Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lent 4 - Wrestling with John 3:16 - Moving from Darkness to Light

Lent 4 2015 Homily

Fr. Daniel struggles with the Gospel of John and specifically John 3:16 - What do we really believe? What is God saying to us in this early interpretation of Jesus's life? Take a glimpse into the life of St. Nicodemus. Be warned...you may discover what some would call "heresy!" Take what you will and be open to the possibility that things are not always as we have been led to believe. 

Psalm 137
Ephesian 2:4-10
John 3:14-21

Lent 2 Homily - Leaving Fundamentalism Behind for Lent and Demanding Justice

Lent 2 - 2015
Monday Scripture Readings, According to the Catholic Missal
Daniel 9:4-10
Psalm 79
Luke 6:36-38
The season of Lent is often understood as a time of wandering and longing. Many view Lent, for better or worse, as a liturgical cycle that mimics our human experiences of isolation and fear. The liturgical color of Lent is dark purple and the sanctuaries of Churches are often simplified with bright and joyous symbols being removed for these 40 long days. In some traditions statues and holy images are even veiled or turned with their faces to the wall as a sign of mourning and possible discomfort. As I said last week, Lent is not an easy season to endure or probably shouldn’t be if we approach it with holy fear as the Church bids us to do. Lent is a season of eerie quietness and darkness while we wait in the shadows, with great hope and expectancy, for the promised light of resurrection.
This Lent, I believe God is inviting us to become aware of the wandering and longing, the isolation and fear that exist all around us in a world where peace and harmony seem almost nonexistent. As people of faith, we have wept this past week as many of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria have been kidnapped, tortured and killed by the “Islamic” extremist group ISIL or ISIS. Our hearts have been shattered as we watched a man be burned alive in a cage by his own fellow human beings. Our ears can’t help but hear the earth-shattering cries of mothers and fathers as their children are torn from their arms only to watch them literally be torn from limb to limb in the lands where Christianity first began and spread. 
In our own country, that we ignorantly deem to be enlightened and safe, we heard of a fundamentalist “Christian” family that attempted to sell their daughter into a forced marriage for $25,000. Increasing the horror, it was noted the price could have been higher but she was “damaged goods” due to being sexually molested as a child.  Another story told of a nineteen-year-old daughter who had bravely made the choice to escape her family’s cult-like Christianity only to realize she had no proof of identification or birth due to being born at home. Her parents have refused to assist her in acquiring employment or a social security card as a means to force her to return to their perverted faith. A Facebook meme reminded us that a conservative religious family recently spent $10,000 to maintain the “right” for their local employers to fire LGBT individuals, while just 2 1/2 hours away from them an outreach center offers hope and shelter to homeless LGBT youth while operating on a yearly budget of only $7,500. 
Our world finds itself in darkness and despair this Lenten season. So many of our fellow brothers and sisters are lost in the valley of fear and isolation and rather than religion and faith coming to their aid it is the very tool used to destroy their lives. Our Gospel reading today began with Christ telling us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  How far our faith in God has strayed from mercy. So many who claim faith in God, whether Islamic or Christian, perpetuate acts of horror upon the nations of the earth because they have deemed themselves to be judge and jury. We behold self-righteous religious extremism in our political parties and leaders, churches in our communities and even in our own family members. If we are honest, we even catch glimpses of it in ourselves more than we care to believe. 
Much of our faith systems have become nothing more than cultic rituals, devoid of love, mercy and fruitful action. Both Islamic and Christian faiths have allowed religious corruption and encouraged idolatry of spiteful doctrines that demand systematic oppression, hatred and, yes, even death. If you think for a moment extremist Christian faith isn’t responsible for deaths you haven’t studied the statistics concerning LGBT teenage suicide and death, which is undeniably linked to homophobic Christian theological formulations.  This Lent we sit in sorrow and our hearts break for it seems God is nowhere to be found. 
Yet, the Prophet Daniel tells us that God is “great and awesome.” God is merciful and seeks to keep covenant with all God’s children. In this we know it is not God that is nowhere to be found but rather it is God’s faithful who have failed to keep the covenant given to them. It is you and I who are nowhere to be found and should be filled with shame. It is you and I who hear the cries of the mothers and fathers as their children are mutilated and witness the youth who are forced from their homes simply for their sexuality and yet we sit in silence. We remain quiet deluding ourselves that to do so is respectful and civilized. We ask where is God’s justice and dare to judge the Divine while we remain motionless, our backs turned to the realities of prejudice in this world. Justice is indeed on God’s side, as the prophet tells us, but God requires you and I to walk in covenant with the Divine laws of equality, honesty, compassion and holiness to bring true peace. If we do not become voices and agents of God’s justice demanding change, we will have done evil in what we have failed to do. We are the ones who have departed from God, while God unceasingly cries out to us to change, to repent, and return to righteous ways.
Jesus tell us, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” God is seeking people of faith who no longer self-righteously judge and condemn but rather walk in virtue extending the mercy of God to all they meet and demanding that God’s mercy guide religious belief systems. Furthermore, it seems, God promises us those who judge will be judged and those who condemn will be condemned. These are frightful words beyond our understanding and yet they offer to us the hope that evils perpetuated by treacherous “religious” groups will one day be brought to an end. We are filled with hope knowing the light of resurrection will arrive and God’s justice will never be silenced completely. Let us arise from our slumber, face the world and stand in hope knowing that God is not lost but rather is continually calling each and everyone one of us to action. 
We may not be able to travel across the oceans and assist our friends in Syria, but we can begin to demand that hate no longer be espoused in the name of God in our local communities.  We can demand that Christianity and Islam no longer be blasphemed by the actions of those who seek only to fulfill their own evil ambitions. We can become such a loud prophetic voice in the faith community that we drown out the shouts of hatred so that the cries of those being abused may finally be heard by all God’s creation and responded to. 
This Lent we begin the journey of traveling from darkness to light, demanding the promise of life for all God’s children. Let it be so. Amen. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Call to Action! And remembering Dr. Marcus Borg...

Ordinary Time (Epiphany) 3 - January 25, 2015
Psalm 25
I Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

In the Name of God: + Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

“Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here! Change your life and believe the Message, the Good News!”

Today Jesus meets each one of us and calls us to action! He asks you and I to allow our lives to be transformed this very moment for the domain of God is not far off or in the next life but here before us, surrounding us and within us. We are called to action not for ourselves alone, not to suppress or appease the blood thirst of some vengeful Deity, but in order to bring to completion the world-altering message of Christ. Jesus approached his first disciples today in our Gospel reading and invited them to become fishers of men and women, to seek out the hurting, the broken, the confused, the marginalized, the outcast and offer to them the message of transformation and hope, the message that God’s domain is here!

This past week Christianity and all people of faith lost a leading theologian and biblical scholar who paved the way for many to return to their faith in the ever-abiding presence of Jesus Christ. Dr. Marcus Borg left this world and entered into the mysterious and yet promised eternal presence of God’s love at age 72 on Wednesday. Dr. Borg was willing to approach the Good News of Jesus in a way that many did not dare. He was willing to look past 2,000 years of heaped on church traditions and lofty rhetoric and look for the man Jesus, who with only three years or less of public ministry and teaching left a mark on this world as few others have.

Dr. Borg was raised a Lutheran but always held significant doubts pertaining to faith in God and Christianity. Not withstanding these doubts he decided to venture to seminary and heed the call of God to a very public teaching ministry. His brutal and transparent honesty pertaining to his faith was his greatest strength. Dr. Borg opened the eyes of the Christian world to the realization that God does not ask for blind allegiance and refusal of deep internal questioning. Instead God asks us to use all of our being, all our intellect and all our creative spirit in order to truly draw close to the Divine as revealed in the person of Jesus. Dr. Borg once said, “When somebody says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” my first response is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism.”

Many of us here were raised in a faith community where God was the supernatural “man in the sky” dishing out miracles and damnation as he saw fit. A god who required individuals to adopt a specific doctrinal system to evade the fires of hell. A god who was kind and compassionate but only for those chosen few. A god who by any loving parent’s standards would get a big fat “F” when it comes to paternal and maternal principles of love and caretaking.

Thankfully, Dr. Borg reminded us that the God whom Jesus spoke of is not distant, is not seeking to damn nor is found lacking in love and compassion but rather pours out goodness to without reservation or hesitation. As matter of fact, our Gospel reading makes this clear. Jesus doesn’t come to the first disciples with a bound Bible, the Roman’s Road to salvation, the message of the cross or (breathe deep) even the resurrection. Jesus simply comes with the calling, with the invitation, to seek transformation recognizing the presence of God. The disciples did not need to ask questions because their calling was not one of doctrinal beliefs or absolutes but instead entering into a dance with a man. A man, not so unlike themselves, who had helped open their eyes to the domain of God and the promises it brings.

Our God is not asking for mechanical robots but rather people who seek to experience the fullness of the Divine. We do this through an engaging relationship with God, God’s creation and walking in the ways of Jesus. Dr. Borg also once said, “The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”

Jesus changed the world beginning with Simon and Andrew, James and John, simply with the call to action: the calling to radically bring about a personal and world transformation by recognizing God. Often times progressive Christianity is guilty of minimizing the teachings of Jesus to nothing more than a calling to kindness or being nice. Not surprisingly, Dr. Borg once touched on this issue saying, “The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”

The calling of Jesus to the first disciples was not simply to be nice and to love everyone. They could have easily done this while remaining on their boats and catching their fish. Instead, they heard Jesus and they IMMEDIATELY got up and followed after him. In just a few short weeks they began to go out and touch the untouchables, teach the people deemed to be un-teachable, stay in the homes of the so-called sinners and break bread with all who were hungry, especially those on the fringes of society. The call to action, the call of Jesus, is not necessarily one of quiet kindness or one of allegiance to dogma. Instead it is a vocal proclamation to change the world, as we know it! To turn imbalanced systems of power upside down, offering freedom to all.

As people of faith we are called to change the world by making known the ways of God through our concrete and public actions, our life-saving words of hope and our demand that the “least of these” be treated with equality. We are fishers of men and women, fishers who are willing to put our hands in the dirty, mucky waters of the world - waters that are filled with hatred, scorn, envy and strife. We are called to be willing to pull anyone and everyone out of those waters offering them a new lease on life. We are to call out systemic racism, sexism, economic inequality, homophobia and transphobia, often existing in the name of religion, and critique it with the embracing and affirming message Jesus left us. Fishers of men and women cannot remain silent, they cannot remain peacefully in their boats of life but instead they go out into the world and put their lives on the line in order to bring a societal awareness to God’s domain and rule.

To believe the message of Jesus, as the disciples did, is to believe that God loves the entirety of the world. God loves all the little children, every shade from dark to light; every gender – male, female or in-between; every sexuality – gay, straight or in-between. God loves us all and Jesus calls us to action for the time is now, the domain of God is here. It is time to change our lives; it is time to get busy fulfilling our call as faith people. Our call is to change the very fabric of society. To ruffle the feathers of the religious who deems themselves better than others, to root out dogmas and doctrines that cause hatred of others and self, to demand national and world-wide care for the poor and sick, to educate out bigotry and hatred that would harm those of differing genders and sexualities and to bring into reality the belief that God is with us and no weapons used against us will prosper.

For “God is fair and just; God corrects the misdirected and sends them in the right direction. God gives the rejects God’s own hand and leads them step-by-step.” Today we choose to walk step-by-step with Jesus, we choose to believe the message of radical change and we choose to recognize the domain of God that is before us. We will heed the call to action? Systems of oppression and domination will fail for God is here!

I leave you with this final quote from. Dr. Marcus Borg: “Christianity's goal is not escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better.”