Tag Archives: Faith

Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 3rd Sunday Easter

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

If your around my age, maybe you remember an advertising campaign for Wonder brand bread from the 1960’s. The commercials would claim that “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” The ads implied a good mom would feed her children Wonder Bread so her children would have the benefit of enriched bread that would make her children strong in bone and muscle helping the grow with a strong, healthy body.

Mother Church has a wonder bread, too, necessary for the strength of her children. Christ gave us this miraculous body strengthening bread at the last supper, the Eucharist. The bread and wine that is His Body and Blood helps the Church, the Body of Christ grow into a strong, vibrant witness of the risen Jesus. This Sunday, Mother Church invites her children born from the baptismal font womb of rebirth to reflect upon the need of every Catholic to eat the wonder bread of the Eucharist, on a regular basis, to sustain and strengthen their life of faith.

The sacraments that initiated us into the spiritual life, one of sharing the life of God that overcomes death, are similar to the events that humans experience at the beginning of natural life. Babies are born when they come out of a womb filled with a kind of watery fluid. Then the child must breathe air. Only if the child is feed, and feed regularly does the human person continue to live and thrive.

So it is with the spiritual life, the life of faith. Only once are we baptized in the water of the womb of mother church. There is only one taking of the life-giving first breath of God, given by the Holy Spirit that we are given in Confirmation. But to continue to live the life of the divine, Catholics must eat regularly the food of the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens the identity of the Body of Christ. WE CANNOT TRUELY SUSTAIN OUR SHARING OF THE DIVINE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN IN BAPTISM WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Recalling the theme of our Easter season message series, The Eucharist is the “Now What?” that comes after we encounter the risen Christ. The Eucharist is where we continue to encounter the risen Jesus, taking as our cue the story of two disciples disappointed by the seeming futility of hoping life can be different for those who encounter Jesus on the journey of life. The story of the two disciples (who are depicted on our sanctuary wall) and their encounter with the risen Jesus is the template of what we do here each Sunday. Listen to the voice of God strengthening hope for a new life then encounter the risen Christ in sharing bread and wine. Because Christ is alive, now what? Read Scripture for insight, eat to strengthen the experience of Him who lives, go tell others what you’ve encountered.

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The Icon of the Supper at Emmaus in the sanctuary of St. Mary, Trenton by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B. monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana

Do you ever spend time remembering your deceased parents? Do you, on a wedding anniversary, remember how you fell in love? Remembering someone, remembering an event can powerfully make the person present, again. Recalling an event brings the what you felt then into the present. Pope Francis has said (I’m loosely quoting something the Pope wrote in his Encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” here) “the [Christian] is essentially one who remembers. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s…remembrance of and deeper sharing in, the event of his [defeat of death by his death and resurrection].” This remembering brings grateful joy that leads to sharing the presence of Christ, sharing the Good News of Christ with others.

In my own words, I am convinced our celebration of Sunday Eucharist is absolutely essential to our lives as Catholics so that we are renewed in our encounter with risen Christ. Catholics need to live our life as disciples who invite others to encounter Christ. Receiving the Body of Christ strengthens our identity as the Body of Christ risen in the present time so that we will carry on His mission. Eucharist strengthens us to witness. Communion with Him enable us to feed those not in the pews each week with life-giving hope, good news, with the grace to walk through the life in this world that ends in physical death without fear.

Now what? The story of the Emmaus encounter that is always before us on the sanctuary wall is model of the mission of our parish, to be disciples who evangelize. Don’t let that word scare you. Evangelize means to share the story of Jesus with others. Just as Jesus accompanied those two seekers with questions about the “meaning” of their life’s events, we are called, in the words of Pope Francis, to accompany those who seek to understand how to make sense of life; to walk with those who need to see how encountering Jesus can make life joy-filled instead of full of anxiety or fear. We gather to strengthen our memory, our experience of Jesus alive so that we can witness. That in turn will build up the Body of Christ with new and returning members.

Remember, last week I said something had to change in our parish. That something is each one of us. Fr. Michael White, a priest who’s parish has experienced phenomenal growth in numbers, has written, “The church is not a clubhouse for the convinced, but a place that is relevant and welcoming to the unchurched.” The parish needs to be a community that is excited to share the Gospel and make it relevant to people by it’s members sharing how Jesus makes a difference in their life. Reading what Fr. White has written has left me wondering if you and I at St. Mary need to be more like the disciples who risked traveling a road back to Jerusalem in the dark so they might tell how they encountered Jesus. Might we not need to follow their example. They could have said, “Wasn’t that great seeing Jesus, again, at the dining table” and played it safe and gone up to their room in the hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.” We’ve got to stop playing it safe. We encounter Jesus at this dining table and go back to the comfort of our homes all the while waiting for those who are not here to miraculously show up without us bringing them an encounter with the Good News.

Today, we’ve been exploring Step one of “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection. Build a stronger body of Christ. Renew our experience of the resurrected Jesus in Eucharist. Then we’ll be ready to share what we encounter with others who walk the journey of life with their questions about what difference Jesus makes to their life situation.

In the next two parts of this “What now?” series I will try to suggest a couple of practical ways our parish and each of us might get up from this table that strengthens our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus walking with us in this world and bring good news to those in need of sustaining their life with the Eucharist who may be starving themselves to spiritual death. We’re all familiar with the commercials on T.V. showing starving African children begging us to help them with our contribution. A worthy cause. The situation is somewhat similar in Trenton. We have people in our parish, in our town who are in danger of spiritual starvation. Don’t let that happen. I can’t talk to all of them, but together we can reach out to many of them, offering them the chance to encounter Jesus walking with them, feeding them the bread of salvation.

Don’t forget the words proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised this Jesus;of this we are all witnesses.” Let our hearts burn within us as we hear the scriptures and break the bread of the Eucharist so that we will be strengthened to grow into the Body of Christ we encounter in this Emmaus experience.


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!”


Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Palm Sunday

This year for Holy Week and Triduum I am giving a message series entitled “Dress Rehearsal.” I explain what I mean by that title in this first message given on Palm (Passion) Sunday.

“Table Reading”

Homily for Palm Sunday 2017

Readings for Palm Sunday 

Students in high school English classes often have to study a kind of literature called “Historical Drama.” Historical dramas are plays like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar or Henry the Fifth which tell the story of a historical figure’s trials and triumphs. Or maybe the student watches a movie of the historical play “A Man for All Seasons” about  Sir Thomas More who chose obedience to the Pope over his king, Henry the eighth who wanted an annulment of marriage that the pope wouldn’t grant. Historical dramas try to help the audience explore the why and who and meaning of events in history.

Sometimes, people like to look at the ceremonies of Holy Week as a kind of historical drama. Some of our brothers and sisters in Protestant denominations actually dramatize the events of this week with passion plays and last supper reenactments. Disciples of Jesus often view the liturgies of this Holy Week as a kind of chronological narrative of history. First Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, then he has dinner with friends, then he dies only to escape the grave on Easter. That is one way of approaching the why and who and meaning of the death of Jesus. It’s not exactly how liturgy works, though. Liturgy is not something an audience watches performed by skilled performers on a stage called the sanctuary. In liturgy, everyone from the priest at the altar to the usher in the last pew are the actors. The whole assembly of people in this room act out the drama of Jesus dying and rising in every liturgy in which we participate. (Notice I said participate in, not watch! We’re all actors.) In our processing from outside the building to our places in pews and sanctuary, our singing refrains during the Passion and processing once again to receive communion we are in a way rehearsing the mystery that was revealed in Jesus, death is the way to discover what the fullness of life is.

The Liturgy of Holy Week is a kind of dress rehearsal of what our daily life should be like if we call ourselves disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus. That’s why I’m calling my series of messages this week “Dress Rehearsal.” Each day of Holy Week we’re practicing, through ritual, what the rest of our everyday life should be proclaiming to the world. Disciples are actors on the world stage telling a story that should engage the onlookers to know the who and why and meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The Christian is the primary actor in the drama of revealing God’s love for humanity that was Jesus. We rehearse in this building what our faith is about, a journey to eternal life, the new and heavenly Jerusalem.

Like any dramatic stage production, though, the days of this week can be compared to the parts of making a play a reality. Each part of making a play keeps the vision of the whole in mind. The theme that runs through each liturgy is “Death leads to fuller life.” This is what I said in the introduction to the liturgy, outside.

Today we gather together to herald …
our Lord’s Paschal Mystery,…
For it was to accomplish this mystery
that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.
Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us…follow in his footsteps, so that,
being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life. 

Each day of this week keeps the theme we call the Paschal Mystery, death opens up the possibility of fuller life.

Today is like the first gathering of the cast that will eventually perform the drama on a stage, a kind of pre-rehearsal. The cast, you and me, have a table reading. We get familiar with the story. We discover the meaning of the story that we want others to learn.

Our procession with palms in hand was a rehearsal of our life’s journey. We learned that this story of Jesus we’re co-actors with is supposed to be a journey from life outside of the kingdom of eternal life to the banquet of heaven life which is glimpsed each time we come into this building, each time we approach this altar to receive a morsel of bread and sip of wine. The building we entered from being out in “the world” is a symbol of the heavenly realm.

Ah, but this is no stroll in the park on a sunny day. To walk with Jesus on the way to fullness of life requires suffering. The journey may have betrayal or people who think we’re on the wrong path to God who reject us. Perhaps, at times we’ll even feel rejected by God crying out “My God, where are you?” It’s not easy getting to a fuller life. The cross of death and the need to sacrifice ourselves for others is always part of the drama we enact as disciples. So we read the passion of Jesus as the script of every Christian’s life.

To keep us from being discouraged, on this day of Palms and Passion we still enact the resurrection. Our celebration of the Eucharist and reception of communion enable us to experience the risen Jesus who says the difficult work of our performance rehearsal is worth it. Jesus stands on the other side of the cross, the arms he opened on the cross ready to welcome the disciple who perseveres to his or her own death in acting out the Gospel.

Our “Dress Rehearsal” of the mystery, the who, why and meaning of Jesus in the liturgy of today and this week is how we remain faithful even when tempted to give up on faith in Jesus. Our liturgical dress rehearsal helps us to hold onto the truth in our hearts and daily lives that Jesus walks the journey with us and we walk with him.

[Singing]

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.
Then by His cross we were saved:
Dead became living. Life from His giving.
For to live with the Lord, We must die with the Lord.    

[Inviting all to sing the refrain sung during the proclamation of the Passion reading]

We hold the death of the Lord, deep in our hearts.
Living; now we remain with Jesus the Christ.

  • Text: Corinthians, 1 John, 2 Timothy; David Haas, b.1957 Tune: David Haas, b.1957 © 1983, GIA Publications, Inc.

 


Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 5

The final installment of my Message Series for Lent, “Root Cause.” So far I have named the root causes of humanity’s broken condition as choosing in free will to reject obedience to God’s will and attempt to be our own God (week 1, The temptations of Adam and Eve and Jesus), set forth the vision of a redeemed humanity (week 2’s story of the Transfiguration of Jesus),  personal choices to sin (week 3 as revealed in the story of the Woman at the well), and described humanity’s infection with social sin woven into the fabric of society (week 4 – The healing of a blind man. This week we look at the “cosmic” picture and learn how humanity’s choices to cooperate with the evil one has unleashed upon all of creation, death, decay and entropy the result of alienation (sin) from God.

Root Cause Message Series Poster

“The Power of Love”

Readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

This past week we priests of the Belleville Diocese received an e-mail from the chancellor. Among the responsibilities of the Diocesan chancellor is keeping track of personnel files. The e-mail from the chancellor was a request that those of us who haven’t sent in our funeral instructions do so and here’s a simple form to help you tell us what to do with you when you die. Sounds a bit morbid doesn’t it?

Nobody really likes to think about their own death. Going to a funeral home visitation is difficult. But thinking about your own death, maybe how your body will be the one people are looking at in the casket, that can be a depressing thought if not a fearful thought. Yet, we’re all going to die. Some people approach their death with a fatalism saying things like “when your time is up, it’s up, you can’t change it.” Other folks rage against death, fighting it with every ounce of energy they can muster. The truth is very simple, though. Everyone dies.

The first Sunday of Lent we heard the story of Adam and Eve; how humanity was created to live forever like God. The story of the Garden in Eden describes how people were to be God’s companions who God could love and receive love from back without a time limit. Yet, the root cause of death was humanity’s decision to reject that offer of love that called it into being and instead try to live by its own wits; humanity wanted to be its own God. From the moment of eating of the fruit of the tree at the center of the universe, death, decay and the tendency of everything to eventually break down spilled out into all of creation. Death became the ultimate alienation from the sustainer of all life, God the creator. Call death a symptom of the sinfulness of humanity that radiates out into the cosmos that needs to be healed. Death is the ultimate sign of humanity’s brokenness that longs to be repaired.

Today’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, the dead friend Lazarus and Jesus proclaims that Jesus, God in human flesh, has entered into this world of cosmic disorder, to face down death. Jesus declares himself the resurrection of life! This encounter with death in the person of Lazarus is the moment in the life of Jesus when the Christ declares that death has been put on notice. Death’s power over humans is limited. Death’s reign as the force that controls the universe is finished.

Jesus continues to stand at the graves of the victims of the power of death unleashed by human choosing the root causes of our broken nature ready to call them out of the stench of death. Jesus offers the way to defeat death and live no longer bound with the fear of the power of death. Keeping with our message series theme of “root causes” let’s name a couple of these causes of death that can be healed by the power Jesus shows in the mystery of sacrificing self for the sake of others instead of the self-centered vision of humanity. Of all the seven “Capital Sins” (the root causes of human troubles) there are two that we can focus on that routinely unleash the power of death.

The first root cause of death taking hold in our existence is Greed, an excessive pursuit of material possessions. How often do we see greed on a grand, even worldwide scale? There is a hunger for territory. Such territorial greed has led to wars to conquer land someone else possess causing the death of military and civilians. As Pope Francis has warned  us in his encyclical “On the Care of our Common Home” there is greed shown in the insatiable thirst for natural resources buried in the earth, like oil, gas, and coal that make some rich, but at the same time doom especially the poor to suffer the effects of climate change. Human greed may kill the planet that sustains the life of the ones who exploit the planet that makes life possible.

Not only is greed bringing death. There is the deadly sin of Wrath which can be described as the uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person. How often we have seen in history attempts to wipe out whole populations because of their race. Even today, we hear in the news of the hate that religious fundamentalists have toward another expression of faith in God that they’re willing to slaughter human life.

Greed and Wrath are root causes of death binding up the human person, entombing humanity in the stench of death limited existence that Jesus calls out as evil and speaks a word of resurrection to life.

If we find ourselves under the influence of the evil one trying to convince us to give into greed or wrath, what can we do? How do we let Jesus free us from the tomb we’re sealing up for ourselves? Jesus’s power to bring life out of death cause by greed is revealed in the choice to live Charity. To love, another word for charity, cures greed by putting the desire to help others above storing up treasure for one’s self. Charity is sacrificing for the good of others and reflects the sacrifice of Jesus who defeats death by his sacrifice on the cross. If we realize we’re giving into wrathful anger, then Christ offers us the power of Patience. Patience cures wrath by giving us time to understand the needs and desires of others before acting or speaking. If we stop, attempt to see the dignity, the hurts, the needs of the person we’re angry with we can defeat the power of death at work in us.

But there is a productive anger,  also. Not all anger is destructive wrath. Sometimes anger is a necessary part of the process of moving on through life. Anger is one of the stages of dealing with grief and can help a person move from feelings that life is over for the survivor to living life in a new way. Anger about unjust situations can move a person to action to confront the cause of injustice.

Martha and Mary were angry at Jesus for not showing up in time to do something about the suffering of a loved one and saving Lazarus from dying. We may be angry at Jesus, too, for sometimes it seems he’s not in a hurry to save a loved on from illness, or not in a hurry to fix the mess we people cause in our world. That’s part of the process of coming to realize how Jesus operates. Jesus doesn’t take away death, but uses death as the weapon to defeat death, letting go of self as the way to find the fullness of life. If he showed up before Lazarus died he couldn’t have shown he has the power to use death to defeat the power of death to deprive us of real life.

What the Lazarus story reveals is the truth. By his tears he sheds at the death of his friend Jesus shares in the grief, the pain of humanity ruled by the experience of death. Recalling his distress reminds us he was angry with the fate of his beloved creation and was moved to step into humanity to change the fate of humans.

Driving to meet some friends for dinner last night I pulled up behind a car at the four-way stop in Lebanon. The car had a bumper sticker that read,

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.”

I’ve discovered that the bumper sticker is a quote from the musician Jimi Hendrix, of all people. But how true. The power of love was shown in Jesus’ death. His resurrection unties the binding strips that ties up life limited by death. Jesus commands us to be free of the fear of death, to be free from the limits of mortality.  Love overcomes the love of a humanity hungry for power over one another, a “root cause” of the cosmic forces of decay and death unleashed by Adam and Eve who ate the fruit of the tree at the center of the garden. Jesus reveals the power of love on the tree of the cross which stands at the center of time and space. In the opening of grave Jesus reveals the power of love which is stronger than death, letting in the fresh air of eternity that removes the stench of death.

Attributed to Aertgen van Leyden (1498-1564) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE -Week 3

Root Cause Message Series Poster“I Could Have Had”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

This week, after my doctor imposed absence from last weekend’s Masses, we continue our message series called “Root Cause.” I was feeling pretty miserable  last weekend and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to get you sick so I stayed in bed as recommended by my doctor. Therefore, let me briefly share with you what I would have for last week’s part 2 of the message series I’m calling “Root Cause.”

On the first Sunday of Lent I shared with you how the root cause, the primary reason humanity finds itself in the state it is in is man and woman’s ability to choose. Humans can choose to listen to God, who seems to have some arbitrary rules, like don’t eat from one particular fruit tree in a perfect garden, or chose to listen to the voice of evil that lies about human potential where people do not need God. The ability to choose to be self-centered ultimately disorders our relationship with God and one another. The wrong choice unleashes corrupted relationships with the divine and other people that result in the death of those relationships and even physical death.

Last week I wanted to tell you about the “root cause” of the hope that humanity is not doomed to suffer forever the consequences of badly choosing to eat the fruit self-exultation. God continually makes promises to open up a future full of life. In the Transfiguration of Jesus, God revealed the future for those joined to  Jesus. In Jesus is the hope people choose to embrace a new way of living. For those who accompany him in everyday sacrifices that enable others to live more fully there is caused hope for a new life. The “root cause” of being saved from the power of death is being united to Jesus’ choice to follow the will of God, to die on the tree of the cross that opened up a new type of perfect Garden, the Kingdom of God where life defeats death. (You can read the full homily I would have given on my blog on the web, if you want. Check the bulletin for the internet address.)

If we want to choose rightly, to choose life instead of something that causes death in some form or another as we travel the paths of time in this world we must recognize the voice of the evil one hissing like a snake hiding in the grass asking us to choose specific ways of giving in to his lie that we don’t need to pay attention to the voice of God. Looking inward instead of out toward others we think we can know what’s best for us. The next three Sundays we’ll explore some of the “root sins.” Root sins is what a priest of our diocese (Fr. Bill Hitpas in a small pamphlet he has authored on examining the conscious before confession) has labeled the seven capital sins. Or, they’ve been called the seven deadly sins, because of how serious these root causes of sin are, You can say the seven “deadly sins” are expressed in a variety of symptoms that lead to the destruction of our relationships with God and other people. They’re the viruses that our everyday choices to sin are caused by. If we don’t deal with the deadly sin viruses, our life in communion with Jesus both now and in eternity will be dead on arrival. The liturgy makes this comparison of sin to illness in the opening prayer of today…

O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.

Spring starts Monday. Then, before you know it comes the hot, hot days of summer. The humid yet dry days of summer are a time a person can build up quite a thirst working outside. Mowing the lawn, working on a construction site, even just exercising by walking in the heat builds up a powerful thirst. What to drink? An ice-cold beer, perhaps. Or maybe a soda seems to be called for. But there’s a problem. Alcohol doesn’t really quench a thirst and replenish the fluids the body is sweating away. A beer dehydrates a body. Soda has a bunch of salt and does the same keeping a person thirsty, wanting more to drink that really doesn’t help. Water alone will ease the thirst. Plain old water is what the body needs when facing the threat of dehydration.

The story of Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well in the hot desert is actually about the bad choices we are personally responsible for. It is a metaphor for who we choose to drink of sins that don’t satisfy our thirst for a happy, fulfilled life. The story of Jesus and the woman is about how we deliberately choose to be selfish, to commit personal sins, the symptoms of the viruses of root sins in an attempt to satisfy a thirst to be happy or fulfilled. It is also about how she’s been looking for what satisfies in all the wrong places. That’s the detail about having five husbands. Jesus is the spouse the his bride the church is looking for so we can stop fooling around with other suitors, like the voice of evil hissing like a slimy con-artist.

One of the “root sins” that is the cause of our selfishness is envy. Sometimes it’s called jealousy. Envy is the desire to have something someone else has. Jealousy leads to judging other people. This root sin can lead to questioning God about why he doesn’t give me what I deserve instead of someone else. Envy is the alcohol, the soda that doesn’t really satisfy, but leaves us wanting more stuff, more money, more influence. But stuff isn’t really what will bring satisfaction or fulfillment to our lives! Look at some of the people in impoverished lands. They still find joy in life. They have love of family.

How do we stop drinking envy? The true water that Jesus offers by his example of his life that will quench our thirst for happiness is kindness. Kindness can cure envy by placing the desire to help others in need above the selfish centered expression. Instead of drinking of envy we need to draw from the well of kindness. Then we will find happiness, contentment, fulfillment.

There are other root causes of our separation from God’s life that involve making individual decisions to harm our relationship with other people. There is lust that sees other persons as a way to make us feel good without concern for their well being. There is the choice to be lazy, to not get down to the business of helping others in need because I’ve got more important things to do.

This week I invite you to examine your life with me. What do each of us personally choose to do that is rooted in envy, lust, laziness that doesn’t really bring us fullness of life? Perhaps it’s time to stop drinking from the well of personal sin and instead ask Jesus to give us a drink of his life of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Many years ago there used to be a t.v. commercial for a vegetable based drink. The tag line always involved someone slapping their head saying “I could have had a V-8!” implying making a healthier choice was possible.Instead of making choices to drink of the well of selfishness and personally sinning today is a day to say “We could have had a taste of eternal life even now in this world of choices!” Remember, though, Jesus is waiting to offer us his forgiveness, too. Don’t hesitate to drink deeply of his mercy so that you can start a new life, like a woman who has a chance encounter with God’s mercy at a well.

lwowska_galeria_sztuki_-_jacek_malczewski_-_christ_and_the_samaritian_woman

 

 


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


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