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Sunday, July 06, 2014

July 6, 2014 - 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Zechariah 9.9-10
Second Reading:
Romans 8:9-13
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 11.25-30

Today, I'm going to talk about the two themes the Gospel raised for me. They are a childlike open heart and surrender. These themes are counter-cultural to the popular thinking of our society. Our culture is full of messages like “stand on your own two feet” and “just get over it.” Often people who say these things think they have all the answers until something in their lives brings them almost to their knees. I say “almost” because many of us call on God only as a last resort, while not fully believing that God will help.

The Gospel is giving us a different message. In an earlier part of Matthew 11, today's chapter, Jesus asks ‘to what will I compare this generation? He says, “It is like children shouting to others as they sit in the market-place, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'” Jesus is describing a society where, people have become immune to the feelings of the other.

Jesus then says that people said John the Baptist was possessed because they did not see him eating or drinking. Yet, they called Jesus a glutton, a drunk and a friend of unsavoury characters when the saw him eating and drinking with people. Here, Jesus is describing a society where people are too quick to judge the actions of the other in a negative light.

The wisdom modelled by our political leaders--and-- some of our religious leaders is characterized by apathy, competition, and a lack of compassion. They act as if their power is derived from exploitation and a pronounced disregard for the well-being of the other. They feel they know what is best for everyone and see themselves as wise and powerful.

But in today's Gospel reading, Jesus prayer of thanksgiving tells us that God has hidden from the wise and the intelligent was as been revealed to infants. In other words, God is revealed through an open heart, through a heart as open as that of a child. To paraphrase Sufi mystic, (Hazrat Inayat Khan), a child has enmity against no one, has no hatred, no malice. A child's heart is open. [A child is not concerned with power or judgement or the exploitation of others.] It is in the child that you can see the smiles of angels. When when we acquire these attributes of children, heaven is created within us. When, with this understanding, we develop the loving tendencies of children and a purity of heart with the desire to be friendly to all -- that is the opening of the heart.

An child-like open heart is what the first part of today's gospel is about. The second part involves surrender. The first step in AA provides an example of surrender. In it, one admits they are powerless over alcohol and their lives have become unmanageable. In place of alcohol, one could substitute, gambling, shopping, working, or any other compulsive behaviour, including religious scrupulosity.

Now, in my case, I knew I was an alcoholic but also was under the delusion that I was a functional alcoholic and managing my life quite well. I thought I could depend on my own will-power to tackle this alcohol thing. But to quote a phrase from pop culture, namely Blade III, “sooner or later, the thirst always wins.” As a last resort, I had to surrender to the fact that I was not in control of my life. I realized that only God could help me get my life back on track. I had to admit I was powerless and surrender myself into God's care.

In today's gospel, Jesus is telling us, God should not be our last resort but our first. He is inviting us to entrust ourselves into His care, when he says, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The invitation also calls us to be Christ to one another; that's one meaning of, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When we are Christ to each other and all our relations, the yoke of responsibility is eased and the burden becomes lighter for everyone.

I'm going to end this homily starter with a question for you. You can respond now out loud or just ponder it silently. The question is: What activity, attitude or practice helps your retain or would help you recapture a childlike heart?

8 June 2014 - Pentecost Sunday

First Reading:
Acts 2.1-11
Second Reading:
1 Corinthians 12.3b-7. 12-13 (12.3-13)
Gospel Reading:
John 20.19-23

Once we have been touched by the Spirit, we are changed.

The first reading recounts that the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages. Some people in the crowd asked, “how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” In the verse directly following today's reading, we are told, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine,'” meaning, they're drunk.

I remembered this last verse and looked it up to make sure, because I was reflecting on Pentecost as the birthday or inauguration of the church. As I reflected, I thought that gifts of the Spirit were not just bestowed upon the Apostles but upon all who were present that day. But as with all gifts of God, when our hearts are open and receptive we can receive them.

And so I wondered, did those who sneered and thought the Apostles were drunk, only hear gibberish? Were their hearts closed and non-receptive, so that they could not understand the words of the Apostles like the others? Did they think that God's self-revelation was finished and the suggestion of anything new was not worth hearing or were they just unwilling to change their lives by following the gospel? In other words, did they refuse to receive the Spirit? Because, once we have been touched by the Spirit, we are changed.

So in a sense, those who heard the Apostles in their own languages, represent those of us all over the world, all throughout time, who open their hearts to receive the gifts of the Spirit. In the second reading, Paul tells us the Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts from the variety of gifts and services that God makes available to us. God activates these gifts, these manifestations of the Holy Spirit in each of us, to be used for the common good.

The Holy Spirit does not limit her gifts to Christians or to people of faith but bestows them on everyone. These gifts are limited only by our refusal to accept and use them. The Metro Vancouver Alliance provides an excellent example of collaboration between people from different Christians denominations, from different faiths and people who would say they have no faith. They build relationships over and across individual and group differences. While some would put it this way and some would not, this collaboration allows them to put their gifts of the Spirit to use for the common good.

Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit after he returned to God is also meant for us. So as we celebrate and commemorate the Day of Pentecost, perhaps we should also remember, as we are strengthened and transformed with the Spirit's gifts, we, in turn, are sent to strengthen and transform our world. Like his promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' commission, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”, was also meant for all his disciples, including us.

Those are a few of my thoughts. I'll conclude with something borrowed from another tradition, which seems appropriate for Pentecost and say, “Namaste”, the Spirit within me greets the Spirit within you. Amen.

Please add your thoughts.