Monday, May 19, 2014


“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said.
Some ancient manuscripts say he went on.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.
Neither let them be afraid.
Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

There is so much to trouble our hearts --
so much happening in the world.
War keeps killing and killing and killing.
The economy puts our financial security at risk.
Global warming is approaching the tipping point
            after which the warming will just keep going
            even if the carbon emissions are reduced.

 The troubles of the wider world
            reverberate with our private worries
– the fear and loathing that insinuate themselves
            into our hearts, disturbing our sleep,
--  the ups and downs of work, concern for our children,
            anxieties over health, money, relationships.

“Trouble?” Zorba the Greek said, “Life is trouble.
            Only in death is there no trouble.”
But Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
How is that possible?
Essentially that’s how St. Thomas responded,
when Jesus said,
            “Don’t worry. You know the way where I am going.”
And Thomas blurted out, “We most certainly do not.
We do not know the way.
We do not know the way to a peaceful heart.”

An old fable from India tells about a mouse
who was afraid of cats.
God took pity on the mouse
and turned him into a cat.
But the cat was afraid of dogs,
so God turned him into a dog.

But the dog was afraid of panthers,
so God turned him into a panther.
But the panther was afraid of hunters,
so God turned him back into a mouse
and said, “There is no helping you.
Whatever body I give you,
            you still have the heart of a mouse.”
We cannot find inner peace
by changing our outer circumstances.
Life is like an airplane flying through turbulence.

Jesus’ advice isn’t to be a Pollyanna.
It is more like fasten your seat belt.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
            is advice to keep the core of our being
            stabilized, on track, despite the turbulence.

A second fable:
A lion cub was left orphaned when hunters killed his parents.
The cub was adopted by kindly sheep
            who raised him as a sheep.
Although he grew into a powerful beast,
            he thought of himself as a sheep
                        and acted accordingly.
He grazed, bleated, and bah’d.

One day a wild old lion came upon him
            and was absolutely disgusted
            by his unleonine behavior.
 So he kidnapped the young lion
            and tried to teach him to act like a lion.
But the apprentice still acted like a sheep
            until one day the wild old lion showed him
            his own reflection in a clear pool,
            and at last he roared.

We don’t know Jesus if we think of him
            only as the Lamb of God,
            and forget he is also the lion of Judah.
Jesus came to hold up a mirror for us
            and show us our lion nature.
Jesus shows us what authentic humanity looks like.
It is daring. It is bold. It is calmly heroic.

The Bible says “ Be not afraid.”
It doesn’t say it once.
It says it precisely 365 times
-- once for each day of the year.
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
But we ask with Thomas, “How is that possible?”
In a world that is full of trouble
– always has been, always will be –
in a world of trouble,
how can our hearts be still, stable, calmly heroic?

Jesus tells us how.
“Believe in God,” he says. “Believe also in me.”
He doesn’t mean something we do in our heads.
He doesn’t say, “Believe that God exists and my mother was a virgin.”
He says, “Believe in God. Believe in me.”
That means “trust us with all your heart.”

So what do we believe in?
When the chips are down,
            what do we trust to get us through?

 The secular world will tell us what we can trust
            and what we cannot trust.
Our sheep families and our sheep culture
            will tell us who we are and what to expect of ourselves.
They will tell us to believe in lying low,
            or to trust in our wealth or our power.
The secular sheep will tell us to trust in
            things we know good and well are not trustworthy.
So we will stay afraid.

But suppose we decided we had had enough of that futility
            and chose to trust God instead.
Suppose like Abraham on Mt. Moriah
            we stood ready to sacrifice all our security blankets,
            and trust God to make it alright in ways we could not see,
            somehow someway beyond our control or comprehension.
Suppose we took a flying leap
            into the Grand Canyon of divine mystery.

Suppose we decided that our relationship with Jesus
            was the most important thing in the world
– and that no amount of war or sickness or crime
– no amount of family discord, or poverty, or loneliness
           could shake that relationship.

Suppose we sought the Kingdom first,
            and trusted God to give us everything else as gravy.
And when disaster strikes,
            suppose we trusted God to redeem it
– to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to raise the dead.
Suppose we really believed in God.
Suppose we really trusted in Jesus.

Some people might say,
            if we aren’t troubled,
we won’t care about the world and its people.
But read the rest of the lesson.

Jesus points to his own works in the world
– the acts of healing, forgiving, reconciling;
            feeding the hungry and freeing the captives.
Then he says, “You will do these things too – and even more.”

Herein lies the paradox of service.
We can serve people effectively
            only when we stop fussing and fretting over them.
Anxiety-driven helping, for all its good intentions,
            is about as effective as American foreign policy.

But faith pries loose the frozen fist of fear
            from its icy grip on our hearts.
And this isn’t just the metaphorical heart.
It’s the energy center in our literal chest
-       not just a blood pump but a neurological
-        and energy center of power
-       – it is a Coeur d’Leon, a lion heart.
Hindu yogis, Pentecostal Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox mystics
            all describe the same thing.
When faith unleashes the power of the heart,
            we can heal people.
We can live out the prayer of your patron, St. Francis,
            bringing light where there is darkness,
            joy where there is sorrow,
            love where there is hatred.

We can serve people in tangible material ways
            when we are not afraid.
We can serve people with prayers of power
            when we have faith.
We can serve people with our simple presence
            when we carry the presence of Christ with us.

All things are possible.
But faith comes first.
Believe in God. Believe in Jesus.
Your hearts will not be troubled by the turbulence.

And you will do calm, courageous acts of mercy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


“We had hoped he was the one.” “We had hoped.”
Our Gospel story begins in dejection.
 Clopas and his companion had seen sorrow all their days.
The nameless disciple is probably nameless because she was a woman.
It wasn’t the greatest time and place especially for women.
She and Clopas lived in a poor country where life was short and hard.
Their ancestors had been a great empire,
            but the empire feuded, then split,
            and in its weakened state, it was conquered.
10 of Israel’s 12 tribes had been deported and scattered,
lost forever.

The remaining two were overrun by Assyrians,
then Babylonians, then Persians,
then Greeks, and finally Rome.
They were a defeated, disgraced people,
            living under foreign rule, which respected
                        neither their culture nor their God.
Then along came Jesus and gave them hope.
They had hoped Jesus would drive out the Romans
            and restore the independent kingdom of David,
that he would feed all the hungry, heal all the sick, cast out all the demons.
“We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said.
“We had hoped.” A poignant past perfect tense.
Then came Good Friday.
The bloody humiliation of their hero
            showed how wrong they had been,
            how foolish to have hoped
                        that things could be different.

The world is as it is.
They were as they were.
Hope dashed and discarded.
They walked back home as the sun was going down.

Maybe you know how they felt.
We may not live in a conquered nation.
But we know that life is often disappointing to say the least.
We know full well what Coleridge meant by
            “the tears in the nature of things.”

So many of us have at one time or another
found some kind of deliverance.
It may have been a relationship with another person
            we thought could make everything ok
                        like in the love songs.
Or maybe we thought  we could make it ok for our children
                        even if it hadn’t been so great for us,
            and they would become the people we should have been.

We may have found our hope in a new psychology
            or diet or exercise plan or investment strategy.
There are as many paths to redemption
as there are slot machines in the Las Vegas Valley.
So we have placed our hope in this or that redemption.
We may even have tried the Christian faith,
            but if we tried to practice it on our own,
                        we found out pretty quickly, that doesn’t work.
Christianity is a team sport. It’s a family meal.

So to place our faith in Jesus, we had to place our faith in a church.
And maybe we found one
            where the worship felt holy, the sermon was uplifting,
                        and the people were friendly.
And we thought, “I am home now.
This is a safe place.”

But before long,
            we discovered that even the best of churches
            all have the same problem.
They are infested with people,
            and human frailty does not disappear
at the narthex door.
Our church may have done something
             unjust, insensitive, or morally wrong.
Maybe the priest said something or did something
            that a priest should never say or do.
The people may have resorted to power politics
            or character assassination.
The church we thought was the Body of Christ,
            the demonstration model for the Kingdom of God,
                        turned out to human, all too human.

Each of us has our own version of this story.
Each of us has found our path to redemption
            and has seen it come to a dead end.
That’s how it was for Clopas and his companion,
            on the road to Emmaus.
It was on that road they met Jesus,
            but they didn’t recognize him.
He wasn’t the same old Jesus as before.

When we have been deeply disappointed
            it’s hard, it’s very hard, to open our hearts again.
Disappointment falls over our eyes like cataracts.
That may be why it took the disciples all day
            and into the night to even recognize their Savior.

But let’s give them credit.
Even in their despondent mood,
            they were willing to walk the road with a stranger.
Better yet, they were willing to open their minds
            and to study the Scripture.
Many of us are so sure we already know what the Bible says
            about this or that –
so sure we know the Bible’s basic themes.
But the deeper I go into the Holy Scriptures,
            the more wild, wonderful, and surprising they become.
If we assume we know what the Bible says,
            if we stop with a simple literal reading,
                        it closes our minds.
The simple literal meaning of the texts
Jesus was teaching Clopas and his friend that day
            did not// point to a crucified messiah.
It took a bold new way of reading the Bible
            to open these people’s hearts.
Jesus gave them a new creative, imaginative interpretation,
            and to their credit, they listened.

And to their credit,
            they welcomed the stranger into their home.
How often do we come to a church or any path of redemption,
            wanting to be healed and consoled ourselves?
But the healing and consolation don’t happen
            until we drop that agenda for self,
                        and serve or welcome someone else.

So the disciples and Jesus broke bread together.
It was a Eucharist.
They hadn’t expected it to be a Eucharist.
But there it was.
After hearing the good news from Scripture –
the blessing, the breaking, the giving of bread.        
They joined innocently in this simple domestic ritual
   with no expectation.
In that moment, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Lord.

Then Clopas and his friend got it right again.
They hurried by night back to Jerusalem
            to share the good news with the other disciples.
But Jesus had been meeting with them too – at the same time.
Stop. How did that happen?
Jesus was now appearing to people in different places at once.
Wonders just keep multiplying when broken hearted people
share good news with each other.

So what can we learn from our story?
The first lesson is about dejection.
It happens.
It is a common part of the spiritual life
maybe even a necessary part of the spiritual life.
Masters like St. Ignatius Loyola and St. John of the Cross thought so.
Necessary because dejection is the opportunity
to open our hearts to grace in a new way,
                        perhaps a deeper redemption
                        than we had hoped for to begin with.

Disappointment is the opportunity to open our hearts and minds
            to grace from the lips of a stranger,
            grace showing us the Bible means something
                        quite different from what we had thought,
grace that slips into our lives through the back door
while we were helping or befriending someone else.

The eyes of these disciples were opened
when Jesus broke the bread.
“Open” is one of the most frequently used verbs
            in the Gospels for what Jesus does.
He opens eyes. He  opens ears.  He opens graves.

May Jesus open our minds to his truth
and our hearts to each other.
“Be present, be present Lord Jesus,
            as you were present to the disciples,
            and be known to us in the breaking of the  bread.”