Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Great Provider

 “Happy Father’s Day” to the fathers among the various  gathered community and especially to those who are still in their prime time of discharging this important role of fatherhood.  I am just so glad that we continue to have this special day of honoring this special group of individuals.

I realize that some of these individuals have failed in the discharge of their parental duties and therefore most people think they are not quite deserving of whatever accolade the rest of the fathers are afforded on this very day. While that scenario looks sad and undeniably so, the truth is that it’s part of the reality out there; just as  on the other end of the pendulum there are other fathers who actually go beyond their expected role of fatherhood, as a result of their spouses having abandoned the equally important role of motherhood.

But traditionally, on this day, we call to remembrance those fathers who have carried out or are currently carrying out their duty as “provider” in the arena of parenthood.  And they do this exceptionally well especially with the help of and in partnership with their wives.

I used the word “traditionally” mainly because in times past, it was the father who took on the role of the “provider”. A typical scenario would be that Dad was the breadwinner in the family. He leaves for work with his lunch box already prepared by the loving and caring wife who stays home and takes care of the children. At the end of Dad’s workday, he first drops by with his buddies at the local watering hole and then comes home and enjoys supper with his family, again prepared by the wife. This pattern gets repeated for a few more days in the week.

This is the “ideal” dad, the best “Provider”, who gets honored on Father’s Day. Sounds familiar? Those of you who have no clue as to what I’m talking about must be truly younger than those who nodded their heads and gave the impression that they do.

Sadly, such arrangement has now become a kind of an artifact, a thing of the past in most cases, since it does not “hold water” anymore. Single parenthood is not an uncommon scenario when we talk of modern day parenthood. There are many, many cases of parenthood being borne by one parent fulfilling both roles. Hence, in today’s celebration, I also recognize and honor the mothers and others who had acted as fathers to children. They are living witnesses to the reality that being a “provider” is no longer the monopoly of the fathers.

I think I have said enough about the role of provider both being “traditionally” assigned to fathers as well as being fulfilled nowadays by mothers or in ideal situations, assigned to both parents. And so, to all who have fulfilled that role of “providers”, Happy Father’s Day and I hope nobody disagrees with the intent of such congratulations.

Moving on, let me continue by saying that the gospel lesson in today’s readings, undoubtedly, is among the familiar ones in all of Scripture. It contains two sets of parables or stories, which, while relatively shorter as compared to other stories in the Bible, are so powerful in themselves and have inspired so many people of faith through the centuries. They are stories that have something to do with the aforementioned role of “provider”.

Listen to them once more and see if you could spot their allusion to the concept of provider.

Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.” He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”  (Mark 4:26-32 CEB)

Short but very pregnant stories; so loaded with serious implications in life. The first story is a gentle reminder of the often-neglected truth that God is indeed the “Great Provider”.

As I have repeatedly noted in previous homilies, our common tendency is to assume and claim ownership or hold dominion over things or people around us. At times we get so successful in doing so without regard to other people’s dignity and we perpetuate it almost as a norm. In no time we are led to believe that the “blessings and comforts” we enjoy are due to us and not from this Great Provider. Many follow this path but that’s just not right!

Jesus’ story, of how the Kingdom of God is being compared to a farmer sowing seeds that live and thrive on their own and get ready to be harvested, points us to the presence and generosity of the Great Provider, the All Merciful and Loving Father of us all.

We must never forget that every good thing that we experience in this journey we call life – even those that come about through our own efforts, is only but a reflection of God’s goodness and power, never ours.  Whatever good we are able to do or whatever qualities we possess are possible and exist only because our God, the Great Provider, made that to happen. 

Each of us only has a certain kind of “importance” and “worth” not because God has singled us out or exalted us as individuals over others, but because we are created out of God’s love and formed in God’s image.

Jesus used this parable to illustrate what the “Kingdom of God” could like. Taken in the sense of God as the Great Provider, we can then say that the Kingdom of God will see its final coming only when we cease or stop making that erroneous claim that things are what they are because of our inventiveness and ingenuity.

And we’re not quite there yet, to be honest. Perhaps, one reason why Jesus included the phrase “thy kingdom come” in the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is to encourage us to be relentless in our asking of that time when we could honestly claim that everything we have and enjoy is not because of our own doing but comes forth only from the Great Provider.

The second story in our gospel lesson is the famous Parable of the Mustard Seed. Needless to say, we have heard this story so many times and on those occasions, our attention was drawn to the particulars of “smallness”.

I recall being always awed by how this “smallness” could transform into “big-ness” making my mind wander off into the world of “how can it be” as in wondering how can it turn into this big tree when the seed is so small. I’ve passed that stage already and I now dwell instead more on the area of  “so what good is this big-ness”.

With this questioning stance, the emphasis of the story shifts. Now the focus is not just in the mystery of how “smallness” gets transformed into “big-ness” but on what happens because of that “big-ness”.

This is where the concept of  “provider” gets upped another notch. The mustard seed, the smallest of the seeds that a local Palestinian farmer could have sown by then, grows big enough to provide nesting comfort for birds in the area. It’s something that happens as a result of this “bigness” that has emanated from something so small.

The shift happens in a unique way.

 In the first story, we easily look at “provision” to be like a blessing that is received. And we assign this role to the Great Provider. In the second story, we look at “provision” as a blessing that is given and this is one role that happens when the “seed” of faith that has been planted in us grows “big”. In this sense, those of us who have received blessings become blessings for others.

As to the prayer that “thy kingdom come”, we again are reminded that this will only come to pass when we ourselves shall have become “providers”, blessing others with what I call their “nesting comforts” in their personal lives in the community they live in.

That is the role that often generates some notes of nostalgia whenever we celebrate Father’s Day. We miss those times when our fathers showered us with tokens of their role as “providers” for their families.

I miss my dad’s unique ways of providing us with his version on “nesting comforts”. Just like a typical father, my dad was the assumed breadwinner of the family but in reality, he shared this role with my Mom. They both helped each other provide us with a decent home and an opportunity to pursue studies in good learning institutions.

As a clergyman, my father’s role of being a “provider” leaned more towards providing me and my siblings with good Christian values; shaping me with healthy spiritual formation and developing love and respect for the family.

Looking back to those early formative years, I could truly regard them as my transformation from “smallness” to “big-ness”; forging a growth into something which has enabled me to provide my own family with my own version of “nesting comforts”. I would always pay my deepest respect and admiration to a man who learned from the Great Provider, allowed the seed of faith to germinate in his life and learned to give to others the blessings he received himself. Such was the father I wish I could still greet “Happy Father’s Day”.

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, the mission field around us is so rich and fertile for the seeds of faith to grow. We could engage ourselves into becoming active participants in planting seeds to that field perhaps beginning in our family circle. Let us continue to fulfill that role of “providers” not so much in terms of material comfort but more in the areas of caring and nurturing of the values we hope to ripen for some good harvesting.

God indeed is the Great Provider and we can do a similar job of continuing his work in the mission field of our choosing.  

So let’s start small and let God, the Great Provider do the rest.  Who knows what we might grow into?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hide and Seek

Back in the time when it was not unusual for neighborhood kids to gather together and literally “play games”, the one that was quite popular was  “Hide and Seek”. Remember those days?

Amidst our diversity, perhaps, that one game could be the one thread that weaves through our varied cultural “yarns” of memorable yesteryears. That game has been played practically all over the world and I’m sure we all have played a version of that game at one point in our life.

And while we’re on that subject, I wonder which part did you like better. I suppose it was the “hiding” part, right? I myself hated those times when I got to be the “It” especially when I end up doing it for several rounds. I just couldn’t fugure where those rascals were. Obviously, the “hiding” part was the best one. You agree? We became so creative in finding those tight places the “It” would most likely not figure out!

Hide and Seek! Quite a game, indeed!

What is so intriguing about this “Hide and Seek” game is that it has actually ceased to be a mere child’s game. Full grown adults have not outgrown this game; it has become so much a part of their nature; the “hiding” part especially. So, for our reflection today, I’d like us to revisit a version of this “game” and see how everyone has learned to play it in real life. Hopefully, my reflection will also help us see its application in our spiritual life as we “hide” because of our sin and how God “seeks” us, because of His grace.

This version of “Hide and Seek” traces its beginnings back to the great story of Adam and Eve found in the second Creation Story in the Book of Genesis. Yes, you heard me right; there are two different Creation stories.

In the second Creation Story we read of how Adam was created; placed in the Garden of Eden, with the specific instructions that he could have any fruit in the garden except for the forbidden fruit. The story includes how God created other companions for Adam; like birds and small animals but when Adam felt so alone, God formed Eve out of Adam’s rib and was made to be Adam’s mate. The chapter ends by saying that they (Adam and Eve) were both naked but were not bothered by it.

The first seven verses of the third chapter tell us how the serpent began to suggest to Eve that what God warned them about was not really true. Instead, that they will become wiser and could be like God. And Eve took the first bite and gave it to Adam who ate it too and both committed the very first willful disobedience of God’s command; sin.

 Our Old Testament lesson for this Sunday brings us to that point where Adam and Eve had just eaten of the forbidden fruit and something went wrong.

“During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees.” (Genesis 3:8 CEB)

Thus was how this “Hide and Seek” game all began. Adam and Eve “hid” from God in order to conceal their nakedness, an issue that has not bothered the two prior to their eating of the forbidden fruit.

And yet, something about its grave implications leads us to regard it to be more than just a game. It had more to do with how a faithful relationship was about to be severed. It had more to do with having offended God. It had something to do with that willful disobedience we call Sin.

God, continuing his leisurely walk and presumably not finding Adam and Eve from their usual hangout corner in the Garden, asks them: “Where are you?”

Now, unlike in our own childhood version of the game “Hide and Seek” where we keep so quiet we could almost hear our own heartbeat, in this case, Adam and Eve actually divulged their location by their “telling” God of the reason they are in hiding. It was because they are “naked”.

That’s not, however, the real reason why they went into hiding! The Omniscient One already knew it. But God wants to confirm this; and so God questions them further. It is at this juncture when Adam and Eve played another game. It’s called the “Blame Game”, a more damaging enterprise where one’s culpability is passed on to someone other than the real culprit.

And this was how Adam laid out his argument: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Notice how Adam tries to transfer culpability to Eve. Adam now says that it’s Eve’s fault but by adding “The woman YOU PUT HERE” what Adam is really saying is, “It’s your fault, God. You put the woman here with me.”

Adam does not only play the “Hide and Seek” game – hiding from accountability but also “blames” the whole losing game on someone else, Eve, who, in turn, blames the snake – it’s the snake’s fault. Adam and Eve are now caught up in both games “Hide and Seek” and “Blame Game” – hiding from accountability and “blaming” the fault to someone else.
Adam and Eve are now trapped in the self-destructive pattern of hiding from God, and trying to argue their way out of trouble. But with God – this kind of thing does not work – it will only lead them to their fall.

This “passing” of the proverbial “buck” is often viewed with an air of nonchalance. It’s like saying, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just a story. Who cares?”

The more I think of it, the more I get concerned that there are actually more of those who find affinity with this kind of attitude and if that is the case, may I suggest then that, perhaps, they take another look at it; for by doing so, they’ll realize that this whole business of “Hide and Seek” and “Blame Game” actually allude to how our world pretty much behaves nowadays.

Like our first parents Adam and Eve, we try to hide from our accountability by playing the “Blame Game” as well. For example, some people would say: “It’s not my fault that my Ego is so bloated,” and then adds: “In our world today, you have to look out for number one.” In other words, it’s the world’s fault that he has turned out to be selfish and egocentric.

Another example might sound something like this. “It’s not my fault that I said those nasty things to my wife. I had a hard day at work.”  See how the blame is being transferred? He’s not responsible for the hurtful words he mouthed off. It’s really the workplace’s fault. Not him. Had the workplace not given him a bad day, things would have been different.

In a different and more serious sense, there are many people today who are playing the “Hide and Seek” game – “hiding” from God. And the reason for it is that deep down in their hearts, they feel the guilt – deep down inside their being, they know that they have sinned and that they are accountable to God – but they don’t want to deal with it, and so they “hide from God”.

This is why the moment you bring God in your conversation with them, they’d run in the opposite direction – they’d be hiding from God. This is why many people get uncomfortable when you begin God-talk. Sooner or later they had to face their Creator who will bring accountability into the picture and they don’t like any of that at all.

Hiding from God or hiding from accountability as well as playing the “Blame Game” – they both contribute to the serious damage that happens to our relationship with our fellow creatures and, ultimately, to our relationship with God. And as it was for Adam and Eve, so it is for us today.

And while that is the story often cited to explain Man’s Great Fall, there is also a comforting message in that story. Just when we would normally expect outright punishment for each committed crime, we note this hope of reconciliation offered by God as He asks for Adam and Eve's whereabouts as they played the “Hide and Seek” game with him.

He called them out; seeking them out and when they tried to cover up their offense by alluding instead to their nakedness, he questions them: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Indeed, how good it is that we have a God who seeks out his creation, for no other reason but because of His grace alone. God wouldn’t let them continue the path of self-destructive behavior and in the apparent absence of owning up their culpability by blaming each other, God didn’t hammer down his gavel of judgment.

Instead, he told them what he was about to do. With Adam and Eve listening intently, God announced his plan for the history of mankind. It was a plan that would put to end the Devil and hail victory for God and his people.

God spoke to Satan these words. “And I will put contempt between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14)  

Humanity made friends with the Devil with their falling into sin; thereby causing hostility between God and Man.  But God would correct the wrong that Sin has done. God would place hostility where it belonged once and for all – between the Devil and God’s people. 

As a result of that first sin, God’s people would struggle against Satan’s temptations, but as a result of this promise, God would help them reconcile with their Maker.  The greatest showdown of this battle took place when God himself came down to earth taking on human flesh and through the virgin birth became the offspring of the woman. 

The Devil unleashed all his rage against the Son of God, but it ended in futility.  Yes, Satan struck the “heel” of our Savior, but on the Day of Resurrection, the Devil’s head was “crushed”.  With the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the final victory had been won. 

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, walking our Faith Journey is not always a smooth one. There will be times, as they have already been in the past for some of us, when we will fall on the same temptation that Eve and Adam have had.

Their story is our story too. Yet, there’s that one lesson we must learn from theirs and that is that no matter how grievous our offenses are, God will not allow us to wander off to paths of destruction. He will always yell out: “Where are you?”

We need not stay in “hiding” from our accountability. If we have sinned, then let’s admit and confess that we have sinned. At each Eucharist, we hear the words often read out loud by the Deacon. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Those words should preoccupy our minds each time we “hide” away from God.

And so I pray that we be bold enough to say to the “Divine It” here I am. Forgive me. Heal me. Restore me. Love me with that Unconditional Love you had for all who truly turn to you for help. Help me to refrain from playing any “Blame Game” because I know that you will always be there to receive me “Just As I Am”.