Friday, April 3, 2015

Holy Thursday Homily: Grain and Grape Crushed

 


When I was teaching Theology some year back, a course on Christian Justice, we read a story about the power of a snowflake. During a snow storm, snow began to accumulate on a tree branch. Each snow flake nearly weightless fell on the branch. Eventually, the culmination of the many, many snowflakes brought down the sturdy tree branch. No one snowflake could know that it would be the one to tip the balance, but they all did their part together.
 
Tonight we gather to celebrate the mystery of the passion memorialized and lived in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic elements of bread and wine, St. Augustine comments, are the image of the Church. The bread we use that becomes the Lord’s own body is made up of many, many grains and the cup of wine, made up of many, many grapes. But first, these grains need to be crushed. They need to die to themselves to yield something more, something greater, the body of the Lord. The grapes, too, must first be crushed, many of them at a time to yield the wine which is his blood.
 
Thus, our first image and lesson from tonight is we must each be willing to be crushed for something greater. We must be willing to sacrifice ourselves to be the Body of Christ. We must be willing to be less significant on our own, but something greater together in the community of the Church given shape at this meal.
 
Second, for what is this something greater? Our Lord answers this, as well... love. “Do you know what I do for you? Then you must do this for each other.” We sacrifice ourselves, unite our desires, and become the very Body of Christ in and for love. Our sacrifice becomes a power beyond understanding, a power to transform, a power to give life. Jesus’ being crushed finds ultimate power in the uniting with his Body in the world, to transform all of creation in the new life of the resurrection.
 
Like the snowflakes, we can not know the power individually we can assert until we are united together to bring down a mighty branch. But first, like Christ we much be willing to be crushed, serve others first, forgive in mercy, and then be untied in the love and power of the resurrected Body of the Lord.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Violence!

 
Again religion, faith, freedom, and violent terrorism grips our world. And, many different voices are taking different stances and focusing on different aspects of the tragedy in France and across Europe. I offer my own simple reflection on these events as I see them relate to larger issues from my perspective as a liberal Christian.

Freedom. A word many like to throw around but few really understand. Many focus on the individual aspect of this word that one can act, think, proceed as they like. I am free to do as I wish. However freedom has a cost...you have to be willing to honor and respect the freedom of the other the same as your own. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We have freedoms that often contradict. The challenge is to do the hard work that respects them all. You can not claim freedom to practice your religion while denying others the right to do the same, or none at all. If you have none, you must respect those who do, even when aspects are displayed in public, within reason and law. You can not claim freedom of speech or expression if your speech tears at the heart of others most treasured identity. You can not claim freedom of speech if your speech is somehow seen as ultimate truth beyond all other. There are subtle difference between good reasonable criticism and passionate debate, and violent disrespect. Political discourse and the sharing of ideas was the intent of the constitutionalists, not hate speech designed to incite rage or violence against another. I mean for right and left to reflect here. The words of our lips give indication to the desires of our hearts. (Augustine of Hippo)

Responsibility: Freedom requires a sense of adult responsible respect. The right is quick to denounce acts of Islamic terror as fundamentally evil, and it is, and does not represent the best of their faith teaching. However, Chrisitan fundamentalism has brought about the death of doctors and personnel at women's clinics, the bombing in Oklahoma, and acts of violence against LGBT persons. "Before you take the splinter out of your neighbor's eye, remove the beam from your own." The left also has failures in this regard. The inflammatory disrespect with which faith is often treated dilutes the real and honest criticisms of religious practice in public life that are often necessary.

Faith and Religion: Persons of deep faith use their religion as a tool or set of tools and practices to help them develop their spiritual relation with their God, higher power, etc. Religious people often elevate their religion beyond their faith putting the former before the a priori latter. One can be a deeply faith rooted and religious person in healthy maturity, some are just spiritually mature not claiming an organized religion, but it is often fear and spiritual immaturity that leads one to hide behind their religious practice without prioritizing and doing the really challenging work that their faith demands. Fundamentalists on the right often are guilty of this, while extremists on the left fail to understand or appreciate the struggle and difference between faith and religion in which the vast majority of religious people engage.

Today's readings from scripture both Hebrew and Christian relate stories about God calling and human response. Samuel first missed God's call as coming from Eli. He did not understand. It took time and inquisition before he could say, "Here is your servant Lord, I am listening." Jesus' first disciples were originally John's who came to Jesus by experiencing his mission and John's testimony and then their numbers grew again by word of mouth and personal experience. "We have found the Christ...come and see"
For us as lovers of freedom, we can take example here how to have freedom of both religion and speech and freedom from violence: take time to listen to your faith's source and spend time seeking the truth by lived example and personal testimony. Listen, watch, pray, and respond with love and deep awe that God has reached out to us, and we are graced enough to recognize the Spirit in our midst. Finally, respond to God's call for others in the same gentle and loving way God deals with us. This is the true strength and deep conviction of the freedom of God's children which we all are.