January 7: The Epiphany of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 / Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 / Matthew 2:1-12
The word epiphany means “manifestation.” And when we are present for an event like that we can be heard to exclaim: “I see.” When we look back through the eyes of the three visitors from the East, what do we see from a distance?
Jesus was born in abject poverty. His family owned no land and Mary was probably illiterate. Jesus lived what could have been his whole life in a household that had nothing extra. It is likely that this influenced his affection for the poor during his ministry.
The “star” of the season led the wise men, and it should capture our attention too. Where will we leave our gift in 2018?
January 14: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19 / 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20 / John 1:35-42
What are you looking for?
Where do you stay?
Come and see.
These three exchanges are shared by Jesus and disciples of John. They capture moments in our lives when the bigger decisions are made. Ultimately, the disciples of the Baptist were looking for the Messiah. Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” is the only path to a satisfying resolution.
A story from India was shared that addresses the substance of the exchanges. “Butter in the Milk” describes the encounter between a young aspirant and old saint. The younger is looking for God; the older believes that answer is very close at hand.
If we find what or who we are looking for, there is only one response that will do: “Stay.”
January 21: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20
Jonah is on a three-day mission into the heart of Nineveh. The disciples are invited to leave their nets and follow Jesus. What are we up to?
Sometimes the invitation to abandon everything and follow the gospel seems a little too precipitous, too risky, or something that might require reckless abandon on our part to comply with. But maybe circumstances are such that we feel it is time for a change. Maybe the anticipation or readiness makes a change timely and practical.
Bottom line, we all wonder if what we do will make a difference in our community, in our world. An exercise of folding a piece of paper might demonstrate how the contribution of one person can positively impact the situation of others. That is the dynamic of community
January 28: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 / 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 / Mark 1:21-28
We often dismiss miracles such as the one we just heard from Mark as “extraordinary.”
These are feats reserved for a “walk-on-water” or “multiply loaves and fishes” caliber of preacher. Our mission is to witness the event, not work the miracle. Maybe. Maybe not.
In Deuteronomy, Moses announced that God said: “I will raise up a prophet from among them.” That was Jesus. It says so in Mark: “The evil spirit shook the man violently, gave a loud cry, and came out of him.” For us to dare to attempt the same, we would have to sign up for “Driving out evil spirits 101.” But even if I take the course, I would still fail the lab.
Mohandas K. Gandhi once walked 240 miles to the Adriatic Sea. “Watch,” he said the newsreel cameras. “I am about to give a signal to the nation.” He picked up a pinch of salt from the sand in defiance of the law. He became a criminal. That act, according to the biographer Louis Fischer, required imagination, dignity, and a sense of showmanship of a great artist.
It appeared as effortless as telling an evil spirit to “come out.” It was . . . extraordinary. And today, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is the Father of the world’s largest democracy.
What the biographer wrote about Gandhi could be said just as well about Jesus: His greatness lay in his doing what everyone else could do, but doesn’t.
From Mark: “The evil spirit shook the man violently, gave a loud cry, and came out of him”
From Gandhi’s biographer: Great Britain was shaken, protested loudly, and walked out of India.
The day-laborer from Nazareth and the brown-skinned grocer took the course, and passed the lab. We should sign up for both.
February 4: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7 / 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 1:29-39
When I make a pie, I get up early and start with the dough. I have recently tweaked my recipe for pie dough based on Kate McDermott’s book, “The Art of Pie.” In the book, Kate referred to her efforts this way: “It’s something I do with my hands and my heart.”
When I make a pie, as well as any dish these days, I think a lot about the people I intend to feed. It is a prayerful and attentive time. Especially when I am fussing with detail.
I recently delivered an apple pie to a dear couple, friends for nearly half a century. They are dealing with cancer and chemo and kids who want mom to eat! I brought the pie because she had told me she had to “fatten herself up.”
It is the time we spend in preparation that is every bit as much of a gift as the food itself. So when we read in Mark that Jesus lifted Simon’s mother-in-law from her sickbed, he was acknowledging the tremendous gift that she brought to every meal. He was enabling her hands and heart to serve once more.
February 11: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 / 1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1 / Mark 1:40-4
Unclean, unclean! Leviticus reminds us it was the law that lepers must warn anyone approaching that “sin” is nearby. Getting close enough to see the person and begin reconciliation takes courage. We have to get beyond the complexion.
Steve McCurry is a National Geographic photographer who captured the “haunted and haunting” face of a 12 year-old girl in Afghanistan in 1984. When the film was finally developed, he and the world were amazed by the gaze and the “sea green” eyes of his subject. “I have to find that girl” he told himself years later. That happened in 2002.
Shabbat Gula could write her name, but she cannot read. She had lived as a refugee most of her life. And her eyes had drawn millions into the plight of those who had run for their lives during the Russian invasion. She was surprised to learn that the photo had become so well known; her life was focused solely on her husband and her children. Simple, humble, unpretentious.
Her complexion was leathery and her life was hard. That is as far as some were willing to go. But the gospel states that Jesus was “willing” to approach and touch and heal the leprous. What will we do?
February 18: First Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 / 1 Peter 3:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15
The critical element of this morning’s gospel is what drove Jesus. The Spirit drove him into the desert and drove him back out after 40 days. And when he emerged, he proclaimed that the reign of God was at hand. He preached the good news we heard about in Isaiah just a few weeks ago: He did not know it, but the day-laborer from Nazareth had 1,000 days to get the word out. Only a thousand days to get the attention of anyone else who thought things could be better, and join in.
We heard from Mark this morning, not to learn what Jesus did, but to resolve what we will do next. Where is the Spirit driving us this Lent? This year? People who live in the reign of God don’t just hear the good news, or know it, or proclaim it.
They do it, even if others do not.
For the next few days we will hear more stories about students and faculty from a Florida high school. And we will witness what their surviving friends do to address unacceptable violence.
Are we willing to stand in the reign?
Will we get wet right through? And if so, . . .
What shape will all that reign take?
April 22: Fourth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 4:8-12 / 1 John 3:1-2 / John 10:11-18
I had the occasion once to see myself reflected in a sheep’s eye. If you ever get close enough to someone to see yourself reflected in their eyes, it is likely that you have some shepherding responsibilities toward that person. Or they want you to. To our sheep, and to allow them to get to know us takes a lot of patience. And by that time, we will probably “smell like” our sheep, the way Pope Francis bids his pastors to identify with their flock.
April 29: Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 9:26-31 / 1 John 3:18-24 / John 15:1-8
If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, how would we describe the life that flows between us? I would like you to take just a minute, two if necessary, to turn to someone you came with today, or someone very nearby, and ask them: Where or when do you feel God’s life, God’s love moving through you. We are looking for very ordinary instances: moments spent in touch with our kids, our spouses, our friends, our co-workers or neighbors.
The love that flows between us in our everyday experiences is the same love that Jesus offers to all who are one with him.
May 6: Sixth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48/1 Jn 4:7-10/Jn 15:9-17
No one can predict where the Spirit will lead, or how the Spirit will empower us once we arrive.
No one can claim to know the mind of God that thoroughly. But it is reasonable to presume that the Spirit has everything to do with our desire to set out, in the first place, toward something good!
How open are we to whatever the Spirit suggests? Doesn’t that presume that we believe the Spirit would never take us anywhere but where it would be good for us, and for others? Would we even be here this morning if we were not willing to listen to whatever the Spirit was inviting us to do? If we need some assurance that it is the Spirit speaking to us, we can turn to Scripture, the Community, and the fruits of our labors.
May 13: Seventh Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26/1 Jn 4:11-16/Jn 17:11b-19
Mother’s day homily was delivered by Danielle Gruhler.
May 20: Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 / John 20:19-23
How would we describe the Community of Saint Peter to our neighbor? After some false starts and a little research, I would call us “free,” and “Spirit-pastured.”
Understanding is a gift of the Spirit (there are seven all together) and it is available any time we want it. Understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit, in the list found in Isaiah 11,1-2. Understanding is of God, and it precedes, precludes explanation. Understanding is its own kind of freedom. Untainted and uncompromised. Understanding is for everyone.
May 27: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40 / Romans 8:14-17 / Matthew 28:16-20
Richard Rohr was writing daily about the Trinity last Fall. We begin our journey in the heart of God, he wrote. “And then we return to where we started – in the heart of God. Everything in between is a school of love.” Love, connectedness, relationships. And Richard suggested the Trinity is a model for all living things.
But by the very fact that we come through that door, we admit that we come looking . . .
. . . for the love of God, for our place in that mystery. For mercy. Acceptance. Relationship.
Understanding. Forgiveness, and a fresh start. There is life in the Trinity, and it is ours.
We have never not been loved by God. So we have always been one! We are where God is. We live therein. It has always been thus. We are a Trinity people, not because we can explain it, but because we know we can’t survive outside the Trinity.
June 3: Corpus Christi
Readings: Exodus 24:3-8 / Hebrews 9:11-15 / Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The Body and Blood of Christ is our focus today. It would be a terrible mistake to limit those words to what takes place on this Table, just as it would be short-sighted to reduce baptism to a simple cleansing of the soul. Just as the overflowing waters of baptism change everything, everywhere for us, the Body and Blood of Christ become a new perspective, a new reality for all who partake of this meal, so great is the love of God.
Today, our world view is a sacramental one. We are baptized and that belonging is our lens.
We greet one another with a profound awareness and appreciation of an overflowing love that makes us one. And we greet the rest of the world with the same love, not because everyone shares our perspective, our faith, our world view, but because we know everything is held together, sustained by the love of one God.
June 10: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Genesis 3:9-16 / 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 / Mark 3:20-35
God asks: Where are you? Are we out of our mind? Maybe. What if that’s because we are mostly in our heart? Then we would be just a little bit out of our mind, and maybe that’s okay. Jesus would tell us: You are in good company!
June 17: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24 / 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 / Mark 4:26-34
At the center of all this tension, and attention, and outcry were children. It was our concern for the youngest among us that prompted a nation to rise up! Good. And coincidentally, today we celebrate a newborn – the birth of John, the Baptizer: a child from the Middle East, from a different time, but a child, nonetheless.
If we forget or do not know that God lives within us, why would we ever consider looking for God in those who seeking asylum? If we forget or do not know that God lives within us,
we will undoubtedly miss the image of God at our borders in the child of God who needs us most.
July 1: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-34 / 2 Corinthians 8:7-9, 13-15 / Mark 5:21-43
This morning we heard of not one, but two encounters, . . . two requests of Jesus,
. . . one inside the other. A very prominent member of the Sanhedrin lay down on the ground in front of Jesus: “I am losing my daughter. Please come.” And another who simply reached through the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment.
Of course, Jesus responded to both. So, our mission, my friends, is to stay within reach of those who need healing, and allow the power to go out of us.
You have all been there. And it’s because . . . you wanted to heal, that you did. You wanted to answer a cry. And you did. You wanted to raise someone up. And you did.
July 8: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5 / 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 / Mark 6:1-6
Prophets we read9.mp3/file”>Homily
The healing of the deaf man who could not speak plainly leaves enough of an opening for us to enter into the story. The villagers asked Jesus “to touch” him. He did, but he also stood close enough to the man that one who sought healing felt the groan Jesus made when he uttered the word “effatha,” that is, “be opened.”
The man’s ears were opened immediately, but the “miracle” might well have extended to those standing nearby who now professed that they could understand him clearly. Perhaps, moved by Jesus’ intimate example of compassion, the villagers now listened more carefully and could sort out what the man was saying.
I believe in miracles; I just don’t think we should wait for them. There are multiple opportunities surrounding us daily, inviting us to be part of the healing that is needed in the simplest of settings. What are we waiting for?
Walter Burghardt said that a preacher must prepare a homily with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The stories of Scripture matter. But they wouldn’t mean anything if they didn’t touch the situations of our lives today.
If the disciples were traveling not to Palestine but to America, walking along the border in Brownsville or McAllen, what would they say to us? Remember that Jesus, Joseph and Mary were refugees in Egypt. Joseph saved Jesus’ life by entering a foreign country illegally.
Today we can hear so many Rachels at our border weeping for their children. In the face of evil, we must change our minds and our hearts. Rachel will continue to weep until we decide to somehow protect the children from misguided Pharaohs and frightened Herods who are willing to slaughter children’s lives to maintain their own pathetic power.
July 22: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6 / Ephesians 2:13-18 / Mark 6:30-34
“Shepherd” is a pastoral term for us (feeding, sheltering, protecting). In Mark, Jesus was taking care of his sheep, the twelve, because he knew they would be shepherds soon. Scott Harrison is a modern day shepherd who leads people to clean, potable water. His passion is the driving force behind charitywater.org. All of us have some shepherding to do, at home, in places we visit daily. We just have to get in touch with the passion and be intentional about it.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand could be the spectacular miracle that my religion teachers and preachers have made it to be, or it could be an event as simple as what happens when provident moms retrieve food and drink they brought for their family and started sharing it with others nearby. We can do that. We’ve done that.
Miracles are always welcome, but that is a foolhardy approach to meal planning. I would rather give away your lunch! Your furniture, your clothing, and your financial resources as well. Forgive me, but that’s how I think these days. And by the way, thank you.
August 5: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 / Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 / John 6:24-35
I was asked to “sit” for 19 Monarch pupae (cocoons) and more than a dozen larvae (caterpillars) for two weeks. And no sooner did these caged critters arrive at my door did I discover 40 just hatched larvae of the same species on a Milkweed plan right under my nose. It didn’t take much. But as much as it looked like my charges were just “hanging around” or eating, there was loads of transformation taking place.
I looked very closely for the last two weeks at bugs, and realized nothing ever stops, even if it appears to be “still.” We sit “still” when we want to do some of our most important detailed work, perhaps looking back, reflecting on the moment, or on what is to come.
We appreciate the stillness, here.
August 12: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8 / Ephesians 4:30-5:2 / John 6:41-51
The pollinators are busy in my backyard. Bees and butterflied, insects and birds, are moving freely from stem to stem, and they are not wiping their feet. As a result, the absolutely essential process of pollination goes on. Without those winged warriors, we would have no tomatoes in August, no apples in September, no pumpkins in October.
In the same way, we return to our worship space weekly to pick up the pollen of mercy and forgiveness, wisdom and inspiration, and we take it with us to every encounter on our calendar in the days that follow. This is our work of evangelization. When you leave today, please do not wipe your feet.
August 26: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Joshua 24:1l-2a, 15-17, 18b / Ephesians 5:21-32 / John 6:60-69
Homily A hard copy of this homily is available here.
The lights are on. Revelations by the Pennsylvania Attorney General have made public the awful truth that hundreds of clergy have abused more than a thousand youth over the past few decades. The bishops knew, and some of them did everything they could to keep the facts hidden. But the light are on in PA, and other Attorneys General across the nation may be doing the same dredging exercise in their own state.
Change will come. It must. But will it just be the emptying of churches, or the vacating of episcopal offices? Truth will determine the outcomes. If the bishops finally understand their proper role, they will be the prime movers for structural change. They have steered the Church into an iceberg, and the consequences could be titanic.
September 2: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8 / James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 / Mark 7:1-9, 14-15, 21-23
Peter challenges Jesus today. It is inconceivable to Simon that Jesus would have to suffer and die. He is “the Christ,” “the Messiah.” But the Christ will accept nothing other than cooperation from his Twelve. He needs them. They will continue his work after he is gone.
Looms, like life, are a maze of wood and hardware and fiber. Threads coming at the weaver are connected with left and right threads pulled by the shuttle that flies back and forth. This image may serve well as a metaphor for life.
Jesus wove a marvelous tapestry in his 1,000 days of ministry. But he has handed the shuttle off to disciples, followers, believers, weavers. Every day we tie the oncoming threads with left and right movements of love and grace, forgiveness and compassion, over and over. Our efforts, motivated by the Spirit, tie everything together.
September 23: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 / James 3:16-4:3 / Mark 9:30-37
Lemonade stands are just about done for the season, but my daughter Sarah found one just last weekend. When she pulled over and stopped, a five-year old pulled himself up on the passenger sill and declared: “This is gonna blow your mind.” Sarah was delighted to share every detail of her encounter with me.
We nurtured these children from infancy, and we taught them some of the best lessons. The lemonade stand is just some of the fruits of our labors. Why, then, when their simplicity and authenticity and their over the top desire to serve need to be put aside for more adult values? Jesus pulls a child into the midst of his disciples and tells them to welcome the little ones if they ever hope to welcome God.
September 30: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Numbers 11:25-29 / James 5:1-8 / Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
My son, David, threw books across the floor one afternoon after a particularly frustrating theology class. It would take longer to sort out the frustration than it would to pick up the books, but he would get to that. He knew where the class discussion should have gone.
So the scriptures this morning welcome truth, good works, and respect for the poor from all sides, especially when it is unexpected, or where it is need most. How ironic is it that these readings would show up at this time, after the testimony we heard from two people (Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) may be the only word, the only light we get. We shall see.
Experience tells me that if you walk in the dark, eventually you will fall.
Experience tells me that it is lonely and isolating being a victim.
Experience tells me that when authority dismisses assaults,
it is disheartening at best, and scandalous at worst.
Experience tells me that more facts should always be welcome.
Experience tells me that truth is non-partisan.
Experience tells me that, in my house, it is sometimes okay to throw books.
Books are landing everywhere. Let the books lie where they fall.
The story of creation is familiar to us all. The Adam and Eve narrative has set the stage, in the mind of some, for male dominance, original sin, and the need for redemption down the road. But a new translation of the old scriptures reveal some interesting perspectives, especially on the heels of a national debate on what to do with testimonies from a prominent “he” and a “she” who came from the shadows to speak.
The translators of The Inclusive Bible suggest that “Man” was an “it” until the moment the Creator “divided it in two” and then presented “him” with a new partner. “At last,” he exclaimed. “This is the one. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Divided, re-created, they are now one.
So the new translation suggest that Man and Woman were created at the same moment. He showed up only when She did. It is an interesting twist to a story we thought we had straight for a long, long time.
In the Inclusive Bible, the familiar “rich young man” becomes “someone running up to Jesus” asking what must be done to share everlasting life. The question comes to mind more often, especially among the older faithful. And the challenge becomes more difficult if there are riches in the way.
Jesus’ reply is known by Christians and non-believers alike: ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye Gate than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” But what if there is a way to make that happen? What if there is evidence of a camel that has managed passage through something so small?
A needlepoint creche was on display before and after the liturgy. In the mix was a camel, with a wry smile on its face.
Zebedee’s sons ask Jesus for places of honor when he comes into his “glory.” Jesus suggests the way to get there is not by asking, but by serving.
Pope Francis suggests the same thing, and offers a path to the truth, to the best pastoral response to the gospel – and open process. It’s how we find our way to the truth. It’s not a walk in the park, or a walk in the dark. We set out, seeking the truth, consulting with members of the body, always mindful of promptings of the Spirit, consulting Scripture and the wisdom of the ages, being pastoral at every step of the way.
On retreats with Confirmation candidates I stressed the importance of community to the group of 20, or 50, or over 100. I asked junior and senior high students: “What gifts are in the room?” They volunteered the following: athletic, academic, creativity, humor,
outgoing personalities, generosity, good listeners, best friends, and so on. “Why are those gifts in the room?” I asked. And further: “Why would the Spirit bestow certain gifts on some, but not on all?” Quickly they moved to an understanding that the gifts bestowed on any were gifts bestowed on the whole Community. The gifts were meant to be shared; they were intended for the wellbeing of everyone. That’s how the Spirit works. The teenagers knew that.
Early last week, I turned the coin over. More precisely, I wondered if the disabilities, the handicaps, the suffering of some are also meant to be shared by the community, just like the blessings. Experience tells me, when hardships are embraced as willingly as blessings, it is better, in the long run, for everyone, but especially for those with the heavier burdens.
November 4: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6 / Hebrews 7:23-38 / Mark 12:28b-34
Friday evening, and yesterday, synagogues everywhere were full of Jews, and Christians, Muslims, and even people who have no religion to speak of called “Nones.” They all came. They stood outside if they had to. But they came. Neighbors joined Jewish sisters and brothers because they didn’t know what to say, and they did not dare stand idly by. Instead, they gathered to remember words that had been given to them. Holy words that they repeated, again and again:
Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, O Israel, God, our God, is One.
And so are we. Amain.
November 11: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16 / Hebrews 9:24-18 / Mark 12:38-44
Widows star in the scriptures this morning. In both cases, they are observed providing for others.
Jesus pointed out one to his disciples because she gave more than others, not in the number of coins, but from her desire to support what sustained her. She did not contribute in order to be part of the community. She contributed because she was part of the community. She was, more profoundly than the others, aware of z”all she had to live on.”
We live in a world where many rely on others to do the heavy lifting. Jesus points out that it was the poor widow who lifted more than the people of means.
November 18: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Daniel 12:1-3 / Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 / Mark 13:24-32
I can still remember Bishop Sheen on Sunday evenings, with chalk in hand, catechizing viewers on the many twists and turns of our path to heaven. Sixty years later, I am less anxious about what lies ahead and more focused on the tasks right in front of me. The reign of God is at hand, and under construction.
November begins with a focus on All Saints and All Souls and ends up with a prayer of All Thanks. We can feel a connection with those who have gone before us by remembering their everyday lives, their example, their continued influence on what we do and how we do it. They live on through us.
November 25: Christ the King
Readings: Daniel 7:13-14 / Revelation 1:5-8 / John 18:33b-37
At the end of a liturgical year, the scriptures celebrate Christ and his sovereignty. At the Community of Saint Peter, we have backed away from language that is exclusive; we don’t use words like Kingdom and Lord if they can be substituted with more universally acceptable terms. So “kindom” will be the word in the center of things, and “kin” will be Christ’s focus.
Part and parcel of sense of kin is the way we look after each other. Today affords an opportunity to celebrate the life of a man who poured himself out for the poor. Ralph David Delaney is remembered still by many in Cleveland as someone who made a difference in the heart of our city, one sandwich at a time.
December 2: First Sunday of Advent
Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 / Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Happy New Year. Our fresh start begins in darkness and moves steadily toward the light. We have started over many, many times, but this Advent finds our news full to overflowing with challenges to our gospel call to feed, quench, welcome, clothe, heal, and liberate.
A Methodist theologian from Ghana, Mercy Oduyoye, spoke in Cleveland more than two decades ago about the women of that country “make room” in crowded times. “When a woman great with child comes to the market place, the women proclaim: ‘Make room for the baby. Here comes our future.’ And with that, the women ease on over and make a way where there is no way.”
This morning, the members of the Community will rise to sing and move to the song written by Barb Ballenger, a song inspired by the theologian from Africa. Advent, therefore, will be our time to make room for the woman with child.
December 9: Second Sunday of Advent
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9 / Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 / Luke 3:1-6
When people road trolleys and streetcars, everyone rubbed shoulders with one another. Rich and poor were bouncing in unison, one hundred years ago. But with the rise of automobiles, those with means were able to travel independently, away from the crowds, at their own convenience. They did not necessarily meet the poor face to face, day to day.
We hear from John the Baptist about this time every year. He is crying out. His message is always the same: prepare a way, so the Messiah can come, and so those seeking salvation can be fed, quenched, welcomed, clothed, healed, and liberated. Mountains must be leveled and valleys filled because the poor cannot manage the climb. Crooked ways must be straightened and rough ways smooth because it is hard enough for the poor already.
The kingdom is a construction zone and we, who are able, must do the work. Whatever we do, we must not lose touch with the poor. Take the trolley.
December 16: Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18a / Philippians 4:4-7 / Luke 3:10-18
There will be a 40-second pause in the middle of the homily. During that time, the preacher will be eating fire. He picked up that skill during his years at Cleveland Central Catholic High School, while he was chaplain to a group of clowns. The students of Central Clown Company were an inspiring bunch, and when one of them learned how the art of Pyrogastronomics, Bob was soon to follow.
John the Baptist was not the Messiah. He said as much. He said he baptized for repentance, with water. But there would soon be another who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and fire.
When Jesus arrived and they asked him: “What should we do,” the villagers and tax collectors and soldiers were told, simply, to be faithful to their tasks at hand and look after one another. If they did so with kindness and compassion, they would set themselves apart from other of their day. So while the tasks were simple, they were being challenged.
Eating fire is possible because of the Leidenfrost effect. The “performer” wets his fingers before touching the torch; he licks his lips before inserting a flame into his mouth. Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost would tells us that the moisture applied would protect the preacher for a second or two before the flame would go out from lack of fuel or oxygen. The fire and water work together to protect, just like baptisms of fire and water complement each other and provide the courage folk need to be followers.
Bottom line, the demonstration in the middle of the homily today was included because the fire-eating teacher called it “the parable of turning fear into action.”
There was a tiny nativity on display in the worship space as people assembled, in the very center of the room. The figures were made of Fimo clay, and they were tiny, so the scene went largely unnoticed. On the last Sunday of Anticipation, we realize that the Christmas story is small – a child is born. But, of course, the story is destined to get much bigger. But let’s not forget that “small saves.”
“The Gift of the Magi” is a story by O’Henry (William Sydney Porter), a simple story of a couple, both of whom were willing to sacrifice what they cherished to provide a gift for the love of their life. Is this a glimpse at the real meaning of the feast? Unless we were looking for the simple, the silent, the solitary union of divine and earthy, when God visited/visits creation again and again, always, everywhere, we missed it.
December 30: Holy Family
Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 / Colossians 3:12-21 or 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 / Luke 2:41-52
Today, a story. “Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell” as told by Ed Stivender. Ed combined two old tales about the persons in the title and the Green Knight. It is a story that respects a woman’s right to choose her own destiny.