What makes your heart race?

Published on 24. Apr, 2011 by in Sunday Homilies


What makes your heart race?

Not long ago, I thought I saw – my dad!  Maybe it was the flannel shirt like he always wore, and that salt and pepper hair… Dad boxed in high school and his nose was crooked –just like the side profile of the man in front of me – it looked so much like him.  Dad died almost twenty years ago.  But for a fraction of a second, or a fraction of a fraction of a second, my heart raced.  Even after all those years, I thought it was him.   Until he turned completely toward me, and I realized that, sadly, no, it wasn’t him.  And I knew again the sadness of missing my dad, the pain of all of those who have loved and lost.  That must have been a tiny taste of the heartache those first disciples felt, gathered in their grief at the death of Jesus.  Could you imagine what that must have been like for them?

Let’s do that.  Imagine that you and I were part of the group who had been following him for three years now.  And that – in him – we felt something we never felt before.  When he spoke how he captured our hearts; when he stopped on the road for people nobody else ever would, when he laughed with abandon, or cried, cried right in front of us for the suffering of the world, when he held us, when we watched him pray…..  And now, oh, how we miss him…  How scared we are to try to do life without him, him, the one who made it worthwhile to get up in the morning….

And how alone it is now… Yes, we have each other, others who found this in him too.  But HE’S gone.  We watched him die.  He’s gone with a finality that only those who have tasted death ever know.

And so we meet here, you and I.  But the air is heavy with sadness.  When all of a sudden, a commotion in the back of church.  The big doors bang open and the sunlight comes exploding into this place right down the center aisle here.  It’s one of our group, a woman who loved him so deeply.    Every time we saw her since he died, she was crying.  But not today.  No, she comes rushing down this center aisle absolutely breathless, her eyes shining.  And her racing heart is contagious.  And she blurts it out:  “I saw him!  He’s alive!  He’s really alive!  Alive!”

Could you even imagine?

It would be everything – and more – that I felt recently when for that moment I thought it was my dad!  But THIS time, it is no mistaken identity.  This time it is not a fraction of a second -but for all eternity…. This time it IS real…   (brief pause)

My friends, you and I have grown up with Easter.  It has been in our blood.  Every year about this time we celebrate it.  For too many of us it has become old: the same old readings, same old music, same old homily.  Our hearts don’t race anymore at the announcement, at the first singing of the ALLELUIA.  The surprise is just old news now.  Is there a way I – or any of us – could say it?  Is there a turn of a phrase that could catch our attention this morning/tonight, and make us breathless?

Of course, I should be breathless, myself, preaching this morning, shouldn’t I?  Like I just ran in here to you as if I had just been to the tomb, and it was empty!   His body was gone!  And I couldn’t wait to tell you!   And in a moment of grace, I realized I should be breathless, not AS IF I had just run in from seeing resurrection, but because I HAVE!  Yes, with my hearts’ eyes I’ve seen love trump death – mini resurrections and big ones – in you and in me… and that makes my heart race…

  • Like the woman in our parish who mother was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – and is opening her home for mom to come and stay – knowing that everything will change for her and her family.
  • I saw it in twelve of our Newman Students who journeyed to the poorest part of Appalachia – giving up their spring break – to serve and to learn from the people they served all about love in action.
  • I’ve even known it in myself when I walked into your houses after a loved one has died, or is about to die.  Though I’m always scared on some level, I’ve also found a deeper part of me which trusts that love trumps this death… and that I can be the bearer of that good news.
  • Hopefully you’ve felt Easter: when you found what you needed to be able to love in the midst of whatever life threw at you.

That’s Easter, and it’s why we’re here!  It is absolutely amazing!  It is enough to make << point to self >> an old guy’s heart race again, and yours, too, if you let yourself think about it.

We should be breathless… our hearts racing at the surprise of it all… at just how good the news is… Racing as we make our way out into the world from here this morning/night … racing with joy because we’ve experienced first-hand and have seen that — lovetrumps—-death —- always and everywhere.

We have seen it … and we will again.    Happy Easter, my friends.

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Why are we uncomfortable with people washing our feet?

Even now, Jerusalem is a dusty city.  Forensic scientists and the people from CSI and its like could have a field day with the dust that settles on the foot of any walker in Israel.  Pollen from the fig trees and flowering plants.  Salt residue from the Dead Sea.  Mold spores from the fertile Jordan River.  Bits of the ubiquitous sand from the Mediterranean Ocean.  How quickly that mixed bag of grime from the environment would coat even the most hygienically clean among the Israelites.  And how easy it would be for our generation of forensic scientists to figure out where the people of Jesus’ time had been by examining the grime from their feet.  “Spending time in the stables, I see.”  “How was that Dead Sea vacation?”  “Are the dates ripe in Capernaum yet?”  All the questions they would be able to ask by simply examining the dust on our feet…

And though our world is a bit ‘cleaner’, at least in terms of the lack of visible dust that might cling to us, isn’t there the same, exhume-able, research-able, able to be discovered ‘spiritual grime’ that needs some washing –that could use some divine cleansing.  Which is why, at the last supper, and by God’s grace – tonight – Jesus does something that is disconcerting for even the best of us.  He is going to insist on sitting at our feet.  He wants to be among us as one who washes us clean and sets us free.  Right there, where the ‘dirt of our lives’ clings to our souls like a dirty dish rag – Jesus enters our world with a basin of water and a towel around his waste.

But if you are like me, then we don’t want him wearing our grime, getting too acquainted with the dirt of where we have been. We don’t want him wearing our grime, getting too acquainted with the dirt of where we have been.

Yet what I know of our savior is that Jesus is determined to touch every gritty detail of human existence, down to the linens of a shroud.  And if there is a power to this ritual of washing and being washed, isn’t it just that.  That Jesus wants to set it all free.  And he wants to set us free from all that would restrain us; all that would keep us from being servants and disciples.

So it got me to thinking – what is the grime that I am wearing, the bits of collected muck that clings to me like the ubiquitous dirt of Palestine?  What have I allowed to cling to my heart and spirit that needs the loving hands of our Savior to gently wash it away?  Let me share 3 examples in the hopes it might open up something in your prayer this evening.

  • I find myself more selfish this year.  That dirt shows up as being very protective of my time, very loath to say yes to anything that is inconvenient or stretches me or is outside of my comfort zone.  That dirt clings to me a lot these days.
  • I find an attitude of pride is clinging to me.  It surfaces in many ways.  One is my sometimes stubborn refusal to ask for help because I am not sure if other people will do whatever the task is as well as I think it should be done.
  • And I find the grime of predictability clinging to me as well.  It is a good day if nothing messes with my comfortable world, if my principal does not bring any ‘problems’ to our weekly meeting; if the Newman center budget is on track and the like.  I don’t like my world to be ‘un-peaceful’ and disordered, and I don’t always handle it well when it is.

Perhaps those issues are ones that you struggle with.  Perhaps it is something different.  Will you believe that the Lord wants to wash all that from your feet/heart tonight?  And whether that is physically in a few moments as we ritualize that movement up here in the sanctuary, or in your prayer as you watch others have their feet washed, know that our Lord’s desire is to wash your feet.

Uncomfortable or not, the Lord is in the business of washing feet.  And hearts.  And souls.  Will you let him?  Tonight, will you be vulnerable before the one who wore all our grime upon the cross, and washes away all the dirt of where we have been – all our selfishness and pettiness and pride.  Will you let him set you free?

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In the movie, Good Will Hunting, will (played by Matt Damon) is a 20 year old genius who works as a janitor at MIT.  He was severely abused as a child and has been in trouble with the law ever since. When Will finally agrees to get counseling to keep himself out of jail, he meets a therapist named Sean (played by Robin Williams). Their relationship is rocky, but Sean won’t back down, for he knows this kid is throwing away his life.  In one interchange, Sean offers – in part – this challenge to Will, speaking from the pain of his own lived life:

  • “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.
  • You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “Once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help.
  • I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you.
  • You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself.

“You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself.”

The stunning glimpse of God we have just heard in today’s passion shows a God who loves us exactly that way.  There is nothing “theoretical” about this love.  This is not an intellectual concept.  This is not some romantic feeling.  This is what love is.  This is what love does.  If we hear this story rightly, we could never again think of God as aloof, separated from us, unable to truly understand what it is like to be us…  The incredible pain in the heart of God we recount is all because Jesus loved his God more than himself, and he loved us in that same way.  As we make this journey together this week, let that be our prayer – to accept the gift of a salvific love from the one who loved us all more than himself – and to ask for the courage to love that way in return.

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Pastor’s Pen – April 17, 2011

Published on 17. Apr, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen


Holy Places…

The church of the Holy Sepulcher is perhaps the most complex space you can ever imagine.  Housed under its roof are at least 6 separate churches/spaces of worship.  The hill of Calvary with its two separate altars; the stone of anointing with its perfumed oil lamps; the tomb of Jesus with two separate ‘churches’ in front of it, and finally, deep below, the burial chapel of St. Helena, wife of Emperor Constantine, and finder of the true cross – are all literally within a stone’s throw or two of each other.

Of my many memories of that place, one that comes to the fore is the quiet, reverential ‘buzz’, especially in front of the hill of Calvary.  There was no ‘sign’ to tell people that this was a place of prayer, yet you knew it to be so.  And the most striking part of that ‘buzz’ was the many languages that created it.  German.  Italian.  Hebrew.  English.  Asian. Korean.  And those were just the 10 or so people to whom I was standing the closest.  And in a little moment of grace, I understood something in a visceral way.

The cross belongs to everyone.

Before the stark sacrifice of our Lord upon the hill of Calvary, we are all equal, all debtors, all supplicants, all sinners in need of His mercy and forgiveness.  And we are all recipients of that same universal love that wants to connect all believers and bond them into one as a gift to the Father.  This love that we all know in the sacrifice of Jesus calls us to treat each brother and sister as equal, as co-debtors and co-owners of the mystery of the heart that was pierced so that we could be free.

Of the many things to pray for during this Holy Week as we recall the great events that led to our salvation, perhaps this year might find us humbly kneeling in supplication for the same, all inclusive heart and love that filled our Savior on the Cross.  As his love cut across all boundaries of race, class and nation, so may ours.  As his sacrifice, symbolized by his outstretched arms, embraced all of humanity, might ours reach out to embrace our wounded families, our broken relationships, and our fractured neighborhoods – that the power of his cross and resurrection might indeed redeem the world.

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What do you let have the last word in your life?

There are some people who are absolutely driven to get in the last word.  I had a former classmate in High School and College who was like that.  He became a lawyer – which was probably a pretty good fit for him.  Getting the last word minimally means that your idea/truth will stay in people’s memory longer.  Often it means that you have won the debate, though not always.  And it is interesting that our criminal justice system is set up to honor that desire to get the last word.  The last person a jury hears before taking the case to the jury room is the defense council.  In a country where we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the last word is always on behalf of the defendant.  The last word indeed holds a position of prime importance.

Today’s gospel is all about understanding WHAT the last word about our lives as humans is really all about.  In the third and final of these long stories from John, we see a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate word, his last word about our fates as humans.  John sets up the story well.  Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus’ sickness is not to end in death… but so that the GLORY of God will be revealed.  So we know that the last word will somehow be connected to God’s glory.

Martha – though she can scarcely imagine how – hints at it.  “If you had been here.  But EVEN NOW Lord…” Even now, I am sure that you can have the last word.

Mary – repeats that theme, that things could have been different if Jesus would have had the last word:  “If you would have been here…”

And then we hear this wonderful word, – a precursor, really, to the last word: in Greek – “embrimasthai” – meaning to be moved deeply with a degree of anger. Such an emotion is usually associated with a snort or some physical gesture to emphasize the anger. Here it has the meaning of Jesus being moved to the pit of his being and it signifies indignation, not grief.  The two times it is used in this passage are in response to ‘death’.  The first time is in the presence of the mourners – ‘Mary and those weeping’; John reports that he becomes perturbed and deeply troubled.  The second time is as he approaches the tomb itself – Jesus, perturbed again, approaches the tomb.

Think about that.  The initial reaction of Jesus in the face of death is anger.  It is to be disturbed.  It is to snort in indignation.  This is not right.  This grief, this sorrow, this lack of life, this tomb – it is not how it should be.  And the Lord of LIFE reacts with the passion of God himself – anger, struggle, indignation.  Death is not meant to have the last word.  Sorrow, though as real as the tears that he himself sheds over Lazarus’ death, is not the goal of creation.  And from the depth of his spirit comes a series of commands – “Take away the stone.”  “Lazarus, come out.”  “Untie him and let him go.”  That is what moves in the heart of a savior – the utter conviction that death has no place among the living, that death will never be the last word about us as humans.

LAZARUS COME FORTH…  Ahh.. there is the last word to all that is hopelessly death in us.  And that is what that little detail is about  – what being in the tomb 4 days means.  In days before our advanced medicine, people could be in a deep, deep coma and be thought dead but come back to life before the end of 3 days.  No one comes back after three days in that time.  So that is why Jesus ‘waits’ before he comes to Bethany – because being in the tomb 4 days is now beyond ‘coming back to life’.  Jesus wants us to know that even in the face of all that is “hopelessly death” in us – that is still NOT the last word.  I am the resurrection and the life… That is the last word that you need to trust in and surrender to.

And so what remains “entombed” in your world?  Perhaps it is a habit of gossip that doesn’t ever seem to go away despite your best efforts.  Maybe it is that struggle with patience in dealing with a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s. Or the struggle to let your internet viewing only go to sites that are healthy and wholesome.  Or perhaps it is that selfish part of you that always wants to choose YOU over the other, receiving over giving, indulgence over sacrifice.  What SEEMS to always have the last word in your life?  Bring that to the one who is the resurrection and the life.  Bring THOSE struggles to the one who called even the hopelessly dead Lazarus from the tomb.

And let him have the last word…

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How easily do you let yourself off the hook?

I was hungry on Thursday – and it was still a few hours before I was to meet a friend for dinner.  Mr. Uthoff and I had finished our usual Thursday walk at Norwood, (sometimes called golf) and I was sitting at the bar, enjoying my usual Lenten glass of water.  The complementary jar of mixed nuts, dried fruit mixture and other salty goodies were there on the bar beckoning.  I had my first handful.  And then I remembered – I had chosen NOT to eat between meals.  What was I going do?  Now I know this is not an end of the world kind of temptation – but I was hungry, and it was going to be a while before I ate.  It would have been so easy to let myself off the hook.  I had already started.  What are a few more cashews in the grand scheme of things?  It was then that one of the things I had noticed about today’s gospel in my preliminary homily preparation struck me.   It was the tendency that a lot of the characters in the gospel fell prey to – to let themselves off the hook for what they knew/saw.  It is almost shocking, how deep the self deception goes, or at what cost people let themselves off.

The blind man’s parents do it at the expense of the relationship with their own son.  Can you imagine THAT conversation the next day around the dinner table?  “Really, mom and dad?  You were the first one’s I ran to tell.  And you didn’t even have the courage to tell them what I told you?  That’s all you would have had to do.  They wouldn’t have blamed you.  Thanks for throwing me under the bus…” Because of their fear of the social and political consequences of being associated with Jesus, because of the obvious pressure of the Pharisees, bent on their own agenda, they let themselves off the hook.  “He is of age, ask him.”

The Pharisees do it at the expense of their own integrity.  Their questions make it clear that they are not seeking the truth, only their version of it.  They let themselves off the hook from the miracle by focusing only on the DAY the miracle was performed – the Sabbath.  Because it was against the laws to do work on the Sabbath – Jesus OBVIOUSLY was a sinner – and they OBVIOUSLY did not have to listen to him or change their life because of him.  How easily, by clinging on to ONE piece of the story, did they let themselves off from the implications of the rest of the story.

In fact, the blind man is the only one who follows the chain of experience where it should lead.  It starts with his healing.  “I was blind, but now I see,” becomes the bedrock experience of faith for him.  He repeats it over and over again, each time, gaining new confidence, new strength. “What this man did for me – it is enough to believe in.  It is enough to follow.”  Once he accepts that truth as a starting point, then everything else follows – including his choice NOT to let himself off the hook.  You see that gradual progression in the ‘titles’ he has for the one who healed him.  “The man called Jesus”, ‘a prophet’; ‘a man from God’; and finally, “Lord”    “Who is he, that I may believe in him?”  “He stands here in front of you.”  “I do believe Lord…”  And he finds himself thrown out of the temple and by extension – from the very society and religion he had followed – because he chose NOT to let himself off the hook.

And you and I – at what price do we let ourselves off the hook?  Or what are the areas or arenas in our practice of the faith where we lightly excuse ourselves from the consequences of being a follower of Jesus?  Because the temptation of these wonderful but LONG stories that John tells so well – last week, today and next week – is to let ourselves off the hook by believing they are only the story of that woman at the well, that man born blind, that Martha and Mary and Lazarus.  Don’t do that.  Don’t let yourself off so easily.

  • Perhaps it is our blindness about the social justice teachings of the church.  We hang on to some of the truths of the church, but not the whole picture.  The prophetic call of the Bishops to end the death penalty, the invitation to protect the sanctity of life in the womb, or the challenge to look at the inequities between poor and rich that are furthered by our tragically flawed public education system in our cities – too difficult to face – so we let ourselves off the hook.
  • Maybe it is our complicit silence in the face of ‘politics as normal’ in Washington DC, where any budget for this coming fiscal year is frozen in gridlock – and we don’t raise a voice or send an email or anything.  We elected them – it’s their responsibility…
  • I’m just a college student.  It is okay to get stupid drunk on occasion.  It is okay to experiment with sexual boundaries.  It is okay not to take responsibility for my own prayer life – God will understand if I skip Sunday mass because of the big test on Mon. am.  And we let ourselves off the hook…
  • Maybe it is our apathy in the face of our civic responsibility. “It’s only a municipal election – a few fire board and school board and local leadership:  My vote doesn’t matter.

It was a handful of mixed nuts that nearly undid me – that made me want to let myself off the hook.  I suspect I am not alone in that tendency.  This week – pray for the grace the blind man received – to see, and then to not let ourselves off the hook for the consequences of that seeing…

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