Anything but random

So if Trinity Sunday isn't an interruption, what is it?

The Old Testament shows us God the Father. The New Testament shows us Jesus. And Jesus explains (repeatedly) his relationship with God the Father. So far so good. 

Then the Holy Spirit shows up. 

If we think of Pentecost as nothing but part of the whole Easter-Ascension-Pentecost thing, it can make the Holy Spirit seem kind of random.

But there's more to Pentecost than just its place as part of the Easter season. And the Holy Spirit is anything but random. 

Making this clear? It’s one of the reasons for Trinity Sunday.

More on this tomorrow.

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On or off

It’s easy to fall into “all-or-nothing” thinking. Of seeing things as either one thing. Or another.

Of treating everything like a light switch. Either it’s on. Or it’s off.

Most of us do it as a matter of habit. We treat that “either-or” thinking like it was a universal truth - if you like this thing, then you must automatically hate some other thing.

We even do it to people. Usually without really thinking about it, we act like “if you’re not for us, then you’re against us.”

Jesus turns that way of thinking upside down. Instead of over-simplifying things (and people), our Maker understands that not everything or everyone is quite so “black-and-white.”

Jesus comes at it this way - “whoever is not against us is for us.”

Asking us to look at things (and people) not in terms of what isn’t right, but in terms of what is right. Not to ignore what is truly wrong. But calling us to make common cause with what is right.

Seeking out the good. Even if it’s less than perfect.

Jesus is calling us to see each other the way that He sees each of us.

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Interruptions mean different things.

The channel just changed in the middle of your show? It means your 4-year old niece has found the remote. You can’t click through a video? It means the advertiser spent some serious money to get your attention.  

Starting all the way back with Advent, there's been a flow to the readings.

Whether it's a one-off moment or a longer story, all or it fits into a larger narrative. For months, everything's had this "and-here's-what-happened-next" rhythm. 

And then there's Trinity. 

At first glance, it feels random. Like it was just kind of thrown in. Like an interruption. 

But sometimes an interruption isn't really an interruption. 

More on this tomorrow.

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Taking the next step

We all drive at night, even though we can’t see our ultimate destination 20 miles away. Instead, we are so used to driving in that little patch of road that our headlights light up, that we don’t even think about the fact that we can only see 100 feet at a time in our 20-mile trip.

Without even thinking about it, we take that first 100-foot step, and then another 100-foot step, and then another 100-foot step. And we know that as long as we keep doing what we need to do, 100 feet at a time, we will get where we want to go. We take the step, because we trust that it’s going to get us there. Even though we can’t see our final destination just right now.

Which is exactly what’s behind Pentecost, what’s behind the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God knows where we’re going.  God has the big picture, for each and every one of us.  There is nothing that will ever happen to you will cause God to say, “boy, I didn’t see that coming.”

God also knows each of us well enough to know that you and I can’t handle the big picture. But instead of giving up on us, God loves us enough to give it to us in a way that we can handle. One step at a time. Trusting Him to provide everything we need for the next hundred feet.

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A Moment before Pentecost

Graduations are full of mixed signals. You graduate, because you've finished what you were doing. But the official recognition of finishing is called "commencement." Which means to start.

Somehow, it's the end and the beginning. At the same time.

Pentecost ends the Easter season. While it has its own meaning, that meaning is also part of something bigger that includes the Resurrection and the Ascension.

The Resurrection and the Ascension complete much of what Easter started. Everything that Jesus told the Apostles would happen with his death? It all comes into focus. But it's also clear that the Ascension isn't the last word.

Pentecost is the last word. At least as far as Easter is concerned. 

Now we know what Jesus meant about receiving the Holy Spirit. But it's also the start of something that's never been seen before.

Pentecost is the end and the beginning.

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A regular thing

I always thought of Pentecost as a one-time thing. And a complete surprise. Which doesn’t track with Sunday’s first reading. It starts with - “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,…” 

That makes it sound like it was a regular thing.

Like everyone had gotten an invite from Andrew. “Peter and I are doing Pentecost at his place. John’s bringing his famous hummus. See you Sunday.”

Actually, that’s kind of right. Because before there was Pentecost, there was Pentecost.

That is, “Pentecost” is the Greek name for Shavuot. In Jesus’ time, Shavuot was one of the three travelling festivals. Where everyone would go to Jerusalem.

Which is why they were all together in one place. For Pentecost. But the Pentecost they got wasn’t the Pentecost they were expecting.

More on this tomorrow.

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One of the most amazing things to see is joy.

I don’t know whether we just get good at hiding it as we get older. Or if we don’t have that much of it. But it’s not something we see a lot as adults.

Kids, on the other hand? They seem to have a lot of it. And they don’t bother to hide it.

I have a friend who teaches kindergarten. She’ll tell you that seeing the joy of the kids talking about whatever it is they’re sharing – and seeing the joy in other kids’ reactions – it’s why she has very specific rules for what they can bring. And why she puts up with the chaos of show-and-tell.

Today’s Gospel gives away the secret of the Church.

The Church is a chaotic mess. And at the same moment, the Church has very specific rules. But neither the chaos, nor the rules, are what the Church is really about.

Both of them - the chaos and the rules - are in service of something much greater.

It’s the Church’s way of setting you up. The Church is setting you up for the secret behind the chaos and the rules. For the point of every prayer. And every sacrament.

Sharing completely in the joy of the One who loves you best.

When you do, don’t bother to hide it.

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It amazes me that you can make new words in German. Just by putting together other words.

Even after it’s done, you can still see the old words. As the parts of the new word. Seeing those words tells you that there’s more to the new word than just the sum of its parts.

This Sunday is Pentecost.

Like Easter and the Ascension - the other big days of the Easter season - there’s a lot going on with Pentecost. And, just like Easter and the Ascension, Pentecost has its own special meaning.

But Pentecost isn’t an isolated or random thing. It’s also part of a greater whole that includes Easter and the Ascension.

What started with Easter isn’t finished until Pentecost.  

And there really ought to be a word for that.

More on this tomorrow.

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Going to Starbucks

I have a friend who really likes coffee. Dunkin Donuts’ coffee. For her, it’s Dunkin or nothing.

Which is why I was surprised to see her sitting in Starbucks.

“I thought you didn’t like Starbucks.”

     “I don’t.”

“Then why are you here?”

     “I’m meeting a friend. She likes Starbucks.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “you are my friends if you do what I command you.”

A lot of people hear a condition in those words. A grade school “I-won’t-like-you-if-you-don’t-do-it-my-way.” I get why the translation would make it seem like that. But it’s not what Jesus meant.

The real sense of it? It’s all part of what Jesus means when He says “I have called you friends.”

It’s what all of us do for our friends and those we love. We do what we do, because they’re the people who matter most to us.

It’s about understanding that this is exactly the kind of relationship that God wants to have with each of us. And treating God just like we would treat anyone else who really matters to us.

Even if that means going to Starbucks.

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A Moment before the Ascension of the Lord

After the emotional high of Easter, things just seem a little unsettled. It’s nothing bad. It’s just…well…uncertain.

There’s something else coming. 

In Sunday’s first reading, Jesus refers to something that John the Baptist said. About the one coming after him, that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

From what Jesus is saying, it’s clear that it’s time for this to happen.

But before this can happen, something else has to happen first.

And that something is the focus of both the first reading and the Gospel. 

In addition to everything else, the Ascension shows us (as if the Resurrection wasn’t enough) that Jesus is who he says he is.

And that what we are waiting for will be more than worth the wait.

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Bad things happen. People let us down. We fail.

And when things don’t turn out the way we hoped, it’s easy to get disappointed.

To get that gnawing feeling that something is wrong. An unspoken certainty that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Too often, the advice we get for dealing with that feeling goes something like this: “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

It sounds kind of Gospel-ish, but it’s not.

The real answer for dealing with that feeling is an actual Gospel. Today’s Gospel.

And it’s not about having no expectations. It’s about where to put those expectations.

If we expect bad things not to happen, if we expect people to not let us down, if we expect that we won’t fail, then we’re setting ourselves up. For disappointment after disappointment.

But if we expect it to all work out in God’s way. In God’s time. We’ll never be disappointed.

How do we do that? By putting our trust where our expectations need to be. In God.

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About to happen

Advent and Christmas come before Ascension and Pentecost. 

And you’re thinking, “You’ve really got that whole calendar thing down. I bet you can tie your own shoes too.”

No, really. Advent and Christmas come before Ascension and Pentecost - not just in the sense that December comes before May. But in the sense that Advent and Christmas tell us what to expect for Ascension and Pentecost.

The promise that Jesus talks about in Sunday’s first reading? Think of all the John the Baptist readings back in Advent. It’s what John the Baptist said the one coming after him would do.

Why bring it up now?

Because it’s about to happen.

More on this tomorrow.

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Share the load

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I can’t remember where I heard that for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it. Or how many people I’ve heard it from.

It gets said with the best of intentions. But it’s not helpful. Because it’s just not true.

God doesn’t sit there measuring out problems just for me. Making sure that I get my fair share. But not more than I can handle.

If you think about Good Friday - just for half a second - then you know that’s wrong. And completely foreign to the heart of God.

Problems will come. And keep coming. The truth is that it’s not about how much you or I can handle. Not by ourselves.

Because if we’re His, then we won’t be bearing it alone.

And if you are His, then the simple truth is more like this. “God won’t give you more than He can handle.”

Which leaves just this question – are you willing to share the load?

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Not settled

After Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday is kind of an emotional explosion.

Sadness, despair, and grief. All give way to rejoicing, relief, and celebration. In the Church’s year, it’s the high point. But not the end point. 

A few weeks into the Easter season, you start to notice something. Something that was always there. Something that was hard to spot during the fireworks of Easter. 

There’s movement. And uncertainty. This is going somewhere, but just where isn’t clear. Not yet anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful, it’s why we have a living hope. But it’s not settled. There’s something else going on here.

More on this tomorrow.

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Life's heartaches

One of the great misunderstandings that people have about Christianity is the idea that it gets you out of the problems of life.

Almost an unspoken assumption that if you are a Christian, bad things will not happen to you.

As if God were some sort of divine vending machine. Insert prayer, avoid the heartaches of life. Go to Mass, get all of your problems miraculously solved.

I’m not sure where that idea comes from. Wherever it came from, it doesn’t come from the Bible. Or lived experience.

Think of the lives of the great saints. Not the ones with churches named after them. The ones you know personally.

Their lives are almost the reverse of that unspoken assumption. For them, life’s heartaches are a call to prayer. And life’s problems are an occasion of God’s grace.

Not because everything magically is easy for them. Or because nothing bad ever happens to them.

But because they know Who to turn to when life’s worst hits home.

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A Moment before the 6th Sunday of Easter

The readings for the Easter season show us the impact of the Resurrection.

It starts on Easter Sunday. With the Resurrection itself. The first readings after Easter detail that impact.

It starts off slowly, then it spreads. Beginning with those closest to Jesus, it moves uncertainly. With the Resurrection impacting different people in different ways.

When it finally comes in contact with people outside of that small group, suddenly it goes viral. People who never knew Jesus are being changed by the impact of the Resurrection. Sunday’s first reading shows us just how far that impact will spread.

And Sunday’s Gospel? It shows exactly what is at the heart of that impact.

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Conditional love

This Sunday’s Gospel is the back half of last Sunday’s Gospel.

Last Sunday, Jesus tells about the closeness He wants to have with each of us. Using the visual of vines and branches. That Gospel ends with Jesus talking about bearing fruit and being disciples. 

It’s an image that some people misunderstand.

It leaves some people with the idea that they have to “earn it.” That there’s something they have to do. Or not do. Or Jesus won’t love them. 

Which really isn’t love at all. 

And it’s not how Jesus works. This Sunday’s Gospel tells us how Jesus really works. 

The way that Jesus says it is so gentle. It’s easy to miss that it’s also a rebuke - of any idea of “earning it.” 

This is anything but conditional love. 

More on this tomorrow.

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When my dog Leo was a puppy, he chewed on everything. Literally.

Not just the usual, like shoes, books, and toys. But anything he could get a hold of. Including a porch railing. It's not like he didn't have rawhides and chew toys. He just had other ideas about what needed chewing.

So it probably shouldn't have surprised me when he chewed through the root of the grapevine on my back fence.

At first, you couldn't tell anything had happened. For a few days, the vine looked so good I started thinking there might be a second root.

Then the weather went from cool to hot. And the whole thing wilted. Fast. Because it was it cut off.

Kind of like when we cut ourselves off from God. Whether we do it dramatically or quietly, with a sudden breach or a slow drift, it's kind of the same thing.

At first, there's no difference. We're still us. We're okay.

Until things heat up. And we learn the hard way what it's like not to have roots.

Don't get me wrong, life's troubles will come. No matter what. The only question is whether we'll be well-rooted in God when they come.

Or if we'll try to face them cut off.

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Not on the list

Imagine an expensive restaurant. The most exclusive restaurant you’ve ever been to. Picture it in your mind. 

The one I’m thinking about – it’s even more exclusive.

It’s an amazing and incredible place. But you have to get reservations months in advance.  There are no prices on the menu - if you have to ask, you can’t afford. 

My odds of ever dining there? Let’s just say, my name’s not on the list.

So what does that have to do with Sunday’s first reading? It’s kind of the feeling that the Gentiles had when they found out about the Gospel. About Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

It’s amazing. Incredible. Life-altering. But not for them. Their name’s not on the list. 

And that’s the backstory for Sunday’s first reading.

More on this tomorrow.

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A constant theme in the readings after Easter is the impact of the Resurrection. How it ripples out from Easter Sunday and into the world. 

Looking at the first readings over the last Sundays, you can see a pattern.

It starts out with those closest to Jesus. Both individual disciples and groups of them.

Next it moves out to the crowds who were at the Crucifixion. And even those who worked to have Jesus crucified. 

Then it moves beyond people who experienced Jesus before the Crucifixion, to people like Saul.  

And this Sunday’s first reading?  It shows us just how far that impact will go.

More on this tomorrow.

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