must include taking the time to abide with each other just as Jesus abides with us.

The polemical nature of our culture in this age is not supported by the words of Jesus today.  If we are to make Peter’s proclamation our own, I have to remain committed to being in relationship with people that are sharing different thoughts and reflections than my own.  As I listen to the people that I find around me, I must start from the position of seeing Christ in them and seek to discover what Christ is attempting to teach me through my relationships.  The abiding of Christ is the lesson for us to learn.  It is a fidelity to relationship that is not easily described in words because it is something that needs to flow out of my heart just as Peter’s words flow out of his.  The abiding love of God through Christ is what teaches me to ask for forgiveness, to be reconciled to my neighbors, and to first look for Christ in each person.  It is the abiding love that I find in the Eucharist and in the life and work of Christ that teaches me that breaking common union with another because of a single issue is not the way for me to build relationship or to grow in understanding of God’s abiding love.  The abiding love of God through Christ invites me to engage with people that have something to teach me, and I am able to do that by asking questions, listening to the experiences of those around me, and then reflecting on what God is trying to teach me through my relationships.  If I am able to remain open to the exploration of humanity through relationship, I am able to understand that Christ abides in each of us in unique ways, and Christ is attempting to teach me the reality of God’s love precisely because Christ abides with me even when I get it terribly wrong.

Being drawn to the Bread of Life

“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

In the Gospel reading this morning, we continue into John’s discourse on the Bread of Life and are once again faced with doing are very best to understand what Jesus is trying to teach us through these verses. We are, once again, faced with some rather enigmatic sayings from Jesus that make this faith of ours seem quite bizarre, and we might find ourselves echoing some of the thoughts of Jesus’ interlocutors, which up to this point has been a crowd of people. In today’s reading, the crowd suddenly becomes “the Jews” and the hostility within the reading increases as the discourse continues.

Early in the discourse today, the question of origins comes to the forefront after Jesus makes the claim that he is the bread of life and that he comes from the Father. You can almost feel the temperature rising as you read the passage from today’s Gospel. As I entered into the text, I could feel the anger that was cast towards Jesus. So, what happens when we read the Gospel with that kind of tone put into the mouths of the people that are discounting what Jesus is saying? For example, it might sound something a little like this:

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”

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