Sunday, January 26, 2020

With Eyes of Faith

Christ Calling  his First Disciples by Adam Brenner
Isaiah, Paul and Jesus each had faith in an all-good sovereign God.

Sunday's first scripture reading takes us back to the eighth century before Jesus (the 700s). Isaiah speaks about the future: a great light, a king, will illuminate the darkness. This king will trust completely in God. Isaiah challenges us to trust always in God’s unconditional love. God is always close to us.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece, deplores the divisions that seem to be tearing the early Church apart. He begs for unity in the community in light of their common bond as God's adopted sons and daughters. It doesn’t appear we Christians see ourselves as one family.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, the author proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. Jesus is the anointed one, the Christos, who will bring light into our darkness by proclaiming the good news: Jesus, the God-man, is gloriously alive. Jesus exhorts us to orient our lives to God! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

And then Jesus begins to call some unlikely people to discipleship. These folks experienced, at some privileged moment, an overwhelming sense of the divine in Jesus. They recognized with the eyes of faith what lay beneath and beyond the immediate appearance, i.e., the reality of God in Jesus the Christ. And we see that too with eyes of faith.

Our faith, a gift from God, empowers us to relate to God. It answers fundamental questions: Who really am I? What on earth am I here for? Faith calls us to commit ourselves to Jesus Christ: our way to eternal life, our truth who sets us free and our light who illuminates the darkness around us as we journey toward our heavenly home. Faith is about connectedness to a person.

Belief, on the other hand, is a profession of essential truths. We say in the Nicene Creed from the 4th century: I believe in one God, despite many who question God’s existence. Yes, we say: our God is almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all visible and invisible. Someone completely other and completely beyond ourselves; One who is the cause for all creation: God, Father Almighty.

And yes, we believe in one lord, Jesus Christ, who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and became flesh, one of us. Jesus for our sake – “as a ransom” -- was crucified, died, and rose again to life.

Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord, the giver of life. The power of the Spirit is within us, enabling us to live a life worthy of our calling.

And we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic community. We acknowledge one baptism and look toward the resurrection and the life to come.

The Nicene Creed underscores the essential content of our faith. May our faith help us to find purpose in life and lead us on into our heavenly dwelling place.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The On-going Search For Christian Unity

Jesus prayed that "we all may be one."
In Sunday’s readings, we hear various titles ascribed to Jesus.

He is the “lamb” who saves us through his death and resurrection. He is the “son” who is one with the God of Israel.  He is the “Christ,” the long-expected messiah who inaugurates God’s kingdom of justice and freedom and truth and peace and love. He is the sovereign “Lord” to whom we pledge our ultimate allegiance.  He is the “servant,” the “light” who illumines answers to questions about life, e. g., what on earth am I here for..

John’s description stands out for me: “Behold, the lamb of God.” John pointed out that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who would re-establish a right relationship for us with God and one another. In death, there will be eternal life.

The author of Isaiah takes us back to the sixth century before Jesus, to the Jews exiled in Babylonia. This passage is a poem, a song, about a “servant of God” who will bring hope to those who have lost hope in the future. This “servant” will save all peoples, be a “light” to all. The Christian community saw in this “servant” Jesus, whose vocation or calling was to be our way to eternal life, our truth who sets us free from false isms, our light who guides us in our earthly journey toward our heavenly dwelling place.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth, a seaport city in Greece, speaks about his own vocation as an apostle.  God through Jesus by the power of the Spirit has bestowed his grace and peace upon us. Paul challenges us to live a life of virtue that’s worthy of our calling, to become a holy people.

In the Gospel, John points out Jesus as the Lamb of God, an allusion to the  Hebrew Passover meal and the sacrificial lamb in Jewish temple worship.  John then saw Jesus arise from the Jordan waters and the Spirit confirming Jesus as “Son of God.” This Jesus, truly human and truly divine, who through his death/resurrection by the power of the Spirit re-established our friendship with God again, is gloriously alive in his community of disciples, the one Church he founded, to continue his saving ministry until he comes again in power and glory to create a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Jesus prayed that this community would always be one.  Yet over the centuries it has divided into many communities: Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants: Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.

And that is why we have a week of prayer for Christian Unity January 19-25. All Christians profess one Lord, one faith and one baptism. But they have split into different and sometimes opposing traditions.

As we pray with Jesus that “we all may be one,” we recognize that Jesus in today’s Gospel is the foundation of our world-wide faith community. And we ought to give thanks to God for this: a community that calls us to a life with God here and now, and to eternal life where we shall be like God and see God as God is.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of Jesus by John
Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. We began our liturgy with the rite of the sprinkling of water upon ourselves, a symbolic invitation to renew our own baptismal promises and be ever more enthusiastic missionary disciples of Jesus.

Our baptism began our journey to the eternal dwelling place of God, with Jesus as our guide and teacher. We not only experienced water, as Jesus did, but we became disciples of Jesus. That experience changed our lives. We became new creatures, alive with God's life.

The word of God takes us back in our imaginations to the sixth century before Jesus, to the Hebrew exile in Babylonia (what we know as Iraq). This passage is a poem, a song, about a future “servant” who will be a light to those who live in darkness.

The early Christian community saw in this “servant” Jesus: who proclaimed a transcendent purpose for us: eternal life with God beyond our earthly life. This word may challenge us to ask whether we have our priorities straight: always to be in a right relationship with God and one another.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, John the Baptist invites people to live a God-centered, other-centered life. His focus was clearly to point to Jesus as the Messiah. John then baptizes Jesus. As Jesus arises from the waters, the power of God overwhelms him and fired up by the spirit of God, he begins his public ministry in Galilee.

Baptism is a rite of initiation into a world-wide community of Christian disciples. We baptize children to emphasize that baptism is a gift from God, like human life, not just something we choose to have.

To understand baptism, we recognize who we are in relationship to God. In the beginning, man and woman walked with God; they had friendship with God and with one another. But somehow they lost that friendship. They fell from grace. Genesis describes very powerfully their fall. They hid from God. Ever since, human beings have cried out for God’s friendship again.

That's why God became flesh – one with us -- in Jesus. God, through the dying/rising of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit, re-establishes that friendship again.

This new relationship makes very straight-forward demands upon us. The so-called Ten Commandments are about freeing ourselves from attitudes and behaviors that undermine our relationship with God and one another. Put simply, God is an awesome creator God who loves us unconditionally; and our response always is gratitude.

As we celebrate Jesus’s baptism, I invite all of us to renew our baptismal promises now, to be missionary disciples of Jesus, gloriously alive especially in word and sacrament.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Manifesting God's Glory

Adoration of the Magi by Rubens
I made one resolution for 2020: to look for "epiphanies" in God’s universe.   Epiphany is from a Greek word meaning “revelation.” The word has come to mean a manifestation of the divine. Sunrises and sunsets, landscapes and waterscapes, furry and feathered creatures and compassionate people—all these and more can be a manifestation of the divine. For beneath all these appearances lies the reality of an awesome creator God who sustains this multi-faceted universe.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, the revelation of the child Jesus to the magi. These were non-Jews, who traveled from far away, guided by a sudden illumination of wisdom – a mysterious star -- to pay homage to this Jewish child named Jesus. Yes, Jesus is for all people, all times, our way, our truth and our life.

The Word of God from Isaiah takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus, when the Jews lost everything they thought would continue forever. Yet the author speaks of a new Jerusalem. A divine light will emanate and people will acknowledge and walk by this dazzling light. Christians of course see Jesus as this light who shows human beings their purpose: to manifest the glory/presence of God.

The letter of Paul to the Ephesians speaks about our future: we are coheirs to God’s promise of eternal life, co-workers in bringing about the kingdom of God.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, we have all the ingredients of a great mystery novel: exotic visitors, a wicked king, a mysterious star, precious gifts and a new child. The Word of God became flesh so that God can transform our earthly self into an indescribable, heavenly self.

Yes, this child in a manger – a feeding trough –will become an adult, a suffering Messiah, who through his death/resurrection we have eternal life. And He will “deify” us—we shall be like God and we shall see God as God is!

The magi gave homage to the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In our liturgy of thanks, we bring our gifts of bread and wine, and yes, our very selves, to this sacrificial meal so that God can transform them into the real presence of Jesus Christ.

Now who is this Jesus to whom we pledge our ultimate allegiance as a worldwide faith community?
The early Christian community saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes of ancient Israel. They named him the Messiah, the anointed one.

The more they reflected on who he was, the more they saw Jesus as both the fulfillment and the foundation of their hopes. So they called him the eternal Word. The Gospel according to John captures this magnificently: The Word was with God and the Word was God.

Yes, Jesus is the foundation and fulfillment of our hopes as well. He was a real historical person. He experienced, as we do, joy, fatigue, friendship, disappointment and loneliness.
He was a prophet proclaiming that good ultimately will triumph over evil.
He is one with God, truly divine yet truly human; he is gloriously alive in our midst today especially in the sacramental life of our Catholic faith community.

Jesus taught not only that the kingdom of God was breaking into our midst; but that you and I can share in bringing this kingdom forth by living a life of discipleship.

Jesus showed us that God is our Father, a compassionate God, always near us at the start of each day to guide us on our journey to our heavenly home.

So on this the feast of the Epiphany, I invite all of us to rededicate ourselves to Jesus, to ask him to grace us anew at the beginning of this new year, so that we might manifest ever more clearly the divine in our daily lives through our faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and faithfulness.
And may we in 2020 be ever more attuned to those epiphanies all around us:the manifestations of the divine in all of God’s creations.