A Week of Destiny

Today is Palm Sunday and Churches in every corner of the globe will be full of worshipers thinking about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of that colt and being heralded and praised by a multitude of followers.

Churches here in the Eastern Time Zone are starting to fill with folks of all ages, with families dressed in their “Sunday best”, ready to commemorate and relive that ride and that day.

When this celebration comes each year, we see ourselves as a follower of the Master, as one who may have been there for the actual event.

This is as it should be.

But what was it like for Jesus?

What thoughts were going through his mind as that day unfolded?

None of us knows the particulars, of course, but there’s little doubt in my mind that destiny — or his thoughts around it — cast a long shadow over the events of that day, over what has been known for centuries as the Triumphal Entry.

As we go through all the events of Holy Week, it’s a good thing to keep in mind that the thanks and accolades that others may bestow on us from time to time can be wonderful.

But for most of us — as was true for Jesus — those accolades don’t always last and our lives will most likely not be a joyous and unending festival of gratitude and praise.

For some, a darker destiny may await.

Jesus said that no servant is greater than his master and when one makes a conscious choice to follow in Jesus’s footsteps — to live a life of service for others — there will most certainly be a cross to bear.

It’s certainly true that most people go through life acting mostly on instinct. Mostly doing what furthers their own interests and — at the end of the day — maximizes the chance that they’ll live, thrive and survive, as that saying goes.

Jesus, of course, is our ultimate example of a person who saw himself in a very different way. And he knew that his destiny was a life lived for others.

May we follow his example. May we always remember that, first and foremost, we choose a life lived — not for selfish reasons alone — but for others.

And may that be our focus throughout the events of Holy Week. And always.

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

This homily was originally published on April 14, 2019

Sell Everything and Follow Me

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-23 NRSV

We have come to an unexpected and very unusual place in the history of humanity. So many of us are very apprehensive about our futures and about our collective future.

That’s putting it mildly. It might be closer to the mark to say that many of us are terrified of what the future may bring.

Many experts and prognosticators have been warning of hard economic times coming. Some of the warning signs began to flash even before the crisis posed by the coronavirus came around.

And now that so many of us are staying at home, and most work and economic activity has ground to a halt, there is almost no possibility that a serious recession can be avoided.

Many who make their livings by studying such things say that we’re not headed into a recession, but that it will be a full-blown depression, the like of which we haven’t seen since October of 1929.

The story recounted here in Mark 10 can be instructive for us today. The Master plainly tells this 1st Century high-roller that his great wealth is an impediment to his ever entering God’s Kingdom.

We have been living in a time when people with great wealth — people who’ve amassed a lot of stuff — are greatly admired.

We write and read stories about them and may wish that we could get into that elite club.

Sometimes, we give them their own reality shows.

But — as was true in 1st Century Palestine — there are so many of our elites who are sitting on huge piles of cash today but are stunningly spiritually-impoverished.

Although we can’t know exactly how events will play out as this crisis unfolds, I have no doubt that many people who have been at the top of the pyramid, so to speak, are going see a lot of their wealth — and the power and influence that usually come with it — disappear.

And we’ll be reminded once again that great riches and prestige and all of that do not enrich us spiritually; that they are — for so many of us — great burdens we carry through life, burdens that may well keep us from entering into God’s Kingdom.

This is a time for all of us to desire above all else to enrich ourselves spiritually, to lay up treasure in heaven, as Jesus said to this would-be follower in Mark’s Gospel.

Those who amass this kind of wealth know well that these riches cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.

They know that their loving, compassionate actions bring them closer to their fellows, closer to true wealth and closer — most especially — to God’s Kingdom.

May we remember this as we go — together — through these uncertain and trying times.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis

Heroes in the Medical Profession

There’s no doubt that the healthcare catastrophe the world is facing now generates almost unlimited bad news.

Like so many of us, when I read or hear good news, it’s a real ray of sunshine piercing through what seems like an impenetrably dark cloud.

I read a story yesterday that provided one of those occasional bright moments and I’m passing the story along today. I’m hopeful that it might provide a bit of relief to you while we’re dealing with this dark, unfolding tragedy.

As you most likely know, New York has been hard hit by the coronavirus. New York governor Andrew Cuomo is holding daily press briefings while his state and her medical professionals are straining to deal with the crisis.

He’s repeatedly appealed for more Doctors, Nurses and other professionals in the healthcare field to come to the aid of his beleaguered state.

A band of dedicated, compassionate professionals from Georgia heard those appeals and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight bound for New York yesterday.

I have no doubt that what these dedicated and selfless folks did yesterday made a lot of their hard-pressed colleagues smile.

If only for a few precious moments.

And it most definitely inspired me and brightened my day. At a time when I truly needed it.

I hope there are some moments of budding happiness for you and your loved ones today.

As I read and hear more about the crisis we’re facing, I look for those rays of sunshine.

I’m grateful that I’ve found a few.

And very grateful that we have people of compassion — like the ones who boarded that flight yesterday — while we endure this dreadful scourge together.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines

But not this Sunday

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in Florida. Just a few minutes ago, I was looking through a folder of photos I gathered from all over the internet quite a few years ago when one of them caught my eye.

It’s of a beautiful, awe-inspiring Cathedral, and it seems at first to be unremarkable.

But when you pause for just a moment, you realize that there are only a few people in it.

On this Sunday, the photo seems to me to be a pretty potent symbol of what life is like at this moment.

This moment in our shared experience when so many of us are struggling to practice the social distancing techniques we’ve been urged to use.

And we’re trying to wrap our minds around that creeping awareness that it may be quite a while before we can recover, can fully experience again that comforting, life-sustaining practice of gathering with others to share and celebrate our commonality and shared values.

There are many reasons and many ways that people come together. It’s not only gathering for worship on a Sunday morning that many of us are missing right now.

But that’s the part of our shared human experience that’s uppermost in my mind at this moment.

I know that when we can comfortably gather with like-minded folk once again for worship and a thousand other things, we’ll clearly see how very much our lives are diminished when such a precious and vital practice is taken away.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Photo credit: Ben is not the owner of the uncredited banner photo and believes it to be covered under Fair Use.

Nurses and Doctors Lay It All on the Line

The first nurse in New York City to die of COVID-19 contracted in the line of duty has passed.

Kious Jordon Kelly had told his family that he thought he had contracted the virus while at work.

He most certainly was right.

He’s passed and his colleagues fear he will not be the last.

Our doctors, nurses and techs–healthcare professionals of all kinds–are on the front lines as the coronavirus ravages our communities.

Pray for them. Pray for them and advocate for those who make decisions to do whatever must be done to get them the tools they need to continue to serve our communities and the patients whose care has been entrusted to them.

God bless Kious and all who are on the front lines.

Take good care of yourselves; there are rough times ahead.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

An Abandoned Bear Cub and a Happy Ending

As you most likely know, we here at the FSF are passionate environmentalists and never miss an opportunity to advocate for wildlife.

And because we’re in such dire straits right now as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, I was quite happy to get a bit of nature news in my inbox just now. Some “feel good” news and I’m more than happy to pass it along.

An outdoor enthusiast passing through the Ocala National Forest a few weeks ago came upon an abandoned black bear cub on a dirt road.

This alert citizen did what anyone would do.

He took our hapless cub to a Florida Fish and Wildlife officer.

Because I’m an annual pass holder at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, I’m one of the many zoo supporters who got “the rest of the story” about our tiny, furry friend.

He’s now thriving in the care of of Zoo Curator Lauren Hinson and the rest of the staff.

If you’d like to read more about this happy situation, just follow this link.

I loved reading all about it. In fact, I could bear-ly contain my enthusiasm as I passed my delighted eyeballs over the happy missive from the PR crew at the zoo!

Yeah, sorry not sorry!

I hope you’re getting some relief today from the cares of the day. Take good care of yourself, by all means.

And look out for all God’s creatures, whether they walk around in jeans, suits or in their bear skin!

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Blessings and a dark cloud

Today I find myself in one of those “happy-sad” situations.

There’s nothing unusual about that for me. I’m pretty sure that all of you can relate to that.

The things I feel good about today: it’s the first day of spring and we’re having a truly beautiful day here in Florida.

And I’m happy to note that our Fellowship turns one year old today.

Those are great blessings.

I don’t have to tell you about the sad part.

Today–like all of you–I’m living under this dark cloud and the great weight of uncertainty that comes with it.

I’m referring to the Coronavirus, as I’m sure you know.

I know this a really serious situation and we’re paying attention and following the instructions of our elected officials the medical professionals who advise them.

I’m apprehensive as we brace for very difficult and dark days.

These huge threats and those dark days do come around, of course. They’re nothing new.

Sometimes when we least expect it.

And we’ve got to use the resources we have. Our faith is one.

Our determination to go through this together is another.

As we continue to go through this unsettling trial, the words of the Psalmist found in the 46th Chapter come to mind.

Pray. Help in ways you’re able to help. Look out for those who are the most vulnerable.

And take comfort in these words:

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Psalm 46: 1-7

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

The Coronavirus, the danger of comparisons and our task today

It’s natural that when we have a new threat–talking about the Coronavirus–that we compare it to something we already know about.

But the Coronavirus is very different from the flu that we’re all very familiar with. Different in several important ways.

This article will help greatly if you’d like to know more and see why this is a much bigger deal than, for instance, a new strain of flu.

This is a time to look out for each other.

A time to ask for help if you need it, especially if you’re in a high-risk group.

A very good time to keep one another in our prayers. And most of all, to help one another when we’re able to do so.

That was a great priority for St Francis in his day; the need was very, very great.

And that’s certainly true for us today.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

Friday Funny for March 13th

After the morning worship service wrapped up one Sunday, a young boy announced to his surprised Mom, “I’ve got it! I’m going to become a minister when I grow up.”

She asked him why, of course.

“Well,” said the boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and yell than to sit down and listen.”

May we all make sure to listen well to one another as we have our conversations. In and out of Church!

Brother Ben

Wisdom and Critical Thinking

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.

17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

Proverbs 3:13-18

In this passage the writer of Proverbs really wanted to drive home the point that acting wisely as we go through life is a good thing.

Yes, it’s a very good thing.

And who would disagree?

I love the way it’s stated so poetically here. And it’s true, very true in our day, just as it was when this pithy poem was written.

The point I want to make here is that some discernment, the ability to think critically is a very big deal, too.

I would say that’s it’s foundational, that wisdom absolutely depends on our ability to think critically, to clearly pierce through the rationalizations and half-truths and arrive at sound decisions.

As I take a look around the cultural and, especially, the political landscape these days, I don’t see a lot of wisdom.

And it’s clear to me as I look around or read the news that a lot of folks–people who hold the reins of power in particular–are sadly deficient in critical thinking skills.

Or have, perhaps, stopped using the skills they’ve got.

This is a very bad thing and bodes ill for our country.

May we all–those who make important decisions that affect the common good, especially–seek and employ the discernment and critical thinking upon which wisdom and wise decisions depend.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.