Father Mark, Sermons

How Do I Help My Family Follow Christ?

Repentance and Forgiveness yield results like this….

Easter 7

The internet has expanded over the years inundating the user with pop ups, advertisements and unwanted information to the point that many go on overwhelm, grab their head and say:  “TMI!” Too much information!  The mind can only process so much at a given time.

Sometimes our faith goes on TMI—too much information.  If you asked ten different people what Christianity is, you’d probably get ten different answers. We tend, over time, to add items to items and more items so that we have difficulty understanding the core constructs of our faith and practice. 

Jesus himself, is the core construct—in his words, the cornerstone on which The Word stands. Jesus passes on to his disciples and to us what he practiced as the central task of the church. 

Once we know the central task of the Church we can practice this in our families. 

Jesus summarizes the central task of the Church to his disciples on Ascension Day—10 days after his resurrection, 10 days before Pentecost: “repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed….”  Repentance and the Forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed.  Period. 

Repentance and the forgiveness of sins is a life style; a faith skill that is practiced and developed on a continual basis that deepens our faith. There is a difference between learning and following.  We can learn something without following it.

How to help our families follow Christ is to first ourselves be a living example of repenting and forgiving.  We teach our families by modeling how to follow Christ practicing repentance and forgiveness.  Repenting and forgiving is a lifestyle of continually turning to God proclaiming God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.  Repenting and forgiving teach us and our children that we are not rejected when we fail or are wrong, and that we can offer the same gift of mercy to others. 

All of Jesus’ teachings rest on repentance and forgiveness such as the Beatitudes.  Humility, mourning, meekness, seeking righteousness, being merciful, purity of heart, peacemaking and others are all rooted in repentance and forgiveness.  Repentance and forgiveness define what love is, revealing that the problems of life may involve others, but the place we begin looking is with ourselves.   We can pray for others but we cannot change them.  It is an act of supreme arrogance to think we have the right to judge or change someone else.  We can forgive them, though. Forgiveness is releasing ourselves from what another has done so that we do not drown in resentment.

By repenting and reconnecting with God, receiving forgiveness, we pass on forgiveness to others—thereby becoming the living vessels of Christ’s presence.  By repenting and forgiving, our children learn to do the same—that they don’t have to fear being rejected for their mistakes—that discipline and consequences do not mean rejection but that forgiveness offers the opportunity for a new beginning. 

Families that practice repentance and forgiveness are not burdened by the caustic acid of resentment that wounds the spirit.  Families that practice repentance and forgiveness are free to love and be loved. Repenting and forgiving models to our children, grandchildren and others that we are about the business of catching ourselves when we stray from the presence of God and seeking forgiveness ourselves when we do—and offering the same forgiveness to others who have separated themselves from us by their actions.  

My father knew how to weld.  I watched him take broken pieces of metal and through the lightning arc re-bond the two pieces as one.  My father taught me that the weld is stronger that the two pieces of metal.  Such is what the practice of repentance and forgiveness does—re-mending the split that comes from people who have lost their way. Repentance and forgiveness welds together our separation from Christ and in a process called Oneing by St. Julian, makes us one with God.

Repentance and forgiveness means that we both practice and teach personal responsibility for our actions—for what we commit and what we omit—and that forgiveness means that we no longer fear abandonment because Jesus said he would be with us for eternity.  Modeling this vulnerability frees others to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability is a prerequisite for Christ to “make his home in us” and live through our lives.  Vulnerability is the greatest outreach of all because it opens the path for us to be spiritually transformed where we live “from Above” while being on earth.  Vulnerability over time disarms others to also become vulnerable.  Such is the way of love. 

Repentance and forgiveness doesn’t mean that we necessarily place ourselves in harm’s way by making ourselves vulnerable to a dangerous person.   For example, subjecting oneself to a felon so that one becomes vulnerable is not necessary to forgive them.  Allowing an unrepentant transgressor to have continual access to oneself is not what forgiveness means.  These actions would be unwise. 

The practice of repentance and forgiveness is what distinguishes the difference between the message of the gospel and the message of service clubs and social services.  Doing good deeds is beneficial but it does not reach to the core issue of repentance and forgiveness.  Feeding someone is a good work that feeds a person for a day. 

Practicing repentance and forgiveness feeds another with the spiritual food of Eternal Life. 

Why settle for less than the real thing?

Amen. 

Father Mark, Sermons

Abandonment and The Advocate

Easter 6

I find it striking that Jesus spends time preparing his disciples for his departure and death on more than one occasion.  Of course, like any of us, the disciples did not want to hear it.  As much as Jesus prepared them for their anticipated grief, not one of them was ready for the trial, torture and execution of their Master.  John, who reportedly managed to hold space with Mary at the foot of the cross, was the only exception.  

Nevertheless, separation is a painful experience—beyond what the mind can comprehend and what the spirit can sometimes bear.  There are no words to describe the agony and angst. 

We are held speechless in the abyss of grief.  Those of us who have lost grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, spouses, friends and children know only too well.  The train we were riding on comes off the track and our life is never the same—not meaning that life cannot be good again, but that it’s never the same as it once was. 

Jesus attempts to place hope within the minds of the disciples by explaining something to them that could not be comprehended by explanation but only by experience.  Sometimes repeating a phrase helps to keep us afloat during times that we’re feeling like the title of the song by the Yardbirds in the 1960’s: Over, Under, Sideways and Down.  It’s good to have a few of these watchwords practiced so that we may readily recall and use them in difficult times to help us find our balance when our world seems to have lost its gyroscope. 

I am wondering if you have a watchword or phrase that you can repeat to yourself to help stabilize your spirit, mind and heart when the seas get rough.  Can you think of one?  I’ve heard some use, this too shall pass.  Another is Jesus Christ have mercy on me or just plain, help. 

Personally, I have found some scripture passages helpful.  I use them frequently.  My favorite from which I feel the power of God stir within me is in the Aramaic words of Jesus, I am the resurrection and I am life.  I find the Aramaic to be much more powerful.  If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to stop by, mask and all, outside your home and teach it to you.  You’ll have it down in ten minutes.  A proclamation of our Master that brings Eternal Life to you in the present in the matter of moments is well worth the ten minutes to learn it.

To understand the mindset of the disciples in their time and culture is necessary for us to begin to comprehend why Jesus would endeavor to mitigate their despair.  When a man died in the Middle East, the family became disorganized.  The mother either returned home to the family of her father or brothers.  The children, if they were fortunate, are cared for by relatives, which did not guarantee the quality of care.  If there were no relatives, the children would roam the street, destitute.  If that doesn’t put a fear of abandonment in someone, nothing will. 

Even when we’re not orphaned, to see orphans running about would put a sinking feeling in most us.  I often wonder what goes through minds of the orphans or children placed in homes such as Legacy Ranch and this is why reaching out to them is so important.  The children drink up kind attention as the words of Jesus play through my mind: Blessed are the merciful….

I had a strange childhood memory return to me while praying the gospel for this Sunday. 

I was mid elementary age at an Easter Egg Hunt.  We filled our baskets with sugar and chocolate and took our booty to a place to assess our take.   I unwrapped a chocolate Easter egg and as I opened my mouth around the expected pleasure of God’s gift of holy cacao, my teeth bit into it and the egg collapsed, with the thin shell folding in on itself.  The egg was hollow!  The lack of substance was disappointing.   To this day, I check Easter candy boxes to ascertain if the chocolate egg or bunny is hollow or solid.  And guess which ones I choose? 

The point of my story, is that when we take a bite into life, and what we bite turns out to be hollow, with no substance, there is a feeling of abandonment that life isn’t delivering something real. 

How easy it would be easy for the disciples to fall into despair—that after three years, the teachings, miracles and comradery, the whole thing turned out to be hollow.   And would God turn out to be hollow too?   What happens to trust—to open up when we taste what to us appears to be abandonment.   We perceive abandonment at the age level and development we are at the time and the experience can remain fixated like a ghost from the past. 

I studied grief for twenty some years and worked in the field for a decade beyond the grief counseling a parish priest does.  I read a book called The Orphan Effect and learned no matter how independent an adult is in their lives, even at the ages of 50 and up, when a parent dies, it is possible to feel abandonment like an orphan.   I felt orphaned when my father died 18 months ago.  Sometimes I still do.  The point is—is that it’s natural and an experience that I have learned to sit with and take into prayer.  Both God and the presence of my father come to me after a short time and a feeling of wholeness follows. 

Even though Jesus was not the chronological age of a father to his disciples, he was still a rabbi-like father to them—offering instruction, support and attachment. 

To have this jerked out from underneath them as it was on Good Friday, left them feeling like an empty shell on the inside. 

The Advocate Jesus sends, is Himself—in the form of  Holy Spirit.  Advocate means that one stands with another.  The beautiful thing is that Jesus does more than this.  Not only does the Advocate stand with us, but that Jesus makes his home within us.  Jesus is closer than our next breath.

So when life jerks you around, like it has lately—remember.  Remember—we have an Advocate on whom we can call—a sure and present help as the psalmist would say (Psalm 46). 

Our Advocate isn’t hollow—but is solid.  And remember to ask our Advocate’s help to love one another.  Having an Advocate and learning to love is a matched set.

Let Jesus complete you.

Amen.

Father Mark, Sermons

Acceptance and Tolerance

Thanks Moms for feeding us in so many ways….

Happy Mother’s Day!  I was asked to address the subjects of acceptance and tolerance.  Mothers practice acceptance and tolerance a lot.  I will begin with a personal story.  God has a habit of playing tricks on us—not out of meanness but because God likes to reveal our inconsistencies to us so that we might be made whole.

During my venture into bi-vocational ministry, in 2001, my first employment outside of the church was with Child Protective Services in Ft. Worth.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I didn’t like it, but as all in experiences when you’re forced to swallow medicine we don’t like such as castor oil, we plug our noses, gulp and take it because it’s good for us.  It was good for me as I learned much. I also learned much about myself.  It doesn’t take long for a CPS caseworker to develop a sense of what we call being jaded, against those who abuse or neglect their children. 

My initial positive attitude to be accepting didn’t take long to wither into tolerance and then to border on intolerance.  We had to guard against intolerance because then we would no longer be able to offer enough acceptance to help parents who were abusive or neglectful.  Our first responsibility was to protect the child which for me involved many sleepless nights wondering if anything I was doing was making any difference.  

I didn’t last long at CPS—few do, looking to work at a place that was better suited for my gifts.  Problem solved.  So I thought.  Until years later in Tennessee. 

I worked with many abused children and adults as a therapist.  But for the first time, what walked through my door were a few adults who were perpetrators of child abuse or neglect.   Right there the dragon of my intolerance awakened from the grave. 

I hit the wall of my intolerance.  If I were to offer them any hope of recovery in their mental health, I had to see and accept the individual as a person.  Intolerance gets in the way of accepting others because we fear the threat of personal physical, emotional or spiritual injury. The stories of others remind us of our real or imagined counter-stories.

So God and I had a face to face about what was it within me that blocked my ability to accept these persons as human beings who could not accept themselves.  I had to come to terms with my belief that the source of the suffering was not redeemable as verified by statistics.   I came face to face with my doubt in God’s ability to heal the perpetrators.  If I were to accept God into this part of my life, I had to come face to face with my own beliefs and memories—to realize they were memories and they no longer had power in my life.  That wasn’t fun, nor was it easy.  But it freed me of many fears.

All of this to say is that acceptance and tolerance are totally dependent on the health of one’s spiritual life.  Acceptance and Tolerance are interrelated.

Acceptance is receptivity—a receptivity to God yields a life reflecting the nature of God.  God’s acceptance of us pays it forward to us accepting others as God accepts us. 

Tolerance, not found in Hebrew, has Latin origins meaning to bear, or to endure—more of a strained acceptance.   Intolerance indicates a personal reaction to something within ourselves triggered by another, making it difficult to accept the person. 

I learned that there was a difference in at least tolerating or at best accepting the person while not tolerating the act.   Jesus’ life modeled the saying: “hate the sin but love the sinner.   Jesus is the way to acceptance.  Paul Tillich summarized the gospel into three words:  You are accepted. 

Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me,” has been misunderstood and taken out of context into a legalistic frame of mind, similar to the Jewish leaders of his day.  

The words, “I am,” in Hebrew, ehyeh asher ehyeh, is the name of God, meaning, “I am that I am” or  “I am the cause of what is.”  We might also add: “I am what is happening to you,” as God is always moving about within us.

The Aramaic word, urha, means path, or way—with the image of the Father passing on to the son his nature of what he knows—his way of being, much like how a father would pass down a trade, to the son, who later passes it on to his son.   On Mother’s Day, think of all the loving care, values, teachings, skills and traditions you offer your children and that were offered to you by your mother.  The Father’s beloved nature, is passed to and through the son—to us.

Jesus is preparing a “place” for us.  My original images for a place as a child, were thinking of beautiful rooms in a magnificent manor.  Of course, the mansion about which Jesus speaks refers to his finding his home within us.   Life is a course in home remodeling—the rooms are within us.  We are constantly being reformed in the image of God.  We’re in a lifelong apprenticeship. 

The term, B’SHEMI means ‘in my name.’  To ask in Jesus’ name means “according to my method, my way of doing things.”  For example Jesus’ teaching and his way is modeled in the beatitudes—defined in the Aramaic:

“Blessed are the humble, those who long for healing, those who have softened their rigidity, those who hunger and thirst for spiritual stability, those who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers; those who forgive and express loving kindness. 

We receive these qualities from God. We can’t just “act” this way.  Our will needs to be inspired—even transformed. 

Inspiration means to be breathed into—the same dynamic Jesus breathes into the disciples to receive Holy Spirit—the breath of God’s life coming into us while exhaling His life to others. We learn His breath, His method:  to inhale God and not hold our breath. His breath, his method instead of our breath, our method.  I learned that over 95% of the population do not breathe correctly when I learned contemplative prayer—due to breath restrictions. We were created to receive and offer the Breath of God—his life, way and Being.

God’s acceptance has always been here for us.  The same accepting Spirit moves though us with the acceptance of others.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we agree with what others do, condone it or do not distance ourselves from their actions.  

Acceptance reveals that the love of God moves through us as an offering to others—offering the Kingdom to others as Jesus makes his home within us.

May you know the acceptance of God and practice it this day more fully. Today, you moms especially.

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Sermons

The Mystery Underlying Grief and Loss

I was asked to address the subject of grief.  I heard a long time ago a saying, “The only constant in life is change.”  Change mean loss.  Even if the change is welcomed, something is lost in the transition.  Even recovering alcoholics who are grateful and love their new found freedom can grieve the “old days” when they drank.

What is grief and what are we dealing with?  First, let’s define three terms:

Bereavement is the state of being in grief. 

Grief is the experience of our loss. 

Mourning, such as going through a funeral and a bereavement group, is what we do in the process of working through grief. 

Grief is a normal, and I want to emphasize normal, response to loss.  Grief doesn’t feel normal because normal to us is what life was before the loss.   Grief involves the totality of our being:  spiritual, intellectual, physical and the mental—emotional self.  Loss throws our life off balance.

The root word in bereavement means to “tear away from.”  Grief is what is experienced in the state of being torn.  This is where your hear terms like “heart broken,” and it’s more than metaphorical.  Grief, the feeling, is experienced in the body.  The spirit, one with the body. Is torn, even if not visible to the human eye.   There is a metaphorical internal bleeding that goes on, leaving us in pain, confusion and with a loss of energy.   

Grief affects our biology, compromising our endocrine/hormone system and our immune system.  Grief affects our brain functioning, inhibiting the thought process and overstimulating the emotional brain. The body carries the grief in a multiple array of unpleasant feelings. 

The physical symptoms and the mental racing thoughts or moments of feeling stunned feels like we’ve been hit between the eyes with a 2×4. 

Losing a loved one catapults us into this experience of being in a never-never land.  

Feeling like we’re suspended, the disoriented mind involuntarily tries to bargain with itself in order to undo the pain and loss, trying to return to what was before the loss occurred. 

Again, all of this experience is normal.  

Our first instinct when the feeling of grief arises is to attempt to escape it, which only makes it worse.  It is easy to believe that “I’m not doing life right” because I can’t get over this, can’t function to my optimum, am low on energy and other imbalances.  All of this is to be expected.  Resistance to the grief complicates and enlarges it while learning to lean into grief’s unpleasantness like Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes begins our healing.

We hear Jesus in the Beatitudes, (Matt. 5): “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Mourning has several aspects: it is a process of grieving for once was love and lost, while also longing deeply for wholeness to occur in the midst of emotional turmoil and emptiness.  The word for comforted means being returned from a state of wandering, from being lost, united within by love, feeling an inner continuity and to receive that which for one longs in a new form.  Comfort over a period of time allows our inner strength to return helping our wounds heal from being aligned with the One.  

Grief work is Holy work because we are merged with God.   Jesus also normalizes sorrow (John 16:22):  “You also now have sorrow, but I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you.”                                                          

Mourning, working through grief, involves numerous approaches depending on the personality of the bereaved.  Since the body, mind and spirit cannot be separated as it erroneously is in our culture, mourning involves a combination of spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical approaches since grief covers all the facets of our being human. 

Men and women grieve differently and all need to some extent a blending of interpersonal contact support and personal space to varying degrees.  There are phases of grief through which we travel that vacillate back and forth through time which cannot be calculated because each person is unique.  Grief cannot be simplified by stages, like walking up a flight of stairs.  Grief cuts its own path and actually involves more of an experience of descent than ascent in its nature as mourning takes us deeper into God. 

Grief is a far more complicated phenomena than I can address here.  However I would like to make two points.  First, is that when someone we love dies, we experience the tearing and the absence for an extended period of time.  If we have accepted our cross of grief to bear, then gradually over a period of time, the person whom we’ve loved and lost will return again to live within our heart that was once broken since they are no longer limited by the physical realm as we are.   Our relationships are changed from being one with the other, to having the beloved come alive in our hearts.  I have experienced this over and over again with people whom I have loved and lost, only to gain their presence in a new way.

Secondly, grief teaches that when we lose another, the ache within us is also an ache for God. 

Our grief appropriately mourned leads us into the heart of God as God is present within ours patiently waiting for us to merge more deeply with the Spirit.  Grief can come from changes and losses in our relationships with people, places and situations.  Thus we are grieving something most of the time because of these changes.

What is most important is to realize the pain that we experience is not weakness, as our western Stoic philosophy would falsely lead us to believe, but shows how real the love is that we shared with those we have lost.  

The other item is that grief, being Holy Work, leads us into God.  And this is the greatest blessing and purpose of all. 

Father Mark, Sermons

Patience

My father was a very patient man, but he had his limits.  He didn’t “lose it” very often.   The trials experienced through his life in the Great Depression and the Navy, taught him to bury his fear in Christ and he learned to live a worry free life most of the time.  His example points to the patience of Christ which encourages me to apply in my own life.   

Who was or is an example of patience in your life?

What does patience mean? 

Historically, patience as understood in the Wisdom Literature of Proverbs points to a temperament of forbearance or equanimity in spirit, describing a sense of humility as opposed to an inflated spirit.   The Psalmist uses patience as waiting persistently on God to act when other help has failed.   Patience possesses as certain steadfastness in the ability to bear up under pain or evil when necessary.  

In the New Testament, patience has to do with either circumstances or persons.  

When one experiences a form of injury, patience enables a person not to be provoked by others or to lose one’s what we would call today, “emotional intelligence.”  Sustaining patience under various trials means that one does not lose heart or courage.  Patience is seen, especially in interpersonal conflict, to be an attribute of God.   Calm “endurance” would be another synonym for patience.

Patience is important because we all face various hindrances, temptations and the like in our inward and outward world.  (I Thessalonians). 

What is it that allows someone to be patient?  How do we manifest this calm, enduring and perseverant spirit where we act out of the solitude of God instead of the irritability of the ego?  

To have God possess one’s soul means that we seek God to dwell within the center of our being as opposed to whatever happens in our mind at the time which can be self-referencing at times.    Our thoughts often contribute to impatience.  In contrast, to resonate in God’s stillness means that we remain still when the winds put us in harm’s way.   We focus on God instead of our thoughts. 

What does it mean when we “lose patience?”  What is it that we have lost? 

It’s like the story of Peter who jumps out of the boat on the water when Jesus beckons him.  Peter was doing fine until his gaze fell off of Jesus looking down at the choppy waters surrounding him. 

In today’s gospel, Cleopas and his friend were walking the 7 mile journey to Emmaus from Jerusalem.  They were beside themselves with confusion, grief and anxiety when Jesus joined them in their walk.    Jesus maintains his patience with them, even while calling them foolish not to believe what the prophets taught about the Messiah.   Jesus’ patience gave his disciples “heartburn.”  Not the ailment, but the Love of Christ’s presence being infused into their being so Cleopas said, “Did not our hearts burn while he was among us?”

When one is confounded by emotion, one has already lost patience because one’s focus has abandoned conscious contact with God and attached itself to the fear of the mind.  Attaching to the threat instead of remaining attached to God will yield emotional reactivity and intensify conflict.

But when we focus on the presence of God, we can act with a more relative calm.   

The anxiety of impatience escalates because the fear of the unwanted outcome predominates over the trust in the initiated intervention.   And if we are too attached to our fears we become hindered in intervening because the anxiety inhibit our ability to function and respond.  Impatience also comes from believing that the outcome depends on us instead of God.  Another factor in impatience is that it often stems from previous events in our life that in some way threatened us. 

If we are facing an undesired outcome or observing another facing the same, our anxiety is likely to rise if we have faced a similar event in the past from which our anxiety and wounds have not been healed.   Impatience is a gift in that it gives us clues about what within our past has not yet been healed. 

An example of this is when I worked for Child Protective Services twenty years ago.  I noticed a number of caseworkers who were very impatient, some angrily so, only to discover that they too, at some earlier period in their lives were abused or abandoned.   This kind of anxiety can interfere in one’s professional response to events.  I am not being critical here—only to point out what remains unhealed in our past is often reflected in what we are impatient about today.

The solution to impatience?   No matter what the root of our impatience is, immersing ourselves in the calming waters of the presence of God and allowing his spirit to touch our wounds, fear, anxiety and shortsightedness is the way to patience.   Being patient doesn’t mean that we do not act, such as in the case of stepping forward to intervene or setting a boundary—but that we do so calmly from the Spirit.  

Patience, peace and other spiritual gifts are not a separate commodity to be had, as if they were separate from God.  God is patience and God is Peace.  Divinity radiates patience and peace as a part of the Divine being.  Within the presence of the Divine, we radiate the same patience and peace.  This is our birth right being made in God’s image and likeness.  We will be more able to respond in the Spirit’s likeness that to react out of fear. 

Where is the irritability of impatience draining your life?  How might we discover the peace of God that passes our understanding within our impatience?

Seek God—or assistance to seek God to find your way through it if you are stuck in impatience—as life is too precious to allow impatience to consume our joy.   Patience reflects the uninhibited Joy of Christ living in and through us.