Sermon: Easter 5 RCL C – “To be a Disciple”

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Leighann Renee

A soldier fighting over in Iraq received a letter from his girl friend that said she was breaking up with him. She also asked him to send the picture she had given him when he left because she needed it for her bridal announcement. The soldier was heart broken and told his friends of his terrible situation. After discussing it with them, he eventually just got angry about it.  So his whole platoon got together and brought all their pictures of their girlfriends and sisters, and put them in a box and gave them to him. So he put her picture in the box with the rest along with a note that said, “I’m sending back your picture to you.  Please remove it and send back the rest. For the life of me I can’t remember which one you are.”

If you were to ask a room full of people to provide you a Bible verse to use at a wedding, I’m guessing many would quote you 1 Corinthians 13 (4-8b) “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  And the bride and the groom look deeply into each others eyes and say, “I do.”

How was it that this bride and groom fell in love?  Robert Fulghum of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten also wrote, True Love.  In it, he tells how many brides and grooms come to find themselves standing in front of friends and family, declaring their love.  He writes, “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”  I like that.  Go find someone who is your flavor of weird, fall in love, and be happy.  Not bad advice.

But those who have been in relationships for many years can tell us: It ain’t easy.  Why?  The love of Jesus is always patient, our love… not so much.  The love of Jesus bears all things, but forget to take out the garbage on garbage day… you in big trouble.  The love of Jesus never dies, but we know with certainty that our love can die, and it is never really pretty when it does.  From her diary, Anaïs Nin, friend of Henry Miller, writes, “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” 

That is true with our most intimate relationships, our relationship with God, family, friends, and the world in general.  Love dies.  And just like in relationships, when it dies in all these other situations, it is not very pretty.  For what was once love has turned into bitterness.  What was compassion slides into indifference, kindness into cruelty, patience into intolerance, hope into despair.  

It is in the midst of all this: falling into love, being in love, the death of love—whether in relationships or in our work in the world—that Jesus speaks to us: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  So how do we do this?  

Before we can begin, we must recognize that our ability to love one another does not start with us.  St. John teaches us in his first epistle: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”  And then, a few verses further he states, “We love because he first loved us.”  The love that we have for one another does not begin with us.  It begins with God and it is a grace that he pours out on his people who love him in return for His love.  He loved us.  We love him.  He gives us the grace of love so that we might love others.  His love for us never dies, but ours… remember the words of Anaïs Nin, love “dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”  Our love for others dies, because our love for God fades.

We enter into a relationship with Him and we experience this overwhelming goodness and love of God, but over time, we drift.  God doesn’t drift, but we do.  Through our indifference to his calling on our lives.  Through our neglect of maintaining a closeness with him through prayer, study, and meditation.  And finally through our sin, which tarnishes and breaks the relationship we have.  When we limit or cut ourselves off from the source—God—then we cut ourselves off from the replenishing grace of love.  When it dries up, not only are we no longer able to love God as we should, but we fail in our other relationships, because we no longer have the capacity, the grace, to love one another as Jesus has commanded.

So how do we begin?  How do we learn how to practice this commandment to love?  The only answer I have is to point to the cross.  A few chapters on in John’s Gospel, Jesus will restate this commandment to the disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Jesus then says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  And he lived this greater love out on the Cross.  In order to love as Jesus commanded, we must ever keep this love, his cross, before us.

I think that this is one of the holy ironies of the Eucharist that we celebrate every week, but especially at the Great Vigil and during the Season of Easter, because no sooner have we said, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” and then a short time later, within the context of the service we read those words, “He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.”  Alleluia, Christ is Risen… but remember, he was crucified.   We’re never allowed to forget—thanks be to God—that he died for us and in the process, we never forget the cross.  It is in keeping the singular event of the cross ever before us, that will allow us to love as we are commanded, because the moment we truly see it is the moment that we finally understand how to love.  And from there, if you will continually see the cross and understand it, then you will take that vision and understanding into every aspect and relationship of your life and your love will be patient, and kind, and filled with hope.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Prove to all that you are his disciple.  Through the Cross of Christ, love one another.

Let us pray: God, our Father, You have promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in Your presence. The loving plan of Your Wisdom was made known when Jesus, your Son, became man like us. We want to obey His commandment of love and bring Your peace and joy to others. Keep before us the wisdom and love You have made known in Your Son. Help us to be like Him in word and deed.  Amen.

Sermon: Boldness

The podcast is available here.

Photo taken by Thomas Bonometti.

The closest feast day we have to today isn’t until Sunday, so I opted to treat today as a feria, which is a weekday where no feast is celebrated, that is why we heard the same readings today as we heard on Sunday. As we said on Sunday, this Gospel uses the imagery of sheep and shepherd, but it is anything but tame.

What is so fascinating about this imagery is that, most often, when it is depicted in art, we see a heavenly pastoral scene with Jesus carrying a little lamb, whose fleece is white as snow. However, today’s lesson is no such a scene. Today’s lesson is that of a shepherd entering a den of wolves.

In my preaching, I often stay focused on the New Testament teachings: God is Love, peace, joy, etc. When we think of the Old Testament, we can almost begin to believe that it is an entirely different god, but they are one in the same (to believe differently is actually the heresy of Marcionism). Even so, it is our impressions of the God of the Old Testament that steps out of the shadows in this reading. This is He of the ten plagues of Egypt, the God of Mt. Sinai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph and he has just made his intentions known to the enemies of his people and that he is there to fight for them. It is this same type of boldness that we are to possess.

You and I come into these beautiful churches built to the glory of God. They have their brass candle sticks and silver chalices, we wear our best clothes and put on our best behavior to honor our God, and it is only fitting that we do these things, but the truth is, being a Christian can be a messy, hard fought business. There are sometimes clear enemies of God’s people and His Church, but there are also those wolves in sheep’s clothing: criminals, abusers, drugs, those who cause children to be endangered, disease, poverty. All sorts of evil in this world that we cannot see or escape.

This should be no surprise to any of us, because Jesus himself said to those first apostles, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” And it is in the encounter of these wolves where we must be bold, standing in our faith as Jesus did before the wolves in the Temple. We do this by remembering that the God of the Resurrection is no weak God. He is the God that endured and overcame the sins of the world, he is the God that walked through the valley of the shadow of death and lived, and he is the God that walked in the portico of the Temple of Jerusalem and told the wolves to their faces, I am King.

St. John wrote in his Revelation, “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings” and with him will be his called, chosen, and faithful followers.

Those who are called, chosen, and faithful are you and I. We are those that have heard his voice, we know him, we follow him, and we have been given eternal life through him. Nothing shall ever snatch us from him, therefore, as you stand before the wolves in your lives, as Joshua said to the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL C – “Shepherd”

The podcast is available here.

After having dug to a depth of 10 feet last year, New York scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 100 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago. 

Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a California archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet, and shortly after, a story in the LA Times read, “California archaeologists find 200-year-old copper wire: They have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the New Yorkers.” 

One week later, a local newspaper in Louisiana reported the following: “After digging as deep as 30 feet in his pasture near Lafitte, Louisiana, Boudreaux, a self-taught archaeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Boudreaux has therefore concluded that 300 years ago,”Louisiana had already gone wireless.” 

Today’s Gospel reading needs a bit of a history lesson to get the full meaning and we’ve got to go back further than Boudreaux to get at the heart of it. 

The lesson seems innocent enough, Jesus is once again using the shepherd and sheep imagery, so how bad could it really be? So it is a bit surprising to discover that in the verses immediately preceding our reading, the religious leaders said of Jesus, “He has a demon, and is insane.” And in the verse immediately following our reading, Scripture says, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” Shepherd and sheep sounds innocent, but clearly something more is going on. The clue to understanding it lies in the history of the Jewish people and our clue as to where begin is in that first verse of the lesson: “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem.” 

Alexander the Great, the architect behind the Greek Empire died in the year 323 a.d. Following his death, three of his generals began to fight for control, and is the case in so many of these struggles in that region of the world, Israel was in the middle. The armies battled and eventually Antiochus III prevailed. At first he allowed the Jews to practice their faith, but would then attempt a Hellenization of the empire, forcing the Jews to worship the Greek God’s. A rebellion ensued leading Antiochus to withdraw the Hellenization orders, but following his death, his son, Antiochus IV restored them and did so forcibly. Eventually, Antiochus conquered Jerusalem and ended all Jewish practices. He desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus within it and sacrificing pigs (as you know, that area of the world is not fond of bacon). 

In the year 167 a.d. under Antiochus rule, a Greek official attempted to force a Jewish priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to Zeus. Mattathias said, “I don’t think so,” and ended up killing the Greek official, which led to an open rebellion against the Greeks, led by Mattathias and his five sons. That family became know as the Maccabees, taken from the Hebrew word ‘hammer,’ referring to the fact that Mattathias and his sons and the army they raised hit the enemy like a hammer. Antiochus attempted to put down the rebellion, but like so many others, he misjudged the will and strength of the Jewish people. It took two decades, but the Maccabees eventually forced the Greeks out of Israel. 

Going back earlier in the battle, in 165 a.d., when the Maccabees had recaptured the Temple, Mattathias ordered it to be cleansed and rededicated, but as part of the rededication, the menorah (sacred candle stand a.k.a. hanukkiah) had to be lit, but there was only enough of the pure oil, consecrated by the priest, remaining to last a single day. They proceeded anyway and the oil that was only to last a day, lasted eight days, which was long enough for the preparation of more oil. This is the miracle of the Dedication of the Temple. It is also known as the Festival of Lights or Hanukkah. 

Now, when the Maccabees had forced out the Greeks, it was Mattathias who became king, followed by his sons. Their rule of Israel lasted eighty years until the Romans showed up and it all started over again. 

I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

To the Jewish people, they had essentially been dead under the rule of the Greeks, but under the kingship of the Maccabees, their life was restored to them. So every time the festival comes around, the people are reminded of how God miraculously restored the Temple and their nation. Not only that, they are also reminded of the role that the kings of Israel played in this great restoration. 

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” 

When Jesus went walking through the Temple, the people were being reminded of their freedom and their kings during the reign of the Maccabees, but even as they celebrated, they know that they are once again oppressed, this time by the Romans. So there is this great tension in the air. People are on edge. People are wondering if another ‘Hammer’ will rise up and free them once again. It is into this tense atmosphere that Jesus walks. 

In his wake is this new teaching about God and the word of the miracles he has been performing. The religious leaders say he is demon possessed, because only a demon possessed person would say such things about God and certainly only a demon possessed person could perform such miracles. Someone, one of Jesus followers, points out that no demon could speak such wise words and certainly no demon could perform such miracles. 

Tension around the feast day and tension around Jesus. A single spark and the entire thing blows. Jesus is happy to oblige. 

The statement seems innocent: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” 

Rephrase: You are looking for a king like the Maccabees, but when the people hear my voice, they are hearing the voice of the One True King, and they follow me. Through me, they will receive eternal life, my Father has seen to it. And, by the way, my Father is God and… I am God’s Son. Boom! “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” 

What does this mean for us? This past Wednesday was the Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich and we discussed her “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” statement. I won’t re-preach that sermon, but in that revelation to Julian, Jesus summarized what he meant by saying “All shall be well,” and it is actually quite simple: “I [the Lord] am keeping you very safe.” 

We live in a world that is fraught with tensions. The Psalmist speaks true: 

Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”

However, the Psalmist answers those who would plot against the Lord and His people: 

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.

All shall be well. I, the Lord, your Shepherd King, am keeping you very safe. 

In the midst of trials both great and small and even in death itself, I, the Lord, am keeping you very safe, and no one and no thing will snatch you out of my hands. 

The words of that very familiar Psalm that we read today only confirm this message of eternal salvation, so to close, let’s once again read… proclaim the promises contained within. 

The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways
for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; * for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

Sermon: Dame Julian of Norwich

The podcast is available here.

There is a song by the Beatles—A Day in the Life—and one of the stanzas begins, “I read the news today, oh boy” (Hopefully the tune won’t be stuck in your head all day), but to that can I just say, I also read the news today and… Oh, boy!  It is no wonder that so many folks are on anti-depressants! (So much so that there are traces of Prozac in our drinking water and even the fish! which given the state of things, might not be such a bad thing.)  But, between the news and life in general, there are a good many who walk around all day wondering how it could possibly all work out.  Then, in light of this state of affairs, we have someone come along like Julian of Norwich, the patron saint of this chapel, who says something that seems to be absolutely ridiculous—most of you can quote it: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  

Those are actually words that Jesus spoke to Julian and they are also proof texting—pulling out that bit that makes you happy, because you see, in Julian’s thirteenth revelation in her Revelations of Divine Love, she reveals that she wondered “why, in his great foreseeing wisdom, God had not prevented the beginning of sin.”  Why doesn’t God stop all this craziness in the world and the harm that people do?  And it is here that Jesus spoke the “all shall be well” message, but the complete message was “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Folks use that message without the “Sin is befitting” bit as some sort of mantra for everything that goes wrong in their lives all the way down to a bad hair day, when in truth, it is speaking about sin—our sins and the sins of others, both great and small, things that are heard about worldwide and those things that only you know about.  But why would Jesus say sin is befitting?  

Julian explains that it was revealed to her that the crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest possible sin, evil, harm that had or ever would occur, but sin is befitting for us because, as the Lord told her, “I have turned the greatest possible harm into good, it is my will that you should know from this that I shall turn all lesser evil into good.”  Jesus overcoming the greatest of all sins, which was committed against him, shows us that he is capable of overcoming all other evil in the world.  Hence, all shall be well.  The state of the world is at times wretched, but… all shall be well.  

There is a second reason that sin is befitting, however, if my understanding of what Julian is saying is correct, the Lord tells her the knowing of this second reason is above her pay grade.   

Regardless, in this thirteenth revelation, the Lord sums up for Julian and for us what the “all shall be well” statement ultimately means: “I [the Lord] am keeping you very safe.”  “I am keeping you very safe.”  Therefore, as St. Paul taught us in our lesson, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”

Dame Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress (one who withdraws from society) provided us with many beautiful glimpses of our Lord.

A prayer from Julian—Let us pray: God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself; for Thou art enough for me, and I can ask for nothing less that can be full honor to Thee. And if I ask anything that is less, ever Shall I be in want, for only in Thee have I all.  Amen.

Sermon: Easter 3 RCL C – “The Invitation”

The podcast is available here.

Relationships and marriage can be a bit tricky, just ask any kid. For example: What is the right age to get married? According to Camille, age 10: Twenty-three is the best age because you know them FOREVER by then. Freddie, age 6 sees it a bit differently: No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married. How can you tell if two people are married? Derrick, age 8 has a good system: You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. How would the world be different if people didn’t get married? Kelvin, age 8 says, There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there? Finally, Ricky, age 10, has it all figured out for how the fellas can make a marriage work: Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck. (Source)

Relationships are tricky and when we begin to talk about our relationship with God, it becomes even more difficult. As we’ve talked about in the past, we have a tendency to apply human characteristics to God: we can be petty and grouchy, so we expect God to be petty and grouchy. The same principle applies to our relationship with God, we apply human relationship characteristics to it. William Paul Young is the author of the novel The Shack that came out several years ago. We could spend a lot of time poking holes in his theology, but the man has some really great points in his writings and interviews, and in one interview on NPR, speaking of his relationship with God, he says, “My dad was a preacher. My relationship, for example, with my father—very difficult, and very painful, and it took me 50 years to wipe the face of my father off the face of God.” We look at our earthly relationships and believe our relationship with God works in the same way. We forget that “God is love” and that he is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Which means that God is not out looking for ways to smite you. Instead, God is seeking ways to reconcile you, to draw you closer, to love you, and to invite you to participate in this great work of love. And that is exactly what our Gospel reading is about.

Peter and the gang have seen Jesus twice, but they’re still floundering a bit. They know what Jesus taught and what he did. They also know that he died and rose again. They believe, but they don’t know what to do with their belief, so they go back to what they do know: fishing. All night they fish and with no luck, but then someone calls out to them from the shore, “Try the other side of the boat.” They do and catch a great haul of fish. This immediately reminded John of the last time someone told them to try again and they had a miraculous catch: it was when Jesus called them in the very beginning of the ministry. John put two and two together: “It is the Lord!”

Peter, being the impulsive one that he is, doesn’t wait for the boat to take him back. He dives in and swims to shore (ever wonder why Peter didn’t try running on the water? He walked on it once before. Anyhow…) He swims to shore, they all have breakfast, and then we have the three questions: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”. One question for each time Peter had denied him. Was Jesus trying to rub Peter’s nose in it? “You’ve been a bad bad boy, Peter!” No. Jesus was reconciling Peter to himself. The three questions were not for Jesus’ sake, they were for Peter’s, so that he would know that Jesus had forgiven him and so that Peter would know that Jesus still wanted… desired him to be a part of God’s ongoing mission in the world. And in saying to Peter after the three questions: “Feed my lambs.”, “Tend my sheep.”, “Feed my sheep.”, and finally, “Follow me.”, Jesus wasn’t commanding Peter to do these things, he was inviting him to join him, to be a part of him in this resurrected life. As we said, the disciples were floundering, they weren’t sure what all everything meant, or what to do; so Jesus answered the question for them: be reconciled to me and accept the invitation to join me, to follow me. Why?

We have this idea that God wants us to join him so that he can use us in some way. That almost sounds like God wants to play us out on a chess board and that we’re as expendable as any other pawn, but that simply is not the case. Remember, God seeks us so that he might love us, not so that he can mark one more point up for the good guys, use us up, and then move on to the next person who chose to follow. God invites us to participate in love because it is truly about the relationship. William Young – The Shack – in his book, Lies We Believe About God, put it this way:

“God is a relational being; that is who God is. The language of God is about partnering, co-creating, and participating; it’s about an invitation to dance and play and work and grow.

“If God uses us, then we are nothing but objects or commodities to God. Even in our human relationships, we know this is wrong.

Would any of us ever say to our son or daughter, “I can’t wait for you to grow up so that I can use you. You will be Daddy’s tool to bring glory to me”?

“The thought is abhorrent when we think of those words in relationship to our own children, so why do we ascribe that language to God and how God relates to us? Have we so soon forgotten that we are God’s children, not tools? That God loves us and would never use us as inanimate objects? That God is about inviting our participation in the dance of love and purpose?

“God is a God of relationship and never acts independently. We are God’s children made in God’s image! God does not heal us [… reconcile us to himself…] so that we can be used. God heals us because God loves us, and even as we stumble toward wholeness, God invites us to participate and play.”

How brilliant is that! Got invites you into a relationship so that you may participate in his great act of love and God invites you to play, to enjoy the blessings and richness of heaven and earth. It is a tough life, but someone’s got to live it. Might as well be you!

Jesus says, “Follow me.” Accept the invitation. Be reconciled to God and the resurrected Lord and joyfully participate in God’s love and mission.

Let us pray:
Father of love, hear our prayers.
Help us to know Your Will
and to do it with courage and faith.
Accept the offering of ourselves,
all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings.
May our lives be spent giving You glory.
Give us the strength to follow Your call,
so that Your Truth may live in our hearts
and bring peace to us and to those we meet,
for we believe in Your Love,
the Christ you sent into the world,
Your one and only Son,

Sermon: Sts. Philip & James

The podcast is available here.

You’ve probably already picked up on the fact that I’m not Mr. Sportsman.  I played football and basketball up through junior high and I was on the fencing team while in high school, but that was really about it.  Fencing I was pretty good at, but for the rest… not so much, except for one of my last games before I aged out in Little League baseball.

In the town I grew up in, Springhill, Louisiana—it was a paper mill town—every summer you signed up for Little League.  My team was the Indians and I played right field (that’s where the put the guy with the least amount of talent).  Games were on Saturday and every Sunday following the game, the newspaper would write them up, however, you only got your name in the paper if you did something remarkable. Well, my name got a mention maybe once per summer, but the last time, I got an entire sentence to myself.  I remember it to this day: “Big Bat John Toles hit three doubles.”  Can I get an ‘Amen.’  

It seems it is that way in most team sports.  We can read all day about Tom Brady and how many touchdowns he threw and yards he passed—and good on him—but the left guard on the front line who protected Tom Brady all the way through the game… you would be lucky to even know his number, much less his name, however, I would put money on this one: we may not know that left guard, but Tom Brady—Tom Brady knows his name, he also knows his wife and kids’ names, all their birthdays, what his favorite drink is, the color of his eyes, and what day of the week he prefers to cut his toenails on.  Why?  Because Tom Brady knows that he is absolutely nothing without that left guard and Brady wants to be able to show that left guard all the appreciation he has earned for taking such good care of him.

Why the talk about football and the left guard?  In reading through the New Testament, you are going to hear about Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, John, and a few others, but the two we celebrate today, Philip and James, and so many others are rarely even mentioned. 

Philip is number five in the lists of Apostles that we receive and he shows up a few times in John’s Gospel, but James (and this is James the Less / James the Younger, meaning he is not James of Jerusalem or John’s brother) other than a possible mention of him Mark’s Gospel, simply disappears from the records.  Because they are so rarely mentioned, it is easy to think of them in the same way we think of that left guard, which means, we don’t think of them much, but ask Jesus.  Ask Jesus what significance they played in the early Church and I’m guessing you will hear a very different story.

When it comes to our work in the Church, we may at times see ourselves as the right fielders and one of us may occasionally get the ‘Big Bat’ mention or we may see ourselves at that left guard, but in the eyes of Jesus, we can be seen as the Philips and the James, or the Phoebe and the Joanna.  We can be seen as servants of our God, faithfully fulfilling the individual call Jesus has placed on each of our lives.  And remember, we are not alone in this great work.  We have Jesus and we have one another.  As St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “Do you see? One strand of wire entwined with another, many woven tightly together, form that cable strong enough to lift huge weights.  You and your brothers, with wills united to carry out God’s will can overcome all obstacles.”  (The Way #480)  Together, accomplishing the will of God.

Sermon: Easter Sunday RCL C – “What’s Next?”

The podcast is available here.

My first job out of college was as a statistical analyst for a marketing firm.  That might seem odd for a fella who struggled with math all the way through school, but you see, as a statistical analyst, I didn’t have to come up with the number, I just needed to know how to manipulate the number and pull the wanted data out of it.  So, statistics and numbers are always ‘fun’ to me and what I found fascinating about the marketing industry itself is that world wide, advertisers spent $584 billion in 2017 trying to sell us stuff.  In the US alone, advertisers spent $197.5 billion in 2017, which means they spent $606 on every man, woman and child.  Honestly, I’d rather have a check.  The big question is: what is the purpose?  One who teaches companies about advertising answers the question for us: “As an advertiser, it is your job to create discontentment inside the psyche of your prospects, and make them desire the change that you’re offering.”  In other words, the first goal of most advertising is to make you unhappy with who you are and what you have, and the second goal of advertising is to make you go out and buy more stuff so that you will be happy… at least until the next and greatest model or version comes out. 

In a cemetery in England there’s a grave marker with the inscription: SHE DIED FOR WANT OF THINGS.  Alongside that marker is another which reads: HE DIED TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO HER.

I would like to tell you that I’m not susceptible to these marketing ploys, but I’m afraid my Apple Watch would zap me for lying on Easter Sunday.  No, I’m not anti-stuff.  I like stuff.  However, it seems the way advertisers work—making us discontent with what we have and who we are so that we’ll look for something new—plays itself out in other areas of our lives, all of which leads us to an attitude of “What’s next?”  What are we going to do now?  Who are we going to see now?  We can find ourselves in such a constant anticipation of what is going to happen next, that we can no longer experience joy of the present moment.  

The same is true in our life and worship of God.  It’s not that we object to the worship, but there is always the “What’s next” hanging over it.  How many of you have plans for after the service?  Most.  Ok, how many of you are saying to yourselves, “If this guy goes on for too long, we’re going to miss our reservation!… we’re not going to get a parking place… or whatever.”  It’s not that we object to worshiping God, but it is the “what next” that prohibits us from truly experiencing the joy that comes from fellowship and from taking part in this grand celebration, that his happening, right here, right now.  But the issue of the “what next” goes even deeper than that.

This week, we’ve been walking with Jesus.  He made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  What’s next?  He washed our feet.  What’s next?  He was arrested.  What’s next?  He was crucified, died, and was buried.  What’s next?  He rose from the dead.  What’s next?  Through his sacrifice, we have been redeemed, restored to God.  OK… What’s next?  The greatest news the world has ever received: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  “What’s next?”

The truth is, there will always be something next until this world is no more, but this great news of the Gospel message isn’t like something that the advertisers are trying to sell to us.  This Good News is not something we become discontent with and go looking for the next version or newer and flashier models.  This Good News of Jesus Christ is something that we spend a life time living into and growing in.  But, if you spend a life chasing the “what next”… then you will always be sad and discontent, never stopping long enough to experience the joy of being the sons and daughters of God.

I like to tell you about my friends, those saints I always quote to you: Thomas à Kempis, Josemaría Escrivá… I suppose I shouldn’t put Stephen King in that group, but I do have other friends that keep me company that I don’t share with you, because, well… a priest isn’t supposed to read them.  For example, one of my other friends, and he is a very good friend, is a foul-mouthed atheist.  His name is Henry Miller.  His books were banned in the US, which made me want to read them even more.  I believe he was very much a genius, and although he claims to be an atheist, he understood more about God than most of us who run around in fancy robes.  He writes: “‘Weep and you weep alone’—what a lie that is!  Weep and you will find a million crocodiles to weep with you.  The world is forever weeping.  The world is drenched in tears.  Laughter, that’s another thing.  Laughter is momentary—it passes.  But joy, joy is a kind of ecstatic bleeding, a disgraceful sort of super contentment which overflows from every pore of your being.  You can’t make people joyous yourself.  Joy has to be generated in oneself: it is or it isn’t.  Joy is founded on something too profound to be understood and communicated.”  And he sums it all up so beautifully, “To be joyous is to be a madman in a world of sad ghosts.”

The world is forever weeping, because it is is in constant pursuit of “what next.”  It cannot be joyful, because the promised happiness the world offers is never realized, and if it is, it is only momentary—it passes.  However, there is a joy that comes from knowing and being known by God that far exceeds anything we could ever ask for or imagine.  It is that profound joy that comes only from the Good News of Jesus Christ, which should make us all such joyful madmen and madwomen, that no matter “what next” comes our way and no matter how many sad ghosts surround us, we can stand in unwavering faith, knowing that Our God is standing with us.

Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did—including conquering death itself—was for you.  It was so that you might be with him eternally, and it was so that you might have life and have life abundantly, not in the “what next”, but in the right now.  In this very moment.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Allow yourself the opportunity to experience the profound joy of the Lord. 

Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace.  Jesus in your Name.  Amen.

Sermon: Good Friday

The podcast is available here.

“Christ’s thorn-crowned head lies low on his sacred breast and no longer are there any signs of life in him.  His eyes see nothing—and yet nothing is secret or hidden from him.  His ears hear nothing—and yet he knows all things even before they come to pass.  He, who endows all flowers with sweet scents, smells nothing, and he, who gives life and supplies food to all the living, has lost his taste.  He, who opened the mouths of the dumb, is now unable to move his lips, and he, who taught his followers, cannot utter a single word.  The tongue that spoke only the truth is now silenced, and the face once brighter than the sun is now without color.

“His cheeks, fair as those of a turtledove, have lost their radiance, and his hands, that stretched out the heavens above, are pierced by hard and sharp nails.  His knees, so accustomed to being bent in prayer, are now naked and limp, and his legs, those marble columns that used to support his body’s weight, are now unsteady and powerless.  His feet, so often weary from going about preaching are now iron-bound to the wood of the cross.”  (On the Passion of Christ: According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas à Kempis, p.143-4)

My friend Thomas à Kempis wrote that.

Last week, Palm Sunday, I shared with you a passage from a Stephen King book and in the process, confessed that I read and reread his books.  There’s also Dean Koontz and several others of a similar genre.  Cousin Janie will tell you that when I get to pick the movie, it is going to be about zombies, giant raging spiders, aliens, and the likes.  What I don’t like in my books and movies is real life.  Someone being eaten by a zombie is fine.  Someone being hurt by another person, whether emotionally or physically… not so much.  Books, films where the dog dies… never.  (And I still haven’t forgiven J. K. Rowling for killing off Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig.)  What’s the difference between a zombie killing off someone compared to another person doing the same?  For me, what even seems like real life pains and hurts in a movie or a book, begins to hurt my soul, because although the movie or book may be fiction, it could actually happen.  I know it’s not real when Godzilla goes crashing through Los Angeles.  

So, when I am confronted with the reality of Jesus’ death… I hurt, because I cannot avoid it and then I become angry at those who did this to my King.  And then I become more angry when I realize that I am as equally to blame as they.  With Simon Peter, I want to cry out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Yet, Jesus responds as he did to Peter, “Do not be afraid.”  It is for this reason that I came, so that you and all who call on my name may be saved and have life eternal.  I die that you may live.

We may recoil at the site of the corpse of Jesus our King, but in seeing it, we are seeing our salvation; and in faith, we know that his death is only temporary… but, we have not yet reached that part of the story.  Today, we are here and there he lies.  As Brother Thomas writes, “Such is my beloved, O Daughters of Jerusalem, such is my friend, and it is to this deplorable condition that death has brought him.  If I were to die a thousand times for him, it would still not be adequate compensation for his love.”

Let us pray: O sweet Jesus, Redeemer of our souls, who can grant us to die with you on the Cross, and when it it time for us to leave our bodies to share in the happiness of that hour?  We ask from the depths of our hearts to allow us, in these frail bodies of ours, to live so as to direct all our actions and desires in accordance with your good pleasure, and that after we prove ourselves through many a temptations, we may complete the course our our lives in the state of grace and arrive at the reward of eternal grace.  Amen.

Sermon: Wednesday in Holy Week

The podcast is available here.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna is a Hebrew expression which means “save”, so the people were calling Jesus, Savior, thinking he was a warrior king that would release them from the bondage of the Romans. But Jesus, when he road into town, wasn’t riding a war chariot or a tank or an F-15. Jesus was riding a donkey, which was not only a fulfillment of prophecy, but a sign of peace.

The people forgot that earlier Jesus had taught them by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. The pure in heart. Peacemakers. Persecuted.”

Not only this, but the people forgot the words spoken of the Christ by the prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

Love. Mercy. Meekness. Righteous. Purity. Blessed. Peacemaker. Wonderful. Counselor.

What part of this would make them think that Jesus was a revolutionary, intent on overthrowing the government? What part of this said anything like that? Yet, when Jesus did not fulfill the peoples desires, their hearts turned against Him. Among them was one of the twelve, Judas son of Simon Iscariot, who would later regret his actions, but because of his great disappointment, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

If he is not going to be our warrior king, then what good is he? He can’t even save himself, so how could he possibly expect to save us? What kind of king is this? To heck with mercy and peacemakers! What good is all this talk of loving your enemy, when your enemy has got a sword in your back?

When Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem the people forgot what Jesus was truly about. They forgot that his kingdom was not of this world. They forgot that not only would he eventually give them true freedom from those who oppressed them, but that he would also give them freedom from death itself.

When Jesus stood before Pilate and the crowds, the people forgot the teachings, miracles, the raising of Lazarus, and all the rest. So they cried out, “Crucify Him.”

I won’t try and answer these questions for you, but what expectations have you placed upon Jesus? He has given you eternal life, do you expect more? And, if He does not meet your expectations, will you abandon Him? If He doesn’t give you what you desire, will you betray Him? I don’t for a second believe that any of you would, but I think we should recognize that there is probably a little bit of Judas in all. So, we must remember to never look to Jesus simply for the “gifts” he gives. Instead, we look to him, we love him for who he is – God – and for what he has already done – saved. My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.” Our relationship with Jesus is not about what he does. It is about His love for us and our love for Him. Everything else is truly irrelevant.