March 10, Life

In today’s Gospel Story (John 3:14-21) tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life”. The popular, and easy, way to see the statement is to hold on to the idea that eternal life is getting to heaven after we die. Then all we have to do is believe the right things about Jesus, do some religious practices, and we get to heaven later. But the Gospels are about God’s kingdom in my here and now, not my later. My here and now, my present, is real, while my later is not. The kingdom begins here and now and happens only with my consent and cooperation. In the Mass today we pray “God our Father, your Word, Jesus Christ, spoke peace to a sinful world and brought mankind the gift of reconciliation by the suffering and death he endured; Teach us, the people who bear his name, to follow the example he gave us: may our faith, hope, and charity turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, death to eternal life“. This is how I am called to live if I am serious about being Jesus’ disciples. So, am I serious, or do I just talk.

Believing in Jesus is not the same as believing about Jesus. Much about Christianity involves judging and condemning, deciding who is in and who is out, things Jesus never did. Each religious tradition within Christianity has its own tenets that its followers have to believe about Jesus, merely an intellectual exercise. Believing in Jesus might begin with as an intellectual matter, but, when and if I am willing, moves to an ongoing relationship that affects my everyday living. There is a world of difference. The Scriptures emphasize that God sent Jesus not to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through him. But for many it’s like saying if you don’t condemn the world, we’ll condemn it for you. We can do a better job. Anyone we don’t understand, and so are afraid of, we will condemn and claim to be doing it in your name. Many religious traditions do this sort of thing, and they differ, often contradicting each other. Jesus does not bring a set of rules. He offers a relationship of trust, openness, and wholeness.

The Gospels call Jesus “light of the world”. When I am open to this light, Jesus helps me look at myself to see how I am doing, and I might not like what I see. So, it is easier, and safer, to look at how others are living. I can judge from a position of knowledge and power, and the God I create for myself sees things just as I do. I have to be alert to this. When I prayerfully read the Gospel, it tells me how I am called to live, not how others need to live so I can feel more comfortable and safe.

There is no doubt that my recent heart attack had, and is still having, a life changing affect on me. The powerful experiences of indescribably profound peace while sitting in my car, and of suddenly and unexpectedly being cared for by people I did not know and who didn’t know me, was for me the kingdom of God happening. I really felt that, which itself was grace. I still feel it now as my cardiac rehab comes to a close. I will miss the assertive, humorous, all-seeing, and loving support and care of the nurses, and the lighthearted yet serious mutual support of the other patients in our group. We talked about it all as a safe place and a great way to start the day. The kingdom of God, eternal life, has been happening. I hope I’m learning from this. This whole thing has been really real, and I am most thankful for it all.

Many among us are looking for healing or comfort of some sort. Sometimes we can admit this, and sometimes we can’t. This happens not only because of physical pain from illness or injury, but also emotional pain from suffering loss, failed relationships, being rejected because of how they see themselves or whom they love. Knowingly or unknowingly we often are the cause of each others’ suffering. Much of this hurt is caused by religious traditions and their self-appointed enforcers. This has occasioned a new area of ministry called Church Hurt for people who are suffering because of how religion has caused them pain and hurt for any number of reasons. Our loving God comes among us in other people. It might be that hurting folks come to recognize Jesus happening in the persons trying to help them deal with their pain, good people who may or may not have any belief in God, acting without any reference to the gospel or religion, and who are doing what they do simply because it is right. God doesn’t need religious terminology to be God in us. 

All this suggests a serious responsibility for me if I really want to be your disciple. Are you asking me to be open to everyone and everything in the belief that you are calling me to be a minister of healing to others. Is it less a matter of having the answers, but of being open to the questioning,  willing to listen, learn,  alert to you happening. Am I willing to move in this direction, to be a part of this healing, whether or not I am aware of it happening? With my limitations are you asking me to do something in my own way of living? Do I have to know, or can I just try to respond to every situation from this perspective and go where it takes me?

Thanks to Alexa I’m listening to “Lay your hands gently upon us; Let their touch render your peace. Let them bring your forgiveness and healing. Lay your hands gently, lay your hands, Lord, we come to you through one another. Lord, we come to you in our need. Lord, we come to you seeking wholeness. Lay your hands gently, lay your hands”. This pretty much sums up the last several months of my life. This stuff really happens, and I have been on the receiving end. Is it something I want to be a part of on the giving end? Am I open to grace? Lots to ponder I think.   Just sayin .  .  .