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)

Meditation:

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.
Amen.

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)

Meditation:

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.
Amen.

Sermon: Boniface


The podcast is available here.


Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash

Boniface was born in the year 675 and served as a missionary to Frisia (Netherlands) and later, Germany, where he would rise to the position of Archbishop.  He was held in high esteem by the German princes and came often to give counsel, leading to one of his crowning achievements (no pun intended here) when he anointed Pippin as King of the Franks.  Pippin’s son was Charlemagne, who’s efforts brought Christianity back to western Europe.  Later, when Boniface retired as Archbishop, he returned to Frisia as a missionary.  The following year, as he was waiting on a large group of converts to arrive for baptism and confirmations, he and his party were attacked by pagans and Boniface was martyred.

St. Willibald, Bishop in Germany, is the one who recorded much of Boniface’s life in a short book, The Life of St. Boniface.  It is a fascinating read (you can find it online).  In it, Willibald points to one of the primary reasons behind Boniface’s successes: the study of Holy Scripture.  Willibald writes:

To such a degree was [Boniface] inflamed with a love of the Scriptures that he applied all his energies to learning and practicing their counsels, and those matters that were written for the instruction of the people he paraphrased and explained to them with striking eloquence, shrewdly spicing it with parables. His discretion was such that his rebukes, though sharp, were never lacking in gentleness, while his teaching, though mild, was never lacking in force. Zeal and vigor made him forceful, but gentleness and love made him mild. Accordingly he exhorted and reproved with equal impartiality the rich and powerful, the freedmen and the slaves, neither flattering and fawning upon the rich nor oppressing and browbeating the freedmen and slaves but, in the words of the apostle, he had “become all things to all men that [he] might by all means save some.” (Source)

Through his love and study of Scripture, Boniface learned that the most effective way to speak to people was through the language of God that he read in the Bible and the same can be true for us, but in order for this to happen, we need to pick up the Good Book.  A recent “study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.” (Source)

Even if it is only a short devotional, we all need to be in the Word daily.  You don’t have to become a Bible scholar and you don’t have to memorize every verse.  You only have to take the time and allow God to speak to you in his own words.  What you will discover in the process is what Boniface discovered: the wisdom and grace you find within the Sacred Text will begin to find its way into your life and into your communication and relationships.  You will become a greater reflection of God.

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 11

It has been several years since I’ve worked on this project, but…


THE LONGINGS OF OUR HEARTS MUST BE EXAMINED AND MODERATED

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

MY CHILD, it is necessary for you to learn many things which you have not yet learned well.

THE DISCIPLE

What are they, Lord?

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

That you conform your desires entirely according to My good pleasure, and be not a lover of self but an earnest doer of My will. Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage. If I am the cause, you will be well content with whatever I ordain. If, on the other hand, any self-seeking lurk in you, it troubles you and weighs you down. Take care, then, that you do not rely too much on preconceived desire that has no reference to Me, lest you repent later on and be displeased with what at first pleased you and which you desired as being for the best. Not every desire which seems good should be followed immediately, nor, on the other hand, should every contrary affection be at once rejected.

It is sometimes well to use a little restraint even in good desires and inclinations, lest through too much eagerness you bring upon yourself distraction of mind; lest through your lack of discipline you create scandal for others; or lest you be suddenly upset and fall because of resistance from others. Sometimes, however, you must use violence and resist your sensual appetite bravely. You must pay no attention to what the flesh does or does not desire, taking pains that it be subjected, even by force, to the spirit. And it should be chastised and forced to remain in subjection until it is prepared for anything and is taught to be satisfied with little, to take pleasure in simple things, and not to murmur against inconveniences.

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

The podcast is available here.


Photo by Leighann Renee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: 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,
Jesus.
Amen.

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: 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.