Sermon: Presentation of Our Lord RCL A – “Killing Hornets”

images-18

In nature there are some epic battles that take place every day.  One such battle goes on between the Japanese honeybee and the Giant Japanese Hornet.  The Japanese Hornet is five times larger than the bee and is the world’s strongest predatory hornet.

When a Giant Japanese Hornet finds a honeybee nest it will kill a few honeybees and take them back to its nest to feed on it’s larvae. But then it returns, this time marking the honeybee hive with a scent. The scent attracts other hornets, and when two or three have arrived they begin to slaughter the honeybees at an extraordinary rate.  One such event records that 30,000 honeybees were killed by just 30 hornets in about three hours.

But the honeybees have developed a defense, and a defense that puzzled scientists for quite some time. You see, the honeybees can kill the hornets, but not in the way you might think – they don’t sting them to death. Instead, they do the opposite of what might be expected. They begin by doing all they can to annoy the hornet trying to mark its scent on their nest. Over 100 worker honeybees gather near the entrance to the nest, and then, when the hornet comes near, they lift and shake their abdomens in a peculiar dance. And the hornet finds this really aggravating. The bees then dive into their nest, and the steamed up hornet follows, intent to do some damage!

Unbeknown to the hornet 1000 worker bees are waiting for him just inside the entrance. When he gets close enough, around 500 of the honeybees jump on him, enclosing him in a ball of honeybees about the size of a clenched fist. They gather as close as they can to the hornet and start vibrating their muscles.  What happens? The vibrations cause the temperature to rise and rise and rise. In ten minutes or so the temperature’s up to 117 degrees.  Guess what temperature is too hot for a hornet to survive – 113 degrees; whereas the honeybees can function up to 120 degrees.  When the temperature of the ball of vibrating honeybees goes above 113 degrees the hornet dies and the honeybees survive.

r920817_9560133

That is a rather remarkable act of God’s creation, and it is a rather profound lesson for the church.  We as individual members of a church can go it alone, doing things our own way and in all likelihood, not only will we fail as individuals, but we may also fail corporately.  St. Josemaria Escriva put it a bit more bluntly, “Convince yourself, my child, that lack of unity within the Church is death.” (The Forge, #631)  However, if we choose to work as a body – recognizing that we are in fact “in this thing together” – then, although there may be difficult times, we will manage to overcome.  Please note, I’m not eluding to a Giant Japanese Hornet buzzing around at our front door.  I’m not referring to some observed problem existing within the church, but it is good for us all to remember that we are called to stand together in the mission of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Consider the words of the Psalmist today:

For one day in your courts 

     is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God 

     than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

“… to stand at the threshold of the house” – that passage can take several meanings: it can mean to be the doorman, or one of the masses just hoping to get a peek inside, or even a beggar, but each implies the same message, “I would rather be a nobody in the house of God, than a somebody outside of it.”  For us: “I would rather be a small and insignificant part of the Body of Christ, than not to be a part at all.”  And not only are we all a part of the Body of Christ, we need one another.

Paul teaches us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  He goes on to say, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”  We are the Body and we need one another.  To say, “I have no need of you,” to separate yourself from the body, from the church, is in a very real way excommunication, not as in an action that has been imposed on you, but as an action you have imposed on yourself.  In the end, not only does the individual suffer, but the body suffers as well.  We are the body of Christ, the church, and he is the head of the body.  “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior,” says Paul to the Ephesians; and the loss of any of its members brings harm to the church.

I’ll remind you again of those wonderful words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, “The Church is not the society of those labeled virtuous.  It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints.”  The church is anything but perfect; but it is far better within its embrace than it is outside.  Outside, the hornets can take us one by one, but together, within the spiritual walls of this place, we can defend one another and conquer our greatest enemies.

Today, following the Confession of Sin we will offer the Sacrament of Unction – of healing.  If you need healing in body, mind or soul, then I invite you to come forward to receive an anointing and the laying on of hands.  I also invite you to come forward to receive the same for the healing of any infirmity within the church, so that we might not only bring healing to our individual bodies, but to this Body of Christ as well.

Sermon: New Year’s Day

CHThe following quote was the inspiration behind this sermon, but – in the end – the quote did not make it into the sermon: “Pray that I may never be satisfied with what is easy,” you say.  I’ve already prayed.  Now it is up to you to carry out that fine resolution.   St. Josemaria Esciva, The Way #39

I’m also going to get a bit of mileage out of this one as it will appear as an article in the Billings Gazette on January 11th.

———-

Legend has it that one day Socrates and Plato were walking down the beach, deep in conversation and Plato had expressed to Socrates his desire to gain the wisdom and knowledge that Socrates had.  Socrates didn’t answer him, but instead said, “Walk with me into the ocean.”  So, they turned and walked into the sea together.

Now, in your imagination, picture that happening: Student and teacher, two of the greatest philosophers of history, striding into the surf side by side.

The water started out around their ankles, then rose up to their knees. As the water got higher Plato wondered to himself, “What is the lesson my master is trying to teach me?”

When the water was shoulder height, Socrates asked Plato, “What is it exactly you want from me?” “Knowledge,” Plato answered, at which point Socrates abruptly grabbed Plato’s head and pushed him down under the water. After a half a minute or so Socrates let Plato up and asked him again, “What is it you want?” “Knowledge,” was again Plato’s answer, at which point Socrates shoved him back down under the water.

After a time, when Plato ran out of air, he began to struggle to get his head above the surface. He punched and kicked and grabbed to get free, but Socrates was a strong man and held him down. At the last moment before Plato blacked out, Socrates let him up and asked that same simple question, “What is it you want?” Plato coughed and spluttered finally responding, “Air! I need air!” Socrates calmly stated, “When you desire knowledge as much as you desired a breath of air, then you shall have it.”

Each year, we make our New Year’s resolutions, but really, how seriously are we about fulfilling them? I suppose that Plato could have made a resolution, “Be it resolved that I will gain true knowledge this year,” but as Socrates so politely pointed out to him, resolving to do something is quite a bit more than simply saying you want it. Truthfully, it’s really not a matter of wanting, who doesn’t want to lose weight or be a better a person? Perhaps the question should be, “What are you willing to sacrifice?” In the case of Plato, in order to truly have knowledge, Socrates said that he had to want it as much as he wanted air to breathe, as much as he wanted life itself. So what are you willing to sacrifice in order to fulfill your resolutions?

And I wonder, if you make a resolution to live healthier, regularly balance the checkbook, quit swearing and all that, have you ever made a resolution to God?  “Be it resolved that I will love the Lord my God more deeply.”  “Be it resolved that my life will be a witness to His love.”  “Be it resolved that I will work to fulfill my Baptismal Covenant.”  “Be it resolved that I will accept His forgiveness.” And if you make these resolutions to God, then how badly do you want them? What are you willing to sacrifice of yourself in order to fulfill them?

I resolve to love God as long as it’s convenient?  As long as it doesn’t really cost me anything?  I resolve to forgive others as I have been forgiven, except… except you know who!  I will seek to serve Christ in all persons, as long as they are like me.  I resolve to faithfully continue in the fellowship and the breaking of bread, as long as it fits in with my schedule. Or do you want these things as much as you want air to breathe? As much as you desire your very life?

You’ve made your resolutions to lose weight and all that, now make your resolutions to God and desire to fulfill them as much as you desire air to breathe? As much as Jesus desires you.

Sermon: Christmas Day

Candle burn

The first words of the bible are “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” then follows in very poetic words the account of the work of creation: light and darkness, sun, moon and stars, earth, land and sea, plants, animals, and finally humankind.  God’s creation.

The Gospel of John has an opening that sounds similar, “In the beginning…”  It is not the creation account that follows, but what was before even that, “In the beginning was the Word.”  Then follows another poetic passage about who the Word is and what he does.

But why is it that these verses are heard today?   It becomes clear when we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  These words are talking about the child in the manger.  They tell who this newborn child really is, a human child, but not only that.  His origins go back further and deeper than our own.  We are people begotten of men, but Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light” as the Nicene Creed tells us.  He is God’s own Son, who has become man, has taken on flesh, our mortal humanity, and has become one of us.

God became man – that is what we say about the Christ Child in the manger.  That is what today’s Gospel is talking about.  God becoming man and when he did, he brought with him the divine light that shines in the darkness, a light that turns every shadow and dark corner as bright as the noonday sun.

Why?  Because He knows that so often we wander around in darkness.  A darkness of sin, death, sickness, war, and much more.  That we can become lost in a world that is harsh and we don’t understand.  We look for answers when we don’t even know the questions.  This is why the Word became flesh.  Why God became man.  So that he might shine his divine light into the darkness of this world and into the darkness of our hearts, so that we might know joy and so that we all might find our way home to Him.

History records for us an interesting footnote.  It was during the dark winter of 1864.  At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant.  The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare.  Late one evening one of Lee’s generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy.  Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event.  These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on.  The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires.  It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built.

What a peculiar night it was.  For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned.  No shots fired.  No yelling back and forth. No war fought.  Only light, celebrating the birth of a child.  But it didn’t last forever.  Soon the fires burned down and once again the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war.

The good news of Christmas is that in the midst of a great darkness there came a light, and the darkness was not able to overcome the light.  It was not just a temporary flicker.  It was an eternal flame.  We need to remember that.  There are times, in the events of the world and in the events of our own personal lives, that we feel that the light of the world will be snuffed out.  But the Christmas story affirms that whatever happens, the light still shines.

The theologian Robert Alden wrote, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”  That being true, then the divine light that was born in a manger in Bethlehem is more than adequate to eternally dispel the darkness of this world.

Furrow #115

esc115: Sometimes I think that a few enemies of God and his Church live off the fear of many good people, and I am filled with shame.  “Furrow” – St. Josemaria Escriva.

A few take Christ out of Merry Christmas.  A few take words out of context.  A few make laws for the many.  A few sow hate.  A few beat their plastic swords against their garbage can lid shields and we think that great armies have massed against us.  They are nothing.  They are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.  Stand your ground.  There is nothing to fear.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

Sermon: St. Thomas

velazquez057

A football game has been described as eleven men in desperate need of a rest being criticized by thousands in need of some exercise.

In a similar fashion, as we sit in the comfort of our homes or in the pews and read through Holy Scripture, it is almost impossible not to find fault with the biblical characters and to criticize them.  Take for example poor old Thomas.  It is easy to understand why grade schoolers think his last name is Thomas and his first name is “Doubting.”  He gets a bad wrap, but is he really deserving of one?

Thomas is mentioned in all four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but it is John’s gospel where he receives the most attention.  In John’s gospel he is first mentioned as Jesus is making plans to return to Judea where he would later raise Lazarus from the dead.  However, the disciples are concerned because it was in Judea that the Jews had tried to stone Jesus just a short time earlier.  Despite their concerns Jesus says, “Let us go to Judea.”  Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples,  “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

If you can find a friend like this, don’t let them go.  Thomas in this situation is brave, loyal, and dedicated.  When the rest are “doubting,” Thomas is prepared to lay down his life for the Lord.

Later Jesus would cryptically explain to the disciples that he would be killed and be going to the Father.  He goes on to tell them that they know the way, yet Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus goes on to explain that he is “the way and the truth and the Life.”

Thomas, in this case, by admitting that he did not know the way is demonstrating simple honesty in that he did not understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.  So, brave, loyal, dedicated honest, and now from today’s text… doubting.

When Jesus first appeared to the disciples, ten were there who saw and believed.  Thomas was not.  Thomas doubts.  The Lord appears again and Thomas is there and it is at this appearance that I believe Thomas redeems himself, because after laying eyes and possibly even his hands on the Risen Lord he makes a confession of faith regarding Jesus.  This confession is greater than what all the rest have said to this point.  Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas doubted because he wanted to be certain of the facts.  He needed the truth for himself, not secondhand.  However,  once this certainty is established, Thomas commits himself fully to Jesus, declaring him to be Lord and God.

J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, received 12 rejection letters before she was picked up by Bloomsbury publishers and then only at the insistence of the CEO’s eight year old daughter.  Because of these perceived failures, should we forever refer to her as a hack?  Probably not.  By the same token, Thomas may have doubted, but to reduce him to the moniker “doubting” just doesn’t seem fitting.  However, if we must, let’s also include his other character traits as well: Brave.  Loyal.  Dedicated.  Honest.  Fully committed.  That’s more accurate than simply “doubting.”