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Palm Sunday and the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth 2022 Year C
Musician Elizabeth Conant wondered why the affable and talented Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins overdosed on drugs. She wrote: “We need to trust that no one is having an easy time of it; this is a hard planet. Human beings are all doing the best they can, just to get through.”
As we Christians begin another holy week we are challenged to embrace the stories of passion and death as if they were our own. Think of the many people around the world who are suffering and dying because of discrimination, starvation and brutal war crimes — Bulgarians, Haitians, Syrians, Ukrainians, and countless others. They do the best they can “just to get through” but, in every situation they need help from others.
Today’s gospel texts are incongruous. First, Jesus of Nazareth arrives in Jerusalem to much applause and fanfare! At long last he was the Coming One who was to save Jews and others living in a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. (Luke 19:28-40) Then the story of his triumphant entry turns ugly as it details the journey of the prophetic Jewish Nazarene to his execution on a cross. (Luke 22: 14-23:56)
Did Jesus ever second guess his mission? Did he think to himself, while riding that donkey, with a feigned smile on his lips, nodding to the prostrating crowd, “God, what am I doing here? Wasn’t there an easier way to carry out this mission?”
Jesus did not finish what he set out to do — bring about peace and justice for everyone. Critics say Jesus failed in his mission. Social activists say we are charged to carry on his task. What role does failure play in the ways we can improve the way we behave in life?
The second testament depicts Jesus as an enigmatic and compassionate person determined to help people who hunger for dignity; he took a lot of risks to do so. Like many prophets in the Hebrew Bible Jesus protested publicly against the status quo. He criticized civic and religious leaders for their hard hearted crimes.
Jesus raised an awareness of the injustices that prevailed in his time. His speeches and actions annoyed elite power holders. They accused him of making trouble and for posing as a king (although he never claimed to be one). He was executed because he was a political activist.
Today’s passage from Second Isaiah 50: 4-7 gives us some background for understanding Jesus’ behavior. It is the third of four suffering servant poems. It lists the qualities of a true servant. One of those characteristics is to be mindful; to pay attention to one’s calling. 
Jesus did what he was supposed to do and it required much sacrifice. Not only did he follow the expectations of his empyrean Father, he also listened to the cries of the people around him and he took action.
In the Bible Jesus is called the Human One. A Jew throughout his life, he never abandoned his humanity. This side of Jesus makes it possible to identify with his life and the good he did; his suffering and his death.
Many people today are forsaken even as they hope for brighter days. Volodymyr Zelensky feels abandoned by some Western countries as well as greedy banking and oil industry executives. But, he continues to take risks to keep Ukrainians free from death and autocracy. Like other Ukrainians he is doing all he can do.
The same is true of the Romani, the Uyghurs, Guatemalans, Afghans, and others living on the edges of society. Millions are doing their best to survive in refugee camps. Others wait anxiously to cross borders into hospitable territories like those waiting to enter the United States.
In his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) Paul was concerned about whether his listeners would embrace a Christ-like way of living for others. It would require listening to them and finding ways to help.
During this holy week we ponder not just the passion and death of the prophetic Jew we call the anointed One and savior. We recommit ourselves to a Christian lifestyle, making sacrifices and taking risks to help others so they can live without the fear of abandonment. None of us can do this alone but we try to do the best we can.
We can volunteer at food banks and protest at rallies. We can also do other things that matter. Acts of generosity, kindness and compassion, a smile, a hug can make a huge difference in the lives of people who live among us, who are deserted and vulnerable. This is a hard time for all human beings. Many of our brothers and sisters near and far need help.
1. “Attention is the Beginning of Devotion” in Devotions: Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (NY: Penguin Books) 2017
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Fifth Sunday of Lent 2022 Year C
If you are looking for something to cast light on a dreary period of history you might find it in the discovery of Earendel. Astronomers say they are looking at Earendel as it existed 13 billion years ago! It was a bright blue super giant star that emerged 900 million years after the Big Bang. Earendel’s luminosity just reached earth and provides a new appreciation for our place in a vast cosmos. 
Will the dawning of this star affect the way we understand what matters most in our mortal lives? Amidst global troubles imagine if secular and religious leaders got together to talk about Earendel. They could marvel at its distant brilliance. More importantly they could talk honestly and humbly about strategies for living peacefully on this tiny planet.
Holding such a meeting to heal the world will take some doing. Diplomatic relationships are stymied because of nationalistic geo-political policies. Voting rights are violated to protect the privileges of powerful castes. Russia, China, Turkey, Israel and other countries have invaded neighboring sovereignties. Sadly, factional warfare is waged globally with and without weaponry.
Earendel’s light linked yesterday and today. Time will tell what tomorrow may bring. We tell time because of the way stars and planets like ours engage in a cosmic dance. Although it is long gone the brightness of Earendel shows the relationship between time and space. It beckons interdependence with our environment and each other.
We are challenged to take notice because there is work for us to do. The prophet Isaiah (43:16-21) reported what God said to the Israelites who suffered greatly — do not dwell on the past because I am doing something new. It is springing forth. Can’t you see it?
Imagining a new world order is hard to achieve given the way we view time. We abide by linear chronological time (minute to minute, day to day, century to century). The biblical sense of God’s time, on the other hand, is not one dimensional. Mindful that we live in a grace-filled time inspires us to bring about the peace that defines God’s kin-dom on earth. Undertaking this task means we see ourselves as inhabitants of this great planet and citizens of a celestial sphere.
But there are many earthly obstacles in the way. COVID-19, inflation, war, political extremists, dishonesty, and fake news have disengaged us and clouded our perceptions. How can we appreciate what we have in the midst of mistrust and fear? How do we move forward?
Professor of Old Testament Amanda Benckhuysen writes that Lent is a time to “come face to face with the mess we as humans have made of our relationships and of this world … [it is] when we recognize how profoundly broken and how incapable of fixing ourselves we are. For it is in this place of helplessness and disorientation that hope emerges.”
That’s what Jesus did when asked to judge the woman charged with infidelity. (John 8:1-11) He altered preconceived notions of justice. Jesus’s response stunned the accusers by daring them to throw the first stone at her. The late biblical scholar Gail R. O’Day explained that “Jesus treats the woman as the social and human equal of the scribes and Pharisees.” What stops us from advocating a second chance and equal rights for all people?
Jesus linked the past with the present and the future. He shunned the old law of punishment. Instead of judging the woman Jesus urged her to respect her own life. He looked to the future and gave her hope.
Psalm 126:1-6 reminds us: “God has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” But, not everyone is singing this tune these days. We must rise up like the biblical stars of yesteryear to work for justice today so others can live with dignity and without shame tomorrow.
Hope keeps people moving forward even when there is fear of what the future may hold. Ukrainians are showing us what hope is and how they expect to shine again as a free country.
Earendel is an Old English word meaning rising light. Lent is an old Germanic word for spring, a time of renewed growth and new beginnings. The stories about passion, death and resurrection still inspire us during this Lenten and Easter season. Hearing them again we strive to improve our lives and bring new life to others. There is always still time to do so.
1. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least 100 billion stars, and the observable universe contains at least 100 billion galaxies.
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The Fourth Sunday of Lent - Year C
Food is mentioned about 500 times in the Bible. Bread especially is used literally and symbolically to describe relationships, sustenance, life and salvation.
Today’s passage from Joshua (5:9a, 10-12) comes after the Israelites crossed over the River of Jordan into the land of milk and honey. Once they arrived God said to Joshua “I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” After that the Israelites ate the “produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.” (v. 11)
The Israelites survived during their arduous sojourn because they ate a miraculous substance (manna) found on the ground each day. Jews continue to remember their exodus at Passover as they share the matzah, the “bread of affliction,” and other symbolic foods.
Bread is also important in the Second Testament.The miracle of loaves and fish was made possible because people unselfishly shared the bread they had with others. Jesus called himself the bread of life. At the last supper he broke the bread of affliction and called it his body. Early Christians recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.”
Bread is indispensable. It is essential for human survival and relationships. The word companion is taken from two Latin words meaning “with bread.” When Jesus said we cannot live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4) he meant we also need to be fed mentally, spiritually, aesthetically, with whatever gives meaning to our lives. In reality though, the famous proverb means nothing when you are starving.
Between 1932 and 1933 millions of Ukrainians were starved to death in a famine generated by Josef Stalin to collectivize agriculture. His political decrees led to a drop in production of crops and led to food shortages. The Ukrainian word for this historic tragedy is “holodomor” taken from two words meaning hunger and extermination. Historians say Stalin did this because he was afraid of losing Ukraine.
Today because of Vladimer Putin’s cruel and inhuman invasion of Ukraine Alistair MacDonald reports the 2022 harvest is imperiled. “The crop shortfall will extend to the many countries that rely on Ukraine for wheat, corn and cooking oil.”  Putin is starving people to death to serve his own egotistical agenda to reestablish the former Soviet Union. He is afraid of losing Ukraine, like Stalin was. And Putin’s autocratic venom is spreading.
The Wall Street Journal reports the war is also “disrupting food and energy supplies world wide.” Bread prices have increased by 40% in Kenya. People in Turkey are stampeding over one another to get bread. Street protestors in Iraq call themselves the “revolution of the starving.” This past week the president of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, distributed free rice flour throughout that country.
In today’s familiar gospel story (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) Jesus gets into trouble with law abiding Pharisees and scribes for breaking bread with outcasts. He responds to them with a parable about a lost son and grateful parents. It is a powerful lessen to autocrats around the world about welcoming everyone to the table no matter who they are, where they’ve been, or what they’ve done.
Presbyterian minister Mihee Kim-Kort wrote: “This story gives us a view of the wide complexity of human relationships, as well as insight into the kind of love and welcome that drives Jesus’ ministry.” Those who abide by laws of kindness and compassion are called to heal the deep divisions that keep secular and religious world leaders from being totally honest with one another and their constituents.
In his second letter to the Corinthians (5:17-21) Paul optimistically wrote: “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” The possibilities for us are endless when we work together for a common global good. What stands in the way is the rise of totalitarianism fueled by unbridled power brokers, greed and fear mongering. We start by protesting tribal nationalistic theories that hurt powerless people.
Maybe we do not live by the bread of life alone but on the Word of God. Let’s try it. Would those of us who are not yet hungry be willing to give up bread and other staples made with wheat, corn, and rice until the war in Ukraine ends? Starting today … I am.
1. Ukraine’s azure and yellow flag symbolizes the sky above and the vast fertile wheat fields below. It originated in 1848. It was outlawed when Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. In 1992 it was restored as the national flag.
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The Third Sunday of Lent - Year C
Those who followed Jesus frequently asked for his opinion on current events. In today’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9) Jesus responded to the murderous actions of the governor Pontius Pilate.
The text graphically depicts Pilate mingling the blood of Galileans with the blood of their ritually slain animals. Professor of New Testament Jeremy L. Williams wrote: “Luke’s mention of Pilate, Galileans, and sacrifices are [sic] no coincidence. At the end of the gospel, Pilate will mix the blood of Jesus, a Galilean, with Passover sacrifices.”
The link between the murders of the Galileans and the execution of Jesus is significant in Christian history. Jesus, who committed no crime, suffered and died before he was raised up. Crimes against innocent people are innumerable in history. Unbridled dictators and unjust laws consistently deny the human rights of others. Who will raise up these victims?
The reading from Exodus (3:1-8a, 13-15) is a timely reminder of how a mysterious and terrifying power can save those who are vulnerable. God promised to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
However, this text from the Hebrew bible also depicts a vengeful God who destroys the enemies of the Israelites. In a bold move Jesus reversed that old law of retribution where a punishment would be equal to the crime committed. He called for mercy.
Jesus challenged his brother and sister Galileans to change their minds about taking an “eye for an eye.” This message is hard to hear today as many nation states look for effective strategies to halt the brutal actions of Vladimer Putin against the Ukrainians.
Why did Jesus use a fig tree to make his point? It was barren and the gardener wanted to cut it down. Jesus said not so fast. Professor Williams suggests: “Jesus’ message is clear: do not be like the fruitless tree. Rather than focus on the gravity of others’ transgressions, make sure you are producing good.” This advice puts a lot of pressure on us these days.
Learning to be compassionate toward those who harm us requires a substantial change of mind and heart. Jesus’ message reminds us that we all need a second chance to straighten out our lives, to do something good for ourselves and humanity.
But what if someone like a ruthless autocratic government leader never produces good fruit? Cut that barren tree down and throw it into a fire? That contradicts the gospel message. Although there are varying levels of evil in the world, the fundamental reasons for all injustices are found in the ways we human beings relate to and treat one another.
Ukrainian history is a record of Slavic peoples fighting for generations to be free from dictators. Now they are in a struggle for democracy. In his address to our Congress, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are defending the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives for the sake of the future … to keep the planet alive, to keep justice in history.”
Many if not most Russians and Ukrainians share strong religious roots and ties as Eastern Rite Christians yet they are killing one another. Closer to home, in a country where many religions are practiced, innocent youths are trafficked and abused, crime in our streets is on the rise, acts of prejudice and hatred continue toward minorities, family members fight one another.
The psalmist (103: 1-4, 6-8, 11) reminds us we ought not be afraid. God is kind and merciful, redeems lives from destruction, and anoints us with kindness and compassion. God secures the rights of all the oppressed. But divine intervention only works if we are willing to cooperate with one another in acting with justice.
The burning bush was on fire but was not consumed by the flames. It was located on the same Mt. Horeb where Moses and Miriam were summoned by God to lead the Israelites out of danger. The bush is a symbol of the energy and light that is required to overcome what is wrong in the world. It cannot be snuffed out.
We are called to be burning bushes and fruit bearing fig trees. By our baptisms we are under contract to make the world a better place for all peoples. The season of Lent is a good time for renewing that covenant with God and with one another. It may require giving up some of what we are used to. It may mean taking on a task that will benefit others as well as ourselves.
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The Second Sunday of Lent - Year C
Who are we? How do we identify ourselves? Years ago I was part of an interfaith team hired to train Navy chaplains. One of our sessions was on discrimination. It began with each chaplain thinking about his or her own identity. How did they describe themselves — by rank, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, conservative, liberal? And, how did that self-image affect their relationships with others?
Discussion about identity today matters a great deal. It affects our relationships with one another. It is easy to feel more comfortable with those who are similar to us but not with those who are different from us. For some people identity can be a matter of life and death.
Consider for a moment what is happening to some of the refugees fleeing from the horrific war in Ukraine. It is reported that at train stations and border checkpoints anyone whose color is anything but Caucasian is turned away even if they are true Ukrainian citizens. That their nationality is printed on their passports did not matter.
Today’s gospel text (Lk 9:28b-36) comes right after Jesus informed his followers that he would soon suffer and die. They were on their way to Jerusalem and he said to them the journey would not be easy. Then all of a sudden Jesus was transfigured right in front of his disciples Peter, James and John.
“While praying, Jesus’ face changed in appearance.” In a biblical context to experience such a metamorphosis is to become more radiant, more beautiful in the sight of others. The transfiguration of Jesus is an image of God as light and salvation. (Psalm 27:7-9, 13-14)
His transfiguration was an indication that he would pass through the bonds of death to eternal glory. But even more … it revealed the identity of Jesus as an itinerant prophet and messiah. Hearing this story prompts us to show our true identities as Christians and our willingness to make the world more radiant, more beautiful, more free.
Neither for Jesus, nor his followers, nor for us do acts of transformation happen quickly. Jesus grew in his understanding of his role in society. So does our awareness of our baptismal calling help us become better Christians.
Making changes in our different identities — as a church, a nation, a local community, as individuals —- takes a long time. Sacrificing something, volunteering for a cause, or being open to others’ differences during the Lenten season is a good start that can lead to a larger transfiguration not only of ourselves but society in general.
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:17-4:1) reminds us our citizenship is in heaven. I know … some of us cannot wait that long. We want life on earth to be a happy and healthy experience now. Still we are reminded that life is short and if we want to achieve something that will make a difference in people’s lives, and our own, do it now.
We do not achieve a transfigured life by ourselves, however. Jesus relied on the wisdom and prophecies of his ancestors (Elijah, Moses, Miriam, Abraham, Sarah). He also depended on the loyalty of his followers. Jesus’ identity was wrapped up in relationships with other people as well as with God.
In a contemporary context Ukraine needs help from other nations to keep its independence. Our country relies more and more on alliances aware that our nation is no longer the international force it once was. Working together in our communities can improve everyone's lives. The same is true in our church. The clergy and all the people of God depend on one another for their identities and their ministries.
There are no borders in the cosmic realm. We are part of an eternal and universal family who wants to live freely and responsibly. Along the way our identity as citizens of earth and heaven suggests that we are in a serious live-giving relationship with one another and our planet. Yes, that bond can be fractured by selfishness, deceit and power but it can also be repaired with love and honesty.
The season of Lent calls us to see ourselves as we truly are. As Christians abiding by the Word of God we join other faiths and non-believers in striving to treat others as they are … especially the ones who are not like us.
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The First Sunday of Lent - Year C
Christianity in Ukrainian and Russian lands dates to the earliest centuries of Christian history. Legend has it that the apostle Andrew traveled over the Black Sea to the Greek colony in Crimea where he converted thousands of people.
Throughout centuries of its history religion and politics have both united and fractured Ukraine and Russia. The reality today that complicates the war is that both Russian and Ukrainians are linked by their Orthodox faith. Their religious leaders, however, are not united to stop Vladimer Putin’s invasion into Ukraine even as they offer prayers for peace and the safety of Ukrainians.
Only a fierce cultural pride and identity, a steady historical resilience against oppression, and a loyal faith in God gives strength to Ukrainians and their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to push back against Vladimer Putin’s plan to reestablish the former Soviet Union by encroaching upon independent nations.
The first reading today (Deuteronomy 26:4-10) tells a similar story. It reports what Moses said to the Israelites, who were seeking their independence from Egyptians. “When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the God of our ancestors. God heard our cry, saw our affliction, and with “terrifying power,” brought us out of Egypt.
Ukrainians are pleading with God these days with words taken from their national spiritual anthem written in 1885: “Lord, Oh the Great and Almighty, Protect our beloved Ukraine … Bless us with freedom, bless us with wisdom, Bless us, Oh Lord, with good fortune, for ever and evermore.”
What Ukrainians want is a chance to live freely and without being afraid that their children’s dreams will be erased by oppressive dictators. Their battle is important on a global scale where many countries are ruled by autocrats.
The Ukrainian dream is like the Israelites’ in the Hebrew bible who yearned for a promised land. It is like those who still pursue the American dream. It is an aspiration for all of humanity to live in a world measured by justice and peace.
On this first Sunday of Lent we begin a liturgical journey to repent and transform our lives while the world all around us is in trouble. So what are we to do? Give up something for Lent while others are fighting to keep their freedom? Repent and believe the good news while evil people in the world never ask for forgiveness? Renew our lives while millions of people in this nation have no way to do so?
We have innumerable freedoms in this country thanks to the courageous stories of our ancestors in faith. Those who fled one captivity after another, who journeyed long years in the desert, who fought religious wars in Europe, who faced prejudice as immigrants in this country. We are summoned by our baptism to protect the common good so no one person or institution or political party steals it away.
We are part of a long history of humanity, a larger global dynamic, a cosmos without boundaries. We travel bravely to proclaim justice and truth with countless caring Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and people who practice no religion.
Along the way we are urged by our tradition to avoid any temptations that distract us from our calling as Catholic Christians to “stand as living witnesses to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all peoples may be raised up to a new hope.”
In today’s familiar gospel (Luke 4:1-13 ) a smooth-talking devil tried to break down Jesus with physical, political and spiritual temptations but the Anointed One from Nazareth never gave in. Jesus snap back at the devil: “Do not tempt God!”
Jesus desired no power or dominion over anyone. He did not want possessions. He stood up against corrupt civic and religious leaders. He taught that only love and compassion matter most. The Ukrainians are not giving in to the devil and neither should we.
And, there is something we can do. We can believe what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (10:8-13) that everyone who calls upon God will be saved. The Ukrainians, like other people struggling in tyrannical countries believe that God is on their side and is still walking with them.
These scriptures are good lessons for us. During this season of Lent let us walk not only with God but with someone who is not doing so well in the world. Let us find the time and a way to give a portion of our resources, however large or small, to people in need. For example, consider donating something to ease the pain of the people in Ukraine.
Our faith coupled with our good works can be a “terrifying power” in a world where evil lurks in our midst … sometimes closer than we think.
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Dear Friends: I was honored to deliver at the funeral liturgy for 25 year-old Brendan Fahy Bequette who passed away on 28 February 2022, after a 20-month battle with an aggressive, rare mediastinal germ cell cancer.
BRENDAN FAHY BEQUETTE
A Funeral Homily by Rev. Richard S. Vosko
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, New York
March 5, 2022
There is an anonymous 9th century manuscript called “The Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot.” It is an example of an entire genre of Celtic literature known as immrama or stories about journeys.
These Irish tales are concerned with a hero’s voyage west of Ireland across the sea to a paradise, a land of perpetual youth, abundance, and happiness also known as the Promised Land of the Saints.
They are vivid accounts of the heroic lives of Christian pioneers like Saint Brendan the Sojourner. The narratives provide insights into the realities of life and death, a mix of life’s anxieties and yearnings.
On their dangerous journey Saint Brendan the Sojourner often said to his monks: “Do not be afraid O you of little faith. God has always looked after us and God is sure to save us … and from all perils to come.” (Is 43:2-3)
This tale and other stories about Saint Brendan gave our Brendan hope and resilience during his sickness. Spiritually and philosophically inclined, Brendan sought the protection of God and St. Brendan. The connection was important as he came to realize that, after many months of treatments and the tenacious and loving efforts of his parents and medical team to make him better, he was about to die.
In the final months of his life Brendan found comfort in the Prayer of Saint Brendan. “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown … O Christ of the mysteries, I trust you to be stronger than each storm within me. I will trust in the darkness and know that my times, even now, are in your hand.” (Ps 31)
Amidst innumerable joys, life on this planet can be hard. People of faith claim God is the creator of all life and should protect them always. What we can believe is that God is first one to cry when someone dies.
Still, in spite of our faith in a just and loving God it is so difficult for us to be in the presence of someone we love who is no longer alive. However, science tells us that energy never dies, it merely takes on a different form.
Some religions like Buddhism hold that death leads to rebirth. Others like Islam believe that the real life begins after death. In our Christian tradition we abide by what Jesus said to his followers “I am the bread of life; even though you die you will live forever.” (Jn 6:47-48)
In the meantime as sting of death hurts us it awakens us to be more mindful of how we use our time on earth, how we live. In one example, the gospel of Matthew (6:19-21) we just heard advises us to seek only heavenly treasures, infinite blessings. Everything else will soon pass away.
Brendan was blessed with ever emerging gifts. A look at some of his earlier work as a director of film suggests he had an artistic and sensitive understanding of the scripts and an imaginative way of expressing them by using light, shadows, and color. He identified with those story lines that speak of the risks and rewards in life and he gave them new meaning.
Brendan’s own life story will continue to run as an model of the sensitive respect he had for everyone — his entire family, close friends, companions, his colleagues, health care providers, and many others.
Beneath his quiet almost shy demeanor, he was strong and resilient while methodically wrestling with a rare disease. He showed faith both in God and humanity. All of his attributes live on as we tell his story, share his faith, his love, and what he did for us and gave to us.
Although shattered by the death of someone we dearly love we do not grieve forever. There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to live, and, yes, a time to die. (Eccl 3:1-8)
With time and memory, stories and prayer, we find a way to carry on with Brendan’s spirit — working, playing, teaching, serving, and loving others. As we heard in the second reading we want to be patient and kind; never jealous; not boastful or conceited, and never rude. (1 Cor 13: 4-8a)
The Jewish word for funeral is “Halvaya.” (hal-va-YAH) It means to remember and accompany the deceased person. Brendan’s parents and sister held on to him in his difficult journey. We now travel with Brendan as he moves through what Irish mythology calls a mesmerizing and mystical “thin space” that separates heaven and earth.
Brendan was a curious and brave traveler in life just like his namesake and favorite saint. And now, like Saint Brendan and those Irish monks, we believe Brendan has arrived at the Promised Land of the Saints.
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The 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
The oldest tree in the United States is Pando, a giant colony of Quaking Aspens in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. These trees are part of a common organism, an underlying rhizoidal stem system that absorbs nutrients and provides strength. They continue to grow and spread in every which way. Some estimate the “tree” is about 80,000 years old!
In the gospel for today (Luke 6:39-45) Jesus shares a moral tale with his listeners. His message draws upon words related to trees (“wooden beams” and “splinters”) to teach a lesson that is relevant for us today. We should look at our own behavior — the beams or splinters in our eyes — before criticizing or admonishing someone else about their actions.
Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne commented: “relations between human beings based on retribution, or even on strict justice, fail to take account of … what is really going on inside another person.” Byrne continued, “the image of the tree and its yield of fruit illustrates the continuity that must prevail between the heart … and external action.” Faith without good works is not a good strategy on the world stage today.
As the parable continues Jesus uses trees metaphorically to describe who is an exemplary person. Good trees do not bear bad fruit and they are known by the fruit they produce. Further, trees planted in the house of God will bring forth fruit even as they grow old. They shall remain vigorous and sturdy. (Psalm 92:2-3,13-16) That’s good news for some of us!
We cannot overlook that Jesus also strongly condemned demonic persons who thrive in producing evil, stealing liberty from innocent people. The invasion of Ukraine made by Vladimer Putin is the latest example of crimes against humanity caused by a malicious power hungry autocrat.
If such evil is uncontested it will affect global economic systems and diminish the livelihoods of people especially those already living in poverty. It will harm and destroy millions of lives.
Why focus on trees in this moment of history? In mythology, literature, and poetry, trees represent life and growth. In his lyric poem “Trees” Joyce Kilmer suggests nothing created by humans can match the beauty of a tree. According to his biographer James Hart, Kilmer was influenced by his faith and dedication to the “natural beauty of the world.” 
The cedar trees are mentioned frequently in the Bible most likely because they were strong and indestructible (Isaiah 9:10). They also provided comfort, fruit and beauty. There is something about the grandeur of nature that inspires and gives hope. Mindful of its measureless wonder we realize the divine creative process is not finished. What is the significance of trees in our environmental and religious lives today?
First of all we have a responsibility to protect them and the entire eco-system we rely on for sustenance. The great Pando grove in Utah is endangered because of human activity. The tall and sturdy cedar trees of Lebanon, signs of that country’s historical resilience, are also in danger because of pollution. The same is true in other countries that allow the industrial raping of the land.
The word Pando, the name of that oldest grove of trees in Utah, means “I spread” in Latin. Like the Pando grove of the Aspen clones that keep extending their reach, churches like ours need to reproduce, to spread our roots, to grow fruit that will “glisten in the world.” (Philippians 2:15d, 16a)
A religion that is rooted in relationships will focus on the needs of its members. It will share leadership and decision making tasks. It will be nourished by memory and imagination. And, like the Pando tree, it will spread beyond traditional boundaries in unlimited directions.
Christianity is one of the older religions in the world. We are not often toppled by storms. Nor are we easily uprooted by industrial or political ambitions. Our lives are grounded in the Christian gospel. Our roots spread deep into the earth giving us a solid footing in society. We are known by the fruit we bear.
Our work is challenging. The world needs religious and spiritual people to work with those whose source of strength is found elsewhere. The task is to spread power and wealth so all people can lead stable productive lives. We move forward and upward so others can benefit by our good deeds expressed simply by the beauty of a tree.
1. Hartley, Marsden. "Tribute to Joyce Kilmer" in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (December 1918), 149–154.
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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
In Luke’s gospel (6: 27-38) today Jesus presents an astonishing challenge. This part of the sermon on the plain is the continuation of a vigorous training session for those who would follow Jesus, preach his message, and be rejected because of it. Jesus advised them: “to the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one; love your enemies, do good to them, and expect nothing back.
This surely is a counterpoint to the first reading this morning (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23). We read that it was permissible and actually encoded in the Law to exact an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." The laws of retaliation in the Old Testament established the right to seek damages similar to the crime perpetrated even taking "a life for a life." Jesus reversed that old law.
One of the hardest things to do in life is to turn the other cheek when someone bullies or murders a person especially because that person is of a different ethnic group, gender, race, or caste. How do Jews forgive Hitler for executing their family members? How do parents forgive those who shot their children in school? How do persons of color forgive those who enslaved and lynched their ancestors?
As we know this is Black History month.  It was inaugurated in the 1920’s to remember the emancipation of slaves and to celebrate the contributions black people make to this country. Today there is a lot of discussion about how much of the history of black people should be taught.
American history has many chapters that reveal our country’s good and bad sides but we cannot overlook the whole of American history. The bible has many episodes that graphically record acts of good and evil but that does not stop us from reading the whole story.
Before the pandemic took hold of our country I had the opportunity to visit civil rights museums and memorials in Alabama. As I stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, I grieved as the images of Bloody Sunday flashed in my mind. The Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s awakened our nation to the reality of racial injustice and hatred that continue to affect African-Americans and all of us in one way or another.
I thought not only of the marchers who were severely trampled and beaten on that bridge but also those people who attacked them. Who were they and what were they thinking? What drove them to do such harm to peaceful protestors, to other human beings also created by God? Would they be forgiven? The gospel today says: Forgive and you will be forgiven.
What was Jesus proposing? New Testament scholar Sarah Henrich explained: “All that power that flows from Jesus … will bring about a very different world, God’s world. The power will level the playing field no matter what rules we have established to create and protect our positions. The thriving of all creatures in God’s realm requires a different ethos from those customarily in place.”
The late John Lewis, civil rights activist and respected member of Congress, was the epitome of this gospel text. Although almost bludgeoned to death at different times he, like other non-violent civil rights activists, whether at a lunch counter or on that bridge in Selma, never once fought back. Lewis urged: “Speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
Jesus got in good trouble, plenty of good trouble, to save people, to pave a path to freedom from all injustice. He cared for those who were sick and oppressed but he also welcomed sinners in the spirit of today’s Psalm 103:1-4, 10-13: “God pardons all your iniquities. God heals all your ills.”
Privatized prisons are filled because we still have an “eye for an eye” mentality about how to deal with criminals. Slavery exists around the world in various forms — child labor, sex trafficking, unfair wages, and the rise of authoritarian dictators. Social inequities, anger, and hate tear us apart.
We can counter these overwhelming atrocities by stressing human goodness. John Lewis advised: "I alone cannot change the world, [he said] but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”
God needs us to make ripples, to make good trouble during this chapter of cosmic history. The biblical playbook tells us to be resilient, to work harder together, to act justly, walk humbly, and speak kindly.
In January 1972, Pope Paul VI called justice “a collective and universal phenomenon.” He then quoted the prophet Isaiah (32:17): “If you want peace, work for justice.” We might add today, and … if we want justice, work for reconciliation.
1. Carter Woodson is credited with starting the tradition and selecting February to remember two men who helped shape Black History — Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.
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The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Jesuit historian James Hennessy (1926-2001) wrote that the Catholic Church was once described as bishops and priests and the faithful who followed the teachings of bishops and priests. The Vatican Two Ecumenical Council changed that. The people of God are the church.
Ideally 1.2 billion Catholics around the world are on the same team. All persons, including those who are ordained, are teammates willing to play together to defeat any philosophy, government or institution that practices prejudice and inequality.
By way of a popular example teamwork is essential in tonight’s 56th Super Bowl game. Coaches and players will be following their standard playbooks. They will also talk to one another during the event to make necessary adjustments. They might even change their game plans.
Our “biblical” playbook calls for teamwork in the game of life. Jeremiah the prophet (17:5-8) exhorted the leaders of Judah to trust in God. He said: “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings.” He wanted his listeners to team up with God.
The elite tribal leaders did not listen and chose to do things their own way. Sadly, Judah was crushed and thrown into exile. In this episode there was not much teamwork between God and the chosen people of God.
We are called to learn the biblical play book to create a life giving game plan for ourselves and others. We are urged to use our talents and our ideas. As Christians we are coached by the Word of God. Win or lose, Jesus of Nazareth taught us how to play the game honestly, effectively, and with passion.
No one of us can win the game of life all alone. We need hardworking coaches and players on the team. In church terms we need smart pastoral leaders who will team up with the members of their dioceses, parishes, and schools.
In our religion, like other faith traditions, teamwork is essential if we are to win against the inequities of the world. We can turn the odds against those who do not play by the rules, mandates that are designed to give everyone a fair chance to win.
Today’s gospel (Luke 6: 17, 20-26) offers a different version of the familiar beatitudes; it can help us understand the biblical playbook. Instead of eight blessings, such as those in the gospel of Matthew (5:1-12), there are four blessings that are coupled with four afflictions. Those who are least fortunate are called blessed. Those who have plenty of power and wealth may not win every game. In the bible … underdogs can be victorious
New Testament scholar Sarah Henrich wrote: “These verses put today’s hearers on a level plain/playing field (v. 17) with all those to whom Jesus once spoke: the twelve, the crowd of disciples and the multitude from all over the area.” All the people of God make up creation and are responsible for sustaining it.
Sure, there are gifted superstar athletes who play better and are paid better than others. But in every “team” game each player on the field matters. A talented quarterback still needs a strong offensive line for pass protection. What makes the team successful is the way all the players communicate with and trust each other during the game. This is what the Catholic Church needs. More teamwork.
Last October 10, 2021 Pope Francis launched a synod on synodality to develop a play book for governing the church in the future. The word synodality comes from two Greek words — syn-hodos. It means walking on the same path together. It could mean playing on the same field together.
This unique synod is not just for bishops. It is an invitation to all members of the church worldwide to have a voice in the governance of the church. It is an opportunity for clergy and laity to listen to one another without being critical or defensive.
Lutheran pastor Katie Hines-Shah wrote: “… we are part of the priesthood of all believers, that whether or not we are ordained, we are called to do important, godly work.”
We want to win in life by following the game plan Jesus of Nazareth gave us. To do that we listen not only to the coaches, the church’s teachers, but also to one another, the players in the game, the people in our dioceses, parishes, schools, and a wide variety of ministerial groups.
The latest odds pick the Los Angeles Rams as a 4 point favorite to win the Super Bowl tonight. Can the underdog Cincinnati Bengals continue their miraculous winning ways? What are our chances of winning out over the injustices in the world? The odds are in our favor when we follow our biblical playbooks and play together as a team.
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The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
There is the old saying that faith is not taught but is something that can be caught. Today’s gospel story (Luke 5: 1-11) is about catching fish. Some people catch fish to sell or feed their families. Others catch fish for sport and then throw the fish back to the water.
The gospel was written in Greek and the word “zogrein,” which means catching, conveys the idea of giving people life and then helping them to stay alive. Jesus said to Simon Peter, who was a fisherman, that he and others would be catching people — to give them life.
Most religions have doctrines and rules that are meant to guide us through life’s labyrinths. But even though we responsibly teach those commandments in our schools and faith formation programs they cannot make us live in a certain way. How is the gift of faith put into practice?
Inspirational speaker and theologian, Judy Landrieu Klein, wrote: Catholicism has been “caught” for two thousand years … through the habits of a living Church that hands on its living faith via time-honored practices that grow organically and culturally throughout history.
“Catching” is a method for evangelization — sharing the good news of the gospel. This does not mean converting people to Catholicism. It does mean finding ways to change lives, to celebrate God’s love, and to serve others as Jesus did. 
When the elite men of Israel rejected Isaiah’s call to practice social justice (6:1-2a, 3-8) the prophet felt he was doomed. God asked: Well whom shall I send to make things better? Isaiah heard the angels sing out “the earth is full of God’s glory!” Isaiah, his lips burning with a new desire to serve, answered God: “Here I am send me!”
Simon Peter also felt he was not up to the task. He objected to Jesus. I am not sure I can do what you are asking me to do. Paul, admitted the same thing years before this gospel “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11)
Evangelical Lutheran pastor Amy Ziettlow offers some assurance: “As we ponder our own lives of discipleship, we may resonate with Simon [Peter] in questioning our ability to follow Christ and serve … Let us take heart that Christ is with us [and] will equip us with what we need.”
We need a lot of help these days because many fish are swimming away and cannot be caught by dogmatic decrees. However, by our example we can encourage others to catch on to a lifestyle built around the social gospel. The world is broken; people are falling through the cracks; they are looking for lifelines. Can religion respond to their hunger for help?
The research tells us Christian denominations in the United States are showing signs of wear and tear. The Evangelical and Pentecostal churches that thrived in recent decades are experiencing dwindling memberships.
Some surveys reveal that more people call themselves spiritual but not religious. The numbers of those who claim no religious affiliation are growing. About 33% of Americans say they do not pray at all. No matter what the reason the fish are swimming away.
Although the pandemic surely has had something to do with lower in-person attendance at weekly worship it cannot be entirely blamed. While 21% of U.S. adults call themselves Catholic the overall exodus from organized religions has been a slow but steady phenomenon. This is true especially in countries that were fundamentally founded on bible based teachings and powerful charismatic religious pioneers.
Many Christians today are disillusioned with their clergy. Some people anguish over the pedophile scandal. Others feel left out, disenfranchised, because of archaic rules and an exclusive patriarchal hierarchy. Still others are troubled by polarizations within their own congregations. All religions including ours are need of major adjustments in order to survive and continue to serve those in need.
God asked Isaiah for help. Jesus called ordinary people to follow him. We have been summoned to carry on that mission. We go deeper into the sea, to toss the nets of our faith wider and farther to catch new fish and seek out the ones that swam away. Our strategy is to steady our boats, to fill our nets with people who have been hurt not only by religion but who suffer because of dictatorial regimes around the world.
As our nets fill to breaking, so do our hearts burst open to those sisters and brothers brought to us by the compassion and love of Christ. When we practice what we preach the life and mission of Jesus fills our nets — and our lives — with abundance, new hope, and resilience.
1. See Go Make Disciples: A National Plan & Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the US. USCCB, Washington, DC, 2002
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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
Today’s gospel story takes place in a synagogue and brings to mind the gravity of the recent hostage siege in the the Beth Israel synagogue (Colleyville, TX). Such calamities occur in houses of worship way too often.
We remember the 2015 massacre of nine worshipers during bible study inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Charleston, SC).
Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in 1980 while celebrating liturgy in the Chapel of Hospital de la Divina Providencia (San Salvador, El Salvador).
Historically speaking security breaches in sacred places are not new. In January of the year 825 Scandinavian Norsemen raided the Irish Monastery on the British Isle of Iona. They murdered the monks at the end of the liturgy.
How do we maintain hope, a feeling of safety, and a sense of our own worth as we worship in our own sacred spaces? How do we deal with the hate-filled crimes that are rampant today in our schools and streets? Where is the love of humanity? Psalm 71 for today suggests we can complain to God about our troubles and then plead for help. But is this enough?
Jeremiah the prophet (1:4-5, 17-19) needed assistance as he faced trouble in his mission to all "the nations." He preached individual repentance and community compliance to the Babylonian invasion in order to avoid total national destruction but the Israelites rejected him.
God said to Jeremiah, do not worry, I am with you all the way. It is hard to believe God is still with us when there is so much suffering in the world. The question is this: are we still walking with God?
In Luke’s gospel (4:21-30) we read that Jesus himself was rejected in the synagogue right in his home town of Nazareth. During worship he upset everyone when he spoke about caring and loving all people, even outsiders. The congregants were so outraged they tried to throw him off a nearby cliff.
Jesus did not accomplish his vision for all of humanity. He was hunted down and nailed to a cross for what he believed to be his mission — advocacy for vulnerable people. United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon wrote that “things were just fine in Nazareth … until Jesus opened his mouth.”
Life is full of imperfections but that is not all. There are joys and miracles. There is wonder and happiness. The late Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh taught mindfulness as a palliative for suffering and a formula for loving others. He claimed that happiness and suffering do go together in life but he also offered ways to endure and respond to the pain.
As an influential peace activist he believed in the importance of practicing love: “True love has the power to heal and transform any situation and bring deep meaning to our lives.”  In order to bring happiness to others, he wrote, it is essential to accept yourself, love yourself, and heal yourself.
Award-winning author Dara Horn affirmed the monk’s advice in her recent and penetrating book on the lack of respect for Jewish lives: “The freedoms we cherish are meaningless without our commitments to one another: to civil discourse, to actively educating the next generation, to welcoming strangers, to loving our neighbors. The beginning of freedom is the beginning of responsibility,” Horn wrote. 
Last week’s letter from Paul to the people of Corinth suggested how we might carry out our mission. He listed the many gifts we can use to make the world a better place. The passage today describes at length one of those gifts — the power of love. Paul stresses the importance of love in everything we do. Succinctly, “If I have faith to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13)
We can push back the blatant deprivation of human rights that has occurred over the course of human history. But because we are complex creatures, with individual opinions and goals, getting along is not easy. The result is that we become vulnerable to the weaknesses of our own making.
If we do not do something these defects will stifle and snuff out our joys, our hopes and visions not only for ourselves but more importantly for our children. History and the sacred texts of all faith traditions clearly speak to us. When we practice love toward one another, and care for one another, regardless of who we are or what our differences might be, we bring happiness into the world.
1. Thich Nhat Hanh. How to Love.” Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2015, 16.
2. Horn, Dara. People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present (Norton 2021).
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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
In a recent essay Amanda Gorman explained why she almost declined the invitation to be the inaugural poet last January. President Biden’s inauguration came right after domestic terrorists attacked the Capitol and she feared for her life. She wrote how she would “become highly visible — which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you are Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service.” She was terrified!
There is so much to fear in the world right now it is hard to focus on the joys, the delights, the serendipity, the small and often unexpected treasures that help us cope with discouragement and despair. Gorman continued: “I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear.”
What would it be like to live in an ideal world where power-hungry governments did not encroach on neighbor nations; where the resources of a wealthy country were distributed evenly to sustain the underclass?
Can we imagine a world where borders would open up to welcome people haunted and hunted by autocratic authorities, and where the practice of restorative justice would eliminate the privatized prison industry?
What if Jews, Uyhgurs, the Rohingya, Gypsies, Christians, the LGBTQIA community, and persons of color, around the world would not have to fear being ostracized, injured, or killed just because of who they are?
Today’s reading from the first book of Corinthians (12:12-14, 27) includes a line famously found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28): “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Biblical scholar Karin Neutel examined the apostle Paul’s vision for living together in an ideal society: “Paul expected an imminent cosmic change, a new creation ushered in by the death and resurrection of the Messiah.”
Paul’s three categories were expressions of first century expectations for utopian societies. Neutel noted that Paul’s contemporaries pictured “different peoples living together in one homogeneous group under one law — without ethnic distinction … living as equals … removing major causes of social conflict.”
Today we add more categories to Paul’s list. There is neither black nor white nor brown, gay nor straight, rich nor poor, healthy nor sick, transgender nor cisgender, all are equal creatures of God.
Paul imagined all peoples living under this Christian ideal. He preached not only to Jews but also Gentiles and saw baptism as a unifying experience. Paul’s mission was to make all peoples disciples of Christ and he frequently reminded his audiences of his own conversion.
Today, our dream for a peaceful planet extends beyond any one faith tradition or belief in dogmas. Our approach is broader and urgent. The development of one’s spirituality and the desire to live without fear are fueled by a feverish trepidation and a human yearning for peace and justice.
Imagine if the city or town you lived in was totally destroyed not by extreme weather conditions (fires, floods, tornadoes) but by dictators and terrorists. This has happened all too often in history. One example is reported in today’s first reading from the book of Ezra/Nehemiah (8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10).
Biblical scholar Tamara Cohn Eskenazi remarked that after their exile the Israelites “faced an overwhelming challenge: rebuilding not merely their homeland but their very identity as a people and a religion.” Yet in a short 50-years after their exile they experienced an incredible rebirth.
Cohn-Eskenazi noted the entire community was responsible for the restoration; and that the presence of God, they believed, was not limited to the restored temple building but it encompassed the entire city of Jerusalem.
In the gospel (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) the author wrote about the connection between Jesus and Isaiah “to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.” Jesus would become the One the Israelites were waiting for.
We too take our place in a long line of advocates for justice and peace. We respond to “a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear.” We join with people of many faiths  and those who practice no religion at all to work together to create what we imagine to be an ideal world.
1. This weekend is the conclusion of this year’s Week of Prayer for Church Unity.
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The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C
Daily and weekly we Christians turn to the Bible for reassurance that God is walking with us on our journeys. Our faith and hope empower us to cope with overwhelming issues affecting our lives.
A recent Gallop Poll reported that the top three things Americans are concerned about are the economy, poor government leadership, and the unrelenting virus. There are other pressing issues such as the growing gap between rich and poor people, clashing opinions about vaccinations, voter legislation, the slow demise of democracy, and climate change.
Our frustrations have incited quarrelsome divisions in our families, neighborhoods, churches, schools and town halls. The rancor among elected officials is not helpful. These cracks in our society, however, challenge us to reflect on those ways where faith and life meet.
The evangelist John wrote a collection of astonishing episodes to convince unbelievers that Jesus was the Messiah. Like other biblical anecdotes this one (John 2:1-11) addresses what is necessary for “turning water into wine.”
Even though Jesus claimed he was not ready for ministry he conceded to his mother’s plea. He showed his skeptical followers that he had a unique ability to do wondrous deeds particularly when the lives of others were at risk.
Jesus’ vision was that every situation and person must be treated with respect and care. As he carried out this task Jesus was showing us how to be partners with God in bringing about a kin-dom here on earth.
Psalm 96 asserts we are to “proclaim the marvelous deeds [of God] to all the nations.” However, as we go about exercising our baptismal ministries we ask ourselves: where is God in this moment of history?
Isaiah the prophet (62:1-5) asked a similar question. The Israelites were rebounding from years in exile. They wanted to rebuild their Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. Life for them was so harsh many of them gave up on God.
Old Testament scholar Callie Plunket-Brewton surmised that “the loss of self-rule and the continued absence of physical and symbolic stability” represented by their Temple [building], meant that “God was absent as well.”
With a vision for the future of Israel Isaiah continued to pester God to keep the promise God made not to forsake humanity. Isaiah emphasized: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.”
How do we use our voices to make God’s kin-dom on earth a reality? In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (12:4-11) we are reminded of the many gifts we have. No matter what our talents are each of us is blessed in some way. In turn, we can be a blessing to others by “speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all those who are destitute.” (Proverbs 31:8)
Using our wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, and discernment we can be miracle workers; we can turn things around. We do not have to possess every charism but if we use the ones we are very good at we will begin to see results.
As we remember Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend we recall the innumerable ways he used his voice and took risks on behalf of poor and vulnerable people. Like Isaiah and Jesus, King also had a dream for the future. He sought to change water into wine, that is, to end poverty, racism of every kind.
In King’s words, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it … There is no deficit in human resources, the deficit is in human will.” 
Sometimes our wine runs out. We get discouraged. We become anxious over things we cannot control. There is little money to pay the rent or mortgage, buy groceries or gas. We distrust even our closest friends. We begin to overlook the needs of others. Sometimes, we give up on God.
United Methodist pastor, Ismael Ruiz-Millán, remarked that the Cana miracle is calling each one of us “to identify what needs to be redeemed in our world so that it is in alignment with God’s desires for us.” The time is now for miracle workers to show up.
Jesus modeled for us a life dedicated to speaking only the truth; caring for those who need help; and advocating for laws that are just. Living in this way, during these troubling and unpredictable times, we too can turn water into wine.
1. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? In A Testament of Hope ed. James M. Washington (New York: Harper & Collins, 1986), 623-624.
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The Baptism of Jesus - Year C
Water is a force of nature. We are born with a need for it. We cannot live without it. About 70% of the earth’s surface is water and as much as 60% of our bodies is water. But we don’t have what each person needs.
Less than one percent of the water on earth is fresh and suitable for human consumption. About 1 in 3 people live without safe drinking water, and the global water demand is expected to increase 50 percent or more by 2040.
Water is mentioned 722 times in the Bible as a metaphor for life, death, cleansing, and purification. Today’s Psalm 29 affirms “the voice of God is over the water, vast waters.” If, according to these sacred texts, God is the architect of the primal forces of nature, why is water an endangered element? Surely God is not to blame.
The gospel for today is Luke’s version (3:15-16, 21-22) of the baptism of Jesus. Baptism with water is a customary way to initiate someone into a group. While John baptized his followers with water he said that his cousin Jesus would baptize with the “holy Spirit and fire.” There is no mention in the New Testament that Jesus himself baptized anyone with water.
If fire and Spirit are pivotal why baptize with water? According to New Testament scholar Shively Smith, the word fire is “an image for the purifying work of God’s spirit.” Baptism by water only, without an intense experience of the fiery indwelling of the Spirit, is not enough to change a person. The Spirit takes center stage in Luke’s gospel because this text does not state who actually baptized Jesus.
John the Baptizer could not have been present at the River Jordan. He was incarcerated by Herod a first century example of an insecure politician who craved dictatorial power, shamed and persecuted innocent people, and was paranoid about someone else becoming head of state. Both John and Jesus were threats to Herod’s totalitarianism.
What is the connection between baptism and climate change? While water sustains life it can also destroy life. Think of how floods, typhoons, and polluted water kill. Millions die daily due to diarrhea and one third of them are children under the age of five. Food production suffers because of droughts and rising temperatures.
Humans may never completely control natural disasters but we can work to stymie the root cause of them — climate change. Baptism is a call to discover ways to do such that.
Immersion in a large pool of water represents a symbolic “dying” with Christ and marks a change in the way a person chooses to live.  Dipped in the water the candidate is cleansed of an old life, lifted up anew and clothed with the life of Christ. Because baptism is a communal action the person then participates in a spiritual cooperative and is sustained by it as together they seek justice for all.
Biblical scholar Jerome Creach asserts that the synoptic gospels “present Jesus’ baptism as a revelation of his cosmic role as God’s servant who ushers in the kingdom of God.” That kin-dom is unfinished. The cosmos and all of its creatures are suffering. While some are waiting for the Creator God to come to the rescue, others see themselves as partnering with God to repair the earth.
A person who has faith in God, a relationship with Christ, and is energized by a holy Spirit, commits to standing with others who will boldly advocate for what is true and just. This is why so many followed John the Baptizer and then Jesus of Nazareth. The underclass of the Roman Empire yearned for someone to lead them out of subjugation to liberty.
Today, Christian cohorts unite with other faith traditions to change social policies and government legislation that, for example, deny people equal access to healthy food, decent housing, living wages, the right to vote, and, yes, clean water.
Isaiah (42:1-4, 6-7) affirms this call to action: “He [sic] will be bring forth justice to the nations.” Some scholars suggest the pronoun “he” is a reference to an individual while others claim it refers to a nation summoned to bring about a just world.
Although there are many examples of injustice in the world one urgent issue affects everyone. The future of this planet and humanity depends on reducing and eliminating the causes of climate change which in turn impacts our water supplies.
Scientist Sonja Klinsky points out: “To reduce climate change and protect those who are most vulnerable, it’s important to understand where emissions come from, who climate change is harming and how both of these patterns intersect with other forms of injustice.”
While water reclamation and reuse solutions are helpful they will not eliminate the problem of climate change. Dr. Klinsky explains: “The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels to power industries, stores, homes and schools and produce goods and services, including food, transportation and infrastructure, to name just a few.”
We Christians are reminded, during these unpredictable times, to change our hearts about the way we live and to join others in accepting responsibility for the apocalyptic impact climate change has on the future of this planet and every creature on earth.
What does baptism have to do with halting climate change and other global atrocities? Everything.
1. Baptismal fonts are shaped like crosses or tombs to represent the death of Jesus. Some are designed as octagons symbolizing the eighth day of the week, Sunday, when Jesus was raised from the dead.