Sermon: Easter Sunday RCL A – “See and Understand”

photo-14Old Blind Broussard and his Seeing Eye dog were sitting on the dock behind Pierre’s Oyster Bar and Bait Shop when Thibideaux pulled up.

“Hey Broussard, I ain’t seen ya in a while. Where ya been?” Thibideaux asked as he tied off his boat.

“Thibideaux my friend, I ain’t seen you in a while either. I’ve been on an adventure!” Broussard replied.

“What kind of adventure can a blind man go on?” Thibideaux asked.

“Well, I went bungee jumping,” Broussard replied.

“Bungee jumping? For true? How was dat?” Thibideaux asked.

“It was lotsa fun, but I can’t go no more,” Broussard said as he patted his dog on the head.

“Why’s dat? Did ya hurt yer self?”

“No nothin like dat,” Broussard said, “It just scared the hell outta my dog!”

Scripture tells us that Jesus and his disciples “came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man – I don’t think it was Broussard – and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

So often in Holy Scripture, blindness is used as a physical infirmity that is pointing to a spiritual infirmity. In the passage, Jesus was demonstrating that the people understood a bit about who he was, but not fully. I don’t know that it is necessarily a compliment to be compared to trees walking around, but it shows that we can on occasion be a bit thick.

In the resurrection account from John’s Gospel that we read this morning, we also have an apparent case of spiritual blindness. Peter and John have their foot race to the empty tomb. Not finding Jesus, but only his grave clothes, they leave. Following close behind is Mary Magdalene. She is standing there alone, staring into the empty tomb and crying. She sees two angels sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus had been lying, when suddenly she hears a voice behind her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She turned, but did not recognize Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. So turning and peering once again into the empty tomb she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” At which point Jesus speaks her name – “Mary!” – and then, in the speaking of her name, she knows her Teacher. She knows Jesus.

What was it though that prevented her from recognizing him right away, after all, she had been with him for quite some time? Two reasons are obvious and both point to her seemingly physical blindness and her certain spiritual blindness.

The first reason was that she was crying. Through her tears she could not see. Like the blind man that saw only trees, demonstrating those who only partially understand, Mary had only partially understood the things that Jesus had been saying before his crucifixion: “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” “After three days I will rise again.” She had heard these words of Jesus, but she did not understand.

The second reason for not recognizing Jesus was the simple fact that she was not looking at him. Where was she looking? Except for a quick glance over her shoulder, she was looking into the grave. She was looking into death.

It was only when Jesus called her by name – “Mary!” – that she was able to come out of the darkness of her blindness and the scales were shed from her eyes that she was able to see clearly. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” In that instant the full Light of Christ came pouring into Mary’s soul and she truly saw – understood – all that Jesus had spoken of Himself.

Mary Magdalene is not the only one who experiences spiritual blindness. We too often suffer from this unfortunate malady and for the same reasons as Mary. First, we cannot see clearly, we fail to understand, because we try and look at the world through our own tears. We see the pain and suffering of others and of ourselves and we think, “This is it. This is as good as it gets.” But like Mary, we also forget the teachings of Jesus, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” “Behold, I make all things new.”

Second, our spiritual blindness is also caused by the fact that we aren’t looking at Jesus. We are also staring into the grave. We are looking into our past and what has been. We consider our lives and we believe that all is lost. We will never be “good enough” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We see our own death and fail to recognize that the empty tomb that we are staring into has nothing to do with death! That tomb, the tomb of Jesus, is all about life – eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The Lord our God knew you before the world was even created. From that day forward – like Mary – He has been calling out to you. Calling you by name. Calling you out of the darkness, out of your own blindness, and into the light. Why are you still crying? Why are you still staring into the tomb? The prophet Isaiah declares:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.”

Allow that glory, that light, to shine upon and in you. Hear your name being called and be free of your blindness so that you too can walk in the full light of Christ. Once you are filled with His presence, once you see and understand, then allow that glory to shine through you to others. St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, writes, “light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.” Let the light of Christ free you from your blindness, then allow that same light to shine through you so that others may see and give glory to your Father in Heaven.

Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter RCL A – “Ghost!”

Jesus blurI like for my television programming to be intellectually stimulating. I like to constantly be stretching and growing my mind, so I stay away from things on the History Channel or the Learning Channel and go straight for the meat and potatoes: America’s Funniest Home Videos with an occasional episode or two of Friends. I do watch other things as well that are equally as stimulating. For a while I was on Mythbusters then I moved over to Miami Ink – especially when Kat Von D was on for a while, followed by Deadliest Catch. However, I’ve found one show that I’ve been absolutely hooked on for a while: Ghost Adventures, with my buddies Zak, Nick, and Aaron. Zak is the front man with the weird hair, Nick is the serious one, and Aaron is the one who acts a bit like Shaggy in Scooby Doo.

They’ve got all this really great equipment too for detecting ghosts: digital recorders to capture EVPs – that’s Electronic Voice Phenomenon for you non-ghost believers – night vision cameras, infrared imaging, the works. What is so tragic is that so often the ghosts drain the energy of their cameras, so just when they are about to capture something good like a full body apparition on tape – the camera dies! So they just have to tell you about it instead of showing it to you – I’m so disappointed for them.

The reason I mention this is because of our Gospel reading tonight. Jesus has been dead and in his tomb for three days, yet now he is appearing to the living. Is he a ghost? Is this the full body apparition that Zak, Nick, and Aaron are always talking about, or is it something all together different? The gospel writers are very careful about helping us to understand that what these women are seeing in tonight’s gospel – and for that matter at all the appearances of Jesus following his resurrection – is not a ghost.

For example our Gospel from today said, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” “They took hold of his feet.” All ghost adventuring aside, even the folks in the time of Jesus knew that you could not touch a ghost. In later appearances we are told that others touched him, some walked down the road with him and broke bread with him, and there is the time when he will meet with the disciples on the shore of the sea and have breakfast with them. All of these things occurred after his death and resurrection; and the Gospel writers use these examples to help the reader understand that the Risen Jesus is not a ghost. He is alive.

Following his resurrection we know that he ascended into heaven so that we can no longer see him as he was and for many their response to that event is, “Well isn’t that convenient.” A bit like the Ghost Adventurers’ cameras going dead just as the ghost shows up, leaving only someone’s word that something actually took place. I think the lawyers would say that its all circumstantial evidence.

Perhaps more folks would believe that Jesus is in fact the risen Lord if they could take hold of his feet or have breakfast with him on the shore of the sea. We read in our Gospel tonight, Jesus told Mary, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Many today would ask, “Where is my Galilee that I might see Him?” You know how I respond to that? Open your eyes. He is all around you. As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ beside me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.

Open your eyes. You won’t see a ghost. You’ll see the Risen Lord. You’ll see Jesus.

Choosing Barabbas

GiveUsBarabbas

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.  The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” – Matthew 27:20-21

There they are, side by side.  I can have either and the choice is mine.  Sure, I know good from evil (Genesis 3:22).  I know the “right” choice, but today I think I will choose Barabbas.  That’s who everyone else keeps shouting for.  Even the preacher said it!

“Barabbas!”

Why does that feel so wrong?  Why does it feel as though a piece of my soul just died?   Who is this man?

“Barabbas.”

This can’t be right.  I don’t even know this Barabbas.  What did this Jesus do?  Someone said that if he didn’t die that they would kill us all.  Don’t they know, we’re already dead.

“….”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Each day is a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.  Today you chose Barabbas.  There is tomorrow.

Never despair. Lazarus was dead and decaying: “iam foetet, quatriduanus set enim“–“by now he will smell; this is the fourth day,” Martha told Jesus.

If you hear the inspiration of God and follow it–“Lazare, vein foras!“–“Lazarus, come forth!”–you will return to life.

St. Josemaria Escriva – The Way #719 

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

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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.

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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.

Entering the Walls

Brick Wall

There was once when it actually worked…

On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times.  The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! … When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:16-17, 20)

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, but it is in His revealing in the New Testament that we find another way:

When Jesus entered Jerusalem… – Matthew 12:10

Jesus entered a house… – Mark 3:20

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. – Luke 19:1

I came from the Father and entered the world… – John 16:28

What I find curious is that we, as a Christian people, often try the way of the Israelites rather than the way of Jesus.  We wrongly believe that we can stand outside the wall, shout at the tops of our lungs, and the walls of the city will come tumbling down.

“You are sinning by _____!  (Book Chapter : verse – verse)”

“God said, ‘_____.’  (Book Chapter : verse)”  [Swing baseball bat.]

Yes, Jesus gave them a tongue lashing, flipped over some tables, and ran off a few opportunist, but mostly Jesus “entered.”  The world.  The city.  The house.  The Temple.  LIVES.  Jesus entered lives.  He sat down and ate a meal, had a conversation, touched, healed…  He revealed the Father – not by yelling and beating them with a baseball bat of Holy Scripture – but by entering in and revealing the Father that was within Himself. (John 14:9)  Instead of standing outside and yelling at the city walls, enter in and reveal Christ to it’s inhabitants.  It won’t mean that you are consorting with the enemy, compromising the faith, soiling your unblemished soul, apostatizing, etc.; it will mean that you are following Jesus and entering in.

Forge #968

fire handsOne thought leads to another…

Let this be your prayer, apostolic soul: Lord, may I know how to lean on people and get them all to burn like fires of Love, which will then become the driving force of all our undertakings.  – St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge #968

Which reminds me of…

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’

How quietly we can sit and watch the clock tick.  How easy is it to say, “There is nothing to do.”  How casually the words, “I’m bored,” cross our lips.  Shame.  Erase these inactions and fruitless words from your soul.  There is a Gospel to proclaim through word and deed.  Get off your butt, step out the door, and set the world on fire!

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.