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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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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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