As I wrote the title for this morning’s blog entry, a song (I think the singer was Patti Page) popped into my mind and I heard my mother singing with her, “You’re close to me here, but where is your heart?” A nice memory for me (and those old enough to remember Patti Page!) and a good question. In the gospel this morning from Matthew, chapter 6:19-23, Jesus is talking about the folly of storing up “treasures on earth where moth and decay destroy or thieves break in and steal” and after comparing those to heavenly treasures, he ends with a profound sentence. “For where your treasure is,” he says, “there also will your heart be.” So this morning I ask myself what I consider to be treasure in my life, that is, to what am I willing to give my heart? Then the next question arises: how do I keep my heart focused in the direction of what I value? For me it all comes down to consciousness and spiritual practice that will keep me awake to my choices every day. What about you? Where is your heart?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In any situation, when I hear the words, “Our Father” my voice joins with “hallowed be thy name…” I also recall being at church services at a nursing home where most of the people had lost the cognitive ability to say many words but when they heard “Our Father” during the service, they chimed in – some in a perfect recitation, some less so – with the prayer that remained in their cells.
When I said above that my voice joins, I am admitting to a common failure in vocal prayer. Sometimes when we know something “by heart” our heart is somewhere else when we vocalize it. Distractions, plans, concerns all take our minds from what we are doing or saying. Although I believe nothing is lost in prayer, I do realize (when I’m totally conscious as this morning when I read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6) that I could spend many days reflecting on each of the concepts found there. So which one should I consider this morning?
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven… O, how we need that one to happen! There is so much to be corrected in our communities, in our world, and – if I’m honest – in my heart. I don’t see myself as a willful person but I do admit sometimes to wanting my own way. Surrender has become a watchword for me in recent years as I think of the willingness of Jesus to remain totally focused on the will of God in the accomplishment of his mission on earth.
Forgive us our trespasses… I think God is better at that one than I am in forgiving myself. But for the follow-on that’s also true: as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I could go on, but the day awaits with all its challenges and joys. And the sun just appeared so I go with the Lord’s Prayer ringing in my ears as a guide to all my actions and every situation I will meet today. May it be so in my mind and in my heart.
Sometimes there is just one sentence in the readings that overtakes me and becomes my guide for the day. This morning it was the psalm refrain.
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord. (refrain for Psalm 31)
In the midst of all the good things that come with these days there are so many sorrows: world news, people dying or being diagnosed with dread diseases, losses of every kind…It is the violence in our country that holds me hostage on many days lately and makes me wonder how I can help turn the tide. The reminder of the power that hope in God bestows wakes me up to remember the trust I have that “love is stronger than death” (Song of Songs) and, as Julian of Norwich preached, “All shall be well.” With these truths in my backpack, I can set forth for the day on the road that leads to life!
The last sentence of today’s segment of Matthew’s chapter 5 (vs. 43-48) has caused a fair amount of anxiety for a lot people. The most common English translation is: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Scripture scholars of today often explain that Jesus is not suggesting that it is possible to go through life without ever having made a mistake or failed in some attempt (like an algebra or chemistry test in high school!) but rather that we strive for wholeness, a consistency of our actions with our beliefs and an understanding of the way of love that we are called to live. Accepting ourselves is part of the journey as is picking ourselves up after a fall and setting out again on that path toward God. It is not a path of complacency but of determination to be our best self and to be that anew every day, knowing that God is always cheering us on and loving us all the way to the finish line!
One could spend years pondering chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. As it has unfolded in recent days piece by piece, the teachings that outline the message of Jesus have been laid out for all those within hearing distance over the past 2,000 years. While not abrogating the law of Moses (Jesus was very clear that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it), today’s text stands in sharp contrast to common practices of his day. It calls people to action in new ways that will lead to higher consciousness – becoming more like the God that Jesus came to proclaim. It sets a standard of surrender for love’s sake and preaches humility rather than entitlement. Below are a couple of examples to ponder.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil…If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, give him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
These are difficult sayings, especially in our country of rugged individualism and economic ladder-climbing, where “might is right” struggles with the laws of charity and forgiveness. We all find ourselves at different points on the spectrum of opinion about these teachings. Perhaps today is a good one to check our beliefs and examine the “why” of each, getting as close as possible to the honest roots of our motivation for any resistance we find that holds us back from the acceptance toward which Jesus beckons.
Having only a brief moment this morning before I leave for a celebration of commitment for the Associates of our religious community, I send the blessing of Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians on this feast of the Holy Trinity.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The gospel this morning (MT 5:33-37) is about swearing oaths. Jesus is not in favor of the practice. Actually he counsels against any swearing at all. The most salient line in the text for me is, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no'” – in other words: say what you mean and mean what you say. Be honest and forthright. That’s an easy thing to say but sometimes difficult to really accomplish all the time. When we’re trying to save face, if we know we’ve “messed up” or not done our best, some of us move around the truth, manipulating it so that we don’t feel so bad about ourselves or allow others to know all the details about a situation. Once we have come to understand that perfection is not part of the equipment with which we come into the world we can – hopefully – relax into our human frailty and allow others to see us as we really are. That’s best for us (Honesty really is the best policy) and also helpful to others who are probably also trying to be accepted or needing to impress by their actions. The belief that God simply wants our best effort and loves us unconditionally should be enough for us to allow the acknowledgment of our failings as well as our successes. And then our light will shine -inside and out – for all the world to see, free and clear.
A theme for this morning is easily grasped from the refrain of Psalm 27. The verses pleading for God to hear the petition and show the divine face to the petitioner is punctuated by the repetition of the words: “I long to see your face, O Lord.” When one asks for that grace, however, s/he must be ready to listen and look for the ways in which God will then be revealed, sometimes in surprising ways.
The first reading is a powerful one (1KGS 19: 9-16) where the prophet Elijah is found on Mount Horeb, sheltered in a cave. He was at his wits end, having done his best to see that the people of Israel would not forsake the covenant with God, but he had failed and was in fear for his life. When the word of the Lord came to him and told him to exit the cave and wait because the Lord would be passing by, he did so, expecting the voice of God in the strong and heavy wind or the earthquake or the fire that followed the directive. But the voice of God was in none of those. When “a tiny whispering sound” followed, he covered his face and went to stand at the entrance of the cave, recognizing “the still small voice of God.” In this encounter, God told him he was not to die but rather to go and anoint the new kings of Aram and Israel as well as Elisha, the prophet who would succeed him. Had he not been alert to God’s presence, Elijah might have stayed in that cave until he died in misery.
Today is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) whose only desire in life was to leave all things and follow Christ. One commentary says that “[O]ver and over again God called him to something new in His plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrifice to serve his Lord Jesus more completely.” He was ready to die for his faith and joined the nascent Franciscan order (a contemporary of St. Francis) to preach to the Moors, but when an illness prevented him from doing so, he was stationed at a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading Scripture and doing menial tasks. (Quite a shift!) The call of God came again at a community celebration of ordination to the priesthood where no one was prepared to preach so Anthony was called to the task which he accepted humbly and hesitantly. His years of prayer and service in living his vows had prepared him to speak in the power of the Holy Spirit and all were amazed at his eloquence. He then became the first theology teacher to the other friars and was called to preach and write, especially to converts to the faith.
Both Elijah and Anthony are testament to the concept of “It’s never over till it’s over” and to the need for deep listening at all times to what God is asking. Often we expect something different from what is given to us by God. It takes humility and willingness to truly discern what is correct in response to God’s invitation. It sometimes takes letting go of what is familiar or comfortable to move to something that will move us forward on our spiritual path and align us to God’s purpose. It takes trust and insight – and often the wisdom of a guide who can see in us what may be hidden from ourselves – to assent to what is asked. And sometimes it takes the willingness to wait for what we seek to be revealed. As the psalmist counsels: Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.” Elijah and Anthony are models of the willingness to wait. Today may we celebrate them and pray for the grace to follow their example when we hear the call of God to something new.
Forgiveness is a great practice. Since we’re all human we’re bound to offend others and be offended on the road to spiritual maturity. For those who understand the message of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love one another as I have loved you,” forgiveness is part of the deal. There’s another step that we need to take on this path, however, and we are reminded of it in this morning’s reading from Matthew’s gospel (5:20-26) which reads in part:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
I am always struck by the fact that Jesus does not say “if you have anything against your brother (or sister or co-worker or friend or associate)” but rather if that person has anything against you. It seems that we have no wiggle room in any situation to say, “Well, that’s his/her problem!” We’re called to look honestly at our relationships and take the initiative to correct anything that is a barrier to full, loving living. That’s a rather big order. It flies in the face of “I’ll forgive but I’ll never forget!” or “He can go his way and I’ll go mine.” To reconcile means to come back together, to be “in touch” again, to do whatever it takes to see that nothing stands in the way of approaching God. While it is true that it takes the willingness of both parties to effect total reconciliation, we are called to do all that is possible to us in the effort.
So today will be about honest assessment. I will ask myself if there is anything I need to do to uproot even the smallest remnant of rancor or separation in my heart that needs to be rooted out in order to be fully present to the God who reconciles all things in love. And then, with God’s grace, I hope to act accordingly.
Today Christians celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas. While not one of “the Twelve” Barnabas was probably the most influential person with St. Paul in the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles. Barnabas was Jewish, born in Cyprus, who was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to the developing Christian community in Antioch to welcome them into the fold. It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to Peter and the other disciples and who stood as sponsor for Paul, mediating between him (the former persecutor) and the Jewish Christians. The chronicles of Paul and Barnabas comprise many stories in the Acts of the Apostles and their charismatic leadership and preaching was responsible for the spread of Christianity. Barnabas was known as a bridge builder, opening up new vistas of faith to people while modeling a life consistent with his beliefs. The early days of Christianity were tumultuous – even Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways for awhile – but the overarching vision impelled those first missionaries with the strength of the Holy Spirit to live and speak in a way that allowed people to catch the Spirit and hear the transformational message that has endured to our day.
Today I give thanks for Barnabas and celebrate all those whose integrity and willingness have effected good in the world and I pray for those acting as bridge-builders who are working to bring peace in our time.