pastoral care

Ash Wednesday Homily

Readings

Psalm 103:8-14

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. We receive ashes as a sign of humility (from dust we came, to dust we return). Lent is a time to remember themes like seek, call, forsake, and return.

What is Lent but a reminder that God has demands on the world, our society, and our hearts, and in our relationships. What are these demands? Isaiah 58 says that God wants the kind of lenten season where we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set the oppressed free. God wants us to be people of justice and equity, where we receive our own dignity and dignify others.

This season we’re entering into is calling us to consider the way we’re compromising ourselves in light of competing voices that want our attention. Such competing voices–when listened to and obeyed–leave us high and dry, empty and lonely.

Jesus is constantly asking people “What are you going after?  What do you really want?” Lent is calling us back to a life of discipline and obedience, and to remember our true Christian Identity:  that Christ came into this world to rescue and renew so that justice, beauty, wholeness, and reconciliation might be made possible and accessible through Him.  

And when we face our own need for healing, forgiveness, or a fresh start, we find that the Psalms describe God as the one who has demands but is also ready to lavish us with grace.  And what is grace? Psalm 103 reminds us:

  • The lord compassionate and gracious
  • Abounding in love
  • He doesn’t accuse, shame, blame, or judge
  • He doesn’t hold grudges and resentments, or get even with us
  • His love is as great as the heavens above the earth
  • He is quick to remove our shame and guilt
  • He is the God who has his arm around you with encouragement, and his finger in your chest calling you to live better!

The ashes remind us that life will end because from dust we came and to dust we return. Yet dust, when in God’s hands, is shaped and formed, and given life by his Breath!

God is making an invitation to you and I today, during is lenten season, to confess our brokenness, turn to him, and receive new life for this new season. May He breathe into us new life. May He give life to our dust lives.


Fasting during Lent is one form of a spiritual discipline to re-habit our ways of being with God, each other, and our inner selves. A few disciplines include (but are not limited to):

  • Food Fasting. Abstaining from lunch to cultivate a hunger for God.
  • Social Media Fast. Abstaining from all social media apps to cultivate good time management and be more mindful.
  • Scripture Reading and Prayer. This is a combination of reading the daily scriptures regarding Lent and saying a prayer.
  • Prayer of Examen. Specific form of a prayer at the end of the day to examine God’s presence and our response (or lack of it).
  • Communal Scripture Study and Prayer.
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pastoral care, spiritual formation

Mystery Reveals My Heart

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In Christian tradition, one great claim and aim is to be made in the image of God. This means to experience a transformation such that we become who we have always been: children of God who imitate the One who creates and loves. Orthodox theologians call this theosis: the process of becoming one with God.

In this union with Christ, we become as He is. “Christ becomes like us (incarnation) that we might become like him (theosis).”

My assertion is that this process of theosis most happens in mystery and suffering. Moses becomes a holy person through his own desert experience after leaving everything he knows: Egyptian living, customs, and rites. His Egyptian identity is shattered when he learns of his Hebrew roots. This crisis of identity leads him to act in ways contrary to God-like character, shifting him into the desert for 40 years. He enters a mystery, a great unknown.

Jesus enacts the Christ identity most on the cross when He takes on sin and death, trusting that the Father is not limited by death. Since Christ is the ultimate icon of theosis, we might dismiss the example and say, “Well, this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and be done with the story. But incarnation and theosis are claiming that we too will go through our own process of desert/cross/mystery.

I’m in a season of mystery and am handling more like Moses, pre-desert. I’m more like Peter who is sold out and convinced one moment, but then betrays Jesus the next.

To be in a season of mystery and the great unknown shake my core of trust, destabilizes my devotion to Christ, and causes a feeling petulance. How’s that for someone who claims to trust and follow God?!

The word mystery is about hiddenness and is closely related to mystic. To be a mystic requires a self-surrender (a kenosis…self-emptying) to the Great Mystery. I don’t know what this all means, but I’m comforted by the reality not all of life is explained away in three easy steps to success.

It brings my comfort to know that I am called to surrender to Mystery and be shaped by God to be like him in all things. During this lenten season, life feels dark, foggy, and cloudy. There are a few unknown variables in my life that are driving me crazy. I can’t control them or make them go away. I’ve been angry and irritable, much like Moses and Peter. The mystery of circumstances has revealed my childish and immature response. Mystery has revealed my heart…and it’s not pretty.

Last night during a worship time at our church, Christina broke script and sang a song that was not our list. I don’t remember the lyrics, mostly because I was confronted with a sense of the Holy. I put my drumsticks down, stood up, palms up. I was frozen and paralyzed in what felt like God’s focused presence. I remembered Isaiah 6:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%206&version=NIV

In that moment, all I could do is surrender to Mystery and the Holy. When I got up this morning, I had a deeper hope and one that had the courage to surrender to Mystery.

I don’t have answers to some of my perplexing questions. But I have a sense of God’s presence in the Mystery and a grace to surrender.

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Homily, lent, pastoral care

Crying out for God’s Presence – Lenten Homily 3.13.2018

William Seymour, Azusa Street Revival

William Seymour, Azusa Street Revival

Reading 1, Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Responsorial PsalmPsalms 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
GospelJohn 5:1-3, 5-16

In the early part of the 1900’s, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (HS) in a converted Los Angeles warehouse, off Azusa st.  The leader, an African American, was leading a group of people in prayer, bible study, and worship as the Holy Spirit descended upon them [side note:  I don’t think that it’s a coincidence to have the HS pour out over a struggling, pain-filled community…people experiencing racism, prejudice, etc).  There are many stories of people experiencing healing–emotional, mental, spiritual, relational–as well as people giving their lives to following Jesus.  A river was flowing through the gathered community and washing over them.

In the Ezekiel passage, there is imagery of temple/water/river/flow/life/fruit.  That’s the flow.  But it starts with temple, which represents God’s presence among the people.  From God’s presence among the people, there is healing, life–a picture of a community flourishing.

Charismatic belief has held that when we seek God’s presence, the river flows!  Pentecostal/Charismatic movements are the fasting growing in the world.  What might a deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit look like in our lives?  And what might happen when we are intentional about seeking God’s presence (temple/river/flow) in our lives and with those we do work and life with?  The promise and picture is that we will see healing, salvation, wholeness, and the community flourishing.

The other day, I was really struggling with a relational issue.  I couldn’t shake the feelings that were messing with me.  I went to our bedroom, closed and locked the door, and threw myself on the floor to cry out to God!  I asked God for a breakthrough in this area.  A breakthrough of wisdom, a paradigm shift, a revelation and insight into next steps.  After some time (it felt like hours!), I wiped my tears and sensed God’s presence and words of wisdom.  I had a new perspective that was not my own.  I cried out to God for something beyond me.  I followed this up with a trusted friend and told him what I was going through and experiencing.  His words echoed what I had experienced with God.

This river stream experience caused gladness and a deeper awareness of God’s presence (temple) in my life.  The promise of the Holy Spirit includes healing, miracle languages, insights, discernment, and words of wisdom.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuit Order) has a simple but profound rule:  Look for God in all things/inner movements/relationships/work.  It is a very charismatic approach to life!

 

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Homily, lent, pastoral care

The Gospel in My Context: Beloved and Belonging (Lenten Homily, 3.11.2018)

Reading 1Second Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23
Responsorial PsalmPsalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
GospelJohn 3:14-21
Reading 2Ephesians 2:4-10


I remember when I was in junior high school, there was a gangbanger (GB) who was constantly picking on me.  I’m not sure why.  I was a church boy, played in band, and played basketball during my lunch times so I can’t think of why I was a threat to him and his homies.  One day I was playing basketball and this GB comes on to the court hollering at me:  “ROY!  ROY!”  He was getting louder and closer.  So I decided that he crossed the free throw line where I was standing that I was gonna throw a punch.  Sure enough, he crossed the line and I became “fist-a-cuffs!”.

The next day, this gangbangers friend–who was half my size–came and “hit me up!”…with 10 of his friends.  I was all alone, with my drumsticks in hand heading to band class.  I thought, “I’m dead!” but I’ll bust out a few paradiddles on some heads before I go down.

After some pleasantries, I heard a voice behind me and a bunch of footsteps.  By now, a mob of people are surrounding us and the voice says, “Roy!  We got your back!”  It was my friend “Filo” (look it up) and his friends.  The year prior to me being at school, my cousin had attended the same jr high school and told his friends to look out for me.

Sometimes when I listen to a man’s story, it is shortcoming that I’ll hear them allude to a feeling of a parent figure not being “there” for them.  The story somehow conveys a belief:  who is “for me”, who is “with me”?

I obviously do not condone bullying or violence.  But I was sure glad that someone was “for me” and “with me”.  🙂

I think and feel differently about myself and others when I experience being loved and belonging.  One of the greatest miracles that I feel the Gospel has done in my life is transform the way I feel about myself and others.  I know Good News has more far-reaching implications than my “measly” self.  🙂 But I also know that God’s redemptive choosing involves “little ole me”.

When I read these passages, what I hear is “I chose you.  I love you.  You belong to me.”  Thanks to Scot McKnight (his blog is way better than mine) and his book “A Fellowship of Differents“, when I hear the word love, I hear “I’m with you, for you, and unto you”.  It’s not just a “feeling” from God but a disposition that He has towards us.

The readings today convey this sense that God does all the initiating in our lives to love us and chooses us.  I hear way too many stories of people not feeling beloved or that they belong.

What happens when you and I feel like we belong and that we’re loved?  We begin to act that way with God, others, and our selves.

These powerful truths have rearranged my life.  I can look back at this photo of my jr high self and know that I’m loved and belong by a God who chooses us.  May these words bless you as well…because you’re already chosen, beloved, and belong.

 

 

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