Saturday, June 20, 2015

12th Sunday Year B
Job 38:1, 1-11; 2Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41
Relax, God is in control
I found the inscription, “Relax, God is in control” in two different places; first, at a bank here in the US, and, in a taxi I boarded on my way home, in Cameroon.  In each instance, these words made an impression on me even as I imagine why this scriptural inspired statement was posted conspicuously by the said persons. Perhaps the cab driver wanted to remind himself about speed limits; while on his part, the banker might have wanted to remain unruffled amidst much money which doesn’t belong to him. These are only speculations. In any case, that is a very relevant faith-filled assertion in our time, given the rising tides- fears, calamities, tension, worries, work pressure, phobias that have deeply seated roots in our day-to-day lives and activities.   

How can one relax in times of tribulation? Hard, isn’t it? The harsh realities of life can break us down, leaving us in utter confusion. Job is a typical example of one who experienced a geometric progression of tribulations - to the point of cursing the day he was born. But then, when he realized the mighty power of God, Job confessed his unshakable faith when he says: “I know my redeemer lives!”(Job 19:25). Unusual happenings do not spare any one of us, even righteous people like Job. And since we don’t have control over storms and lightening, what matters is our attitude in the face of these challenges. “Heavy rains remind us of challenges in life. Never ask for a lighter rain, just pray to God for a better umbrella-that is attitude.”

In today’s first reading, God speaks to Job out of a storm. It isn’t the devil that caused the storm. No, God himself is present, a sure prove that He is Master of the whole of creation. He asserts his mighty power over the storm when He calms it down, appropriately. He tells Job that there is a limit to the storm, no more, no less.   In other words there is a limit to every trial or tribulation. He has already set the limit and He is always near- God is not dead! “The temptations in your life are not different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure”(1 Cor 10:13).  As such, we should neither retreat, nor surrender, even in the hottest part of the furnace, because He will calm the heat before it becomes unbearable.  Keep in mind that God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time. In fact, what does not kill you, make you stronger.

The well-known poem, “Footprints” reminds us about God’s presence in every storm. A man tells how he had a dream on scenes of his life on the shore of a beach with the Lord. He notices two sets of footprints in every scene of his joyful moments. Then during his most difficult moments, he finds only one set of footprints. So he asks the Lord, “Why weren’t you with me when I faced a lot of tribulations in my life?  The Lord replies, “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

In effect, God speaks to us daily as he did to Jacob in Isaiah 43:1ff: “O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”
Believe it or not, if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring, and a sunrise every morning. “Do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Scriptures. He watches over us every moment, and He wants us to trust in his word. 

Despite these assurance, replete in Scripture, many Christians still harbor irrational fears and anxiety, no less than  the disciples in the boat as we see in today’s gospel text. Jesus is right there in their midst, yet they are scared to death by a storm. Hear them: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  It is alright to make a request to Jesus, but these men are tortured by fear as they already see themselves perishing! Their faith is little. Jesus challenges them on their lack of faith because they just betrayed themselves by their fears.
Too much fear is a mark of lack of faith. Worse still, many of our fears are exaggerated as a result of some wild imaginations. They are not real! How often do we make a mountain out of a mole hill by magnifying petty issues.    

A man called his doctor’s office for an appointment. “I am sorry” said the receptionist, “we cannot fit you in for at least two weeks.” “But I could be dead by then!” No problem, if your wife lets us know we will cancel the appointment. What a fearful man, overshadowed by thoughts of death.  It would seem we often stuff our minds with fears of death, the unknown, the future, and what have you. About our health, consider the inscription I found in a hospital-“We treat, but God heals.” He must be aware of your appointment in two weeks.  So just tell him, keep me till then instead of nurturing thoughts of death.

It is unhealthy for one to be terrified by every passing wind. This can lead to bouts of anxiety which can affect our blood pressure. Studies have shown that episodes of anxiety can cause a dramatic rise in blood pressure. This can lead to unhealthy habits such as overeating and drinking of alcoholic beverages.

By the way, most of what we fear and worry about are beyond our control. So it is not necessary draining ourselves on such circumstances. Let us rather model our lives after a little child who laughs even when she is thrown in the air by her parent because she is certain she will land in the hands of the same parent.  “Relax, God is in control.”

Jesus is very relaxed in the boat, having a sound sleep because the Holy Spirit is present and God is in control. This he knows.  Don’t let the failures of yesterday and the uncertainties of tomorrow deter your sleep tonight. Learn to sleep like Jesus himself.  A song which I like very much and which conveys this message has this lyrics: “God will take care of you be not afraid, He is your Shepherd through sunshine and shade, tenderly watching and keeping his own, he will not leave you to wonder alone. God will take of you still to the end, Oh what a Father redeemer and friend, Jesus will answer whenever you call, he will take care of you trust him for all.”

Monday, June 1, 2015

Trinity Sunday Year B
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mtt 28:16-20
True Friendship after the example of the Holy Trinity

As limited as our human minds are, we cannot completely grasp hardly the depth of the mysteries of the being of God. God is so great, His wisdom can never be measured. One of the scriptural passages that often leave me in wonder on the greatness of God is the analogy on the sparrow that cannot fall to the ground without his notice, and God’s knowledge of the number of our hairs (Mtt 10:29-31).  Huh! Psalm 8 says: “How great is your name O Lord our God, through all the earth, your majesty is praised above the heavens, on the lips of children and of babes…” Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"(Rom 11:34)For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts(Is 55:8-9)

The mystery of the Holy Trinity which we profess every day is beyond our comprehension yet we celebrate it today because of our faith in a great God who has revealed Himself as One in three.  We believe and profess that there is only one God, in three distinct persons-God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They all have distinct tasks which each one fulfills- God the Father is Creator, God the Son is Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit is Sanctifier. The Father, who is the Creator, for instance, did not create the world single-handed. He created everything through the power of the Word, that is Christ himself (Col 1:16). The Holy Spirit too, who was present at the time of creation was "hovering over the face of the waters" (Gen 1:2). No wonder, at creation time, God said, let us make man in our image and likeness (Gen 1:26)  

 The first lesson we glean from the Trinity is that ours is God of friendship: there is an unbroken bond of friendship among three persons; in this friendship there is selfless giving-All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. The Son doesn’t cling to glory, but empties himself, taking the form of a slave. Then God sends the Holy Spirit not in his name alone, but in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. The language of Father and Son is relational language, and reminds us that, for God, as for us, created in God’s image, relationship and community are primary. God can no more be defined by what God does than we can. God is a Being, not a Doing, just as we are human beings, not human doings. This is a point of theology, but also, with all good theology, a practical point. We are called to life of friendship. It is rightly said no man is an island entirely of himself.

The church is a large family that is called to unity in diversity. Unity is the fruit of love. United we stand, divided we fall. This is the calling of every Christian community. On the other hand, whenever Christians are not united, the devil takes advantage to breakthrough and destroy. Besides, diversity is a mark of richness and blessing to every community.  Our differences in shape, language, color, sex, symbolize the presence of the Godhead in our midst. It is sad to see that rather than fostering harmony and love in communities there is so much hatred, division and prejudices based on our cultural differences.

Our community can’t flourish if it doesn’t welcome new people and new ideas. The blessing of diversity lies in the fact that people from different places bring along treasures from their cultures to share with us.  A dynamic community is one that is open to new ideas with the disposition to take a leap into hew horizons. The fact that things have been working well a particular way for the past decades doesn’t mean we can’t try it another way. Heard of the saying it takes the genius to see the obvious?  The man who never alters his opinion is like stagnant water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

 In the Trinity, there is no scramble for positions. Though the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead, he is neither the last nor the least. We all have different gifts but we are serving the same God and fulfilling our duties according to what we have received. A Trinitarian community is one where each one assumes his role without fighting to win particular favors; without seeking for notice or competing with other people. Someone got to be first, another, second and so on. These positions don’t diminish our personhood as we are all equal in dignity as human beings.

Moreover, our Christian families should be modeled according to the Trinity; after all, the closest mystery to the Trinity is the union between a man and a woman. “Therefore a man shall leave his Father and mother and cleave to the wife and the two shall become one, they are no longer two but one”(Gen 2:24). Husbands and wives should give themselves to each other in love. This love can easily flow to the children, making the family a place of unity and love.

Unity however, does not mean uniformity. Sometimes we can disagree to agree. This is possible when we express our differences in a very respectful manner. This is what I want to refer as fair fighting, which is different from unpleasant confrontations. In fact if friends or couples live without ever arguing, it means they have a lot of secrets. There are some rules about fair fighting, which, if respected can lead to a more loving relationship:
·         Don’t pretend to go along when you don’t truly agree. Avoid saying it is fine or okay when you don’t mean what you say.
·         Don’t play the archeologist-digging things of the past in the course of a disagreement
·         Avoid using statements like you always do this… or you never do this to describe someone’s behavior
·         Don’t throw the “bomb”-that is, avoid making idle threats and giving an ultimatum. It is not fair to over react to every trivial situation.
·         The purpose of every conflict is to solve a problem and not to apportion blame or find fault

If we are able to handle our differences in this way, then they will always lead us to a better relationship. As long as we are all unique and human, disagreements are bound to arise, but let’s keep in mind the need to always be at peace with one another at the close of the day.

Above all, the Triune God shows Himself in many forms because He wants to be very close to His people. That is what we read from Deuteronomy: Did anything so great ever happen before?
Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?  He manifested himself in several ways in his relationship with the people of Israel. He spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, and on their way from the land of slavery.  By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night”(Ex 13:21).
Let us therefore renounce all forms of false gods and draw near to our God, One in three persons by keeping his commandments so that  that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever."(Dt 4:39-40).