God Calls Moses

One of the early meditations in Week Two of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is the termed the Call of the King.  The meditation is presented in the form of a parable designed us to get in touch with Christ’s invitation that we labor with him to bring about God’s plan of the world.

God’s call is not a distinctively Christian phenomenon. God has been calling on humans to aid him in his plan for the world from the very beginning.  We hear one of those calls in today’s first Mass reading: God’s call to Moses.

God has heard the cry of his people languishing in slavery in Egypt. At the time Moses is off tending the flock of his father-in-law and as he comes to mount Horeb, he sees fire flaming out of a bush. And God says to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people….The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come, now! I will send you to Pharoah to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

As I read the passage, I was struck with the ordinariness with which God makes this request, as though he were asking something on the order of, “run down to the corner store and pick me up a quart of milk.”  No big deal, Moses, just go and lead my people out of Egypt.

Moses’ first reaction is about what you’d expect: Are you serious? How in the world am I supposed to do this? Who am I to go to Pharoah and lead the people to freedom? And what is God’s response: I will be with you.

The conversation goes on after this, as God tells Moses how things will proceed, but Moses still says, “If you please, Lord, send someone else.”

But God will not be thwarted. God doesn’t say, OK, I’ll go ask someone else. Rather God persists, and throughout their conversation, in response to each of Moses’ objections, God promises the gift Moses needs to carry out this task.

And God persists with each of us.  Calling us over and over again for us to take part in God’s plan for the world.

Will you answer the call?


No One Can Serve Two Gods At One Time

There is a wonderful article in the Dec. 23-30 issue of America magazine by Ruth Burrows titled Lose Yourself. In it, Burrows talks about Jesus’ “insistence on the necessity of becoming as little as a little child in order to enter into the kingdom of God.” She suggests that to understand what Jesus means, we need to appreciate that when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, he is not talking about something that awaits us when we die. Rather, he is talking about the now. And that has implications. She writes:

“Our God reigns! Our God reigns,” we sing lustily enough, but does he? Does God reign fully in his Christian people? Does God reign in our hearts, every day, every hour of the day in every circumstance? To acknowledge God as king, to enthrone God in our hearts means accepting to be spiritually helpless, to be little, unimportant, totally dependent. It is to dethrone the ego. To become as a little child has everything to do with the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole strength…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“I believe in one God,” we say in the Nicene Creed. But in every human heart without exception, God has a rival in the ego. No one can serve two gods at one time. Jesus tells us that it is impossible to see the kingdom, let alone receive or enter it, without a radical renunciation of our natural self-possession and instinctive self-glorification. Given the world as it is, given the way we are, God’s kingdom cannot come without renunciation and suffering.

What came to mind when I read this was the passage in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke where Jesus says that one cannot serve God and mammon. Some people like to translate “mammon” as material wealth or greed. That lets us off the hook far too easily. Much more challenging is to understand that Jesus is telling us that we cannot serve both God and our own ego. It is not just about giving up attachment to material possessions, but surrendering self-interest, giving up attachment to the small egoic self. In this, as in so many ways, Jesus is the model for doing precisely that.

You can read the entirety of the Burrows article here.

No Winners, No Losers; No Haves, No Have-Nots

Each Sundays during the summer months, there is an outdoor ecumenical prayer service at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. A different Catholic or Protestant parish runs the service each week. This week the service was in the hands of the parishes of Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle. Last year at the service run by this team, Bill Nolan (Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle) presided and I gave the homily. This year we reversed roles and I presided, with Bill offering the homily.

I recognize these services are not everyone’s cup of tea. But I enjoy these opportunity to come together with people of different Christian denominations as members of one Body of Christ to worship together.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Bill’s homily (which moved through both CS Lewis and a wonderful running analogy) talked about the difference between our world of winners and losers, haves and have nots and the kingdom, observing that

The centrality of the Gospel message is not a prediction of a cosmic role reversal, nor a replacement of one hierarchical structure with its polar opposite. Jesus’ message – Jesus’ invitation to all is, I believe, to be builders of a kingdom, where there are no winners and losers, have and have-nots, firsts and lasts.

You can access a recording of Bill’s homily here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 10:49.

Thanks to Bill…
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And to the choir…
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And to all who joined us for worship this morning…
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Feast of St. James

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. James, said to be the first of the apostles to be martyred.

In the Gospel for today’s feast day, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to “command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus responds by asking the sons if they can “drink the chalice that I am going to drink.”

As I sat with that passage this morning, I was amazed at the alacrity which which James and his brother respond to Jesus. I’m not sure I could have answered so quickly. Were there really sure of their strength? Or were they just anxious to secure a promise to sit at the head of the class, first in line, at the right hand of Jesus?

As I put it that way to myself, I realized what a misconception of Jesus’ Kingdom the mother’s question and the sons’ ambition reveals.

It is a very human way of thinking of things to envision some people getting to stand closer to Jesus and others (the less important, less holy, less whatever folks) being pushed to the back. James and John want to make sure they get the good seats. But I think when fully realize Kingdom, there is no line, no hierarchy of closeness, no back of the bus. We all get to be fully with Jesus.

Apart from today’s Gospel, I mark this holiday for another reason. Tradition holds that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain and he is especially honored at Compostela in Spain – the end point of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James).

Four or five years ago on this feast, I wrote that it was one of my great desires to walk the Camino and that I planned to do so at some future point. As regular readers know, that point has come and I am only two months away from beginning my Camino.

And so I pray to St. James as I prepare for my pilgrimage to the place at which he is so honored.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is a short version of the Gospel we heard on Sunday, in which Jesus likens the Kingdom of heaven to a treasure buried in the field, “which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field,” or like a merchant who, when he “finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Jesus uses similar analogies at other times to try to give us an understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ descriptions tell us something crucially important about this Kingdom of which he speaks, that is, that it is not out there somewhere far away in time or space. Rather, it is right here underneath our noses.

We tend, as my pastor observed in speaking about this reading on Sunday, to see only the ordinary when we look around us. Our task, however, is to train ourselves to see the extraordinary that lies underneath the ordinary – the treasure buried in the field. We know it is there – we’ve all had glimpses of it…moments when the transcendent breaks through and we see that which is normally not visible. We need to remember those moments, and savor them, so we will train ourselves to see them more and more.

The Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus told us. He meant it. It is for us to see it underneath the ordinary.

Thy Kingdom Come

I’ve enjoyed reading several things by the British spiritual writer, Caryll Houselander. I reently came across something she wrote about the notion of Kingdom that relates to what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Houselander writes

The kingdom is in man’s heart; the patient soul who rules her own heart with an ordered tenderness, pity, and kindness, the mind that keeps the poetry of life in flower, even now, that is the soul who possesses the kindgom of God. But if most Christians, most people, had this inward kingdom, cherished it, then there would also be a visible kingdom, not a kingdom based on materialism, not a kingdom based on power, but conditions of life based on simplicity, brotherly love and sacrifice, which would make it impossible to go to war, impossible to have slums or destitution, impossible to have enmity bewteen countries, classes, or individuls.

What is in your mind when you pray the words, “Thy Kingdom Come”? I suspect that we don’t often contemplate the meaning of the line when we recite the words of the prayer. But we should. And one of the things we need to understand is that there can’t be kingdom outside unless there is kindgom inside.

Houselander continues, “We are told to pray it may come, and come it can and will, first in heart after heart, midn after mind, coming as the growth of love, as a light flooding the mind, until, aware of the wonder of it, we shall dare in Christ’s name either to live for it or die for it.”

Yeast and the Kingdom of Heaven

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus gives several images to help his disciples understand how we transform the world to kingdom, how God’s word can spread throughout the world – the growth of the mustard seed and the effect of yeast on flour.

Never having seen a full-grown mustard bush, let alone on in which the “birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches,” it is the second of those images that resonates with me – the yeast that leavens the whole batch of wheat flour.

We periodically bake bread and for me one of the most marvelous parts of that activity is the “magic” of watching the yeast at work. Mix yeast, water and flour, take the little ball that results and put it aside for a few hours. When you come back and look at it, it has doubled or tripled in size. Sometimes even more.

I remember one time when we mixed up a batch, and went out for longer than we expected. When we walked back into the apartment we then lived in, what popped into my head was “The Yeast that Ate Brooklyn Heights” – bread dough had come out of the covered bowl in which it was rising and had spread over the floor in all directions. The dough was everywhere.

So it is with our efforts to spread the Gospel. Whenever we preach the Gospel by our words or deeds, we drop a mustard seed here, a little yeast there. Each of us, spreading seeds of the Kingdom that will grow, “until the whole batch [is] leavened.” It may take some time before we see the effect, but it will happen. Like my dough that went out of control, the Gospel will spread in ways we can’t possible imagine. That’s Jesus’ promise. And that’s pretty exciting.