Archive for February, 2021

Transfiguration of the Lord 2-28-2021

Saturday, February 27th, 2021

There once was a king whose greatest desire was to gain absolute
power over every square inch of his kingdom. He had succeeded in
removing all obstacles to his complete control except one; the people
still put their ancient God above the king. The king summoned his three
wisest advisors to find a way to put an end to such worship. “Where,”
asked the king, “where might the people’s God be hidden and so be
made to vanish from their lives and cease to challenge my rule?”
The first advisor suggested hiding the God at the summit of the
highest mountain. “No,” said the king, “The people would abandon
their homes and climb the highest mountain to search for their God.”
The second advisor proposed hiding the people’s God at the
bottom of the sea. But the king rejected the idea as well; “The people
would probe the ocean’s depth to find their God,” he said.
Finally the third wisest advisor, a wrinkled and bent old man,
spoke his advice in a hoarse whisper. “O mighty king,” he said, “hide
the people’s God somewhere in their everyday lives. They will never find it!”
This third trusty advisor understood who we are! God is hidden,
but not in some remote, faraway spot. God is right here in our everyday
lives. Yet we rarely see God and rarely recognize God’s presence. All
too often we fear that we are walking alone and we dread that our
journey may have no destination, may be just a long walk to nowhere.
All too often we are deaf and blind to God. So it is for us – doubting
and weary travelers – that Jesus was transfigured and, just for a moment,
shone along like the sun on top of that mountain. And it is to us, the
blind and the deaf, that God is speaking through that stunning event.
And what is God saying? “I am with you always, walking at your
side. And your name is written on the palm of my hand. If you listen
carefully, you’ll see that I am here. So watch and listen!”
It takes time to learn how to listen attentively and respectfully to
everyday life. It takes time to learn how to hear what’s really going on
around us and to see what’s always been right under our nose. It does
take time, but if we persist in paying respectful attention to everyday life, very slowly we’ll begin to catch a glimpse of God when we look at a rose; we’ll begin to feel the nearness of God in the cool evening
breeze; we’ll begin to hear God’s voice echoing inside the voice of a
friend. And we’ll begin to know the warmth of God’s presence as we
hold a newborn child.
The road we walk is a long one, often rough, and sometimes
dangerous. But God desires that none of us walk that road alone. God
desires that at every moment of every day we have the comfort, the
strength, and the delight of divine company. A friendship that is ours for
the taking.
I came across a poem by an 11 year old girl who does a very good
job of recognizing God in her everyday life:
“I saw Jesus last week. He was wearing blue
jeans and an old shirt. He was up at the church
building; He was alone and working hard.
For just a minute he looked a little like one of our
members. But it was Jesus…I could tell by his smile.
I saw Jesus last Sunday. He was teaching a Bible class.
he didn’t talk real loud or use long words. But you
could tell he believed what he said. For just a minute, he looked like my Bible teacher. But it was Jesus…I could tell by his loving voice.
I saw Jesus yesterday. He was at the hospital visiting a friend
who was sick. They prayed together quietly. For
just a minute he looked like Mr. Jones.
But it was Jesus…I could tell by the tears in his eyes.
I saw Jesus this morning. She was in my kitchen making
my breakfast and fixing me a special lunch. For just a
minute she looked like my Mom.
But it was Jesus…I could feel the love from her heart.
I see Jesus everywhere. Taking food to the sick…
Welcoming others home. Being friendly to a newcomer…
and for just a minute, I think he’s someone I know.
But it’s always Jesus…I can tell by the way Jesus serves.”

Do We Need Lent? 2-21-2021

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

Someone asked me, do we need Lent? A good question.
There was a time, of course, when all Christians thought they
didn’t need Lent. After all, they had been baptized; they were filled with
the Holy Spirit and lived life quite differently from the pagans. The first
real Lenten people were not Christians, but those preparing to become
Christians. But all of that changed when the old-timers in the Christian
community noticed something remarkable at the Easter baptism. They
were struck by the joy and the radiant faces of those just baptized. They
realized that they had become too ho-hum in their faith and decided to
do something about it. And so, the next year, some Christians began to
join the catechumens in their preparation for baptism at Easter. They did
this so that they could feel once again the joy of rebirth at Easter. And
that’s how Lent gradually came to the church, out of need.
The liturgy for this First Sunday of Lent focuses on a need that
Jesus had before he began to save the world. Even though he had just been baptized and was “full of the Holy Spirit,” he felt a need to go into
the desert. In the desert Jesus realized who he was and what he was
called to do. But in the desert, Jesus learned that God cannot be bought
and that life is more than bread or fleeting moments of magic and glory.
One Ash Wednesday, a few years ago, while I was wondering how
to face another Lent, I received a phone call from a former player I
coached. He was now a struggling graduate student. The young man was
crying out for help. When I got to his apartment, I found a tortured
person, filled with self-doubt and booze. Eventually, I got him to go to
his first AA meeting. But even though he was an alcoholic, he told me
that he couldn’t go back to another AA meeting because, “I’m not like
those people.” I’ve never forgotten that line, “I’m not like those people.”
It taught me that the first temptation to avoid is to convince yourself that
somehow you are different, that you don’t share the pain of life, that you
don’t need to go into the desert.
The early Christians, even though they were baptized and
convinced of their importance, learned from the desert experience of Lent that they too were in need of renewal and of finding out who they were and who God was calling them to be. Jesus, just baptized by John
and “full of the Holy Spirit,” went into the desert and came out with a
gospel and a firm faith in his Father that he would take to Cavalry.
My young friend was wrong. We are like those people who share a
common struggle and a common pain. We are all driven by some
doubts. We sometimes make choices about the most important events of
our lives without reflection, without faith, without prayer, without God.
We cannot force Lent upon ourselves. Each of us must find a need for it,
a need to go into the desert and face both our gifts and our limits, a need
to face ourselves, our demons, our God. For those who ask the question,
do we need Lent? Trust me – we do! Let’s go into the desert together
and see what we find.

GOD’s Absolute Love 2-14-2021

Friday, February 12th, 2021

I remember some years ago Bishop Fulton had a prime time
TV show opposite Milton Berle every Wednesday night. One
night he told about his visit to an African leper colony. He had
brought along a supply of little silver crucifixes so he would have
something special to give to each of the 500 lepers in the camp.
The first leper he met had only the stumps of his left arm. And his
right arm and hand were covered with ugly, open sores. Sheen
took one of the little crucifixes, held it a few inches above the
leper’s hand, and then let it drop into him palm.
In a flash, he was struck by what he’d done. “All at once”,
he said, “I realized there were 501 lepers in the camp, and the most
leprous of them all was myself. I had given a crucifix—the
symbol of God’s absolute love for all of us—but then I had pulled
back and closed my eyes to what the symbol implied for me. So I
looked again very hard at that little crucifix, and I knew what I had
to do. I pressed by hand to the leper’s hand with the symbol of love between us, and then I proceeded to do that for all of the
remaining 499 lepers”!
None of us, thank God, are lepers. But there’s not one of us,
if we are honest, whose heart hasn’t been wounded or even broken
many times, not one of us who doesn’t need healing. So it is to all
of us that Jesus is speaking by his actions in Sunday’s gospel. In
stretching out his hand, touching that leper and healing him, Jesus
is telling us—once again—that God does love us all no matter how
damaged or broken we are. He’s telling us that no matter how bad
we have been, our God will always be there for us, always be
waiting for us to open our hearts so God can heal us.
That’s the first half of Jesus’ message, but there’s more. In
addition to what God wants to do for us, there’s the matter of what
God wants us to do for one another. And it turns out to be exactly
the same thing; we are to become healers too, healers of one
another. That sounds wonderful, but how do ordinary, wounded
people like us become healers? Very simply by remembering how our own wounds feel and remembering what we need when we are broken. What we would like, of course, is a quick fix for our
wounds, but what we need is a friend who will reach out just as
Jesus did, take us by the hand, when our hand isn’t looking so
good, and walk through the darkness with us and not let go of us
halfway!
If that is what we need as we try to walk through our hurts
and losses, it is also exactly what our brothers and sisters need.
And it is something each of us can give.
Here is a real life example of what I am talking about.
Some years ago, an old man collapsed on a busy street corner
in downtown Brooklyn. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him
to Kings County Hospital. There he kept calling his son.
A nurse found a dog-eared letter in the man’s wallet. From it
she learned that his son was a marine stationed in North Carolina.
That night an anxious marine showed up at the hospital.
Immediately, the nurse took him to the old man’s bedside.
The man was heavily sedated. And so the nurse had to tell him several times, “Your son is here! Your son is here!” Finally, the old man opened his eyes. He could barely make
out his son, but he recognized his marine uniform. At that point,
the son took his father’s hand and held it lovingly.
For the rest of that night, the marine sat at the man’s bedside.
Occasionally, he patted the man’s hand and spoke to him tenderly.
Several times the nurse urged the marine to take a break and
get something to eat or drink. But he refused.
Toward dawn, the old man died.
When the nurse extended her sympathy to the young man, the
marine said, “Who was that man?”
“Wasn’t he your father?” the nurse asked.
“No, he wasn’t”, said the marine. “I never saw him before in
my life”.
“Why didn’t you say something?” said the nurse.
“I would have”, said the marine, “but I could see that he was
too sick to realize I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was
slipping fast and needed a son. So, I decided to become that son”. Ordinary—wounded people can do things like this marine
did for the old man. Extend a hand of friendship and help someone
walk through the darkness to a new day.
Jesus did it—this marine did—we are asked to do the same.
Lord Help Us!
Toward dawn, the old man died.
When the nurse extended her sympathy to the young man, the
marine said, “Who was that man?”
“Wasn’t he your father?” the nurse asked.
“No, he wasn’t”, said the marine. “I never saw him before in
my life”.
“Why didn’t you say something?” said the nurse.
“I would have”, said the marine, “but I could see that he was
too sick to realize I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was
slipping fast and needed a son. So, I decided to become that son”