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.

Sermon: The Presentation of Our Lord

The podcast (now recorded live) is available here.

According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.

The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?”

The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”

When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air.

When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.”

God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not be patient with him one night?”

“Patience is a virtue,
Possess it if you can.
Found seldom in a woman,
Never in a man.”
(Source unknown)

Personally, I think I’m doing better with being patient, except for bad drivers and stupid. You all know that bad drivers make me crazy, but stupid also has a way of putting me over the edge. God, as Abraham learned, is patient. The Psalmist wrote:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

However, we, like Abraham, even when it comes to being patient on the Lord, could use a bit of work. “Dear Lord, make me patient, and do it now!” What does being patient on the Lord look like?

Luke does not tell us how old the Prophet Simeon was when he encountered the Holy Family, but there are several indicators that he was quite aged. Orthodox tradition even states that he was over 200 years old. Unlike Simeon, we are told the age of the Prophetess Anna, eighty-four. I think it would be fair to say that Simeon was at least as old or older.

So, let’s do a bit of math (not my strong suit). As we are celebrating the Presentation of Our Lord, which is also the ritual Purification of Mary following the birth of a child, then we know that at this stage Jesus is forty days old. What year was Jesus born? Most scholars place it at around 4 BC. Four years before what is considered year 0 AD. All that to say, if we place Simeon and Anna at close the same age, then we can agree that they were born in 88 BC, approximately. Who ruled Israel at that time? The Maccabees/Hasmoneans. Anna for sure and most likely Simeon were both born in an era when Israel was free from foreign rule. Under the Hasmoneans, Jerusalem grew from a city of 5,000 to 25-30,000. It was prosperous, important. The point being that Simeon and Anna had seen a time in the life of Israel when God reigned, when God was King, but the pendulum swung and in 63 AD the city was sacked by the Romans, so for almost sixty years, Anna and Simeon had observed all the suffering of the people brought about by occupying forces of Rome. From one extreme to the to the other they were witnesses. Yet, instead of simply giving in, crying defeat, and lamenting the past and the current state of their lives, they did the one thing that would actually make a difference: they prayed. Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Anna “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day… looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Like so many others, they could have given themselves over to despair, but instead, they chose to have hope, always looking forward to the consolation, the comforting after the defeat, the redemption, the saving of Israel by the hand of God. But not only did they believe that the Lord would save, they knew the Lord would save, so with hope they patiently waited on the dawning of God’s light:

“a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Today your life may be rosy and beautiful, but for all of us, just like with Anna and Simeon, the pendulum will swing; maybe for a short while, maybe for a season, maybe for much longer, and that swinging is not a matter of if, but when. So the question is: how will we respond? How do we wait for God in the dark days?

Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful little daily devotional, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. For November 20th he wrote, “How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

“The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means ‘to suffer.’ Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming. Source

That describes Anna and Simeon. They were ones who were looking for consolation, looking for redemption… looking for God in the most difficult of times… and because they were looking for him, they saw him, encountered him, embraced him.

Last week, Ashley shared a lovely sermon and as part of it she read to us the opening verse of Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1) Ashley added, “God has always provided that light for us.” That and what Nouwen said truly resonated with me. When we see the world as dark, when we witness or experience suffering, if we will have this patient hope that Anna and Simeon portrayed, if we will spiritually ‘look to the east for the rising of the Son,’ then as Nouwen says, we will see “the first rays of God’s glorious coming.” God has always provided light and he will continue to do so until the full light of his glorious coming is upon us, therefore, let us also be patiently hopeful for the coming of God’s light, for it is in that light that we too will see him, encounter him, and embrace him.

Let us pray: Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Thomas Aquinas

The podcast is available here.

Let’s see how badly I can confuse you today!  

Can you prove to me that there is a God?  Sounds easy enough, but when it comes right down to it… not so much.  However, there have been several who tried, and in the eyes of many, including the Church, have succeeded; one of which is our Saint for today, Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas was born in 1225 in Italy and his teachings and writings can really only be compared to those of St. Augustine of Hippo when considering their effect on Christian thought (think of them as the Einstein’s of Christianity).  It was during Thomas’ life that the writings of the great philosopher Aristotle were ‘rediscovered’, and it was Thomas Aquinas who took these writings of Aristotle and integrated them into Christian thought, which means that a new way of understanding God was brought into Christian thinking and that understanding was through the use of reason.  How so?  Think of the polarized views of today.

On one side we have science.  Science is essentially all reason.  A bit like math: one plus one equals two.  That same reason has led some in the scientific fields or understanding to deny the existence of God, for example, the creation of the universe came about through the Big Bang, therefore, all that business in Genesis is just a fairy tale and God doesn’t exist.  The other side is Sola Scriptura, which declares that the Bible is all that is needed to prove the existence of God.  Aquinas would say, “Not so fast,” to both groups.

In his greatest work, Summa Theologica, Aquinas puts forward five logical arguments (reasons) for the existence of God, the first of which is the argument of motion.  He begins by simply saying, things move.  We can all agree on that.  From there he says, in order for things to move, something had to make them move.  Think of a ball on a pool table: if that ball is going to move, something has to move it, whether it is the cue stick or gravity or even a ghosty, something made it move, but what made that something move?  You can chase that as far back as you want, but for Aquinas, you eventually have to admit that there was something entirely different that made the very first thing move: the ‘first mover,’ something that was the initiator of all other movement, so why not call that ‘first mover’ God.  That doesn’t reveal the God of Christianity, but it does establish some ‘higher power,’ as some like to refer to it today.  So, when it comes to creation and someone arguing the Big Bang started it all, Aquinas would simply ask, “Who made it go bang?”  To those who say, Sola Scriptura, Aquinas would say, “God gave you a brain.  Use it.”  The one thing the argument of reason cannot answer is how do we go from ‘higher power’ to the God of Christianity.  For Aquinas, that takes one more step: revelation.

Revelation goes back to our study of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans where we understood that our belief in God is a grace given to us by God.  Because of this grace, this revelation, even though we cannot prove that the ‘higher power’ is the God of Christianity, we can have faith and believe.  This same grace, faith, revelation helps us in discerning the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and ultimately the ability to declare that Jesus is Lord, for as Jesus said to Simon Peter when Peter declared Jesus as Lord, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  “Flesh and blood”, that is ‘reason’ did not reveal this to you, but the “Father”, that is ‘revelation’ did.

Confused?  It’s OK if you are.  Most of us are.  The important thing to note is that there have been and are these really great thinkers of the Christian faith and through their work, we can learn that things like reason and science and faith are not incompatible opposites, but in fact work together in providing a more clear understanding of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL A – “Entering the Story”

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Billy Graham says, “I was coming down on an elevator with some friends of mine and a man got on about the fifth floor and said, ‘I hear Billy Graham is on this elevator,’ and one of my friends pointed in my direction and said, ‘Yes, there he is.’”

Graham reports, “The man looked me up and down for about 30 seconds and he said, ‘My, what an anticlimax.’”

In today’s Gospel reading, we begin the story again.  Jesus has been baptized and now he is calling the disciples.  According to the Apostle John, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  When two of John’s disciples heard this, they began following Jesus who then asked them “What are you looking for?”  They don’t exactly answer him: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”  So they did and ended up spending the afternoon with Jesus.  Later, one of the two disciples, Andrew, went and found his brother, Simon, and brought him to Jesus, who said Simon was to be called Peter.  This is the calling of Andrew and Peter.  Right.  But, who was the other disciple that followed Jesus that day?

The reading said, “One of the two who heard John [the Baptist] speak and followed [Jesus] was Andrew.”  “One of the two,” but nowhere is the second disciple named.  So who is this unnamed person?

Most scholars agree that it is actually John, the author of the Gospel, writing himself into the story without actually naming himself.  That would make sense and provide readers with an understanding as to how John could have known so much about the ministry of Jesus.  If in fact this is John, he’ll use this technique several more times.  On the night of Jesus’ arrest: “Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.”  “Simon Peter and another disciple… this disciple was known….”   At the Last Supper: “…the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.”  And on the Sunday of the Resurrection: “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter.”  All of these are details that not just anyone would know.  So, it can be reasonably argued that this is John speaking about his part in the story.

For us, that is an interesting theory/fact about the Gospel of John, but can it serve us in our understanding.  Is there a way that this unnamed Apostle can deepen our faith.  St. Ignatius of Loyola would say, “Yes.”  

One of the exercises that the aspirants for Holy Orders are practicing is what is known as Ignatian Contemplation.  It is a way of engaging our senses and imagination in the reading of Holy Scripture. Instead of reading the text in a two dimensional way, we enter into it.  Instead of simply seeing the words on the page, we let our imagination enter into our reading and then ask ourselves, what would I be seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, etc.  You don’t make things up or put words in the mouth of anyone, but you do put yourself there.  For example, I can read a sentence about someone walking on a beach, but in Ignatian Contemplation, I would enter into that: I would feel the warmth of the sand against my feet and how the sand gave way as I put my weight down, I would hear the waves crashing in and seagulls crying above me, I would smell the salt in the air, feel the sun.  I only read about someone walking on a beach, but then I allowed my self to experience that based on my knowledge of what walking on a beach is really like.

So, when it comes to the Gospel of John and his unnamed Apostle, instead of simply allowing my intellect to say, “Oh, that’s John writing himself into the story,” I can allow myself to enter the story and let the unnamed Apostle be me.  Take the one we just read about: “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter.”  From the rest of that passage, we can assume that Peter and John were somewhere hidden away in Jerusalem, when suddenly Mary Magdalene comes rushing in and tells them that the stone was rolled away and someone has taken the body of Jesus.  Upon hearing this, Peter and John take off, racing to the tomb.  Take that one little bit: early in the morning, before the city has come alive, you and Peter are racing through the streets of Jerusalem.  All you can hear is the fall of your own footsteps.  Peter is ahead of you, but you catch him and pass him, but in that moment when you are side-by-side, you catch each others’ eyes.  Neither of you speaks, but you don’t have to.  Question: you are that unnamed Apostle running along side Peter: what do you see, hear, feel, and even better, what are you thinking?  

Are you afraid that they really have stollen his body or is there something in the back of your mind, something Jesus said about rising on the third day.  

There is a way to read Holy Scripture and simply see the words on the page and there is a way to read Holy Scripture and enter into and ask, “What does this mean?” and “What does this mean for me?”

Now, all this may just sound like an interesting exercise to maybe try out sometime, but it is an exercise that is really quite necessary in order to fully grasp the implications of this week’s Gospel reading, because this week’s Gospel reading actually asks us to answer why we are here.  Why we gather.  Why we worship.  All of it.

So, enter into the story: you and Andrew have been disciples of John the Baptist for quite some time.  You have heard John speak often of this one who is to come, one whose sandals he is unworthy to untie.  One who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  You have heard him speak of this one as the Lamb of God, and then one day, as you are standing along the banks of the Jordan, a man walks by and John the Baptist points at him and says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  Is this really the one John has been speaking about all this time?  Could it be the Messiah?  The Savior?  The Son of God?  You and Andrew follow this man.  He hears you behind him, stops, turns and asks, “What are you looking for?”  

That is a fairly simple question: What are you looking for? but for you, when asked by Jesus, the answer really defines why you are here today.

It is not one of those questions that I can answer for you, but there is more than one answer or should I say, more than one level of answer.  For example: on one level, I think we are here for simple fellowship, community, a sense of belonging to something and belonging somewhere.  On another level, we come to engage with our faith: to learn more about God’s word, how to pray, about the work of the Church, which also brings in a level of service to others, reaching out.  Again, there are many different levels of answers and those answers are all correct and may change on a daily basis.  One week you may come with a desire to serve and minister with others, while other times, you may come in hopes of being ministered to and supported, but what is the ultimate cause, the first answer that everything else comes from?

Truthfully, you may not have an answer, but as we said earlier, this is the beginning of the Gospel, of the story and the disciples are just now meeting Jesus for the first time.  When Jesus asked them what they were looking for, they answered, “Teacher, where are you staying.”  They didn’t have an answer either, so to their question, Jesus said, “Come and see.”  To me, Jesus is saying, “Come and see and I will show you what you’ve been looking for all your life.  Come and see and I will show you life, purpose, joy, faith, hope, love.”  So, today, instead of trying to answer the question, What are you looking for?, let’s walk with him and see what he will show us.  Unlike the fellow who saw Billy Graham for the first time, I don’t think what Jesus will show us will be anticlimactic.  

Let us pray:
Grant us, O Lord our God,
minds to know you,
hearts to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.

Sermon: Ordination of Jim Gorton to the Sacred Order of Priests

Daniel Sylvester Tuttle was the first missionary bishop to the Missionary District of Montana, Idaho, and Utah.  It was an area of 340,000 square miles (by comparison, Oklahoma is about 70,000). As Montana was my sending Diocese, Tuttle was a hero of mine while in seminary, and still is. The very first evening he crossed the Montana line, coming up from Salt Lake City, he woke up to two inches of snow on the ground. It was July 18th. Ministry can present some interesting challenges. After a period of time there, he learned even more what it was to be like. Writing home to his wife, he told her about the vestry at St. Paul’s in Virginia City: “Of the vestry of St. Paul’s church which we got together, one vestryman, high in civil office, got into an altercation with a lawyer over some matters retailed by gossip, and would have shot him dead had not a friend near by struck up the pistol. One was a Unitarian. Another, the most godly of them all, and the one on whom I most leaned for Christian and churchly earnestness, became involved in a dispute, and missed, by the smallest margin, the fighting of a duel. Still another was an appallingly steady drinker.” Of that same vestry, he later wrote: “We mean to cut down the number [of vestry members] from nine to seven. We mean to throw out at least drunkards and violent swearers.” Jim… welcome to ordained ministry. And, if you think the laity are a bit rough around the edges, just wait until you find yourself in a room full of clergy! And… one more and… if you begin to think that you are better than any of them, hang up your stole and find yourself another profession, for there really is only one Good Shepherd.

Our role as clergy is not to think or even pretend that we are the Good Shepherd that John spoke of in the Gospel, for the truth is, we can easily say with St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” Instead, our role is the same role as it is for every member of the Church and that is to point to Christ Jesus and make Him known.

The Isenheim Altarpiece is considered to be Matthias Grünewald’s masterpiece. In the center is portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus. On the left is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle John, and Mary Magdalene. On the right is John the Baptist. John holds the Holy Scriptures in his left hand and his right hand is pointing to Jesus. The Latin words next to John are those of John 3:30: “He must become greater, I must become less.” That is the role of the priest: point to Jesus and get yourself out of the way. Why?

Perhaps I’m not supposed to, but I really enjoy the teachings of the former Roman Catholic priest, Brennan Manning. He died in 2013. At an event in Missouri he gave one of the most inspired sermons I’ve heard—no, I’m not going to read it all to you, but he said, “Do you remember the famous line of the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal? ‘God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment’? We often make God in our own image, and He winds up to be as fussy, rude, narrow minded, legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, unloving as we are.”

Why do you need to point to Jesus and then get out of the way? Because so many people think of God in just that same way. He’s just up there looking for ways to smite me! In addition, so many people are hurt, doubt their faith, believe they are unworthy, unsaveable, and unloved and it is not your voice that is going to bring them to a place of grace, forgiveness, healing, faith, worthiness, love… it is His. It is his voice. It is his voice that they need to hear and in hearing it, they will know that they are loved by a God who truly desires them and wants to enter into a relationship with them. Jim, point to Jesus and get out of the way.

And for those who Jim will work in the midst of… show him a bit of grace. He ain’t perfect and he doesn’t have all the answers, but he is faithful—I wouldn’t be up here today preaching if I didn’t believe that. He is a faithful man, who like you, is trying to navigate this world, and the grace you show and the prayers you support him with, will go so much further than any bit of criticism of him you will ever speak. Through Holy Orders, he is being set apart to serve God, but just as you will ask him for prayers, forgiveness, healing, mercy… you must remember that he also needs all those things as well.

Ultimately, we must all—laity and clergy—remember that this work of the ministry of the Gospel is not about any single one of us. It is about us all, for as St. Peter teaches, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Not just Jim or just me or even just the Bishop… we are the royal priesthood and we are the ones called to make Christ Jesus known.

I’ll conclude by saying to for what St. Paul said to Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.” Amen.

Sermon: The Confession of St. Peter RCL A

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’ Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.’” (Genesis 17:1-5)

We know that this is the beginning of the Covenant that God made with Israel through Abram. Later in the chapter, God will also give Sarai, Abraham’s wife a new name, Sarah. The names are significant: the name Abram means “Noble Father,” but Abraham means, “Father of Many.” Sarai, is “Princess” and Sarah becomes, “Mother of Nations.” A change in the name was not only God calling them His own and into his plan for salvation, but it was also a declaration, a prophecy if you will, of what they were to become and accomplish. So with this history, we know that when Jesus changes Simon’s name, something more is being said.

Jesus and the disciples had come to Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asked the disciples who the people were saying that he was. They respond, John the Baptist, one of the prophets and so on, but Jesus does not stop there, for he then asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter.” Peter got the gold star and because of that Jesus changed his name and declared what Peter was to become and what work he intended on accomplishing through him, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

The name Simon means, “he has heard,” and as Jesus indicates in his response to Simon/Peter, the name Peter means “Rock.” This name indicates that it is upon Peter and the confession of Jesus as Messiah, that the Lord will build His Church.

Later, the Apostle Paul—whose name was also changed!—will speak of building: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” But he also indicates that the confession of Jesus is the rock, the foundation, the cornerstone, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

There are many blocks that go into building a church. The bible, the creeds, the traditions, the people, the clergy, the prayer book and more, but if the foundation is not Jesus, the rest is worthless. The same is true of our individual faith and practices. We can pray in different ways, worship in different ways, all the way down to reading different translations of the Bible, but if the rock of our faith is not Jesus… well, it is like the house built on sandy ground: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In keeping the faith, this covenant and in confessing Jesus as Messiah, the Lord also ‘changes our name,’ pointing us to what we are to become and sharing with us the work we are to accomplish.