Father Mark, Sermons

Rx for Complaining

Proper 20A; Pentecost 16; Exodus 16 & Matt. 20; 9/20/20

I remember running to a coffee shop during a break.  In the line in front of me were two young women in their 20’s followed by a soldier in fatigues.  One of the young ladies was complaining to the barista about not having enough whip cream in her coffee and the other was complaining about something else.   As they complained, I could see the soldier’s posture become rigid and begin to restlessly fidget about.  I backed up one step. 

I could surmise what was going through his mind having known other veterans.  Veterans have gratitude that they could just have a cup of coffee and not complain about what kind of fixings went in it. 

All of us have been complaining about COVID—how could we not—missing what we hold dear in life—most of all relationships.  We have plenty of company when it comes to complainers. 

Besides the Israelites in the Wilderness there’s Jonah who sits under a bush in the hot sun while his shade withers away having a pity party when Nineveh wasn’t destroyed.   The disciples complained regularly and it’s no wonder that this could have been a reason why Jesus wandered out by himself to pray in order to get away from them.   

This morning we read of the Israelites during their survival wilderness training, chronically complaining.  

Today they are complaining about the lack of bread. 

In the gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires workers throughout the day and he pays a living wage to each of them whether they began early or late in the day.   The early workers complain that they had to work longer and the landowner wasn’t being fair. 

The parable isn’t about equal pay. 

The parable is about God’s love for all his people whether they come to him early or later.   When we’re in God, we’re happy that others come to Christ no matter what age they are.   

When we rejoice at the blessings of others we reveal that our spirits are in the heart of God.

Moses speaks a sentence of deep conviction:  “Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” 

Moses is right on target.   When we complain, we may not realize that we’re complaining about God’s order in the universe—that it doesn’t seem to be working because life seems to be so messed up.  

God’s order in the universe is working just fine.  Its human beings that get off track and take the order that was created and make chaos out of it.  This is the part we often forget.   

It’s not that we should shut up and stuff our complaints as we would still have them.  Complaints don’t disappear by suppressing them.  After our initial grumbling and murmuring, God seeks for us to direct our complaints to him.  God helps uncover what is underlying our complaints so that the Spirit can absorb our discontent as we re-establish contact with him, redirect our path and find a way through the conflict—returning to peace of heart and mind.     

In another story Jesus says that God is like the sun and rain, giving light and warmth and moisture to all. 

I remember the northern winters that average overcast skies 25 days a month—blocking out the sun.  I suffered from SAD from mid-November to mid-March.    During the few days that would have sun, I would go outside and stand in the sun, to absorb the Vitamin D that would help relieve my depression.   I could feel the change over me as the sun soaked into my body. 

Prayer is learning to come out of the dark to avail ourselves of the Light God pours into our lives.  When we’re disturbed and feel like complaining, instead of feeling embarrassed about it, we can take ourselves and our complaints to God so that the Spirit can reorient us into himself, his LIght and his peace.

Father Mark, Sermons

Listening and Spiritual Growth

Hey! I’m all ears!

Proper 18, Pentecost 14; Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20; 9/6/20

In the spoof, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of my favorite scenes is when one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Robin, nicknamed, Brave Sir Robin, comes face to face with the Three Headed Giant.  Brave Sir Robin gives the command to his men:  Run away! 

It not only takes faith to follow Christ, but it takes courage to live out what Paul says of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.   Life presents us with many challenges, some of which we prefer not to face.  Conflict is often difficult for many of us and learning how to handle it without our anxiety hitting the roof can be a real challenge. 

Jesus’ directive to address conflict also takes courage.  It can take real courage to listen to another—especially when they are at cross ways with us.  A new way of life creates a new way of being in the world.  Instead of using force or deception to manipulate our opponents into submission, Jesus offers us something strangely simple and unique:  being compassionate towards yourself and others having received the compassion of God.   Jesus teaches us that listening is a way of compassion.

Listening seems simple at first.   But listening is one of the most difficult tasks in the world.  Loving by listening isn’t easy because it means that we have to get out of the way.    

First, we have to exhibit a willingness to listen.  Willingness is not always a state of being in which we find ourselves.  Our minds are often preoccupied with tasks and concernsIt’s hard to stop and empty our minds when they’re on cruise control so that we can actually stop what we’re doing and listen to another. 

Another difficulty in listening is understanding the differences in language, gender, culture and so on that uses words in different ways.   Each family system has its own unique culture, created out of two or more cultures of the parents.  Added to this are the various cultures of coming from different geographical areas.  Each varies between the polarities of thought and feeling. 

Gender is often a source of polarities between thoughts and feelings where one person operates from a thinking mode and another from a feeling mode, and most of us are not bilingual in both.  There’s a funny video on You Tube you may have seen that I will list in the bulletin for you to watch to illustrate this.  It’s oversimplified but it does make a point and it will give you a good laugh.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O11_Ma20Rk

Probably the most difficult issue about listening is not wanting to hear what another is saying.  There’s a chance we might be wrong.  Who likes being wrong?

Not only may we not agree with the content of the other’s statements, but there’s a dynamic called the “story-counter story”where when one tells their story, their story triggers memories of our own stories.     Not only do we recall our own memories that take us out of the listening mode, but if what another tells us triggers a painful memory, we may not be willing to continue listening in order to avoid the pain we continue to carry in our own lives. 

It is easy to project our desires of what we want the other to be and not be, instead of seeing and hearing the other as they are.  We can only listen as deeply to another as we can listen to ourselves.  

Listening demands of us that we be on an intentional path of spiritual growth.  

A respectful way to deal with this without changing the subject or disengaging, leaving the storyteller with a sense of being abandoned, is to simply tell the storyteller that his or her story is calling up memories from our own life and we either need a moment to recover or need to stop listening to this part of the story at least for now. 

Listening is a spiritual gift—not only for the story teller but also for the listener.   In order to listen to another we have to be able to face our own wounds that are also in need of healing and allow God to heal us.  Rare is it that human interaction only benefits one of the two parties. 

It’s probably no surprise to you that listening to a family member is often more difficult than listening to another outside the family.  Family relationships can become very sensitive because our family members see through us as we really are.    They experience all of us, the light and the darkness, not just the good parts as others outside our family see.   Our persona covers the things we do not wish for others to see.  But the family sees it all.

Jesus suggests we attempt to work our problems out privately instead of bringing others into them.  Sometimes friends and family become involved and the chaos becomes more elevated and expansive fomenting into  the resemblance of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  Jesus said if the two cannot be reconciled, take it to the community so the elders can decide, as well as judges that might be appointed in some communities.  In my mediator training we learned to suggest to the parties involved that mediation is a far better method because you still have some say in the matter.  If two people go to a judge, they lose control of the outcome by a judges’ our council’s decision. 

Finally, I want to reference verse 19: “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”  The English word, “agree“ is not accurate.  The Aramaic word, nistwon means worthy of or deserving, not agreeing.   It means the prayer of a group of people or a congregation will be granted if two among them can be responsible for the things they are requesting.  

If our prayers are congruent with the will of God, then they are granted.   The idea of prayer is not to pray for what we want as much as to want our prayer to reflect the principles of the Kingdom of God.  Therefore when two or more are gathered in his name—for his purpose, which is for our best interests, then God moves through us who are open to His will. 

Listening to others requires that we are first able to listen to God and ourselves.  God relieves us from our internal interruptions so that we become able to discover the sacred Trinity of the other, God and ourselves. 

Listening to others opens us to the Mystery of God.  Try it this week.

Father Mark, Sermons

Curiosity

Proper 16A Pentecost 12; Matthew 16:13-20; 8/23/20

When is the last time you felt a tinge of curiosity?  Curiosity is a gift—it means we’re searching instead of being couch potatoes seeking to be entertained. 

Jesus was curious too.   After a long period of itinerant ministry with his disciples, he was curious about the reactions of those who witnessed his teachings and miracles.   Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the son of man is?   Translating from the Aramaic he meant, “Do people think I am an ordinary human being, just like everyone else?   Translating into Texan: “Am I just one of the boys?”

The disciples responded with the feedback they heard:  Some say a prophet, like Jeremiah, some say Elijah returned.  The idea that Jesus could be Elijah, or a prophet was quite profound as it pushed against the teaching that no prophet could come from Galilee.  The religious authorities failed to do their research to discover Jesus’ resume as they just assumed that Jesus was from Galilee and Nazareth—failing to ask the question:  “Where were you born?“

Of course the prophets taught that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.   But the Pharisees didn’t ask the question.   Have you ever wondered why they weren’t curious enough to ask?  Assumptions without data and experience can lead us down a rabbit hole. 

There were other false assumptions which would bias the people against Jesus.  Customarily in the Middle East, kings send emissaries to foretell their arrival.  The Scribes and Pharisees put forward a false teaching outside of the Torah and the Prophets that the Messiah could not come and walk on the streets of Jerusalem while the pagan Romans ruled both the holy city and the land.  The prophet would come first to overthrow the Gentile rule so the Messiah could follow.  

This is another teaching outside of the Torah and the Prophets attempting to bend God to meet one’s personal narrative and desires.  Was the Messiah to bring in a Utopia or redeem the human soul? 

Why do people keep telling God how God is supposed to work?  This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve—we want to be in charge.   Of course God gives us this choice.  But there isn’t a time in history that human kind has had the audacity to think that we are in charge where we didn’t create a total mess of life and untold suffering.  

We often forget or try to change history to forget this urge to be in control of things.

Did what other people think of Jesus influence the disciples?  A crowd can be a powerful force to overwhelm an individual or small group who are not individuated—grounded in their faith and identity.   Jesus asks the disciples: Who do you say that I am?  Jesus received an unusual response from Peter.

It wasn’t the response itself that was unusual. It was the immediacy of the response.  Peter wasn’t quick on the draw about anything.  And here is where Jesus reveals his sense of humor.  We have to understand the culture and language to get the humor and see how funny Jesus really is.  Jesus weaves a masterpiece. 

In ancient cultures, names were symbolically given to children to represent certain character traits.

Simon was Peter’s true name, coming from the Hebrew Shimon, meaning “to hear” or “He who hears.” 

One who hears displays a mind that is alert, sharp, quick witted and perceptive. 

After getting to know Peter in the scriptures, Peter was anything but sharp and perceptive.  

So Peter was given the nickname, Kepa, which indicated he was about as quick as a rock.  We all know that rocks don’t move of their own accord. 

However, the meaning of Kepa shows qualities of protection, shelter and support.”  Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus picks up on Simon’s nickname.  Jesus called him a rock or a support upon which the rock of truth will be the foundation for his church.   Jesus takes a negative image of Peter attributed to him by others and transforms it into a strength.  Of course a foundation has to be stable like a rock.

Jesus not only reveals his sense of humor, he puts a twist on something negative, transforming it to create something to be more than a positive.  Jesus is raising Peter’s spirit to a new level. 

What does this have to do with us?   How many times has God transformed you or something in your life to become more spiritually whole?   How many more times will God visit us and transform some habit, belief, doubt, and our soul more into his Divine Likeness?   I would venture to say, more than we can begin to count. 

I want to clarify a mistranslation of another verse.

The gates of sheol, should replace hell.  Sheol and hell are two different realities.  The word sheol comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to be quiet or the Aramaic word “to cease.”  Sheol was the place where departed spirits went—the departed are “quiet and inactive as they do not talk.”  Sheol was the place of the departed spirits.  Sheol has no negative connotation to it.    Hell, or Gehenna, was the trash dump southwest of Jerusalem where trash was burned.  Gehenna was unclean as it was the place of child sacrifice in previous ages.  

Sheol was the place where the dead slept.  Gehenna was the place for the spiritually dead. 

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “deliver us from evil.”  This is exactly the power that Jesus transmits to us. 

The resurrection is more than living after we are dead.  The resurrection is the same power to transform spiritual alienation and the evil that it manifests into a state of spiritual balance.  

When I was younger, I had the incomplete understanding that Christianity was about being a good person—totally missing the point.   Christianity, in the words of the Benedictine, Esther de Waal, is “not about being nice. It’s about being real.”  

Jesus’ resurrection makes us real—transforming our crooked places and making us whole—like himself.  

The outcome of all of this is that we can learn to love wholly as Jesus does, because Jesus is himself—the I AM, living in us, transforming our sorrow into joy, our conflict into peace and our darkness into Divine Light. 

This is a whole lot more than being a good person. 

We are in a season of the Church Year, where Jesus who is more than an ordinary human being, comes to transform us into our true selves, reflecting the Divine Nature of his soul in ours.   Trust this.  Taste this.  Live this. 

For the I AM is moving through you us in this very moment, looking for a place he can touch and transform. 

Are we curious as to where Jesus will move in us next? A hint where to begin is that the One who comes to redeem us often meets us in our suffering.

Be expectant.

Father Mark, Sermons

Freedom from Slavery of a Different Kind

Proper 15A; Pentecost 11; Genesis 45; 8/16/20

Have you ever been betrayed?  Have you been healed from it?  What do you do with betrayal?  Betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow. 

Joseph had his fill of it for sure:  Sold into slavery by his brothers; Sold again to Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s chief steward who elevated him as curator over his home affairs; Betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison; Joseph’s fortunes changed when he was finally appointed as Chancellor to Pharaoh himself after revealing his wisdom in interpreting his dreams. Joseph’s life was full of ups and downs. 

After more than a decade of never knowing if his father was alive, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking food because of the famine that had taken over the continent.  Joseph’s reaction to seeing his brothers is mixed with joy and resentment.  He first plays his resentment out against his brothers by playing tricks on them to make them look like thieves. Eventually, Joseph’s resentment finally breaks down. Joseph’s love for his brothers wins out and they hug one another and are reunited.

That’s a long time to hold on to resentment.  What is the longest period of time that you have resented someone?  What did your resentment do to you—to your quality of life, to your relationships with others, with your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health?

Resentments affect every part of our health and even other relationships.

During times of stress, such as five months of having our lives controlled by an unseen virus, patience can wear thin and we can become hypersensitive around others, taking offense at things that usually wouldn’t bother us.

Resentment is one of the greatest challenges we meet along the spiritual path.

Resentment means to hold onto anger and “re-send” the anger in a feedback loop.  The feedback loop is re-triggered either when a person who has betrayed us returns into our awareness—or another person or event creates a similar scenario as the initial violation.   Our minds think that our anger protects us from being hurt.

The anger feedback loop is a kind of force field that maintains distance between others and ourselves.  The downside of resentment is that we are living in the past, in a state of alert.  We’re tied to the others that hurt us, and this impinges on future trust.  Our inner peace is covered by a thin layer of resentment covering a potential volcano.

The way out of resentment is forgiveness.  But we often resist fearing that forgiveness will leave us vulnerable to being hurt again.  This is due to misunderstanding what forgiveness is. 

Let’s begin by reflection on what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but of strength.  We don’t need our anger to protect ourselves. 

Strength comes from our security in God. 

If we over identify with our wounds we fall prey to victim consciousness, which is a blend of learned helplessness and resentment.  There is a pandemic of victim consciousness in our culture today—much of it politically driven. 

The idea of forgiveness creates anxiety due to the fear of the loss of our counterfeit identity of victimhood.  To create a belief system that our identity comes from another who has hurt us leaves us with an empty soul.  We may have been victimized by others but we are not victims.  We have the liberty of choosing our true identity as children of God who have been empowered to live in the Way of the Spirit—not the way of resentment, hate or vengeance.  Retaliation will not heal our wounds but the love of God will—when we offer our wounds to him.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning or absolving another who has wronged us.  Forgiveness does free us form being tied to them and their action.

Our willingness to forgive depends not on the offender seeking reconciliation. 

Jesus on the cross, taught us unilateral forgiveness.  The Jewish authorities who accused Jesus and the Roman authorities who executed him were too lost in their egos to see the reality of what they were doing—thus the words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness goes through a healing process in phases similar to grief.  The phases of forgiveness are:  claiming the hurt, guilt and shame, victim, anger and then all is released into wholeness.  Expanding on this will take more time than is available at present.

To leave you with a closing thought about what Joseph’s life can teach us is:  Abandonment, betrayal, unfairness and hardships do not have the final word—that is unless we allow them to.  Our God is a God of deliverance, healing and wholeness.

Then next time you get the raw end of a deal, begin to change your focus from the perpetrator and the event to God.  The Spirit will lead us from our wounds, pain, dark memories and loss into the holy Light of God.   

We don’t have to hang on to our resentment like Joseph did.  God’s love and compassion can set us free.

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Sermons

Living With Imperfection

Proper14; Pentecost 10; Genesis 37; 8/9/20

Reading the Genesis story I am reminded of the music and comedy duo, The Smother’s Brothers and Tommy’s come back line to his younger brother Dick, “Mom always liked you best.”   We’ve all heard of sibling rivalry.  My brother and I had it until I wised up when I was in 8th grade.  I figured that we could accomplish more as allies than as adversaries and so our relationship has been tight up to this very day.   Since then I’ve been fascinated by the Biblical accounts of families.  The Old Testament is full of them. 

I sometimes wonder how God managed to choose them as messed up as they were.   But I realized that we’re all messed up in some way and we are the only ones God has to work with.   Families can be phenomenal means of grace to one another while others create suffering.  With as much as we know about creating healthy families, there is still a mystery to how kids turn out the way they do.

Today, we take a look at All in the Family.  Not with Archie and Meathead, but with Joseph and his brothers. 

But first we have to look at Isaac and Rebekah who raised Jacob and Esau because the favoritism shown by Rebekah towards Jacob was definitely passed on to Jacob in his playing favorites with Joseph.  It’s funny that the hero in family systems is usually the first born.  But Jacob, Joseph and later on with David, they were the youngest.   God tends to look at the heart instead of birth order.   God while embracing them also addressed the flaws of each of them while leading them to do the work God had given them to do.

Was Jacob responsible for setting up the split between Joseph and his 11 brothers?    Joseph, the youngest, was his beloved Rachel’s first child.  Today, children being born in second marriages sometimes lead the older children to feel displaced.   Jacob, who was given so much spiritual insight throughout his encounters with God, appears to be clueless about raising children in a family system.  Yet God works through these deficits including the brothers’ jealousy to shape Joseph for the good he would do in Egypt and Israel during the famine, which included feeding his brothers and their families.

The dreams Joseph was given by God directed him to practice stewardship of saving for the famine.  Joseph’s dreams, a sign of divine favor, was a capacity that his brothers didn’t have.  There is a developmental phase in childhood that many humans do not outgrow in their adulthood.  This is the belief that “life must be fair.”  

Remember when you were younger, thinking or saying “life isn’t fair.”   Remember a parent or grandparent who had grown out of that belief saying, “Life isn’t always fair.”   God did not create egalitarianism—where everyone gets an equal outcome.   People created this delusion out of the belief that life should be fair.   God loves each us of equally but did not create us all the same as St. Paul would later teach us that we are all given different gifts to build up the kingdom of God.   I would often burn with jealousy about people who could apply mathematics until I realized that I was given gifts to do many things which others cannot. 

The belief that life must be fair or egalitarian with equal outcomes is an illusion which manifests into many aberrations such as Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory.  Void of spiritual foundation and contrary to Natural Law, Marxism’s promise of a utopia has throughout history revealed its magical thinking resulting in the suppression of the human soul, creating suffering and misery.   

Suffering cannot be escaped through a political system but transcended through spiritual transformation. 

Life isn’t fair.  It’s hard to grow out of this belief.   This doesn’t mean that the church doesn’t reach out to help others grow into the full persons God has created them to be or to those who are in need.

Jacob continues his doting on Joseph with a special coat with sleeves that his brothers didn’t receive.  

It’s difficult to discern whether Joseph developed a sense of believing he was more “special” than his brothers because of the coat or other reasons such as—       

  • Not working with his brothers with the sheep herds. 
  • Jacob sent Joseph 13 miles away to Dothan to deliver a message to his brothers.
  • Could Joseph’s brothers have been irritated that Joseph didn’t have to work like they did? 

Whatever the reasons, the brothers decided to kill Joseph now that he was out of his father’s reach and make it look like an accident.  Reuben, as the eldest, stands up to his brothers, diverting the plan to putting Joseph in a dry water pit, thinking that he could secretly come to rescue him later.  But that was foiled when the Midianites found Joseph, kidnapped him and sold him to the Ishmaelite’s who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him into slavery before Reuben could return to release him. 

It is important to point out that Reuben exhibited great courage to stand up to 10 angry brothers.  Reuben’s example begs us to ask how we stand against evil when we are outnumbered.  Where do we find the courage to resist evil and discern the wisdom to navigate through it?   With all the evil going on in the world at this time and threats against any who will stand in evil’s wake, what direction might the Spirit be giving us at this time? 

God has nothing to work with but our human spirits and flesh and blood. 

Let us be God’s hands, feet and voice—making sure that we are listening to God instead of the crowd.