Epiphany VI

– Famous Gospel of the Beatitudes…Yet not that famous. Since we are in Year C “Luke’s year”, we have heard this morning Luke’s version of the Beatitudes which is quite different from Matthew’s, the best loved one: “Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the meek…”

Luke’s beatitudes are shorter, more straightforward / there is more density and focus and it seems to concentrate on very concrete issues (poverty, hunger, depression/sadness and rejection). Luke’s version is “down to earth” (if you will) whereas Matthew’s is more “spiritual”.

There are two reasons for that I think:

– Luke’s Gospel is known as the Gospel of the poor and the despised (the women, the sick) / when Matthew is more oriented towards building a Christian community.

– Luke was believed to be a doctor, so he was used to deal with concrete issues and people’s bodies: Hungry bodies, bodies suffering from sickness (He openly mentions some taboos of his time, like women’s bleeding for example), bodies suffering from exposure and depression (even if the term was not invented yet!), bodies suffering from torture and mistreatment…

And so Luke’s Gospel puts us in touch with the concrete suffering that’s going on in our world!
Which asks us to be very concrete in return with our faith and in the way we practice it…

Luke assures that all those who suffer in their bodies, would it be from hunger, sickness, depression or rejection are seen by God and, more than that, that God blesses them.

What does it mean? Well, blessedness is not necessarily about winning the lottery, or even giving birth to beautiful children or having a great job. We often make of the fact of being blessed a synonymous of being lucky/ successful. But blessedness can be very different from being lucky/successful – and this is maybe the reason why Luke chooses those examples of people who are obviously not lucky/successful. Blessedness is about our ability to experience God’s presence with us, to be made part of the kingdom, to be used for God’s purpose. A few weeks ago, we blessed our cars on the parking lot. We may see it as a protection against accidents but mostly, when we bless a person, an animal or a thing, it is about asking God to use it to God’s purpose. It does not mean – as some may believe – that it makes us God’s little soldiers. More deeply, being blessed mean that we are where God is to be found and experienced. – and that is the deep meaning and true joy in life. The Greek authorizes to translate blessedness as “True joy” / We read in some translations “Happy are the poor”…

Happiness is not to be found in poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection themselves, but in the way God can visit us in those experiences. God is not to be found by looking up at the sky. God is present with the people who suffer and struggle.

Why? How comes that in those difficult experiences God can be found?

I think, once again, it has something to do with our bodies. Two weeks ago, I attended a retreat based on yoga, and our instructor who is also a priest, told us we need to listen to what our bodies tell us because: “Our heads can talk us in and out of basically anything, when our bodies cannot lie”.
Jeremiah puts it like this today, he says: “The heart is devious above all else” / We keep telling ourselves the stories we want to believe. But if we pay attention, our bodies will tell us what is really going on. Like sometimes when we think we’re fine with something, except our stomach is filled with knots.

The blessedness in the experiences of hunger, sickness, sorrow and rejection, when we are in touch in the materiality and fragility of our bodies, is that we can learn who we are / how to be real. We realize our poverty and our inability to have control over our destiny, and yet, this is when we can make room for God, feel our need for God. It is not that God is happy if we realize that we are miserable because God wants to be God and desires us to stay at our place, it is because God indeed created us for God and for one another and if we want to lead our lives ignoring that, we are heading to a very dark place / we will lose true happiness.

This is also the sense of the curses.

I love it that Luke adds curses (Matthew does not do that!), because the curses really explain what it is all about. When we are detached from our hunger, the uncertainty of our life, when we think everybody approves what we do and we can live selfishly in an ignorant bliss, we miss out on God because we don’t live in the truth. We live in an illusion – pursuing happiness where it is not to be found, trying to fill our lives in an exhausting quest.

The more I think about Christian life, the more I think the only thing God asks of us is to be real.

Jesus often calls Satan the “Father of lies”. Satan wants us to believe our illusions when God wants us to experience what is real. To be real with our hunger, with our deepest longings, to be real with seeing the limits of the things we possess and the false security money gives us, to be real in the feelings we experience and in the way we express our emotions (not pretending to laugh when we want to cry) we need to be real in our human relationships and in the way we testify about what we truly believe in. Jeremiah uses the image of a tree that is well grounded, and this is what a Christian should look like: Grounded in reality. It does not mean we don’t have dreams! It means we don’t lie to ourselves, to one another or to God and so we can be really present / in each other’s presence. (And maybe to make these dreams happen, instead of just dreaming them).

Interestingly, Luke mentions that as Jesus preached those things, he healed people. Well, we know that lies, secrets and illusions can make us really sick, it’s not only about knots in our stomach. Hiding who we are is not God’s will for us, we are meant to live truly and fully.

So what about the curse? Well, yes, if we refuse to be real – we are cursed. But it does not mean that God is going to punish us because God will be unhappy that we misbehaved! God does not punish us, but as Jeremiah points out with this example of the tree, is that there is a law to life! And the law of life is that, if we live in selfishness with the illusion of being alone in the world and not needing anything, we are like a tree without water and we are going to die inside! It’s not a punishment, it’s just the consequence of our actions because indeed we are meant for each other and for God, as a tree is meant for water and reasonable heat! When I moved in my office here, I got a palm tree because I love plants. But a few days ago, I realized that I clearly underestimated how much water it needed, I noticed it was all drying up. Yet I don’t believe God is punishing me because I have not been good at watering the tree…The tree is dying because it needed water is all!

Jesus often says in John’s Gospel that he is the living water. Isn’t it a beautiful way to say that Jesus is exactly what we need so we can grow and thrive and give glory to God by the beauty of our lives? Jesus is God’s blessing among struggles and sufferings, looking at Jesus, following Jesus and giving our hearts to Jesus leads us to be those wonderful human beings – not because they’re perfect, not because they look good – wonderful human beings because by being fully engaged / present, they too can become blessings to others and to the world. Amen.

Epiphany V

Epiphany” = Manifestation. Encounters with God. What our readings are all about today. What I love is that we go from very solemn to very casual…From the Temple, a vision of the Lord sitting on the throne surrounded by angels in Isaiah, to an encounter with Jesus on the shore of the sea of Galilee (=Gennesaret). You may have experienced God’s presence on a vacation, contemplating the beauty and vastness of the horizon by the seaside but it’s not really what it is about today. What it means is that Jesus shows up on Simon Peter’s and his partners’ workplace! Jesus is not interested in visiting kings or religious leaders as prophets used to do…Jesus is happy in the presence of everyday people busy doing their everyday activities.

Now think about how it would be for you to have Jesus showing up at your work place –hanging out with your colleagues, talking with them – maybe giving you a hand with what you’re doing…Because this is exactly what is happening today in our Gospel! A rabbi was teaching at the seminary when I was a student there, and we asked him what he liked about Christianity: He said what he liked is that we have a religion where God just shows up! And it’s so true…

Yet, it took me a while to figure what it really means that God shows up…Of course, I can go with the fact that we can meet God in various places, with different kind of people. But I have a sense I need to be ready for it, to be in a certain state of mind. Spirituality today is much about quietening ourselves / reaching inner peace…If we feel holy, then we think we are ready to meet God. Unfortunately, with this belief a lot of people think they cannot be close to God: They are too busy, too preoccupied. A lot of people think they can’t afford to be spiritual / religious people.

Yet, Simon Peter gave me something to think about this week. I wondered what state of mind he was in when he met Jesus on that day? I bet it wasn’t good. One commentary suggests that there was probably some editing going on when he says to Jesus: “Master, we have worked all night and we have caught nothing. Yet if you say so…” The commentary says that Simon Peter probably used a more colorful language, because he was very tired and discouraged, maybe he felt like a failure for not being able to do his job

Well, who can’t relate to that? Those men have been working hard, they gave their best efforts and it led to nothing. They were weary and disappointed…worried too: How were they going to feed their families? Because we’re not talking about leisure fishing here / these people fished for a living. No fish, no food. Well, you may have had one of those days and maybe you felt you had no time / no room for God when you felt like that. That’s probably what happened to Simon Peter. We notice indeed that he was not listening as Jesus was teaching to the crowds. Simon Peter was busy with his partners “cleaning their nets”, packing up after a fruitless day. Bitter. Anxious. Ashamed maybe.

And yet. Yet that’s when Jesus comes to meet with him. In the midst of bitterness and anxiety.

Made me think differently about meeting God in everyday life. I know I won’t meet God only in the Temple or at church. I know I may meet God at the groceries store: I would help this person, or give a dollar to the homeless, or maybe somebody will smile to me and I’ll have a sense of God’s presence. But is it possible that I have a genuine encounter with God on one of those days when I am worried? Disappointed? Bitter? Cynical? Not paying attention? Well, it seems that the Gospel says to us today that it is possible. And moreover, that may be precisely the times when God comes closer. Because this is what happens today, Simon Peter is not paying attention to Jesus, but Jesus pays attention to him. Jesus goes to Simon Peter, and Jesus does not ask him what the sermon he preached to the crowd was about. Jesus knows what is on Simon Peter’s mind (his anxiety for food) without even asking. And he says to him: Go back, throw your nets.

And so it looks like we don’t have to reach the perfect state of mind to let God touch us and change our lives. Spirituality today is indeed a lot about inner peace. And it is great to achieve inner peace, to be able to sit a whole hour to pray, but it is not a condition for God to be close to us. God comes to us first, though we are sinners: It means not only that God forgives us our wrong doings, it means also, more simply, that God comes to us in the midst of our brokenness, of our limits, of our business, in spite of our inattentiveness, our fatigue, our fears and worries.

Maybe we want to remember that the next time we have a bad day at work, an argument with a friend, or when we suffer in our hearts or in our bodies. Maybe the whole world expects us to be fine or great, but God does not expect us to be fine to come to us and to work in us, with us and through us.

So how does God work in us, with us, through us? Look at the way Jesus helps Simon Peter. Read closely: Jesus does nothing, really! We say Jesus does a miracle in this Gospel, but basically all he does is to go talk to Simon Peter and tell him to throw his net in deeper waters. He does not do it for him / He is not patronizing: “Let me help you b/c obviously you have no idea how to do that” (Like some of us can do with their spouses or children!). Jesus knows Simon Peter can do his job, is up to the task. He is just there giving support and encouragement and the miracle takes place.

It reminded me of those words by Thomas Kempis: “WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard.”

Maybe on that day Simon Peter was willing to do things a little differently, take an extra risk, try another time, go a little deeper (People in Israel were quite afraid of the sea, even fishermen!) because he had this friend standing by him / encouraging him. It’s not about “cheering up” in a “you got this” kind of way or coaching someone to their limits– it’s about having somebody who sees you, who cares, who think you’re important and what you do is valuable. Did it change a little something in your life when you had somebody who believed (or, on the other side, did not believe) in you? Everything.

We have here a table full of the pictures of our sweethearts – We know how their love helped us carry us through hard times. They did not wait for us to be perfect or to feel wonderful. They just saw the goodness and the possibilities in us. And b/c we loved them, we listened to them…Maybe today the risk Simon Peter took was the risk to believe that Jesus believed in him. That it did not matter what he believed / felt about himself, but what mattered was what Jesus believed about him. But if you say so…” Feeling the love / trust from Jesus led Simon Peter to act /try one last time in spite of all.

The Gospel presents us in Jesus a God not so much preoccupied of us believing in God – but a God showing us that God believes in us: Think we are good, able / even when we feel like a mess or a failure. B/c this is how Simon Peter felt and yet from catching fish, Simon Peter will catch people – and we are all witness of the extraordinary destiny of this simple man. Because he realized that Jesus could come to him wherever he was, work in him, with him and through him. No. Matter. What.

Good Gospel to meditate on as we install our new vestry and acknowledge our faithful and good servants. We are all invited to turn to God and ask God to be with us and use us as we are. We have no excuse! God can really work in us, with us and through us, that God believes in us and empower us to spread his love and serve others…We know how much this world needs the miracle of faith, justice and hope. May with Isaiah today just answer: “Here I am, send me!”

The Presentation of Our Lord

Hearts that don’t grow old (or weary)

Have you ever met somebody that made you feel better about growing old? Somebody who made you feel you wish you’d be like them when you reach their age? Maybe you feel old already, but maybe you can remember a time in your youth when that happened to you to meet that kind of person. Maybe you still try to live up to this example…

I met a few people in my life who made me feel better about growing older, and I noticed it was not necessarily people who managed to stay in shape, or who kept really active. Most of the time, it was people who had true goodness in their hearts, yet they weren’t only “Sweet old ladies”. What characterized them is that they managed to keep (or even to develop) their “spark”: playfulness and joy.

The best way I have found to describe them is to say that these people had a sense of wonder in front of existence and an energy to respond to it, even if they were very limited in their bodies or even in their minds.

A sense of wonder:

We often assume that wise people are those who aren’t surprised by anything, who have “seen it all before” and have something clever to say in every situation. But Plato, who was this great philosopher who lived centuries before Jesus, said the other way around: He said that wonder is the basis of wisdom. Wisdom is to see life with new eyes, to not take for granted what we believe or what we are taught. To be curious and rediscover the world everyday. That’s also how you get to know God. If you think about it, it is indeed difficult to find God if you “have already seen it all before”!

– These are the thoughts that come to my mind when I read about Simeon and Anna. They both had this quality of people who age well. They spent their lives in the Temple, and yet God was no routine to them. Although they were very old, they were still on the look to see what God was up to, and even at the brink of the grave, they still expected the best out of life and even out of human History, when they could have been very disabused / bitter with the world / life as they were (Roman occupation, endless widowhood…)

But Simeon and Anna kept their hearts burning and longing. Although they probably had seen thousands of babies in their lives, they hadn’t “seen it all before”, they looked at this young family coming into the Temple with new eyes, and they saw something wonderful. It is a very good example for us, as we too often assume that to be good Christians, we have to be somewhat resigned, accept things as they are and be satisfied with our lot. Simeon and Anna show us what it is to have faith: We believe that God will bring the best, come into our lives and bring us the comfort and the strength we need.

Yet, it does not mean that we have to be optimistic in a naive way, like these who believe everything is always fine or will be fine, and remain superficial in the way they lead their lives and are unconcerned by the suffering around them. Simeon and Anna weren’t naive, they saw the struggles of their people, and they had a sense of the difficulties Mary and Jesus would have to go through. Simeon said to Mary that a “sword [would] pierce her soul”, and it’s not only about Jesus’s death. Jesus, and as a consequence Mary, will experience misunderstandings, rejection, hate…Anna and Simeon knew life and they knew that life breaks your heart / Maybe especially when you are a loving person who refuses to be tough, violent and revengeful. You can become a target for other people’s frustration and anger/ Constant criticism or prejudices.

Sometimes we think we suffer b/c we have done something wrong, but sometimes we suffer b/c we have done something right. I heard one day someone saying: “Sometimes we suffer just b/c of who we are”. When you love, you make yourself vulnerable and so often it’s wonderful but sometimes you can get really hurt.

The letter to the Hebrews today talks about Test” – that Jesus was “tested”. Well, when we are “tested” (“Purified and refined” as Malachi puts it in OT) it is not about God watching us from above to check on how well we do when God sends us trials. “Test” is in this that unavoidable suffering and trials reveal “our inner thoughts”, reveal who we truly are, in the same way that some people will reveal “their inner thoughts” when Jesus is going to oppose them.

A theologian named Ramsey said that you cannot minister to others until God breaks your heart, meaning until you open yourself to suffering by suffering yourself. As Christians, we cannot love if our hearts are not open, if we cannot be touched by others. Mary had her heart broken, but it is believed by many people that, in this, we can see in her a mother to all of God’s people, b/c she knew everything there is to know about suffering b/c the worst happened to her.

Life constantly asks us this question: Are you going to let your heart die / become hardened / weary or are you going to keep on loving no matter what? Paradoxically, a broken heart is a heart that is (still) alive.

The story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a bitter sweet story. Sense of awe/joy and pain/danger in the same time. But it is how life is. Older people know that Life is both beautiful and tragic, wonderful and terrible.

– How do we navigate that with faith?

How can we live with a sense of wonder and joy and be heart broken in the same time?

I discovered a poetess a few weeks ago. Her name is Cleo Wade, and she wrote a book called “Heart talk”. She writes something I find really beautiful. She says we all go through life holding the pieces of our broken hearts but along the way we meet someone and with all the pieces of our broken hearts, we make a new heart. With all the pieces of our broken hearts, we make a new heart.

She mostly talks about romantic relationships, but I think it can be true for all kind of relationships, and especially for us as a Christian community. We bring the pieces of our broken hearts, and together we create a new heart / should create a new heart, find together the ability to love and serve and respond to the suffering of the world. We find joy and purpose again by being together.

This is the sense of our rite of healing this day

Often when we think of healing, we say “We need time to heal”, like it’s something we need to do on our own, hiding. But in a Christian community, we don’t / should not have to hide when we suffer, when we cry…we should be able to heal together, to bring our hearts back together remembering that God is the one who bring our hearts back together and with one another. Who makes us whole and keep our spark going / keep us going...