This past weekend, I preached the homily at my Catholic Church, Sts. Clare and Francis. The text is below, as well as the video of me preaching. It is based on the scripture below, from John 8:1-11:
"Then each went to his own house, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them,“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
This is one of my favorite poems of all time—Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. I first heard it, emptied out in the final resting pose of a yoga class, in my early 20s when I was living in Dallas. It was a time in my life when I was desperately needing to know I belonged. When I was being faced with a story, a way of life that just didn’t fit with my soul. I needed to know there was another way, a different story.
I also discovered the poet Rumi around this time. He has a line in a poem that reads, “Out beyond all ideas of wrong doing and right doing… there is a field… I’ll meet you there.” My soul soaked in this message of unity, of non-duality, that somehow there could be, no right or wrong, but just being. Just belonging.
When I sit with the readings this week, this is the message jumping out at me—a new story being written by Jesus in the midst of the old. A new story that is really an old story, an ancient one, one in the hearts of the people of God and in the soil of the earth, just one long forgotten. Jesus RE-news this story. It is a story of belonging, a story of unity, a story of connection.
Jesus embodied this seemingly new story, this new way of being that was really so old, so ancient, written into his bones and his blood and his Judaism, in the way that he lived and moved and had his being in the Divine Oneness. Yet it seemed so radical, ushered in such a new way that in the end, he was killed for this way of being. Yet he calls us to be like this, to embody this way too, to live this old story of unity and belonging in new ways of being that too might shock and wake up our culture today, more than 2,000 years later.
When first looking at today’s gospel, it seems like there are two very different things happening.
There is an old story, a story of forgetting, a story of Empire, happening. And there is Jesus’ way, this ‘new’ way of being rooted in the most ancient truth… a story of belonging and unity, tracking and I would say, breaking through the old.
The old way, the way of forgetting who we are, is represented by the scribes and the Pharisees. In some ways, they embody many throughout the story of salvation history up until today, those who have worshiped at the altar of the false idols of power, prestige and privilege, who have forgotten God’s promises and instead, tried to make themselves god. They believe there is a way things are supposed to be done, a game you play and a belonging you earn. They have set up a false system of hierarchies, competition, exclusivity and otherness that many of the people of God do not and cannot fit into. Empire in this way is formed by false narratives of belonging, and it creates otherness—you can’t have an emperor or a high priest without others who are not.
In this moment they are trying to trap this Jesus who simply refuses to play by their rules, and to do so they are using a vulnerable woman. They care nothing for her—their focus is totally on taking down this person claiming authority and threatening their fragile ego structures.
Jesus knows this, he smells it, and I would say, he grieves it. I’m sure it also inflamed him with anger—people with great power using a defenseless woman for their own agenda and gain. Yet what Jesus does is truly amazing.
First, he does not engage the drama. He does not play their game. They come at him, pointing an accusing finger and expecting scandal. Aha!—they got him at last! Instead (I imagine with a deep breath) Jesus moves close to the earth…he touches the body of the earth, the ground of this place and of who he is… he raises no finger, and instead, makes one simple statement. With few words, he shines a light on the thread of union connecting one heart to the next. In one nonviolent gesture, he exposes the utter unity of humanity, the Oneness of all things. He respects the dignity of every person there. He sees into each heart and recognizes the ancient story of God’s love written there. He so embodies the belonging of God, the unitive vision —that everyone is ushered into it.
No one is able to cast a stone because everyone realizes that THEY ARE NOT SEPARATE. Through his words and his presence, they feel the web of life connecting everyone. Suddenly they see— there is no other. She is me. I am her. I am Him. He is me. I am You. You are Me.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor WHO IS YOURSELF.
How does Jesus do this? … He is so operating from his understanding of the Living God, he is so ROOTED in this way of being that he embodies it fully. In Aramaic, the language Jesus would have most commonly spoken and taught in, there is a word for God that Jesus would have known deeply and used frequently. This word is ALAHA, which translates to, “The Oneness.” A large part of this word’s meaning, like many Aramaic words and concepts, would have come from the way it sounded, the way it resonated in Jesus’ body and in all those listening. You can feel it yourself, just speaking the word slowly—AHHH LAAA HAAA. One-ness. Unity within. Unity without.
Jesus lived and breathed and had his entire being in this Oneness, this Unitive Love.
And so, in this way of being, in this new story of Oneness, to throw a stone at her, to kill her, for the crowd gathered, would have been to kill themselves. From this place of union, where everyone and everything belongs, and there is no other, no one can harm her. It would be harming themselves. No one can condemn her. It would be condemning themselves.
And maybe they didn’t leave, one by one, angry and frustrated, having ‘lost the game’ as is so often portrayed. Maybe it wasn’t just the woman who was left, as St. Augustine says, with “the incarnation of Mercy.” Maybe EVERYONE there was left defenseless and stupefied because they realized—if she is forgiven, so are we. If she is loved, so are we. If she is given life in every way, so are we. If this Oneness, this total Mercy, is for one soul, maybe… it is for all.
Maybe it is all and only MERCY. All and only LOVE. All and only BELONGING. All and only ONE. All and only GOD.
See the old story here, my friends, both in Jesus’ day, and very much still perpetuated today, the old story of Empire says that some can belong and some never will. It says that some ways of being – whiteness, maleness, straightness, holiness, richness—are better than others, like being a person of color, female, queer, or poor. It says that there is an other, and if I don’t spend my time trying to compete, compare, contrast and control the other that somehow I won’t be enough or have enough. WE HAVE TO LET THIS OLD STORY DIE, TO LET IT GO. It so limits who God is and what God has always been doing in our midst—ushering us into overwhelming mercy, utter belonging, abundant life and total unitive love. Our only limit to that abundant life, to that connection with every heart on this planet, is ourselves, the stories we tell and choose to live into.
Jesus came to tell us the most ancient of stories, to re-new the Way that is woven into every part of the fabric of history, even when humanity has forgotten…it is the story of the Creator, the Oneness, in whose Divine Image we are made… the story constantly reflected in the Beauty and rhythms of the natural world. It’s a story that says, everything, everything belongs. Everything is forgiven. Everything is Love. Everything is ONE. A story that says New Life is always coming to be. That story is calling to us, my friends, “over and over, like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, announcing your place in the family of things.”
“How can this be?… Let it be done unto me.” – Mary, in Luke 1:34,38
As the dark of advent gives way to the light of Christmas, as we remember our ancestral celebrations of solstice, honoring the incremental stretch of longer days and the almost perfect balance of light and dark, I am struck by the paradox of this time of year.
In so many ways, Christmas is a paradox, a both/and, a Mystery that holds much. It is a paradox at the heart of what it means to be human.
Mary in one breath says “how can this be?” AND “let it be.” Her ability to hold this tremendous both/and ushers in a shift in consciousness—the Christ—that continues to challenge us and call us to more. She births the first Incarnation, and models how each of us might continue to birth the consciousness, and life, of Christ into the world.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew people are waiting for the king of the world, a savior, one to lead them into military, social and religious victory. He comes as a tiny, vulnerable, poor thing screeching alongside animals because his young, traveling parents couldn’t find any other place to stay.
His birth is news of great rejoicing for some, a long-awaited cause for celebration. For others, it leads to fear and plans of violence.
Poor field workers and foreign dignitaries alike come to pay their respects to this tiny child.
The prophets of his arrival are not the expected—Elizabeth, an older pregnant woman, with her “Hail Mary” and the child leaping within her womb. Zechariah, old and dumb until he finds his voice and his faith. Joseph’s dreams and random angels and visionaries from far away.
Mary, after who knows how long a labor, musters everything she has in her teenage self and in a wash of blood and water pushes out this child that we now say is God AND Human. She was truly the first priest, the first to proclaim the words, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” Perhaps there was a midwife presiding over this first Eucharist, perhaps it was the animals themselves, or Joseph. The birth song, the first song of praise, certainly, was a womanly roar of pain and the tears of life and relief.
“How can this be? … Let it be done unto me.”
I am amazed that central to this Christian story, central at this moment, this beginning of a faith that has held sway over politics, culture and everyday life in many parts of the world for over 2,000 years now, at its heart is Mystery and paradox. There is nothing certain or powerful (in the common understanding of power) or convenient about this moment. Incarnation, Jesus, this central theological and spiritual principle, happened like this—in blood and water and dirt, from the body of a woman, surrounded by unlikely characters who didn’t know, really, what was happening or what they were supposed to do about it. It was a lot of unknown and yet, a central certainty. It was a time of rejoicing, the release of great joy, and yet, too, the contractions of fear and poverty. The expectation was a worldly ruler, an earthly king and yet… alongside the animals and in the dirt of the earth, something else seemed to be happening, something unknown and somehow, quietly magnificent. Like when Mary said “yes” tentatively to the angel Gabriel, the future still loomed ahead as a giant blank slate.
Christmas in many ways has become something fairly disconnected from what happened all those years ago. Even reminders of “Jesus is the reason for the season” doesn’t really come close to what’s at the heart of this day, because so much of Christianity lives from a place pretty removed from the essence of the Incarnation, which IS what Christmas is all about.
From the time Jesus was born, we start praising him, and forgetting that he is the embodiment of what we are to become. Jesus paves the way, for all of us to follow. And the way of the Incarnation, of Christmas reality, is this: we are each of us, in our own unique and blessed way, called to birth the Christ—the spirit of love and life—into the world. We are to do this with courage and with faith, held in the Spirit of the Living God, as Jesus was. We are called to do this in the fullness of our humanity, THROUGH our humanity, in and of all the questions and quirks and mistakes of our life. We are called to this task IN our fleshiness, in these bodies, knowing we are sanctified, knowing God dwells HERE—on the earth, in these particular bodies and lives. This is the Mystery of the Incarnation. That God has a body, that it is good, and further, that WE are that body, now, on earth. God first took the form of Jesus, a tiny child born to Mary and Joseph, and through his life and death and ultimately, ongoing eternal life, we are ALL called to do the same. We are called to live as if our one small life is sanctified and holy, because it is. We are called to live the central truth of Christianity—that we are, in the entirety of us, made in the image and likeness of God. That the Divine is, indeed, coming to dwell in human form—on that day all those years ago, and today, and tomorrow—in me, and in you, and in all of humanity.
“How can this be?… Let it be done unto me!”
Like Mary, we might wonder how this can be so—how can my one, small, seemingly insignificant life mirror and reflect the vast life of God? We have so much going on inside of us, all the time—so much humanness. It can feel far away to imagine ourselves into the image and likeness of God. We feel confused, often, and afraid. We stumble along, encountering others and parts of ourselves that we don’t really like or know what to do with. We face situations in life that feel unlivable, insurmountable. Yet we keep living, we keep saying yes by our waking up in the morning and doing what needs to be done. In the unknown, somehow, we choose love or faith or hope or some mix of these. We venture out, into the dark, the unknown, unto the course of our life without really knowing anything. We do the best we can, in faith.
This is exactly what our cast of characters were doing all those years ago—Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the kings who traveled far to visit the child. They were all stepping forward into the unknown, into great darkness, with faith, to praise this child, God-come-among-them, because it meant something that would change their own identity forever. They knew they would never be the same, no matter how uncertain the circumstances of their life. They knew that in the mess and the mistakes, somehow, Love was there.
So it is in our human life—Love is here. Let us remember that it is HERE, that the Incarnation is happening, the Christ is coming to be—in you, and in me. It’s not going to happen in an abstract way. It’s going to happen through the mess and context of our lives, the choices we make, and the way we show up, even when we think we have no idea what to do. Let us continue to bring Love to birth, to Incarnate Goodness with our lives.