July 30, 2017
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Sometimes I'm a slow learner. For most of my life I began each day making a list, therefore I am - and then spent the rest of the day checking it off, counting it twice, seeing if I'd been naughty or nice. I have mentioned for a couple of Sunday’s now, how I keep a pad by me while doing my hour long morning and evening prayers, else I would stay so distracted trying not forget things that came to mind – hence causing me to be distracted so much, that the one hour prayer into two hours.
However, after decades of trying to govern my life by lists, it finally hit me one day that if I can't get even one day according to plan, what am I doing trying to get months and years and even decades to go "according to plan"? (Of course, we’ve seen how well that has gone for me this year!) Think about it. Has there ever been even one day when your schedule has gone the way you planned it? My life has not gone in straight paths. My path has often been in circles.
I wonder if we should begin our day with a different image than that of a list. Maybe, we should begin it with . . . a begging bowl. This idea is from the monastic tradition of the begging bowl. Each day, a monk goes out with a begging bowl. Whatever is placed in the bowl will be his food and drink for the day. The French playwright, Jean Genet, once said he wanted to roam the countryside like a monk holding a begging bowl, trusting life to fill it with what nourishment he needed.
A begging bowl is a very different way to go through each day. A begging bowl invites us to be open like never before to what each day offers and open to a God of infinite surprise. We might ask ourselves: What am I not seeing that I should see? What have I taken for granted? What are people placing in my bowl? How can each item placed there be a teacher for me in my own spiritual life?
Actually, even if you do not go through life with a begging bowl image, you do go through life as a begging bowl. In some sense, each one of us is a bowl, a crusty clump of clay God scooped out of the earth and breathed into with the breath of life. Each one of us "holds these treasures in earthen vessels." So the real question we might ask ourselves: How will my bowl be positioned in my life?
As I see it, there are four ways your begging bowl can be positioned. The first position is upside-down. There are people who are simply not open to new possibilities and surprises of the Spirit. For these people their bowl is more like an umbrella that keeps life and the Spirit away from them. We all have those days, don’t we?
The second bowl position is right-side-up, open to the heavens, but already full. Many of us are so full of our own agendas, so fixated on our own productivity and creativity, that we have little space to receive gifts from God. This too, is one we might all fit in on some days.
The third bowl position is up, open, but riddled with stains, cracks and debris. Whatever gets put into it gets polluted and colored by our pain, bitterness and anger. Or it simply seeps out through the cracks that have not been filled or healed. No matter what good might come, this bowl will never allow positivity to repair the cracks of negativity. Alas, some days we all fit into this bowl also.
The fourth bowl position is up, empty, clear, clean and censed. There may be all sorts of cracks in it. But those broken places are actually where we are the strongest, as God's grace and forgiveness have healed our lives of its fissures and fragmentation. This is the bowl we should be craving to be at all times. The bowl of Christ on the water and we asking to join Him. We all need more of these days – we truly do.
It kind of came to mind yesterday while Trina and I were repotting some root-bound plants. That we often times we are like the pot/root-bound plants with no room to go and when you try to replant them, they do not want to leave the familiarity of their current pot. They don’t want to get out onto the water to meet Jesus; they want to remain in the boat!
Like the disciples in today's lesson, how many times have we been given the opportunity to experience a living personal encounter with Jesus--and yet have failed to recognize his presence before us? In what position is your begging bowl?
The late Lewis Smedes was a professor of philosophy and integration at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In one of his many best-selling books, A Pretty Good Person, he tells this story:
A few years ago, I spent a hot August day at the Los Angeles county jail, waiting for the wheels of the system to open jail doors for someone I was bailing out. It takes a long time to spring somebody from this mammoth prison, so I had to wait and watch.
I watched the pimps in white suits bailing out their prostitutes; lawyers in black suits bailing out their clients; drug dealers bailing out their peddlers; girls bailing out their boyfriends; and drunks who disturbed the peace the night before slinking out on their own. As I took in the sleazy parade, I began to see everyone in it as a full-time, obsessive-compulsive, addictive, hopeless loser. By noon, I lost any desire to know any more about them than that.
At mid-afternoon, I decided to go out for a cold drink. As I walked out the door, I met a lanky black man wearing a black suit with a priest's collar--a prison chaplain, I figured, on his way out at the end of a day's work of grace. I introduced myself on our way to the parking lot. He gave me the feeling that he had time to talk a while, so I asked him to join me for a drink.
"Glad to," he said. "There's a Denny's right around the block."
It turned out he wasn't a priest; he was an insurance salesman. He devoted one day out of every week to bring a moment of grace to those locked up in the county jail. He wore the cloth so that everyone there knew what he was up to.
I asked him the sort of questions any decent Pharisee would ask.
"Don't you keep meeting the same people, coming in and going out? Recidivists, repeaters, losers?"
"Well," he replied, "every person locked up in that jail has got somebody with a key to let him out. But I meet people in my business every day who are locked up in a cell inside their hearts and nobody on Earth has a key to let them out. So I don't see an enormous difference between them."
"Okay, true enough, but still, aren't most of the men you meet inside this jail hard-core losers?"
"Well, maybe they are, but that's just not the way I divide people up. The only two categories of people I really care about are the forgiven people and the unforgiven people."
He had me.
"I met Jesus today," I told Doris when I came home.
"Oh yeah? What did he say to you?"
"He told me I was a Pharisee. Have eyes. Don't see"
What keeps you from seeing the unexpected Jesus? Is it indifference that keeps your eyes unfocused so that nothing can affect your own life? Is it bewilderment that keeps your eyes darting from one flashing image to the next, unable to sort out one from the other? Is it bafflement that keeps your eyes wide but your mind cloaked in confusion? Is it boredom that keeps your eyes closed because your heart allows nothing to stir it anymore? Is it fear that keeps your eyes averted, afraid to open any part of yourself to new experiences or encounters?
Do you keep to the same paths every day, never varying your life patterns so that the unexpected or the out-of-the-ordinary can never find you? Or do you keep moving all the time--new friends, new jobs, new loves, new lovers--so that no one ever has a chance to really find your heart?
Every single one of us falls into one or more of these categories, but like addicts and alcoholics, we deny that we do.
Just as the risen Jesus refused to stay in the tomb, so the Christ of faith refuses to live only in our church sanctuaries on Sunday mornings. Jesus was raised from death into life--and that life is everywhere and all the time. He is a Living Christ – not a dead Christ!
Christians live with the belief that they are always on "Candid Camera." When we least expect Christ to be present in our lives--there he is!
- Without fanfare, without a choir, without robes or regalia, Christ appears.
- Without warning, without shoes, without a home, Christ appears.
- Without power, without friends, without a chance, Christ appears.
- Without a name, without parents, without health, Christ appears.
- Without fear, without self-concern, without guile, Christ appears.
Is your faith great enough to recognize Christ when he appears before you? The ever transforming and transformative Christ calls on our faith to recognize a presence in our lives, whatever the surprising, unexpected shape he may take. He is still waiting for all of us to get out of the boat; get out of the pot; and empty our bowl so that He may enter in!
By the way, I still make lists. I suspect that is one of my addictions I probably won’t stop – otherwise the distractions during prayer will win – I am sorry, but I’m not letting the cursed devil win.
Let us pray.
That the Church will stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That God will banish violence from our midst and defend us against every attack. We pray to the Lord.
For the spiritual growth of our parish community; that we will commit ourselves to the truth of the Gospel with zeal, self-sacrifice, and hope. We pray to the Lord.
That young people will entrust themselves to the joys of the Gospel, and oppose the illusions of instant and short-term happiness. We pray to the Lord.
For those facing difficult decisions or stressful problems; that God will give them help and serenity. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live with a burning desire for the kingdom of God. We pray to the Lord.
For continued help, healing, and peace to our family members of this community who continue in illness; send the healing Archangel Raphael to be at their side. We pray to the Lord.
For the peace and repose of Charlie Gard, 11 month old baby in England who had been on life support and has passed on. May he rest in peace eternal. We pray to the Lord.
For the family, doctors, lawyers, and nurses who have helped in Charlie Gard’s care that they may find peace and comfort in this time. We pray to the Lord.
That our government and those governments surrounding North Korea will find a peaceful resolve to the provocations and missile testings from North Korea. We pray to the Lord.
Loving father, when we call, you answer us. You build up strength within us. Help us now in our need. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.