Sunday, October 25, 2015

“veritas liberabit vos”

As I slipped on my University class ring I was immediately drawn to the inscription which read, “veritas liberabit vos”. I had spent a lot of time and money on my education and I was not going to wear a ring which had a motto that I did not understand, so I looked up the Latin words which translated, “The Truth Shall Set You Free.”

Of course there was no Google in those days and my translation made no reference to the Biblical text from John’s Gospel. It made sense to me that this ring—a symbol of academic accomplishment—referred to the knowledge I had received during my years of study, not the truth of the Gospel.

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The Jews did not understand that the bonds that chained them were the bonds of sin.  And they did not understand that Jesus' word was the key to releasing them from their bondage.

We understand this only a little more than the disciples understood, but our bondage to sin is just as real as theirs. What holds us back? What poisons our relationship with God?  The world offers many distractions which draw us away from the mind and will of God and leave us lost in the wasteland of wealth and possessions. To find our way out we must exercise our spiritual muscle by becoming the disciples Jesus calls us to be.  We need responses to the call of our world and its culture. We need responses which can only be found in the pages of the Bible where Jesus’ word lives and instructs us.

Father Mark+

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What are you doing for others?

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is,
 'What are you doing for others?”M.L. King, Jr.

I was well into my thirty’s when I came to a better understanding of King’s famous quote. Most people I knew growing up—some of my family, friends, and acquaintances—had a misconception of what King was urging people to do. In my community there wasn’t a lot of support for King’s admonition to help others in making the world a better place. No one wanted to be a nurse aboard the Mercy Ship, to teach an illiterate person to read, or mow the lawn of the woman who lived down the street whose husband died last summer. After all, I had an Aunt and Uncle that lived on an eighty-acre farm who barely survived the Farm Bureau policies on land-use and crop rotation.  My Uncle was forced to take a second job at the 3M factory in order to make it from one growing season to the next. I knew people who needed the assistance of others and they were not getting anything—from government or otherwise. It was people like these who needed help.

King’s message wasn’t about handouts, charity, or income re-distribution. King the theologian properly read the gospel as a message for service. We are made to be in relationship and we discover our wholeness only as we join ourselves to the fortunes of those around us—preparing a meal for a family who has lost a loved you, providing a ride to church to someone who can no longer drive themselves, growing vegetables for the community food bank.

We don’t have to go to Africa to find an opportunity to serve others, but we could.  We cannot turn our backs on those less fortunate that us, in effect saying to them, “Why don’t you get a job and feed yourself.” And we shouldn’t default to government policies and agencies to provide subsidized housing, food stamps, or low-cost child care.

I know that lots of people spend their lives scamming the system, but that doesn’t mean we can turn our backs on everyone because some are cheating. In doing so we are cheating ourselves out of the blessings of service.  The greediness of society, evidenced in the widening gap between rich and poor, is evidence of whom we really serve. This gospel lesson is another call to mature faith, to grow up into the fullness of Christ.

Like Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.”

Father Mark+

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Passing through the eye of a needle

I’ve always thought that the reference to passing through the needle’s eye referred to a small passageway through the main gate of the City of Jerusalem which was left open at night so that travelers might have access to the City, but not access so open that it might be exploited by invading armies seeking to sack the City while the residents slept.  Modern scholarship disputes this interpretation as being false—such a gate did not exist in the time that the Gospels were written.

Which is fortunate for the sake of this teaching, because the response of the rich young man was he became sad and he was not willing to do what Jesus asked of him, because he had wealth and was unwilling to give it up.

We often think that our objectives can be achieved by “doing something”:  say more prayers, care for the poor, take up your cross, or sell your possessions. These are some of the go-to responses to Jesus.  But then we are left with, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The truth of the matter is simply this, we cannot earn our inheritance, and we cannot earn God’s grace.  Both are gifts which we can only accept or reject. In fact, an inheritance can only be received when someone dies. And our status as children of God became real with the death of Jesus on the cross. God’s grace freely given—but the cost is not cheap.

Father Mark+