God in Spaghetti Sauce
June 15, 2003
Matthew 28: 16 – 20
The gospel of Matthew ends with that great commission that we just heard in today’s Gospel. The last line of the gospel is a noble and strong promise: “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age.” Jesus says that he will never leave us. He promises that the God that we adore; Father, Son, and Spirit, will remain with us forever. There are few passages in Scripture that are more encouraging or more important than this one. Our triune God will remain with us always. But how does God remain with us? Where do we look to find God’s presence? Certainly we would agree that God is present when we come together like we do here today to pray. We would also recognize that God is present when we do actions of justice and charity in God’s name. But, are there other places in which God is present? Yes, many of them. For example, God can be found in homemade spaghetti sauce. That at least is the testimony given by a woman names Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book, Romancing the Ordinary.
Sarah’s story is well worth repeating. One night she went out with her husband to eat in a restaurant. Unfortunately one of the heavy ceiling tiles from that restaurant became dislodged and fell on her. She was severely injured. All of her senses were affected. She could no longer taste or smell. Even the quietest of music made her dizzy. She was so sensitive to light that she could barely open her eyes. Her ability to put together simple sentences was almost eliminated. In short, Sarah became helpless, an invalid. Yet this state in which she found herself was the beginning of a journey.
Here is how she describes it in her book. “My down time was a perfect opportunity for heaven to get my complete attention. Chief among my discoveries was this, divinity is to be found where you least expect to find it. Moses found his God in a burning bush. I found mine in a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. Months after my accident, the spaghetti sauce was the first thing I was able to smell distinctly. I could scarcely believe my nose. Euphoric, I followed the strange but familiar fragrance of garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers and oregano down the stairs and into the kitchen. I was practically beside myself with delight. I felt like was standing on holy ground in my own house. I had discovered the miracle of the sacred in the ordinary and from that moment my life would never be the same.
“I was so grateful to inhale the glorious scent of ordinary life that I was off and running. I went up into the bathroom and got a jar of Vicks VapoRub. Yes, eucalyptus! Then I buried my face in some freshly laundered clothes and inhaled the fragrance of a warm shirt. And so it went. For the next few happy weeks I rediscovered life with the same sense of wonder as a small child. Taste came next. Followed by hearing and sight and touch. Each sensory restoration was accompanied by a feeling of rapture and sudden tears. I was astonished and ashamed at my appalling lack of appreciation for what had been right under my nose.”
Sarah’s experience was to recognize the sacred in the ordinary, to discover divinity where we do not expect to find it. Why is it that we so often fail to recognize God’s presence in the simple things that surround us? Is it because we’re too busy or preoccupied? Or is it perhaps because we approach with the wrong perspective? Most of us give more attention to what is wrong in life than what is right. Rabbi Kushner wrote a best selling book called Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” He sold million of copies. But, when do we ask ourselves, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”—or at least to ordinary people like you and me? If tragedy were to strike or we were to experience heartbreak or failure we would be quick to state, “I don’t deserve this!” But, how often, when we rise to greet a new day or hold a child or grandchild in our arms do we say to ourselves, “I don’t deserve this!”?
God surrounds us in every time and place. God speaks to us in the gentle rustle of leaves and in the wisdom of a dear friend. But we need to be able to listen if we are going to hear what God is saying. God is present in the softness of a baby’s skin or the dampness of the air after a summer storm. But we must be open to sense God’s touch. God’s love is present in the aroma of homemade spaghetti sauce or in the favorite cologne of our spouse. But we must be willing to recognize what is right under our nose. Where do we find divinity? Where do we discover the triune God who loves us and promises always to be close to us? Almost anywhere. But first we must open our eyes.
Waiting for the Call
June 11, 2006
To be a Christian is to always be “on call.” On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate the mystery that God: Father, Son, and Spirit, has called us into an intimate relationship of love; has made us God’s own daughters and sons. But that relationship is a two way street: not only do we expect things from God but God expects things from us. God makes us. God saves us. God sends us. God has a plan, a plan for the world, and we are part of that plan. That is why as sons and daughters of God we must always be ready to hear the word “Go”. “Go” is the word that God uses when there is something for us to do. The disciples hear the word in today’s gospel. “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” But this command does not only apply to the first disciples. It applies to all disciples. It applies to us. We must be ready to go.
“Wait a minute,” you say, “Go where? Do what? Are you sure that God is sending me?” I am sure. To what God is sending you I cannot say, but the fact that God is sending you is not in doubt. Sending is what God does to God’s daughters and sons. God makes us. God saves us. God sends us. If you want to know to what God is sending you, all you need to do is listen. We usually do not listen; and because we do not listen we do not hear; and because we do not hear we imagine that we are not being sent. We wake up each day and we plan our own schedule: first I’ll do this, then I’ll do that, and if there’s time, I’ll fit this in. But how often do any of us take a breath and in all honesty ask the question, “Lord, is there anything you want me to do today?”
I dare you to ask that question. Whether you’re in the fourth grade or you’ve just retired, whether you’re married or you’re single, whether you’re healthy or you’re sick—I dare you to ask, “Lord, is there anything you want me to do today?” I promise you that if you ask, God will answer. It may be in that moment, or an hour later, or a day later; but if you ask, you will hear God say, “Go. Go to that person at work and tell her. “Go to your friend and ask him. Go to the phone and dial this number. Go to your spouse . . . Go to your daughter . . . Go to your neighbor . . . and do this.”
If you dare to listen, you will hear where God is sending you. What you hear might surprise you. Sometimes when you hear what God wants you to do, it does not seem to fit. It does not make sense. You might even suppose that God is confused and is calling the wrong person. If this is the case, feel free to object. The scriptures are full of people who object to God’s call. Moses says, “I can’t go. I don’t even know how to speak.” Jeremiah says, “I can’t go. I’m too young.” Isaiah says, “I can’t go. I’m not holy enough.” Even Mary says, “How can this be? I’m not married.” It’s okay to object. You have the freedom to argue about where God is sending you. It’s all part of the family drama. As sons and daughters of God, we have the right to question, when it seems that God is sending us on some fool’s errand. Just remember that the fact we can object does not mean that God will change the call. God does not act that way. What God tends to do is listen to our objections and say, “Yes, but go anyway, and I will be with you.”
God has a plan, a plan for the world. We are a part of that plan. As sons and daughters of God we must always be ready to be sent. Christians are always “on call.” I dare you to listen. I dare you to sincerely ask the question, “Lord, is there anything you want me to do today?” If you ask, God will answer, and you will soon find yourself going forth to do your Father’s will.
Three New Names for God
June 3, 2012
We believe in one God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit. We call this belief the Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity stands at the center of our faith. But on this Trinity Sunday I think the most useful question we can ask concerning the Trinity is, “What is the Trinity for?”
This is an important question because there is a common misunderstanding that somehow the Trinity’s purpose is to clarify our understanding of God. The Trinity really does not do this. Yes, it tells us that God is one, and it tells us that God is Father, Son and Spirit. But it does not explain how God can be one and three at the same time. Therefore, at least part of the purpose of the Trinity is to remind us that we can never fully understand God. God is greater than us and beyond human knowledge.
The purpose of the Trinity is not to clarify a truth, but to name a mystery. Therefore, as we approach the Trinity, we should not only seek the help of teachers and theologians but also of poets and mystics, because poets and mystics have their own skill in naming a mystery. This what I would like to do with you today. I want to share with you a passage from a Christian mystic about the Trinity. The mystic’s name is Julian of Norwich and in the year 1393 she published a series of visions that she received about the Trinity.
Here is what she says. (Now remember this is mystical writing so it is not logical. You must be loose and go with it as it as it flows.) Julian says, “God showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut lying in the palm of my hand. It was round as any ball and I thought ‘What can this be?’ My question was answered in general terms: ‘This is everything that has been made.’ I marveled at how this could be for it seemed it might fall into nothingness, it was so small. An answer for this was given to my understanding: ‘It lasts and it shall ever last because God loves it. And in this fashion all things have their being by the grace of God.’ So, in this little thing I saw three properties. The first is God made it. The second is God loves it. And the third thing is God keeps it. And what did I see in this? That God is truly the Maker, the Lover and the Keeper.”
Now, notice what Julian of Norwich has done. She has taken the common three names of God, Father Son and Spirit and replaced them with three others: the Maker, the Lover, the Keeper. She does not intend to dismiss the common names of the Trinity, for they are a part of the tradition. But she has given these new names to stimulate our thought, so that we might probe the mystery of God.
If God is Maker, then all that exists and all that we are is here because God wanted it to be here. God made it. If God is Lover, then God gives of God’s self to what has been made. God sacrifices for our salvation and invites us into a relationship. But God is not only Maker and Lover, God is also Keeper. God protects all that is. God preserves all hat has been made. God will never abandon what God has made.
So God is Maker, and Lover and Keeper. If God can be named by these three names, each one evokes from us a particular response. If God is Maker then we should be people of wonder. We should never take for granted the world around us in all of its beauty and complexity. We should never forget how all that is comes from the hand of God. If God is Lover then we should love in return. If God has given God’s very self for our salvation then our response is to take that love and match it with our own so that we can testify with our love in the lives we live. And if God is Keeper, we should always be people of hope, for God will never give up on us. God will never dismiss or forget us. There will always be a future because God keeps what God has made.
Is our one God, Father Son and Spirit? Of course, but, God can also be Maker, Lover, and Keeper. And if God can be named in that way, we should be people of wonder and hope, loving God back with all of our strength.
May 27, 2018
Today’s gospel is the last passage in the gospel of Matthew. It is the only time in Matthew that the apostles see the risen Christ. It is a beautiful story. Jesus appears to them, and they worship him. But there is one sour note in this passage. It tells us that the apostles not only worshipped Jesus, they also doubted.
Now why are the apostles doubting? What are the apostles doubting? It is not likely that they are doubting Jesus’ resurrection because they can see the risen Lord with their own eyes. It is more likely that they are doubting what Jesus does next. What the risen Jesus does next is send the apostles to proclaim the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth. He sends them to show others by their words and by their deeds the reality of God’s love. The apostles have reason to doubt the success of that mission, because they know they are weak. There are only eleven of them because one of the twelve, Judas, betrayed the Lord. Peter stands among the eleven but he is very conscious that he denied Jesus three times. All the disciples remember how out of fear they abandoned Jesus and fled during his suffering. No wonder the disciples doubt Jesus’ choice to entrust the kingdom to them.
Like the disciples we too can doubt Jesus’ choice to entrust the kingdom to us. For, like the eleven, Jesus sends us out into the world to proclaim the goodness of God’s love. Some of us can remember times when we were angry with God, and for a while let go of our faith. Some of us can think of times when we saw someone being belittled or harassed because of his or her race, religion or background, and we did nothing—perhaps even joined in. All of us know that God has given us gifts. Yet we can think of times when we had the opportunity to use the gifts to support someone who was struggling or in need, and we chose our own comfort and security instead. Like the disciples we have reason to doubt. We wonder, “Can I be a good example to my children, and pass on my faith to them? Do I have the courage to be a witness in the workplace, showing others what I believe by my fairness and integrity? Will I have the strength to witness to others in my community that I believe that God is real and that I serve God by serving others?”
The doubts we have about Jesus’ choice of us are real. This is why Jesus ends the gospel of Matthew with a promise. “Behold, I am with you always.” Jesus does not tell us that our doubt is unfounded. Jesus does not dismiss our weakness as an illusion. Jesus does not promise that we will never fail. What he promises is that he will be with us always—with us in our doubt, with us in our flaws, with us in our weakness. Christ’s presence can compensate for our flaws. Christ’s strength can overcome our weakness. If Christ is with us, then even with our doubts we can go forth and proclaim God’s love to our world.