Vineyards of En-Gedi | 2019 August
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Homiletics Notes / 19.08.2019

The Gospel can be thought of a three teachings, again on the way to Jerusalem passing through towns and villages. The narrow gate image first leads to the other two. The supplicant outside the locked door who is not recognized by the householder who sends the person away leads to to a saying of vs. 28 about the patriarchs and prophets surprisingly already seated at the heavenly banquet. The final two verses 29 and 30, cite the Isaian vision of the first reading and end with a second saying which we see elsewhere in the Gospel. In other words there's a lot of material here. Perhaps the rubric is "the few and the many." The lectionary skips three parables, two sets of sayings, and a rare cure on the way to Jerusalem of a woman. For ourselves, we seek the widest, easiest road and gate into heaven. For religion we are not a rigorous culture. Quick, easy, soft. Jesus tells us that it takes strength. But what does this strength entail? What is spiritual strength? Are we the last minute people or late for everything people? God, the householder, has ended the day and the gate is locked. The house master says twice, "I do not know where you are from." In other words where did your journey start and what path di you take to arrive at this locked gate? What detained you? In light of the racism and the sense of elected and chosen privilege rampant today, it is the last of the three that could be taken up in the homily, supplemented by the first reading, to engage the universalism of the vision of God, one might even say the catholicism, in its original sense. ...

Homiletics Notes / 19.08.2019

The entries this week are for the Ordinary Time 21 C. Our first reading is from the end of the prophet Isaiah. It is a rousing and consulate vision from God who announces, "I come to gather nations of every language." For the life of me, I do not understand how the American heresy of evangelicalism can misread this passage and persist in their racism and white supremacy. But too many of us Catholics can be indicted for the same sins. How much more clear do God have to speak? And some shall even be priests! It is pathetic to hear the North American white Catholic complain about a foreign born priest assigned to their lily parish. After all their sons aren't becoming priests, enarmoed by the great god Baal as they are. And God forbid that an American should learn another language! Could be because they don't even know that grammar of their own? I guess it involves too much thinking. This last week the Danish offered to buy the United States! First our government wanted to buy Greenland. Danish ownership would mean free health care, free college education, a four day work week, a $20 minimum wage, unburdening us of any foreign war, leadership by a far better king than what we purport to have, paid parental maternity leave, cheap prescription drugs, and Denmark is the 2nd happinesst country in the world! Of course, whiners that we are, that wouldn't last. The point is that God's universal plan is not our plan. God is for communion and we are for division. The people of Israel, on the verge of collapse will be sent for as fugitives to the nations to proclaim God's glory. Yes, even to Javan, the Hebrew name for the Greeks! dThe whole Isaiah universal vision is held by Jesus in his teaching in the gospel this coming Sunday. It's time to preach about these things. ...

Homiletics Notes / 16.08.2019

Since it is the strongest word among the four texts this weekend, I'm going to start with fire as a multivalent symbol, focussing on its purifying quality and on its symbolism of enthusiasm. The "cloud of witnesses" certainly had both these qualities going on in their lives. The runner purifies focus to have the energy and strength to race and win. And fire gives us joy, as in "for the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross". We've all known this aspect of fire, perhaps sitting around a campfire or in front of the fire place in the company of good friends; it warms the heart, as they say. Fire causing division is a bit more complicated. Its meaning relates to the passion one has for something and the confusion or resistance who do not have the same passion. Christ is divisive in contemporary American society, because of the heresy of American civil religion, now practiced even by many Catholics, who want only to "fit in" and to varnish over the differences. We experience of the artificial differences in the church between conservatives/tradionalist and liberals, each side painting the other as bad, negative, or off the rails. Note that the very next words of Jesus after this fire saying are about reading the signs of the times, because discernment leads to decision. So Luke arranges this next saying in conjunction with the fire saying. ...

Homiletics Notes / 15.08.2019

Most of us would rather have cheery, good news stories than even to think about the horrors happening in the modern world. We avoid the politics, the economics, and the antics of world leaders (including our own). It's all just too much to bear. So when Jeremiah preaches the impending doom in the royal court, the princes acted to cheer the people and the soldiers up, by proposing the death of Jeremiah, bearer of bad news. It is likewise very tempting to be a cheery homilist, soothing the peoples' ears with "the good news". Yet, uncomfortable as it is, the challenge is to present the gospel and the conforming of ourselves to Christ in all of its difficult reality. The steps are simple, but far from American culture: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Not a complicated action plan, just hard to take. The first step alone, denying oneself, is to let go of that cheery, rose colored glasses outlook and see things and one's self as we really are; naked before the throne of God. Now, that's a scary thought! Yet, here is Jeremiah in the dark and dank cistern, alone and hopeless and not a little beat up. The princes had him "thrown" into the cistern, down long narrow stairs of unforgiving stones. And so, either way you understand the fire cast down on the earth of the Gospel, as the fire of the Holy Spirit or the fire of divine purification, it is not cheery, because the fire calls for decision -- for Christ or not! If you do this seriously you'll probably have to get a new set of friends nd a new family. The disciple's walk is out of step with our culture and society. ...

Homiletics Notes / 14.08.2019

I cite Luke Timothy Johnson in Sacra Pagina for his insight into the symbolism of fire. It is both regarding judgment because of its purifying and consuming effects and because it is clearly in the Scripture a sign of the Holy Spirit. Luke uses the same language as th prophet Elijah calling down fire to consume the sacrifices and the false prophets in II Kings. The "to set" of the translation is a very weakened option for the Greek, "to throw down". It strikes me that this is the connection with the Jeremiah selection. The young Judean King Zedekiah was obviously in the control of the princess of the land and the false court prophets, men and women who were there to flatter the king, speak on his behalf, and assuage any sense of impending doom. There is an American heretical Christianity that does just that: they tickle our ears with prosperity religion, create an us vs. them mentality, and create an environment of apocalyptic doom way off in the future. Jeremiah would understand our culture very well; we don't. In our complacency, the last thing we want is the fire, under either of its symbolic range of meanings. ...

Homiletics Notes / 13.08.2019

The city of Jerusalem is under the threat of Babylonian siege, the young king is easily swayed by his inept councillors, and everyone is in massive denial about the doom facing them. The status quo seduces everyone in the tiny Judean kingdom. The false prophets spread cheery fake news to keep the peace at any price. Jeremiah is the lone voice, accurately reading the signs of the times and announcing God's judgment on king and country. He is one small voice, lost in the noise, but for the fact that he brings his messages abruptly to the court. They're not having it; he is a bother, a party crasher. A plot unfolds to do him in, and the king complies. Everyone is in on the conspiracy of silence, except for Ebed-melech, a court official and a Cushite foreigner, who comes to his rescue. If these elements sound vaguely like what is happening today, it is because we are living through similar circumstances. Children are captives like animals at the border, the environment degrades, and we are awash in fake news. We powerlessly wring our hands, we pray, and we go on with the daily business of our lives, unaware and undisturbed by the coming doom and judgment. We ask ourselves, "Who will rescue us?" We are neck deep in the mire of the "cistern" of our times. Who will rescue us? ...

Homiletics Notes / 12.08.2019

The Gospel this Sunday follows immediately on the parable of the foolish rich man and the wicked servants. The two sayings of Jesus modulate the passage. First, where your treasure is there your heart will be, and second much will be required of the person entrusted with much. Here, his images of fire cast down on the earth and division are a bit apocalyptic and harsh. In the first reading we are presented with the persecution of Jeremiah who was left to die in a cistern. Jeremiah had lit a fire by the power of his words and symbolic actions in the imagination of the people. He is not a man of the status quo, or else he would have accommodated himself to King Zedekiah. The small kingdom of Judah was prepared for war, there being no peace. Zedekiah had to walk the fine line of pleasing his courtiers and the king of Babylon, against whom he eventually rebelled and lost his kingdom. Fire on the earth, indeed, as Jerusalem was breached and conquered. The second reading offers us the image of the "cloud of witnesses", who are of course the saints who have gone before us. This myriad surrounding us encourage us to put off sin and persevere ourselves ion the good race. This cloud makes me remember the divine presence of God during the Exodus in the desert, encouraging the people to endure the journey. God appears to the people as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The fire in the belly of our cultural moment is our yearning for racial justice, our desire to welcome the immigrant, our work for just wages and the dignity of work, and the fire in our environmental catastrophe that we've ourselves have created. ...

Homiletics Notes / 09.08.2019

Everyone likes an orderly home, just not the effort and work that it takes to keep it that way. Owning a home is a huge investment, not just of money, but of time and constant attention. The list of "honey-do's" is endless, and something is always falling apart. Care, stewardship, time. When the master returns from the wedding, he is so happy to find his house in order that he serves his own servants. One can imagine here a late night scene when the master arrives; he is sated with food and wine. The temptation would be to head for the bed. He does the unexpected, and Luke uses this motif in his gospel of reversal of the normal way of things. The master of the house is of course the Lord. dHe has two concerns: that things are in order and that the house has been kept safe from intruders, the thief, who is of course the devil. The house is the church. Notice in the explanation Jesus gives, that the wicked servant deploys the same logic of eat, drink, and be merry, that we saw in the previous Sunday's gospel in the rich man, building bigger barns. A golden thread that runs through these sayings of Jesus is the word "faith" and its related words. This is one of the valuable qualities of the good servant, as for Abraham in the second reading, and as for th ancestors in the first reading book of wisdom. ...

Homiletics Notes / 08.08.2019

By faith, Abraham accomplished great things. In faith, we become aware in our intellect of the things we hope for, that they are real. The fact of faith, something God given in our inmost being, along with intellect, and is the proof itself that things exist which the senses do not know. The attractive verse is "acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth" and "they desire . . . a heavenly homeland." Today, we have little clue of what it means to be strangers and aliens, and perhaps even less so yearning for heaven, which we think to ourselves we have already established here on earth. There are those who know these things, but it is not the white American. This loss of faith permeates our society in a very negative and destructive way. For these are the temptations: to return to the materialism in which we find our meaning and to fail to give everything over to God. That last verse sums this up. Abraham reasoned that God can raise the dead; this is his faith. He received Isaac back as a symbol. A symbol is the two broken halves of a bulla, a clay or wax seal identifying property and ownership, that are brought back together to provide the proof because the two halves fit one another. In other words for the father and the son, the two are one and whole. For Abraham, all this "fits" and makes sense out of the narrative of his experiences and life. Therefore, he believes. ...

Homiletics Notes / 07.08.2019

Us baby boomers (we're in our 70s now) remember that corporal punishment was a parental option for us when we did something bad or wrong. We we're spanked, in some cases "beaten severely" as Jesus says of the wicked servants in the Gospel. Because of this history and our culture where we would imagine that no child is ever punished with a spanking or any physical punishment, we find these verses in the Gospel to be shocking and unacceptable. Children are without questions most frequently the victims of violence. In our culture of violence, children suffer the most, and the grow us with life-long emotional scars. Does anyone ever think about what the incarcerated children at the border will become as adults? We've sown the seeds of the whirlwind in them. My option this Sunday deletes vss. 47-48. It is unnecessary to the point of the Gospel. But then another option, requiring much skill, would be able to take on the notion of divine punishment for sins -- hell! It seems like most people have come to disbelieve in hell or believe in the apokatastasis heresy. Yes, there is an indictment and a judgment and a punishment; we can't just wish it away. The short version of the Gospel this Sunday sets vss. 40-48 aside. Based on the arrangement of the readings, it doesn't feel like this is the Sunday to launch into a hell fire and brimstone homily. That tack doesn't result in anyone really becoming better stewards nor does it alleviate the fear that Jesus discourages in the opening verse of this Gospel passage. And then, there is the teaching about faith, the great story of Abraham, and the whole thrust of the responsorial psalm. That is the direction to go. ...