The Seesaw of Faith

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

April 21, 2020

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Nicodemus

Today, in Mercy, we meet two towering figures of the early Christian story, Barnabas and Nicodemus.

In our first reading, Barnabas is cited as a devout member of the community of believers which …

… was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.


Our Gospel brings us Nicodemus who “came to Jesus under cover of the night”.  Nicodemus, obviously Ph.D. material, has a long exchange with Jesus in the attempt to come to intellectual comfort with Jesus’s message.

Nicodemus wants his faith to make logical sense before committing to it,  to the point that Jesus sounds a little astounded at the effort:

You are the teacher of Israel
and you do not understand
what I am saying to you?


I think a little bit of both Barnabas and Nicodemus lives within each of us.

barnabas seesaw

Like Nicodemus, we do believe, but we would like to understand more. We grapple with concepts of “God’s plan”, with the problem of evil, with what seems the random mercilessness of nature, and myriad other inexplicable realities.

Still, like Barnabas, we trust and are willing to lay our lives at the feet of Christ to be his agents in the world.

That balancing of trust with anxiety is the story of faith for most of us. And it’s OK.  Both Nickie and Barnie turned out to be giants for Christ.  And so will we with God’s help.

Music: Ye Must Be Born Again – sung by The Sensational Nightingales, a beloved Black Gospel Quartet that, with several membership changes, has been popular for over seven decades.  (Lyrics below)

Ye Must Be Born Again
written by William T. Sleeper in 1877

A ruler once came to Jesus by night,
To ask Him the way of salvation and light;
The Master made answer in words true and plain,
“Ye must be born again!”
“Ye must be born again!”
“Ye must be born again!”
“I verily, verily say unto thee,
Ye must be born again!”

Ye children of men, attend to the word
So solemnly uttered by Jesus, the Lord,
And let not this message to you be in vain,
“Ye must be born again.”

Oh, ye who would enter that glorious rest,
And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest;
The life everlasting if ye would obtain,
“Ye must be born again.”

Shaken to Life

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

April 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are filled with the sanctifying unrest of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts we read that, despite the internal peace of the early Christian community, they faced a hostile surrounding environment. Nevertheless, they were impelled by the Spirit within them to continue to proclaim Jesus Christ.

shook


Our Gospel remembers Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Grace burned in him too, but it was a subtle light shaded by his early fear. He came to Jesus in the shadows of the night to test the flame in his soul.

Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above,
he cannot see the Kingdom of God.

balletAgain and again in salvation history, the world is “turned upside down and shaken” by God’s renewing power.  We human beings find ourselves struggling to get our feet under us again as circumstances spin to a new truth. Like graceful ballet dancers pirouetting in space, we must keep our eyes on the fixed point of God’s immovable love.

The early disciples did this. Nicodemus did this. As our world now shakes into a changed reality, it is our turn to lock our hearts on God, opening to the new dream God has for all Creation.

wave

Music: Shake – by Mercy Me (You been sittin’ in that chair a while? Here’s a song you can get up and dance-pray!)

A Birthday Reflection

Thanks

“Before I formed you in the womb,
I knew you…
(Jeremiah 5:1)


On this, your birthday, God says to you:

Of all the myriad gifts of my creation,
this is the day I made you.
Rest in that thought.
I made you –
For this time in history,
to be in the world with these people,
to live in this place,
to know these times,
these cultures,
this evolution of my creation.

butterflies

On the day I made you,
I made thousands of other creatures.
Human beings, each reflecting some facet of my infinite image.
Beautiful birds, riotous monkeys, infinitesimal ants.
My lava broke through earth’s crusts to form new islands.
I folded unseen mountains into yet undiscovered gorges,
bent rivers into surprise journeys,
washed entire beaches onto new shores.
I was busy the day I made you.
War raged and I welcomed its many victims into heaven.
More creatures died on your birthday than were born.
More came home to me than went out to begin their journey.



egg 

But you were one who went out.
When I opened my hand and breathed your journey into you,
I smiled.
I saw the wonders that could bless the world because of you.
I saw a rainbow of love, generosity, mutuality, happiness, encouragement,
and faith gathered like an unhatched egg in your heart.
I saw the storms and winds that would release that prism in your soul.
I saw it spread across a wide sky
because of all the years and experiences that I would give you.

 I saw the hint of sunrise in you.
Its name was mercy.
It was a gift fired by the energy of My own heart.
I looked beyond you to the cold and shadowed world
that you would comfort with its light and warmth.

sunrise 

I was happy on the day I made you.
I was filled with hope for the blessing you would be.
I am still filled with joy, hope and love for you
on this your long-after birthday.
You have tried to live my sacred dream for you.

Mercy word

As the sun rises glorious in the eastern sky,
I promise you a future full of love.
Notice that the western sky reflects the brilliance of the sunrise,
just as all the years now past assure you
of my presence at the core of your life.
You have been and are infinitely loved.
Be love in return.
Your days are replete with mercy.
Be mercy in return.
Be born again this day!

 

 

 

Reborn in God

Second Sunday of Easter

April 19,2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us a snapshot of the infant Church – a joyful, loving, generous community confidently sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Eucharist

Our Responsorial Psalm, written centuries before their time, prophetically captures their grateful Resurrection prayer:

R. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.


Our second reading from Peter voices the community’s amazed gratitude:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,


Friends, how we need that living hope today, in these times that test our souls!

It is true that everyday of our lives we are reborn in God.  New grace, new challenge, new blessing comes to us daily. But the need for that newness has seldom felt so momentous as it does in these pandemic times.

We are challenged:

  • to find God in clouded realty
  • to be a channel of God’s love even in suffering
  • to build the generous community despite isolation
  • to be the touch of Mercy in a touchless world

We may feel a little like Thomas as we pray with these challenges. It must have been so hard for him to touch the wounds of Jesus! And it must have been shocking for him to feel them — these apparent talismans of suffering –  now charged with an infinite transformative power!

My Lord

What changed for Thomas to make him a devout believer? Not his circumstances. Not the reality around him.  Not the challenges before him.

The change came within him because he believed. By looking through suffering to glory, Thomas believed.

May we have that kind of faith in these times that so hunger for it! That kind of faith allows us to be reborn!

(Speaking of being reborn, I am sending a short second reflection today. Today is my 75th birthday and the Psalm is my way of celebrating with all of you.)

Music: Thomas Song – Halleal (Lyrics below)

Thomas’ Song – Hallal

Jesus you were all to me,
Why did you die on Calvary?
O Lamb of God, I fail to see
How this could be part of the plan.

They say that you’re alive again
But I saw death and every sin
Reach out to claim their darkest whim
How could this part if the plan?

If I could only
Hold your hand
And touch the scars
Where nail were driven,
I would need
To feel your side
Where holy flesh
A spear was riven,
Then I’d believe,
Only then I’d believe
Your cruel death
Was part of a heavenly plan.

Holy presence, holy face
A vision filling time and space
Your newness makes my spirit race
Could this be part of the plan?
I see the wounds that caused the cry
From heaven, ocean, earth, and sky
When people watched their savior die
Could this be part of the plan?

Reaching out
To hold your hand
And touch the scars
Where nails were driven
Coming near
I feel your side
Where holy flesh
A spear was riven
Now I believe
Jesus now I believe
Your cruel death
Was part of a heavenly plan
I proudly say
With blazen cry
You are my Lord and my God!

 

Recognized by Love

Saturday in the Octave of Easter

April 18, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about appearances and recognitions.

Acts_recognizedJPG

We pray this morning with the pioneers of our Christian Faith: Mary Magdalen, Peter, John, and all the Eleven. The scriptures tell us the story of their post-Resurrection discipleship – a time of joyous, dynamic commitment to build the faith community, to share the wonder of the eternally living Jesus with all people.

These first Easter Christians were shining with faith…. so much so that it could be said:

Observing the boldness of Peter and John
and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men,
the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed,
and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.

Our Gospel summarizes the fact that, for a brief time, the Risen Jesus remained with these disciples to shore up their confidence and commitment. In this passage, He appeared first to beloved Mary Magdalen, then to the unnamed two who journeyed a country road, and finally to the Eleven gathered at dinner.

He had different messages at each appearance:

  • the intimate commission of Mary to be his first announcer
  • the companionable accompaniment of the two distraught disciples from Emmaus
  • the scolding of the “hard-hearted” Eleven with the uncompromising charge

“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel
to every creature.”


Dear Friends, that charge is meant for each of us as well. For our times, we are the ones commissioned to proclaim that Christ is risen, that the Good News of God’s love is alive in us! Damn the Corona – We are a Resurrection People!

Our prayer today may lead us to consider:

  • Would we, like Mary, recognize the voice of Jesus calling us to deeper discipleship?
  • Would we, like the Emmaus travelers, listen beyond our fears to hear the Truth of Jesus in our circumstances?
  • Would we, like the hesitant Eleven, rebound through our failures to a stronger faith?
  • Would we, like Peter and John, by our faith-filled words and actions, be recognizable as companions of Jesus?

Music: They Will Know We Are Christians- This is a 60s song, reminiscent of the kind of music that flooded the Church after the breakthroughs of Vatican II.  It’s not great music — but I always love hearing it, because it reminds of the joy and enthusiasm of those times when we first realized WE were the Church Alive in the world!

Look to the Other Side!

Friday in the Octave of Easter

April 17, 2020

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jn21_6-cast-net

Late April and the sweet fullness of a spring morning pours down on the silver water. It had been a fruitless night for the weary fishermen, but not an unpleasant one. They had distracted one another from their labors by singing their ancient folksongs and telling the stories of their recent epiphanies. As dawn cracked through darkness, they trailed their fingers in the gentle wake and turned their tired souls towards shore.

And He stood there, misted in diffused radiance. “The starboard side”, he called. “Why?,” they thought; and then again, “Why not?”. With just that small opening in the closed door of their hopelessness, they were overwhelmed with the stunning presence of possibility.

How could these seasoned fishermen have failed to notice the abundance swimming at their side? How could they, so accustomed to the rocking sea, have been narcotized by its lulling darkness?

When we have abandoned hope and tired of the rolling waves; when we have turned the bow toward shore in acquiescence to a hungry morning, remember these disciples. Like them, may we listen for the soft suggestion, “Children…the starboard side…”.

There is always another side, another path to the fullness of life. The hopeless dirges we repeat in our darkness are the devil’s deceptions. The truth is that life runs beside us and with in us, just below the surface of our fears. Love stands on the shore and encourages us to go back for a moment into the darkness, to look again for the hidden blessing, and then to come to the feast in Love’s abiding presence.

Today, in the midst of pandemic’s long night, we are the Apostles. What bold command is Jesus calling to us in the morning mist?

Music: Edward Elgar – The Apostles – a long, beautiful piece you may want to play in the background if you have a quiet space in your day.

 

 

Through the Question to the Mystery

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

April 16, 2020

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luke-24_questions

Today, in Mercy, Jesus asks his disciples, “Why do questions arise in your heart?”

Honestly, Lord? How could they not? You have, after all, just RISEN FROM THE DEAD! We’re not used to that, and we’re not sure how to handle it!

And about that Last Supper, when you said the bread and wine were your Body and Blood? It’s a pretty amazing statement, and we’re still trying to comprehend it.

Besides all that, Lord, just now the whole world is languishing in the midst of a pandemic, and we’re not sure exactly where You are!

We’re just human beings, Lord. Our minds naturally work to solve problems. That’s why we have questions – we like answers.

Only now, as Resurrection People, are we beginning to learn that you are much more the “The Answer”.

You will always be “The Mystery” – the Infinity we are invited to –  where there is no end, only deeper, always deeper.

Help us to learn that our faith and our doubts are the same thing – they are our attempts to embrace the Question. Help us transform our doubts to faith by our unequivocal trust in your Mystery.


For God does not want to be believed in,
to be debated and defended by us,
but simply to be realized through us.”
― Martin Buber

Mystery is not to be construed
as a lacuna in our knowledge,
as a void to be filled,
but rather as a certain plentitude.
— Gabriel Marcel


Music: The Mystery of God – Dan Schutte

 

 

 

 

The Precious Name

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

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Today, in Mercy, our passage from Acts describes a sacred practice of the early Church – the invocation of the Name of Jesus as a source of spiritual power.

acts3_6 Name

Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you:
in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”


These first Christians were so invested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they claimed the right to act in his Name. They also clearly believed that they had no power themselves, but only in that blessed Name.

To call someone by their given name is an act of familiarity, if not intimacy. For those closest to us, we often have nicknames or pet names, conveying a unique understanding of each other.

Calling God by name is an act of both intimacy and worship. In the book of Exodus, God takes the first step in that deeper friendship:

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord.
I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob
as God Almighty,
but by my name “the Lord”
I did not make myself fully known to them.


With the Incarnation of Jesus, God took the ultimate step in loving friendship with us. To help us understand the nature of this friendship, Jesus gives himself some “nicknames” throughout the Gospel:

  • Good Shepherd
  • Lamb of God
  • the Vine
  • the Way, the Truth, the Life
  • the Bread of Life
  • the Light of the World

Each of these names helps us to enter more deeply into the infinite love God has for us.


Do you have a special name for God? Sometimes, early in the morning when First Light touches my window, I pray with that Name. I ask my Bright God to light my life and the lives of those I love this day. At night, that same window is full of Sweet Darkness, a Name I call God as I ask that we all find a peaceful, protected sleep.

We might also ask if God has a special name for us. At different moments and moods of your life, does God speak to you with a personal, loving “nickname”? If you haven’t heard it yet, why not ask God to whisper it to you in your next prayer?

Jesus, Jesus
Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.

In Him we live, we move and have our being;
In Him the Christ, In Him the King!
Jesus the Lord.

Though Son, He did not cling to Godliness,
But emptied Himself, became a slave!
Jesus the Lord.

He lived obediently His Father’s will
Accepting His death, death on a cross!
Jesus the Lord.

Struck to the Heart

Easter Tuesday 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings present us with a picture of the nascent Church as it works toward understanding itself in the physical absence of Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels, we see a Christian community forming around a Leader they can see, hear and touch. Acts reveals how that community awakens to itself when Jesus is no longer materially present.

Acts shows us a Church like us. We have never seen Christ, nor heard him, nor touched him. And yet we believe, or want to believe.


In our reading today, Peter preaches with brutal honesty:

Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.

acts2_38_heartstruck

Peter’s message gets through to the assembly, to the point that, when they hear it, they are “cut to the heart”. This phrase indicates a profound conversion in the way they believed. Peter tells them that their faith, like Jesus’ life, must now become a sign of contradiction to a “corrupt generation “.

What might this powerful passage say to us?

For one thing, the reading calls us to be honest about the sincerity of our faith. Is it the core of our lives? Or is it, at best, a Sunday hobby? Does it pervade our relationships and choices, giving witness to Christ’s commission to love? Or is it a tool to judge and vilify those who differ from us?

Now, in these pandemic times, as we are distanced from the opportunity to worship in community, we may be struck by all that we had taken for granted until now. Faith matters.  We need it to be whole human beings.

The reading doesn’t demand that we “preach our faith out loud”. It calls us to a much deeper and more courageous witness:

  • to be Truth in a world of lies
  • to be Peace in violence
  • to be Justice in the face of abuse and domination
  • to be Servant rather than be served
  • to be Love for those deemed unlovable
  • in other words, to be like Jesus

And to do it all because we have been “cut to the heart” by the witness of the Cross and Resurrection.

Music: By Faith-Keith & Kristyn Getty