Growing in the Vineyard of God

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April 29, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15:1-8

Jesus was a brilliant communicator. He illustrated his teaching of deep truths using images, symbols and examples that his listeners could understand. Last week, it was sheep and shepherds. The week before the gospel featured broiled fish. This week we find ourselves in a vineyard. His home land was dotted with vineyards. Not like the large commercial vineyards of California and Washington. But much more local. A few vines connected with ordinary homes. They might be called “backyard wineries.” They produced just enough for the family and maybe a few extra containers for neighbors and friends. Still, the vines were precious to those who had them. And they were carefully attended to.

People knew how important it was to care for both vine stock and branches. The substance of the grapes came out of the soil, through the vines and into the branches. Eventually the grapes benefited from this wondrous system of production. All of this needed year-round attention. Nourishing the soil, protecting the vines and pruning the branches could not be overlooked. There was a direct connection between caring for the vines and branches and the wine that would reach the family’s table. This was common knowledge.

When Jesus wanted his listeners to understand and appreciate the vital connection between him and them, what better image to use than the connection between a vine and its branches? No one would say that they didn’t understand his point.

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Learning to Trust God

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April 22, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-18

There are countless artistic renditions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have one framed in my study. It shows Jesus holding a young lamb next to his face. The image is one of tenderness and love. I think of this lamb, safely held touching Jesus, as just having been found. For a time, it was a lost sheep, a fearful sheep, one that had wandered from the flock. We know how Jesus felt about lost sheep. They were to be retrieved. Even at the risk of losing 99 other sheep. The logic of the gospels can confound us. At times, it can seem almost foolish.

In another part of the New Testament we read that the wisdom of the world is not to be equated with the wisdom of God. God’s ways can appear foolish to certain mind-sets. The greatest act of worldly foolishness was Jesus dying on the cross. People who witnessed this act couldn’t believe their eyes.

 

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Fed by Jesus

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April 15, 2018 – Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:35-48

Throughout the gospel we are given many examples of Jesus taking care of others. He cured their illnesses. He drove evil spirits from them. He gave sight to their blindness. He spoke words of God so that they would understand the deep truth of their lives. He even died for them. As later theologians would put it, “He was a man for others.”

In this Sunday’s gospel we come across a delightful example of Jesus asking for and receiving something from others. Specifically, it was from the two disciples with whom he “broke bread” at Emmaus. Luke states that they are back in Jerusalem with the other disciples.

Suddenly Jesus, the Risen One, was also among them. As proof that it was really him in their midst, he told them to look at his wounded hands and feet. He was not a ghost or a spirit. And after they realized it really was him, out of the blue he asked them,” Do you have anything to eat?” He noticed that they had recently baked some fish. Perhaps he could smell the smoke. Perhaps Jesus thought that good smoked fish is always delicious.

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God is Close to Us

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April 8, 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

Behind locked doors, interesting things can happen. As they did to the disciples of Jesus after his Resurrection. There were two visits by the Risen Christ to them while they were still in Jerusalem. The first one had its own interesting dynamics. Without any warning, with the doors locked, Jesus was suddenly standing there in their midst. While his disciples were probably scared to death, Jesus greets them with a wish for them to be at peace. You can imagine that they were anything but peaceful at that moment.

Once all had settled down, Jesus got down to business. He was charging them with a mission. A mission that would include their being ambassadors for God. They would bring God’s merciful forgiveness to those needing that gift.

 

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Reclaiming Easter

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April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday – Resurrection of the Lord

John 20:1-9 The celebration of Easter has some of the same problems as does Christmas. It’s been taken over by non-Christian concerns. Easter outfits, Easter baskets, Easter lilies, and a great event on the White House lawn, Easter egg rolling. In the Northern Hemisphere, Easter usually occurs with the arrival of springtime. Life survives the winter. Some Christian substance there, but not as deep as the Christian belief in the Resurrection!

So, what might we reflect on this Easter? First, of course, the event of Jesus rising from the dead. He did not wake up from sleep. He did not simply continue the life he once led. He was not resuscitated. According to St. Paul, Jesus attained a new condition and began a New Creation. The risen Christ left the condition of a death bound humanity to one of new life, a life that was available to all, a life of deep love, and a life that would never end. 

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Palm Sunday People

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A gospel meditation for the home
March 25, 2018 –Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Mark 14:1-15:47

On this Sunday we hear the longest Sunday gospel of the year. It recounts the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Scholars suggest that this might be the first recorded part of the life of Jesus. They call Mark’s Gospel “a passion narrative with an introduction.” Much of Mark’s gospel is written to give an accurate account of the life and death of Jesus. The underlying theme is that what many expected when God came to save his people was inaccurate. God would not come as a great king restoring political power to the Jews. God would not come on a cloud with lightning bolts and other demonstrations of power to destroy God’s enemies. No, God came as one who appeared quite ordinary. He was a human like all others. Except as we read today, he was also the Son of God.

Most will be familiar with the various elements of the story. We hear about the Passover meal, the agony in the garden, the betrayal by Judas, the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the religious leaders, the strange encounter with Pilate, the humiliation and mockery he endured at the hands of soldiers, the cowardly response of Peter (supposedly, the Rock), the crucifixion itself, his death and his burial in a rock cave.

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To Love Like Jesus

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A gospel meditation for the home
March 18, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Lent - John 12:20-33

To want to personally suffer is called masochism. To inflict suffering on others is called sadism. Both approaches to suffering are humanly harmful and are not sanctioned by God or God’s people, the church. But after reading today’s gospel it might seem that Jesus seems to be in favor of suffering. He speaks in positive terms about his own suffering and death.

I believe that there is good suffering and suffering that is harmful. The suffering endured by Jesus was the result of the evil in humans. We must be honest that some people did not like what Jesus said and did. His teachings on loving one’s enemies, generously giving to the poor and needy, not taking advantage of one’s position in society or religion and other teachings that called for giving rather than getting, were not what some wanted.

In fact, they were the opposite of what was hoped for. His own disciples were often left wondering. Does he really mean what he said? Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated in 1980 because he opposed the government, which overlooked the poor in favor of the rich. He suffered and died too because he spoke like Jesus.

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Really Seeing

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A gospel meditation for the home
March 11, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Lent - John 3:13-21

Today’s gospel is about life and death. It is also about light and darkness. These ideas can appear as abstract or poetic or words that can easily sail over our heads. We think that we’ve heard this all before. Even the sentence that begins, “For God so loved the world …” can come in one ear and out the other. For some, this gospel is not one that causes one to really sit up and listen. But that has changed for me this year when I read today’s gospel because of my experience of last year’s total eclipse of the sun.

I experienced that eclipse at the side of a highway in eastern Idaho. Like the millions who looked to the midday sky in total amazement, I viewed what truly can be called “a once in a lifetime” event. As an experience of nature, it was both baffling and beautiful.

While reading this Sunday’s gospel, it all came back to me. I pondered anew what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus. That he was the light of the world. That he also showed in that light, the deepest truth of all: that each of us is created by God to live forever with God in the light. In that sense, there is no darkness in heaven. Nor is there darkness (in that deeper sense) in this life when truly believing in God.

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Source of Our Life

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March 4th, 2018 – Third Sunday of Lent - John 2:13-25

We are now in the month of March. You know what happens in March besides basketball madness? It’s the beginning of “Spring Sale Time!” Special deals are available in automobile dealerships, appliance stores and in your favorite box store. Hurry. These sales won’t last. (At least until the “Welcome Summer Sale” begins.) I love sales. Who doesn’t? You can save a lot! (Notice no mention of how much you spend.) Yes, this business of selling and buying is well known to everyone on the planet. It keeps the economy going.

You will not be surprised that the business of commercial transactions even finds its way into the life of religion. Jesus encountered this kind of business going on at the Temple in Jerusalem. He was angered. This should not be, he thought. His Father’s house does not engage in business practices. Why not? The answer is simple. In God’s world there’s nothing for sale.

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Ups and Downs

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February 25th, 2018 – Second Sunday of Lent
Mark 9:2-1

On my fiftieth birthday I climbed to the top of Pike’s Peak, a well-known mountain in Colorado. I could have used a tram to the top or comfortably drive in a car, but I wanted the full experience and the joy that could only come by reaching the summit on foot. I was not disappointed. I still savour that moment when I stood atop that 14,000-foot mountain. It was one of the memorable “ups” in my life.

This Sunday’s gospel is about ups and downs. Jesus took his closest disciples up to the top of a mountain. Then after experiencing wonder at the top, they came down. The disciples, especially the rambunctious Peter, wanted to stay at the top longer. He wanted the pure joy that he experienced with Jesus transformed, standing there with two of the great Jewish figures of the past, Moses and Elijah, to last and last. But that was not to be.

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