Sermon: Easter 4 RCL A – The Shepherd

The podcast is available here.

The service via YouTube is available here.

As we are in the great outdoors today, I thought I would share with you a recent environmental event and study that comes out of California.

It seems that the California Department of Transportation recently found over 200 dead crows on the highways and given that we already dealing with one pandemic there was real concern that the crows may have died from Avian Flu. A Pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, and, to everyone’s relief, confirmed the problem was not Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be from vehicular impacts. However, during analysis it was noted that varying colors of paints appeared on the bird’s beaks and claws. By analyzing these paint residues it was found that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with motorcycles, while only 2% were killed by cars.

The Agency then hired an Ornithological Behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of motorbike kills versus car kills. The Ornithological Behaviorist quickly concluded that when crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow to warn of danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows could shout “Cah!”, not a single one could shout “Motorcycle!”

At this point, I am beginning to wonder if all this isolation is effecting my mental stability.

So we are getting back to nature today. We don’t have any crows around and I’m fairly certain that if a sheep showed up in Mary’s backyard we would be having a bit of mutton alongside that big ol’ fish I caught last weekend.

Ok… enough silliness for one day. Sheep and shepherds.

Today, the closest time most of us come into contact with sheep is when we put on a wool sweater. As for the shepherd, it is imagery that we know from pastoral paintings, but it is a role that we know very little about. Yet, in the time of Jesus and even today in the Middle East, the shepherd still plays a very vital role, which accounts for the high number of times sheep and shepherd are mentioned in Holy Scripture. We are most familiar with the appearance of the shepherds in at the nativity, but they appear 246 more times.

I’ve always thought of the sheep as being a relatively stupid animal, but it turns out they are extremely intelligent. After being separated for years they can remember individual sheep and humans. They display emotion, primarily with their ears (although they will wag their tails like a dog when happy). They form very close bonds with one another and even have best friends/sheep. If they get to feeling ill, they know which plant to eat to make themselves feel better. They are highly independent, but love to socialize. And they do in fact know the sound of their masters voice. You can go online and watch videos of a flock of sheep with person after another calling to them and the sheep could care less, but when the master calls, they stop and come running. It is quite impressive. (I would show it to you, but the copyright police would come after me.)

When the weather is good, the sheep are allowed to graze the countryside and the shepherd watches over them with his rod (“Your rod and your staff they comfort me”), a long stick with a knot on the end, which is good for bonking wolves on the head and protection from would be thieves. However, when the weather turns bad, the sheep are taken to the sheepfold. This is an enclosure that is surrounded by a rock wall (about three feet wide at the base and narrowing at the top) that is about six feet tall. At the top of the wall are placed very thorny vines to keep out thieves and predatory animals. There is a low building on the inside for when the weather gets worse. Finally, there is one entrance, one gate into the fold. At night, the gate is where the shepherd sleeps in order to keep the sheep in and the riff-raff out.

Now, hear the lesson again: Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way (who climbs over the wall and through the thorny vines) is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate (the only gate) is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. (They are very intelligent animals, remembering a human for years after they have been absent) He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. (In the video – that I can’t show you – the sheep do not listen to anyone else.)

Jesus said, “I am the gate. (I am the one place where you may enter into the safety of the sheepfold.) Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. (He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.) The thief comes (climbing the wall and breaking in) only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (“…and my cup is running over.”)

The Lord accomplishes all this. He is the gate. Through his life, he gives us water to drink, nourishment, one another, green pastures, security, and more. As he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” He came so that we could declare with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” But here’s the funny bit (but not, Haha funny). The atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, stated it best, “If Christians want me to believe in their redeemer, they need to look more redeemed.” The author, Marcellino D’Ambrosio, reflected on this statement: “To Nietzsche most Christians looked just as burdened, clueless and lost as everybody else. When he looked into their eyes, he did not see hope, excitement, joy, and a sense of purpose. They seemed to be still wandering around the Sinai desert, emaciated and anemic; their faces full more of impossibilities than possibilities.” (Source)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Nietzsche would ask, if that is true, why do so many Christians appear to be in great want? Why do their lives not reflect abundance, fullness? Maybe Jesus gave us a clue: “All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Why do we, though we are in fact very rich, appear to be paupers? Answer: I think, on occasion, we listen to the thieves and the bandits. Jesus says that he gives us all we need in order to live in abundance and joy, but then a thief comes along and says, “You would have a better life, if….” “You could experience joy, if….” “You could live in abundance of life, if….” That “if” works itself out in flagrant and subtle ways. Whichever the case, that “if” drives you to grab for more, instead of finding joy in what you have. That “if” pushes your eye to the future and what could be, instead of now and the blessings of today. That “if” does so many things: drives wedges in happy relationships, brings addiction, robs time, destroys families, conquers the joy of the present moment, and ultimately, that “if” bankrupts any possibility of an abundant life.

I shared this with you several years ago, but it is worth hearing again: Brennan Manning, in the Ragamuffin Gospel, writes about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Rabbi had a heart attack and was near death. A good friend came to see him who reports that the Rabbi, with great effort, said to him, “Sam, I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I have lived. I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.” After a pause while he caught his breath, the Rabbi continued, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked God for wonder, and He gave it to me.”

The Rabbi never had much time for the “ifs” in his life and at the end of life, he had nothing but gratitude.

The “if”… the thief is no shepherd. That bandit comes into our lives only to steal and kill and destroy. Therefore, turn to the Shepherd of your life and follow him. In him and in the life he gives is true happiness, abundance, wonder; for when we no longer want, we’ll discover that we have all we need.

And on that, I hope that I can practice what I preach.

Let us pray: Father of Heaven and earth, hear our prayer and show us the way to peace. Guide each effort of our lives so that our faults and sins may not keep us from the peace You promise. May the new life of grace You give through the Eucharist make our love for You grow and keep us in the joy of Your Kingdom. Amen.

Sermon: Easter 3 RCL A – Road to Emmaus

The podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.

We are in an argument with North Dakota. They say they have it and we say that we have it. They’re wrong. What is the argument about? Who has the longest and straightest stretch of road. Well, I’m here to report to North Dakota that facts are facts. Their highway 46 can only offer up 31 miles, where as our highway 412 between Slapout and Hardesty boasts over 65 miles of razor edge straight, which, by the way, pales in comparison to a road in Saudi Arabia that has 162 miles of… I’m guessing, nothing.

One of my favorite films is The Way with Martin Sheen. It is about the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage across Spain. Sheen and two others meet “Jack from Ireland” for the first time. Jack writes for travel magazine and at this meeting he’s having a bit of crisis and goes into a bit rant about the Way and roads in general. He says, “The idea of a pilgrim’s journey on this road, is a metaphor bonanza! Friends, the road itself is amongst our oldest tropes. The high road and the low. The long and winding, the lonesome, the royal, the open road and the private, the road to hell, the tobacco road, the crooked, the straight and the narrow. There’s the road stretching into infinity, bordered with lacy mists favored by sentimental poets. There’s the more dignified road of Mr. Frost. And for Yanks, every four years, there’s the road to the White House. Then you have the road which most concerns me today, the wrong road, which I fear I must surely have taken.”

The Bible also has many metaphors of the road. Isaiah 40:3, which will later be picked up by John the Baptist: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” And, of course, Psalm 23: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

And then there are the stories of those on journeys: the Israelites through the wilderness, the roads into exile, Jesus road to Jerusalem, and—in the words of Jack from Ireland—you have the road which most concerns us today: the road to Emmaus, which is a biblical event, but also a metaphor.

As for the event: it takes place on the same day that the holy women discovered the empty tomb, so Easter Sunday. We are told that two of Jesus’ disciples, one of them is named Cleopas, are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It would seem that they had been in Jerusalem on Friday when Jesus was crucified, so they most likely were present at his triumphal entry. As it was late in the day on Friday when Jesus died, the would have stayed in Jerusalem through Saturday night, because Saturday was the Sabbath and the Law would not have allowed for such a long walk on the Sabbath. As they could have walked the seven miles to Emmaus in less than three hours and it was almost dark when they arrived, then they probably didn’t leave Jerusalem until late afternoon on Sunday. They knew that some of their companions who had been with Jesus were reporting that they had seen the Lord, that he had risen, but that wasn’t enough to keep them in Jerusalem. Maybe they weren’t convinced or maybe they just couldn’t believe. Maybe they were just going home. Whatever the case, they met Jesus along the way.

Jesus asked them what they had been discussing along the way and their initial response was the equivalent of asking him what rock he had just crawled out from under. (You saw what I did there… right? What rock… stone rolled away… never mind.) They go into detail of all the events and then Jesus goes into detail: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” And this was no short list.

Once they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus, although the two disciples had not yet recognized him, appears as though he is going to continue on, but the two invite him in to supper and to stay the evening with them. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” Whether it was the prayer or the way he broke the bread or just flashback to a few evenings before at the Last Supper, they recognized him. To say that they recognized him is just another way of saying that they finally got it. Remember, all the time they spent with Jesus before the crucifixion, they never really understood the things he was telling them. In recognizing him in Emmaus, they finally put it all together and returned to Jerusalem to tell the others.

There are many Sundays worth of sermons in these events, so instead of preaching them all today, I want to go back to the idea of the road, because the road to Emmaus is a metaphor, it is symbolic in many ways of the road we travel, and today I would like for us to see it as means of hope.

Rev. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is considered one of the most influential reformed / protestant preachers of the 20th century. In one of his more famous sermons, he teaches about these two disciples and tells the story of the time he was asked to assist with a man who was very devout and involved in the church, but over the years, lost his faith and left the church, due to an increasing depression. Martyn agreed and met with the man. As the conversation progressed, Martyn asked the fella if he knew the source of the depression and together, they eventually found it. The man reports that in 1914 he was serving on submarine in the Mediterranean. A naval battle ensues: “We were submerged in the sea, and we were all engaged in our duties when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine, and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.” (Source) What Martyn went on to discover was that it wasn’t the sinking that was the source of the man’s depression, it was that he had remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean all his life. You see, Martyn kept asking him, “What happened next? What happened after the submarine sank? What was the rest of the story?” But the man kept saying, that was it. They sank. He never talked about how they were rescued. How he survived. It was all about the sinking to the bottom.

The two individuals on the road to Emmaus could only talk about what happened and what had gone wrong. “This Jesus was a great prophet. We loved him. We thought he was going to redeem Israel, set us free from the Romans. But the people turned against him. The religious leaders had him put to death. We… we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean.” Martyn says this is a problem for many. He said, “We are so aware of the problems, so immersed in them, that we have forgotten all of the glory that is around us and have seen nothing but the problems that lead to this increasing dejection. That is my analysis of these men on the road to Emmaus.”

We can be like that and these days, it is easy to do. All the things we can’t do, can’t buy, people we can’t be with, events we can’t attend… can’t, can’t, can’t… my goodness, we’ve sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean! But then…. then there’s Jesus, who says, “Walk with me for awhile. Let me help you to understand. What you are experiencing does not have the final say, for I have overcome it all.”

For those two disciples, N.T. Wright explains the problem: “It had been, a matter of telling, and living, the wrong story-or, at least the right story in the wrong way. But now, suddenly, with the right story in their head and hearts, a new possibility-huge, astonishing, and breathtaking-started to emerge before them.”

The same is true with us. We keep telling ourselves the wrong story. “We can’t. We’re sunk to the bottom of the sea. All is lost.” Yet, along that road, at the bottom of the sea, however you want to see it—there is Jesus, and in the midst of our can’t and fears, he speaks a message of hope that is huge, astonishing, and breathtaking. He speaks of new life. Resurrection from death and despair and can’ts.

When it seems that the road you are traveling is fraught with problems and impossibilities, stop and look around. In doing so, you’ll find that the One who is resurrection and life, is traveling with you.

Let us pray:
Father of love, hear our prayer.
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.

Sermon: Easter 2 RCL A / Sunday, April 29, 2020

The podcast is available here.

The Youtube service is here.

Paddy O’Sulluivan was in New York .  He was patiently waiting and watching the traffic cop on a busy street crossing. The cop stopped the flow of traffic and shouted, ‘Okay, pedestrians.’ Then he’d allow the traffic to pass.  He’d done this several times, and Paddy still stood on the sidewalk.  After the cop had shouted, ‘Pedestrians!’ for the tenth time, Paddy went over to him and said, ‘Is it not about time ye let the Catholics across?’

I tell you that one, not because it has anything to do with the sermon, but because of our current circumstances.  Many of our Protestant friends have been doing video and streaming their services for quite some time, but for most of us in the more catholic / liturgical traditions, this is all new ground.  I’m delighted that you are watching and that you’ve enjoyed the services, but I do want to let you know that we are working at getting better.  As parts of this service were recorded at different times, you’ll already notice that some parts – including the music – have a better sound quality and we’re looking at ways to get even better.  If you have an idea, let us know.

Ok… Sermon…

On the first Sunday after Christmas (yes, Christmas), we always read the Prologue from John’s Gospel.  On the first Sunday after Easter (today), we always read the passage from John about Jesus appearing to the disciples and the incident with the Apostle Thomas.  It is these two passages that bookend the Gospel of John (some scholars believe that chapter 21 of John’s Gospel was added later, although this doesn’t not effect the the reliability of the message.)  John, when writing his prologue, had this ending of his Gospel that we read in mind.  The Prologue reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Word was God, and what did Thomas say to Jesus in today’s Gospel?   “My Lord and my God!”  In John’s Gospel, Thomas’ declaration, “My Lord and my God” is the first time anyone refers to Jesus as God.  John takes us from God and the Word, Jesus, who were in the beginning before time began, and he takes us all the way through to this Jesus who was prophesied about by the prophets, born in a manger, lived, proclaimed, died, and rose from the dead, and in doing so he is proving to us that this Jesus is in fact God… the God who was in the beginning.  And it is this God who is standing before Thomas and the others.  But he is also showing the Apostles, and thus us, that this Jesus they knew prior to his crucifixion is different, for he is no longer constrained to the same physical limitations that we are and that he was. 

We see this in two passages in today’s Gospel: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.”  And then, “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them.”  The resurrected Jesus is making these appearances as though “out of thin air.”  That may sound a bit strange to us, but let me ask you this, is it any more strange than turning water into wine, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, or walking on the water?  No.  These appearances of Jesus are more signs of his divinity, and the signs point to the fact that through Jesus, the Kingdom of God – Heaven – has come very near to us.

Now, bear with me a minute and don’t go thinking I’ve gone and slid off the cracker.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are many references to when God is very near to His people.  Consider Jacob who had a dream about the angels ascending and descending on a ladder.  Scripture says, “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’”  He believed that the place where he slept was much more near to the Kingdom of God than other places.  Then there was Moses.  He sees the burning bush and goes up the mountain and the Lord says to him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  The ground is holy, because of its nearness to God.   And remember Elijah.  He was afraid and ran to the wilderness where he hid in a cave.  God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”  And then there was a great wind that tore the mountains, but God was not in the wind, then an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in them either, but “after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”  God was very near and spoke to him in the whisper.

Way back in the 5th century, Celtic Christianity/spirituality began to arise in Ireland and Scotland, and within their practices and understanding, the places where Jacob, Moses, Elijah and others had these experiences of God would be called “thin places.”  Locales where Heaven, God is much more near to this world and his people than he is in other places.  These are places where heaven and earth seem to mingle and share the same space.  I tell you this because I think it is one of the best ways of understanding how Jesus could have appeared to his apostles as though “out of thin air.”  For a brief time, Heaven and Earth came together, mingled in that place where Thomas and the other Apostles were gathered and Jesus appeared.  It is dramatically different from the appearances in the Old Testament, because God did not simply appear in a dream, or a burning bush, or even a whisper.  Instead, with Jesus, God appeared in the flesh, but it is still a time when Heaven and Earth came together.  Now, within Celtic spirituality, these types of places, these thin places don’t only exist in Biblical times.  They believe that these places, where Heaven and Earth meet, can exist anywhere or at anytime.  

That was something that the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those who went out in the deserts of northern Egypt in the third century, understood.  Although they didn’t call it a thin place, they did understand the desert to be such place.  Italian author Alessandro Pronzato said, “The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man.”  Elizabeth Hamilton, who wrote a biography on Charles de Foucauld, one of the great desert fathers, said it in a similar way: “The desert is a place where the soul encounters God.”  The desert then, for them, can be understood as a thin place, but Hamilton went onto add, “The desert… can be anywhere.”  And that is what is most important for you and I to understand, especially while we are separated like this.  The desert can be anywhere.  The thin place can be anywhere.  The place where Heaven and Earth come together can be anywhere.   It is the mountain where Moses encountered God.  Behind locked doors where Thomas and the Apostles encountered Jesus.  In this building (Oh, I do certainly believe this is one of those places), where we so often come to worship.  But it doesn’t end there, because these places can also be in your home, where you are sitting at this very moment.

It is very difficult not to be with one another and worship together in this thin place, but I tell you: if you seek him, wherever you are, you will encounter him.  And just as Thomas reached out his hand and touched God, you too can reach out the hands of your soul and do the same.  Whether here or wherever you are.  Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come back here when we all can, but it does mean that He is with you and that you, where you are at this very moment are near to the Kingdom of God, to Heaven, and God himself.  

Let us pray: Jesus, our Lord, save us from our sins.  Come, protect us from all dangers and lead us to salvation.  Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love.  By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your Kingdom, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever.  Amen.

Sermon: The Cup of Jesus

Global Positioning System (aka: GPS): there are 24 satellites circling the earth that send and receive signals allowing for pinpoint accuracy in location. For example, if you were in Berlin and you typed in the coordinates 36.3983 and -97.8847, you would be able to see exactly where I’m standing at this very moment. You can see where the military would be interested in such information, but others have had all sorts of fun with GPS locating, including those who enjoy Geocaching. It’s a thing. People hide objects all over the world, then upload the GPS location of the object to a website and then others will go out and find those locations. There are 130 locations just around Enid. All this to say, one of the most sought after item in the history of humankind could use a GPS location, because we still haven’t found it: the Holy Grail.

It is believed that the Holy Grail was used at the Last Supper for that first Eucharist and a day later used by Joseph of Arimathaea to collect the blood of Jesus as he died upon the cross. Later, legend has it that Joseph took it to England, but then it would be lost. The legend of the Grail and King Arthur and his quest all flow from these stories. True or not? I’ll let you join in the search along with Robert Langdon and the DaVinci Code. But why the search? If true, the religious significance for the faithful is tremendous, but legend tells that the cup also brings health, wealth and happiness to the one who possess it. It brings power. It is believed to drink from the Holy Grail of Jesus, to drink from his cup, is to have power.

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’” James and John had it all wrong. They thought to drink from Jesus’ cup was to share in his power. Oh, yes, they said. We can drink from that cup of power. We can handle the responsibility. The power won’t corrupt us. We can rule with you. They said, Yes, but they made the same mistake that King Arthur and so many others would later make. The cup that Jesus was to drink from was not a cup of power. It was something all together different. In fact, it was the opposite. From the Prophet Isaiah:

Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
(Isaiah 51:17)

From St. John’s Revelation:

“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger.” (Revelation 9b-10a)

James and John believed that the cup Jesus was offering was the cup of power. They were wrong. The cup he was offering was the cup of God’s wrath, which awaits those who have done evil, for those who have sinned. Yet Jesus did not sin, but as John teaches us, Jesus “is the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) The cup that Jesus had to drink was the cup of God’s wrath, not for his sins, but ours and those of the whole world.

Sermon: Lent 2 RCL A – Scourging at the Pillar

This is part two of a five part series on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Podcast is available here.

Second Sorrowful Mystery: Scourging at the Pillar

Pilate speaks: It is your custom that I release one prisoner to you on the Pasch. Whom shall I set free, Barabbas —a thief jailed with others for a murder —or Jesus? (Matt 27:17) —Put this man to death and release unto us Barabbas, cries the multitude, incited by their chief priests (Luke 23:18).

Pilate speaks again: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ? (Matt 27:22) Crucify Him!

Pilate, for the third time, says to them: Why, what evil has He done? I find no fault in Him that deserves death (Luke 23:22).

The clamour of the mob grows louder: Crucify Him, crucify Him! (Mark 15:14)

And Pilate, wishing to please the populace, releases Barabbas to them and orders Jesus to be scourged.

Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds.

The blows of the lash sound upon His torn flesh, upon His undefiled flesh, that suffers for your sinful flesh. —More blows. More fury. Still more… It is the last extreme of human cruelty.

Finally, exhausted, they unbind Jesus. —And the body of Christ yields to pain and falls limp, broken and half dead.

You and I are unable to speak. —Words are not needed. —Look at Him, look at Him… slowly. After this… can you ever fear penance?

(Source: Holy Rosary by St. Josemaría Escrivá)


In Matthew, Barabbas is described as a “notorious prisoner,” John has him as a “bandit,” Mark and Luke have him involved in a riot. However we refer to him, the crime he committed was punishable by death. As I meditated on this mystery, I began to see myself in his place and from there, I wondered…

When Pilate asked, “Who do you want me to release for you,” who’s name would I have wanted to hear them shout out? How would I feel if I understood that he was truly innocent and I had been set free? How would I have felt that those who had called for my release really didn’t care about me, they just wanted Jesus dead. And from there, how would I have felt when I realized that the only one who actually cared anything about me was to be scourged by the same soldiers who just set me free. I also wondered what it would have been like, as I was walking away from the guards to have caught Jesus eyes.

As I meditated on this mystery and wondered about these things, I also had answers. Who’s name would I want to hear the crowds calling out? Mine. How would I feel about walking away free, knowing he was the innocent one? I’m sorry for him, yes, but I suppose I would have thought, “Tough break.” Did I care that the crowd really didn’t care for me? No. Don’t much care for them either. What were my thoughts on realizing Jesus was the only one who really cared for me? Well, isn’t that the way it always is?

Yes. I have answers for all these questions, except the last. That last question really haunts me, because although I have an answer, I don’t like it. What would I have seen in Jesus eyes as I walked away free and he condemned? The answer, of course, is love. I would have seen love and gratitude. Grateful that he could even save my wretched life.

As my friend Thomas à Kempis wrote in On the Passion of the Christ, “Woe to me, unfortunate sinner, weighed down with the heavy burden of sin! Because of my evil deeds I deserve to be assigned to eternal punishment, but you, holy, just, and loving God, chose to be despised and detested to deliver me from the devil’s deceits and everlasting death.” (Source: On the Passion of Christ: According to the Four Evangelists, p. 47)

The very difficult truth is that we are all Barrabas. Like him, we have all sinned and the punishment for our sins is the same death sentence that he received for his. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) As we meditate on these events, we realize that we are the ones standing with Jesus and facing the crowd, waiting on the verdict from Pilate, and it is there that we understand, though we are guilty we are set free. Not because of anything that we have done or deserve, but because of God’s grace. Because God’s one and only son chose to love us, who are all Barrabas. But here’s the thing, being Barrabas isn’t necessarily bad.

The name Barrabas is made up of two words, Bar Abba. Bar, meaning son and Abba meaning Father, so the name Barrabas means “Son of the Father.” We are all Barrabas, but because of God’s grace, we are all set free, and in being set free, we become Bar Abba, children of the Father. But now, as those children, we must watch Jesus being led away and are witnesses to his scourging. Witnesses to the punishment that was rightfully ours.

Last week we talked about how we must be honest with ourselves and with sincere hearts and minds, confront our own failings, so that we can rightly confess and allow the Lamb of God to take those sins with him to the cross, that through his great love for us, we might be redeemed. Yet, the idea of being honest and confessing often causes us to be fearful. And so, even though it is not possible to hide from God, as the Psalmist says:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139:7, 11-12)

Even though it is not possible to hide from God, we pretend as though we could. We are like Adam and Eve in the Garden, after they had eaten the fruit: “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ [The man] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid.’” (Genesis 3:8-10) We are afraid to come before God, to confess, because we fear the punishment we so rightly deserve, but—and this is the Good News—the punishment has already been meted out. It is why Josemaría encouraged us to look at Jesus following the scourging: “Look at Him, look at Him… slowly. After this… can you ever fear penance?” Why would you fear to confess, to be penitent, “By his stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Consider again the words of The Exhortation: “Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 316)

There should be great fear in not confessing, but you are Bar Abba—you are God’s child and he endured the scourging that you might be with him. As the Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah:

‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:9b-10)

Let us pray:
Father, Your Love never fails.
Keep us from danger
and provide for all our needs.
Teach us to be thankful for Your Gifts.
Confident in Your Love,
may we be holy by sharing Your Life,
and grant us forgiveness of our sins.
May Your unfailing Love turn us from sin
and keep us on the way that leads to you.
Help us to grow in Christian love.

Sermon: Lent 1 RCL A – Agony in the Garden

This is part one of a five part series on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

The podcast is available here.

First Sorrowful Mystery: Agony in the Garden

“Pray that you may not enter into temptation”. —And Peter fell asleep. —And the other apostles. —And you, little friend, fell asleep…, and I too was another sleepy headed Peter.

Jesus, alone and sad, suffers and soaks the earth with His blood.

Kneeling on the hard ground, He perseveres in prayer… He weeps for you… and for me: the weight of the sins of men overwhelms Him.

Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from me… Yet not my will, but Thine be done (Luke 22:42).

An Angel from Heaven comforts Him. —Jesus is in agony. —He continues, praying more intensely… —He approaches us, who are asleep: Arise, pray —He says again—, lest you enter into temptation (Luke 22:46).

Judas the traitor: a kiss. —Peter’s sword gleams in the night. —Jesus speaks: Are you come, as to a robber, to apprehend Me? (Mark 14:48)

We are cowards: we follow Him from afar, but awake and praying. —Prayer… Prayer…

(Source: Holy Rosary by St. Josemaría Escrivá)


On that night, following the Last Supper, the apostles went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. Most stayed further away, but Jesus took Peter, James and John a little deeper into the garden. Before going on alone even further into the darkness, Jesus said to these three, “Sit here while I go over there and pray. My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” We know that after awhile, Jesus came back and found them sleeping. Waking them, he said, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time to pray then returned, only to find them again asleep. “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” The betrayer was Judas, who had left the Last Supper early to find the soldiers who would arrest Jesus, because he had earlier betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver.

If I had been there, do you know who I would have been talking about before I fell asleep? Hint: not Jesus. Judas. Yes, Judas. It is the middle of night. I’m tired and a little scared. Jesus was talking about all sorts of things, including betrayal, none of which I fully understood. I’m not sure about what I’m supposed to be doing, because Jesus is over there somewhere and we are simply lost when he is not around. So instead of thinking about all that: “Hey, guys, can you believe Judas tonight? The man is always a bit flaky, but he was so dang nervous tonight he was starting to make me more nervous than I already was. And did you see his face when Jesus washed his feet? He went as white as Lazarus that day when Lazarus stepped out of the tomb after being dead for a couple of days.” Yeah. I would have been talking about Judas.

Do you know who I would have thought about when Jesus woke me up? Yep. Judas again. I mean, let’s be honest, we may have fallen asleep, but we’re here, aren’t we? Who knows where that thief is. Probably out there spending some of the purse. He doesn’t think we noticed that he was running around in new sandals, but we saw and they looked expensive, had those fancy camel knee soles on them. Yeah, we’re here. That’s what really counts.

As I was running through the garden after Jesus was arrested… Judas on my mind. Can you believe the nerve of him. Kissed him! Called him, Teacher! Betrayer! I’ll tell you what—I think I lost those guards who were chasing me, I can slow down some—I’ll tell you, when I get my hands on Judas, I’m going to string him up.

In all these events, Judas is my guy. He makes me look good and I don’t have to think about my own failings. My own betrayals. My own sins.

The Lord told Moses and Aaron how they were to go about making the annual sacrifice during Yom Kippur for the people’s sins, part of which involved two goats. The two goats would be brought before Aaron, he would cast lots and the one selected was sacrificed, but from the sounds of it, the one sacrificed may have been the lucky goat. With the second goat, Aaron would lay his hands on it, thereby transferring all the sins of the people onto the goat. The goat was then taken deep into the wilderness where it was set free to return to Azazel, a demon. A spirit of desolation and ruin. It was believed that the goat was returning all the sins of the people back to their source, Azazel, the demon. This is, of course, where we get the idea of scapegoat. Someone or thing that we can lay our hands upon, thereby transferring all the blame and ridicule for all that has gone wrong, leaving everyone else free of all culpability, blame.

Following the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas is our second goat, our scapegoat. We can lay our hands on him and transfer all the sins to him and then set him loose in the wilderness to carry them away to Azazel. We never betrayed Jesus, we never fell asleep on Jesus, we never abandoned Jesus. We are innocent. So we think, but we are still in our sin. Therefore, we must be honest with ourselves and with sincere hearts and minds, confront our own failings, understanding that this is not an easy task. It is far easier to deny, to blame, to compare, than it is to admit we were wrong. And we are honest, not so that we can run around whipping ourselves, but so that we can rightly confess and allow the Lamb of God to take those sins with him to the cross, that through his great love for us, we might be redeemed.

The garden is the place where Jesus was left alone, betrayed, abandoned, not just by Judas, but by us all. And the garden is the place where Jesus made his final resolve to redeem all those failings: “Yet not my will, but Thine be done.” And it is God’s will that none of us should perish, but be redeemed and share in eternal life with him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Let us pray (based on Psalm 51:1-7):
Have mercy on us, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out our transgressions.
Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity,
and cleanse us from our sin!
For we know our transgressions,
and our sin is ever before us.
Against you, you only, have we sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, we were brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin were we conceived.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach us wisdom in our secret heart.
Purge us with hyssop, and we shall be clean;
wash us, and we shall be whiter than snow.

Sermon: Last Epiphany RCL A – Glory

The podcast is available here.

Visiting Ireland, Boudreaux walked into a bar in Dublin, ordered three pints of Guinness and sat in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finished them, he came back to the bar and ordered three more.

The bartender said, “You know, Boudreaux, a pint goes flat after I pour it. Wouldn’t you rather I pour fresh pints for you, one at a time?” Boudreaux replied, “Well, you see sha, I have two brothers. One is now in Nova Scotia and the other in France, and me, mais, I’m from Louisiana. When we all left home, we promised we’d drink this way to remember the days when we drank together.” The bartender admitted that this was a nice custom and left it there.

Boudreaux became a regular in the bar and always drank the same way: He ordered three pints and drank them in turn. One day he came in and ordered two pints. All the regulars noticed and fell silent, speculating about what might have happened to one of the absent brothers.

When Boudreaux went back to the bar for a second round, the bartender said, “Hey, Boudreaux, I don’t want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your great loss.”

Boudreaux looked confused for a moment and then a light dawned in his eye, and he laughed and said, “Oh, no, no, no, arrybody’s fine. I’ve just given up drinkin’ for Lent!”

The week before last I had the opportunity to go down to New Orleans and do a bit of Mardi Gras.

This past week I had influenza A also known as the flu which of course was my penance for going down to New Orleans and doing a bit of Mardi Gras. Fear not, I am medically cleared to once again be among the living.

If you think back to Christmas, you will recall that we heard the opening prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” A bit further, John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Since Christmas, we have been hearing about how this “glory of the one and only Son” was further revealed, and it began with the Epiphany (it takes place on January 6th each year), which celebrates the visitation of the wisemen and the revealing of the glory of God to the Gentiles.

Following the Epiphany, we read about Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple, where the Prophet Simeon also declared Jesus glory:

“Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the savior,
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”

Then there was his baptism. The dove, the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon him and the Father declared Jesus’ glory to all who were present: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus further revealed his glory in the calling of the disciples and in the great wisdom he showed through his teachings.

Think also about how Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” Ask yourself this, in saying that, could Jesus have been alluding to his own crucifixion and the glory to come? A city on a hill… a cross on a hill that all can see. A city built with Jesus as the cornerstone and the cross as the very foundation. A city which gives light, gives glory to all the world. And not only that, but a city of which you are a part, not only of the building, but of the glory itself, and like Jesus, you are called to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

You know how when you’re sitting out on a lake on a bright sunny day and there’s just enough of a breeze to cause a few small waves across the water. And on occasion, one of those small waves reflects the sunlight back to you perfectly and there is this sudden flash of light. It’s really all you can see. That’s what our readings have been like since Christmas. These sudden flashes of Jesus’ glory, but today: “Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Not a quick flash of light, but a full revealing.

What can be confusing is that we are so close on Christmas, that we can mistakenly believe that the Transfiguration of Jesus took place early in his ministry, but in the life of Jesus, he has already turned toward Jerusalem. Not only is this day a day when the glory of Christ is fully revealed, it is also the beginning of the journey to the Cross: for Jesus, the disciples, and for us, so what significance would the Transfiguration have had on the disciples and how can it assist us as we begin?

The African Impala is one of those amazing creatures in God’ creation. A bit like a deer in build. They can get up to 40 miles per hour when in a flat out run. That’s a pretty good clip, except when you are in a foot race with a cheetah who can hit 75 miles per hour in short burst. Given the cheetah likes a little venison for supper, it would seem that the Impala wouldn’t have a chance, but the Impala has learned a couple of tricks. One, stop on a dime and make a sharp turn. Cheetah’s have breaks, but they’re not that good. Second trick of the Impala, the ability to jump up to ten feet in the air. I think they rely more on the quick turn when in a race for their life, but I can see where jumping ten feet in the air might come in handy. Either way, the “supper time” routine has played out between these two since the beginning. What’s interesting about the Impala is that placed in a zoo, even though they can jump ten feet high, they can be confined to an enclosure that has only a three foot wall. Why? They won’t jump anywhere if they can’t see where their feet will land. They are confined by what they can’t see.

At the time leading up to the Transfiguration, perhaps Jesus understood this same issue with the disciples. Perhaps he knew they would follow, but in order to do so, to get through the trials and suffering and sorrows that were to come, they would need to see where their feet would land, they would need to see the glory that was to be revealed… not just a flash, but the glory in all its fullness. Archbishop Michael Ramsey wrote, “The Transfiguration is the revelation of the potential spirituality of the earthly life in the highest outward form. Here the Lord, as Son of Man, gives the measure of the capacity of humanity, and shows that to which he leads all those who are united with him.” In the Transfiguration, Jesus makes known to us, not only his glory, but our glory that is to come, and it is in that glory that we find our hope. A hope that sees us through trials and a hope that walks with us as we go the way of the Cross. As St. Paul said to the Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Since Christmas, we have been walking up the mountain and now Jesus has fully revealed himself and who we will become. Now… now we must begin the descent into the valley of the shadow of death. It is a place of great trials, so as you go, listen for the voice of the Shepherd, watch for signs of his glory, and keep his revealed glory ever before you, knowing that where he is, you will be also.

Let us pray: O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon: Epiphany 5 RCL A – Mind of Christ

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

The local sheriff in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana was looking for a deputy, so Boudreaux – who was not exactly the sharpest nail in the bucket went in to try out for the job.

“Okay,” the sheriff drawled, “Boudreaux, what is 1 and 1?”

“11,” he replied.

The sheriff thought to himself, “That’s not what I meant, but he’s right.”

“What two days of the week start with the letter ‘T’?”

“Today and tomorrow.”

He was again surprised that Boudreaux supplied a correct answer that he had never thought of himself.

“Now Boudreaux, listen carefully: Who killed Abraham Lincoln?”

Boudreaux looked a little surprised himself, then thought really hard for a minute and finally admitted, “I don’t know.”

“Well, why don’t you go home and work on that one for a while?”

So, Boudreaux wandered over to the pool hall where his pals were waiting to hear the results of the interview. Boudreaux was exultant.

“It went great! First day on the job and I’m already working on a murder case!”

The Intelligence Quotient (aka: IQ) can be defined as: “The whole of cognitive or intellectual abilities required to obtain knowledge, and to use that knowledge in a good way to solve problems that have a well described goal and structure.” (Source) Boudreaux I don’t know about, but the average person (68% of us) has an IQ between 85 and 115, and you have to be in the top 2% (IQ ~140 or above) to be admitted into Mensa—think Genius club.  Currently, the youngest member of Mensa is 3, with an IQ of 142.  Are you a genius?  Well, according to one genius, Albert Einstein, you are: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” (Source)  

Even though a person has a high IQ, as much as genius level, they can still be an idiot.  High IQ means you can quickly take in large amounts of information and utilize it in the given setting, but wisdom (not being an idiot) is something completely different.  Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says, “Typically people who can see beyond the information they’ve learned and apply it through analogies to other situations in their life or see other insights from it, those are the people we typically refer to as being exceptionally wise.” (Source)  So, not being an idiot isn’t dependent upon your IQ, it is dependent upon your wisdom.  

Why this talk of IQ, intelligence, and wisdom? St. Paul wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that we read, “Among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age… But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”  What does that mean for us?

A few weeks ago we wrapped up our study of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I had a number of folks say how confusing and difficult it was.  I went to seminary, have access to all these additional resources and even I had to stop and ask, “For the love of all things holy, what in the heck are you talking about?”  The ability to compare and contrast N.T. Wright’s to Gordon Fee’s views of Pauline Christology takes a higher IQ and intelligence than everyone I know, but to say that we are the body of Christ and Jesus is the head of the body, that is something most of us can get our heads around, and can understand, based on the information we have learned about our own bodies.  That is approaching wisdom, but we’re not quite there, because “God’s wisdom” that Paul referred to is our ability to take that and not only know it, but apply it—live it, because intelligence tells me that Jesus is the head, but wisdom directs me—the body—to submit to the mind of Christ instead of my own.  Which leads to one more question: where does that mind of Christ come from and how to we attain it?  St. Paul answers, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”  Through the Spirit of God, we have received the wisdom of God. As the author of Proverbs states, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)  We have the ability to understand what God expects of us, just as Jesus understood, because—and this is that mind blowing statement that we read—because “We have the mind of Christ.”  We can know what God expects of us, not because we have some high IQ and understand all things, but because we have the mind of Christ or put another way, we have the same Spirit of God within us that Jesus had in himself.  It is knowledge to be able to say it, but God’s wisdom to believe it, “We have the mind of Christ.”

When Jesus began to teach the things of God, what God expected of us, he spoke of the difference between intelligence in wisdom.  For example: Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  “You shall not murder” is intelligence.  It comes from the Book and can be learned, but to take it the next step and apply it to the attitude of the heart is wisdom.

Again, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  To know, “You shall not commit adultery,” is intelligence.  To understand that lusting in your heart is also adultery, that is wisdom.  You’ve taken the information and applied it to your life.

The Israelites were to be the salt of the earth.  They were to ‘season’ this life with God.  God and his teachings were to permeate every aspect of their lives.  They were also supposed to be the light of the world.  They were to draw others to God so that this ‘seasoning’ of God would be a part of others’ lives as well.  Why did Jesus judge the religious leaders—those who were to teach about being salt and light—why did he judge them so harshly?  Because they only taught and practiced ‘intelligence.’  They cared about outward/external things, but not internal, things of the heart.  As Jesus will later say, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”  Therefore he goes onto say to them, “You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?”  He wants them to take what they know of God through all their studies and understanding and then apply it, not only to their bodies, but to their hearts and souls as well.  And that message is the same for us, because at the end our Gospel reading, Jesus said to those who were listening, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness—your wisdom—exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Just about anyone can appear to be a ‘good’ Christian, while at the same time have a heart shrouded in darkness.  My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá said that to be like this is not to have the mind of Christ, but the “mask of Christ.” (cf. The Furrow #595)

We have been grafted into the people of God, so we are now also to be the ones who are salt and light.  With the mind of Christ, we are to have wisdom that teaches and guides us, so that others may see our good works—so that others may see God and give glory to our Father in heaven.  To accomplish this, we don’t need a Mensa level IQ, we need the mind of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, which is given to us all through the Spirit of God, for as Paul said, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”  Pray that the mind of Christ, the Spirit of God may enter you more fully and fill you with God’s wisdom.

Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that our every act may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within us.  Amen.