Death Is A Painful Loss

Dying is a gradual diminishing and final vanishing over the horizon of life. When we watch a sailboat leaving port and moving toward the horizon, it becomes smaller and smaller until we can no longer see it. But we must trust that someone is standing on a faraway shore seeing that same sailboat become larger and larger until it reaches its new harbor. Death is a painful loss. When we return to our homes after a burial, our hearts are in grief. But when we think about the One standing at the other shore eagerly waiting to welcome our beloved friend into a new home, a smile can break through our tears.
Henri Nouwen

The Transfiguration, Homily

Homily, Mar 11&12, Cyc A, 2nd Lent, The Transfiguration

Well, we’re moving right along on our journey through Lent. By now we should have decided and implemented what we are going to give up for Lent. Right? In my day things were a lot simpler: We gave up sweets, Cokes, caffeine or hitting our younger brother. But, we’re a lot more sophisticated today.

For instance, we can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones. When I asked him several days ago, if I could use his name in vain with his suggestion, he said sure, in fact you can add giving up cell phones altogether.

I said, wow, that’s a little harsh, Father. So help me, the very next day, there was an article on the international news cycle about Pope Francis suggesting we all give up our phones and start carrying and reading our bibles.

I’m not sure who is following who, the Pope – Father Jim or Father Jim – the Pope.

In today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are actually exposed to another epiphany of Jesus. They see Him in a different way, a different context. In that mysterious meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah Peter, James, and John are shown Jesus’ place in the overall mix of Salvation History.

We often hear the phrase, “The Law and the Prophets” used to describe God’s relationship with His people in the OT. In the Transfiguration, we have Moses representing the Law, and Elijah representing the Prophets. Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is shown discussing with Moses and Elijah the foundations of Israel’s faith.

Jesus trusted completely in His Father’s plan for mankind with a faith that recognized His dependence on His Father. And, by the way, that is the same sort of faith we are called to embrace, recognizing our dependence on the goodness and mercy of God.

Jesus believed the scriptures that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise, and He knew they referred to Him. The Transfiguration event, especially His Father speaking to him from the cloud, strengthened His resolve to let God’s plan take effect in Him. We are called to have faith to do the same thing with our lives, to let God’s plan take effect in us.

No matter what we achieve in this life, we will never be our best selves without recognizing our need for a relationship with our creator.

Looking at our First Reading today from Genesis, we see God calling Abraham to that same faith in Him. Can you imagine God calling an elderly man with no children and a barren wife to leave the land of his kinsfolk and move to a distant place?

Then sweetening the pot, we hear God promising to make of him a great nation and assuring him that He would bless him. It must have taken a great deal of faith to pass that information along to his kin.

To put that into today’s world, that would be like Msgr showing up one Sunday and announcing that he heard from God and we are to trust him and move to the north end of the Island. It’s that drastic.

So, this first reading gives us a clear picture that God has been calling His creation to this level of faith for a long, long time, thousands of years.

The first reading concludes with an interesting final verse. God tells Abram, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. I think within that verse we can find a nugget of truth to use during this Lenten season.

If you will allow me a little fundamentalism for the sake of Lent, we can use that thought for something to curtail during this season.

Let me paraphrase that verse. When God says, “I will bless those who bless you”, He is saying, “I will be good to those who are good to you”. When He says, “I will curse those who curse you”, He is saying, “I will not be good to those who are not good to you”.

If we can get a grip on that idea, then it frees us from retaliating against those who have treated us poorly. It frees us from the internal feeling that rises up within us that we must ‘get even’ with someone who has done us harm.

We can assure ourselves that we don’t have to restore justice in our small part of the universe because God has said He will handle it.

It is an automatic promise from God to Abraham to Jesus to us. The only way we can stop that promise from happening is to tell God to forego the promise as Jesus did while hanging on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Well, there IS another way to stop it. We can do what we normally do, retaliate ourselves, which in effect is telling God, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this one”. The truth is we should want God to handle it, He does it so much better than we do, and when He does, His actions are also redemptive for the other person. Our actions are almost always, not so much.

When you think about it, we already lean in that direction anyway when we refer to Karma. When someone finally gets what is coming to them, we say, “Karma is a tough force”. Or, we use phrases like, “What goes around comes around”. Both of those are a generic forms of, “We reap what we sow”, which is also scriptural.

Let me suggest adding this concept to our list of traditional things to give up for Lent. We can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones, or the Pope’s suggestion to give up cell phones altogether. We can throw in a few random acts of kindness, and give up retaliating against those who do us harm.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we call out to Jesus for the courage to have faith and trust in God. We don’t know exactly how He is going to answer that, but we do know that if we trust in Him, He will find a way to use us to reflect His image in the world and thereby include us in a small way in His plan of salvation in our world.


Stop Just Reading Your Bible

“Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart.” Psalm 119:34 (NLT)

I have a request today: Stop reading your Bible. Does that shock you? Relieve you? Make you angry at worst? Curious at best?

Read on, and see what I mean by this request.

There have been many days in my Christian journey when God was reduced to something on my to-do list. Somewhere along the way, I picked up an unwritten checklist of sorts explaining what “good Christians” are supposed to do:


Read your Bible.

Go to church.

Don’t cuss.

Be nice.

Being the rule-following girl I am, I subscribed to the good things on that list and waited with great expectations to receive the zap of contentment and happiness good Christian girls are supposed to exude.

But then something felt wrong with me. I still felt restless. I still reacted in anger. I still felt a bit hollow.

I was going through all the motions but didn’t feel connected to Jesus. Others around me seemed very connected. They would talk of being “moved by the Spirit.” They would hear from God Himself. They would clap their hands and shout “Amen” in the middle of a sermon that sounded like Greek to me.

I often felt like a weightless soul grasping at the air, hoping to somehow snag this Jesus that was just out of reach. Have you ever been there?

This nagging sense creeps in that you’ll never get it — that you don’t have what it takes to be a Christian. That’s where I was. I lived there for a long time until someone challenged me to stop simply reading my Bible because it was a thing on my Christian checklist. Instead, they challenged me to experience God. To know God.

In other words, I needed to look at the words in the Bible as a love letter. God’s love letter to a broken-down girl. A love letter not meant to simply be read … but a love letter meant to be lived.

I won’t lie. It took a while.

It took many days of sitting down with my Bible while praying gut-honest prayers. I told God I wasn’t connecting. I told Him I wanted to understand, just like the psalmist in our key verse, Psalm 119:34.

I asked Him to help me. I begged Him to help me. Finally, one verse came alive to me. I literally felt moved when I read it. I memorized it and thought about it all day long. All week long. Maybe all month long.

I was overjoyed. I had a verse. A verse where Jesus spoke tenderly and clearly and specifically to me. It was Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (NIV)

Slowly, I added more verses. Day by day. Chapter by chapter. And eventually my Bible became my greatest treasure, my love letter.

Now, every day I open up God’s Word with great expectation and intentionally look for my verse for that day. Usually one verse among the many I read during my devotion time grabs my heart, and I know it’s meant just for the day ahead. And then I attempt to live that verse out in some way, that very day.

When I make the connection between what happens in my life that day and why I need that verse, I experience God. I see Him active in my life, and I become even more deeply aware of His constant presence.

I’m sure some Bible scholars would probably take issue with my simplistic approach, but it sure has helped me.

So, back to my original statement. Stop reading your Bible. In other words, stop simply reading it because you have to cross it off the Christian checklist.

Instead, read it with great expectations of connecting more deeply and living more authentically with God.