Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jesus and John

Musings from Bishop William A. Wettingfeld, National Catholic Church of North America

Jesus and John are the protagonists of a great drama of ‘Follow the Leader.’ Reflections upon this monumental drama have far reaching implications for our modern times. Leadership and discipleship are the glues holding the keys to Christian
Spiritual and community development revolve around finding the qualities of some others to be so precious that people desire to cherish them within themselves and use them for their own commitments. This is what it means to follow the leader – or discipleship.
Leadership, on the other hand, is the type of influence someone has when people find your qualities and gifts worthy of esteem and imitation. Nothing spells more doom and gloom within a church community than when individuals live vicariously through others and bask in their talents rather than harvesting their own God-given gifts.
Jesus was a person who both followed and led others (“It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.” - Mark 1:9). For an indefinable period of time, Jesus was solely a follower of John the Baptist (After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee…As he was walking along by the Lake of Galilee he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew casting a net in the lake, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me….” - Mark 12-18). The relationship with the Baptist created the benefits that formed the foundation for Jesus’ own ministry. It seems to be that the amount of time that Jesus spent living with the Baptist was substantial. I doubt that it was merely something like a couple weekend retreats. Moreover, there probably was a time when Christ was both a follower of John and a leader of His own followers (“Now it happened that when all the people had been baptized and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in physical form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son; today have I fathered you.” – Luke 3:21).
As a follower of John, Jesus still thought for Himself and acted from His own inner locus of control. There were things about John that Jesus deeply respected and incorporated into His own life.Yet, there were still other respected values about John that Jesus did not make a part of His ministry (“John’s disciples are always fasting and saying prayers, …but yours go on eating and drinking….” – Luke 5:33).
Not many contemporary intellectuals of Jesus joined wild John in the desert. Jesus did, however. When Jesus was baptized by John, He identified Himself with the goals of John and his followers. Jesus was viewed as a part of John’s religious criticism His contempory religion and society. Richard Rohr stated regarding John in the desert, “…Jesus trusts him and accepts his non-temple, offbeat nature ritual while also going far beyond him….This son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water Baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of Spirit and fire.” (*)
”Not withstanding, John’s influence did not place a damper on Christ’s personal beliefs. Both John and Jesus realized that they had something unique to offer one another.

* Rohr, Richard, Preparing for Christmas, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2008. Page 20.

At the same time, they maintained healthy boundaries and distances from each other. What was shared was modified and transformed into something uniquely personal for
both of them. (“Then Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John tried to dissuade him, with words, ‘It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands, then John gave in to him.” – Matthew 3: 13).
Simultaneously as a leader and as a follower, Jesus was still always Lord and Master. He still is both. Through His Spirit, He follows His followers into every part of the world who are participating in every possible form of ministry. He goes before them to prepare their paths, heal their mistakes and inspire others through them. Today as yesterday, He continues to lead them further.
Therefore, the rhythms of discipleship and leadership still characterize the post-Resurrection Jesus in His Mystical Body, the Church. Jesus greatest miracles were, and still are, His friends who follow(ed) Him. In fact, Jesus did not work any miracle until He created His personal circle of friends. It was at Cana of Galilee where and when His ministry began.
When John followed Jesus, and when Jesus followed John, they did not require one another to be perfect mirrors of their own beliefs, personalities and life styles. They learned from each other while maintaining their personal boundaries (“The disciples of John gave him all this news, and John, summoning two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?” – Luke 7:18).
To follow someone else does not require us to give up our own thinking. It does not supersede conscience or own personal responsibility. Following someone else’s lead
does not involve disloyalty to one own self. We do not become blind objects of someone else’s history when we follow their lead.
I know blind discipleship has occurred over and over again but it does not have to be that way. Granted there is a justifiable fear of leadership due to people like Jimmy Jones, Hitler, Stalin, 911, Islamic and Mormon fundamentalism, the genocidal movements in the Sudan, Uganda and other parts of Africa and the Shinning Path in Peru.
Even accomplished people like Carl Rogers and Buddha himself, taught that “if you see the Buddha in your path, slay him.” This has been the mantra of the ‘everyone is their own leader’ movement.
However, having faith in others is also a virtue that society at large has lost to some degree or in large measure. To insist that my way is my only way is to insist that all others must see me as a fearless leader - loner. We do not need Buddhists to think like we do to work well with them; we do not need any other Christian denomination to think like we do before we can work together; we do not need Democrats or Republicans to think like we do before we negotiate, we do not need atheists to think like we before we respect them and listen. Let’s keep the focus on working towards a better world and not on dogmatic tenets. A careful reading of Paul’s Epistle to Philemon and the Gospels teach us that virtue cannot be obtained by legislating behavior or insisting in perfect compliance with dogmas or laws. It is the spiritual vitality underneath compliance and belief that makes all the difference between theological dictatorship and spiritual direction.
We must not judge or compare Christian leadership with any other form of political or social leadership. The reason is that Christian leadership is basically a servant form of leadership. We want to develop leadership in others even more then leading ourselves. It is a way of serving others so that their gifts and ideas flower into personal and social success. This is leading and following at the same time – something Christ and John did well.
We strive for this kind of leadership in the NCCNA and pray that he Holy Spirit gives us the strength to do so.

The previous article was taken from the writings of Bishop William A. Wettingfeld, NCCNA

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whose Justice is it Anyway?

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

He proposed another parable to them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

He spoke to them another parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.

Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
(Matthew 13: 24-43)

What we hear in this reading is Jesus trying to help us understand God's justice. To appreciate this we need to discard the idea of laws being made by whomever gets elected. The justice that the reading speaks of is based on the fact, not that God is elected or chosen by us, but that God has established the universe and all that is in it. He holds it in being. This is the foundation of God’s justice. His power holds it together in an ordered way. This ordering means that we find ourselves in a relationship that is built into the way we are created. It is not a later add-on!
We cannot view God’s justice the way we might view going to another country to experience their justice. We do not step in and out of God’s justice. In it at nine, out of it after supper! God’s justice follows us wherever we go in Creation. We are in it and never above it – even if we reject God or simply do not believe in God. There is no appeal. To preserve this relationship we should respond to it so that we act in keeping with this justice and respond in fellowship to our fellow human beings.
With this in mind let us turn to the Gospel.

In the Gospel, the three parables tell us about the Kingdom of God. This is where God’s justice rules. The Parable of the Wheat and the weeds tell us that the generosity of God allows all their time. The world is a mixture of good and bad people. The good, the wheat, remain in the world in the company of the evil ones until the end. Then they are separated and put into God’s storehouse. A useful side note here: according to Klaus Berger: “the punishment of offenders is not numbered among the activities proper to the just man.” It is God who will judge at the end of time.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed tells us that the Kingdom of God is being offered to all. Parables don’t cancel each other out – they each only highlight one point. So the “all” does not mean that the weeds will enter the kingdom too.
The Parable of the Yeast and the Dough tells us that the Kingdom is supposed to become the inner principle of the whole world. We cannot even imagine what life would be like if more people lived the principles of the Kingdom, if they cooperated with the Spirit of God. There would be justice in the world. All God's children would be able to experience great joy. There would be a just use of resources around the globe. No more starvation. There would a cultural explosion the likes of which has never before been seen. Unfortunately, the kingdom is at hand but so few people see it or want to be in it.
The bottom line is really that we do not have power to know the identity of the wheat and the weeds in our society. We cannot read the contents of the heart as God can.
Therefore, we who have ears must let God's justice prevail regardless of what we may feel or others may think.

Peace and love,

Reverend Sue

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Seeds of Hope

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
(Matthew 13:1-23)

Back before farmers had grain drills, they used an end gate seeder to seed oats or other small grains. Imagine a small wagon with a fan blade on at the end. The farmer drives his tractor or horses across the field, and the seed is thrown out across the field. Normally, the ground is plowed then disked to get the seedbed ready then the oats are seeded and then harrowed in with a drag. But in Jesus' time, in rural Judea and Galilee, the seed was sown by hand in a broadcast fashion and the sowing preceded the plowing or harrowing. The sower deliberately sowed the seed everywhere in the field, including any paths, in the rocky places, and among thorns and weeds as well as in the good soil. However, if the plowing was delayed for any reason, then they got the results that Jesus mentioned in this parable. It was that act of disturbing the ground that made all the difference.

The kingdom of God broke into the entire world when Jesus came. It was the seed that fell on many different kinds of soil in the human heart. The reception of the seed depends upon the receiver—where they are in their lives, and if they hear that tugging of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Romans reading today. The message then was received in a variety of ways just as it is today. The number of fruitless hearers was very great then even among those who heard Jesus speak in person.

Jesus often used parables or stories to relate spiritual truths to things that people were familiar with in their every-day lives. In this way he illustrated the word of God by calling it seed. The soil represented the receptivity or lack of receptivity of the human heart to receive the seed or Jesus' message. I find this image of us as soil, as dirt, hearkens back to the words we hear when we receive ashes at the beginning of Lent “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The reading in Matthew focuses on the soil rather than on the sower. Although there was no harvest resulting from three of the four types of soil, this parable points out that a person’s heart, like soil, is capable of improvement and capable of bearing a good harvest.

This parable calls to our attention the fact that although the soil is not the way it should be or the way that it can be, it can still be made into productive soil. That is the job of the Spirit in our lives. We can relate the soil of our hearts to this parable and know that change can begin to take place in spite of the

1. hardness of our heart
2. the shallowness of our experience
3. the many thorns that choke out the God's message in our lives

Today, I believe that we can learn some valuable truths from this parable that Jesus told to the crowds along the shore.

The effect of the word is dependent on the state of the heart. T Let us take a look and see if we can identify some things that need to be improved and where we need a bit of fertilizer, maybe some “Miracle Gro” in order to produce a better crop. If we find ourselves in one of the soils that is not producing a good crop, let us know that there is hope for us; Jesus can add the Miracle Gro to make us what we need to be. It's as if the reading of Isaiah is giving us a recipe, talking about the Word of Jesus nourishing us like water, helping us to bud and flourish. Jesus can change the hardness of our hearts, he can give us the stability and roots we need, and he can help us to aerate and work that patch of dirt that is robbing us of abundant life.

The first place the grain fell was on the pathway. It was a common thing for the paths to run through and around the unfenced fields. Any seed that fell on the paths never entered the ground and was trampled underfoot or the birds came and ate it. The path was so packed down that the seed couldn’t begin to get its roots into the ground. Here, the Spirit needs to aerate...use one of those plugger to pull out chunks for change. This sounds painful, and yet pain in our lives is one of the ways that we grow and soften. What will break up this hard packed ground? Many things happen in a person’s life that cause the hardness to begin to break up. It is not an overnight process. Most of all the Holy Spirit begins to bring about changes in the outer surface as prayer is constantly sent up for people.

Something can be done with even packed down soil; something can be done to plow up the hard, compacted soil of people's hearts. You might know people who have no interest in spiritual things whatsoever. You might say, nothing is getting through to them. The gospel message is not getting below the outer surface.

As we heard in Paul's letter to the Romans today, the Holy Spirit says we are God's children. And since everyone here today was a child at one time, is a child now, or had children in their family at one time, I think we can all relate that sometimes children just won't listen and will do the opposite of what their parent says. That is like the hard ground of the paths, everything bounces off and nothing gets through.

It is up to us to give proper value to the things of God. To guard the word as we receive it. To plow up the hard unplowed ground that is in our lives. In what ways is your heart like the soil along the pathway? In what ways have you become a little bit hardened and indifferent?

The second type of soil was rocky. This represents soil that is OK but it is a bit thin and has a lot of rocks just beneath the surface. The seed takes root quickly in the shallow soil but there is not a secure root structure. People often go to revivals and crusades and they receive the word in a thoughtless way. Maybe they are too eager to receive but it doesn’t last over the long haul. They hear and receive with joy and at first give promise of a good harvest but something happens. When they come down off of that 'spiritual high'. Here, we need to have the Spirit fertilize our souls, so that when trouble or persecution comes, we don't quickly fall away. These temporary disciples are numerous in times of revival when things are going great. Sometimes people receive the word and for a time are doing great. Then they become 'offended' by something. It could be rather trivial. They quit going to Church. Then they forget about God's message. The sun beats down and the plant withers and dies out. There is no moisture.

Many people are glad to hear a good sermon and they hear it and don’t turn their backs on it. Yet they don’t profit from it. Their lives are not changed by it. They are pleased but not changed. I believe too many people today just want a little 'taste' of Christianity. They want something to say they are Christian and they belong to a Church, but they don't want any of the responsibility that comes along with it.

The third type of soil is infested with thorny weeds. This represents the ground that has not been thoroughly weeded of the thistles. The soil is good enough and deep enough but other things draw the moisture and nutrients away from the plant, and it crowds and starves the plant out. This speaks of the cares of the world coming in and choking out the plants that are trying to grow making the plants unfruitful. Today in our society there are so many choices and these things use up so much of our time that only the leftover time remains for spiritual things. If this is our patch of dirt, we need to think hard about what is happening in our life that is infesting our spirit—whether it is a nettle, or a ragweed, or a nettlesome friend. Our spiritual lives are being choked out so subtly that sometimes we are not aware of what is even happening. Although there is some growth taking place with a promise of a harvest, it never materializes.

What cares of this world are using up all your time. It could be lots of things and not necessarily bad things. The deceitfulness of having many things means trusting in those things or putting our confidence in them so that we are no longer trusting God very much. When we allow thorns or weeds to take over our life, we don't allow the message of the gospel to be a priority.

The last type of ground is the good ground. It hears and accepts and produces. It doesn’t say that the good ground doesn’t have stones or thorns or weeds in it but it is ground that has been cultivated and is continuously being tended to. The ground is guarded from allowing anything to come in and take over, choking out the intended harvest. The truth is simply this: it is hard to have a patch of earth that is like this. Gardeners are constantly working to get that special, sweet loam that takes on the seed and produces a great harvest. It is toil, but a joyful toil for the person who is spiritually mature, and sees the end, the harvest, in his or her dreams.

Our spiritual life is an ongoing process. You can’t stay away from church weeks or months at a time and expect to see the harvest spoken of here; 30, 60, 100 times as much as was sown. The soil of your heart can’t just be neglected and expected to automatically produce a good crop.

God provides the necessary water and sunshine for a good harvest. It is our job to cultivate the soil to see what we get from God.

What is interesting is that the soil that produces only a small crop, Jesus still called good. The 30 fold small crop is OK as well as the 60 fold or 100 fold bumper crop.

Let us remember that the kingdom of God advances slowly with varied responses depending on the individual. What kind of soil are you today? Remember that soil can be cultivated, a bit of Miracle Gro added, proper watering and with patience and change a crop can be produced. We must get rid of the things that choke off the fullness of life.

Peace and love,

Rev Sue Provost

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Come to me all you who labor

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
(Matthew 11:25-30)

In a Bible study on today’s gospel passage a priest started off by asking the participants whether they really think that the yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden light. The answer he got was a resounding “No!” Asked to explain, the students went on to recount the daily pains and discomforts they suffer in their attempt to be faithful to Christ’s teachings. “I have this problem,” said one. “I pray about it constantly and I make all the effort I can, yet I keep falling into the same temptation over and over again.” One spoke about all his efforts to fight an addiction. “I have prayed about it. I have sought help. And I really try. Yet after a few days of apparent success, I find myself falling right back to where I started.” Many of us can identify with the predicaments of these young people. In today’s gospel Jesus offers us a way out: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The rest he promises is a release from the experience of serving God as a fatigue and a burden. The promise means that serving God could be transformed into a sweet experience of rest.

Jesus then goes on to show how: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (verse 29). Looks like we have a problem here! Is Jesus calling on those who are carrying heavy loads to come and add a yoke to their burden? Doesn’t that sound like adding affliction to the afflicted? No; Jesus is asking us to cast away our burdens and take on his yoke. This is because, unlike the burdens we bear, his yoke is easy and his burden light.

So then, what is this yoke of Christ? The yoke of Christ can be seen as the sum of our Christian responsibilities and duties. Servants were said to be under the yoke of their masters (1 Timothy 6:1) and subjects under the yoke of their rulers (1 Kings 12:10). To take the yoke of Christ, therefore, is to put ourselves in a relationship with Christ as his servants and subjects, and to conduct ourselves accordingly.

There is, however, a better way of understanding the yoke of Christ. Among the Jews the yoke was put on the necks of two cattle so that together they could pull the plough as one. It always takes a pair to work a yoke. When Jesus asks you to take the yoke, you might as well ask who is your yoke-mate. Your yoke-mate is none other than Jesus himself. The yoke, in fact, belongs to him and he only invites you to team up with him. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. To take the yoke of Christ is to associate and identify ourselves with him: our destiny with his destiny, our vision with his vision and our mission with his mission. It is to know that we are not pulling the yoke alone and by our power but together with Christ and by the strength that comes from him. It is to know that Jesus is not just a teacher who gives you homework but also a friend who helps you do it.

There is a story of a man who had a dream. In the dream he was walking along a sandy beach with Jesus and they were replaying all the important moments of his life. The man noticed that for each scene there were two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to Jesus. But he also noticed that when they came to the most difficult and trying moments of his life there were only one set of footprints to be seen. The man could not understand this, so he asked Jesus: “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. Why is it then that during the most difficult periods of my life when I needed you the most you would leave me?” Jesus replied. “My child, I love you and I would never leave you. During the most difficult moments of your life, when you see only one set of footprints, those were the times I carried you.”

We should never forget that we are yoked with Christ. To this end, it helps to start each day with a prayer like this: “Lord, help me to remember that there is no problem I am going to face today that you and I together cannot handle.” This is how the yoke becomes easy and the burden light.

Peace and Love,
Reverend Sue Provost

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)