Pastor’s Pen June 20, 2021
Coming to mass is like going to a doctor appointment and explaining your ailments and getting the therapy you need. You might not like going to a doctor’s office or mass, but somewhere deep in your heart you know it’s good for you to get treatment.
Some people don’t go to a doctor. Or they go to one infrequently (as when church-goers attend Christmas or Easter mass only). And some people say they get the same health care by sleeping in on a Sunday or walking through the woods or on a beach.
Just as a physician provides counsel, so the church-goer hears “the word of God” read or interpreted or sung, and somewhere within their mind, body, and spirit—something healthy is being provided.
We leave this special time set aside—sacred time—with a prescription that offers us hope and guidance for steering a healthy course in life.
The book of Job tells of his suffering and of his friends explaining why suffering takes place. At the book’s conclusion, God interrupts their conversation and subtly puts them (us) in their (our) place. God asks them “Where were you when I put the mountains in place? And when I dug out ground into which I placed the seas? And where were you when I set the sun, moon, and stars in sky? Since you think you know everything, just give me the answer to where you were on those days?” They, of course, could not give an answer to God—and that they need to have faith and trust that God knows what God is doing (even if we don’t).
Today’s reading from Job brings to mind the lightning storm that killed his sheep and servants. And the “powerful wind” that destroyed his house and killed his children. Mark draws upon the Old Testament understanding of Yahweh (God) who stills the raging sea and about whom the prophets said could calm the raging storm. Mark is showing us that Jesus is the God of the storm and sea, and that Jesus can control these mighty, primal forces.
Did you notice the contrast between the apostles and Jesus? The boat is tossed upon the waves—water coming in to sink it—the fishermen hysterical in trying to keep themselves afloat—and where is Jesus? Asleep on a cushion??? Huh???
The most basic message of the passage is that Jesus has what you and I want—peace in the storm. It might sound like a cliché, but another basic point being made is that “we’re all in the same boat”—the good ship “Mother Earth.” All God’s children in the quiet times and turbulent times together.
We hear people say variations of: “it’s their problem, not mine,” “it’s their life—so they can do what they want—it’s none of my business,” or like Cain (who killed Abel) we can defensively retort “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (the answer being “YES! We are one another’s keeper.”
And so the passage in Mark plays out in our lives, too. Jesus shouts at us in our desperation: “Silence! Be still!” In the face of life’s storms, we lack faith, and we are those “stiff-necked/hard-hearted” people of the Old Testament. We are Job’s friends who claim to have answers but don’t.
There are a lot of lessons we learn about God in the middle of the storm. When challenged, we cry to heaven like the apostles saying “Don’t you care about us?” (we’re drowning, perishing, complaining, and adrift).
A dear Indian grandmother-friend was the only woman to own a commercial fishing license in Ontario—and she knew the storms of Lake Superior, and life, well. She lost 5 of 10 children to various forms of early death. And was a woman of great faith—me thinking of her being in the boat with Jesus holding his sleeping form on her lap. Asking how she was able to endure the loss of her children, she calmly said that she knew God took care of them, so how could she feel bad about their being with God?
Boat symbolism is not unique to the New Testament. Recall Noah’s ark? That ancient story calls us to be people of faith, like him—and trust that God is present in our varied storms—even if silent. Humorously regarded, we are called to be brave like Noah—who was asked to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.
Here’s a prayer which can be our prescription from today’s visit with our Divine healer.
Lord, Open unto me, light for my darkness.
Open unto me, courage for my fear.
Open unto me, hope for my despair.
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me, strength for my weakness.
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me, forgiveness for my wrongdoing.
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness.
Open unto me, love for my hates.
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself.
Lord, Lord, open unto me.
Today’s story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a really strange story for us to hear. For some reason, Abraham thinks God wants him to sacrifice his son. Huh? What kind of God would want a parent to kill their child? Surely there must be some OTHER point to this story—other than it describing God as some sort of bloodthirsty deity. Fortunately, there IS another point that this story is making—and it’s not telling us that God wants human sacrifice. In fact, it’s saying just the opposite. Genesis reveals an Israelite God who is not like other gods. THEY want humans killed and offered at their altars—but not the God of the Israelites.
Recall that Abraham and Sarah never thought they’d become parents, but then God said they will be the parents of a great nation whose people will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Sure enough—Abraham proudly sees the birth of his son, Isaac. No greater gift could he receive than this child—and it’s this pride in his child that the doting father Abraham is asked to surrender. God is asking Abraham what is the most important thing in his life. And God asks if he’d forfeit, or sacrifice, his most important possession (i.e., his son, Isaac).
At this point of the story, it becomes OUR story. What is our number 1 priority? Is God #1, or do we cherish other things more than we cherish God?
Abraham has to make a decision: is Isaac more important to me than my doing what God asks me to do? And the story ends with Abraham being a role model for us. He’s ready to give up his most important possession—his son—because he knows that what GOD wants is most important (not what he wants). At which point God says “Okay, okay—I see you have your priorities in order. I don’t want your son sacrificed.”
Are we like Abraham—ready to sacrifice all that we have in order to stand for what’s right? Or do we make ourselves #1? Russ told us how we as a parish were doing with “Christ’s Mission Appeal.” Are you part of the 35% who’ve “sacrificed” and given alms to the Appeal—which goes to help God’s people in need in different places? Or does your generosity include only yourself?
Today’s gospel story is called the “Transfiguration” (a word we never use in everyday speech). It refers to Peter, James, and John going with Jesus up the mountain where they see him “transfigured” or changed—appearing as the chosen one of God, the Christ, in conversation with Moses and Elijah. Observing the premier virtue of hospitality, Peter suggests they build tents for the heavenly visitors—but in the blink of an eye, Jesus is alone and the 2 Israelite luminaries have disappeared. What’s THAT all about?
Simple, actually. Moses represents “the Law” of the Old Testament while Elijah represents “the Prophets.” This passage is showing that with Moses and Elijah gone, Jesus embodies both the Law and the Prophets—and is the Christ, the chosen one of God who now enlightens our lives with a NEW covenant, the fulfillment of the Old covenant.
This past week a scripture reading illustrated what this idea concretely means—the idea of Jesus fulfilling the Hebrew scriptures (remember Jesus said that he did not come to do away with the old but to fulfill it?). The reading showed Jesus saying “You’ve heard it said ‘you shall not murder!’. I say that if you’re ANGRY at someone, lay down your gift before coming to the altar and make peace with the person.” He was quoting a commandment (the old Law) but saying we should go BEYOND its minimal requirement (that is, go BEYOND “don’t murder”). THAT is what fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is about.
You and I are called to read the Hebrew scriptures and reflect on what MORE they are calling us to do. For example, we’re told not to steal. Fine. Don’t steal—but are you known as a generous person, too? We’re told not to bear false witness against our neighbor—great. But are we known as someone who always has a good word to say about another? You’re here today keeping holy the Sabbath, but do you “keep holy” any other day, in any other way, by means of some other practice (e.g., devotions at home during the week, attending mass on days other than Sunday, etc.)? You don’t worship “false gods,” but where do you spend your time, or what absorbs your time each day—any sort of work/effort that helps others (belonging to a parish or civic organization that helps others in some way)?
It’s frustrating to hear Christians quote scripture—as a congressman did this past week—and do so only to appeal to a constituency that will re-elect him because he’s a good old boy quoting the bible. The fact that his application of the bible verse was horribly misguided and erroneous—isn’t comprehended. But people’s knowledge is limited (I’m included in saying this) and often enough aren’t aware of scripture’s meaning.
For example, why do you hear politicians and regular Christians quote only the Old Testament (better referred to as the Hebrew scriptures)? Why don’t they quote the NEW Testament which, as stated above, is the FULFILLMENT and fuller definition of the Old? Or do these people think that what Jesus said simply echoes the Old Testament? If so, then why do we bother being Christians, and why don’t we just pitch the New Testament and read the Old?
If you’re Christian, the Hebrew scriptures are part of your religious heritage (after all, Jesus was Jewish). But Jesus elaborated those readings, as the gospels and epistles report. As a Lenten prayer exercise, why not read through the commandments and think of what MORE each one is calling you to embody—BEYOND the minimalist dictate NOT to do (or TO do) one of the ten topics. And conclude your reflection with the following prayer of petition:
Slow me down, Lord, and whisper a word or two – or more, in the quiet of my mind and heart . . .
When I’m cursing myself or others, whisper words of blessing…
When I’m judging another’s words and deeds, whisper words of patience…
When my voice is still and silent, whisper wise words that I might speak…
When I’m saying much too much, whisper words that quiet me
When I’ve failed and when I’ve sinned, whisper words of pardon…
When I’m facing loss and grief, whisper words of consolation…
When I’m stuck in my own foolishness, whisper words of wisdom…
When I’m confounded and confused, whisper words of counsel…
When I’m hearing lies, whisper words of truth.
When life is just too tough to take, whisper words of hope…
When my heart is broken, hurt and wounded, whisper words of healing…
When I’m at war with my neighbor or myself, whisper words of peace… Slow me down, Lord, and help me find a quiet place to hear the whisper of your word . . . and inspire me to be one who whispers your word of life to others. God be in my heart and in my thinking; God be in my death–at my departing.