cead mile failte

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Is It You Again?”

 

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 10:40-42

When I first began attending mass several years ago, I was struck by the kind of welcome I received. Or, rather, the kind I didn’t. Raised in the over-eager Protestantism that hovers and fawns over every guest at worship (a well-meaning practice; I’ve engaged in it myself), Catholics were noticeably cool, it seemed—a little distant, even.

This wasn’t (and isn’t) calculating or conspiratorial on their part—nor on mine now as a Catholic. Any given group of parishioners at any given mass is not following a script about how to treat newcomers to the liturgy. And I don’t mean to suggest an absence of warmth or kindness; I’ve never experienced that in a Catholic church and I hope I’ve never communicated it. But I do think that the Eucharist—week after week, year after year—trains worshipers to know, even if they don’t or can’t articulate it theologically, that it is not the people or even the priest who does the welcoming; it’s Christ who does so.

All of us—long-timers and first-timers alike—are Christ’s guests, receivers of his gracious welcome. Read more

Godfather_puppetmaster

Hating the Godfather

Proper 7, Year A

Matthew 10:24-39

The Godfather, the classic 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola, opens with a garden wedding at the family estate.  It is a homecoming for Michael Corleone, the favorite son who’s just returned from a tour in World War II and is enrolled at Dartmouth.  The picture is clear early on—Michael loves his family, but he doesn’t want to be a part of it.  The Corleones are a crime organization and they are as tight knit as they are patriarchal.  They have a culture all their own, an import of Sicilian semi-feudalism where powerful families are essentially rulers of small fiefdoms—thus the idea of the godfather.

Michael wants to live a more Americanized life with an American girl.  He wants to be a part of a different kind of social order than the one in which he was raised.  And yet the whole drama of the film is the dissolution of this ideal.  Michael is drawn back into the life of his family and its social order and realities.  He ends up replacing his father as the Godfather.  If only he had hated his father and mother, his sister and brother, a little more.

The teachings of Jesus we find in the Gospel reading for this Sunday are hard, unsettling verses. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus as some peace preaching proto-hippie with a sentence like Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If we are going to be Jesus followers we can’t hope to just all get along with the ways of the world.  Division and strife, Jesus tells us, will be the marks of the coming of his coming.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring peace by settling all of the social relationships of the day; he came to create a Kingdom in which authentic shalom—overwhelming peace and wellbeing—would be possible.

Jesus is following Jeremiah here in dismissing the kinds of peace that does not change the fundamental violence of the way things are.  “Everyone is greedy for unjust gain,” Jeremiah proclaims, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (6:13-14).  As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, “Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order.  ‘The family that prays together stays together’—but such sentiment cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.”

Jesus is calling for us to see God as our Father, the community of disciples as our brothers and sisters.  He is calling us to move into a different identity than the one we are given at birth by our family and our society.  We are a military family, we are a patriotic family, we are Southern family—these identities won’t stand.  Our only hope is that our biological family will join us in the new family of God.

Jesus is paraphrasing the verses of Micah 7:6 in this teaching on the strife that will come to families.  This is part of a passage in which Micah is describing the dissolution of society.  It is there that he speaks of the break down of the family, but his response isn’t to say lets work on restoring family values and teaching kids to respect their parents.  Instead, Micah goes on to say, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (7:7).  In other words, the solution to the break down of society isn’t to restore and reaffirm the social order.  It is instead to have our lives reordered by God.

So what does this look like for us?  Jesus certainly isn’t instructing us to go start a fight with our parents or pick a conflict with our brothers or sisters.  He is only calling on us to enter into his way and life, to join the family of God.  If we do that he is simply warning, strife will come and you will have to bear your cross.  It might be that we choose to leave a corrupt family business or one that works to destroy the world, it could be that we find that we have to quit our jobs because of its exploitation of people or the creation, it could be that by simply living a life that doesn’t worship money we find that others take offense.  The conflicts aren’t ours to choose, they are simply the admission price of following the Prince of Peace into his eternal, just and beautiful Kingdom.

If you want to see the alternative just watch The Godfather Trilogy.  In the end Michael Corleone dies a violent, lonely death—his soul and body broken.  What life could he have had if he had chosen a different kind of belonging, if he had chosen to live for God rather than the Godfather?

 

text

A What or a Who?

EP’s Brent Laytham reflects on promises made by prominent acolytes of technology:

There’s an eschatology of sorts in the hubbub — indeed, in the hubris — that attends so-called technological revolutions. Apocalyptic always makes epochs determined by “before” and “after,” whether it’s the apocalyptic imagination undergirding the New Testament (e.g., “but in these last days…”; Heb 1:2, NRSV) or the one animating digital utopians like Edward Castronova (Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality [Palgrave, 2007]). The core question is whether that which dramatically changes everything is a “what” or a “who.” For Christians, even those entranced by the bewitchments of technological change, the answer must finally be who — for we know that grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), not the latest technological revolution, no matter how remarkable.

Read the rest here.

trinity

Life Together

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4
Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Read in concert, the lectionary passages selected for Trinity Sunday serve up a message that builds upon itself like a well-planned progressive dinner party.

I’ve never had occasion to participate in one, but it sounds fun. You gather a group that travels together to eat at different homes for the evening. Various members are in charge of hosting a particular part of the meal. At the first stop, you enjoy appetizers and drinks, for example. The host at stop number two has prepared a main course, and stop number three features dessert.

A plan is helpful to ensure a coherent and palate-pleasing experience. The menu at each home should stand on its own, but also complement, build on or reference the others.

Welcome to a delectable party – Bon appétit! Read more

Painting of disciples at Pentecost

A Quieter Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12: 3-13; John 20:19-23

 

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011.

The Catholic Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is, ideally, a process lasting many months, during which unbaptized catechumens and baptized but unconfirmed candidates learn from and discern with sponsors and other members of the church community they hope to become part of. My home parish takes this seriously. While the rite is meant to lead to reception into the church at the Easter Vigil, there’s no rushing, no shortcuts, no simply going with the flow. The rigor and probing reflection often make me wish I hadn’t completed my own initiation so young.

Read more

race in church

Passages

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

My friend Stan Dotson claims that texts are called “passages” because they offer us passage. They can take us somewhere.

The culmination of this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one, as we are one,” takes me to a question posed by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: “How do black people and white people become one in Christ Jesus? And what does that look like?” (Free To Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line, p. 61).

Given the demographics of the part of the county where I live in western North Carolina, I could be totally absorbed in congregational life and never even have to consider that question. In fact, by exhorting my flock to become more involved in “church” as it’s commonly understood, I could conceivably make matters worse. As much stress as Baptist polity places on the local congregation, the temptation is ever present to narrow the scope of Jesus’ prayer to internal relationships alone. Read more

prostrate

A Glory that Breathes Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-17 OR Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

There is a glory that breathes life back
in a corpse and brings strangers together

as friends. Call that one back who fills
the held-out robe of a thornbush with

flowers, who clears muddied minds, who
gives a two-day-old infant wisdom beyond

anyone’s learning. “What baby?” you ask.
There is a fountain, a passion circulating.

I’m not saying this well, because I’m too
much in the scatterbrain sweetness. Listen

anyway. It must be said. There are eyes
that see into eternity. A presence beyond

the power and magic of shamans. Let that
in. Sink to the floor, full prostration.

- Rumi (“Scatterbrain Sweetness” in The Soul of Rumi, Barks, Coleman, ed.)

Growing up in my small-town Midwestern church, we were, on the whole, conservative in our speech about the Holy Spirit. Being committed to the practice of baptism, we immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but baptisms are the only memories I have where the Spirit was spoken of among our church people, let alone invited as a presence into our worship or shared life together. Read more

Path_to_the_Church_House_-_geograph.org.uk_-_789784

Trusting the Way

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Gathered together in an upper room with Jesus, the disciples give Jesus their full attention. They’ve just shared this meal with him and watched him kneel and wash everyone’s feet. They’re shocked to hear that one of them is a betrayer and they’re highly aware that outside the doors of their small room, the powers are organizing to put a stop to their small movement that only a few days before looked like it might become a successful revolution. Now, things look dire. To top it all, Jesus tells them that he is leaving them and they can’t go with him. So when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” it is because their hearts are troubled. Read more

sheep gate

Coming In, Going Out

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:36-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Theologian David McCarthy, in a recent book on the Communion of Saints, puts forward the notion of “social desire.” “Our social desire,” he writes, “is our desire for shared life. It is a desire for a meaningful life. It is a desire and hope that my everyday endeavors do not stop with me, that who I am as son, brother, friend, father, theologian, neighbor and coach does not end with how it makes me feel…” Rather, he avers, social desire seeks connection with others in a metaphysical framework that orients us socially, makes us whole in community.

The Communion of Saints, he claims, embodies the kinship, with others and God, that grounds us cosmically. McCarthy’s words seem to me an explication of these terse few lines from Acts 2, which describe the openness and sharing of the post-Pentecost church. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all each according to each one’s need.”

If social desire is so basic, and Luke’s church embodies it so well, why do I find it so difficult, sitting or kneeling or standing in church of a Sunday, to open myself to God and fellow members? Read more

Emmaus

A Same Kind of Different

Third Sunday of Easter


Acts 2:14-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

If our hope is even remotely true, what will the resurrected body be like? Assuming the gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances offer clues, what little we learn there might best be summed up as “different, but the same.” Mary found Jesus so changed, at least from a distance, that she mistook him for a gardener. Thomas learns that even if doors can’t stop Jesus, the scars of his execution abide. Cleopas and his companion are clueless until they recognize Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.”

For all of those – including me – who come after the original disciples and know no Jesus except as the resurrected Christ, there’s a particular sweetness in today’s gospel, as there was in last week’s Thomas story, where we heard, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) It’s helpful to hear from those who’ve gone before that discerning Jesus in this world doesn’t come naturally, but as second nature, formed over time by grace and shared practice. But even that sweetness, passed too often and too formulaically through frail human hands, may grow stale or leave one feeling like they’d devoured too much Easter candy.

I trust that, even after years of homilies and essays on the subject, there’s much, much more for me to learn from today’s gospel seen through the lens of Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. I, however, was raised American in the late twentieth century, so I have the attention span of a Mayfly who’s misplaced his ADHD meds. I require novelty, something different enough to keep me engaged.

Perhaps it’s time, then, to ask what it would mean to break the bread and refuse to know the risen Christ? God knows I’ve been there. Read more