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Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 2nd Sunday Easter

This is the introductory message for my Message Series for the 2017 Easter Season. I’ll be focusing on the reason the church and parish exists, to make Disciples. In the message for this Sunday I set up the premise. And, I issue a challenge to my parishioners to get out of their “safe” mode of operating.

Poster what now

“Call to Action: Time to Get Busy”

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter

The honeymoon is over and the newlyweds come back home to begin their everyday life. They may be saying to themselves, “The wedding and honeymoon were so romantic! But, what now?” The Chicago Cubs won the world series last fall, and long deprived Cub fans are probably wondering, “What now? Can the team do it again or do we wait another 108 years?” After any big event, there’s usually a period of let down. Or there is a period of wondering what the future holds for those who were so high in the clouds with emotion.

It was the same for the apostles after the resurrection, an event even more emotional than a wedding or the Cubs World Series championship. Imagine the apostles after the resurrection. Their friend, their teacher they saw die on the cross is alive, again! The sheer joy and excitement they must have experienced seeing Jesus in the flesh after they thought he was gone forever has them bursting with joy. They must have been wondering “What now? If it’s true death can be defeated, how do we live? This is new territory.”

But it’s scary territory. The authorities might come after us. The religious leaders may try to shut down the news. The Romans might think we are trying to pull a fast one and put us on a cross, too, for sedition. So, according to the Gospel the first inclination of  the disciples of Jesus is to hole up in a safe house! The disciples seem to want to play it safe. Keep the Good News to ourselves. Don’t make any waves. Don’t draw attention to ourselves.

Jesus will have nothing to do with such a reaction to his defeat of death. He didn’t go through the crucifixion to have a handful of people benefit and the rest of the world not even hear about the event of Resurrection. Jesus shows up in the safe house. He essentially says, “You want to know ‘What now?’ Get busy!” He tells the disciples He didn’t die to form a secret club, with rituals and secret handshakes. The world needs salvation! The way the world will be saved is if others hear that God loves them, God desires that the divisions of humanity and it’s separation from the life of God be ended.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Notice the verb…Send! In other words, Tell Good News! Evangelize!

Over the past six years as your pastor I’ve begun to realize that our parish, it seems to me, is very much like the disciples in the safe room. We spend a lot of time fretting about the fewer numbers of people in our pews. We are anxious about the future of our parish and if partnering with St. George means the Bishop has closing us down on his mind (HE DOESN”T). But the response to our questions about “What does the future hold for this parish? What now?” is not to go into safe mode, worrying about self preservation. The message given to the disciples huddled together worried about their future on that Easter evening is the message given to us at St. Mary, Trenton. GO! I’m sending you! Tell other people about the Jesus we believe is alive.

Something has got to change in our parish. I am convinced there needs to be some sort of change. The change that needs to happen is in our attitude. We need to stop worrying so much about finances. While roofs and ceilings that need repair are important, there’s a bigger fix needed, our outlook, our attitude about what is important. We can have a full church every Sunday like we did last week on Easter if we begin to see our primary reason for existing is to invite people to encounter Jesus and follow him like we attempt to. Then other things will fall into place.

We live in a world that finds it difficult to believe in the truth of Jesus. Many people like his ideas or his teaching. But believing in Jesus, experiencing him is not a matter of doctrines. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, It’s a business of encounter. If the people of Trenton, much less the world, are going to be saved, then people in our area are going to have to encounter Jesus. Like Thomas who wanted to have proof by touching the wounds of Jesus, they’ll touch him, they’ll hear him in the witness we give to Trenton. We are the Body of Christ by baptism. Yes, we the people of St. Mary are imperfect witnesses. We’ve got our imperfections like a body with wounds. But Jesus didn’t get rid of his wounds to remind disciples of the necessity of embracing the cross to get to a new way of living.  In our wounded-ness, we who are convinced Jesus lives and loves us will be more effective witnesses of the power of God at work saving people from death.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I propose to explore with you in our message series “What now?” how to invite people to encounter Jesus. I’m going to attempt to give some practical examples of how we are all called to evangelize, that is, invite others to come to our church and experience the real presence of Jesus alive in our midst. Eventually the disciples got over their fear of talking about Jesus, left the safe house and wouldn’t stop witnessing. Because they decided to not let fear of authorities keep them holed up in their comfort zone we heard in the Acts of the Apostles And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. 

Hopefully, by the end of this Easter season all of us in this building will be a bit more willing to take witnessing to our faith out of this safe room and into the streets. Let’s address our anxiety about what will people think or respond to me with practical plans of action. Then next Easter, we’ll be able to say the Lord has added to our number.

“What now?” The reason for a church that has celebrated Easter to continue to exist is to grow, to make more disciples. Everything else is there to support the mission of making more disciples of Jesus. Everything! Ritual, buildings, catechetical programs should serve the mission of bringing people to an encounter with Jesus Christ so they, too, can become his disciples.  It’s time to get out of this room and get busy.

©2017 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

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Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Good Friday

Act 1: Left Hanging

Homily for Good Friday – 2017

Readings for Good Friday and the Passion according to St. John

Do you enjoy going to see a musical? Have you ever gone to see a play, maybe it was professional actors or students at a local high school? There are similarities between drama acted out on a stage and the drama of the story told through the ritual of these days of Holy Week. Tonight, we continue our message series called “Dress Rehearsal” as we use the metaphor of seeing Holy Week liturgy as a sort of rehearsal of the drama of disciples on the stage of the world living their belief in Jesus crucified and risen. We’re considering who Jesus is for us and what meaning his life, death and resurrection has for humanity.

Musicals or dramatic plays usually come in two Acts with an intermission.  Most plays end Act 1 with some sort of unresolved tension in the story. You go to intermission wondering how the various threads of the story will be resolved in Act 2. The main character is facing some challenge like lovers separated. Or the lead has chosen a corse of action with consequences yet to be revealed as good or bad. The audience goes to the lobby wondering will this be a story where everyone lives happily ever after or will there be a tragic  ending?  Tonight is Act 1 of the Passion story of Christ. When we leave here, if we didn’t know differently, we’d be in that intermission frame of mind left hanging, waiting for a resolution of the story.

What we have seen so far in our liturgy in the events portrayed by John’s passion is a Jesus very much in control of his fate, yet choosing to be powerless victim. Does he know the end of the story? In Act 1 we’ve watched his final hours. The suffering of the crucified Christ must have been horrific. He’s beaten and bloodied. Nails have been hammered into wrists and feet. Pain paralyzing the muscles so Jesus could not even push himself up to breathe resulting in a death by suffocation; a death that was somehow salvation from death for us, for all humanity. Jesus bore the death of every human on his back carrying the cross so that death would be defeated, no longer the end of humans.

You know, Jesus still dies, today. The drama still plays out on the world stage leaving humanity wondering what will be the outcome of our common story. The world continues to kill Jesus, innocent of any crime that demands the death sentence. Children are gassed to death in Syria by their president. Religious fundamentalists use terrorist tactics to bomb others out of existence that don’t share the terrorist’s faith. Drought takes the lives of people in Africa and the wealthy citizens of the world stand by playing the stock market like it was rolling dice for what’s left of our resources. People are shot down on city streets and babies killed the womb. Will the story of humanity have a tragic end or experience a twist of the story line that ends happily?

Jesus, when he hung on the tree of Calvary probably had no idea what would come of his death. In a sense, he’s at the end of ACT 1 of the drama of the Passion and Resurrection. It’s like he’s left hanging by God the Father, not sure how or even if Act 2 would take place. There’s no resolution at the end of the passion we just heard. The Jesus who is still being killed by humanity’s sinful deeds is that Christ left hanging on the cross after death. Humanity needs a savior who will resolve our differences, a savior who no longer hangs on a cross but shows the way out of the grave in which it is entombed.

That way is the way of the cross. Dramas usually need props. The objects on the stage help get the message across being told by the play. In our case tonight, wood plays a pivotal role in the story of salvation for humanity. ember it was a Tree in the Garden that played a part in the down fall of humanity into death.
A boat of wood said by Noah over the flood carried humanity to a new life. The wooden staff of Moses parted the Red Sea to make it possible for the Israelites to escape death in Egypt and make a way to promised land.

The Cross of Jesus whose wood we venerate in this liturgy becomes the door to being saved from death. Our Christian drama has the prop of the wooden cross that saves. Tonight, we embrace that wood of the cross, saying we will carry it with Jesus and show a humanity there is another way to arrive at a better life.

We embrace, kiss and venerate the wood of the cross because we’re in the know. We’ve already read the script and know a plot twist awaits in Act 2, that Jesus is not left hanging there, nor are we left hanging what will happen. There is a resolution to the story. Death leads to life. Hopefully, we’ll be so moved by the drama that we’ll announce to the world there is an Act 2. Moved by the love revealed on the cross we’ll help restore the life of those threatened by the continued passion of Christ being played out on the world stage. Selflessly dying to self-interest in service of the needs of fellow humans instead of killing one another brings a better life for all. By uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus in this dress rehearsal of Salvation through liturgy and everyday life a new humanity will not be left hanging wondering what our future will be. We can rise up from the grave we’ve been digging for ourselves.

Singing (with congregation the refrain sung during the proclamation of the Passion) “Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer!”


A God of Life Not Death

I know it’s been a least 6 months since I’ve posted…more about why in another post I’m preparing. For now, I invite you to read my homily from the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Readings for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C
1 Kings 17:17-24
PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-14A, 15AC, 16A, 17, 19
LK 7:11-17

Funeral homes are not comfortable places to visit. Anyone who visits the family of the deceased finds it awkward, an uncomfortable duty to go to the funeral home and stand in front of a casket. What do you say? How can I make the wife, the husband, the parent of the person whose body lies in the casket feel better like people naturally want to do?

God, in the person of Jesus has empathy for the funeral home experience. Jesus encounters a funeral in today’s Gospel. Surely, God’s emotional heart revealed in Jesus feels the pain of the mother following her son’s casket to the graveyard. Like any decent human, Jesus most likely was wondering, what do I say, what do I do?

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Nain Widow’s Son is Resurrected by Christ – mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

This story and others like it in the Gospels show us the death of people is not an unknown experience to God. In Jesus, God knows first hand, in an emotional way the pain and grief of death. Jesus encounters human grief and  human death not just in the young man of today’s story but many times Christ comes face to face with death in the Gospels. There is the time he visits the home of a dead little girl and says “Teletha kum” that is, “Little girl, get up!” Another time he cures from a distance the servant of a Roman official who claims he is not worthy to have the Christ enter his house. Of course, the experience of death got very personal when Jesus takes  four days to get to the home of Lazarus only to find out he’s too late and his friend is  already in a grave.

The death of people pulls at the heart of Jesus. Maybe that’s why he was willing to suffer death hoping somehow his own death would destroy death for he had seen how he was able to bring people back to life on numerous occasions. Each of these encounters with death stirs up God’s mercy and is sign of power of Jesus to control death. In Jesus, our God reveals his empathy, God grieves over the human condition that leads to death.

Here is the point of the Gospel. God desires life for his creation. God is a God of life! Death is not something The Lord sends humans, but rescues humans from. Death is not something God does to people (like the prophet Elijah of the first reading seems to imply). Death is something God controls. The Almighty has the final word over death.

Yes, the Lord knows the time of our deaths, but God doesn’t make death happen for death is the consequence of humanity refusing to live in God’s realm from the beginning. Death resulted because humanity refused to submit to God’s authority from day one. (“Hey let’s eat those apples God said not to eat! What’s the worst that could happen?”) You might say humanity brought it upon itself and God had to rescue humanity by becoming human so that he could die and restore order to creation. The Good News revealed in Jesus is that death isn’t as powerful as we think it is. Life is God’s desire for us. By having faith in Jesus Christ, by being a member of his Body we can have some control over our destiny, eternal life or eternal suffering. With Jesus we participate in the restoration of the human person created from the beginning to be alive able to know, love and serve God, without fear of life ending.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Resurrection_of_the_Widow's_Son_at_Nain_(La_résurrection_du_fils_de_la_veuve_de_Naïm)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Brooklyn Museum – The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) – James Tissot – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Because we are the Body of Christ, we also have the power to give life to those who are in the grip of the power of death. Yes, we won’t resuscitate a body like Elijah or Jesus in today’s readings. You and I will never be able to go to the death bed of a loved and make a dead body live, again.

But…
When Jesus resorted life to the young man, the mother was also given her life back. It the culture of Jesus’ day, she would have had to beg to continue to eat, to live. Women didn’t work. The culture of the day dictated that women rely on the men in their family to provide them a home, food and safety. The woman of Nain has no other men to give her life. Her only son is dead and she’s a widow. Jesus gives life to two people in the story.

Everyday we encounter the cultural forces of death that attempt to deny people life till they are born away in their caskets, too.
Hunger…
Illness…
The violence of war remotely revealed on our media screens…

What do we do? Ignore the grief, the suffering in front of us? Or be the Christ who is en-bodied in the church and reach out and touch those affected by death’s influence?

We need to listen to the voice of empathy tugging at the heart of Jesus beating in us that made him stop and touch the casket. We raise up to life those we feed through food banks and Rice bowl collections.We make life more comfortable for the sick person we visit or bring to the doctor or run the errands of a senior citizen who can no longer drive. In voting, in letter writing, being politically involved we have a chance to move our leaders and representatives to build a more just world were peace can take hold instead of resorting to violence. As members of Christ by baptism, we too, like him, can face death declaring God is a God of life.

Once we say we belong to Christ, we have a decision to make. We must choose to extend the power of Christ over death or we can just walk on by, ignoring the grief of humanity facing a grim future because it seems like we can do nothing. The spirit of Jesus lives in his church, us. Let our hearts beat with the empathy of Jesus, stopping to touch the lives of those under the power of death and bring them life.

© 2016 Joseph C. Rascher

O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Opening Collect for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Roman Missal, 3rd Edition


Greetings of the Season: Christmas Homily 2015

The Readings referenced in this homily are The Gospels from the Mass during the Night (Luke 2) and Mass during the Day (John 1) of Christmas

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Close up of the Creche at St. Mary, Trenton, where I am pastor

This time of the year, it’s become custom for people to send friends and family cards with short messages wishing the recipient some greeting of the season. Greeting cards with their short messages enclosed sent through the mail or by e-mail are part of the season. Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings! Short, simple sayings that express what the meaning of the season is to the sender. The Scriptures proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses has some short sayings that express the meaning of the season, too, Sayings, that in short simple ways, express why we celebrate this festival day.

And the Word became Flesh 

And the Word became Flesh! This is the heart of our celebration. The Word became flesh. God who spoke everything there is into existence becomes a baby. The all-powerful, all-mighty infinite one is born in a manger in the body of helpless infant that grew in the confinement of Mary’s womb. How can this be? Why can this be? God became one of us to express his love for us. God takes on flesh in the child Jesus to show us mercy.

When people see someone in trouble, something in their heart says “I wish I could help that person!” It’s part of human nature to desire to reach out to another in need. Humans are made in the likeness of God. So, this human inclination to feel compassion, to desire to help those in need is a way that we express in a limited way how we are in the image of God.

The Father is compassion. The almighty God is mercy. His heart goes out to the humanity he created who discovered that like God they can make choices, a humanity that in Adam and Eve choose death over life in the Garden at the beginning of time. Men and Women are exiled in a land of death. God in his mercy can not stand by. The Father in mercy didn’t just desire to help, the Father became flesh, became human, so that a human could choose to break the bonds death in which humanity is trapped. Jesus eternal in the Father becomes man so that humanity can become, again, the creature that shares the nature of God, eternally alive, the prison of the grave broken open.

The Word, the Son of God that made humanity, becomes human. A baby of flesh and blood in a manger is God. the Word became flesh.

Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you

The angels send another greeting of the season. Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you! Don’t be afraid! God sends a message of hope that will sustain you even in the darkest moments of life. You need not fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator of action. Politicians use fear to convince voters that their lives are going to be worse if they vote for the opponent. People, fearful their land, their wealth, their resources are going to be taken away by an enemy arm themselves with weapons and go to war. Fear is so much a part of modern life. It keeps us from being the humans we were created to be by the Word of God; A community of men and women who support each other, who help each other experience love, who enable each other to live in harmony sharing all the resources they need to thrive.

A savior who will remove all threats to your life is born to you. A Savior who will show you the way out of the mess people have made of this world is among you. The reign of fear can be over if you accept this Jesus, the baby laid on the wood of the manger who will become the man hung on the wood of the cross. He will show you death to self in service of others is way to live. The God who empties himself of divinity for a while, shows humanity that they might be like God if men and women would empty themselves of fear of the other and serve them instead. Do not be afraid, a savior of the human race is born to you!

Glory to God, and on earth peace

Glory to God, and on earth peace! Peace be to you who give God the glory. Glory to God and on earth peace is God’s is the ultimate greeting of the feast.  But, as a traditional Christmas carol sings, “

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men” 

We daily hear about religious zealots waging war against those who do not believe as they do, claiming to be fighting for God. We know about refugees fleeing war and like Mary and Joseph finding no place to live because of fear. Our land knows the disruption of peace from protests or politicians stirring up crowds with talk of using military might to destroy an enemy. Yet the carol goes on to proclaim:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men

Jesus has come in the flesh, to become the God-Man who brings not just the absence of war to humanity, but the harmony, the reconciliation of all people. The savior Jesus, God-with-us, reveals by his life, death and resurrection, that violence accomplishes only death. Peace comes to people of Good Will, any person who welcome the refugee, who shares their food, who recognize the dignity and right of every human person to have what they need to live and work towards that goal, like a man once born in a stable proclaimed Good News by his life, death and resurrection. Jesus will not be defeated. He will reconcile the human race and give it life now and forever. Glory to God, and on earth peace to those accept that Jesus lives in the flesh.

As we wish each other merry Christmas, as we gather around our trees and tables this night/day, let us remember the original greetings of the day.

  • The Word became Flesh!
  • Do not be afraid, a savior is born to us who will make humanity like God!
  • Glory to God and peace will come to all the citizens of earth!

For God will not be denied. The greetings of Christmas are his Christmas gift of mercy to us.


First Sunday of Advent 2015 Homily

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Cycle C – 2015
Jeremiah 33:14-16
1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

first Sunday Advent candleWaiting for something is not one of our culture’s strong traits. People in our current culture do not like to wait for much of anything. Microwaves speed up the process of cooking, but even that isn’t fast enough once in a while. Couples used to believe that it was better to wait until they were married to live together, but no longer. The realm of marketing Christmas as a time to buy gifts for the “holidays” has people so tired of Christmas by December 25 that they can’t wait to take down on Christmas evening the tree in their home that was put up in mid-November even though on the Church calendar, Christmas is celebrated December 25 through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord almost 3 weeks later. Our culture is hooked on quick gratification, now not later. An attitude that pervades our 21st century American culture seems to be waiting for something to come, living in anticipation, is a bad thing. “If its a good thing, something that will make me feel good, why should I have to wait?” say the people of our day.

The culture of not wanting to wait for something, so evident in the way secular society observes “the holidays” before the actual “holy days” of  Christmastime occur, makes what we try to live here in church more difficult to accomplish. We begin our period of waiting today. We remind ourselves we are a people who are in waiting. We are a people waiting for the “Advent of our King”, our savior Jesus who will come sometime in the future while we concentrate living in the present moment, not rushing things. The Christian is a person who lives with the tension between having to live in the present moment while waiting for the Lord to come back when he will make everything that destroys life in the here and now cease to exist. Christmas celebrates the first “coming of Jesus” in the past. In our present day the Catholic Church’s calendar gives us 4 weeks to prepare for, not celebrate, the feast of Christmas so that we can also appreciate that our present every day lives are to be a preparation for the second coming of Christ. In holding back, in waiting for something, we learn what it means to be disciples of Jesus. Disciples are people who work to make the reign of Jesus which will be established completely in the future a reality in the here and now. Advent is a time to discipline ourselves in the art of waiting! Waiting can be good. Waiting can increase our desire for the coming of the Lord and magnify our appreciation of his mercy when he arrives.

Perhaps our culture is so prone to celebrating a time like Christmas before the day arrives because they fear that the future may not arrive for them. Some people are fearful of the future, for sure. Our world is in such a mess! Climate change may make life harder for my grandchildren. Religious fundamentalists may blow my plane out of the sky on that trip I’m going to take to visit family at Christmas. Advertisements for financial advisors try to scare people into their offices “Will you have enough money to retire comfortably?” If a person pays attention to the news it sure does seem like the future is scary. The Gospel of this Mass even says there will be scary things in the future. But Jesus goes on to say, “Don’t worry about it! What people who follow me need to focus on is that I’m coming to make all things right, to correct what’s wrong with human life. It’s going to be great!”

Maybe it is a bit disturbing to ponder our coming death and the final judgement. People often ask their priest “Will I get into heaven? Am I good enough? I’ve done a lot of sinning, Father!” Let’s recall this day the message of the Gospel is one of a merciful God, a God who sent his son in the past to stand in for us on the cross so that all we humans do will not result in a future to fear, but to be hopeful about. It’s not what we do in the present that will get us to heaven, it’s what Jesus did for us in the past that secures a future worth waiting for.

So, while we’re waiting for the Good News of Jesus’ coming again to become the reality of the eternal present, Jesus encourages us to not let the “anxieties” of the present get to us and distract us. Present anxieties can be things like “How am I going to get my shopping done in time?” “I’ve got so much to do, cookies to bake, decorations to put up?” Frankly, those are good things, but they may be distracting us from the tasks that help us wait with the eager expectation the scripture is encouraging us to have. The question for us in Advent to ponder is what can I be doing to show others God loves them? What steps can I be taking, just for today, to show that Jesus is more important to me, that the Good News of Jesus is what society needs more than the news that there are only so many more days to shop before it’s too late. Maybe telling our family members how much we love them can prepare them to receive the love of Jesus when he comes. Reconciling with someone we’ve hurt will open hearts to receive the mercy of Christ at his coming. Feeding the poor, comforting the sick, visiting the lonely will give the Kingdom of God we await a foothold in the present world so that more people will want Jesus to come, again.

A current commercial that has been running in the media since November 1st encourages people to “Win the Holidays!” The Scriptures today remind us that we’re not in a contest to earn love through spending money for presents that can break or will eventually be thrown away filling up garbage dumps. We already have received the gift of the Love of God in Jesus Christ. Let’s spend some time preparing, waiting for the Love of God to come, again, with a love for the world that will bring justice and peace the world so needs even now. The opening prayer of today’s Mass gives us the clue to how to live as disciples who are people called to live in a time of waiting,

Almighty God, grant your faithful the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. 

 


Thanksgiving Eve Thought

Watching a crew of plumbers and large equipment operators replace a sewer line from our office building to the city line, today, I realized I’m grateful that there are people who are skilled at such manual labor. Also, watching these men in the trench I was reminded I’m definitely not cut out for such jobs and thankful for my own vocation. Each person has his and her role to play in society for the common good of all. On this Thanksgiving eve I give thanks for all who are able to share their skill and hope many more who are unemployed, homeless and hungry will have their human dignity respected by those who can help them. Blessed Thanksgiving, everyone!

 


Trust-full Thanks, Thanks-Full Trust and Around We Go

On Sunday, November 22 I was the “preacher” for the Trenton Council of Churches’ ecumenical Thanksgiving service. This is the homily I gave. (I confess, like many preachers, I recycled material. The homily was originally given on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle B, but it seemed to fit for a Thanksgiving service too.) Since Protestants like to give their sermons titles, I was asked to come up with one and chose the title of this blog entry. The homily was given at St. John United Church of Christ in Trenton, IL.

Scripture references for the homily are
1 KGS 17:10-16, MK 12:38-44

Trust-full Thanks, Thanks-Full Trust and Around We Go

thanksgiving bulletinWe’ve all probably are familiar with a form of something called a trust exercise. There’s a activity often used in building up a sense of teamwork in the corporate world called a trust experience. A trust exercise goes like this…six people line up in two rows of three with arms extended and interlocked. Then another person is asked to fall backwards into their arms, trusting that their co-workers will catch them and not let them drop on floor. The whole experience is meant to build up trust between the co-workers.

There is an example of a negative trust exercise, too. Remember in the comic strip Peanuts. There’s a recurring story line between Lucy and Charlie Brown. Each fall, Charlie Brown is always fooled into trying to kick a football which Lucy yanks away at the last second leaving good ole’ Charlie Brown flying in the air and landing on his back…you can depend on Lucy to yank the ball away.

The scripture of the widow of Zarephath and the prophet Elijah in today’s reading and the story of the widow offering two small coins in the Gospel are examples of taking the trust challenge with God. The question is laid out for those who listen to these stories about widows is this, “Can we trust God to provide?” “Will Christ catch us if we put our trust in Him?”

You know, we human beings are wired to not trust people. Other people are viewed with suspicion so we don’t trust them. Are they out to take my stuff? People tend to doubt others can be depended upon. Such mistrust spills over into people’s relationship with Jesus, too.

There was a phrase made popular by Ronald Reagan during the cold war…
“trust but verify” — That’s not really trust! That’s suspicion that the other party to the agreement is going to cheat. It’s common sense say the politicians, trust but get proof first.

That’s what we’re wired to do as humans. We’re conditioned to believe we’ve got to make it on our own, and everyone else is out to take everything we have. Such mistrust of other people can make for a very isolated existence. There’s a bit of this lack of recognizing our interdependence in our American ethos. The myth citizens of this land tell themselves is that the successful folks are the ones who took responsibility for themselves and make their own way in life. These are the folks we praise in our national story. The individual who trusts himself above all others. Such a lonely existence when we do not trust.

But for us who claim to live in the Kingdom of God even now in this realm of Caesar is to break out of that isolation. Citizens of the Kingdom brought into this world by Christ reject that self-imposed prison of selfishness which imprisons others in a life of poverty.

Giovanni_Lanfranco_(Italian_-_Elijah_Receiving_Bread_from_the_Widow_of_Zarephath_-_Google_Art_Project

Giovanni Lanfranco (Italian – Elijah Receiving Bread from the Widow of Zarephath by Giovanni Lanfranco, Italian, 1621-1624, oil on canvas (accessed at Wiki Commons)

The widow in the old testament is trapped in her world view that she can only rely on what she sees in her kitchen pantry. Her future and therefore her son’s future, too, is bleak. Widow Zarephath and her son probably will become beggars on the street left to die on the street.  There was no social security, there was no Green Bean Pantry offering a safety net. Elijah challenges her to trust that God will not let that happen. Just go and make some bread. He opens up a little crack in her world view that says she must go it on her own.

As a result, God provides abundance. The message – God is the source of our livelihood, not just our own efforts. God does not want people to starve but will give them life – Trust God! We have a God who wants us to trust Him and he returns our trust. He WILL provide. Sure, we have to do our part, we must use our talents, but even when things look bleakest the Trustworthy One show us mercy and sustains us in life, even in death.

João_Zeferino_da_Costa_-_O_óbolo_da_viúva,_1876

The Widow’s Mite by João Zeferino da Costa, 1876, Oil on Canvas Retrieved from Wiki Commons

The message of the Gospel of the widow who offers to the poor two coins seems to suggest that the widow who gives “all she had” has the same trust in God……But there’s no indication the God filled up her kitchen cabinet. The story is silent on what happens after she puts her coins clinking in the coffer. She goes off into a future that Jesus doesn’t describe.

What’s the message? It could be that Jesus is still saying TRUST God, but remember you people who are familiar with the scriptures, God expects you to let go of your “stuff,” all you have, too, so that people like the widow don’t have to worry about their future. Use all you have, a little flour in a jar, a couple of coins, risking not having enough for yourself so that others don’t have to worry about where their next meal comes from. Jesus doesn’t let his disciples off the hook. By saying “she gave all she had” He’s saying to the disciples (us) don’t just give away a few coins you can spare, but challenge yourself to give what you don’t think you can to make sure the poor can eat, have a place to live free from violent wars or get health care. Use ALL your gifts from God to build a more equitable world so that no one need fear for their future.

In the words of Pope Francis in his visit to the U.S. in his address to congress, leaders (and by extension all citizens of this land since the “represent” us) are to help all of a society blessed by God with bounty to work for the “common good” of all citizens. If you listened closely to what the Holy Father was saying, he may even be suggesting citizens of this land should not just consider but get busy redistributing our treasure. We have an obligation to ensure all citizens, even non-citizen residents have what they need to live according to their God-given human dignity dictates. Here’s a biblical truth, an indication we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God: As we proclaim our thankfulness for what we have we will grow in our willingness to trust God will provide what we and others need to live grateful to the one who is the source of all blessings.

Can society’s poor count on us? We’re invited, no, commanded as disciples of Jesus to be the arms interlaced behind those who are in need that they can trust to catch them when they fall through the cracks of life that open up leaving them in need. So blessed by Jesus, the church must be the interlaced arms catching the hungry. The church must advocate for the Syrian refugee longing to be free from fear of violence. A nation that pauses to give thanks and acknowledge our blessings as we say “In God we trust” must, in obedience to that God, must look out for the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the jobless. For sure we should reject the urge to offer a way out of trouble only to yank the ball out from those who don’t have what they need to live lives free from fear, free from hunger. We are to be the agents of Good News of God’s faithful love, not folks who take delight in being blessed but who refuse to play by God’s rules. As disciples of Jesus we must not be like the fictional character who can only be trusted to yank the ball of hope for a better life away from those in need. Such lack of obedience to God’s rule denies an opportunity to those who in need to know they can trust God because we were the messenger of that mercy.

There was a Little banner stitched by a nun that hung under a crucifix in my bedroom from the time I was in Grade School to the day we sold my parents house…”let go, let God!” Let go of fear for our future, God is already there and will provide us life, a life that can not end, a life that is abundant. Let go of our stuff. Let God use it to provide a better life to others. Let go of our hearts so that God’s love will grow in them leading us to trust God ever more deeply.

Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Let our thanksgiving remind us we can trust God to provide for ourselves and others. Let our hearts full of trust in God’s promises lead us to give thanks for his faithfulness that will never disappoint us.

(c) 2015 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher


My alternative name day (not)

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Today, May 1, in the Roman Catholic Church we celebrate the feast day of “St. Joseph, the Worker.” Pope Pius XII gave us this day back in the early 1950’s as a response to the “May Day” celebrations of Communist and Socialist governed countries. In those societies founded on the ideology of Marxism the worker was seen as contributing to the good of the state, essentially a cog in a vast equalitarian economic system. The dignity of the human person was subordinated to the good of the state. A person was important and valuable only in the sense they contributed to the collective.

Pius XII wanted to stress that there is a basic human dignity given by God to the individual as created in God’s image. Further, he was advocating the Church’s teaching that all human activity is a sharing in the creative nature of God and is directed toward building up the human community, not the state, awaiting the day completes the work begun in Christ of creating the new heavens and new earth.

I’ve discovered a couple of nice summaries about the feast and it’s meaning at these sites:
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the Catholic View of Human Work at Catholic Online
St. Joseph the Worker, Saint of the Day at American Catholic . org (St. Anthony Messenger Press, the Franciscans)
St. Joseph Reminds Us that Workers Deserve Justice, an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that reminds us of the Catholic teaching that workers have a right to organize. (cf United States Catholic Conference of Bishops at Catholic Social Teaching).

The meaning of the feast day took on particular significance for me today, because I have been “supervising” (also known as watching) a new concrete drive being constructed next to our parish church and my rectory. For the couple of weeks, weather permitting since we’ve been having a lot of rain in Trenton, work has been progressing on the project. As I watched the crew doing what to me seems like back-breaking work of pouring, shaping and finishing concrete I realized a couple of things. One: I was watching the teaching of the church in action; men sharing in the work of creation of something new that will enhance the lives of others since there will be new handicapped parking spaces and safer access to the church. Two: I am definitely not the manual labor type and that I’m privileged to be called to the “work” of building up the community of faith into the City of God in the midst of the city of humanity. That’s why I’ve never claimed this day to be my patronal name day; I’m just not into manual labor and work that much!

God bless those who work with their hands, who teach, those who protect us as first responders and in the military, moms and dads who do the work of  raising children and all the laity who are the majority of the church whose work is to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. I pray that my work as pastor and preacher helps them do their work as members of the Body of Christ and affirms their dignity as partners with Jesus in the work of salvation.

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

O God, Creator of all things,
who laid down for the human race the law of work,
graciously grant that by the example of Saint Joseph
and under his patronage we may complete the works you set us to do
and attain the rewards you promise.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Taken from the Roman Missal, Third Edition
Prayer for May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker


Habemus Papum! Pope Francis, really!

I’ve been spending the afternoon in front of the T.V. I actually didn’t expect the election of a new Pope to be concluded today, but decided to camp out in front of the tube just in case. The the smoke began to come out of the chimney and it was white! I ran to the church to ring our three tower bells to let the town know and to praise God for his choice. It was kind of neat that the message was received because after I returned to the rectory the doorbell rang and it was the postman who had returned from his rounds to say he’d heard the bells and wondered if that meant the Cardinals had elected a new Pope! I returned to watching the T.V. and waited with the rest of the world for another 45 or 60 minutes to find out who was chosen.

Surprise! I wasn’t expecting the name I heard and I suspect the folks at EWTN were not, either. There was silence from their commentators and I switched to another station and was surprised, again. Who is this “George” the Cardinal on the loggia balcony announced. AH, the Cardinal Archbishop from Argentina. Cool! So many of our brothers and sisters in the church are Hispanic, from Latin America. This could be a good thing.

And the name he choose, was a surprise, too. Francis. I’m sure we’ll understand in the next few days and that the choice is a sign of our new Pope’s style and intentions of priorities. I also imagine the Franciscans are ecstatic and the Jesuits are rejoicing (Pope Francis is a Jesuit). I was impressed with the name, but more impressed that one of the first things he did was to ask people to “bless” him (in so many words), to “pray over him” before he prayed over us and gave the apostolic blessing. Good sign in my book.

Pope Francis

 

 

Here’s the Latin announcement roughly translated:

“I announce to you a great joy: We have a pope! The eminent and most reverend, Jorge, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Bergoglio, who has taken the name Francis.”

 

Let us pray for him, in the words of the Roman Missal:

O God, who in your providential design
willed that your Church be built
upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other apostles,
look with favor, we pray, on Francis, our Pope,
and grant that he, whom you have made Peter’s successor,
may be for your people a visible source and foundation
of unity in faith and of communion.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Amen.


Feast of Christ the King

This Sunday in the church calendar we are presented with a conundrum. The scriptures, when heard within the context of an American Church present a kind of conflict that is difficult to reconcile or a tension between what seem to be opposing ideas that resists being resolved. a conundrum. (Conundrum is also the name of white wine I like that is served at the local restaurant, but we’ll ignore that for now and maybe have a glass later.)

In this country we fought the revolutionary war to get out from underneath the oppressive rule of the tyrant King George III. Instead our founding fathers declared that we would be a nation with power invested in the people, not a single monarch.

In our own day, we Americans view with great suspicion any government based on a “Theocracy” where the rule of law is determined by a specific interpretation of the dictates of a holy scripture like the Qur’an. There are debates currently going on in Egypt wether Sharia Law should be the law of the land in the new constitution that is being written. In our own country local legislative bodies have tried to outlaw Sharia Law as anathema to the American experience.

So it is a conundrum that on this feast day we in the “land of the free” are celebrating the fact that we Catholics are under the rule of “King Jesus” who essentially proclaims that a theocracy is the law of kingdom. God is in charge and his rule, his law is contravened at our mortal peril. Exult Jesus as sovereign ruler and obey his truth and live or choose the falsehood of the civil order and experience the death. That’s the dichotomy and conundrum that’s set up in the Gospel of John taken from his Passion account read this day in our church year, John 18:33b-37.

But then here’s the visual image that reminds us that this is no earthly king, that Jesus is not talking about the kind of authority that is oppressive and dictatorial. In the Gospel exchange with Pilot, who represents the image of earthly styles of authority, Jesus says to him, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Besides the verbal word spoken by Jesus we have the image of our king reigning not from an ornate chair or bench his head adorned with a crown of gold and jewels, we have a king who reigns from the throne of the cross, his head bedecked with a crown of thorns. Both cross and crown are symbols of the false power violence and domination of the this world’s concept of authority. Yet, Christ turns them into symbols of his kind of rule which originates from the power of poverty, weakness and servitude.

The death and resurrection of Jesus shows the truth he presents to Pilot (the world) and is rejected in the gospel passage. While it seems violence, might and domination of others by force would be the way to establish order and bring about some sort of peace between different peoples, that such things always lead to disaster and no freedom for the human being. Under such a world view humans are forever enslaved by the cycle of violence that leads to death. Just look at the middle east, the land of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad. Perpetual violence and death.

The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection is this. Service for the sake of others, sacrifice for the betterment of the other’s life, respect for human life and dignity is the only way that breaks the cycle of death. He destroy’s the power, violence and tyranny of death by being the powerless, weak servant who sees human life so full of dignity he can no longer let humanity suffer endlessly and replaces the false hope of earthly power with the hope of eternity’s kingdom of God. There is no other way.

Yet “the world” rejects the truth. There are many, many people who can not accept that there is one ultimate truth. They choose instead to say “You can not impose one belief system on people in their free will. Who is to say there is one truth, that’s politically incorrect.” While Vatican Council II did call for religious freedom as a human right it did not mean that all religions were to be treated as a smorgasbord of all equal choices. We are bound to believe that in Jesus Christ is the ultimate, highest revelation of the truth.

So, how are we to live in the tension of our conundrum?

First, be a good citizen. Use whatever is good and has the potential of promoting human life in our political system to help build the kingdom of God that is among us but not “of the world.” But, here’s the difficult part. When our political, legal, economic, social systems attempt to use their power to force us to disobey the truth of Christ we object, we protest, we advocate for the ones whose lives are being endangered, where life is diminished. We risk being called unpatriotic, or traitors or maybe even persecution. But, we are first of all the representatives, as the Body of Christ, the presence of the His Kingdom in the midst of the realm of time and space until he comes, again. It is our vocation to lift high the cross and proclaim, “Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer” in the words of the familiar hymn “To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King” if we are loyal Catholic subjects!

An image from the civil realm comes to mind, with a twist.. When we are called in a courtroom to give testimony in a trail in the U.S. we are asked to place our hand on a Bible and respond in the affirmative to the question, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” to which we are supposed to respond “I do.” But, because of our faith in Christ the King that we affirm at each Eucharist we could just as well be saying, “Yes, I promise to tell the truth, but you’re not going to like it because the rule this court is under, indeed the whole illusion of order you live under will be destroyed when the truth of Jesus Christ has it’s day, for he is the truth, the way, the life!”


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