Lent – Cycle A

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle A

8 April 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

He must have done a thousand righteous things in his life. He was chosen by Jesus himself to be one of the Twelve. He was trusted to be the treasurer, and to hold the group’s money bag. Yet, his eternal title will be Judas, the Betrayer.

We’ll never know why on earth he did it. For thirty pieces of silver?  The cynic says, “Of course. People will do anything for money.” But is there any one of us who would hand a loved one over to be tortured and killed because we could make money by doing so? Never.  Judas was up to something, and even today scholars can’t quite discern what it was.

I’m intrigued by what the author of Matthew’s gospel says: “Then Judas, his Betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned, greatly regretted what he had done.” Did Judas try to step into history and force God’s hand? Did he think that once the soldiers took hold of Jesus in Gethsemane he would call upon his legion of angels, who would slay anyone laying a hand on God’s Anointed?

It followed that Jesus would then gather an army who would roust the Romans from Israel, and the Jews would once again control their homeland. Judas (before he was “the Betrayer”) was no doubt named after Judas Maccabeus, the great warrior who liberated Jerusalem from the Seleucids. Judas―perhaps thinking of his great ancestor― was willing to temporarily “betray” Jesus in order to finally get him to harness his heavenly powers.

But it didn’t happen that way. Jesus was condemned to death. His Betrayer hanged himself. And Jesus set out on the way of the liberation of the Cross.

For what betrayals in your own life have you been forgiven and set free to be happy again?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

1 April 2017

Reflecting on Ezekiel 37: 12-14

One summer I found myself sitting with many pilgrims atop Masada, the isolated fortress Herod the Great built in the Judean desert.  Our guide told us the grisly history of the 960 Jewish rebels who committed suicide there after holding off the Roman army for three years at the end of the First Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD). They knew they would die there, and that the Jews would be driven from their homeland once again.

Hillel spoke of his own journey. He had come to Israel in the 1960s, just for a few weeks.  Before returning to the U.S. he visited Masada. He noted an inscription left on the rocks by one of those ancient warriors, perhaps in the last hours of his life. It was this inscription, written in 73 AD, that touched Hillel’s heart so much that he resolved to return to Israel and spend his life aiding the survivors of the holocaust in building a Jewish homeland.

He invited us to sit quietly on those rocks, letting the desert sun seep into our bones, and ponder which scripture they may have inscribed for an unseen generation―Hillel’s generation― to someday find. Of course, it was Ezekiel 37, today’s first reading:

Oh my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.

For Christians, the fullness of the meaning of Ezekiel’s prophecy is the resurrection of Jesus from his own rock-hewn tomb.  For Jews, that resurrection is the modern state of Israel.  But the dry bones of exile will never come fully to life until all can live in peace in the land God gave.

What promise of resurrection are you giving your life to help fulfill?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

27 March 2017

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

One of the things we know for sure about Jesus is that he tried to divest people of the things they knew for sure. It’s our sureties that need to be dismantled before we can clearly see God’s work in our lives.

The disciples knew for sure that blindness (and all misfortune) was the result of sin somewhere in the family tree. In an uneasy world of sky-high infant mortality and the ever present violence of the Roman occupiers, it was comforting to assign some kind of sin to those who had huge challenges.

We can picture the disciples thinking, as they encountered the man blind from birth, “How horrible to have to navigate the world without sight. I must find a reason why he is blind and I’m not. I’ve got it! He must have sinned somewhere along the line. Thank God I’m not a sinner.”

Some contemporary ways in which we assure ourselves that bad things don’t happen to virtuous people might be: I wear my seat belt, so I’ll never have a catastrophic injury in a car crash. I’ve never smoked, so I’ll never get lung cancer. I made every sacrifice raising my kids in the faith, so of course they will love it and raise their kids in the faith too.

Except, of course, people with their seat belts firmly fastened die in car crashes, and non-smokers get lung cancer every day. And we’re all watching the culture lure this generation into a worldview that dismisses religious faith.

We can’t distance ourselves from pain and hope it never finds us. But this we know this for sure: Jesus is with us in blindness and in sight.

How do you walk in faith in a scary world?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

18 March 2017

Reflecting on Exodus 17: 3-7

Is the Lord in our midst or not?  Now there’s a question.  Once they passed safely into the desert―with its challenges of hunger and thirst―the Hebrew slaves began questioning whether the Divine Power that parted the sea for them was really just all in their minds. Perhaps it was collective hysteria. But―ahem―how WAS it that they were now safely on the other side?

Isn’t that exactly how the life of faith goes? We position ourselves to receive every gift God pours out on us. We can name the thousands of ways God is gracious to us. But drought and fire, illness and heart-breaking death, war and starving refugees remain. Is the nearness of God just wishful thinking?

The reason the Church gives us that refrain from Psalm 95 so often―if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts―is because every single day we can make a decision for or against the nearness of God.

We were sustained through the night and woke up feeling wonderful. Yes, God is near. The morning news is filled with images of terror and injustice all over the world. No, God is clearly not in our midst at all.

In our particular moment in history there are more and more baptized Christians transitioning to a place of a hardened heart. The world is too full of sadness for them to find a way to accept that there is a loving God “with us.”

The daily decision to not harden our hearts is exactly what is required of a believer. We don’t believe because the kingdom is fulfilled.  We choose to wait in joyful hope―and work for justice every day― until it is.

In what ways will you soften your heart today?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Second Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

15 March 2017

Reflecting on Gen. 12: 1-4a

 Ah, Lent. The blessed season of do-overs.  We need it so badly, and yet we dread its disciplines until it’s upon us. Then we sigh in relief that we have still another go at second chances.  Sacraments are like that too. Each of them is God’s way of jump-starting us out of the wounds and missed marks that are making us miserable.

That’s what’s going on in today’s Genesis reading, when God calls Abram out of the blue and promises blessing upon blessing. Huh? Abram (whose name change to Abraham is a big clue that he gets a do-over) has never even heard of this God, and now is being called out of his homeland and told to take his wife Sarai (who also gets a do-over) into a land they didn’t even know existed.

This aging couple needed a second chance at life. They were childless, which meant that their name could not go forward into the future. But, miracle of miracles, this God was promising not only descendants, but a “great nation” that would not only be blessed but, even better, would BE a blessing for all ages.

Which would you rather know about your life, that you were blessed, or that you WERE a blessing? Think of the people―your children, your parents, your friends―who have brought blessing into your life. This would be the perfect week to tell them so. Even more perfect would be to tell your Jewish friends the ways in which they bless you. All these thousands of years later, observant Jews still pray every day that their name should be a blessing. They’ll be so happy to know that God’s promise continues.

In what ways are you a blessing to the world?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

First Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

7 March 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 4: 1-11

I have an idea for you this Lent, and I got it from Jesus. He must have known, from an early age, that Satan had his eyes on him. He must have known that the powers of hell would lay in wait for him, and so Jesus filled his memory and soul with scripture.

He made sure that the scriptures were on his lips and his heart (Deut. 30: 14). He may even have worn sections of scripture around his left wrist and on his forehead when he prayed (Deut. 6:8).

That’s how, when the Liar accosted him in the desert, Jesus was ready for him. Turn these stones to bread? We don’t live on bread alone. Throw yourself down to show that you’re God? You shall not put God to the test. Bow down and worship me? The Lord alone shall you worship.

Are you ready for the temptations of this Lent? Hide your favorite scriptures in your heart. Or maybe you have some favorite hymns you want to memorize so you have them when you need God’s consolation. On long-distance trips my husband tapes the words to hymns on the steering wheel of his car, and works on memorizing them as he drives. Here are a few of my favorite scriptures, which I have on speed-dial every Lent:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope (Rom. 5:3-5).

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans of welfare, not of woe (Jer. 29:11).

If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart (Heb. 3:15).

I’m praying that you have the best Lent ever.

How are you ready to withstand temptation this season?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle A

17 April 2014

Reflecting on Matthew 26: 14-27:66

Five weeks ago we heard a familiar and eerie story.  Jesus, having just been baptized, goes into the desert to keep his rendezvous, set from the beginning of time, with the Enemy. Famished from fasting, he is accosted by the Liar, who says, Look, you’re God, right?  I know you’re hungry, and there’s nothing to eat out here.  Just turn these stones into bread.

Jesus repulses the Liar with scripture, but he persists.  If you really want to show these people that you’re God, you should throw yourself off this cliff and let the angels catch you.  That’s the way a real God would do it.

Again Jesus rebuffs him, and the Enemy finally shows his hand.  Okay, you’re God and I’m not.  But I’ve got all the kingdoms of the world in my pocket. Give up this charade of being a human being, bow down and worship me, and I’ll give you everything.

At this, Jesus commands the Liar to leave, and so he must.   Matthew’s gospel tells us that angels then come to minister to Jesus.  Watch for those angels.  They’ll be back to roll the stone away on Easter morning, and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against them.

Satan failed so miserably because he couldn’t believe that Jesus, though he was in the form of God, would empty himself, taking the form of a slave.  Satan must have been astonished on Good Friday, when Jesus became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Two thousand years later, we’re still astonished.  And at his Name, 2.18 billion Christians bend their knees today, and their tongues confess:  Jesus Christ is Lord.

Are you still astonished at this wondrous love?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

6 April 2014

Reflecting On John 11:1-45

Ten years ago this week I went into Rose Hospital for exploratory surgery on a ten centimeter ovarian cyst.  I don’t think it’s going to turn out to be anything, said my wonderfully reassuring surgeon.  We’ll probably be done in an hour.

When I woke up, three hours had passed.  That’s when I knew for sure that the same disease which killed my mother in 1985 now had me in its grip.

But not for long. There was no metastasis.  I was one of those rare women to whom the symptoms of ovarian cancer did not whisper at all.  They shouted loud enough for my husband and my friend Angeline Hubert to say, “Something is very wrong with you.”

Like Lazarus, I was dead in the tomb.  Had my loved ones not pushed me to find the reason for my deep fatigue, the disease would surely have progressed to a stage beyond the scope of surgery.  Kathy, come out! Jesus our Healer commanded me.  And the nearly dead woman came out.  I am the longest-living survivor of ovarian cancer at the Rose Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

Lord, if you had been here my mother would never have died.  How I prayed that my wonderful mom would be cured so many years before, but it was through her death that I recognized the disease when it came upon me nearly twenty years later.  We don’t know, in our lifetimes, the way God will use our suffering in the future, or is using it now.

Our task, while we live, is to unbind each other until the day the Risen One removes our death clothes once and for all.

How are you helping unbind people of their suffering?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

1 April 2014

Reflecting on John 9: 1-41

The thing is, we know this guy.  We’ve known him since he was a child.  As far as anyone can remember, he was always blind― blind from birth, his parents said.  Obviously, he’s a sinner.  His parents, too.  You don’t have a terrible affliction like blindness without a long history of sin in the family.

Moses insists we open wide our arms to the needy, so we’ve been giving him alms all these years.  That’s what makes what happened today so infuriating.   The sinner Jesus has been in Jerusalem with his disciples since the Feast of Tabernacles.  He’s caused his usual uproar, saying outrageous things about himself, even giving some people the impression he is replacing our feasts of water and light with himself.

None of us has forgotten what he did last Passover, when he drove the money changers out of the Temple and hinted that he was going to destroy the Temple and replace it with himself!  He even consorts with Samaritan women!  You might have heard about that little travesty, and how she went running back to tell all the Samaritans about him.  He’s obviously a sorcerer, just like they are.

And then there was the business with that woman caught in the very act of adultery.  That was his chance to prove that he was a true child of Moses, but no.  She walked away without a word of judgment from him.  We’d already collected the stones.

Next thing you know we’ll be hearing stories of him raising people from the dead.

In the meantime, now this blind man pretends to see, and says that this Jesus cured him.  And on the Sabbath!  Sinners don’t cure people.  Everyone knows that.

Jesus, the Messiah?  No way.  We just don’t see it.

What behaviors in your life do you refuse to see?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

24 March 2014

Reflecting on John 4: 5-42

Give me a drink.  Seriously, Jesus.  I’m asking.

I’m thirsty, and I know that’s the very thing you want to hear.  My emptiness is the password that unlocks your grace, and oh how I need it.

I suppose that, like your great Samaritan disciple, I’ve had five husbands too.  Hers were the five religions practiced by the slaves the Assyrians brought in to populate Samaria seven hundred years earlier.  The inhabitants of Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hammath, and Sepharvaim knew nothing about Jacob or Moses, or the great prophets Amos and Hosea.

Well, to be honest, even Amos and Hosea couldn’t pierce the deafness of the inhabitants of Samaria all those years ago.  They had the very well that their ancestor Jacob dug, and they gave lip service to the laws of Moses, but still they burned their children alive on altars dedicated to the Canaanite gods.  So there were definitely wide open spaces in their hearts for the allure of the gods of the foreigners who came in with the Assyrians.

I left myself wide open for five husbands too, and they enslaved me.  Their names are Comfort, and Food, and Safety, and People who Look Like Me, and, my most powerful master, The Positive Regard of Everyone I Meet.

I’ve drunk deeply from those wells, but they only made me thirsty again.  Comfort and Food and Safety left me listless and useless.  And the truth is, the faces of your poor look nothing like me, and those who care for them care only about YOUR positive regard.  Give me a sip from the well from which THEY drink and are so satisfied.

Fill my cup, Lord.  I’m finally lifting it up.

What “husbands” have left you unsatisfied?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

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