Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

Dear Friends,

Today has many meanings in the various aspects of life we live: we look back on Jesus’ Ascension and look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit. We also celebrate Memorial Day. Together, they speak to us of unity and hope. To begin, we look at Jesus. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus preached his message in word and action. The way he treated the needy and the powerful, the stories he told, the succinct one-liners he shared, the Lord’s Prayer all highlighted Jesus’ message. His message was not a private gift to a select few to be hoarded, but a public message to be spoken and lived by the whole company of believers and the world as well.

In his prayer for his disciples in John 17, Jesus had prayed: “I have entrusted to them the message you, Father, entrusted to me, and they have received it.” John 17.1-11. The message.

People don’t receive any one message the same way. We all receive a message according to our capacity to receive it, according to our consciousness, vision and imagination.

Mary Magdalen for example, received and passed on the message about Christ’s resurrection in ways different from Peter and Thomas. There are as many nuances to the message of Jesus as there are people receiving it.

If you saw the movie Crocodile Dundee, you remember him musing over the battle between the Australian Aborigines and the settlers from Europe. “Our squabbles,” Dundee said, “are like those of two fleas on the back of a dog arguing who owns the dog.”

No one owns the dog – and in the case of Jesus – no one owns his message. It belonged to all of Jesus’ contemporary disciples and it belongs to us.

So here we are – in between the Ascension and Pentecost – potentially a time when we realize in a fresh way that the prayer of Jesus washes over us and the message of Jesus urges us forward to help shape with one another a better world, our eye fixed on the coming reign of God. No one of us owns the message, but each of us knows the message in a unique way. That’s why it’s so important for us to speak up and work in ways that arise from our grasp of Jesus’ message. Jesus never told his followers that discipleship would be easy. There would be suffering if they tried to make Jesus’ message felt in the world, but he also promised that this suffering would not overwhelm them.  

This year, Memorial Day falls between Ascension and Pentecost, and we as a nation remember with tenderness men and women who have given their lives somewhere in the world that those of us here are home might be free. I can’t help thinking of the soldiers who lie in Flanders’ Field beneath the poppies, who responded to the call of the nation to go fight and die. In death, they passed the torch to others, and the presence of God in Jesus wove through the courageous actions of the fallen and those who finished the task. Other wars at other times gave us empty seats at our tables, heroes and veterans. The days of war were significant for them and for their families. We remember. The stuff of Memorial Day is made of such memories and such lives.

As Memorial Day is layered with the anticipation of Pentecost, as we go about our daily lives from home to work to our volunteer efforts, as we celebrate family and friends or make decisions about life, as we meet and welcome the refugee and the stranger, I hope we can join each other all week long in waiting and prayer. The message of Jesus is within us. Go. Be ready to spread the good news. Make peace real in our day. Come Holy Spirit!    

~ Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Vines of Life

Dear Friends,

Jesus’ analogy “I am the vine and you are the branches” is a favorite, isn’t it? Not pumpkin vines or tomato vines or wisteria or trumpet vines, but grape vines that produce food for eating, and for wine – Eucharistic wine and crisp table wine to make our celebrations festive.

We remember with delight Jesus’ experience at the wedding feast at Cana, and how Jesus turned ordinary water into fine wine, not cheap wine. We have the testimony of the steward of the wedding on that point: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now. (John 2.10)” God knows how to make only good wine.

It would be easy to focus solely on the connection of vine and branches to Christ. But here are a few other lessons about vines and branches that make us appreciate even more that connection.

Vines need to be pruned. In early April, I took myself up a footpath to a vineyard in the Finger Lakes. The pruner had already been through and had sniped away the long winter growth and tie-twisted the vines to the wire fencing. These shorn vines looked as though they could produce nothing. But patience and time would tell. When we think about the people we love or think of ourselves, for that matter, we know that pruning is necessary for life. Sometimes stories of pruning are tender or funny or heart wrenching. There have been times when family and friends have seen and heard their loved ones in the throes of pruning, caught their breath, hoped and prayed as their loved one went on.

The second fact is that vines are always exposed to the elements. There is nowhere to hide from the intense heat, beating hail, freezing cold and determined wind. Every one of us is exposed to the elements – every kind of weather – spiritual, social, cultural, illness, our own and others, the little deaths and the big deaths of life. We’ve come through those times and here we are, bearing fruit.

You and I live and thrive in a biblical land where God is the keeper of the vineyard. This is the sentiment we find in Isaiah 27.2-3: “The pleasant vineyard, sing about it! I, the Lord, am its keeper, I water it at every moment. Lest anyone harm it, night and day, I guard it.”

You and I are the Finger Lakes region with its vines growing abundantly on the hillsides overlooking the lakes. The storms and the sun have shaped us.

Catherine of Siena, living in Tuscany with its splendid vineyards, was moved to write:
The sun hears the fields talking about the effort,
And the sun smiles and whispers to me,
Why don’t the fields just rest,
For I am willing to do everything
To help them grow?
Rest, my dears, in prayer.

Let us, this summer, rest in confidence that we grow under God’s tender watchfulness.

~ Sister Joan Sobala