[Homily] 2015 Christmas – Abbot Joel

 Abbey 2015

Isaiah 52:7–10
Hebrews 1:1–6
John 1:1–18

Christmas day is traditionally filled with music, with carols whose message is one of peace and joy. We hear songs about the messiah king being born… In our first reading from Isaiah, we hear a chorus also. But first there is the soloist’s voice: a messenger is running over the hills bearing good news and singing in a loud voice announcing to Jerusalem: “Your God is King!” …In the days before telegrams, let alone email and cell phones, there were two ways to send a message back home from the battle field. The commander wrote a note to describe the outcome or he sent a trusted messenger who would verbally announce and proclaim the victory. So Isaiah sees the messenger and hears the message, Your God is King! He has won the battle. There is peace! You are saved, you are safe! The messenger Isaiah sees is bearing good news, what we call Gospel. Isaiah has many words to describe the message but only one phrase to describe the messenger: He has beautiful feet. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him bringing good news.” The feet of the messenger are beautiful because they can run over the hills toward Jerusalem, they are beautiful because of the message their master is carrying. Beautiful feet, beautiful messenger, beautiful message.

When the beautiful messenger is seen by the watchmen of Jerusalem, then chorus begins: they too shout for joy and it is as though the victory has come home and is effective already. What the watchmen see is God leading his people back from captivity and exile; he is bringing them home. Jerusalem is being restored. The ruins of the city are being transformed  And when the begins to happen the voices increase and the music gets louder. In the transformation of Jerusalem the people are comforted, they know they are redeemed: the enemy no longer controls their life. They are free again, they have a king who has fought for them.

Then Isaiah sees God baring his arm, the arm of victory. But it is not just for a restored Jerusalem. This vision of a God being King for his people, leading them and causing such joy and a wild chorus is a sight for all. What God has done for one people, God will do for all. It is not only Israel that has a king, it is the nations that have also been saved and freed. The music emanating from Jerusalem sets up a chorus around the world.

The Gospel of John read today is about a message, about a word. We hear of the journey of that Word.  That word, that message, begins with God and in God. Indeed we learn that when God spoke that Word the world came into being. God’s message was creative. Its creative power had an effect, a victory if you will. Chaos and darkness were scattered. God word produced light. The primordial victory: our God’s Word conquers darkness. The darkness tries hard to defeat the light coming from the Word but it cannot. The victory is permanent. The beauty of light lasts. So the Word God speaks creates our world. But God is not finished; his word is not something that bounces around above our world. God’s word enters our world. As gospel puts its so physically and graphically, God’s word became flesh and set up a tent among us. The glory of God that once appeared over Israel’s tent in the wilderness and journeyed with the people for years in the desert now lives in the nearby tent in flesh like ours. Or from the wisdom tradition, the wisdom who guided creation at the beginning has now found a home with humanity.

Now this Word that created and became flesh had a messenger who announced his coming. We know him as John the Baptist. While the evangelist does not say his feet are beautiful, he does say that he bears witness to the light of the Word. He will testify to what the word is all about. John is the messenger who knows his place and his place is to lead us to the Word, the truth and the light. Therein is John’s beauty. Not to be the message but to be shaped by it. John can see that the creative moment of the Word, when its light burst over darkness, is not a thing of the past but a creative work taking place now.

The evangelist says that some people did not accept the light; they did not believe that the power of God at work in the beginning has created a new wonder and Word in human flesh. Or even more strongly, that the face of the one who spoke the first word is now speaking in human flesh in his Son. But for those who can see, who believe, then love beyond all telling has been made visible before their very eyes.

The evangelist is now the messenger. His message: Someone has come from the Father’s side, his son, and he has revealed his Father. So now it is possible to see the face of God in human flesh and not only live but live as a child of God. Those who see the face of God in human flesh, now belong to God.

As the prophet saw the ruins of Jerusalem restored to glory; so now those who see the face of God in the face of the Son have seen their humanity restored to its original dignity and beauty. The darkness of humankind is not its final state; its final state is light and an intimate relationship with God.

“How beautiful are the feet of the one who bears good news”…Yes, Christmas is about beautiful feet, the sound of beautiful feet. When God’s Word comes to the end of his journey among us, he calls attention to our feet. Yes, he gets down with a bowl and washes our feet. Yes, he touches our ordinary humanity, the lowest part of ourselves. The dirty and dusty part that has walked over everything imaginable. But in his washing of our feet, he reveals their beauty. I gave you an example, so you must do to one another. Yes, Jesus brought beauty back to our feet. And how are they beautiful? Because our feet speak a message of love, love found in words, love found in the way we are with one another and love found in the deed of willing to wash each other’s feet and so restore their beauty. Out of that beauty of service rises the song of love. From beautiful feet running to wash another’s feet arises the message of Christmas: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.

Let us check our feet. The Word has come and washed them in his love. He has made them beautiful. Now our feet carry the message of that love. How beautiful are our feet running the paths of our world announcing “Your God is love and mercy, yes, grace upon grace!”

Christmas 2014 – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2014 Christmas – Mass during the day – ABC

Isaiah 57:7-10
Hebrews 1:1-6
John 1:1-18

A word is a very powerful thing! Think of it. When someone gives a word of consolation, our faces light up, a burden seems lifted from our shoulders. Someone offers a word of advice and we see the way again. The confusion and hesitancy has cleared away. We are happy that we can make a decision and move on with our life. Or again, think of other words. Those that hurt, lead to pain and inner suffering. When we hear them, something within dies, life is drawn out of us. We begin to shrivel up. These are words of hate, words of abuse. They strip us of our dignity; they leave us naked and vulnerable. We have no defense. Words, all words have an effect on us. They give life. They give death. They build up or they tear down.

Yet all of us long to hear a word. There is no human being who can live authentically and fully without a word. Children listen for a word from their parents. Teachers wait for a word from their students. Sick people wait for the word from their doctor. Citizens wait for the word from their political leaders. We long for a word. We need a word. And we will keep listening till we hear the right word. The word of truth, the word of life. On this Christmas day, God confirms that the Word himself is the greatest gift. In the end we are because of the Word.

Into a season of many words, of many greetings: into our longing ears a word comes today. It is the day of the Word. For us Christians, Christmas is the festival of the Word. Into the midst of human words with all their treachery and deceit, with all their promises spoken and broken, with all their evocations of dreams unfulfilled; into our attempts at words of love, consolation and encouragement, there comes today the final word. It is a word that will say what we struggle to say. It is not a word of our own making. It is a word of God’s making. It is not a word that is spoken by one of us. Today it is spoken by God. Today our words fall silent as the word of God is heard. It is not mediated by anyone. It is spoken by God himself with his new, fresh human face.

What our hearts have been aching to hear, God has spoken. God has not sent his word on the pages of some book or in the classroom of some great teacher or ruler or elder. He has not spoken it through a representative, an emissary. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, that is what God did in the past. Something new is happening. God has spoken his word to us in a person who is one like us. When God chooses to speak his last and greatest word, he does not do so from a distance from far away. He chooses to speak his word to us as one of our flesh, our brother. He does this so we cannot complain that we do not hear or understand. God will speak in human language. He will teach us not from the top of the mountain, not from tablets of stone, but in a living person, like the one sitting next to us.

Christmas! It so often sends our imagination to the birth of a child. But this morning we are left with much more than a child. Christmas sends us to the heart of God where he speaks his final word about the world. And what is that final word: I want you to share in the same life, creative power and energy that flow between my Son and myself. I want this so much for you that I send him to you. He will speak to you of what passes between us. I send him to you so that you can see his face. It is human, like yours. But when you see it, you will also see my face. For so long you were afraid to look at me. But now you can. You can have a share in the words and life that passes between us. For what I want is you to remember that you are my child too, my offspring.

Christmas! It is about God coming to live with us. He comes not as a casual visitor but a permanent one. When the Gospel says the Word made his dwelling among us, it is really saying in picturesque words: God’s Word tented among us. It is an allusion to the early life of Israel in the desert. When God began to live among his people. There it was in sign, like cloud or a tent of meeting. Today we are saying God’s presence is that presence of one human being to another. Today the meeting takes place in its fullest: God meets humanity, humanity meets God.

There is no more need to guess about our God. To wonder what he looks like. We need only turn to his Son and see and hear words and actions that we can live by. Christmas is about God’s creative power to become human himself. In the story of creation; God spoke over the dust of the earth and with his hands shaped humanity. Today he speaks from his heart and he reveals the inner love and truth that lies there. And when speaks out loud from his heart, his words become a human person. What seems hidden, the heart of God, is now worn on his sleeve. It is public for all to see and to hear.

But if God clothes himself in our flesh and blood, if God becomes visible it not only says that God is willing to take risks with himself, it says also that we must be of great value to be entrusted with the heart of God. When someone entrusts you with their very self, you know that you are accepted and of inestimable worth.

Christmas is more than just a birthday of a child even if humanity’s greatest; it is also the feast of humanity’s full birth. Really humanity is fulfilled today. The very hidden thing we yearn for is offered to us. Good things have come our way before, but today outdoes all those good things. That is what the Gospel means when it says that the Law came through Moses, a good thing, but grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. For today God reveals his human face in human flesh. Our work on Christmas is simple enough: to commit ourselves to be shaped only by God’s Word that is his Son. Our work is simple enough: to embrace our own humanity with all the strength and tenderness that God has done by becoming our flesh. Our work is simple enough: to let our lives shine forth with joy because we have heard and seen the love that forever passes between our Father and his Son, and from today, our Brother forever.

5th Sunday Ordinary Time – A – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2014                                                           Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Isaiah 58:7–10
1 Corinthians 2:1–5
Matthew 5:13–16

 Today Jesus is all about discipleship. He is clarifying and also calling us to be present to who we are: we that are captivated by him and follow him. To make the concept of discipleship as concrete as possible and to make sure that discipleship does not remain in the ideal state or in the mind, Jesus offers us two very familiar things to get hold of discipleship: salt and light. Both are commonplace and ordinary. Salt for taste and for preservation is very easily detectable and so is a light in a dark room. You cannot miss that!

 The important thing here is that Jesus assumes that we are salt, assumes that we are already light. Jesus speaks to us in the present tense, “You are the salt…..You are the light…”  “You are the salt of the earth.” The implication is that we already have a “taste”; we already have a gift, a talent, a quality that enables us to give taste to a relationship, to a situation, to a way of living. Jesus could have come up with alternative statements about our present condition: “You are no good,” “You are a sinner,” ”You have nothing to say.” Instead Jesus begins with the positive. Your presence, your life adds something to the human story. Your being, your presence makes a difference in the community.

 When Jesus uses the metaphor “You are the salt of the earth” in referring to his disciples, he is basically saying you have a responsibility to add flavor and zest to the world. You are the one who will allow the world to taste the goodness of the Lord, as the psalmist says. The world, human society, the gathering of the disciples in the Church—all need the salt you bring. It might be a salt of love and compassion, it might be the salt of conviction in the gospel way of life, or it might be a salt that takes out the dullness that the world and society sink into. Put salt on a wound and it smarts at first, but it brings healing. You are the salt of healing to the wounded around us. You and I bring the salt of Jesus’ word that consoles and binds up. You and I bring the salt of his touch that says you are not alone, our God walks with you.

 The worse thing that can happen is that a disciple of Jesus loses his or her saltiness, loses their conviction in the gospel and what it looks like. The community and the world become less tasteful, less inviting when the disciples of Jesus renege on their saltiness. That means lose their conviction in what God is doing in the world through Christ, the crucified one. There is negative side to Jesus comparison to salt: it can lose its saltiness. That observation of Jesus is not meant to be a threat but meant to make us dig deeper into ourselves to name our own salt. Where is that salt in me that I am not using that I am not putting into the mix of my community, our world.

 Jesus also gives us another comparison for discipleship. You are the light of the world. Being light is perhaps a more familiar comparison. After all it begins with our baptism ritual when we are handed a candle lit from the Easter candle and told to keep it aflame till the end when it will join the lights of all the saints to welcome the Lord on the final morn. Two things can be said about this reference to light. The first is that Jesus relates the light to good deeds, to actions. Like salt, light does not exist for itself, it immediately interacts with another in order to be true itself. A single light in a single-room dwelling as in Jesus time would make life possible for all in the room. It would remove the cloud of darkness and bring all into the light.

 It is Isaiah today who spells out the meaning of being a light filled person. The prophet spells out what Jesus means by saying you are the light of the world. Doing the work of light is related to the basics for human life even survival: food, shelter and clothing. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, and clothe naked.” These three remain as the foundation of any approach to enhance human life on earth. Anyone involved in this activity is light in a dark world. Anyone involved in such good work is in fact living out the covenant or in Jesus language is living the Kingdom of God.

 This leads to the second point about “You are the light of the world.” Being light in such a way, allowing light to shine by interacting within these essential dimensions of human need is in effect a proclamation that this is where God is acting. Doing good works brings light but it also reveals who your God is. The person who is salt and light somehow points to the source of the taste, the origin of the light. Jesus says that whoever encounters you as salt and light should be able to say, “Ah, here is where God is. Here is where the Father of the world and its people is showing his love and his heart.” “Now I can see and taste God’s goodness, kindness and compassion.” This is the God who revealed himself on Mt. Sinai, this is the God who showed us his face in his Son Jesus.  Disciples who are salt and light do not draw attention to themselves. Instead, they are merely saying that the Kingdom of God is coming, in fact it is at hand.

 There is one last comparison Jesus leaves us with. You are to be like a city set on a mountain, you cannot be hidden. Is this not the community of the Church? Visible from afar, a beacon, a guide through the rough places below and a goal to be reached. The prophets constantly saw Jerusalem and the community of Israel as a light that attracts others. It is attractive because it has a word to live by and because it knows how to take care of its own members and others as well. Jesus tells us that our life as Church is to be visible and in our life other people should find a new way of living out their humanity. It is to be a way that is caring, gracious, tasty, vigorous and above all filled with a light that, no matter how dark the world is, it always remains radiant in the hope that comes from the power of the Risen Lord.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – A – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2014                                                     Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
I Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

 The color of the season may be green. It may be Ordinary Time but the Word we have heard won’t let us let go of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle we have just celebrated. That cycle still lingers. There is still a taste of it in our mouths and hearts. As in Advent, John the Baptist is still with us. He is not so much a voice calling us to prepare and repent for something is happening and someone is coming. Today we see and hear another part of John the Baptist. Today he is a witness. Today he gives evidence of what he has seen. When he gives evidence he makes it clear who Jesus is. John understands the purpose of his life: it is to speak on behalf of someone else. In the Gospel of John, It is the John the Baptist who is the first witness to who Jesus is and what Jesus will do.

 The Word today harkens back to the Christmas-Epiphany season we finished last Sunday. Christmas and Epiphany are a season in which we celebrate God’s love in becoming one of us, a member of our human family. It is a season in which we are reminded again of the way in which God has made his plan known. His plan was to embrace our humanity as a member of his people Israel. But his plan also includes the world. The Son he sends is a light for all peoples. God’s place is broad and inclusive. It has as many faces as there are people on the earth. There is nothing minimalist here. God tells the servant in Isaiah, it is not enough for you to restore Israel; you are a light for all. My salvation must go to the ends of the earth. As much as Christmas begins with a Child, a son born for us, it expands quickly to a universal vision. The child the magi adore is God’s servant become light and salvation for the nations.

 At the river Jordan last Sunday, we heard the witness of the God the Father. We heard his voice from heaven tell us that Jesus is his beloved son. He also told us to listen to him because what he says will come from the Father. Jesus himself will only speak what the Father has told him to say. All this to impress upon us the authority that Jesus carries. For anyone who longs for God’s presence and his Word in the world, the Christmas season makes it quite clear that God’s presence and his Word of truth is here in Jesus from Nazareth.  Once this is accepted the challenge is to listen to him.

 John the Baptist’s witness is important. It shows us someone who accepts and identifies this Jesus from Galilee. John has seen him and heard him. He now comes to the realization that his life must be centered on this Jesus, God’s son and God’s Lamb. In this way John the Baptist gives us a hint at what we are all about as followers of Jesus. On a personal level, we are not the light and we are not God’s gift to the world. Instead we are to bear witness that it is Jesus who is the Light and he is God’s gift to the world. John says he came baptizing with water so that one day we might recognize the one who will baptize with the Spirit. In a real way John is saying that our lives in Christ are a hint to others of the great things that are yet to come. Our lives are to be attractive to those around us. Crowds are drawn to John at the river. Perhaps we become so attractive that others like to be with us, that they see something of God’s working in our lives. But in the end we are a sign of Jesus who comes first. Our lives are to be led in such a way that others will see that the Spirit is poured out upon the earth.  There is a wonderful sense in which John the Baptist is able to live for another. He is able to step aside so that God’s presence may be seen by others. John’s life becomes transparent, it doesn’t stop with him. Those who are attracted to him are invited to follow his hand and finger as he points out the person who truly is from God. John is a witness. He risks taking Jesus’ side as it were. He risks everything to identify him, to point him out and speak about him. The same challenge is placed on us too: we are asked to renew our commitment to Jesus: God’s Son and God’s Lamb. We are asked to acknowledge that it is he who saves from the restrictions and violence of this world.

 Last Sunday the Father bore witness to his son from above. The heavens opened and the Father’s voice was heard as he pointed out his son for us. This Sunday we are called to witness from the earth. What are we called to witness to? That Jesus and his word are the fulfillment of humanity’s hope to see God face to face and to hear his word, not in dream but in reality. We are called to witness that in Jesus God gives us the Passover Lamb whose blood will about bring the restoration of communion and love between God and the world and all who live in the world; we give witness that God has empowered Jesus with the Spirit, with the fullness of life. And we give witness that Jesus in his turn will baptize with this Spirit. He will pour out God’s love, refreshment, forgiveness and peace upon those who come to him. We give witness that the Spirit of holiness is not confined to God, but is truly God’s great gift to the world. In this Jesus, he removes all barriers through the blood of the Lamb. And he opens up for all the call to be holy as he is holy and as his son is holy, because his son has been faithful to the end. To be a witness to Jesus is to be specific: Through this man from Nazareth, God deals with the world in a definite way. It is also to be universal: the Spirit remaining on Jesus and the Spirit breathes has no boundaries; it can make its home in every person, to the ends of the earth. Saying it Servant terms from Isaiah: It is too little for the Christ to simply restore my people. I will make you a light to the nations.

 As people who have been baptized in water and the Spirit, we must be careful to be a witness for the whole truth. We must take care that we truly bear witness to what God has done in Christ, his anointed. And what we see him continuing to do through his Spirit who is at work in the richness of God’s gifts found throughout his world. The world that God bore witness to on the first day when he pointed and said: “Behold, it is good, very good indeed.”

25th Sunday Ord Time-C – Abbot Joel

Abbey 22 September 2013                                                               25th Ordinary Sunday – C

Amos 8:4-7
I Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

 Prophets were not people to be messed with. And Amos was one of those prophets you would rather not see walking in the streets of your city.  It was not because prophets were walking around predicting the future that made people uncomfortable. It had more to do with the fact that they spoke out loud what was really going on in the present. The prophets told it like it was and they didn’t mince words. Amos must have frequented the market place and the shops. He could see beyond the pleasant smiles of the sales person. He heard the conversation in the back room. He listened to business people talking about when the Sabbath and the New Moon feast will be over so that they could get on with making another dollar. It might sound like a conversation leading up to a rationalization for keeping shops open on Sunday.  It is not a mater of convenience; it is a matter of finding another way to make more money. In 8th century BC Israel, Amos knew very well what was happening in the economic and social life of the country. And his word is directed against it. The system set out to make the landowner wealthier but at the expense of the poor and those in need. More money was to be had, at someone else’s expense. From Amos’ point of view the system in Israel developed to the point where it was not longer a reflection of the covenant that God has made with his people. The economic system had become a sin against the commandments and covenant.

 The Word today clearly makes us stick our nose into the reality of money, wealth and possessions.  The Word is concerned about how money and wealth are made, or accumulated. And the Word is equally concerned about what to do with it. Money is not something that can be avoided. It is part of human life; the exchange of goods and services is part of everyday life. But there is a value to money and wealth more than the numbers on the bills, coins and stock certificates. The value comes from the position we give it in relation to the whole of life. If we live in a society that deems having and possessing as a high value, as a reason for living and working, then all our energy will be focused on finding better ways of having, getting and possessing. Money and wealth are something to be fought for and in the struggle to acquire we slowly lose sight of the methods of how the things are gotten. If convenience and speed are objects worth pursuing, then we will invest much to make that happen. But probably we will lose sight of how it is we are able to have so much at our fingertips when we want it. Amos had a clear vision of things; he saw very well how some people in Israel were getting richer. And he saw quite clearly that it was the poor, the needy, the immigrant, the common laborer who were being taken advantage of.

 What is disturbing about the prophet Amos is that what he sees God sees or better he follows where God is looking. As a true prophet his response is really God’s response, God’s word to what he sees happening in the economic-social arrangement of the day. What is disturbing is that when God sees, then the prophet makes sure we see who and what God sees. God sees those who are affected by the business deals, namely, the poor. And in his seeing God makes it clear on whose side he stands: the side of the needy, the lowly, the poor. The final words of the oracle today should pierce our heart and consciences: Never will I forget what they have done. If our God remembers, then he remembers the victim of other people’s greed and selfishness, the exploited. He remembers if a land is raped to make someone else rich. We are called upon today to hear the Word of God through Amos so that we do not forget where our God stands. Not only does he stand with the poor, but he stands with them because they have become the victims of injustice, of an imbalance in human relationships. God sees and understands what the poor see and experience. Those living by the covenant of God, you and I, are meant to find ourselves seeing with the eyes of God and become part of restoration of the use of this world’s goods and wealth. Jesus and the Kingdom are precisely how God remembers the exploited.

 Jesus tells a parable today that is strange by all accounts. How a manager or steward who decides to reduce his master’s debts actually gets commended for his cleverness in spite of the fact that he was caught squandering the master’s property. The question inevitable arises is Jesus condoning playing around with someone else’s property? Thinking about that doesn’t get too far. But what seems certain is that both the steward and the master come to the conclusion that wealth isn’t everything, or money isn’t everything. Having more wheat and oil is not the highest value. Managing property in such a way as to squeeze the last drop or penny out of it suddenly seems to be questioned. The irony is that the steward only comes to realize this when he is about to loose his job. And the master recognizes this change too, even if it seems that it is at his expense. The point seems to be that money and acquiring goods will not necessarily earn you friends that are faithful. Relinquishing someone’s debts may make you a more welcome human being. Forgiveness will make for a stronger human bond than a demand for what is owed in material goods.

 Jesus is not above using shady characters or less than likeable people and situations to speak about God and his Kingdom. It is Jesus’ power as a story teller that he can use the most human situations, filled with ambiguity and even bad ethics, to make us sit up and take a look at how God works. The steward-manager may very well have had some leeway in dealing with the master’s property and debts. But one of Jesus’ points is that the man was in a crisis, a deeply personal crisis. He was about to be thrown out into the streets with nowhere to go. In that crisis, he suddenly realizes what he needs to do to be welcomed when his position is terminated. The crisis forces him to act for his own welfare. He created a circle of friends who would be grateful to him for relieving their debt. It is for his clever, or as the text has it, his prudential wisdom, that the rich master commends him.

 Jesus now comments: You children of light, meaning disciples, people of the covenant, you Church members, you should be just as clever when it comes to handling the precious gift of the Kingdom and its riches that have been given to you. All of us have been given something to manage, something of which we are the steward. And for most of us, it may just well be something small, something we would easily over look because it seems insignificant or just routine. But it is precisely how we manage the small thing that will lead us into the fullness of the Kingdom and its wealth. The steward in the parable was clever in this life; ours is to have a wisdom that embraces a larger vision. Jesus knows there is wealth, riches and property in this life; its acquisition may be flawed, deeply flawed. But how we handle wealth, even in its flawed state, will really show how we handle the real wealth of life, spirit and love, both human and divine.

 To be a child of light, and that is our calling and gift, does not mean to run from this world; it means to manage in this world the light, the gift, the love that has its origin in God and has been poured out for us in Christ Jesus, his son. And if it is the wealth of this world that is ours to manage, then we must do as the steward did: share the master’s wealth.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – Abbot Joel

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time- C

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21–23
Colossians 3:1–5, 9–11
Luke: 12:13–21

 “Vanity of vanities,” says the preacher, “vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Its another way of saying point blankly, things are fleeting, fleeting, fleeting. All is passing. Jesus says: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though you may be rich, your life does not consist of possessions. Tonight your life will come to an end and everything you have, whose will it be?”

 The Preacher and Jesus, especially, make it clear that it is possible to get side-tracked on the way. Instead of focusing on the goal of the journey, instead of looking where Christ is, as Paul suggests to the Colossians, we forget the vision of God who holds all things together and is the source of all life. To forget the one into whose image we are being transformed means that we make up our own images; we create our own idols, as Paul says. If we forget the origin of our life and the goal of our life, we become ridden with anxiety. One consequence of that is to start grabbing at anything. And then to keep on grabbing at what we think to give meaning to our life.

 Wisdom and common sense tell us to plan ahead of we want to save ourselves some grief. Preparation is an important part of life. On the other hand, wisdom tells us that death is the great leveling factor. Jesus parable makes that very clear. And we are fools if we think our great preparations are going to save us in the end. We are fools if we think we can somehow or other live without death or hold it off at our will till we enjoy what we have grabbed at.

 It is clear especially in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus is hard on acquiring material goods. This is not because material reality is sinful or evil. Not at all. What is at stake here is the relationship between material goods, the wonderful harvest of the man in the parable, and the one who claims to posses it. Possession of material things can never become the sole activity and reason for our existence if we wish to remain true to the fundamental relationships God has inaugurated in the world and human society.

 Within humanity’s desire to own things is a search for identity. We need things in order to live; they are an aid to becoming human. It is the development of the human person that remains the ultimate goal. The goods of the world are to serve that goal. To hoard the world’s goods is an indication that one has shifted from acknowledging the true course of one’s very being. It also prevents others from growing into their full humanity.

 What Jesus teaches in the little parable today is that it is possible for us humans to shift our values around. Instead of being served in our formation process by the good things of the earth, we end up serving them. Possessions can posses us. We can all too easily opt into a value system that claims that the constant acquiring of new and many material goods in any form is the sole criteria that guides our choices. The parable serves to illustrate that such a way of living in the world, such a way of making the human journey is really a commitment to emptiness, to vanity of vanities, as Qoheleth says. What we perceive as making us permanently happy is really from another view point, quite fleeting, quite passing.

 The Kingdom is not a matter of acquiring let alone let alone hoarding. It is not about more and having more. The Greek word for greed is pleonexia; it translates simply “having more.” That is not the goal of human life in the Kingdom. Isn’t it rather a matter of living with, of joining what we find around us? Isn’t it a matter of allowing what we discover as we journey, both people and things, to help us in putting on the new self?

 If Jesus makes it clear that we are not happy when conforming ourselves to the things and goods of this world, then to what are we to be conformed? From whom are we to receive our identity that will free us from the need to have more, liberate us from the sense of incompleteness? For you and I who gather on the first day of the week that new self, that source of identity is not something we create and not something that we acquire and then store up. Our self, our identity is always a gift. The striking feature of the man in the parable is that he assumed center stage. The language is all about “I.” The harvest was all about him, the building of bigger and more barns was about him. There is no sense of God or neighbor.

 The image we strive for us, the new self, is given to us in Christ. And for us to be complete, we must acknowledge our humanity to be given to us through him. Our task is not the gathering up on our terms. As though the more we have the more or better we are. It is more a process of surrendering, of stripping off the old so as to receive from the Father the fullness of who we are. Jesus makes it clear, what we think is ours is not ours. To be a member of the kingdom is not about having and gaining because that having will pass; it is fleeting. Membership in the kingdom is about sharing; it is about welcoming the blessing and then passing it on for others. That must characterize the identity of members of the Kingdom, Christians.

 Jesus refused to mediate legal rights or property inheritance. What he does not refuse to mediate is our humanity and humanity’s true inheritance in God. He offers that to us as the real riches, the real inheritance that God wishes to share. Real riches are not the things we gather up as leverage against the final day or for using to eating, being merry and drinking now. Real riches are a gift from the Father. The real wealth is that we are already the Father’s image in the world. Believing in Jesus is to have the assurance that this image will not be lost, our identity is always being offered to us. It is a permanent gift to the world in the risen Christ.

 When the wisdom writer says all is vanity, all is fleeting, all is passing, he is not saying life is meaningless. What he is saying is what Jesus says; remain focused on the real riches that count: God, neighbor, creation and the love and Spirit that hold them together. They come from above and they will not disappear. Invest in those relationships and your inheritance will be great indeed. And in Christ, death will not take it from you.

 St. Paul’s Abbey
4 August 2013

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – Abbot Joel

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

2 Samuel 12:7–10, 13
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36–8:6

 The gospel story we have just heard shows us again Jesus’ preference for the marginalized, the weak, the ones we quickly call sinners. The way the story is told we cannot escape noticing and feeling where God’s favor and direction lie. In fact the story is so powerful a statement about God’s love and forgiveness that we are almost forced to find ourselves in one of the two main characters. The simple parable about the two debtors lies at the heart of the matter; we become part of the story and in the end we are forced to identify with one of the two debtors: we are either Simon the Pharisee or the woman of the city, a known sinner—though it never says exactly how she is a sinner.

 The key to identifying ourselves in the story at large and in the parable is how much we love in response to being forgiven. The issue here is not whether I love or not. The issue is not whether I am a kind, generous person, loving my neighbor. The issue is do I recognize myself as the sinner who has experienced God’s love in such a way that now I love much because God has offered me forgiveness. Am I willing to see myself as a debtor who has found someone who can release me from my debt? And in return that release has freed in me an outpouring of extravagant love toward my creditor. I have been loved by God so much that I extend to him my tears, my kiss and embrace and my ointment because he is so precious to me.

 Simon invites Jesus for a meal because he sees in Jesus a social equal, someone who is at least as zealous for observance of the law as he is. In the society of Jesus day, you only share food with equals. So the company Jesus finds himself in is an all male group reclining around a table. It is obvious that the meal was not quite a private event as it was known in the city that Simon was entertaining the Rabbi Jesus. Of course there was no doubt that one goal of the invitation was to make Simon look good in front of his peers. He assumes that Jesus is a prophet or at least thought of as one by others and so Simon is thrilled to have a prophet at his table.

 This lovely meal tableau, so well planned and organized from a social status point of view, is shattered by the unexpected, at least from Simon’s point of view.  A woman of the city and a known sinner crashes the meal, so to speak. What shocks him is that Jesus takes no offense. Simon assumes that Jesus should be offended because of the woman’s extravagance and touch—but Jesus is not offended at all. All the gestures of the woman cause Simon to question whether Jesus is really who he claims to be, namely a prophet of God, and remains firm in his conviction that the woman’s behavior is born out of her sinfulness.

 Jesus reads the woman and Simon differently. Jesus sees the woman’s gestures as a sign of something deep within her, namely a love responding to being loved in the form of forgiveness. Jesus sees the woman’s great love welling up from an overwhelming sense of knowing herself forgiven. He wonderfully allows the woman to be herself. He allows her tears, her hair, her wonderful ointment and her kisses and touch. All signs of a woman’s love. Perhaps Simon wants to read all that as womanly seduction but Jesus accepts her outpouring as a gesture of the heart. And so he affirms that her sins are forgiven. He affirms her freedom from the past; he confirms her release from debts.

 Simon has invited Jesus to his table to share a meal with him. Simon is honored and proud to host the prophet of God. But the prophet of God comes from the world of God and his kingdom. And in that kingdom those who rightfully belong at the table are those whom God has interacted with and offered release namely  sinners and those outside. These are the people who know how to give thanks; these are the people who have experienced God’s love poured over them like anointment that heals and gives dignity; these are the people whose tears God has seen and heard and has transformed those tears into a water that cleanses and renews. He has dried their tears with his consolation and acceptance.

 Simon wants to judge those who are not at his table. He wants to label them: “what kind of woman is this who dares to touch a man in public”. In turn God offers no judgment but rather acceptance. God accepts those who reach out to touch him, those who want to love him with a kiss and ointment. These are the people who will have communion at God’s table. These are the people who seem to know who Jesus really is: the one who brings forgiveness, who releases from past behavior and opens the way forward to a new and dignified life.

 Simon’s sin, as it were, is a sin against hospitality. Jesus makes that abundantly clear in his challenge to Simon. He fails to recognize who his guest is. He has labeled the visitor, like he labeled the woman, and so has failed to see Jesus for who he is. As a result Simon misses out on the hospitality that Jesus offers. God has come visiting and with his visit he calls and invites those who are most in need. The woman responds in an extravagant way with an outpouring of love for the gift being accepted at the table. Simon remains, cold, aloof almost loveless.

 The question Jesus asks is a question of love. Who will love the creditor more? The one who recognizes that Jesus is the bearer of forgiveness and love. The one who recognizes that God has come visiting his people precisely to offer them healing and reconciliation. The one will love more the more he or she recognizes that no sin, no debt can completely stand in the way between them and God’s love. The woman loved the more because the woman saw that her sin was not so large that she could not be loved by one greater than she. If we can identify with that, then ours too will be an outpouring of loving gratitude that will look extravagant, wasteful and foolish except to those who also have known that depth of being loved.

 What God leaves to those who accept his love is the same as Jesus told the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Forgiveness, salvation and peace. This is truly the food, the healing, that Jesus offers at his table. Happy and blessed are those who know that the Son of God loved them and gave himself up for them. Like the nameless woman, they will know salvation and peace, shalom. They will leave the table as a new creation.

St. Paul’s Abbey
16 June 2013

Body and Blood of Christ – C Abbot Joel

Body and Blood of Christ – C

Genesis 14:18–20
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
Luke 9:11b–17

 Food and drink. Very ordinary, very simple. Very necessary. Without them we die. Stop eating and drinking and we will soon be having a burial. The word we have just heard is all about food, the ordinary food of that time: bread and wine-fruits of the earth and vine. The priest Melchisedek wants to give thanks for Abraham’s victory and so he brings out food, bread and wine the text says. And Paul reminds the Corinthians of what Jesus left behind his farewell gift, the stuff by which to remember him. And what is it: bread and cup. Ordinary food into which he put himself as it were. This food Jesus left behind would become life, a way of life for those around the table. If food is necessary, then the food of Jesus is necessary for his followers. Otherwise, we are headed for a sure death, death of spirit and body. And finally today our Gospel story of the marvelous scene out in the open deserted country. Many people, and little food. Only 7 pieces of food can be found in the crowd of 5000. Bread and fish, the staple food of a lakeside community and the impossible odds of making such little ordinary food keep alive a crowd of 5000. But in the hands of Jesus and with the blessing from God the food is enough and more.

 Ordinary food and drink, bread and wine, and in the gospel a few fish. Nothing elaborate, nothing special, just ordinary food—and yet in each case a moment of new life and opportunity for staying alive. It is wonderful how Jesus can use the simple things of ordinary life to make his points. A lost sheep, a lost coin, a farmer sowing seeds, a tiny mustard seed, a lost son who comes back to a welcoming father, a servant who is faithful to his master through thick and thin: all language to speak of the Kingdom of God, to speak of where to find God’s activity in the world. Today someone’s supper of 5 loaves and two fish, or a picnic lunch become a moment when God nourishes his new community in a new desert of loneliness and hunger. It is in the simple ordinary things, words and actions that God’s mighty deeds are made known and continue. Jesus speaks a word and people are washed with forgiveness; Jesus touches and someone is healed; Jesus lays his hands on the children and the insignificant, the least, are blessed. Or Jesus eats with the 12 and picks up a loaf of bread and breaks it and shares it, and then says; from now on you will find me with you in the bread and in the cup of spirit-filled wine. Everyday food now filled with a life and power beyond imagining.

 This feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord is a feast about Jesus taking up the ordinary sustenance of human life and transforming it into himself, transforming it into the very means by which we experience God’s sustaining, nourishing and feeding us. The Gospel writers have preserved the story of Jesus feeding thousands in an open deserted place six times, one for each Gospel and twice in 2 gospels. It is the only miracle story that told so many times. Not even the story of Jesus’ death is told so many times. Why is this? What is the fascination of this event? It may simply be that food speaks to us humans in a way that nothing else can. Eating together and sharing food and drink with one another is not only something that keeps the body alive, it is something that keeps the human spirit in us alive. The sharing of food not only binds those who eat together, but hidden in that communion with one another is communion with God himself.

 The numbers in today’s Gospel are significant. It is not just anybody who comes to realize the critical nature of the situation, that it is the end of the day, people are hungry, and there is not much to go around 5 loaves and 2 fish for 5000. It is the Twelve who bring this crisis to the attention of Jesus. It is the Twelve, the 12 leaders of the new community of Israel that are concerned for the needs of the 5000. Here is the leadership of the Church showing concern for the community at large and feeling helpless with what is at hand. Here the new community, like Israel of old, is in the desert and hungry on their journey. And here in this lonely place manna will come again from the hands of God. But the community is not totally helpless. What is new in this desert feeding is that God uses the ordinary food at hand to feed his people. 5+2=7, the number of the days of creation, the number of perfection and wholeness. Creation and we humans come together with God in Jesus and thus the larger community is fed and satisfied. What is essential in this meal is that we share. Jesus invites the 12 to feed the people themselves. Don’t buy; money is not necessarily the way to handle the deep seated hunger of people. Don’t buy, share; you have what you need within you. You think it is a lack and insufficient what you have. But it is not. The feeding story of the people is a meal story where we learn about how to satisfy the hunger of others; we learn something about eating. We share what we have; Jesus takes our sharing and then shows us how to bless God for it and then to break it. We share what we have and from Jesus we learn that the meal is completed only when what is shared is broken.

 In the feeding story there is the number 50. It is the number of the jubilee. We still rejoice when someone reaches 50 years of commitment, marriage, ordination profession. The jubilee time is fulfillment time; a time of rejoicing. For Israel it was a time to rest and to start anew. It was a time of recreating: the earth and soil and human relationships. Jesus is calling the crowd into jubilee time; it sits down and rests; it is being fed and restored. The community will enjoy the jubilee food and rise renewed. It says something about what Jesus is trying to do at our Eucharist. Each Eucharist reminds us of a time of fulfillment; at each Eucharist we too are being made new, re-created by the food that Jesus offers us. Jesus offers us his body; he breaks his body and shares it—we are reminded that we come together as broken pieces because his one body is shared out. Here is a cup he says; in it is a new covenant..in it is a new form of relationship-a relationship between you and me, between you and me and the Father and between yourselves….a people is being formed anew at each offer of our cup.

 The miracle of the sharing of food from little to more than enough, ends with another number, but it is the number that started Jesus off: yes twelve. How many baskets are there at the end? 12 baskets with fragments, pieces left over. What is in the baskets? Pieces, fragments of bread. Are not these 12 baskets ourselves? We are fragments, pieces, yes, but pieces of one the one loaf that was broken and shared. We cannot be discarded and thrown away. The loaves were precious because held by Jesus’ hand for blessing and praise; precious because broken by him. But each broken piece is precious because it belongs to the whole; it is part of the 12, the community Jesus is founding and setting up so that God’s people may continue in time.

 Yes, the feeding story ends with you and I gathered carefully, not forgotten, not thrown away. We are gathered with the 12, held in the community for whom the Lord said this is my body broken, for you. And this is the cup of my blood, poured out for you. The feeding story does not end with leftovers to be fed to others or swept away. The feeding story ends with you and I, now bread in Christ, gathered and collected into the community of the Lord, into his body. We are pieces, broken and precious, held in the basket of his love.

 Yes, ordinary stuff: loaves of bread, hands that break bread so that it satisfies even all humanity, and baskets, to hold what looks like pieces but really is the body of Christ renewed, refreshed and loved by the one who gave his life that we might have life forever.

 Ordinary stuff—this bread and cup, but now extra-ordinary, filled with power, love and life.

Inkamana Abbey
Vryheid, South Africa
2 June 2013


Abbey 2013                  March 21 – PASSING OF OUR HOLY FATHER  BENEDICT

Genesis: 12: 1-4a
Philippians 4:4-9
John 17: 20-26

 At first hearing the Word we have just heard doesn’t seem to have much to do with death or a passage from this world to the next. But the Word can point us in a direction that our thoughts and feelings might take on this first day after the spring equinox as we follow Benedict as he moves from one season of his life to another.

 Abraham. When we listen to his call, we think of our vocation. We reflect on the fact that none of us are living in our home town or even with our home people. We have all left the family and place we are familiar with. And following that call was not necessarily easy, just as it was not easy for Abraham. But Abraham’s call had a blessing attached to it. And it was not a blessing that he would live to see. God asks him to move but he also gives him his word and makes a promise. He will be blessed and he will become a blessing for others. The name Benedict translates as simply “One who is Blessed.”

 Benedict passes from this world to the Father today. But he has left a blessing behind him. If we count the 1500 years of his way of life, then he is surely a happy man to have so many sons and daughters who have lived in the light of his blessing. We can pause to consider the significance of that. We here on this day, from many places on earth that Benedict did not even know about, have been touched by his way of life. Surely he is a happy man for that. But we might ask ourselves, just how have I been blessed in knowing this man and in knowing his way of following the Gospel. Can each of us begin to name the blessing Benedict has bequeathed to us through his life and through his Rule. Is it a way of prayer, a way of prayer founded in God’s word? Is it perhaps the gift of balance in our lives that comes about by following the rhythm of common prayer, work, reading day in and day out? Is it the virtue of patience that has grown in us as we learned to live next to someone of different temperament or style than me? Have I come to know peace in my life because I have been faithful to all that Benedict calls us to? Listening to the call of Abraham sends me back to my roots in this way of Benedict. It asks me to recognize, to appreciate the blessing, the life, the peace that have come to me by being a disciple in Benedict’s school of the Lord’s service.

 Paul’s word to the Philippians and Benedict’s word to his followers. Paul wishes joy and peace for his community. Benedict’s invitation in this prologue is just to those people who are looking also for peace. Benedict has a word and a plan for those whose hearts are looking for wholeness and a rich life. He asks us to seek peace and pursue it. Run after this peace. Run after this blessing that God wishes to give us and does so in abundance at the resurrection of Christ.

 Paul asks his community to imitate him, do what he taught, follow his example. As Benedict passes today from this world to the Father, he also encourages us to do all the things we have learned from him and were taught by him. [We know that what he taught and what we can learn is found in the Rule. The many miracle stories Gregory gives us of Benedict are edifying. They alert us to the fact that he is a holy man. But if we are to follow him, then we best do that by following the Rule. Of course we make a vow to follow the Rule. And we listen to it each day. But all this is to say that we are to be conscious daily of what Benedict is teaching us.] Benedict may pass into the glory of his Master. But Benedict lives to the degree that we find the way to God and a way of serving the Lord Jesus in the word of the Rule. Benedict passes to the Father but leaves a gift in his Rule. We hear what he taught in the Rule. And we are encouraged to do it, to make it our own. The Rule is part of the blessing that Benedict leaves behind. When we follow it, he says we too will become blessed.

 As Paul grew in his mission, it became clearer to him, that he was the message of the Gospel. His life itself with its joys and struggles, with its conformity to Christ, his life was a living Gospel of the cross and resurrection. And we could say he had the nerve, the gall to tell people to imitate it. [But the way of Christ is enfleshed in other human beings and we do well to find such people and to imitate how they live in Christ.] But Paul goes on to say. If you do this, then you will find the God of Peace. Benedict says, if you take up this way of the Gospel as found in my Rule, then peace will be yours. In a world filled with many choices and much to imitate, it comes as a blessing to know there is a way that truly reflects the path of peace God reveals to us in Christ.

 Lastly, we hearing Jesus praying. Perhaps Jesus words are similar to the words of prayer that St. Gregory tells us were on the lips of Benedict in his dying moments. Listening to Jesus we are invited to hear in them what St. Benedict prayed for his own community. What Benedict wishes for us is a place in the great communion that flows between Father and Son. It is a communion that now includes those who believe in the Son. The communion of love that flows between the father and the Son is expanded to all those for whom the Son lived and died.

 What is at the center of St. Benedict’s Rule is Christ. And at the heart of the community is the living Christ. We come to the monastery to live in a community with Christ as the center. We come to accept what Jesus continues to offer, a relationship with him and the Father. At the heart of the community is the great blessing. It is the blessing that the Father loves Jesus and is faithful to him until the end. Jesus in his turn loves us and is faithful to us also. And we live in that love. And our living in that love becomes a blessing to the world around us. [The source of every blessing is the love of Father and Son. As a blessing it is shared with you and I.] To the degree that we live out of the blessing, to that degree do we experience peace. To that same degree do the followers of St. Benedict become a blessing wherever they may be found.

  We give thanks today for God’s Blessing, St. Benedict, who has given us a way to life in the heart of love, the source of Blessing.

Fifth Sunday of Lent C – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2013                                                                       Fifth Sunday of Lent – C

Isaiah 43:16–21
Philippians 3:8–14
John 8:1-11

The Gospel from John we have just heard is often titled “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” At first hearing we might nod our heads in agreement. But really the Gospel is not about the sexual behavior of the woman. It probably received its common title because we might be sensitive or maybe overly sensitive to sexual exploits. And so that word adultery lights up in brilliant colors for us. But the key phrase in the gospel is not adultery but that the scribes and Pharisees wanted to test Jesus and to find a charge against him. The woman is merely a pawn in the machinations of local leaders. There is not much concern for the woman; the concern is Jesus and what he’ll make of this situation. It is a trap. That a woman is caught between men’s games is nothing new, sad to say.

 The story is part of the collection of conflict stories that we find in all the gospels. Religious leaders question Jesus or give him questions and situations to test him. These conflicts often take place in the temple where Jesus is teaching. These conflicts increase the longer Jesus stays in Jerusalem. So too here. Jesus is really the one on trial. His judgment is being put to the test. If Jesus’ says yes, stone her. He is usurping the death penalty which is not for him to administer. He could be considered a revolutionary disturbing Roman rule. If he says she should not be stoned, he contradicts the Mosaic Law and the long standing tradition. He’ll also be considered a hypocrite in front of the people who regard him favorably. He is contradicting is own message of mercy and compassion, indeed, of not judging.

 There is something strange in the story we have. In the Mosaic law both of those caught in adultery should be stoned to death, both the male and the female. But where is the woman’s male partner? Nowhere to be seen. Perhaps. But the stones  at hand are enough for two. So who is the second? Perhaps Jesus is the male for whom the stones are intended. John’s Gospel has made it clear that leaders picked up stones more than once to throw at him. His crime, making himself equal to God, calling God his Father making him Son. Jesus’ act of adultery is bringing the human and divine into contact with one another in an unheard of way. The deeply intimate relationship of Jesus and his Father—that is Jesus’ crime of adultery.

 So how does Jesus answer. He keeps silent and bends over and starts writing on the ground. People have been asking what he is writing. What do you write on a notepad or a blank page when you are bored or when someone is talking on the phone?..talking talking…you doodle, you scribble. So Jesus scribbles while the leaders talk and talk, pushing him up against a wall….we doodle so we have time to think, to let another’s words run dry. There are lots of words in legal books but what is really needed is the ability to read hearts, human hearts. When their words have run out and the silence needed for the right word has matured, then Js stands up and speaks. So Jesus has found the right words: “Let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Instead of watching Jesus doodle away in the sand in the temple courtyard, read what is written in the secret of your own heart. Then Jesus goes down to doodle again…and slowly as each one begins to read what is in their heart, they start to walk away. The eldest first…no doubt they have a long list of things they know and others too-their infidelities piled up over the years. Soon enough everyone who wanted to cast a stone either at the woman or Jesus, the two adulterers, has left. Then Jesus stands up and speaks in human terms to the woman. Jesus merely asks where the accusers are. They’ve gone. They offer no act of condemnation. If he throws a stone at all, it is one of mercy. He offers no judgment. He spends no time rehearsing the woman’s past. He shows concern only for her future. His judgment is a freedom for what is to come: “Go your way and from now on sin no more.” No moralizing lecture; just a command rising from a heart of mercy and compassion. Just a word that allows a new thing to happen for this woman. It was a critical moment for both of them. It appeared they were on trial. But it became a critical moment for their accusers when they realized that they too had something to be ashamed of. Words fell silent. And in that silence mercy blossomed. In the silence and doodling a new thing could come about.

 The word “sin” in the Greek originally meant to miss the mark, to come short of the standard expected.  Not to sin would mean to set one’s sight on the target and goal again and keep focused on it. Don’t miss the goal. Don’t miss your dignity or your hope. The woman had missed the mark, lost sight of the goal. Now she was free to set out again on her life focused in the right direction, following the way laid out by her God. In Jesus God had put something new in front of her, gave her back her dignity and told her to go, go forward from here.

 All three readings today put in front of us God doing something “new”. Isaiah makes it clear that for Israel at the time of her exile in Babylon, the new thing was like the old thing, the Exodus, the passage out of slavery through the water of the Red Sea. But God would now make that wonder not something in the past but rather open up a way into the future. Once it was a way through the waters of the Sea, now it will be a way through the desert back home to Sion. God’s wonders are not in the past alone; past wonders point to a future new way. The community must believe that their God is their future not just their past. The community must believe that the shame of the past will not inhibit God from working with them into a new an unimaginable future.

 It is Paul today who gives us a glimpse of what happened to him when he encountered Christ. A whole new way is opened up for him. The past was great he says. But I have met Christ and now the past is rubbish in comparison to meeting him. I now journey with him but it not always easy; it involves his cross. But it is only in that cross that I can move forward. It is the Christian paradox: only in Christ’s shame, his condemnation can I move forward.

 I am running a race says Paul and I have not yet won. I’ve not arrived-but when I do then the resurrection will capture me completely. What is new for Paul is not that he has found Christ but that Christ has possessed him and now there is nothing more he can do but run until that possession unfolds into resurrection. God opened the way for Israel through the desert, causing water to spring up; Christ possessed Paul and now he runs towards his goal. Jesus transformed a woman’s shame into an opportunity for her to move forward toward her proper goal. She met Jesus in a moment of shame and he changed it to an opportunity for honor.

 And today if these readings recall anything, they remind us that God is not finished with his people of old, his Church today or with you and me. Lent is not about lamenting the past; there is no beating the breast in the Word today. There is only the wonder of God acting again, setting us toward our goal, a goal that Paul says is always upwards toward Christ Jesus in his fullness.