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Father Mark, Reflections

I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours

I remember sharing secrets with my inner circle of friends growing up.  At that young age, telling one’s secrets was a nervous endeavor as we had sworn not to tell another soul.  Cross my heart and hope to die and stick a needle in my eye was our oath of anonymity.  But what if someone broke the oath and told another?   The vulnerability was intense. 

What I’ve found after decades in the church that for the most part, few of us tell our experiences of how God has touched our lives.  It’s like we’re sworn to secrecy and that we might be laughed at or some other vulnerable way face rejection if we tell our story of how God has impacted our lives. 

I never ask anyone to do what I won’t do myself.  So I thought I’d ask the question to all of us:  How do you recall your first meetings or experiences of Jesus?  Since I don’t ask others to do something that I won’t do myself, I’ll offer two of mine. 

The first experience is vivid in my memory while I am surprised that I remember back to the time when I was between two to three years old.  My mother and father sat in church in the back row on the Epistle (right) side of the congregation (children were at the risk of making noise).  At age two, the distance to the altar seemed to be endless, looking at two individuals at the altar dressed in black and white robes (surplice and cassock) moving objects while talking, having no idea of what they were saying.  Everyone else was wrapped in silence.  Something was happening up there but I couldn’t tell what it was.  But I felt it—whatever it was.  A mysterious presence was happening.  I felt it Sunday after Sunday—and the feeling got bigger as the Sundays passed.  The mystery held me in its grip with a sense of awe and wonder. 

The mystery continued even when we moved across town to a 19th Century brick Church building when I was three.  By late elementary school I would sit in the balcony—perhaps the old servants seating area and had the supreme picture of looking down at the altar with no obstructions being able to witness the whole event which I had learned was called “Holy Communion.”   I communed when I wasn’t old enough to receive communion. 

I was held by a presence I could not even describe much less name.  The presence still remains today and as the bread is broken, it’s like all of heaven breaks loose around us.  Still, there are no words to be found but a presence to be received and remembered. 

A second experience of meeting Jesus was during a large children’s chapel in the gym on Palm Sunday when I was in the upper grades of elementary school.  There must have been fifty or more of us crammed into the gym.  I remember Lew Thomas, the children’s lay reader that everyone loved, had a whole cart of small potted plants.  He was telling a story of Jesus at the time of Palm Sunday and he spoke of Good Friday when all of a sudden he took one of the plants and literally mashed it down flat with one of his hands when he said that Jesus was killed—crucified.   I wasn’t expecting that at all.  The room went “uhhh” and then fell silent.  Then he gave the crushed plant to one of the children to bring back to life.  The rest of us received our own potted plant.   I didn’t have the heart to crush mine. 

This was my first image of Christ’s suffering and death.  We always talked about the resurrection but somehow the suffering and dying part we never got around to until then.  The words of Gabriel to Mary later described what I was feeling at that moment in his words: A sword shall pierce your heart also (Luke 2).  That’s what I felt and I’ve never forgotten it.   Somehow, Jesus is present in the suffering. Even when I’d rather run away from the suffering, Jesus doesn’t.  This has given me strength all the way up to today. 

So I’ve told you two of my childhood stories of meeting Jesus.   What’s yours?   

Tell someone.  You never know who Jesus will bless through your story. 

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Election Day

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.        +
Psalm 146

A few years ago, a group of us studied The Path which is a survey of the Bible.  Throughout Israel’s history the people when through cycles of faithfulness only to fall into apostasy, a period of dystopia and suffering only be raised up again to renew the covenant of faith only to repeat the cycle of disintegration after a few generations.   It didn’t matter if the political structure was a confederacy of 12 tribes or a king.  Saul was mentally ill, David who was faithful had his moments of darkness.  Solomon full of wisdom, later fell into an obsession with building a Temple and dragged the people’s finances and labor into it in order to do so. His son, Rehoboam was a tyrant and those that followed except for Josiah, didn’t fare much better.  Faith eventually slipped away into apathy and self-centeredness.  There was too much dependence on people instead of the Covenant. 

John Adams must have known Psalm 146 as he wrote, Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.  The Framers of the Constitution knew their history and created the document in order with a series of checks and balances in order to limit the power that any one group would have over another.  The following century, Lord Acton, an English politician and historian, penned:  Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

What is power?  Power is the ability to use one’s resources to put ideas into action.  Where the rub is in all of this is the intention behind the power, the outcome it seeks and whether the outcome harms others for the benefit of the one in power.  Even John Adams after writing, Power always thinks… that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws, when he assumed the power as President fell into the power trap when he pushed the Sedition Act through Congress that forbade any negative speech against him or his administration.   Jefferson and Madison brought light to this evil when pushing back with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that nullified Adam’s unethical and unconstitutional act. 

There isn’t any one of us who are immune to abusing the power that God gives us.  The whole point of what I’ve written above centers around Jesus, who was linked as one with the Power of God, said,  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22).  As long as we are linked to Jesus and his mind, heart and power, then we will serve others rather than harm them.   The Constitution rests in the reality of God when its laws are followed instead of manipulated for personal gain. 

Today, another election will come and go.  But what will never depart from us is the truth of God as revealed through his patriarchs, matriarchs, judges, prophets and fully in Jesus who remains ever vigilant within us in his Spirit.   The best gift we can offer anyone, including the investment of our time in politics, is to listen to and respond with the Power of God instead of the pseudo power of a self-centered will.  

History, whether biblical or national, reveals over and over again that the self-centered will leads to perdition.  It is our responsibility to remain one with God and then to use God’s Power to stand up to the evil in our midst.  The other point I wish to leave with you is that we cannot transform evil.  Only God can.  We may work to arrest evil, but only the presence of God can transform evil as Jesus released the demons from the Gerasene Demoniac (Mark 5).   

As St. Paul received Power from on High, we too share in the same Power of God that does no harm, but offers life to those willing to receive Him.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  2 Timothy 1. 

Vote to elect Jesus as your Master when you visit the polls.

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Spirit

Scene at a high school football game:

Home team stands yelling:  “We’ve got spirit yes we do!  We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

Visitor stands responds with greater volume: “We’ve got spirit yes we do!  We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

Home team responds with a more resounding volume:  “We’ve got spirit yes we do!  We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

The cheer plays out after a few more rounds as everyone is gassed out from screaming.

This is one kind of spirit.  Its lots of fun.  It’s especially been hyped up during the recent political season. 

How does the Spirit of God play into this?   Let’s take a look at Elijah (19):

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

God communes with us in the quiet.  Elementary school teachers know how to quiet a room of noisy children.   They begin to decrease their volume and number of words.  It’s only when we’re in a state of quiet, when we can hear. 

Prayer in its most intimate form is discovered in the process of listening to God—for that gentle whisper.  I have to assess myself if I am quiet enough to hear God instead of my own thoughts.   I instruct those who are searching for ways through spiritual conflict or malaise to begin prayer with an appetizer of talking to God about everything that comes to mind until we have nothing left to say.  Once we’re empty and words and thoughts, the real prayer begins.  After all, why go to a professional for advice about a matter and once finished explaining our situation, get up, turn around and leave before the professional has the opportunity to respond to us?  The same is true with prayer. 

God will fill every inch of our being with his astounding love and wisdom if we but wait long enough to hear the Holy One’s gentle whisper summoning us to embrace us with Heaven.

Listen for the Gentle Whisperer.  And be filled.

Fr. Mark 

Father Mark, Sermons

Beatitudes as a Third Creed

Blessed are the merciful…

All Saints Day; Matthew 5; 11/1/20

Most of us have hobbies.  I know that some of you work with wood and others with needlework and fabric.  You have an image for what your completed work will look like and then you go about shaping the wood or the needlework and fabric into that image, sometimes making adjustments as you go. 

The same is true in our spiritual life.  The Holy Spirit in loving us is always about the task of shaping us into our true selves in his Image. 

I am reminded of the song we have sung before:  “Abba Father—mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus….”

We have two creeds, Nicene and Apostles. I would like to think that Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5 is like a third creed except that instead of what we believe as stated in our creeds, the Beatitudes are what our beliefs are enacted—the Christ like life observed.  The Beatitudes lived are concrete evidence of the Spirit moving in us. 

For Jesus, truth is expressed through the qualities of: meekness, justice, peace, purity of heart, compassion, mercy, love of self, neighbor and enemy and devotion to God’s presence in the world. 

Humility, peace, purity of heart and the others are the individual musical notes on God’s harmonious scale. 

Each of the Beatitudes are intertwined, not separate. 

For example, for peace making, justice, compassion and the others all require humility.  Justice without humility is merciless.  Without humility, compassion can never come to pass.   The Beatitudes are all part of God’s symphony, each note sounding through us filling the universe with that symphony.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, means humility.  Blessed are the poor in pride.  We may be proud of our heritage and accomplishments for good reasons while underneath it all, humility means that we do not become inflated but rather see these as gifts of God.  Social standing means nothing in the Kingdom of God.  Humility comes from the word, humus, meaning of the earth—and treat others with value as well.  Humility means that we bow to God and allow God to guide us in everything.

Mourning is a spiritual practice.  Mourning is not self-pity although self-pity arises in the mourning process.   

Mourning is the way we move more deeply into God after a loss, experiencing the Divine Heart grow in our broken one.

Blessed are the meek.   Being gentle of spirit doesn’t mean that we become victims.  Gentle spirits are able to respond instead of react or retaliate.  We all know that quick tempers lead to unpleasant consequences.  Gentleness of spirit comes from an inner strength that like supple trees are able to bend during a storm but do not break. 

A gentle spirit enables a person to remain in contact with others allowing the presence of God to disarm them from their fear and anger.   In the Old Testament this quality is known as chesed or loving kindness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. 

Righteousness has multiple meanings:  godliness, devout character and justice.  Justice means living in “balance” with God’s natural law.   Righteousness treats others with value.

Blessed are the righteous…

Blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart. 

Mercy involves compassion, offering loving kindness and mercy. 

Pure in heart involves one who is sincere and contrite. 

A contrite person acts with regret and sorrow for one’s wrongs.   When we live in the experience of the presence of God, the Golden Rule lives through us.  Contrition allows the Spirit to cleanse our hearts so that God might openly move through us.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Peacemakers often gathered at the gates of Jerusalem to offer their services as an alternative to a judge who could easily take a bribe. 

One cannot give away what they haven’t received.

A peacemaker is filled with the presence of God.

Peace in the Aramaic, schlama, means “surrender.” 

Making peace means that we yield to one another.

Only then can God make us one.  

Blessed are the persecuted. 

Sometimes I wince at this one.  Who likes being persecuted?

As we grow spiritually, it is not unusual for us to change in our presence, priorities and behavior aligning more with the Spirit of Christ.  We may no longer fit in with the norms and thought of the culture.  These changes can awaken anxiety in others, sometimes to the point that they will turn on us. 

When we are so merged into God that we can love unconditionally, we have already entered the Kingdom of God—the greatest reward of all. 

Blessed are you.  Enjoy the Spirit moving in your life. 

Father Mark, Reflections

Asking the Right Question II

Incense represents an offering to God and an image of the Divine Mystery that we cannot grasp.

Years ago, I taught a two weekend 38 hour listening skills course for church members around our diocese “called “The Calling and Caring Ministry. I recall a statement taught in the class that I had never thought of before: “The answer you get is the question you sent.”

The crux of the matter is that if I am asking a question, I am the one responsible for “languaging” the question so that the listener can understand it to the point that they may give a clear response. If the person doesn’t understand the question it’s mostly my fault in communicating the question clearly to them.

Our questions often reveal the level of our own understanding of the depth of complexity that we address. Jesus’ disciples were notorious for asking questions that were unrelated to where Jesus was attempting to lead them. Matthew 20 tells the story of a mother who asks Jesus if her two sons can sit on the right and left of him in his kingdom. Poor insight. The need to feel important, more important than others reveals one’s spiritual poverty. Then there’s the story of the disciples arguing in Luke 9, “Who is the greatest? Until one is immersed within by the acceptance and love of God, one will hunger for worth and importance. Being one with God dissolves the need for rank. In john 9, the disciples ask Jesus, whether the fault was the man’s or his parents’ for the reason he was born blind. Instead of looking at whose at fault, why not look at what it might take to heal the man? In Mark 13 the disciples ask when Jesus would return again during the end of the age, wanting to know, “When?” Jesus tells them that it’s not for them to know. Human beings have a canny habit of wanting to know when everything is going to happen as it gives us the illusion that we’re in control of our lives, safety, others and other things.

Our questions also reveal our level of understanding. After dialoguing with Pilate, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate was looking for a definition or facts. Jesus was Living Truth in Pilate’s midst that Pilate could not realize.

There is sometimes a reason for our questions as they can reveal our agenda behind wanting to know the details of what’s coming. When we know the details, we think we feel secure, thus losing our true security in being one with the Spirit. Knowing God is our security, not the details.

Now I’m not saying any of this is easy. We so often seek security instead of God, desiring security more than God. It’s really difficult to let go of this and it’s never a one time event. “Letting go” and relying on God alone is a daily event into which we are invited in the moments of each day.

What are our questions really asking? Listen beyond the words to the spirit and intention behind them. And then ask God to help us release those questions into the most important question of all: “Lord, will you help me to want you and desire you above all other things? Will you heal my conflicted heart and become One with me? Will you manifest your presence within me to the extent that I too can say with Jesus, “The Father and I are One.”

Amen.