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.

Sermon: Palm Sunday RCL C

The podcast is available here.

The Judge, a character in The Stand by Stephen King, talks about his life and gives his thoughts on encountering God: “I like to creep through my daily round, to water my garden… to read my books, to write my notes for my own book… I like to do all those things and then have a glass of wine at bedtime and fall asleep with an untroubled mind. Yes. None of us want to see portents and demons, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see god… it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”

I think the Judge is onto something there. A Star in the East, pillar of fire, virgin birth, water into wine, sight to the blind, crucifixion, empty tomb… life is much simpler without all these things. We live and we die and whatever we choose to do between those two events is of our own making. But if these things do exist, then we are obligated to try and make some sense of the events that will unfold over the next week in the life of our Savior. In order to make some sense of them, we can’t just be passive observers. We must enter into the story and walk with Jesus.

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “We can’t let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.” (Christ is Passing By, #96) Therefore, today, I invite you to join in this most sacred time of the Christian year and walk with Jesus as he enters the Holy City of Jerusalem, institutes the Holy Eucharist, lays down his life, and rises to Glory.

Let us pray: Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Lent 5 RCL C – “Worship”

The podcast is available here.

I’ve shared with you in the past that many a redneck’s last words were, “Here, hold my beer.” It’s true, and I think most of us have attended parties where someone was at the point of doing something equally as stupid. Well, in today’s Gospel reading, alcohol was not involved, but that didn’t stop Mary from getting way out of control.

We aren’t sure how long prior to today’s episode that Lazarus was raised from the dead, but between the raising of Lazarus and today’s events, we are told that the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, had come together and decided to find a reason to put Jesus to death. They were afraid that since he was gaining such popularity, especially following the raising of Lazarus, that the Romans would come and persecute them all. It is here that we have that prophetic passage from Caiaphas, the Chief Priest: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Because of this, Jesus was no longer able to go around in public. However many days later, we come to today’s episode. A party or gathering at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ house. As before, Martha busied herself making and serving supper, and Mary took her place near Jesus. Following the meal, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Now, there is a litany of purity laws, customs, manners, and everything else that tell us what Mary did was a big ‘no no.’ Women don’t touch men, especially a rabbi. Women don’t let down their hair or run around with it uncovered, even in their own home. And oh, by the way, where did a woman come up with a year’s wages to buy such an expensive gift? Even today, what Mary did, wouldn’t go over real well at most parties (although I’m sure there are a few fellas who wouldn’t mind giving it a go). In the reading, Judas was the only one who protested, but it is reasonable to believe that, at the time, everyone else probably agreed with him. Woman, what are you doing? A whole litany of charges we could bring against Mary. It was definitely a “Here, hold my beer” moment.

I sat down this week to write this sermon, and that is exactly the sermon I was going to write, but as I read, what I discovered was that most of the early church Fathers and Mothers, and the commentators that I respect today, they could care less about that. If they mention the litany of charges against Mary at all, it is only in passing. Why? Because they can’t get past how much Mary must have loved Jesus, adored Jesus, how she gave everything she possibly could to Jesus. They can’t stop talking about her humility in anointing the Lord’s feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair. They speak about how Mary glorified God and she truly worshipped Jesus, and how the fragrance of that worship filled the house. I have to wonder if I have ever worshipped in such a manner, that the fragrance of my praise was noticeable to others.

I think this is where we can go wrong in our life with God. I’m even beginning to think it is one of the ways that I have not led you correctly. This God business is a very serious business. It is truly a matter of life and death, so I’m always pushing myself and others to pray more, learn more, read more… dig in and go to work that you may enter into a deeper relationship with God, but here’s the thing: our relationship with God is supposed to be more about loving God as Mary did. Adoring God as Mary did. Filling the air with the fragrance of our worship as Mary did. If all we do is read, study, and work harder attempting to be holy as he is holy, then we miss out. We miss out on purely and simply enjoying our God. Of sitting at his feet and just being with him for the sheer pleasure of it all.

I want to say, “God, help me to more fully understand grace. Teach me about the mystery of the Eucharist. Show me how I might serve you and your Church more fully.” There is nothing wrong with desiring these things, but every now and then, I think when I come to Jesus with these request, he says to me, “Hey, John, come here, I want to show you something.” And I’m think it is going to be the unveiling of some great revelation, but instead, when he has my full attention, he points and says, “Isn’t that a beautiful flower.” “Yes,” I say a bit taken aback. And then Jesus says the most remarkable thing. “How about we just sit and enjoy it together. After all, I made it for you.” That is worship. That is praise. Simply being with God and taking joy in his presence.

In The Joyful Christian, C.S. Lewis wrote: “To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression…. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Today, I’m not imploring you to study Holy Scripture more, to go to confession, to pray more earnestly, to give to the church in support of ministry… I’m not asking you to do any of these things. In fact, today, I’m not asking you to do anything. Instead, I’m giving you an opportunity and it is this: enjoy God. Love God. Like a child tells a parent or a man or woman tells their spouse, tell God of your love for Him. Let down your hair and worship the Lord your God. Enjoy the flowers. And let the fragrance of your love for the Savior fill the air in joyful praise and worship.

Let us pray (this is Canticle 13 from morning prayer, A Song of Praise or Song of the Three Young Men / Benedictus es, Domine)

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.