All Saints’ – Children’s sermon: Superheroes and Saints

Who are those superheroes?
Can you name them?
What do we love about them?

I like Captain Marvel! She is determined and intuitive and I wish I could be more like her (and look like that)! She is also a bit impulsive…

Some superheroes aren’t that perfect…Yet what we love about them is that they want to fight evil, to help people in need, and they give their lives for a greater cause. They don’t just think about themselves. They give time and energy, and sometimes they risk their lives to save others or even to save the world!

There is more to life for them than what we do /look for in ordinary life: Buying stuff, eating food, being popular (they often have enemies / flee the crowds) or having fun. Superheroes try to help people / save the world and so they do dangerous stuff, they get wounded, they have to leave people they love, their families to fight monsters.

Yet they also are ordinary people, they have a day job (like Superman), or they make a lot of stupid mistakes (Iron man). People generally don’t notice them in everyday life. They are like you and me, and yet they can become very powerful and do extraordinary things.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a superhero?

Good news! Jesus wants you to become a superhero.

Today in the Gospel that’s what he talks about. About us being called by God to become superheroes. As Christians we talk about “Saints” – special people.

Do you know these Saints? What they did? Saints from the past / more recent Saints.

Saints: Aureole / circle of light around the head. See that in pictures. Like the super heroes. There is something about that in certain people, they shine. They’re beautiful and attractive even if they don’t look like what we expect a beautiful person to look like. We can feel their goodness / aura.
Their goodness and closeness to God reflect on themselves and benefit others.

We look up to them, but we shouldn’t just dream of being like them b/c we can be like them and we can work on making that happens and how? This is what Jesus talks about to his disciples today.

Jesus looked at his friends and told them:

God is with you if you stay simple, and everything that belongs to God will belong to you too.
God is with you if you don’t think only about what you are going to have for dinner
God is with you if you don’t only think about having fun
if sometimes you feel sad and lonely, it’s okay too.

It does not mean you’re a loser if your friends, or even some adults, aren’t nice to you or ignore you
or even hurt you – especially when you try your best to do good.
There are a lot of people who felt like you, who were not popular, or maybe who felt unloved,
yet they were really great in the eyes of God.
So you have a reason to be happy even when you cry.

In fact, those who have plenty of stuff, and spend their time stuffing themselves
with everything they like
and who just want to have fun, especially by making fun of others…
Well, God is not so happy with what they do!
And in the end all those things won’t make them very happy themselves –
especially when they are popular and use their popularity to bully those who try to do their best.

But you, if you want to do great and be a friend of God, don’t do like what they do:

If you want to be God’s friend:
Be a friend when others aren’t friendly and pray for them,
Don’t fight with those who don’t like you and especially don’t try to hurt them back
the way they hurt you
If somebody needs something and you can share what you have with them,
then do it

If you want to have friends, then start by acting like a friend to everybody.

What is important to us maybe is not that important to God:

We spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to buy / buy nice things.
Or what we want to eat / candy, burgers…
We spend a lot of time trying to find new things to do, exciting things to do. We avoid those who aren’t happy. We spend a lot of time trying to be popular with fun people.

Yet Jesus tells us we are not necessarily going to find God in all those places, and so maybe for a while it will feel good – to have nice food, nice stuff, be popular and have fun – but in the end, it won’t feel that great because it won’t bring us any closer to God.

Jesus wants us to be blessed: close to God. Like the superheroes, Jesus wants us to do something that matters so we can be proud of ourselves and help others and save the world with him! In little things and in great things…Each of us is like a drop in the ocean but the ocean is made of drops! We can be together a stream that waters the earth and changes the world. To this together: All Saints.

Jesus today says that to be a superhero / a saint, it starts with simple things – he says:
Share your stuff, don’t bully people or take revenge even if they hurt you, don’t fight (back) / don’t hurt others the way they hurt you, pray for those who aren’t nice. Be a friend.

It looks easy, but it can be hard! Jesus does not want us so much to become superheroes with our muscles, or even with our brains, but with our hearts – to be super powerful with our hearts – even if we’re not perfect! Saints are superheroes of the heart – People like you and me who are able to live their lives in loving very sincerely and very deeply (People we knew who were like that – Pictures on the table). We remember people who loved us and whom we loved.

And the wonder is that we can all love in a special way – God has given us something unique we can share with the world / to make others happy / to help them. It does not matter what we do if we do it for the good reason, to love. In church, everybody has a special gift and instead of using it just for themselves, to make money for example, they use it for others and for God: And you, what are your superpowers? How are you going to use them?

Pentecost 19

So we continue in this section of Luke caught between Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah / the Transfiguration and Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and the recounting of his passion, death and resurrection. In this portion, we have a long list of stories Jesus taught on the road, in the different places where he met with people: Everyday people, but also pharisees, scribes, lawyers…Sometimes, like today, we also find Jesus teaching more specifically to his disciples, those who wanted to follow him more closely, enter into a deeper relationships with God.

And we go back to the topic of prayer – One of the major themes in Luke. We talked this summer about the Lord’s prayer and, if you remember, there was this little story of the man banging on the door of a friend in the middle of the night, begging for bread, and how the friend would finally open, if not because he really wanted to help, b/c of the bother it was, b/c of the other man’s insistence. As a conclusion, Jesus pointed out the fact that if even us, who are evil, are able to give good things to those who ask, how much more God, who is good, would answer our prayers.

Well, it seems today that we have a variation on the same theme. A teaching about prayer using another story about boldness and persistence in asking – and about how people end up granting some requests, not necessarily b/c they’re good, but b/c they’re tired. And then Jesus compares those people who finally grant requests to God.

We’ve just heard the story of a widow seeking justice against her opponent, and having to go again and again to an unjust judge who refuses to help her b/c he has no respect for people and does not fear God. We know that widows were vulnerable at Jesus’s time, having no man to provide for their needs and to protect them. They were ignored. Unexpectedly though, in the story, this powerless woman wins over the judge b/c she carries on, she is persistent when the man is probably just lazy and self centered. He finally grants her request b/c he is tired. And so, Jesus asks, if the unjust judge finally helps the widow, why would not God, who is just, answer those who ask for justice?

Well, first of all we can notice that this is a good story b/c it sounds very real, even in the world we live in. I think a lot of us, like this widow, have to fight from time to time and get up early in the morning to obtain justice. And you know how hard it can be, if you’ve ever had to fight with the DMV, the immigration, social security or health insurance…A few years ago, I had to see a specialist, and although my treatment should have been covered, I had to make countless phone calls and send forms again and again to my health insurance b/c obviously there was always something missing that would prevent them from sending me my check. And speaking about administrative errands, I can’t even begging to tell you what it took to obtain a green card b/c I don’t have an hour to preach!

The idea is that in life, we find ourselves needing to be perseverent if we want to obtain what we need. We have to stand for ourselves, to trust that our cause is worth it, that we’re worth it, to trust that we’re right, even when we feel crushed, or just ignored, by the system. Sometimes, to obtain that we need, it feels like going to war. Even if there are no weapons, it can be a psychological war to not give up against those who deny our rights, to wear them out with our insistence. These are times when we need to be to be tough like the widow of the story.

And so, using this example taken from daily life, Jesus goes on to prayer life. Making a parallel between the widow’s interaction with the judge / and prayer – when we also try to obtain what we need from God. And it seems that Jesus says that indeed, we also need to be perseverent with God in order to be answered.

Well, actually there are a lot of expressions around prayer that use terms that incite us to think that prayer is a spiritual combat, that we have to fight, to become prayer warriors. Maybe you have seen this movie about prayer life called: “The war room” as a reference to this place inside her house where this woman goes to ask God to save her marriage and engage in a prayer crusade.

I think we can all relate to that when we have crisis in our lives. A serious illness, loss of a job, a divorce, a child in troubles…Those times all we can do is to cling to God, and to beg God to help us. It can really feel like going war when we really, really need to obtain something from God. And I guess it’s natural for us to go on this “fighting mode”, arguing and supplicating, trying to wear God out. Because that’s what we have to do in our world in order to obtain something, correct?

And yet. And yet the more I read this story Jesus tells us today, the more I wonder if Jesus is really asking us to do in prayer what we do for everything else in life. Yes, the widow has to fight very hard to gain her cause, as we sometimes do as well. But Jesus tells us also that God is not unjust. God is not like the judge in the story. The judge has no fear of God, no respect for others, when God – the holy one – hears day and night the cry of his chosen ones. God is not indifferent or inflexible. God does not ignore us. God listens to us. God sees us.

Which means: if God is not like the judge, maybe we don’t necessarily have to be like the widow with God. If God is not unfair, maybe we don’t have to fight with God. If God loves us, maybe prayer should feel better than going to the mattresses. Maybe when Jesus asks us if there will still be faith on earth when he returns, maybe he is not asking if people will still be willing to fight, rather maybe he is asking if there will still be people willing to trust, to trust that God sees and hears and responds, to trust that God is not our enemy. God is not our enemy. We don’t have to win God over. On the other way around, God will help us when we meet adversity. If there is a fight, we can be sure God fights with us.

And so if you pay attention, Jesus does not exactly ask his disciples to be “perseverent”, more specifically, what Jesus asks is to “not lose heart”. And it can be very discouraging when we try to “wear God out” by our prayers. I know that when I tried to “wear God out”, that’s the times in my life where I started to lose heart, b/c the more I begged, the more I wondered if God was listening. But I “found my heart” again, when I just decided to trust that God was with me.

To me, that’s what the Gospel is about today. Jesus tells us that God is not like unfair or indifferent people. We have to trust that our prayers are in God’s hands, that we are in God’s hands. And that God will act, and “grant us justice” – and doing that, I think, would enable us to feel a little more happy when we pray, a little more grateful, a little more loved.

Of course, prayer is about asking. Jesus reminds us many times to ask God for what we need. But at some point, prayer is also about how we have to trust that God has heard us, and we need to stop “talking at” God to be able to see how God is answering our prayers, not always giving us all we asked for but, as Jesus puts it, granting us justice, granting us justice by offering us forgiveness, healing of the heart, peace – a sense of self worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of belovedness.

But at some point, prayer is finding a way to let go and let God.

I read recently the story of a woman with stage IV cancer. After 5 years of battling the disease, she was exhausted. And she says she was also exhausted to hear people telling her to keep fighting on. She was wondering if it’d be okay for her to stop the treatment, to enjoy the rest of her life with her close ones, trusting God to give her a new life when she reaches the other side.

Well, maybe that’s where Jesus was when he told this parable today.

As I said, Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. At this point, he did all he had to do. He fought a lot in his life. He was like the persistent widow! He healed, he taught, he argued. But he had many opponents. He was hated by a lot of people. They wanted him dead. And at some point, he could not avoid them anymore. But Jesus trusted that God knew, that God saw him, and that God would grant him justice, even if Judas’s betrayal was the shattering of all his dreams, even if the cross was the loss of all his hopes. Jesus needed to continue to trust that God was good.

And this is the same for us when life is hard – even if our circumstances aren’t that dramatic! We carry our crosses with persistence but at some point, we just have to trust that God is good. That’s the ground of our prayer. That’s also the aim of it: To realize that God is good.

So maybe this week we could do that as we pray. Remember that indeed God is good, that we have to trust even more than we have to fight and argue, we have to believe that God has seen our difficulties, heard our supplications, and we have to trust that God will answer, grant us justice, and is already doing so in many ways, looking around and see how our lives are already being transformed – because we do not lose heart. We do not lose our hearts in the process. On the other way around, we may find them anew. Amen.

The anniversary of Paul and Holly

We’re gathered today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Paul and Holly. As we were preparing for this day, Holly told me that, before the wedding, her mother told her – as a kind of encouragement: “If you two do 10 years, that would already be something…” So I guess you two made it!

But we’re not here to celebrate some kind of record breaking. It’s not about personal accomplishment or endurance, the ability to “have made it” (last). When we celebrate at church, it’s always to give thanks. Today we celebrate, rejoice and give thanks for each one of you and more specifically we give thanks for you as a couple, we give thanks for the life you build together, the life you brought into the world, the joy and the hope you incarnate for all of us, your children, your grand children, siblings, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

So on this occasion, we celebrate and give thanks not only for the love you have for each other, but also for the love you spread around you, this love that, as people of faith, we believe to be the ultimate reality, the most important thing in the world – this love we believe to be God. When I told a friend I was preaching for a marriage anniversary this Sunday, she told me: Oh good, you’re going to preach about love. But the truth, you know, is that we should preach about love every Sunday, because it is what it’s all about.

This is the reason this passage we have read from John is so important. It reminds us that all of Jesus’s teaching is actually about asking people to love each other. This passage is often chosen for weddings, but interestingly, put back into context, we find out that this is one of the last things Jesus said before dying: Those verses are part of the “Farewell discourse”. And you know, when you’re about to die, you don’t spend time with details and subtleties, you go right to the heart of things: And so this is what Jesus told us: in the end, it all comes down to love.

We may forget how disturbing, and even revolutionary, it was when Jesus said that his only commandment was to love. In the religion of the time, there were more than 400 rules to follow. So it was really hard I guess to have a sense of having it right with God. There was always something that could go wrong! Jesus came to tell people that they only had to love to know who God was and to please God. “Commandment”: Not so much a “rule”, in Hebrew it’s a “word”, a word that brings life and joy. Jesus speaks about a way of “doing life” that will bring us (true) fulfillment and happiness.

In this sense, this is still revolutionary. Many people have wrong ideas about God and religion, and often religious people themselves have wrong ideas! Having faith, it’s not so much about being very pious or obeying a moral code, rather it’s about loving and being loved, and diving always deeper in this love. What Jesus reminds us, is that we are are first invited to receive God’s love – the reason why he asks his disciples to “abide” in love – and then, as we are being filled with this love, we are made able at our turn to love others: open our hearts, welcome, share, give and forgive and doing so – finding our joy and our purpose.

That’s the bottom line: Because we are made by love and made for love, it’s in loving and in being loved that we find joy and purpose – as you Paul and Holly have found fulfillment and happiness in your commitment to one another.

Now the question for all of us I guess is this: Well, how do we do that? How do we find true and deep love, the love God wants to give us, a love that brings joy and fulfillment?

Well, I really like it that you chose a passage from the book of Tobit for your first reading. The story of a marriage – and a strange and fascinating story – such a strange story that it has been removed from some protestant versions of the Bible. Yet it’s a beautiful story – filled with wise old people, and angels, and children (there’s even a puppy)…and it’s also a very necessary story because it says a lot about how we experience love and become able to receive it.

So this is the story, if you don’t know it: Holly – if your mother hoped your marriage could last ten years, it was nothing compared to what Sarah’s mother was feeling! Actually she was hoping the marriage would at least last 24 hours. Because that’s what was going on with Sarah: She had married several times, but each time the groom had died suddenly on the wedding night, “before the wedding was consummated”. This was very depressing and as the story goes, it is said that Sarah’s father was so sure Tobias was also going to die during the wedding night, he started digging a grave for him in the garden while the couple were headed to their bedroom! Yet this time things went differently: Tobias survived the night and enjoyed a long marriage with Sarah.

And so this is kind of a crazy story, but for all its strangeness it’s a very necessary story because it teaches us a lot about love:

First, it looks like that the death of the grooms and the curse Sarah seems to be under tells us about the way we apprehend love, and most of the time it’s with fear. We fear that we will never find love, that love will pass us by or that we will die before knowing it – or maybe we are afraid that we will destroy the love that is given to us. To become able to love, it’s important to acknowledge these feelings. Made to love, we all long deeply to find love, to love and to be loved in return, and it’s scary because it makes us feel vulnerable. Yet, we cannot find love if we don’t show a little bit of this vulnerability, if we don’t acknowledge that we need to receive love and to be able to learn how to love. In our culture, we often hear that love is not that important – an illusion. Better a good career, a nice house, exotic travels, having fun. But as Christians, we believe otherwise. We believe that only love can make us really happy. It does not mean necessary marriage. But love must be at the center our lives.

Second thing the story teaches us is that to love, we have to surrender our desire to have power on others. Tobias says that he does not take Sarah “out of lust”. It does not mean that he does not like her! “Lust” is considered as a sin but it’s not about having a physical attraction for somebody, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Bible reminds us several times that sexuality was created by God. But lust needs to be renounced because it prevents us from loving truly, lust is when we consider others as our possessions, as a thing we can take or leave, as if people were only there to make us feel good. And we are tempted to behave like that not only with romantic partners! We can very well use our friends or other family members to fulfill our own needs – but then we can never know what true love is about: caring for one another, sharing life together and supporting one another, as the passage from Mark reminds us.

Third thing that the story teaches us about love is that all our relationships rest in God’s love. Tobias prays with Sarah and they offer their love to God, acknowledging that their love is like a small drop in the ocean of God’s love. This is important to remind us that we are not in charge of love, rather love is in charge of us. To love, we need first to receive love: to know we are worthy of love. Then we can enjoy relationships made of respect, intimacy and complicity. Jesus reminds us that love should bring us joy! It does not mean that we don’t meet difficulties, but God will give us the strength to love when it’s necessary – the strength to forgive for example – or the strength to love ourselves enough to leave a loveless relationship. If love is meant to bring us joy, it also means that if we have to try too hard to make it happen or to make it last, maybe it’s not really about love. To love, we don’t have to try too hard all the time, but we have to make the effort to be present and attentive to those around us. What children needs the most is to have their parents spending time with them, not looking at their phones! Love is here, given, present, but we are often absent and we don’t see the people God sends us everyday to love us, or in need of being loved!

Last thing the story teaches us about love is that love is resilient. I admire Sarah who is still ready to get married with yet another man! Love takes risks and chances and carries on. I’ve just read a book about a woman who says that her closer experience of faith was the way she kept looking for the right partner even after having suffered terrible breakups. She says that although each time she kept telling herself it was the last time she fell in love because it hurt so much to be left, each time love kept being reborn in her heart. She was willing to put her out heart out there until she found the man who truly loved her. Well, I think she’s right to say it’s a kind of faith, it’s faith actually: to believe that love is real and can be found and that is the meaning of life.

That’s what we do at church actually – we don’t go to church to become Bible nerds or very pious or very moral people, we come to church to receive love and to learn how to love and to grow in love – as we do when we get married. And we do this because it’s our joy and fulfillment. So today let’s celebrate and let us be thankful with Paul and Holly! Amen.

Pentecost 17

Isn’t it a bit ironic that today, as we get ready to acknowledge the work of our volunteers here in the church and give thanks for their dedication, we find ourselves with this passage where Jesus reminds us that we are all undeserving servants who should have more faith, could do more, and even if we give our best, who should not expect any reward because we would do only our duty by giving our everything?

Well, to tell you the truth, I started my ministry in a church that relied a lot on the work of volunteers as that congregation had an important outreach ministry, and that was the belief of the rector who used to say: In our church, we don’t thanks volunteers because what they do, they do it for God, so they should not expect any reward. And you know I thought about what he said, as I started serving as an ordained person, and I thought: Of course, what we do we do it for God, for one another, and not for a prize or even to make people like us or feel indebted to us – we do that out of the generosity of our own heart. But in the same time, Jesus never taught us to be ungrateful. Not to God of course, but not even to one another. On the other way around, gratefulness is a sure way to find joy and love, and even if we should be first thankful to God, how can we learn this thankfulness if we aren’t able to be first thankful to one another?

So today we’re going to say thanks to all of you who give so much to this place – especially to you the volunteers at the thrift store on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. In the meantime, I think we are invited to dig a little deeper in this passage of the Gospel, and try to understand what it’s really about. To do that, we have to have a look at its context, and come back a few verses before what we’ve just heard. What Jesus does in this chapter of Luke is that he is teaching the disciples about forgiveness, about “not becoming a stumbling block for others” by judging them, condemning them and excluding them. This is what Jesus says (right before our passage):

Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Well, I think we know that only too well, stumbling blocks. People who profess to believe in God but who aren’t that nice, not that welcoming, not that loving, not that accepting, not that forgiving. It’s not anything new. A lot of believers were like that at Jesus’s time, and Jesus had very tough words for this kind of people. Indeed, he said, if you profess to believe in God but if you condemn your own brother and sister, it would be better if a millstone was hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea – meaning:it would be less harmful, less destructive for everyone – even for you – because at least, you wouldn’t lose your soul.

The more I read the Gospel, the more I think that with Jesus, we can almost “get away” with anything…anything, except one: hardness of heart and hypocrisy, that goes with it. The hard of heart and the hypocrites, that’s the kind of believers Jesus wants his disciples to never become, because that is the surest way to turn oneself and everybody else away from God.

That’s our responsibility, you know. If we profess to believe in God, if we proclaim the Gospel, we are here to lead people to Christ, but the downside is that if we are unwelcoming and unforgiving Christians, we will certainly turn them away too. It’s not so much science, philosophy or even atheism that turn people against God, it’s bad religion and mean believers.

And so – this is in this context that the disciples ask Jesus to increase in them their faith, their personal faith and their faith as a community.

So they ask about a special kind of faith. Not the faith that makes us certain about the articles of the Creed, not the faith that makes us so perfect that we’d never do anything wrong, it’s the faith that enables to rebuke and denounce sin, the faith that enables us to demand justice and repentance, the faith that enables us to forgive and look for reconciliation. The disciples need a faith that would enable them to do the hard work of love – and so do we.

To speak about this faith, it’s interesting that Luke talks about removing a mulberry tree. In all the other versions of this saying, that we find in Mark and Matthew and also in Paul, Jesus speaks about a mountain, and we know that expression, right? “The faith that moves mountains”. Well, actually, Jesus was talking about a very specific mountain: Mt Zion, which was the mountain were the Temple was, were the sacrifices for forgiveness were offered. And so basically what Jesus is saying when he says that if we’d have faith, we could throw this mountain (Zion) into the sea is this: if you had faith, you would not need to offer sacrifices for forgiveness, you would be able to forgive out of your own heart – as Jesus did himself for us on the cross. That’s the mountain we have to move. If you ever had to rebuke someone and ask for justice, if you ever had to forgive someone who hurt you really deeply, if you ever had to take the first step toward reconciliation even if you knew you weren’t wrong, or on the other way around, if you ever had to acknowledge how badly you may have behaved, you know what Jesus is talking about: Doing those things feels like moving a mountain or, at least, uprooting a tree.

The faith that moves mountain is not the faith that makes all our dreams come true or makes us win the lottery. Jesus is talking about the faith that deals with all the traps and obstacles of the evil one, the faith that gets rid of evil. It’s the faith that melt our toughness of heart. Because Jesus will give us the power to love beyond anything we can imagine, even if our faith is only as big as a mustard seed to start with.

That’s hard work. But that’s our work as Christians – that’s our only work maybe. Our mission is to bring reconciliation in a broken world. Reconciliation between races, social classes, countries, bringing reconciliation in families, with other living creatures, reconciliation with our planet earth. There is no greatest thing we can do in our lives than working for reconciliation….and life will provide us with many, many opportunities to expose evil, rebuke it, work for justice, forgive those who offended us, ask for forgiveness – because of course, we need to start with our own hearts. We often understand fighting evil as as going on a crusade against the evildoers, yet most of the time, it’s about fighting first our own toughness of heart.

Yes, there is plenty of work to be done in the church, and we are all very aware of that, and so many of you give so much time and energy to do this work. The Gospel reminds us today that the most important work we have to do in the church is to work on our own hearts.

And so in the end, I think this is what Jesus is really talking about when he talks about worthless slaves doing only their duty. Working on our own hearts, that’s just what we are supposed to do, but we are not worthless slaves in the eyes of God, Jesus kept reminding us we are God’s children, we are worthless slaves to sin, and our job is to be freed from sin. Indeed, we should not wait for any other reward than that: freedom from sin and ability to love truly and deeply. Slaves don’t expect any reward for their work, what they really want is to be free, right?

The good news is that, as opposed to the slaves in the parable, we have a good Master who comes to serve us at the table each time our work is done – who feeds us every Sunday in the Eucharist. Speaking about irony, I love the irony of Jesus asking his disciples whose Master would ever serve his salves, when he actually did just that – washed their feet and gave them food on the last supper, as a foretaste of the eternal banquet, those realities we both remember and anticipate in our liturgy when we share communion.

The good news is that we don’t have to do the hard work of love on our own. The good news is that Jesus is willing to provide the mustard seed of faith in our hearts, if only we are willing to sit at the table. And then we may discover what our job is all about. Yes, there is a lot to be done in our churches, lots of practical realities, humble things like sweeping the floor, watering the garden, paying the bills – or running a thrift store. Yet as we do that, we learn how to be together, we learn to be a community, we learn to let Christ use what we do to bless others and to change our hearts and this is indeed our best work and this is indeed our reward. Amen.

Pentecost 16

1 – I’ve talked recently about how Jesus loved sometimes to tell us scary stories / spooky parables. There is something in those stories, like the one we’ve just heard about the rich man and Lazarus, that feels fascinating and gives us goosebumps in the same time. And I think the story is scary not just b/c it’s a good story….For me, it’s scary because it touches something very real, very much present in our faith – in our liturgy – something we mention every Sunday in our confession of sins, when we ask for forgiveness for those things that we have done…and those that we have “left undone”.

It’s not that it is “easy” for me to ask for forgiveness for the (bad/wrong) things that I have done – but at least I may be able to see them. But what about the right / good things I have left undone? The part of the story Jesus tells today that truly gives me goosebumps is the surprise of the man when he lands in Hades – Not understanding why he endures torments, not realizing what it is that he has done wrong…Actually, nothing.

The man has done nothing, and that’s the problem. Abraham explains it to him: He has done nothing to help his neighbor Lazarus. But even as he receives the explanation, you’ll notice that the man still does not get it, he wants to send off Lazarus to serve him (get him some water / warn his family). The man still feels entitled, remains unrepentant, unable to see Lazarus for who he is – a person with his own will, dignity, a person he ought to acknowledge and respect.

The world is so full of people “who have done nothing wrong”, like you and me. Oh, we may occasionally acknowledge a few mistakes, or even sometimes obsess over a few big ones – but hearing this parable makes me suspect that our acknowledged sins might be only the top of the iceberg. The real sin seems to be hidden: it’s all the things we have left undone – how we have failed to change our selfish lives, failed to see our neighbors and serve those in need.

The Gospel we’ve just heard is scary b/c it talks of these sins that are buried under the surface: The sin of indifference, lack of concern, inability to have pity. Not seeing and not wanting to know.

And this week, the parable of the rich man letting his neighbor die at his gate really hit home for me when I heard the young activist Greta Thunberg at the UN asking the powerful of this world to have a look at her and at her generation and begging them, as a journalist put it, “to not let her die, to not let the animals die, to not let the Earth die”. This is what she said: “How dare you?”We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth”.

How dare you go and do business as usual, pretending nothing is happening?I think this is also what Jesus is asking today. Lazarus is dying of hunger, thirst, loneliness and the rich man ignores him – pretending nothing is happening, or maybe thinking there is nothing he can do. Not that he (actively) wants Lazarus to die or to be poor, but he probably does not see it as a consequence of his selfishness, he does not think it is his role to make things better, maybe he thinks he is blessed by God for his wealth and that’s the way God wants things to be.

The rich man cannot see the suffering around him and the suffering in which he participates, in the same way that we may not be able to see the suffering around us / suffering in which we participate b/c of our selfishness, lack of concern, indifference. And this is quite terrifying.

The story is not scary b/c it says that people like the rich man go to hell. The parable is probably not about hell anyway. Jesus mentions Hades / place of purification. The rich man talks with Abraham who calls him “his son”, the man is not in the company of the demons. What is truly scary is the inability of the man to face reality, and Hades is this place where he has to come to his senses. The rich man lived all his life in a fantasy world where he wore fine clothes / had plenty of friends over to diner but for him Lazarus was part of the décor / not an actual human being with thoughts, feelings, he could not feel his pain…Even his dogs showed more compassion to him! Failing to see people as alter ego with thoughts, feelings and ability to suffer can be a symptom of serious mental illness, but it can be also a spiritual illness. And so the man needs to spend time in “purgatory” / in treatment / rehab of the heartHe learns to see reality. To me, it relates to what Greta Thunberg says when she tells the powerful that they live “in a fairy tale”. They need to wake up from their fantasies and learn to face reality.

2 – Jesus tells a story: not so much about how life looks like after death than how life looks like in the KOG, in reality. Life is about relationships, having mercy = ability to relate to others, especially in their vulnerability. Ability to love. This is what our Epistle today is all about. Paul says to Timothy to take “hold of the life that is really life”. Paul acknowledges that we need food and clothing but greed is also destroying us / makes us lose our ability to share and to be in relationships. In the parable today, we see that the man is not not judged b/c he is rich, but he condemns himself b/c of the way he treats powerless people. He can’t relate to Lazarus / show mercy or simply share his table (economic and religious symbol).

In these times of “Global suffering”(People and all living creatures), how many of us also choose to remain blind / ignorant? But this is the ultimate sin Jesus accuses his hearers about: There can’t be salvation for them b/c they don’t listen to Moses, the prophets and even to the one who will raise from the dead.

We will answer: We can’t do nothing but remain blind / ignorant b/c it’s so overwhelming. Well, yes and no. To this argument, in my mind, the parable brings hope and answers: Start with the one at the gate. Start with the easy things you can do. If the rich man had opened his heart to Lazarus, it may have led him to open his heart to the whole city, to God and changed him completly. Countless stories about people meeting this one person who opened their eyes to reality and it changed their lives. It is said (in Greek) that Lazarus had been “throw out” at the gate/ We are invited to believe that people aren’t just there is our lives / there for a reason, to teach us something.

Yes, this Gospel is quite terrifying and ask us to stop living in a fantasy but it’s not only b/c the fantasy isn’t real after all. The fantasy does not end well. It is a loveless / hopeless story. But we are also invited to believe that there is a better life for us if we live the real life.

3 -This parable tells us that the truth of the world / this life isn’t as we see it. But it’s also for the best b/c things change and power shifts. The parable does not tells us so much about the afterlife than about what’s everlasting. Power rooted in violence and coercion depends on circumstances / love and justice endure for ever. Comfort comes for Lazarus / but knowing what we know, it should also encourage us to act in this life.

Lazarus: Not meant to be an example. We are certainly not encouraged to act like the rich man, but we aren’t encouraged to be like Lazarus either. He is a very passive character. That can happen (addiction, depression, loneliness) where we can do nothing but sit and wait, but maybe Lazarus needs also to see life as it is, that God is truly on his side, that the power and riches of the man are an illusion / maybe he would find the strength / faith to act. All of us can be trapped in hopeless situations / waiting after people who have nothing to share / nothing to give.

But if we have hope…we need to act. Very real character today is Jeremiah in rags / thrown in a cistern because the king wants to live his fantasy and not hear about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah sees life as it is, he sees the devastation. And yet has hope. Buys this field in Jerusalem to show that the exile won’t be forever b/c God hasn’t forsaken his people.

We find hope not in blind optimism, denial, in fantasies, but when we know what life is really about: the extend of sin / violence / selfishness and devastation / but we find faith in the one who rose from the dead: Believing in a redemptive God willing to work with us so we may change and change the world with us. Amen.

Pentecost 15

This passage of the Gospel we have just heard, the parable of the dishonest manager and Jesus’s following comments about money, is known to be confusing – actually it’s known to be one of the most confusing passages in the Gospel. But I was taught that a good way to deal with confusion is to start by identifying what we’re confused about, and so that’s where we are going to start today.

To me, there are actually two difficulties in this passage:

First thing that can confuse us is that it looks like Jesus presents the dishonest manager as an example, and invites us to imitate him by stealing from our Masters to make friends with their money. The question is: why would Jesus asks us to do something immoral?

And then, the second thing that can confuse us in this passage is that, after he tells the parable, Jesus makes comments that seem to completely contradict what he’s just said: He asks us to be faithful with the money that is entrusted to us!

So what are we to do about that? Well, I was wondering if a good way of starting could be to consider that, as two negative sentences equal a positive, the comments Jesus makes after he tells the parable could be meant to solve the contradiction, instead of aggravating it. I was wondering if the comments Jesus makes / or Luke chose to add in here / about trustworthiness and honesty aren’t meant to clue us in that the parable isn’t (first thing) about money, the way we handle money and how we use it. It seems to me that the wealth of the earthly Master in the story is meant to be an image of the true riches of the heavenly Master, since Jesus compares them both and so the money in the story would be a mirror to understand God’s wealth – the kingdom of God. This parable – like all of Jesus’s parables – is about the kingdom of God!

How is the kingdom of God to be understood in this parable? Well, it starts by introducing us to a wealthy Master to whom a lot of people owe something, so it looks like Jesus wants to remind us first that all riches belong to God, not only material things of course, but everything in life, and in this regard we are all debtors – we all owe our lives to God and everything we possess. We all have received from God. On top of that, like the dishonest manager, we also may have stolen from God: We have hurt God, sinned against God, in one way or another. Even if we don’t want to hurt God personally, the thing is that when we hurt each other, we hurt God first. The debtors may think they owe their debts to the manager, but really, they all have taken from the Master’s treasure.

It may be something we easily forget and we need to pause here a little bit. When we hurt one another, we first hurt God. God is not hurt like an almighty majesty would be offended because we haven’t “played by the rules”, God is hurt as an all loving, compassionate and sensitive being. If we want to have a sense of that, we can meditate on Jeremiah’s words in our first reading today. Jeremiah impersonates what’s going on inside God’s heart. He says: My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick (…) For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt (…) [may] my eyes [be] a fountain of tears so I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people”. That God suffer in us, for us and because of us, this is the meaning of the cross, but these images are already very much alive in the Old Testament.

When we are victims of injustices, we can find a lot of comfort knowing that if somebody offends us, God is on our side as God suffers from their sins even more than we do. But knowing this, that our offenders hurt God through what they do to us, also puts us in a strange position and gives us a great responsibility: It means that, like the manager in the story handles the debts contracted towards his Master, we all stand in between those who sin against us and God, and we have the choice to accuse or to release them in front of God.

So the question the Gospel has for us today could be this: How do we handle the debts people contract against God when their sin is hurting us?

It seems to me that this is really what Jesus is talking about. And what he advises us, as “children of light”, is to handle those debts created by sin in the same way the “children of this age” handle their own business. What the manager does is to use his in between position to reduce the debtors’ debts towards the Master because he knows he owes his Master even more and he is going to need friends– Well, I think this is how we are invited to look at our own situation as Christians. People sin against us and hurt us, but we also stand in need of forgiveness in front of the same God, and so the best thing to do is not to always accuse our offenders. That’s what we pray every time in the Lord’s prayer: We are sinners but we hope God will forgive us as we forgive each other’s offenses.

Paul today in the Letter to Timothy reminds us that we need to make for everyone supplications, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving. He says, of course Jesus is the only mediator between God and humankind, but if we pray to Jesus, we can all be mediators for one another, we can all intercede for one another, and what would be more precious to God’s heart that we may be able to intercede for those who hurt us? How could God hold something against them, if we don’t? St Teresa of Lisieux had often a naive and yet beautiful way to say deep things, and this is what she used to say: When somebody hurts me, I try not to show God that I suffer about it, so God will be more likely to forgive them.

Of course, it’s a manner of speaking, an image, as it’s an image when the manager writes off half the debts on his Master’s bills. God does not do the math, listing everything we owe to God and one another…It’s a manner of saying that even our sufferings, the way people hurt us, are an opportunity to do something good. I heard a pastor say something once I will never forget. He said: “When somebody hurts you, (…) you’ll have to make a choice”. Indeed, when people hurt us, we need to make a choice: Do we use what they did to us against them to make them feel bad about themselves / ashamed / guilty? Do we hold on to our grudges so we can feel better about ourselves / feel like the innocent, the righteous one? Or do we use the opportunity to mend the relationships/ set other free / not let the person be defined by what they did? How do we use the debts to open the future and head towards healing? Jesus says that like the manager, we have to make friends: work towards reconciliation. Not keep on accusing them.

Now forgiving is not about ignoring a situation, covering up, renouncing justice or enabling people to do evil. Forgiving is FIRST about not seeking to hurt back in the same way we’ve been hurt. You need to look clearly at the bill to let go of the debt, to not hold on to what happened and to start something new. We also have to know that it’s always God who forgives in the end, but if it is the direction where we want to go, if we try to forgive even a little bit though we are still angry or wounded, we have already make half of the work and we can put the rest into God’s hands. This is being smart before God if we live our lives like this. The “dishonest manager” often translates “the shrewd one”. Because the wonder is that Jesus tells us: forgiving will benefit others, but doing so is also in your own interest! We need to forgive because it’s going to benefit ourselves! Most of the bad things that happen to us can be an opportunity to grow into more loving / honest / generous people instead of holding on to our grudges and let us be defined only by the (bad) things that happen to us.

Now of course – and we’ll finish with that- in this passage of the Gospel, Jesus also talks about money. Jesus wants us to look at the way we handle money b/c it reveals what’s in our hearts. If we’re not generous when people owe us concrete money, how generous are we going to be able when they owe us emotionally? If we can’t let go of a small debt of money somebody has towards us, how can we let go of the hurt they did to us? You know there is always this gap between this person we think we are in our heads, and there is this person we are in real life. Most of us feel like we’re nice and friendly people. Now when we do something as simple as looking at our bank accounts, we may get a “reality check”, because the way we handle material things say a lot about the way we handle spiritual matters. Our bank statements often respond with no ambiguity to the question: What is it that really count in my life?

The way we handle our money is like a mirror of the way we handle our hearts. The good news is that working on the way we handle money could help us to change our hearts. Start with letting go of this small debt, maybe you’ll be able to let go of the sin. Or maybe that will be the other way around: maybe by paying our debts, hold ourselves accountable towards others, we’ll be able to acknowledge our debts when we hurt others – and in the end find forgiveness and reconciliation, or as the parable puts it, maybe just finding friends to welcome us into their homes. Amen.

Pentecost 14

So for this Sunday, I had a dilemma. I felt like I had to make a choice between preaching and practicing what I preach, because I would not be able to do both! Let me explain.

Early this week, I had a phone call from a young man whose GM just passed away and his family was looking for somebody to help them with the funeral. They reached out to me because the lady was French American, and from what I gathered, her only connection to the church was that when she was a child she attended the French Episcopal Church in NY – where her parents had immigrated from France. The young man told me that it would be very meaningful for his family to have a French priest and also someone to be with them – it looked like they weren’t very religious and, at any rate, had no other connection to a priest who could help them put a service together at the funeral home. The service was set on Friday this week, in Virginia Beach.

And I thought to myself: Well, if I want everything to be ready, coordinate with the funeral home, put a bilingual service together, work with Betty on the bulletin, write my homily, drive down to Virginia Beach on Thursday, do the funeral, come back late at home and Friday…and still be able to help with spaghetti dinner on Saturday as I said I would, well, when would I have the time to do the research to prepare my sermon for Sunday? And so I wondered if it was a fair use of my time, for myself, but mostly for you, that I would help out a family I didn’t know and probably won’t see again when I have already my own congregation to take care of?

Well, the good news is that sometimes the Gospel is so clear and unambiguous that it’s almost like it hits you in the face, right? As I sat to look ahead at the Scriptures and I read how Jesus told the religious leaders of his time (and not only the religious leaders, but I think every single person who wanted to follow him) to be ready to leave the 99 to go look for the 1, I knew what I had to do – even if it wasn’t the most comfortable decision. I had the choice between spending time thinking about this Gospel and hopefully coming up with something meaningful to say about it, or I could just do it, do what it talks about. So I did it. And the good news is that I come back to share with you a few thoughts about this experience.

– First thing is that – and I preached about that on Pentecost day, but we need to be reminded from time to time – the church is not made just for us, our Christian family. The church has been founded for people who are outside the church, to be a connection, a bridge, between God and people. When the Apostles received the Holy Spirit, they weren’t brought together to build a Temple, they were scattered and sent out to the world. They were sent out to seek those who were looking for God and bring them the good news. We have been trusted with God’s treasure, the word, the sacraments, and – mostly – we have received hope with Christ’s resurrection, something very important at the time of death, a kind of hope the world cannot give us. But the belief in resurrection is not only a comfort at the time of death, it sheds light on everything we do, it gives meaning to our lives. Our world – I was about to say is “desperate for hope”…The world longs for hope. Well, as disciples of Christ this is what we have to offer, to bring to the world: The hope Christ has given us.

On Tuesday, I was attending a meeting with Bishop Mariann (busy week!) and she said she was feeling sad so many people were able to tell her everything about the history of the churches in Maryland, but so little about what’s going on in their own neighborhoods…We need to be reminded all the time that Jesus sends us out to seek people!

– 2nd thing I think is important is the way we understand “sinners” in the Gospel we’ve just heard. We often make the assumption that we are the ones who have the truth and who act righteously (at least, it was certainly the assumption of many religious people at Jesus’s time) but I don’t think this was the way Jesus saw those whom they called “sinners”. The parables of the lost / found I think mean exactly what they mean. When you are lost, it does not means first thing that you have done something terrible, it means mainly that you are disconnected, that you are not with the rest of the group, of the flock, of the family. When you are lost, it means that you are on your own – sometimes it means you have been rejected.

And so as Christians, if we are sent out to bring the hope of the Resurrection, I think more simply, we are also sent to bring love to those who are unloved / isolated. The fact that Jesus says that everyone is to God like the lost sheep or the lost coin means first thing that we are precious to God, important and that literally the party is not the same without each one of us. You know, when I lose something, I search for it 5 minutes and then I am frustrated and I just tell myself it’ll turn up eventually or I go buy another one. I do that unless it’s really precious to me. The persistence of the search in those two parables make me think that Jesus wants everyone to feel valuated, desired, needed.

People are isolated in the world we live in. Old people, sick people, but young people too. Rich people. People who seem happy on the outside because they have everything they could want. But they lack this deep connection with others. Sept 10th was the world suicide prevention day. In our world, someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. Sometimes, suicide is the outcome of deep depression, but it is often also a sign of deep loneliness. It’s a sad reality that some people die because nobody come to look for them. One of the best advice I have ever heard was this: Always assume that people are lonely. Always assume they have nobody to talk to except you. Always offer your friendship. It does not mean they will take it or that they indeed need you! But you need to try because you may be the only one to do so.

Seeking those who are lost, it does not necessarily mean to go get people to convert them and turn them into Christians. It is first to make them feel valuated, to make them feel like their presence and their lives matter and that the party isn’t the same without them. We need to make everyone feel like they matter to us, but also, and more important, make them feel like they matter to God. What basically the Pharisees were saying about the tax collectors and others was: “We don’t need those people” but Jesus told them another story…

Maybe not only the Pharisees needed to be there for those people who were rejected, but more deeply, maybe the Pharisees needed to reach out to them to open their own hearts / become loving. They had to look on the outside to learn about God. Maybe that was the outsiders who were going to bring them closer to God, to teach them something about God.

– 3rd thought that occurred to me about this Gospel is that not only we see how God can use us to reach out to other people but we can also see how God is the one doing the seeking to bring us back closer to God. I think this is really something unique we have to share as Christians.

A lot of people today are looking to live more spiritual lives and it’s a good thing. We live in a world that seems very indifferent on the outside, but there is always this longing for hope and love in people’s hearts. And even a longing for the divine. The thing is that people often think / and even as Christians we often think / that it is their / our own doing. That we are the ones looking for God, that we are the ones who need to find God / to be good enough or smart enough or holy enough to come closer to God. We often hear that, don’t we?: “I am a seeker”. But Jesus says it’s the other way around! God is the seeker, God is looking for us. God is trying to find us. Our faith is not our own doing.

Maybe it happened to you already. You felt so lost, so hurt that you thought your faith wouldn’t survive, and yet it did – otherwise you wouldn’t be here today. We don’t have to force ourselves / convince ourselves about God. We just have to let God live inside of us, hold us. To trust God. I think this Gospel is about trust. To really believe that God can find us wherever we are and keep us / bring us back close to his heart: through loneliness, depression, dementia, sin, death…Actually, maybe we have to be lost / to feel lost at some point to be really able to find God, because truly finding God (not just having ideas or feelings about God) is not our own doing, finding God is to make the experience of being found by God.

As I was preparing for the funeral this week, I do what I generally do: when I ask the family to pick the readings I ask them why they picked those readings – and the young man told me he chose readings about trust, because his GM was a “trusting person” and I thought it was so refreshing because generally when someone dies, what I hear is that they were “good” persons, but not “trusting”!

But it makes all the difference: being trusting is to believe in goodness, instead of focusing on our own goodness (what the Pharisees and the scribes did). Instead of trying so hard to be good, working on the ability to see goodness around us. Trusting people, but also trusting life, trusting God. This is God’s most precious gift: Giving us the ability to trust in goodness, in spite of the suffering and evil we know. We can trust that God won’t let go of us, we can trust God to find us. Amen.

Pentecost 13

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Have you ever heard a “I hate you” coming from a family member? From a sibling, a spouse, a child? Or maybe it’s you who said it to them? Hatred inside a family is a special kind of hurt, isn’t it? The hatred from people we love / with people we should love. Family seems to be the place where you expect the more acceptance / nurturing / gratitude and then terrible rejection happens, suddenly or over the years…And we know that, sadly, it’s not unusual.

– Yet if we think about it a little more deeply, we’ll notice that unless addictions take over every positive emotion, hatred (or at least tough words) in families happens in a certain context though, and for certain reasons. It is well known in psychology that children leaving infancy will oppose their parents for example, saying no to everything, and then teenagers of course. Later in life, conflicts often arise in families around big life events: weddings, births, funerals. The common thread seems to be that they are times of redefinition of boundaries, when there is a need for separation / for growing into your own person / or letting a family member grow into their own person. Opposition, saying tough words, is a kind of testing – between the lines, there is often this question the one who looks for separation is asking: Could I live w/o them? Who am I w/o them? And if we love people, in our families or in our friendships, we have to provide them the space to do this experience: To define themselves w/o us. Otherwise we enable dependency. We don’t give them a chance to grow.

– Carolyn Hax, counselor in the WP, often says that: “Love is not always about hugs and kittens”. I would say the same about the Gospel. The Gospel is about love, yet there are very few hugs and kittens. Because the Gospel is not only all about love. It is about love and freedom / there is this tension all along between the two. As we get more mature spiritually, the love we have for God leads us to grow into disciples away from the natural mold of human families, and it will bring tensions and dissensions with them, Jesus warns us today. And maybe it’s not so much a tension between freedom and love, maybe it is about growing the freedom to love. If we re-read the Bible from Genesis, we know it’s God’s plan for human beings: entering a covenant. Entering a covenant means: Not loving out of instinct (whether maternal, sexual, self preservation)…it’s natural to love this way, but we have to go further and choose to love. An expression I don’t really like b/c it feels like you have to force yourself to love! To force yourself to stay in bad relationships! To me, choosing to love is more about loving from a place of generosity / life giving / self giving (an expression I also like more than “self sacrificing” as we say sometimes). But the Christian idea is to love intentionally and to do so, you have to be able to distance yourself, to know you can do w/o those you love so you don’t love out of neediness / dependency.

– I am currently reading this book “All about love” by Bell Hooks and she says that we all want love but we often think more about receiving than giving / or if we think about giving, we still don’t really know how to love. She makes this point we have to start loving with self love. She says if we don’t love ourselves, we are going to bring all our hurts into our relationships b/c we wait for people to give us what they cannot give us / this love, this confidence, this acceptance we have to give to ourselves. Don’t we say: “Love your neighbor as yourself”?

Love of self is not a selfish love. Not a “Me first” kind of love. A foundational kind of love. To have this sense that we are worthy, that we are enough. I think that’s what our psalm (139) is talking about today. The love of self is discovering that there is already love inside of us, and that’s the love of God, at the root of all love. We are first received and accepted by God and it’s from this place we can love at our turn. In the movie “The Help” the nanny always says to the little girl who is abused by her mother: “You are important, you are beautiful”, reminding her to accept herself. Experiencing racism, rejection and bullying on a daily basis we understand it’s the way the nanny also herself manages to cope with life: Affirming her own value and beauty helps her deal with the scorn of other people.

– So Jesus today asks us to trust that we are enough, that we don’t depend on others to tell us who we are. When he says we need to be ready to hate our close ones, it is not about withdrawing our love and affection. In Jesus’s culture, parental relationships weren’t much about affection…He speaks about the “inner circle”, the tribe (makes sense if you look at what’s going on in this chapter all about the network of relationships). The family system in Jesus’s culture was based on honor / respect for the authority figures, where we are supposed to not “rock the boat”. Jesus teaches that love is not blind obedience or conformism, rather it’s a transformative spiritual force that brings life as long as it sets us free. My clue for this interpretation is that Jesus moves from talking about “hating our families” (opening) to “renouncing our possessions” (conclusion). It’s the same thing in Jesus’s mind. “Hating” is renouncing to possess people, but also refusing to be their possession. Bell Hooks says that a lot of women are still schooled to believe they cannot live w/o being somebody’s possession, w/o a man to “supervise” them, a father, a husband, an older son…. Yet, it’s not the kind of relationships Christians should believe in. In the Epistle we have just read, Paul quite clearly opposes slavery because he believes no one can be somebody’s possession. When there is a power unbalance, genuine love isn’t possible. As Christians, we are sisters and brothers in Christ: all with different abilities, skills, but equal. Jesus dis-constructs the nature and the culture of the human family to build a new spiritual family where everyone is equally important and included.

– So it means for us that there is a lot of letting go we need to be doing…Not only our possessions, things or possessive relationships, it can also be our ideas, our prejudices…through all of this letting go, we grow. Jeremiah reminds us we are not created once for all. We are in the potter’s hands, so the creation into our own being is on going. It often sounds reassuring, but we have to acknowledge that it’s harsh sometimes too. God models us and remodels us, as life smashes us, as we go through the fire. Not only as individuals but also as nations, as communities, as families, as individuals. Terrible things happen to us, yet we believe that, we can be re-shaped, made new, b/c God is not done with us yet. It’s also a warning: if we don’t let God heals us from our pain and our traumas, we will repeat them (nations/wars).

– Jesus promises us today it is worth it, in spite of all the pain, to trust God. “Take your cross” = Offer what happens to you to the glory of God. Even if it is seems shameful or insignificant: We are invited to offer all our trials but also our everyday lives, to God so God can transform us as we go through them. We often say that God will make it all turn for the best…It does not mean that the outcome that we will win in the end, but it’s about who God is going to turn us into through our crosses. Compassionate people thriving for justice.

– And so we believe that the work of God through our suffering is going to bring us closer to God. Because we are in the potter’s hands, suffering cannot turn us into bitter people, on the other way around, we have the hope that we will be turned into vessels able to receive and give love in truth. Bell Hooks has a very simple and beautiful definition of spiritual life. She says that Spiritual life is what gives us the strength to love day after day. Not out of need, but out of compassion. The cross was the worst suffering and God made it the source of all blessings. Made it worth it. Think about what God could do with your pain if you walk with God.

I read an article this week where a preacher says that when we travel, there is always a risk, there will be dangers, pain, yet we decide to do it anyway. Well he says, it’s the same when we are looking for God. Life is hard – not b/c God wants it to be hard but b/c we are separated from God – yet Jesus encourages to the crowds today to be on their way whatever the cost because he can guarantee that it is worth it.

– So today maybe we can think of all the places we are stuck in right now (whether in our heads or in our lives, as people but also as a christian community) and think about the kind of pain we may have to be able to walk through with God to be able to detach, move on and be brought closer to our real identity and to a more faithful and deeper love.

Pentecost 8

The Gospel we’ve just heard is known as the “Parable of the rich fool”, a title which offers a convenient and easy key of interpretation. Indeed, we encounter in this story a rich man who – for some reason, b/c his land produced more abundantly than usual – finds himself suddenly very comfortable, and literally does not know what to do with his money, or at least with his harvest. So he begins to think about it and as he finds a way to secure his gain, he also starts plans about how he could finally enjoy the good life. But that’s when he hears the voice of God calling him a fool, telling him that he’s going to die on that very night.

And so the point seems obvious: Life is short, and we worry too much about money. This interpretation of the parable makes sense, of course. It’s hard to argue with the fact that we give too much importance to money and material things, our “stuff” as we say. I was recently attending a diocesan meeting about stewardship and the speaker brought up an interesting study showing that 80% of our lives are about earning money, spending money or worrying about money. It even claims that we think about money more than we think about sex (I wonder how they do the math!).

At any rate – that’s where we are in the Gospel: warned that life is not all about material things. Actually, Jesus’ words today can remind us of the conversation he’s just had with Martha (the Gospel from 2 weeks ago). The dialogue starts the same: “tell my brother / tell my sister (to do this…)” and Jesus downplays the request to point out the importance of privileging heavenly things instead of worrying over earthly things. It is worth pointing out that Jesus does not so much condemn money than the fact that we worry about money. It usually makes wealthy people feel better (It’s okay to have money as long as you don’t worry too much about it) but I guess it is more actually to include also the poor (who were the audience on that day). The poor are also invited to not worry too much about money b/c this is not what matters ultimately, even if it feels like it matters a lot.

And so that’s a good story, as we start thinking about stewardship season. Give you money away so you can focus on spiritual things and save your souls! But when the sense is obvious, especially in the Scriptures, there is often a hidden meaning as well. And sometimes the way to find it is by focusing less on what the story says, and focusing more on how it feels.

To me, it feels like a strange story. One of those stories Jesus told, like the story of ten bridesmaids, that has a little something eerie to it and givesyou a few goosebumps when your hear it. If you think about it, it’s strange, this man alone in the night hearing the voice of God telling him that his life is being demanded of him. As far as I remember, people in Jesus’s stories rarely interact directly with God. Jesus generally uses images: A king, a Master, a bridegroom. Sometimes it’s an angel or a prophet who brings God’s message. But Godself? No.

So, it’s a strange story, yet there is a familiarity to it – a familiarity that does not make it comfortable, a familiarity that actually feels a bit threatening, b/c it feels real. We can relate to the experience. This man, it could be anyone of us. Because he worries about money, but more deeply we can picture ourselves in the story, lying in the little hours, alone with our thoughts, making to do lists. All would be quite good if we didn’t have this voice inside of us telling us that maybe it’s not going to work out, that maybe our plans are in vain. Ever had that?

We don’t always know where this voice comes from. Is it the voice of our wiser self, or the voice of the foolish one? Is it common sense, or insecurity? Yet sometimes it feels powerful enough, it could be the voice of God. I was actually wondering if in fact the rich man wasn’t having a panic attack! When suddenly something inside of you tells you that you are going to die on the spot…although no danger surrounds you, only the weight of your own anxiety!

But we all have those voices and we’re plus or less good at dismissing them. And yet, Jesus tells us today, there is something we need to pay attention to. There is something inside those voices that could be indeed the voice of God. There is something deep in us that knows how our plans for our lives are threatened by our own mortality. There is something inside of us trying to remind us something to fear that is deeper than our fears. There is, if you will, an anxiety inside the anxiety. We’re worried about money, but more deeply we’re worried we’re not going to make it. We’re worried that everything is going to stop before we can be happy. We’re worried that we may come to realize that life does not make sense.

And it seems to me this is exactly the point Jesus is making with the parable: this kind of life does not make sense and the man starts shaking and trembling as he realizes the emptiness of everything he values. Maybe he is not so much going to die than he is already dead inside. His heart is dead. A lot of commentaries of this Gospel underscore the fact that the man speaks to himself and even speaks to himself inside his monologue (“I will say to my soul”), b/c he is utterly lonely: he has nobody to talk to, he has nobody to dream about, he has nobody to share his bread with.

Today, Jesus warns us against greed (Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!) and in the Epistle, Paul points out that greed is idolatry. We know from the Old Testament that idols are gods of stone. And this is what happens here: the man’s heart has turned to stone. A theologian gives this definition of sin: “Sin is when life freezes”, and in our story, God is actually not saying to the man that he is going to die, the Greek says: “These things are claiming your life”. “These things are freezing your life”. We often think of sin as doing something wrong or dangerous. But for Jesus, sin is doing nothing. Sin is when we don’t live this life God is giving us and instead we try to preserve and secure it. The man trying to secure his harvest could be a counter reference to the gift of the manna, and the way God ordered his people to never store the manna (otherwise it will rot…). Jesus has just told his disciples to pray for their daily bread, not their saved bread. Jesus is the living bread, the bread that is alive and given to all.

Real life is the life of the heart…Life is not about saving stuff, it’s about giving one’s heart away. Jesus’s words are not condemnation though. Jesus invites us to consider the abundance around us (Consider the lilies is the passage that follows) consider the beauty, the way God acts through the world instead of focusing on never having enough. Jesus invites us to respond to God’s generosity by our own generosity. This is ultimately what it means to be rich towards God: to have this ability to give all the time. Well, if you have the ability to give all the time, it must mean that you are very rich, right? Or at least there are treasures in your heart!

But to become generous, we have to be freed from worries…How can we do that?

Well, to me – and that will be my last point – Jesus’s teaching in this parable is this: What you’ve always been taught about life is not necessarily true. Maybe the anxiety at the root of all our anxiety is that we suspect the lie: a successful and material life does not make any sense indeed. But that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. That’s the culture we live in, and that’s often the example our parents showed us or the expectation they had for us. With his parable, Jesus does not make any reproach to the man who is asking the question about the inheritance! I think the character Jesus pictures is the father of this man, a father who died suddenly, without sharing his wealth, b/c of his selfishness and anxiety. My clue is that God says to him: “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?” and that’s exactly the question the man is asking to Jesus! This man and his brother cannot agree what is for whom, and doing so they let their hearts be captured by the material things, in the same way their father did. Jesus by telling this parable tells the man: Just don’t go down that road b/c what you saw your father do was foolish. Jesus wants to free us today from carrying the anxieties of our fathers and mothers and all those who told us that worrying was the reasonable thing to do. Instead, Jesus asks us to consider the lilies and want to teach us airiness…It’s not about filling ourselves with food and wine (actually addictions are a side effect of worrying!)…it’s about finding holy anxiety – addressing the anxiety behind all other anxieties by living out our call to live God’s dream, instead of reenacting our parents’ dramas or the myths of our society…

As in his sermon of the Mount, Jesus gives his own teaching, a new teaching: “You’ve been told…but now I tell you…”. Will we listen to his voice inside of us?

Henri Nouwen: “From the beginning of my life, two interior voices have been speaking to me: one saying, Henri be sure you make it on your own. Be sure you become an independent person. Be sure I can be proud of you. And another voice saying: Henri, whatever you are going to do, even if you don’t do anything very interesting in the eyes of the world, be sure you stay close to the heart of Jesus, be sure you stay close to the love of God. You are here (…) to discover and believe that you are a beloved child of God…Life is just a short opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: I love you too.

Amen.

Pentecost 7 – Children’s sermon

– Can you recite the “Our Father”? Do you know it by heart?

“Our Father” is in the Gospel. Jesus taught it to his disciples…(Lord’s Prayer). Twice in the Gospel: Luke and Matthew. 2 different ways of saying it…Luke has “a shorter version” than Matthew.
Is it weird or not really important? The fact that there are two different versions shows us that it is not about the exact sentences. Yet “Teach us how to pray”…became “teach us what to pray” : We end up just reciting the Lord’s prayer w/o thinking about it much / BCP. Nothing wrong w/ those prayers, they’re great prayers, except when we start reading / reciting instead of praying.

– Praying: having a conversation w/ God instead of having something ready made. Like when you receive a Hallmark card and the text is already written and the person just sign or when they took a blank card and made time to write something very special just for you.

Jesus wants us to feel at ease with God. I think this is what Jesus tells his disciples when he tells them to call God their “Father”. Father b/c Mary was his mother / the idea is = there is a relationship of trust between us and God, like should be between parents and children…Trust: not being afraid.

God is close: Version of Luke – not even mention that God “is in heavens”
God close to the children, the little ones, humble (not pretending to be something else) those who open their hearts. Requests are very direct in the Lord’s prayer.

– Which means: be honest w/ God, tell God what’s going on, what we need, ask for good things (even if you can say you’re angry!). We ask for our needs, material or spiritual: Bread or forgiveness, help when we have difficulties.

Prayer is not complicated. When we talk to our parents, or to someone we really trust, we don’t worry about finding the right words…We know we won’t be judged or rejected. (It’s not like when we have to talk to someone who is difficult)

Simple words. Different ways of saying “Hello / I love you / Please / Sorry / Thank you”.
Sometimes we need to say more than that / sometimes we can’t say anything b/c we’re too sad but important to remember that Jesus tells us that his door is always open.

– Sometimes we need to ask Jesus to help us how to pray…he is still willing to do so. We may ask something and then realize we need to ask something else.

We may experience at times that God does not answer but it isn’t b/c God does not give us exactly what we want that God does not answer. Sometimes God just give us the strength, comfort to carry on… (Like a good friend) Need patience to see the results of God’s work – its hard for us!

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you” —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

– Prayer is meant to transform us. Your will be done: your pleasure, your dream for me. Transforming me in the person you would like me to be. Not somebody perfect who never does any mistake, but somebody full of life, joy and love. Someone happy who wants to make other people happy (=the meaning of love).

God transforms us so we can help others. Look what God did through Paul, Peter or Mary. We give God’s authorization to work through us when we pray…Sometimes we would like to change the world and we can’t…but we can let God change us and that can make a difference.

– Other part in the Gospel we’ve heard today: Prayer is like helping a friend. Giving an egg or a fish to a child / or in the story: giving bread to a friend or for a friend’s friend. In God, even other people’s friends are our friends and we need to help them.

– We often think about the prayers requests we make to God but what about the prayers requests God make to us ?
If we forgive, God forgives. When we give, God gives. People make prayers to us all the time, ask us to help them, and we don’t realize. Yet we could experience that often the response to our prayers come in the help, attention of somebody else. We have a phone call, a hug, a nice meal…

– The question we can ask ourselves is: How can we answer each other prayer? Help them with their needs and their dreams? Our Father: we all are a big family. So we do things for one another.

– This week I had a letter from a friend. Like when Paul wrote letter to other churches, my friend sent me a letter / sent a letter to us at Christ church…Asking me for help / asking me…not for bread but close enough! (read the letter)

Guilène studied with me and became a priest too and now she is in Haiti…

Anyone knows where Haiti is? She has a church and a school…
How can we help her? Money…but also our prayers and our love.
Send cards. Sometimes you just need to know you are seen, you are important.