Sermon – “Arrogant Jesus?”

toonIt is a statement that offends many. They consider it religious arrogance: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Do you see any arrogance in Jesus? As he weeps at the tomb of his friend Lazarus is he declaring his superiority? When Jesus washes the feet of the disciples is he displaying a sense of entitlement? As he hangs naked, beaten, bruised, bleeding, dying on the cross, is this presumption?

No. Jesus is not being arrogant, superior, or presumptuous. So what we must consider when others believe that he is, is that what they are seeing of Jesus is those who act in His Name being arrogant and presumptuous. They believe these things about Jesus because they believe them about us.

Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Are we showing the Father? Do we stand alongside a world that weeps for its sorrows and pains or do we stand above it, claiming superior knowledge and rights? Do we exhibit the nature of the One we claim is in us or do we demand to have our feet washed? Do we take up our cross and bear it or do we refuse to get our hands dirty? Do we show the world the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ or do we show them the God according to “I”?

I believe that if we as a Christian people do the things that Jesus did, then the world will once again be witness to the God and Father that Jesus demonstrated. It is then that the world will begin to see Jesus and us in an entirely different light. If we continue in the works and ways of Jesus then the world will begin to know for themselves that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. It is only then that they will also come to the saving knowledge of Jesus: through Him all may come to the Father.

Thomas a Kempis understood Jesus to say this to him, “Follow Me. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living. I am the Way which you must follow, the Truth which you must believe, the Life for which you must hope. I am the unbreakable Way, the infallible Truth, the unending Life. I am the Way that is straight, the supreme Truth, the Life that is true, the blessed, the uncreated Life. If you abide in My Way you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free, and you shall attain life everlasting.”

Our journey through this life will lead us to eternal life, but it is our responsibility to show others that single path that leads to the Father. There is no pride or arrogance involved. It is a path of humility and obedience, but we are called to show it not just to those who think or look like us. Jesus said, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” We show the path that leads to eternal life, not just to those who think or look like us, but to all, so that all might come to the saving knowledge of our Lord.

Sermon: Easter V RCL A – “I Will Proclaim”

pointDo you remember the name Harold Camping? He died this past December, but for many years was the leader of Family Radio Worldwide. His claim to fame was that through complex mathematical formulas he predicted that on May 21, 2011 the rapture, that is God calling his people home, would occur and the world would end as we know it. Now, if it had occurred and all of you were still here after the rapture, I wouldn’t be surprised, but since I’m still here, I figure he was wrong. For the record, Camping also predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994 and that didn’t happen either. He wrote that off as errors in his computations. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” My logic says, if the angels don’t know the hour or day, then someone with a calculator and a Bible won’t be able to figure it out either.

However, leading up to May 21, 2011, atheist across the country were having all sorts of fun by having “end of the world parties. Although Mr. Camping was wrong, I still don’t know that it is a good idea to mock him and I’ll tell you why: people have been looking for Jesus return for 2,000+ years. They have been praying for his return for 2,000+ years and for good reason. The author Anne Lamott summed it up, she wrote, “We are Easter People, living in a Good Friday World.” We are an Easter people believing in the resurrection, old things passing away, new life, the promises of the Good News, but the world around is in shambles. Some see the world around us and they interpret its condition as the end, “How could we go on anymore?” So in the midst of the shambles, folks want to see the Lord’s return so badly, that they begin to look for it even more closely and want it so much that they even make the mistake of trying to predict it. In a way, it is an act of desperation.

Harold Camping and the others who have predicted Jesus return through this desperation are not alone. Consider the apostles in our Gospel reading today: Jesus has already shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he has predicted his death, he has told Peter and the others that they will deny him.. essentially he is giving final instructions and saying, “Goodbye.” For the apostles, their world is spinning out of control, their world is turning into shambles, so Thomas says to Jesus, “Give us directions on how we can follow you.” Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father. In both cases, instead of breaking out a map or showing a photo, Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “If you have seen me then you have seen the Father.” For the apostles that still sounds a bit cryptic, because they did not fully understand Jesus’ purpose, what his mission was all about. That understanding would not come until later, but the events surrounding Stephen that we read about today are key to this understanding.

You will recall that after Jesus’ death the apostles went about preaching and teaching; however, as more folks came to belief in Christ it became more difficult for these few followers to care for them all, so they elected seven others – the first deacons – to assist in the ministry. One of those seven was Stephen and he was very passionate about his work. Not only did he do the work of a deacon, but he also proclaimed the Gospel message. Just as the religious leadership did not want to hear it from Jesus, they didn’t want to hear it from this young upstart either. So it came to pass that on one particular day Stephen gave them a great tongue lashing. He said to them, you have always been disobedient to God, you have always limited God, and you have persecuted the prophets that God sent. The crowning jewel of this tongue lashing comes when Stephen tells them, you murdered the Son of God.

It is hear that scripture records an amazing scene, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” For his perceived “blasphemy” they stoned him to death.

In believing and proclaiming the Gospel Stephen, the first martyr of the church, saw the place that Thomas had asked Jesus for directions to and he saw the glory of the Father that Phillip had wanted to see. What Stephen was witness to was the Good News. Jesus’ Kingdom was not bound to an earthly realm. You don’t need directions on how to get there or a photograph to know the Father, you only need one thing. Care to take a guess? Jesus – and that is the Good News.

What kind of person do you think of when you consider a person like Stephen? He knew that because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God it got him crucified, but here Stephen is making the same claims. Don’t you think he had to know that it would incite the religious leaders once again? Was he like one of those street preachers you imagine in Time Square, standing on a milk crate, flailing a Bible around shouting at those passing by, but in the case of Stephen knowing what he said could get him killed? Was he on a suicide mission, simply begging for death? Or was he being the light of the world. That city on a hill that can’t be hidden? Was Stephen a hero? Was he someone whose character and behavior we should model and follow?

Now please don’t think I’m picking on anyone in particular this morning. I’m not. Instead, I’m being very equitable and picking on us all, because we are all guilty of something specific in our Christian walk. Folks like Thomas and Philip ask to see God, others like Harold Camping and his followers want to see God so badly that they predict dates when they actually will, but they are not the only ones? The world is in shambles all around us and folks, whether directly or indirectly, ask us those same questions: “Can you show me the way?” “Can you help me to understand and see God?” Indirectly they may pour out to you the turmoil within their souls, their anxious thoughts, and personal concerns; but when they do, what we are all guilty of is being too polite. How many of you have heard this, “Faith or someone’s relationship with God is a personal matter.” “I don’t want to force my religious views on anyone.” “I might make them angry if I talk about God.”

I asked you if you thought Stephen was some sort of madman or a hero and the correct answer is that he is a hero. We should emulate his behavior, which means we shouldn’t always be so polite and say or do what is considered socially proper when it comes to our faith – It is THE Good News and that Good News is not there just so we can have some comforting words to say at someone’s deathbed or worse, their funeral! The Good News is for today. It is for the living and is for sharing. If someone happens to get angry and throws a few rocks then so be it. I love what St. Josemaria Escriva said on this, “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.” You are living testimonies to the Good News and it is worth sharing.

Scripture says that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and we too are filled with that same Spirit, which will allows us share the Good News of Jesus Christ as boldly and as unapologetically as Stephen did. The world did not end on May 21, 2011 or today – at least not yet! – so there are many who still want and need to know the way to Jesus. They want to see the Father. You, each and everyone of you, can provide them with directions.

The Psalmist declares, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Don’ let that simply be something you read or hear. Let it be something you live. A way of life. Be aware of the many opportunities that the Lord provides you to share your faith and then grasp those opportunities and proclaim the Good News that is within you.

Sermon: Wednesday – “What’s in a Name”

roseRomeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Moses went up on the mountain to see that wondrous sight of the burning bush. When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, and the Lord called out to him by name, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground… I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

God appeared to Jacob again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.”

The Lord called out to the Prophet Samuel when he was still a young boy, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Jesus called His disciples by name. Jesus looked at one who would become his disciple and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

For four days a man lay dead in the tomb, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

On the day of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him, “Teacher!”

The Lord called Moses by name and he led the Israelites out of slavery. Jacob was called by name as the father of nations. Samuel – called by name as prophet. Peter as an apostle. Lazarus was called out of death. Mary was called into the understanding of who Christ truly is.

Jesus tells us that – in the end – he will clothe in white those who are victorious in Him and will walk with them. Jesus declares, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”

The Lord knows each and every one of us by name and he has known us from the beginning. The Psalmist declares, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The Lord knows us in the fullest sense..

In our Gospel reading to day Jesus says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

There are times for all of us when we wonder if God thinks on us. Remembers us. There are presently over 6 billion people on the planet, can he know me as an individual? Yes. The Lord knows each of us by name and he calls us. He calls us to serve Him. He calls us to follow Him. He calls us out of darkness. By name, he calls us out of death. The Lord Your God is a great God. Have peace in knowing that you are His, precious in His sight.

Sermon: Dame Julian of Norwich

worldDame Julian of Norwich was born in the mid-15th century in England and was an anchoress, that is, one who withdraws from the world for the sake of spending a life in prayer. At age 30 she became ill and was so near death that she was given last rites; however, after seven days she suddenly appeared to heal, and was then given fifteen visions regarding Our Lord’s Passion. She would later write, “From that time I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning and fifteen years after I was answered in ghostly understanding: ‘Wouldst thou learn the Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed he thee? Love. Wherefore showed it he? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same.’ Thus it was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”

Julian recorded these visions – there is a short version and a longer one – and you can find them in the book Revelations of Divine Love. It is a bit too much reading for any sermon, but I would still like to share a short passage from one of the them. It is one of my favorite:

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

A person could spend hours trying to understand all that is said in that one statement, Julian spent years attempting to understand it herself, but in it we can begin to see the vastness of God. We understand that all of creation rests in the palm of God’s hand. From the smallest particle of the atom to the seemingly infinity of the heavens. But not only does he hold it, but through His Son, Jesus, God is a part of that creation. If it stopped there, then we could at least know that there is someone out there who is in control, but it doesn’t stop there. The first of the three properties were that “God made it.” The third was that “God keeps it.” But the second is that “God loves it.” All that there is was made by God and is held by God and even though he is so vast and we so small, He loves.

The Psalmist asks:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him?

Why does God care about this small orb He holds in the palm of His hand? Because He loves you. Julian’s most famous passage sums it up for many, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” All shall be well, because God is love and God loves.

Article: 365 Days of Easter

treeBorn a Jew, Billy Crystal may not have the best insights into the Christian faith, then again, he may have it pretty well worked out. With regards to Easter, in his book Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys, he writes, “Two thousand years ago Jesus is crucified, three days later he walks out of a cave and they celebrate with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps and beautifully decorated eggs. I guess these were things Jesus loved as a child.” Leading up to Easter, a quick glance around the stores will only confirm his conclusion, but perhaps there is a bit more to it.

When we think of Easter, we often consider it to be that one glorious Sunday of celebrating the Lord’s resurrection. Yet for many, Easter is a season – Eastertide – lasting 50 days. If they had been around, Jesus very well may have enjoyed a chocolate bunny and Peeps, but what he “loved” as a child and as an adult, were the people of God. What did he hope to accomplish through this love? Redemption and adoption. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Galatians 4:4-5). No. Easter is not simply about sugary confections. Easter is the time we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord, the conquering of death, and the receiving of our full inheritance as sons and daughters of God. So is this great gift something we should only celebrate for day? For only the fifty days of Easter? What would our lives look like, what would the church be like, how would our world change if we lived into the resurrection not just for one day or 50 days, but 51 days? 150 days? 250? What would happen if we lived into the resurrection of Our Lord 365 days a year?

Jesus declares, “I am resurrection” (John 11:25). This is not an event held in suspension to be celebrated for a few hours on a specified day. Instead, it is an event that should permeate everyday and every aspect of our lives. Yet, like so many opportunities in our lives, daily living the resurrected life requires choice and intentionality. Daily living the resurrected life requires us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus without hesitating or questioning where He might be leading. It requires us to boldly say with Mary, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Finally, daily living the resurrected life requires us to love. In Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan Manning states, “For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.” What is the “radical demand of the Christian faith”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). That command is not for the faint of heart! It takes great courage to truly love, because to truly love means to risk everything.

Make the decision. Be bold. Say, “Yes,” to the risenness of Jesus. Not just for a few hours or a day, a week or even a year, but every day. Every day, live the resurrected life God has blessed you with.

Sermon: Celebrate Camp Marshall – “Encountering Jesus”

campmarshall-pics-picks-281-960x500_c
Sunrise at Camp Marshall

A telemarketer called a home one day and Little Johnny answered. In a small voice Johnny whispered, “Hello?” The telemarketer said, “Hello! What’s your name?” Still whispering, the voice said, “Johnny.” “How old are you, Johnny?” “I’m four.” “Good. Is your mother home?” “Yes, but she’s busy.” “Okay, is your daddy home?” “He’s busy too.” “I see, who else is there?” “The police.” “The police? May I speak with one of them?” “They’re busy.” “Any other grown-ups there?” “The firemen.” “May I speak with a fireman, please?” “They’re all busy.” “Johnny, all those people in your house, and I can’t talk with any of them? What are they doing?” With a little snicker and a bit too gleefully Johnny whispered, “Looking for me.”

I have shared with you in the past that I have been the chaplain for Grace Camp at Camp Marshall since it began. All the camps are special, but in my opinion this one is the best. It is a camp for third through eighth graders who have a parent incarcerated. The kids are generally between the ages of nine and thirteen and come in all shapes and sizes. As I think about them I recall some of the things we say about kids: there is always, “the children are our future,” but other thoughts include, “a child is someone who can wash their hands without getting the soap wet;” “the trouble with children is that when they are not being a lump in your throat they are being a pain in your neck;” “a child is someone who can’t understand why anyone would give away a perfectly good kitten;” and “every child would learn to write sooner if allowed to do their homework in wet cement.”

While at Grace Camp, I’ve learned a few other things about children. I’ve learned that a big white fuzzy dog can start a lot of conversations. I’ve learned twice as much gravy as you have potatoes on your plate makes playing with your food a lot more interesting. Heaven just might be a pocket full of perfect skipping stones that you have searched out all day, the only problem being that the weight of them makes it difficult to keep your pants up. Afternoon naps are only intermissions between opportunities to go swimming in the lake, which reminds me, 54 degree water is not cold to young children, but can possibly give an adult a heart attack. These are some things I’ve learned in my days of camp.

These kids have also learned a great deal in their short lives. One of the thirteen year old girls learned that you can be repeatedly raped between the ages of ten and thirteen by your stepfather and still like boys. One of the boys was able to learn firsthand the results of having your one year old baby brother thrown against a wall by one of mom’s many boyfriends. There was one girl who was ten, but at age four learned that if you can hold your breath long enough and have some really good luck, then you can survive while your father is trying to drown you in the bath tub. She also learned that you can still enjoy swimming in that cold water. There was another girl – nine years old – she never would tell her story, but while at camp she learned that she loved the song Amazing Grace, and every time she requested it, we would sing it with her.

Many of these children have also learned that if you need something, maybe just a bit of love, screaming and crying does not work, that would be for amateurs. Violence to others is often the most preferred method, but there is also running away and threats and not all of those threats are idle. One nine year-old child became so angry with one of his counselors that he swore he was going to cut his throat with a pair of scissors, but do it only hard enough so that he would be barely alive when the police arrived, so that he could tell the police that the counselor did it to him. I’m not going to go into the list of medicines that these children take: some to wake you up, some to keep you calm, anti-depressants might as well be M&M’s, and another pill at night to make you sleep. Some of the time those were obviously necessary, but at other times it seems they should be called “your getting on mommy’s nerves pills so take this and shut up.” On and on it goes.

All that, yet, we had one little boy – I think he was around ten showed up to camp. Very depressed. Failing in school. Spent a week at Grace Camp and his grandmother informed us that after he got home he couldn’t stop talking about it and how he was planning on going again the next summer. He spent that school year working hard and participating in track. Before the year was out, the walls in his room were filled with all the ribbons and trophies he had won. One boy started Grace Camp when he was in the third grade. That year he picked up a guitar for the first time. Each year he came and learned how to play a bit more. Got his own guitar. When he reached ninth grade he was ineligible to come back to Grace Camp as a camper, so we made it possible for him to come as an associate counselor. What did he do? He taught the younger children how to play guitar. Not every story is a success, but as I tell the staff each year, if we can make a difference for just one child, then we have done our jobs.

There is a piece lakefront property on Flathead Lake consisting of twenty-nine acres. On the property is a lodge, an arts and crafts building, some staff accommodations, and many small cabins with bunk beds. The sign as you enter the camp grounds reads, “Camp Marshall,” but this twenty-nine acres is not Camp Marshall. Camp Marshall is not a place, buildings, or even the amazing staff. Camp Marshall is an experience. An experience where young children and older youth encounter God.

In our Gospel reading today we heard of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. From the reading we understand that they are disappointed. They had been with Jesus, but now they believe he is dead. They encounter a stranger on the road and they begin to tell him of all the troubles that have taken place in Jerusalem. The death of the Messiah. The death of Jesus. The death of hope, and now… now it is all gone. Yet, as evening drew near, they and the stranger stopped for the night. Before turning in they had their evening meal. “When he – the stranger – was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him – they recognized Jesus – and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Today we celebrate the ministry of Camp Marshall. When we support it financially, we give so that salaries to staff can be paid. We give for the upkeep of the grounds. We give so that old mattresses can be replaced. We give so that many children – from all walks of life – can experience God in community and have the joy of being at camp. We give for many reasons, but ultimately, we give so that all of these children on their on road to Emmaus might encounter the Risen Lord and know Him. We give so that for just a few days each one of them might experience another way. The Way and the Love of God.

St. Luke’s, our church, needs your pledges and your gifts, so I’m not asking you to take from one in order to give to another; however, during the offertory, Janie is going to pass-the-hat for Camp Marshall and I’m asking that you consider giving a little more today. I’m not asking you to give to a place or the support of that place. I’m asking that you give to the one. The one child who, at Camp Marshall, will be given the opportunity – perhaps for the first time – to encounter God. To encounter Jesus.

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.

Sermon: Palm Sunday RCL A – “Be Strong. Be Courageous.”

catIt was George Burns who said, “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.” I think you would agree that today the space between the beginning and ending should be even shorter. Truthfully, not much more needs to be said, the liturgy and the readings have spoken for themselves, yet that still won’t stop me from saying a few words.

Following the Exodus from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert for forty years the Israelites came to the Jordan River and it is near that place on Mount Nebo that Moses dies. Following his death, Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and would be the one who would finally lead them across the Jordan River and into the land that God had promised. Several days prior to the crossing the Lord spoke to Joshua telling him that if he and the Israelites followed the Law that had been given to Moses, then they would be prosperous. During this particular discourse – three times – the Lord said to Joshua that during the days ahead he should be “Strong and courageous.” At the third time the Lord said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Days later the people would cross the Jordan and conquer the first city they came to – Jericho. From there Joshua and the vast numbers of Israelites went out into the Holy Land as God had commanded.

There is an interesting similarity to that event and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem that we read about today. We often get a vision of Jesus traveling up to the gates of Jerusalem and there being met by the people waving palm branches, but as it turns out the crowd has been with him for quite a while. In fact they had been with him for about seventeen miles. Scripture says, “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving [a certain city], a large crowd followed them.” What was that certain city? Jericho.

I found it kind of interesting that Joshua and the Israelites set out from Jericho to conquer the Promised Land and that Jesus also set out from Jericho to conquer the eternal promised land. It made me wonder if in leaving that place and heading to Jerusalem and the cross if Jesus was also comforted by those words that the Lord had spoken to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The Israelites, then Jesus, but they are not the only ones who must travel that road, for it is one that we too must travel spiritually. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” To be Jesus’ disciples we too must head out from Jericho and take that road to Jerusalem, knowing all along where it leads. Knowing that in the end we will be crucified with Christ, but also knowing that this road leads through some very barren, desolate, and rugged areas. Places where there is no water or nourishment. Places where you can be robbed, beaten, killed. Places where you can very easily lose your way and become lost. Therefore as we travel along that road we must stay near to Jesus. We must keep our eyes firmly fixed on him and where he leads, for He is the Way. If along the way you should become fearful, then listen closely and you too will hear the comforting words of Our Father, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Even on the darkest of nights, you are not alone. Be strong. Be courageous. God is with you.