July 1, 2018: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

On this Sunday before Independence Day, in this particular time in our history, we should consider migrants. The story of America is a story of migrations. The first migrations were millennia ago, as the ancestors of the First Nations came onto this land as the first humans to live here, and then millennia later another wave of migration, this time from Europe. Many European migrants were fleeing persecution and violence, as migrants due today, but the migrants from Europe were not only human migrants, but also the migration of colonialism, disease, violence, forced conversions. Soon after the arrival of this migration, another one began: four hundred years of forced kidnappings, brutal transport, and the sale of human beings as chattel fueled the economy of this nation. Thanks be to God that those people of nobility and courage did not have their faith and hope extinguished but survived to a time of freedom. And yet we know that that freedom was often incremental in its progress and often went backwards. America is a story of migrations, and we can see the effect of this evil system today, all over the country but certainly in this city of Baltimore, in the inequality and lack of opportunity for people of color, in the culture of violence, and in the geography of this city.

America is a story of migrations, and the migrations continued after two world wars and during, when numbers of people from all over the world came to this country to seek the promise that we enjoyed. And yet so many of them were ghettoized and marginalized by the whites who were already here. Migrants pour into our borders every day. We hear the stories of so many of them in the news and so often unaccompanied child migrants, and maybe we wonder why their parents, if their parents are living, would allow or encourage such a dangerous journey. There’s only one answer to that: desperation. If you’ve not heard of the gang MS-13, you’re lucky. MS-13 is a gang that began in this country as disenfranchised migrant children were not allowed into public schools in the 1980s, and the gang grew from Los Angeles to all over this country and all over Central America. Last night I read a story about an eleven year old boy, the same age as the girl in the Gospel today, who was recruited by the drug cartel in his village in Honduras. The gang said to the parents of this eleven year old, ‘We’re taking your son.’ The parents said ‘No, please don’t, anything but that,’ but they knew the gang’s modus operandi, which is to take children, to tattoo the symbols of the gang on those children’s bodies, and then they are forever in that life of death and crime. This is no fate for any child. And if they resist, the parents are only too often murdered, perhaps with the children as well.

I’m sorry for these disturbing images in church, but I feel responsible to share them. In the Gospel today about another child in crisis, Jesus heals not only the child, but also a woman who had been suffering for twelve long years – the lifetime of these children in question. Today the mercy and power of Christ is shown in this story of healing for the woman with a hemorrhage, and this girl who was at the point of death. These stories testify to the unstoppable love, mercy and justice of God. And today that mercy works through you, and me. Baptized ministers of God. We who’ve made solemn vows to love and serve Christ in our neighbors, to uphold the freedom and dignity of every human being, are called to be agents of God’s work in this world. We need to remember this week, but all the time, that our nation is indeed great, but God is greater. We need to give thanks for our nation and work to improve it, and also remember that it is a sin to have any loyalty above our loyalty to God. We need to remember that ‘Liberty and justice for all’ has been interpreted in extremely limited ways in the course of our history and that each successive generation has fought to expand the concept of liberty and justice. We need to remember that all of us here are descendants of migrants. We need to remember that the wisdom of God decreed that our own Lord was a child migrant in the land of Egypt, along with the Most Holy Mother of God and St. Joseph, fleeing, as so many migrants do today, the threatened murder of their child.

As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, so he says to us: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may not be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” We can and ought to be so deeply grateful to God for setting us in this nation among many nations of the world. But we ought to remember this week that God has done this in order to give us rights and responsibilities. We have the right to free speech, to the vote, the right to civil action and protest, and so many other privileges shared by far too few in this world. We’re lucky to have them, and they’re gifts from God. And in this moment in the history of our nation, and in every moment, you are called to exercise your rights, not just as citizens, but as citizens of God’s kingdom. As ministers of Christ’s justice, mercy, and compassion. For the migrant, for those who are homeless, for those who live every day with racism, poverty and violence, for everyone who is marginalized. For our Lord honors those who are not honored in the world and blesses the poor and the persecuted.

Unless we exercise our rights and privileges to honor such as these, and to expand liberty and justice for all, our celebration of the national day is facile. And if we’re not making the right use of the gifts we have, we need to consider how God is calling us in this season to be agents of justice, love, and healing. Amen.

June 24, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2)   Listen Here

I come before you this morning in the Name ✠ of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Six years ago, the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job saved my life. Perhaps more to the point, God saved my life through the story of Job. I had been experiencing depression for months: the type of depression that lingers much like a late Michigan winter. Drab, with the changing gray palette of the silent sky the only visible difference day-to-day. It was summer, however. The weather was lovely. I was in the middle of my time in college and I was starting to actively discern a call to the priesthood. However, my family was moving and I had to leave the home I grew up in.

I found myself at a Benedictine monastery in the middle of farm country in late August. I tried praying with the monks; I tried going on a long run on the dusty dirt roads to clear my head. Nothing seemed to quite work. Then, however, I turned to the devotional handout in my room, and I tried reading the gospel assigned; it had some meaning. The real breakthrough came when I reached out to God and I told God that I needed something, I needed to hear something, and I just opened the Bible – something I rarely do, I usually follow the lectionary. But I opened up the book and I saw the beginning of the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?” I was struck by the question, so I kept reading. Immediately, something opened up. The question tore through all the gray malaise and I felt God’s mercy pouring into my heart. I was not there, I did not know who laid the foundation of the Earth. I did not experience when the morning stars sang together and the heavenly beings shouted for joy. I felt alive. I felt loved. I felt worthy of love.

Now I was lucky: I was able to contact my family, get the help I needed, talk to my priest who was very empathetic, find a therapist. Years later, the experience is one of transformation, and not of frustration or tragedy. This, however, is not always the case, which is why I think it is valuable for us to turn to the Book of Job. Experiences of mental illness are not normative, and U.S. culture unfortunately tends to treat the non-normative as suspect at best. One scholar of the Hebrew scriptures has labeled Job an anomalous book within the wisdom tradition, because of its dissenting view of the theodicy, or the theology of why people suffer. Perhaps this is why Job’s story reached me in the middle of depression: an innocent suffer who rails against God and begs for answers, while losing everything and finding his friends to be unreliable and judgmental. While it can often be helpful to focus on the importance of responsibility, Job reminds us that even when we do everything right, as far as is humanly possible, we are sometimes tested by circumstances beyond our control.

And after losing everything, and suffering so much, Job receives consolation from God in the form of a powerful message about God’s strength. This is the God who has created life-giving rain and knows when the mountain goats give birth. In the moment I read those words, I could only give gratitude to our amazing creator and wonder at a creation that contains so much variety, including my flawed, beautiful love itself. God is bigger than and cares for us in the midst of our troubles. Because if God loves me, God loves you, and God loves everyone. We live in a time when people in power seek to diminish the humanity of some for the benefit of a few. The children ripped from their parents’ arms at the militarized place called ‘the border’ or ‘la frontera’ signal to us the dehumanizing currents that run through much of American culture.

Migrants fleeing violence and persecution threaten some so much that they cling more closely to their nationalistic fear than to God’s commands. Like Jobs’ friends who taunted him in his misery, they self-righteously persecute the poor while literally attempting to destroy brown families. Horror stories like these have occurred in this country since its founding, and until white society takes love of neighbor seriously, they will continue, both at the border and in places across this land. Genocide, slavery, and white supremacy must be overcome within people’s hearts and outwardly within communities or its dark tempting power will cause people to continue to forsake God.

James Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology, explicitly connects the Cross and the lynching tree: two powerful symbols within the black community. He argues that for the African-American community, both came to represent death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope, a thirst for life even in the face of death. He later invokes the Womanist theologian Shawn Copeland who argues that enslaved African sang spirituals because they saw on the Cross the One who went all the way for them. As well: as a result of Christ’s crucifixion, triumph over the principalities and powers of death, triumph over evil in this world.

This weekend I witnessed something that gave me hope in God’s weapons of righteousness, something that can equip us for spiritual battle in these troubled times. The Poor People’s Campaign, a broad-based movement for justice, based in moral revival, beyond party lines, gathered in Washington D.C. to commemorate the end of six weeks of action. Across forty states and many sovereign tribal lands, people got together, talked, raised their voices. Thousands were arrested. And on Saturday, yesterday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to hear the stories of the poor from the poor, white black, brown, of all status. People called for justice in the economy, in education, in the treatment of the environment, for an end to racial injustice, and for our transformation beyond a war-based economy. The movement draws strength from Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders, and is based solidly in nonviolence, in nonviolent direct action.

There were many Jobs in that crowd, people doing their best to live while struggling with unemployment, lack of health care, industrial pollution, mass incarceration, and failing schools. People spoke for themselves and they did not hold back. Clergy and other leaders supported them in their testimony. Just as God did not order Job’s suffering, so also God does not condone the suffering human beings endure today. As people of faith who believe in this awesome God, any response not based in deep love is insufficient.

If Jesus went to the Cross once and for all time, why are the weakest and most marginalized still killed simply for existing? Why can we still read the Book of Job and relate it to so many stories of people suffering in the world today? Why’s the humanity of some cherished and cared for, while others are given indifference, or worse, treated with cruelty? We must see, as Job tells us, or as God tells us in Job, that God sees every birth and death in all of creation, and sit with Jesus in the back of the boat. Jesus, who calms the storm, who calms the fears of those he loves, of those who follow him. And who in such actions shows himself to be fully God. Jesus incarnate shows us through his ministry that God cares most especially for those who suffer, for those who are cast out, for those in need. This is the Jesus who is the Lord of Creation and who will bring about peace. God restores the life of Job. Jesus calms the storm for his disciples.

How will we open our hearts today and reach out? Amen.

June 17, 2018: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings (Track 2): http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp6_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/episodes/742620-june-17-2018-fourth-sunday-after-pentecost

In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well, please allow me to apologize once again for the wrong readings. It’s a minor issue, though, for us today, because we heard some wonderfully familiar scriptures. Let me just remind you of some of the words we heard from St. Paul today: “If anyone is in Christ, they are,” meaning they, you, are “a new creation. The old has passed away; everything new has come.”

This is such a wonderful thing to hear today, on the day we baptize Cody Joseph, this precious child of God, whose family reminds me of the Holy Family, coming into the temple, Mary, Joseph, and the Baby, to offer and dedicate the Child to God, and that is what they do today, in the sacred vows they’re about to make on his behalf. Vows that we will all, of course, as you know, be supporting them in. And now they will become a holy family dedicated to God, ministers of Christ, and of his church, as are all of we.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, see, everything new has come. The vows of Baptism that we will renew in a few moments show us a pattern of life we can live that makes a new life, a life not imprisoned by the old ways of sin and greed and self-interest, of denying the humanity of others, but of honoring it, of loving and serving God and our neighbors as ourselves. When we live these vows we live a new life; we are a new creation.

All of you, every day, are meant to live your life, and me too, in this wonderful new way of love. God chooses all of us for this way, and he entices us through the doors, so to speak, until our hearts are caught up in his love. “Everything old has passed away, see, everything is made new.” I think it’s a wonderful holy coincidence, maybe not a coincidence at all, that the name of this child is Cody Joseph, which is a family name, but also one of the greatest patron saints you could have, and that this, on the secular calendar, is Father’s Day and so Alan celebrates his first Father’s Day and Cody under the patronage of St. Joseph. And we should really all look to St. Joseph for this pattern of living. We at the Church of the Advent honor Our Lady almost every Sunday by praying the Angelus, but we should also remember St. Joseph, whose shrine we have and where some of you make your devotions to him.

He was a Saint called by God to live a new way of love, to not be self-interested but to be concerned about others. God gave him the most important ministry of being guardian and protector and companion of the Mother of God and the Son of God: Jesus Christ, our Lord. Joseph gave of himself every day in ways the scriptures rarely mentioned, but we know must have been true. Those of you who are fathers and mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, whether by blood or by faith, we know what it means to love others in that way of self-giving and self-sacrifice. To want their good as much or even more than our own. This is what we learned to do and be in the promises of Baptism. And so, in a few moments, as we renew our vows, remember, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. Behold, everything is made new. Amen.

Holy Baptism: https://www.bcponline.org/Baptism/holybaptism.html