Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” I love that line from Psalm 80. God, turn your face toward us. Look at us. See us. See me. A small yet significant request, to be seen. When we are seen in love, when another’s face lights up at seeing ours, we feel love.
Mary set out and went quickly to visit Elizabeth, a normal visit turned extraordinary. By divine power and blessing, now both Mary, a young virgin, and Elizabeth, a barren elder, are pregnant. They also bear the burden of public shame. The scandal since Mary claims pregnancy through the dream of an angel. Who did she think she was? The long years of ridicule for Elizabeth who had never born a child. Rumors swirled about why she was now.
Bearing children and shame, Mary goes to Elizabeth. This holy visit. They both believe, have faith in what they can’t see or explain. Both are filled with Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice. The baby leaps in her womb. Mary sings her song.
Our Gospel tonight is full of misunderstanding. Jesus and his Disciples are frustrated, confused, and struggling to communicate with one another. To make matters worse, they are all stuck on a boat. It is an unpleasant situation. This Gospel passage would probably not be the best text to choose for a wedding, profession, or any other happy occasion. However, we do get to witness Jesus navigate through this misunderstanding and we have a lot to learn from how he handles it.
Just like any other misunderstanding, the background to this story is important. Jesus and his Disciples had just been confronted by a group of Pharisees. This group of Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah. Jesus refused and chastised the Pharisees. Then he got on a boat with his Disciples and sailed away.
We’ve all been in similar group situations like this before, when there has just been a major confrontation and tension is in the air. No one is quite sure what to do or say and everyone is on edge. We are also told by the Gospel writer that the Disciples had forgotten to bring any more bread for their boat ride and there was only loaf of bread to split among the thirteen men. This is when the drama begins.
Jesus, still simmering from his confrontation with the Pharisees, tell his Disciples on the boat to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Jesus is offering his Disciples very practical advice here. Jesus is warning his Disciples that the self-righteous mindset of the Pharisees is contagious, and like yeast, just a little bit of it can go a long way and give rise to all sorts of bad.
The Disciples completely misunderstand Jesus’ words. As soon as they hear the word “yeast”, they think Jesus is talking about literal bread. They think Jesus is admonishing them for not bringing any bread for the boat ride. This is common in tense situations, for group members to internalize what tension is in the air and become very self-conscious about what they have or have not done. Telling ourselves we have done something wrong gives us a narrative to hold on to rather than just sitting with the anxiety the group is experiencing.
Jesus, being the talented teacher he is, immediately picks up on his Disciples’ misunderstanding. He tries to explain himself and how ridiculous it would be for him to be angry about having little bread because he can always multiply more. Jesus reminds his Disciples that they have seen him firsthand multiply enough loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.
We have a lot to learn from how Jesus handles this misunderstanding. First of all, Jesus does not ignore the misunderstanding. Not only does Jesus immediately pick up on what his Disciples are confused about, but he also addresses it right away. It’s always tempting in times of misunderstanding to just not want to deal with it, to say you don’t have the time and energy to work through the conflict. Ignoring misunderstanding only leads to more misunderstanding down the road. Jesus does not do this and that takes courage.
Second, Jesus asks questions. In the span of seven verses, Jesus asks nine separate questions. Asking questions can be a powerful way to channel the aggressiveness we may feel during a misunderstanding. Good heartfelt questions can simultaneously get us closer to the truth while still expressing whatever emotions we are feeling.
Third and finally, Jesus moves on. Right after this Gospel passage ends, we are told that Jesus heals a blind man. Holding on to resentments over a misunderstanding is dangerous and gets in the way of us being servants of God. Jesus shows us that we need to constantly be moving on to stay focused on the work in front us, and that work is the will of God.
So tonight let us pray for the strength, patience, and courage to navigate through the misunderstandings in our lives, all for the greater glory of God, amen.
This morning we celebrate the patron saint of nuns, Saint Scholastica. She was born in central Italy sometime in the late fifth century. Her twin brother was Saint Benedict of Nursia.
Scholastica and Benedict were not only twins, they also shared a beautiful lifelong friendship. The religious communities they each founded separately were just a few miles from each other. Scholastica, however, was forbidden by rule to set foot inside of Benedict’s monastery. So once a year, Scholastica and Benedict would arrange to meet in a farmhouse just outside the monastery grounds.
Scholastica and Benedict would use this yearly meeting to pray together and discuss the issues of their lives as religious. There are many beautiful works of art portraying this yearly reunion. I spent the retreat day yesterday praying with some. I noticed that the one thing that nearly all these works of art have in common is that Benedict and Scholastica are always face to face, fully engaged in their conversation. My personal favorite example of this was from a fresco in a Benedictine monastery in Germany. In this fresco, the twins are seated at a table with a Bible and a skull in between them. They are both leaning over the Bible and skull with their hands and faces expressive in mid conversation. You get the feeling that they are both trying to squeeze out as much as they can from their one day a year together.
So what can we learn from this beautiful friendship rooted in God between Scholastica and Benedict? I will name three things:
One, a friendship rooted in God is timeless. I think we have all had the experience of not seeing a friend for many years but when you finally do see them, it feels like no time has passed. It’s a wonderful feeling of timelessness and I think Scholastica and Benedict felt this way when they saw each other each year.
Two, a friendship rooted in God has stamina. Every relationship over time has its peaks and valleys and I think it’s safe to say Scholastica and Benedict’s friendship was no different. The fact that they met every year for their entire lives shows how their friendship was able to endure through the ups and downs we are all subject to.
Third and finally, a friendship rooted in God gives us a foretaste of heaven. The yearly reuniting of Scholastica and Benedict is just a sample of the joyful banquet that awaits all of us in the communion of saints. The joy we will feel being reunited with our loved ones is simply beyond our understanding.
So today let us pray with Saint Scholastica and her Brother Benedict, and give thanks for the joys of friendship. Amen.
I love the Gospel of Mark because of its breathless character. We seem to race from one place or event to another, with little time in between, and less time to catch our breath. In a few short chapters, Mark crams in the whole of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That breathless quality is displayed in abundance in this morning’s reading as we race around Galilee, following Jesus and the disciples, after the first apostolic mission, when they were sent out two by two, and [given] authority over the unclean spirits.
With so much packed into the reading, the preacher or reader would be forgiven if their attention was drawn to the latter part of the passage, the feeding of the 5000. My attention though is drawn to the beginning, to the regathering of the band of disciples with their leader, following their missionary travels. The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. That is what arrests my attention this morning. I can see this scene perfectly clearly, because I know from experience what that was like
Jesus had twelve Disciples to manage. That means everyday he had twelve personalities to deal with, twelve opinions to listen to, twelve sets of emotional baggage to unpack, and twelve different backgrounds to understand. Jesus and his Disciples were not working remotely. This was not a Monday through Friday, nine to five gig. They were together all the time, and as our Gospel lesson today shows us, they did not always get along.
One might think that having the Son of God as the leader of the Disciples would prevent any conflict from arising. The Gospels show us that this is simply not the case. Despite witnessing Jesus’s miracles firsthand and having front row seats to his preaching, the Disciples still occasionally argued like children fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat of the car.
The drama of our Gospel lesson this morning centered on the Disciples James and John Zebedee. James and John were biological brothers. They were fishermen by trade who famously walked away from their job in the middle of a workday when they first called by Jesus.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like…
Sheep without a shepherd.
Students without a teacher,
Children without a parent,
Eggs without a brooding mother,
Warriors without a commander,
Citizens without a leader,
Treasure without a guardian,
Inheritance without an heir.
Characters without an author,
We all know the feeling of waiting for that one guy who is always late. That feeling of quiet anger rising as the whole room waits for him to arrive so that the meeting can start. You try to be patient, you try some small talk, but soon the frustrating thoughts creep in… he always does this, God is he clueless, someone should say something to him. The moments drag by…then finally the tardy man arrives two minutes late, holding tea and toast.
St. Paul encourages us tonight to regard others as better than ourselves. Now please keep in mind St. Paul didn’t write these words on his honeymoon. He wrote these words in jail, locked up because he was a Christian. So even in chains he asks us to consider others as better than ourselves…that includes Mr. Tea and Toast.
Why would St. Paul write such a thing? Why not write something like follow the spirit of Christ and always arrive five minutes early so no has to wait for you? The genius of St. Paul was his vision for the long haul. He knew that having the patience to regard others as more important is a short term pain for a long term gain. In other words, patience is a good strategy.
I remember, nearly a decade ago, watching a video on YouTube. In the video, the hosts of the show, consistent with their political leanings, filmed their infiltration of an environmentalist rally. There, they spoke with attendees and asked for signatures on their petition to ban a purportedly dangerous chemical. This chemical was largely unregulated, had been detected in our water supply along with countless food items, and could cause death within minutes if inhaled in sufficient quantities. The chemical in question was described with the scary-sounding name, “dihydrogen monoxide.” You might know it better by its chemical formula: H2O. Largely unregulated, in our food and water, it can cause death if inhaled in sufficient quantities, it was water.
There is a common physiological phenomenon that occurs to many people as their bodies cross the threshold from a waking state into deep sleep. An involuntary twitch of the muscles, called a hypnic jerk, wrenches the body awake. This is often preceded by a distinct sensation of falling that can be quite horrifying. Scientists don’t really understand it. It may be that our daytime motor control is exerting a last burst of effort for dominance as our muscles enter full relaxation on the cusp of dreaming. It may even be an evolutionary echo: our brain mistakes this necessary muscle relaxation for the experience of falling out of a tree, and sends a sudden flash of warning to the body. Whatever the cause, there is something deep, something primal in us, that resists relinquishing control as we approach the mysterious, nightly death of sleep.
In tonight’s passage from Acts, we hear about a boy named Eutychus and an unexpected fall. Eutychus falls asleep and falls to his death from a third-floor window. This tragic accident interrupts the bigger story with a profusion of small details. It happened “On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread,” Luke writes. The furniture is different, but we have been here before. Paul breaks open the word in an upper room in Troas, just as Jesus did in Jerusalem on the night before he died, and again after his Resurrection. Paul’s destination, too, is Jerusalem. As the gravity of his self-offering becomes clear, the power of the Lord’s resurrection flashes forth within and around him.
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
The focal point of much of Jesus’ preaching and teaching in the gospels is “the kingdom of God.”
The opening of Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus “came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (Mk 1:14-15) Of course, this kingdom that Jesus proclaims is quite unlike the kingdoms of the world that we human beings know from experience:
God’s reign is not about exerting authority; it’s about offering service;
it is not about dominance and power; it’s about humility;
it is not about being first or greatest; it’s about identifying with the lowly and the poor.
Here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus employs a number of images or metaphors to introduce the concept of God’s kingdom to his hearers, most of whom were peasants, subsistence farmers, living in an agrarian society. Jesus speaks about agriculture, about planting and harvesting, about sowing seeds – images easily understood by the people. His images regularly startle and surprise his listeners, and us. Over and over again, his point seems to be that this kingdom of God is never quite what we expect.