3rd Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017

March 21st, 2017

Some of you may remember that Volkswagen once produced a small car called the Rabbit that was very popular. So many years ago, when my family received a phone call from a local grocery store telling us we had won a rabbit, we were very excited at the prospect of winning a new car. You can imagine our surprise—and disappointment—when we went to the store to pick up our prize and discovered that it was not a car we had won but a big stuffed Easter Bunny.

Sometimes it’s very easy to misunderstand what people are trying to say to us. In our gospel story, Jesus, who has just asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, begins to tell her about the water he is offering—a water that will put an end to all thirst. The woman assumes that he is talking about some kind of magic water that would make it unnecessary for her to keep going back and forth to the well.

The water that Jesus is offering is, of course, the water of baptism—and it’s easy for us to misunderstand Jesus, too. Baptism is not just some nice ceremony for a family to celebrate the birth of a child or even to ask God’s blessing at the beginning of a child’s life. No, for those touched by the water of baptism, that water signifies a serious commitment to living a Christian life, a life modeled on that of their brother Jesus. If those who are baptized are too young to make that commitment, their parents and godparents must make that commitment on their behalf, until they are old enough to make that commitment on their own.

There should be no misunderstanding: baptism means a commitment to living as Christ lived, a commitment to living a life marked by prayer and worship; service to the poor; love for those who hate us; the rejection of the earthly values of wealth and power; an appreciation of the diversity of God’s people; and the priority of God’s will over anyone else’s, including our own. There should be no misunderstanding: yes to the water of baptism means yes to the commitment to live a new life. Without that commitment, we may as well be asking for a drink.

see John 4:5-15,19b-26, 39a, 40-42

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

February 27th, 2017

People are worried. Some are worried about finding—or keeping—a job. Some are worried about terrorism. Some are worried about being deported. Some are worried that their rights will not be respected. Some are worried about becoming homeless. Some are worried that they or their loved ones will be victims of violence. Some are worried about the direction of our country.

Jesus’ words in our gospel today may give some people the impression that all we have to do is look to God and we will have no cause for worry: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you.” But we would be wrong if we think that seeking God’s kingdom is merely a spiritual activity, a kind of attitude adjustment requiring total trust in God and God’s ability to take care of us. No, seeking God’s kingdom means engaging with God in the hard work of living as citizens of that kingdom each day, always with an eye to making that kingdom more of a reality on this earth. Seeking God’s kingdom means living the way God wants us to live, following God’s priorities and not ours or anybody else’s. Seeking God’s kingdom means being merciful to those who deserve punishment; promoting peaceful solutions to conflict; respecting those of different cultures, religions, and opinions; ensuring that all have a life of dignity and security; and defending those who are weak and vulnerable in our society.

People are worried. But if we are really serious about seeking God’s kingdom, we will work with each other and with God to make this nation and all nations more like that kingdom—a place where everyone has everything he or she could ever need. The more we succeed in this endeavor, the less people will have to worry.

see Matthew 6:24-34

By Rev. Gregory Kimm

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017

February 27th, 2017

On October 7, 2006, Charles Roberts IV, a milk truck driver from a small town in Lancaster County, PA, was buried in his wife’s family plot behind the Methodist church. In attendance were his wife Marie and their three small children. What was truly astounding was who else was present at this sad, simple funeral. Among the mourners were members of the Amish community—the same community whose peaceful life was shattered just days earlier when Roberts stormed into their one-room schoolhouse and killed five young girls and wounded five others. The Amish, who had buried the girls who had died not long before the funeral for Roberts, hugged his wife and some of his relatives, offering their condolences. When the service was over, some of the Amish took it upon themselves to stand together and turn their backs to the many photographers gathered at the burial site in order to shield the Roberts family from further publicity. Later, the Amish donated money to help the family with their expenses.

We struggle with forgiveness; it is one of the most difficult demands that Jesus places upon his disciples. But, as Jesus makes clear in our gospel today, even forgiveness is not enough: “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors,” Jesus says, “that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” It can be done but I think most of us still have a long way to go before we become the kind of disciple Jesus wants us to be.

see Matthew 5:38-48

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Chinese New Year), February 12, 2017

February 27th, 2017

In an effort to insure that a new year will truly be happy, Chinese people throughout the world still practice certain customs. They may decorate their homes with red paper inscribed with good wishes or display auspicious fruits and flowers. They may set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. And on the first day of the new year—a particularly important day, as it sets the tone for whole year—they may avoid cutting things, to avoid cutting off good luck; avoid sweeping things, to avoid sweeping good luck away; and avoid any talk of unpleasant subjects with which they don’t want to deal in the coming months.

In a way, those who follow these customs are attempting to choose their future—or, to use words from our first reading, make a choice between fire and water, life and death, good and evil. But the future is in God’s hands, not ours; we cannot choose it.

Or can we? We can choose how we live in the future. Are we people who will choose to follow God’s commands or will we choose to go another way? Will we serve the poor, sharing generously the gifts we have been given? Will we welcome newcomers and strangers, seeing in them Christ in disguise? Will we defend the weak and the vulnerable among us, strengthening them with our support? Will we live in peace with everyone, treating all with respect and love?

It seems to me that if we make choices about how we live that are consistent with the desires of God’s heart, we are working with God to shape the future and we can, with God’s help, make this new year happier for us, for those around us, and for our world.

see Sirach 15:15-20

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 29, 2017

February 27th, 2017

I am one of what seems to be a shrinking number of Americans whose do their taxes by hand, without the use of an accountant or a computer program. Doing my taxes is a laborious and time-consuming process to which I am not at all looking forward. But, like many taxpayers, I do look forward to receiving my refund. Imagine how you would feel if the IRS said to you that your refund is coming sometime in the future but no one knew when it would actually arrive: it could be weeks, months, even years.

The beatitudes are all about the future: something good is coming, but no one knows when: it could be weeks, months, even years. That future aspect is why I’ve always had a problem with the beatitudes. Yes, I believe that they who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit the land, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied, etc., but people in sorrow and distress, victims of hatred and injustice, can’t wait that long. They need help now.

I think the beatitudes are more than just a statement of what God will do in the future. I think they are also a call to action today, for us. It is not God’s intention that we all just sit around waiting and praying for the day when God’s kingdom becomes a reality. Rather, it is God’s intention that we go to work today to do whatever we can to make that kingdom a reality now. Of course, this means doing what we can for those in need but it means as well affirming and upholding in our own lives the values God holds dear, values like meekness, mercy, and peacefulness.

No matter how feeble our attempts, no matter how incomplete our efforts, we are to work with God to transform the world. To hope in a bright future is wonderful but wouldn’t it also be wonderful if we could join God in making today a little brighter, too?

see Matthew 5:1-12a

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 22, 2017

January 23rd, 2017

My father worked hard—perhaps too hard at times—to support a wife and four children. He worked long hours and rarely took a day off from his job of managing ranches on which hundreds of thousands of chickens were constantly laying eggs to be sold at grocery stores in our hometown of Bakersfield and throughout the Central Valley. I remember that on Sundays, he would go to work early and come home just in time to change clothes and go to mass with the family; after mass, he would return home, change back into his work clothes, and go back to work. He was definitely a good provider, just as many fathers and mothers are good providers for their families.

Scholars tells us that most of the apostles, including at least some of the ones mentioned in our gospel today, were married and had children. I have the feeling that they, too, were good providers for their families, whether they were fishermen or engaged in some other occupation. But in answering Jesus’ call to leave their nets and boats behind to become fishers of people, Peter and Andrew and the others are telling us to broaden our focus: it is not enough to take care of our family members; we must also provide for the needs of those beyond our family circle, those to whom our only family connection may be through our heavenly Father. It is good and honorable to care for family but better and more honorable to allow our love to overflow out of our homes and reach out to people everywhere. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did? In stretching out his arms upon the cross, he embraced the whole world.

From refugees struggling to survive war and persecution to those nameless parishioners we see each week, lonely and alone, these are the people we cannot ignore, even if we are busy providing for the needs of our own family members. If we have seen God’s great light and no longer walk in darkness, we must see all those around us as those whom we should love.

see Matthew 4:12-23; Isaiah 8:23-9:3

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

Mother of God, January 1, 2017

January 23rd, 2017

In 2015 there were reports that unscrupulous airport personnel in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, were dropping bullets into the luggage of travelers in an effort to force them to pay fines. To protect themselves, some Filipino travelers wrapped their luggage in layers of plastic and tape, sometimes including a defiant note on the outside saying that the luggage was “bulletproof.”

Occasionally, we have to be very careful about the things we carry with us.

As we move into this new year, I think it would be particularly harmful for us to bring any anger, bitterness, or hatred towards others, whether near or far. These negative attitudes are a kind of poison that damages not only our relationships with God and other people but also causes damage to us, making us resistant to God’s grace and, consequently, less of who God wants and expects us to be.

As always, Mary, Mother of God and our mother, has something valuable to teach us. She kept in her heart the memories of what God had done for her, the wonders of his love that she had been privileged to witness. Let us follow her example and carry into this new year memories of God’s goodness in our lives, remembering that God will continue to bless us.

see Luke 2:16-21; Numbers 6:22-27

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

Christmas, December 25, 2016

December 30th, 2016

When I entered St. Patrick’s Seminary in 1981, the Archbishop of San Francisco had just instituted a dress code: tired of seeing the seminarians in shorts and t-shirts on his visits, the archbishop mandated that all seminarians wear either a clerical shirt or a shirt and tie whenever attending class or mass. Sadly, he could not mandate a sense of style. Some of the outfits were truly horrifying.

There was certainly no dress code for the birth of Jesus. Whether he was born in a stable, a barn, or, as some scholars say, in a room reserved for animals on the lower floor of someone’s house, the place of Jesus’ birth was earthy, to say the least: it was simple, it was dirty, it was probably smelly, and it was definitely a place where you could come as you are.

But for those who wish, in the words of the popular Christmas carol, to “come to Bethlehem and see/ Him whose birth the angels sing,” the invitation “Come as you are” doesn’t refer just to clothing. The God who says to us, “Come as you are” is the same God who once came to us as a tiny, fragile human being, weak and vulnerable. For this reason, God welcomes us to the manger exactly as we are at this moment, in all of our human weakness and vulnerability. God welcomes us with our loneliness and grief, our fear and confusion. God welcomes us with our selfishness and prejudice, ignorance and laziness. God welcomes us with our bad habits and self-destructive behaviors, our unwise decisions and broken promises. God welcomes us even with our problems with religion and our doubts about God’s activity in our lives and in our world. .

In some old paintings of the Nativity, an angel hovers above, holding a scroll that reads in Latin, “Glory to God in the highest.” Equally appropriate would be a scroll reading, “Come as you are.” All of us, in all our human weakness and vulnerability, are welcome to the manger, for in this tiny, fragile human being we will find acceptance, understanding, and love greater and stronger than we could ever imagine.

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

4th Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016

December 19th, 2016

Imagine that you are driving down the street when someone pulls in front of you, cutting you off and even causing you to hit the brakes in order to avoid a collision. How do you respond? Do you honk the horn loudly? Do you swear at the other driver, using words that children should not hear? Do you use the same words, but yell them out the window? Do you yell those words out the window accompanied by a gesture that children should not see? Or do you do all of these things? As I’m sure you are aware, there are some people who would go even further, using physical violence to express their “road rage.”

But while we may not agree on the correct way to show anger at being cut off while driving, we would probably agree that some anger at the other driver is justified: that driver was wrong and you were right.

It certainly looked like Mary had betrayed Joseph. If Joseph, the “righteous man,” had decided to bring Mary to a public trial, where her conviction could have resulted in the punishment of death by stoning, no one would have blamed him: from what anybody could tell, Mary was wrong and Joseph was right.

Joseph, of course, made a different choice, and in doing so, he reveals to us the simple truth that those who are right are not obligated to insult or injure those who are wrong. In fact, God’s preference is that we overlook any insult or injury to us and instead walk in the way of patience, forgiveness, and mercy. We know this is God’s preference because this is exactly the way God treats us.

see Matthew 1:18-24

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm

2nd Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016

December 5th, 2016

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the constant refrain heard around our country was “United we stand.” We are no longer united. The recent presidential election and the campaigning that preceded it exposed deep divisions in our country, with some commentators saying that it is the most divided since the Civil War and others saying that it is the most divided it has ever been in the history of these supposedly United States. Americans are on opposite sides, immovable in their strong yet differing opinions and so full of anger and animosity that many of us avoid saying what we really think out of fear of starting a fight or incurring someone’s wrath. Honestly, we are just about as far as we can possibly be from the peaceful vision of God’s kingdom in the prophecy of Isaiah: “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”

The outlook is dismal, with little hope of unification anytime soon. But as the people of God, the community of the Church, we do not have the option of division. Regardless of what our neighbors and fellow citizens may be saying or doing to one another, we must always reject anything that would divide us. The Child who guides us is the One born on Christmas Day, the One who grew into the savior who came to gather the scattered nations into one family united in faith and love, a family in which we are all sisters and brothers, children of the same God and Father. Our identity as the family of God has to take precedence over any opinions about politics, morality, or religion. The prayer of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans is a prayer for all of us: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

see Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9

By: Rev. Gregory Kimm