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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

27 February 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 6: 24-34

The thing that most delights me about nature is how utterly oblivious it is of us. Every spring―and I’m jumping the gun here by a couple of months, I know―I just howl at the pictures of birds that build their nests in wreaths hanging from doors, in baskets on bicycles, and even in an old shoe left out on the porch.

Ha! Consider the birds of the air. They neither pay rent, nor fill out financial questionnaires. They provide no references, and yet they set up residence in your bedroom window and don’t even notice all your kids and relatives staring in wonder as they lay their eggs and incubate them until they hatch, then feed their DARLING babies all kinds of gross worms that were apparently living in your yard, and then teach them, somehow, to fly the coop. And they leave the nest a mess and pay no damage deposit!

So, what do they know that we don’t? They know what we have forgotten, which is that the earth is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).

We see our high-rises and our traffic lights as symbols of civilization and order. Birds see them as perfect spots to set up housekeeping, and build intricate nests and hatch their chicks right there on top of the flashing marquees in Times Square.

Jesus wants us to lift up our eyes and remember what we once knew, before the Fall, before we began hoarding and sectioning off pieces of earth and calling them ours. There is sufficient sun, and seed, and rain to feed the world. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Do we?

How is what you want masquerading for what you really need?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

18 February 2017

Reflecting on Matt. 5:38-48

The traditional approach to Jesus’ words on nonviolence, of course, is to forget we ever heard it and carry on. But let’s be brave and try to understand.

In a research project a few years ago, participants were given a slight pinch on their fingers, then told to pinch their partner with the same intensity. Every single time, the first one to be pinched exerted more pressure on their partner than they had received themselves. Why? Because pain felt is always more than pain given. That’s why violence always escalates.

Here’s an example that might resonate. You walk by a group of friends and hear your name in their conversation. Now, maybe (but not likely) they actually ARE talking about your weight gain, or your son’s plagiarized science project, or your no-show at yoga again. But if you measured the amount of true malice in their hearts towards you (tiny) it wouldn’t be in the same stratosphere as the amount of rage you feel just hearing your name in a conversation in which you are not present. The pain felt is always more than the pain given.

Jesus knows how weak we are. He knows that lawsuits and small battles escalate into wars because we can’t differentiate between the actual pain (small) and the pain we experienced (large). Once shocked, we can’t remember that we’re the ones who started it. It is the rare person who is humble enough to admit that the injury is small, and the chance that she played some part in it is great.

Pray for your enemies, Jesus tells us. Wouldn’t it be a shock to learn that you’re the “enemy” someone else is praying for too?

Have you ever looked back at a conflict and finally realized that you were the antagonist?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

15 February 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 5: 17-37

I imagine this conversation between Jesus and some people at the Women’s March in D.C.

Jesus: You have heard it said, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” But I say to you, “Yes! Atrocities toward women are the scourge of history. You’ve brought attention to many, like equal pay for equal work, but there’s more. End sex trafficking. Starve the pornography industry, which endangers women and changes the brains of the men who use it. End domestic abuse everywhere.  End the abduction of girls and women by groups like Boko Haram and others. Secure safe education for every girl on the planet. That will keep you busy.”

And I imagined this conversation in the same city at the March for Life the next week.

Jesus: You have heard it said, “Life begins at conception.” I say to you, “Yes! And it ends in natural death. Redouble your efforts―and you’ve made some brilliant and creative starts ― to provide first-rate prenatal care and labor and delivery for all mothers. Make sure their families have nutritious food and safe, secure housing. Continue to educate about adoption services. Use your lives to lift up those who are poor. Protect the environment. And never, ever let an elderly person feel she has a duty to die. That will keep you busy.”

“But Lord,” I heard both groups cry, “you’re asking the impossible! We’d need far, far more people all over the globe to commit their lives to these unsolvable problems. Can’t we leave them to the next generation to solve?”

What next generation? YOU are the light of the world,” he said. “Go set fire to the earth.”

How are you working to solve an unsolvable problem?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

8 February 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 5: 13-16

Do you feel it, or is it just me? I sense a shift in my world, a fragrant shift of radical kindness, radical goodness, radical awareness of the way our lives can be used in service of the gospel of mercy and grace.  It’s been happening for a while now, several years I think.

One of the ways I’ve experienced it is the graciousness that greets me when I travel. I have a slight disability, a hip that’s been replaced several times. But the minute I arrive at the airport there seems to be a kind employee ready with a wheelchair, kindly whisking me through security and politely delivering me to the gate. And when I arrive at my destination the airline has called ahead and has another kind porter waiting to whisk me to the handicap-accessible ground transportation.

My endlessly thoughtful husband Ben arranged for a wheelchair for me during our recent fascinating (and disturbing) visit to Alcatraz Island. We were both deeply touched at the number of strangers who jumped in to help push the wheelchair up the steep hills. There is something afoot. I think it’s a tsunami of goodness, and its vessels are the human race.

I hope it’s not just me. I hope you, too, are sensing this warm wave of intentional kindness that seems to be gaining momentum all around us. Salt of the earth? I’m surrounded by smart, generous people who are giving their energies and experience toward making the world a kinder, gentler place. Light of the world? I need sunglasses, the glare of goodness is so bright.

Love is love is love is love. I hope you’re drowning in it.

In what ways are you living in intentional kindness?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

8 February 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 5: 1-12a

I like to do things that make me feel good. One thing that works every time is to stop to analyze what it is about people that makes them lovable, or approachable, or even inspiring.  I think about that today when Paul says “whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.” The people I know who inspire me are, always, people who point the praise and glory elsewhere.

How blest, then, are those who are so poor in spirit that they look beyond their own accomplishments and seek a greater good. How blest are those who are so clean of heart that they can get past their own insecurities and brokenness and mercifully reach out to others. The person who seeks God is the person who attracts me, because I too am made to draw nearer and nearer to God.

As a teacher of Scripture I am deeply touched by the way adult students will put everything aside for as long as they can to just study the Word.  As a student of Scripture I sit weekly at the feet of my own teachers, never disappointed, yet never satiated.  Our shared life in Christ is the treasure which draws me.

The person who seeks the Lord, in spite of our highly secular society that laughs at such a pursuit, is the person I want with me on a desert island. That is the truly blessed person, the deep person, the intelligent person. How blest are all of us who seek God. The scriptures promise that, as we draw near to God, God draws near to us.

In what ways has seeking the Lord been a blessing for you?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 January 2017

Reflecting on Matthew 4: 12-23

It’s a call narrative. That’s the name given to the account of how two sets of brothers, all fishermen, literally dropped everything and followed a man they hadn’t even met yet. I’ll bet Zebedee (the father of James and John) was thrilled when his sons just left the nets they were mending on the boat and abandoned him and the family business. James and John were called “the sons of thunder,” which may give us an idea of the kind of temper Zebedee possessed. I’m glad I wasn’t around at the time.

Another theory suggests that any Jewish father would have been honored to have his sons called by the famous rabbi Jesus. Rabbinic texts from the first century offer many examples of the prestige bestowed on a man whom a rabbi called to be his disciple. It was considered a huge honor to walk away from everything you knew in order to study with a teacher of the Law. Since all the apostles answered this radical call, is it possible that Jesus was already known by the Galilean community before he called the Twelve?

We all have a call narrative, a story we love to tell about how we knew what we wanted to do with our lives, or where we wanted to live, or the first time we met a dear friend or our spouse. Those are the sacred stories we tell at wedding receptions, at reunions, and at funerals. But there has never been an encounter like the day Jesus called four guys in two boats. His voice soared from the shore to the sea. “Come after me,” he said. If you listen, you can hear it still.

What is the favorite call story of your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

23 January 2017

Reflecting on John 1: 29-34

And there you have it. Just one week removed from the Christmas season and the gospels are already moving us in the direction of Lent. Hence this powerful baptism story, which will launch us into the ministry of Jesus, which will take us straight to the cross.

John the Baptist “did not know” his kinsman Jesus until he had a personal encounter with him at Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan. It was then, when he saw the Holy Spirit hovering over Jesus, that the fullness of the meaning of his own life became clear. He was born to witness to the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

How profound that the word is singular. It is the sin of the world that’s killing us. Individual sins, deadly and less so, do not weigh the world down in the way that our corporate selfishness does.

My 10-year-old nephew Jacob and I had the BEST conversation on the phone before Christmas. He had just seen the BEST movie with grandma, and was going to the BEST baseball camp over vacation, and they had the BEST Christmas tree in their house.

At that point I interjected, “Oh, and don’t forget to get the present from us that your mom has for you under the tree. “Aunt Kathy, “he said, “I already got my Christmas present. My grandpa isn’t sick anymore.”

That’s precisely the place where Jesus wants us all to be, that sacred place where our personal encounters of love save us from the deadly sin of only looking out for ourselves. That is the “sin of the world” the Lamb of God came to redeem.

What do you think is the greatest “sin of the world”?

Kathy McGovern ©2017 www.thestoryandyou.com

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle A

9 January 2017

Reflecting on Mt. 2: 1-12

There have been some unbalanced people on thrones throughout history, but they don’t come any crazier than Herod the Great. Matthew gives us the dark narrative of the malevolent way in which Herod tried to trick the Magi into returning to Jerusalem with the GPS coordinates of the new king of the Jews.

That I too may give him homage, he said to them. That must have been their first clue that the wisest move would be to return in the opposite direction.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents did not come out of nowhere. Herod― so neurotic about losing his royal status that he murdered his wife Mariamne and several of his sons because he either feared they were plotting against him or they really were plotting against him― was a terrifying figure in the ancient world.

A master builder, yes. But he was so loathed by his subjects that, when he fell off the litter his slaves were using to carry him to his summer palace one sweltering day, he was slow to revive. Eventually they― cautiously and then exuberantly― began celebrating what they thought was his demise.

But rumors of his death were exaggerated, and when he awoke to singing and carousing he pronounced the following: I command that on the day of my death, all the Jewish elders in Jerusalem be brought into the Herodium and murdered. That way I can make certain there will be true grief over my death.

Blessedly, his sister outlived him and withdrew the death sentence.  May all world leaders experience the Epiphany that brought foreigners from afar, but eluded the king who lived five miles away.

What important gifts might you be missing because of your own insecurities?

Kathy McGovern ©2017

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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