January 31, 2021

Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

 “If you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” 

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I do not want to speak to the politics in your heart.  I do not want to speak to the status in your hearts.  I do not want to speak to the finances in your heart.  I want to speak to the spirit in your hearts.

I want to read these 3 paragraphs from a Christmas card sent to me.

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At a time in humankind’s history on a crescent-lit night there came from sacred earthiness a life-affirming turning, a curve toward life.

We are invited in time and place and during this sacred season to celebrate such a birthing, such a coming to life.

And to carry, with light and warmth,

Each to the other,

A care, compassion, and justice, 

A hope and peace made present uniquely then

In this our world

For the time to come

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This was a Christmas card, written in a poetic prose, recognizing the great mystery and the reality of Christmas — a curve toward life.

  • What is a curve toward life?
  • What kind of a birthing does the poet describe?
  • How does such a birthing make itself present?

A poet speaks a strange language of sensitivity;it is not the language of thinking, or building, or doing.  It is not American, or Italian, Black or Brown. It is a language of the soul, according to the mind and heart of God.

From where we come does not matter or what language we speak.  What matters is how “human” we are.  It does not matter how Catholic, how Lutheran, how Presbyterian we are.  What is important is how we recognize and practice the Covenant that God has with each of us and how careful we are to honor how God has made us each in [His] image and likeness.

How we honor each other in God’s image and likeness is the real test for how authentic and real the religious convictions and practices of our life are.

As the poet wrote: Of the “life-affirming turning, a curve toward life…’ At the end of last month, the poet wrote that we celebrated “such a birthing, such a coming to life,” and to “carry, with light and warmth each to the other, a care, compassion and justice, a hope and peace.”

As we settle down into deep winter, with coldness and rain, and we begin to read the gospel of St. Mark each week, we see Jesus inviting others to follow along with him into his appreciation of the gift of life.

We see Jesus today teaching by doing, calling the unclean spirits from someone’s life.  In today’s case, the unclean spirits binding a man’s life recognize who Jesus is and for what Jesus stands.  They are powerless before Jesus.  All that Jesus has to say is: “Quiet! Come out of him!”

What and where are the unclean spirits in our lives?  Do we ever ask ourselves the question the unclean spirits asked of Jesus:  “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus does not come to destroy, but to free and to give us a new way of life and thinking and behaving.  Jesus does not want us to live in any kind of darkness, whether vengeance, violent disrespect, alternative realities that are not true, or to any way of life that breeds selfishness and discrimination.

The story of Jesus that we listen to does not remain in an old book of photos.  The Gospel story lives in the lives of real people today who clearly want to be his disciple, to follow him, becoming more like him.

Jesus does not want us to lock him up in a church while we step into the world outside the Church and act totally different than what Jesus shows about life.

As we read the Gospel of Mark throughout the year, we will notice that Jesus does not emphasize teaching about a new way to live, but rather he does God.  He is an active channel of God’s presence and healing.  “What is this?” the people were remarking. “A new teaching with authority.”  A new teaching because he lived the teaching!

What would he say today to those who flaunt supremacy, made-up theories, and an untrue reality?  The emerging Catholic Church of the 1st and 2nd centuries faced a gnosticism within their own communities: Christians who formed inner circles of special knowledge, an enlightened Christianity only meant for the few and those blessed with secret knowledge.  The Catholic Church has never been able to stamp it out completely or correct it, and it is apparently appearing again today.

Too bad that God gave into the People of Israel 2700 years ago.  They did not want to hear God’s clear and loud voice.  And God said, okay, but I will call forth prophets for you who will speak in my name.  The people still remained disturbed by the prophets, and more often than not, actually murdered them.  That is a distinct threat even today.  God spoke then and today: “Whoever does not listen to my words which a prophet speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”  I hope soon and often.

I do not understand all this Twitter about stocks and GameStop and SEC stepping in, but we do get taken in by money as if life is a game and we want to win it at all costs.  St. Paul’s reading reminds us that adhering to Jesus without distraction is the first work for our lives.  Would that God would speak today with such power and decisiveness as He spoke 2700 years ago.  Maybe God could cut through the cynicism, the banality, the lying and cheating in life?

Or is God speaking loudly through the pandemic over which we have no control and through the political and social tensions of the present moment?

Is it possible to hear God’s voice?  Or do we harden our hearts?  Psychologists are telling us that it is very difficult to change another’s convictions because a person’s settled convictions become “the way” to see life.

Psalm 95 is our prayer today:  “If you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”  We need to do as God does.

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