St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • Christ the King Sunday: A Response to Fear

    blogpic ChristtheKingLisbonPortugalChrist the King Sermon; November 21-22, 2015
    Preached at St. Thomas/Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO

    Text: John 18:33-37 - Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

    Grasping power through violence, threatening death to embed fear, dominating villages, towns and cities to oppress and expand territory,distorting religion, torturing and murdering innocent people, sending refugees fleeing for the lives.

    You probably think I am referring to the recent terrorist attacks on a plane of Russian tourists, in Beirut, in Paris, in Nigeria, in Mali– and their devastating destruction and tragic loss of life.

    But I am also describing first century Palestine and the life of the Jewish people under the Roman Empire – an empire and culture of violence that provides the context for our Gospel lesson this morning.

    It’s startling, isn’t it? How similar our stories have come to be. We can imagine the conversation between Pilate and Jesus as a modern day dialog about which kind of kingdom, which kind of power, and to what kind of dominion will we be devoted.

    In the John 18, Jesus and Pilate are using the same language and the same words – kings, dominion and power, but they are each talking about completely different things.

    In verse 36, Jesus claims his kingdom is not from this world and he contrasts himself with Pilate:

    • Pilate's rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm; Jesus' rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror; we hear this in John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

    • Pilate's followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nationality. Jesus' followers put away the sword in order to invite and unify people, as Jesus does when he says, And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32).

    • Pilate's authority comes from the will of Caesar, the emperor, and it’s always tenuous. Jesus' authority comes from doing the will of God, which is constant and eternal.

    • Pilate taxes the poor, takes what is not his, oppresses those without military might, cares not for others except to the degree that they serve his agenda. Pilate has no interest in building community - much less one guided by truth and love, and Pilate keeps order through fear--through the threat of death on a cross or otherwise. Again, by contrast, Jesus’ ministry has been a traveling parade of love, healing, renewal, second chances, beatitudes and bread – lots of bread to feed thousands and thousands of people. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers leap for joy, the demon-possessed dance with praise. Jesus empowers others and uses his authority to kneel down on the floor and wash the feet of those he leads. Jesus spends his life on them, every last ounce of it; he gives his life to bring life. Jesus enters death to show us beyond the shadow of a doubt, that not even violence and death can stop love, eternal life and the reign of God.

    We have all heard in the news this week the dozens of governors refusing to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states. Who’s kingdom are they listening to – Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom? We’ve heard our legislators in Washington debate, jockey and write laws to stop the influx of not only Syrian refugees, but others as well – Who’s kingdom are they listening to – Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?

    We each struggle with a very real fear along with angry abhorrence and deep sorrow to what we have witnessed around the world in just over a week. We are tempted, and we do want to give into fear, to close our borders, increase military action abroad, use drones and every kind of fire power against our enemy, but who’s kingdom does such action follow, Pilate’s kingdom or Jesus’ kingdom?

    We bring our cries and prayers before God today and we ask for the power and wisdom of our risen Lord and King to help us tease out the differences between what our fear want us to do and what our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to do. The great sin of American Christianity has been to merge our patriotism with our Christian calling in the world, but our Gospel lesson makes clear today, that these are often not one in the same. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to lift up Jesus Christ as King.

    For all violence, whether wrought by terrorists or nations, is the way of Pilate which never leads to a crown, a kingdom, and a power that is true and everlasting.

    For the way to the crown is through the cross; and the way of the cross leads to the crown of righteousness. Mahatma Ghandi said it this way: “The enemy of love is not hate, but fear.” In fact, there are 365 verses that say, “Fear not” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. Clearly, fear is our major human issue in our relationship with God!

    It does not mean that we don’t need systems or screening at our borders. But as Christians, we must call to account manipulation through fear-mongering and unethical, inhuman policies that result from fear.

    Jesus did not let fear, the threat of violence, or the pain of death put a stop to his love, compassion and solidarity with God’s people. In fact, his kingdom is so powerful that it
    bridges this life and the next life, the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, the finitude of this world and the infinity of the next. Communion is one event where these two realms are joined: When we celebrate Communion, we do so knowing that we are at the table with the Church triumphant at the heavenly banquet. We make up ½ the table here and the other half extends into heaven where all the saints of God and our loved ones who have gone before us (including my Mom and my in-laws) are feasting with us in heaven as part of this “Holy Commuion!”

    Knowing that our life ends not in death, not in fear but in a real, risen, eternal life with our Lord and with all people and with all of Creation, Jesus, our King, calls us to live in this eternal kingdom here and now, as a witness against the “Pilates” and “terror-mongers” of our time. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order and The Spiritual Exercises, words Jesus' call to us in this way:

    It is my will to win over the whole world, to overcome evil with good, to turn hatred aside with love, to conquer all the forces of death—and whatever obstacles there are that block the sharing of life between God and humankind. Whoever wishes to join me in this mission must be willing to labor with me and so by following me in struggling and suffering, [in loving and forgiving], that you may share with me in glory. (A contemporary interpretation by David L. Fleming, S.J. in Draw Me Into Your Friendship, p. 85)

    Jesus’ call to embody his kingdom here and now—before its final and complete fulfillment—goes out to all peoples, yet he specially calls each one of us in a particular and unique way.

    How Jesus calls me to live in love, compassion and service may be different from how Jesus calls and compels you, which may be different from your spouse, your children, or your friends.

    Yet Jesus brings us together and unites us in and with his body in heaven and his spirit on earth—through bread and wine, through song and prayer, through fellowship and forgiveness, through "St. Thomas and Holy Spirit" - this church!

    Be filled with Jesus love at this table today, and at your own table every day. Embody God’s kingdom in your daily life, your daily conversations and your daily actions by being
    grounded in God’s love for you, grounded in God’s love for this whole Creation and for every person it; that God knows every hair on our head; that the Spirit is part of every breath we take, and that Jesus presence can work through us, making the impossible, possible.

    That’s what Christ our King desires; and it’s absolutely what our world needs. Amen.

    Photo Credit: dreamstime.com - Cristo-Rei, Lisbon, Portugal

  • Images of God & Self: From Doing to Being

    "Our image of God and our image of self are two sides of Taking Mary Moments in a Martha Worldthe same coin" said Dr. Hsin-hsin Huang, the leader and trainer for  Spiritual Companions to retreatants who go through a 9-month experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As we each shared our prayer and spiritual experiences, Dr. Huang continued to pepper our discussion with more spiritual insights on the path to spiritual maturity.

    Our image of God relates directly to how we view ourselves. Our first image of God often arises out of our relationship with our parents. Our early images of God can be rooted in several dynamics: fear of punishment, expectations of perfection or hyper-responsibility, an experience of abuse, absence or unreliability, and maybe even one of love and forgiveness. Just as our relationship with our parents changes over time to a more equal relationship between adults, so also can our relationship with God. We move from fear of God to love of God as we mature.

    If we fear God as a judgmental moralist who demands right behavior, then we see ourselves as an unlovable, bad person who has to do better. We consequently live with a lot of guilt and shame that leads not only to low self-esteem, but also to judgmental attitudes toward others. There are a lot of burned-out Christians today who can never behave exactly the right way for their demanding God, and others in society are also judged for missing the mark.

    The less we fear God, however, the more grateful we are to God for all God does for us in creation, in daily sustenance, in relationships, in talents and abilities, in forgiveness through Jesus. The less we fear God, the more we can love ourselves because God loves us. The more forgiving we believe God is, the more we are able to forgive ourselves and our own brokenness and imperfection. Such self-love, grounded in God's love, enables us to also love and forgive others, letting go of perfectionistic expectations.

    This is the hope of pursuing a spiritual path – that we mature from an belief about God to the felt experience of God loving us. There is a difference between intellectually understanding God and affectively experiencing God's intimate, powerful love for us. We see this most clearly in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus invites Martha to move from doing to being – from doing for God to being loved by God in the presence and person of Jesus.

    I have always been a "Martha" – with a hyper sense of reasonability to and for the well-being of others. When I began the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the fall of 2013, the first prayer exercise was to "behold God beholding me and smiling." For the first 56 days, I did this exercise, but it was an intellectual exercise – I held a picture in my minds' eye. But on day 57, I felt a physical shift in my body from my mind to my gut – I felt loved. I was a little startled and said out loud to God, "you really do love me, don't you?!" And I smiled. (I had been ordained as a pastor for 24 years and had been serving a God with very high expectations of me).

    Dr. Huang offered another exercise to help us identify childhood images of God that affect our relationship with God today: write about each of one's parents, describing them in about a page. Take a break and come back 30 minutes later to notice what, if anything you have written about your parents describes your image of God. What brings you deeper in your relationship with God and of what can you let go that hinders you from experiencing how much God loves you? Then practice "beholding God beholding you and smiling - a Mary practice in a Martha world.

    Visit The Bridges Program to learn more about how you can experience the Spiritual Exercises!

    Photo used with Permission - https://vimeo.com/41702334 2012 Awaken Church Pastor Nate Witiuk, Clarksville, TN 

  • Reflection-The Gift of Nothingness

    Why do migraines and headaches haunt me daily?Cloudless Blue Sky

        Why do ailments, stress and anxiety accompany many of us?

    What does our mind and body and soul desire

         in our 140-character, sound-bite, tech-drenched world?


    Perhaps our inner self wants nothing - the gift of nothing.

    What if my body had nothing to do; how would it feel?

        Just resting, being upheld by the bed of creation and relaxing into the weight of it.

    All dis-ease and impurities can crumble to the bottom of my being

        and slide out the open chakra at the bottom of my feet.


    How deeply can I let my body do nothing, need nothing, feel nothing?

    Can I allow my body and soul to be in suspense without need or urgency,

        just present to the void, the space, the emptiness?

    What can nothing release?

    What can nothing regenerate?


    How can I give my mind the gift of nothing?

    I spend my devotions reading spiritual sages, poetry, assurances of the presence of God;

        I imagine meadows or beaches in the mind of my Spirit to see God's presence;

    I rattle off questions about what I am to do today and in life

        with a spiritual list of clarifying inquiries that demand immediate answers.

    But what if my mind and spiritual imagination desire the gift of nothing?

        Nothing to imagine as God's presence, but just to be.

    Nothing to read about peace, just the absence of thoughts, needs, directions, questions, insights.


    When I can give my mind and soul the gift of nothing, perhas the urgent pain will recede.

    I can listen to my own body functioning -

        the high-pitched buzz of my nervous system,

        the pulsing of blood

        the steady thump of my heart.


    Maybe my mind doesn't want more medicine, it wants more of nothing;

    A presence to everything, the absence of everything, the presence of nothing -

    Can nothing lower the sound of the inner buzz, slow the pulsing, breathing that is me

        And enter into the void that is God?

    The constant presence of sacred energy that is not managed, just noticed?


    Nothing is the place of creation -

        the void before atoms collide,

        the darkness of the soul buried in the ground,

        the dropping of the grain into air, earth

        the chrysalis hiding in the dark,

        the tomb of the 2nd day.


    Perhaps only when we enter nothing do we become fully present.

    Only when we enter the gift of nothingness

        do we become the void where God creates newness of life

        without our assistance.


    Nothingness is freedom.

    St. Ignatius of Loyola beckons me to see God in everything

        and be attached to nothing,

    To see God as fully present in every molecule

        and myself as fully present in nothingness.