As we continue our Lenten journey, we are pleased to be offering reflections from our Parish Retreat Team (PRT) on the weekly Sunday readings.

Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Lent

by Dan Ohl

In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the time is nearing when he will be glorified. When I think of being glorified, I imagine being celebrated and admired for all the good I have done and all my accomplishments. It is the recognition of my effort to go above and beyond at my job and the “thank you’s” I receive when I cook a meal for friends and family. Glory is the Super Bowl parade, with crowds lining the street in screaming adulation. If my neighbors offered to throw me a celebratory parade when I finished the grueling task of my income taxes, I don’t think I would refuse. I will be honest, I like a pat on the back for a job well done just as much as the next person. Who among us doesn’t like to be acknowledged for the things they have done for others?

What does Jesus tell us it means to be glorified? Jesus entered Jerusalem on the final leg of his earthly journey on Palm Sunday, which we celebrate next week. Can we see it in our mind’s eye – it was the Super Bowl parade of the times. Jesus, the vanquishing hero, rode through the crowds on a donkey, being celebrated in all his glory. The people wanted and needed the opportunity to glorify him. He listened to the cheers and adulation while wrestling with the knowledge he would pay the ultimate price with the sacrifice of his life. Countless times we read of his acknowledgment of the pain and suffering awaiting him. He was human flesh as we are and suffered the physical pain we all suffer. “He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7) and yet ultimately he was obedient to the wish of the Father. He states, “It was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” Though he knew he would suffer, he offered his life to save us.

Jesus presents us with a juxtaposition that we might not be comfortable with. He tells us that it is time for the Son of Man to be glorified, but it is through the sacrifice of HIS life that HE will be glorified. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” it will not produce fruit.

So which glorification am I comfortable with? The one in which I envision myself being lifted up and celebrated by others, or the one in which I am being called to make a sacrifice?

Jesus is calling us to sacrifice for others, not to search out accolades. While few of us might ever be called to martyrdom, there are countless ways we might be called to offer the actions in our lives as sacrifice. Jesus presents us with a beautiful invitation to sacrifice. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-40) Jesus gave us a roadmap of how to care for others, seeking those of us who were most afflicted with pain, hunger, suffering, illness, and affliction. He asks us to do the same.

I only need to turn to my oldest sister Cathy, to see how one can give one’s life in sacrifice. She worked tirelessly to earn her law degree and then spent more than 30 years as an advocate for children in Family Court – a thankless, emotionally draining, exhausting job. She shouldered the unimaginable weight of caring for her sick husband and managing his medical care, while singularly taking on the extra chores of living on a large rural property. She never once asked for help, shared how much the weight was, nor sought recognition for the burdens she bore. When her husband went home to Jesus much too early, she thanked us for our prayers and support, comforted us, and found ways to lighten our grief.

How do I respond to Jesus’ challenge to offer my life as a sacrifice? Interestingly, I often pray for relief when things become difficult, petitioning for an easier path. Jesus provides another example to us: though he prays for the cup to pass him by, he also prays that the Father’s will be done, not his own. (Matthew 26:39) Perhaps I can pray for strength to accept opportunities to sacrifice for others, being thankful that I might be His hands on earth.

What an incredible challenge God has presented us with – and what a generous offer. It is through our sacrifice that we will be glorified. It is through giving our lives over to others that we will receive the glory of the Lord. And if I am being totally honest, would I rather have a Super Bowl parade thrown in my honor or would I rather follow Jesus here on this earth, offering my life for others, so that beyond this life God will glorify me in His way in heaven for all eternity?

Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Lent

by Jessica Philipps

You may be wondering why laypeople have been sharing reflections through this Lenten season. In preparation for this I thought, “Who am I to share any message or reflection with my parish? I’m not anyone special, I’m not good enough for that.” But God doesn’t see me that way. He doesn’t see you that way.

At our baptism, we were given a share in the three-fold ministry of Christ: priest, prophet and king. One way to think of it is like this: A priest intercedes for others. A prophet speaks for God. And kings build community. That qualifies each of us to share a message. And the message I want to share with you all, is love. God’s perfect love.

Lent is a season of reflection and people often think of it as a time to give something up. In today’s Gospel we heard John 3:16, which is a popular verse that many people may know: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone that believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”

How often do we stop to think about what God “gave up” for us? His son, Jesus Christ. God gave us his son, not to condemn us, but to save us. Because he LOVES us so. He’s a loving Father, looking at his children gathered together to proclaim his good works, and to share his love with the world.

Father Joe brought us into this Lenten season as a time of rediscovery, a time to refocus our efforts into seeking the sacred. Seeking is an action. The definition of seeking is to go in search of, to try and find or discover by searching and questioning. God has so much love for all of us. We just have to seek him and allow him into our life.

I want to share with you a visual. I am standing in the rain, one of those really good rains we get here in the East Bay, the kind where it floods the creeks and streams, and floods over onto the roadways. I am standing there in the rain, holding an umbrella in one hand and an empty bucket in the other. The umbrella is my sins, selfishness, fear, pride or anything that keeps me closed off from God.

The bucket is my heart and soul. I am holding tightly to the umbrella and the bucket is empty. Maybe a few trickles come in from the rain blowing in from the side, or from drips off the umbrella. But I’m not willing to drop the umbrella, I am holding it tight, maybe I’m afraid to let it go. The rain is God’s love. It’s abundant, intense, overflowing and everywhere. It’s not limited, there is no shortage, and it falls on me and you. We don’t have to be perfect to get God’s love, which is great news since none of us are perfect! God wants to fill my bucket, so I need to drop the umbrella and let him.

We just have to seek him, let him in, accept him. We have to set aside our umbrellas, whatever it is that is blocking us and step out. Lent is a time to examine our conscience to identify what the umbrella is in our lives and rediscover God’s love for us. Some ways we can seek are through self-examination, prayer, fasting, and reconciliation. God’s love is unconditional.

In our second reading today, we heard from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ…” He doesn’t love us because we are good, he loves us because he is good! His love doesn’t stop. It is aways there. Like the rain, it falls everywhere. God wants to fill us with his love so that we can share it with others.

In a later verse from John, we hear of another action being asked of us, to love one another. John 13:34 says, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are called to love selflessly and unconditionally, as Jesus loves us. He gave his life for us, for our good. And he asks that we in turn return this love to our brothers and sisters as part of his family.

Lent is the perfect season to get to the root of what is blocking us. He loves us so much that he gave us his son. What steps, what actions are we willing to take to seek him, to clear away our barriers and be filled with God’s love? It is my hope that we can take with us the message that God loves us, as we use our faith to fuel our works and continue to bring the light to dark places and help the light of God shine.

A dear friend of mine who devoted most of his life to helping others in need once said, “Every waking breath is an opportunity to make the love of God known.” Let us drop our umbrellas and embrace God’s love. Let God continually fill our buckets and pour it out onto the world, one person, one moment, one breath at a time.

Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent

by Michael Philipps

In today’s Gospel from the Book of John, we have Jesus driving out the merchants and the money changers from the temple. As I sat down to write this reflection, a particular image of Jesus came to mind from the Basilica in Washington D.C. which is known as “Christ in Majesty Mosaic”. Here is the image I’m talking about:

What do you think? Some say he looks angry. I can see that. To think about Jesus getting angry seems very human to me. Maybe God’s humanity was angry at that moment in the temple. It sure does come across that way when I hear this Gospel.  But how does that make me feel?  I love the display of emotion and humanity in this passage.  I get angry, maybe God gets angry, and that’s ok. We have been created in God’s image…God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We read this in Genesis 1: vs 27, when God said : “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” That means there’s hope for me! I feel close to God when I contemplate the idea that things I may feel or experience, have also been felt and experienced by my Creator.

Now, let’s view this mosaic in the light of our Lenten theme, “Seeking the Sacred.” Let’s look deeper. He’s not angry. That’s a serious look. He looks like he’s in charge. Looking deeper, I see love unsurpassed. I see an all-powerful, all-merciful love. I see the look my Dad would give me when I did something wrong…that look that says, “We’ve been here before.” That look that says, “I love you. We’ve talked about this, we’ve been through this. Michael, you know better.”

That brings me to our first reading. It’s a reading we’ve heard before, about the Ten Commandments.  Maybe some of us have them memorized, or maybe we vaguely think of them as ten things we shouldn’t do. Regardless of our history, what if we try to look at them with a new set of eyes?  Let’s seek the sacred in the commandments. Here’s how the reading starts: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” I want to pay attention, there are no words in here by accident. God is stating his authority as Lord, reminding us that he freed us from slavery. As our Creator, God is laying down some rules to follow, that will keep us free from slavery.

Does anyone like baseball? I do. I think it’s a beautiful game. It’s both simple and complicated. It has history. It invokes memories. Baseball reminds me of the joys of childhood, and the carefree days of summer. A cold glass of lemonade, an old transistor radio and the static crackle of the announcer calling the play-by-play. Even if you’re not a fan, I’m sure you know some of the rules. 3 strikes and you’re out, 3 outs to a side, 4 balls to a walk. There are 3 bases and home plate. There are lines drawn on the field that connect the bases. If the ball is hit between those lines, it’s in play. If a ball is hit outside of the lines, it’s called a foul. Lots of rules. Some easy, some complicated. But what is baseball without those rules?  It would just be trying to hit a ball, running from base to base, and chasing each other randomly. It would be pointless, wouldn’t it? It’s the rules that give the game structure.  The rules create purpose and meaning. The rules of baseball create the beauty of baseball. So maybe the commandments are some rules to life, and their purpose is to add meaning and beauty to life. What if we re-read the commandments like this:

 

You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain, because I love you.

Remember to keep holy the sabbath, because you need the rest and it’s good to make time to remember I love you.

Honor your mother and father. This one, has its own promise stated in scripture, “so that you may have a long life in the land the Lord has given.”

You shall not kill, because I am the God of Creation.

You shall not commit adultery, because a broken trust is very hard to repair.

You shall not steal, because I have gifts that I have prepared for each of you individually.

You shall not bear false witness, because no one likes rumors spread about themselves.

You shall nor covet your neighbor’s house, because I would rather you set your heart on me.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff, because I know exactly what you need and will give it to you at the proper time.

 

So, when I reflect upon the commandments, I ask myself, “What things am I choosing to keep me in slavery? And what gifts does God want to give me that I am missing out on?” It’s a matter of perspective. I think that’s what happens when we get closer to God.  Let’s look at the commandments as a gift of God’s love and his directions to live a life of freedom.

Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent

by Christine Hawkinson

When the Parish Retreat Team first started talking about sharing our Lenten reflections around the theme, “Seeking the Sacred”, I was immediately drawn to this weekend’s first reading, the story of Abraham and Isaac from the Book of Genesis. Like you, I had heard this story many times before, but reading it with intention was different. It captured me as a parent, as I tried to put myself in Abraham’s shoes.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Abraham to have been asked to sacrifice his child for no apparent reason by someone he trusted but had never actually “met”? This wasn’t the first time God had asked Abraham to do some incomprehensible things, like packing up his wife, tent and tribe and going into the desert in search of the Promised Land, but Abraham’s unshakeable faith, as demonstrated in today’s scripture by his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his only son, is difficult to fathom. If I’m going to be truly honest, as strong as I consider my faith to be, I find it difficult to imagine having this level of trust, even in God Himself.

But Abraham did trust God and was blessed with something he never could have imagined, especially considering he and Sarah had spent most of their lives unable to conceive one child, let alone having “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”

Most of us will never need to go to Abraham’s extremes to prove our faith, and it isn’t likely God will ask us to, so what message are we to take from this reading? I think it comes down to a question of trust. Trust in God, and he will bless us for our faithfulness and guide us on the path that leads us to Him, because sometimes obstacles, even painful or inexplicable ones, are meant to divert us to a better path.

But when we’re faced with difficult decisions it can be so hard to know what God is asking of us. After all, most of us won’t actually hear a booming voice from the Heavens like Abraham and the Apostles, or from a burning bush like Moses, or be visited by angels clearly conveying God’s wishes, like Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, or countless others we’ve read about in scripture. So, what are we to do? How do we know if we’re choosing the path God wants for us?

Trappist monk and theologian Thomas Merton had this to say in his prayer entitled “The Road Ahead”:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

It can be scary to put big decisions in God’s hands, unsure of which path to choose, especially without the booming voice, burning bush and angels letting you know that it’s God you’re listening to and not your inner human voice.

This Lenten season is the perfect time to listen for God’s challenges, big or small, as well as His answers. What is he asking of you? Is it a big leap of faith or a small task that can make a big difference to someone else? Whichever it is, know that God will bless you in His time in ways that may surprise you. And if Thomas Merton is right, your desire to please God is enough, so even if you choose the wrong path, God will guide you toward the right one.

Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

by Joy Jennings

Our gospel from last Sunday is very short…just 5 sentences! It comes from the Book of Mark, and Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. He likes to get right to the point, so I’m going to do the very same thing. Let’s zoom right in to the first phrase of this gospel, comprised of seven words: “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.” That’s it, right there. “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.” Can we take a moment to ponder what that might look like, to be driven into the desert? To be driven into a place that was dry, gritty, lifeless, hot by day and cold at night? And because he was driven into the desert, there was no preparation for his 40-day stay. No provisions for food, no tent set-up for shelter. He was driven into the wilderness with full exposure to the elements. Now, what was the purpose of that? Why was he driven to go off into the wilderness of the desert…for 40 days?

To answer that question, we need to know what happened right before Jesus was compelled, was driven to go into the desert. We need to bring his cousin into the picture…and who was his cousin, but John the Baptist! John had been attracting and baptizing many people in the Jordan River. John was the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Repent and prepare the way of the Lord.” Even Jesus showed up to be baptized, and though his cousin John had some reservations about this, he plunged Jesus into the water…and let’s remember it was total immersion to be baptized by John! Jesus was completely submerged, from head to toe, and we’re told that when Jesus came up from the water, “He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, saying: ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” And THAT is what sent Jesus out into the desert. That’s what drove him, that’s what led him, it was the Spirit of God that sent him into the desert.

So, why bring all of that up now? We bring it up now, for some theologians claim that the baptism of Jesus was THE most decisive moment in the life of Jesus, when he heard that divine affirmation, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” In this core experience, Jesus is reminded in a deep, deep way of who he really is. In effect, God the Father is saying to Jesus, “I claim you as my own. You are my family, my progeny and I love you. I am pleased with you, and I am so proud of you.” Those are the words that drove Jesus into the desert. Those are powerful words, and having heard those words gave Jesus the motivation and the desire to take a pause…a 40-day pause, to wrap his head and his heart around this reality of how very much he was loved by the Father. One person who had much to say about this event was Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest and psychologist, who was convinced that the baptism of Jesus was the most pivotal moment in the life of Jesus. And Henri would go on to say:

“When you know yourself to be the beloved, you can do anything.
Go out into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that THEY are beloved, chosen and blessed.”

That’s what Henri said, and isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? When Jesus came out of the desert, he began his public ministry, touching people, healing people, making them aware that THEY were beloved, chosen, and blessed. For the next three years of his life, and right up until his death, Jesus would share what he had learned in the desert about the love of the Father. And so…as we continue our journey of Lent, we are each called to do the same. Are we able to put the world aside for a time…are we able to take a pause for 40 days…can we all seek that sacred inner voice inside that informs us of the following:

“I have called you by name, from the very beginning.
You are my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.
I have molded you from the depths of the earth
and I have carved you on the palms of my hands.
You did not choose me,
but I chose you that you might go forth and bear fruit that will last.
Wherever you are, I will be,
for we are one.”

May this Lent be a powerful season for seeking that sacred voice, and for all of us to truly claim how very much we are loved by God.