Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL B – “The One True God”

The podcast can be found here.


taxi-bus-city-urban-584392.jpeg


Raymond’s patience for crossing New York City on foot finally ran out so he flagged down a cab and crawled in. Once they got underway, Raymond tapped the driver on the shoulder to give him the address. The driver screamed, snatched the wheel, sideswiped a bus, went up on the sidewalk, and stopped inches from a store window.

Both men sat in the quiet taxi cab for a few seconds catching their breath. The driver finally broke the silence by shouting, “Look mister, don’t ever do that again! You scared me half to death!”

Raymond apologized to the driver and said he didn’t realize that a little tap could scare someone so much.

The driver calmed in an instant and sheepishly replied, “You’re right. I’m sorry, sir. Actually, it’s not your fault. Today is my first day as a cab driver. I’ve been driving a hearse for the last 25 years.”

The Israelites went to wandering in the desert and eventually came to Mount Horeb. God told Moses to come up the mountain where they would meet and the people were to remain below. However, scripture tells us that Moses delayed in returning and the people began to think that perhaps he was dead, so they said to Aaron (number two in charge), “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” From this request, Aaron makes for them the golden calf. Jewish scholars do not believe that it was Aaron’s intent that the Israelites worship the golden calf, for after it was made, he said to the people, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” In other words, here is a golden calf, but tomorrow we will worship the one true God. So if worshiping the calf is not what he intended, then what was going on?

You’ll recall from a few weeks ago we talked about the Ark of the Covenant (think Indiana Jones) with the two cherubim on the lid, their wings outstretched and touching one another’s. The space between and above the cherubim’s wings was called the Mercy Seat and it was the place where the presence of God resided. In a similar manner, Jewish scholars believe that Aaron created the golden calf to represent and replace Moses, not God. And when Aaron declared to the people, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”, he was not referring to the calf as their god, but – like the mercy seat – he was referring to the space above the golden calf as the dwelling place or the presence of the One True God. In creating the golden calf, the scholars believe that Aaron was simply creating a ‘visible’ seat or chair for the Living God. However, the people did not understand and, in violation of God’s Commandment, they made an idol out of the calf and worshiped it instead of God.

As the Psalmist declared, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

They would make a similar mistake later on. This time, they were being troubled by serpents that would bite and kill them, so the Lord said to Moses, “‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’  So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” It worked, but years later, when Hezekiah was King over Israel, we are told, “He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.” They had taken the bronze snake and made a god out of it and worshiped it.

This practice of worshiping false gods continues through Israel’s history and was one of the reasons for the exile that was to come. In condemning the practice, God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah and stated:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
nor is it in them to do good…
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction given by idols
is no better than wood!…
They are the work of the artisan and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is blue and purple;
they are all the product of skilled workers.

And some of you may be saying, I know where he’s going with this one: he’s about to tell us we make false gods and worship them. That would be legitimate, we do have a tendency to make gods out of many things, but I don’t believe you would be here if you were actively serving some other false god. You wouldn’t be here if you were not seeking the one true God, but even though we are, we can sometimes treat the Living God as though he were one of those dead idols, made of wood or gold. We can polish him up and dress him up, and then set him on a shelf, never really giving him much thought afterwards, unless of course we need something.

When we first encounter God, we are a bit like that taxi driver. God taps us on the shoulder and gets our attention. Scares the daylights out of us, but then we become accustomed. We know he’s back there, but over time, it no longer excites us. It no longer motivates us. He taps us on the shoulder, but over time if we don’t just learn to ignore it, that tapping can become an annoyance. Not a calling to return to God, but a guilt that can turn to anger. ‘Look God, I know you want something, but I’m busy with my own life. I know what I’m doing here.’ Even so, we still like the idea of God. We want him to be on our side, so instead of worshiping him, we nurture the ‘idea’ of God and we worship it. We practice a religion, but we have exchanged the living God for a golden calf, a bronze snake, something made of wood, or stained glass. Why? Because gold, bronze, wood, stained glass, these things require nothing of us. They are easy to serve. We can go about our daily lives and never have to give them a second thought. But you see, our God is not interested in being a… nativity scene. He’s not interested in being pulled out once a year, polished and dressed up, and put on display for a month only to be put away again. Our God is one who calls us into relationship with Him.

He called Samuel out of slumber. He called Matthew out of riches. James and John he called out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Lazarus he called out of death. And when he called Nathanael out from under the fig tree, Nathanael responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael responded, “You know me for who I am and for what I am. As the Psalmist wrote, ‘Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.’” Nathanael said, “You are my God. You are my King and I will follow you.”

Our relationship with God is not like the relationship the Israelites and others had with the gods of gold and wood. Nor is our relationship with God an idea, that we pay homage to. Instead, our relationship with God is active and ongoing and involves a true encounter.

The Apostle Paul concludes his first letter to the Ephesians by saying: May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The one who calls you has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. He has called you by name and he is faithful. His call to you is a reminder that you are a son, a daughter of the Living God and he will accomplish in you His work of sanctification, of making you holy. Don’t ignore the tap on your shoulder. Actively follow Him in his glorious Way, which leads to eternal life.

Let us pray: Father in Heaven, You made us Your children and called us to walk in the Light of Christ. Free us from darkness and keep us in the Light of Your Truth. The Light of Jesus has scattered the darkness of hatred and sin. Called to that Light, we ask for Your guidance. Form our lives in Your Truth, our hearts in Your Love. Through the Holy Eucharist, give us the power of Your Grace that we may walk in the Light of Jesus and serve Him faithfully. Amen.

Advertisements

Sermon: Blessed William Laud

The podcast can be found here.


e6593abf49db6d7edcd8702e877343de--william-laud-anthony-van-dyck

Archbishop William Laud by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)


In the eyes of many, Sir Harbottle Grimston was a great man in the English parliament of 1640. He rounded up and prosecuted many who he and others saw as traitors to the state. Bringing one such enemy of the state to trial, Grimston declared, “We are now fallen on that great man: look upon him as he is in his highness, and he is the sty of all pestilential filth that hath affected the state and government of this commonwealth. He is the man, the only man, that hath raised and advanced all those that, together with himself, have been the authors and cause of all our ruins, miseries, and calamities we now groan under.” Grimston won his case, and the man he was speaking of was taken to the tower and finally beheaded in 1643 for his crimes. However, today, we do not celebrate Grimston, instead, we celebrate the one he saw beheaded: Archbishop of Canterbury, Blessed William Laud. You see, Grimston was a Puritan, and during their short lived rule in England they sought to remove anything and everything that looked, sounded, or tasted like a Catholic; and I don’t know about how he tasted, but William Laud very much looked and sounded like a Catholic, but he was also a staunch supporter of the Church of England and the monarchy, without separation of Church and state.

Laud looked and sounded so much like a Catholic that the Pope sent a special envoy to Laud and offered him a cardinal’s hat, stating that he would “accept clerical marriage, communion in both kinds, the English Prayer Book liturgy and only a conditional re-ordination for all priest” (Fr. John-Julian, 13) if Laud and the others would convert to Rome. Laud was not impressed with the state of the Roman Church, so he declined.

It would seem that Laud’s influence would have ended with his death, but when the Puritans were put out of power, it was the Church that Laud had somewhat envisioned that was restored.

Today, scholars and historians either hate all 5’2” inches of him or they love him. One says he was a “ridiculous old bigot” and the other says, “Laud was the one man who prevented the English Church from being bound in the fetters of an iron system of compulsory Calvinistic belief.” Can I get an, “Amen!” And another said that “He had the misfortune to think that he was born to set the world right.” I suppose we can always listen to what others have to say about someone, or we can listen to what that someone said themselves. On the scaffolds facing his execution, Laud said, “This poor Church of England hath flourished and been a shelter to other neighboring churches when storms fell upon them. I was born and baptized in the bosom of the Church of England. In that profession I have ever since lived, and in that I am now come to die… bless this kingdom [of England] with peace and charity, that there may not be this shedding of Christian blood amongst them.”

I do not know enough about his life to say one way or another, but one thing I have learned: if you are making people angry on both the left and the right, you may be on the correct path… or a fool.

Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Archbishop William Laud had his strong points and his faults, but he is one who unashamedly acknowledged the Savior. So today, we celebrate one who believed, who died for what he believed, and who – unlike so many of the Saints we celebrate – was entirely… human.

Sermon: Christmas 1 RCL B – “New Beginning”

The podcast can be found here.


pexels-photo-45718.jpeg


The Top 10 New Years Resolutions that I should actually be able to keep:

  1. Stop exercising. Waste of time.
  2. I want to gain weight. Put on at least 30 pounds.
  3. Read less.
  4. Watch more TV. I’ve been missing some good stuff.
  5. Procrastinate more.
  6. I will no longer waste my time reliving the past, instead I will spend it worrying about the future.
  7. Stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.
  8. Stop bringing lunch from home: I should eat out more.
  9. Take up a new habit: maybe smoking!
  10. I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

As I’m sure you have, I have thought long and hard about my resolutions for the coming year. I have three: 1) Next year at this time, I will look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel. 2) Next year at this time, I will have doubled the size of this congregation. 3) Next year at this time, I will be like one of those great saints of God who were so focused in their prayers, that they had to be dragged away from the blessed sacrament and reminded to eat. Next year at this time, I will not be, nor will I have accomplished any of the above.

Here we are. One week after celebrating the birth of our Savior, and we’re already setting ourselves up for failure. Hoorah! What idiot came up with this disillusioning ritual? And why do we walk into it every year with our eyes wide open?

Asking someone what their New Year’s resolution is is akin to asking someone what they’re giving up for Lent. So often, both are only exercises in will power. Will I go to the gym enough times and eat right so that I come out in twelve months looking like Fabio? Will I be in prayer so much that I have callouses on my knees? If so many of these resolutions end in failure, then why do we persist?

Brother Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P. (Dominican) discussed this in an article. He writes, “At the root of the practice of New Year’s resolutions is a dissatisfaction with who we are. Though there are certainly unhealthy kinds of dissatisfaction, in and of itself dissatisfaction is not a bad thing. Only the most arrogant person lacking even an ounce of self-knowledge would actually believe that he has no room for improvement. Making resolutions reminds us that we are not finished products—and breaking them makes this even more obvious.”

The resolution reminds us that we are a work in progress, however, Morales goes on to ask, “But what’s the point of resolutions if we’re fairly certain we’re not going to keep them? Is there anything to be gained by them?” (source) For me, I am very well aware of the fact that I need improvement, so why go through the exercise?

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin writes about a particular project: “I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into.” The project included thirteen virtues that he intended to focus on, such as: temperance, moderation, and frugality. (Originally it had only twelve, but a Quaker friend pointed out to him that he seemed prideful to many, so Franklin added “Humility,” the description of which was, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”) He made a book with a grid system, setup in thirteen weeks. Each week he would focus solely on one of the virtues and for every time he failed at keeping the virtue, he would make a small dot on the page. He noted in his autobiography, “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” He did see improvements, but there were still failures, so much so, that he had intended to reuse the little book, but over time, the pages had holes in them from the number of dots he had to erase.

What’s the point of resolutions? What is to be gained? Brother Morales writes, “Perhaps the most important thing about resolutions is not following through with them perfectly, but rather the determination to start over every time we fail.”

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke Skywalker has been training with Yoda. Yoda gives Luke what appears to be an impossible task. Luke does not believe he can do it, but eventually concedes and says, “All right, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda responds: “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Another great movie—Elizabeth: the Golden Age: the Spanish Armada is on the way. Elizabeth and her troops gathered at Tilbury. Elizabeth rallies the troops by saying to them, “My loving people. We see the sails of the enemy approaching. We hear the Spanish guns over the water. Soon now, we will meet them face-to-face. I am resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all. While we stand together no invader shall pass. Let them come with the armies of Hell; they will not pass! And when this day of battle is ended, we meet again in heaven or on the field of victory.” Do… or do not. There is no try.

If, along the way, you should fail, then remember that no one can take away your birthday and then recall the words from Proverbs: “Though [the righteous] fall seven times, they will rise again.” (Proverbs 24:16) On the day that you fail, make another firm resolution to get up, erase the marks from the page, and begin again.

This same principle holds true in our walk with Christ. The fact that we say “The Confession” each week should be a clear indicator of that one. We get down on our knees and we confess our sins and repent of any wrong doing. We hear the words of absolution and receive the forgiveness and grace that comes from God. We go to one another, extending the hand of peace to those we love and those we have injured or offended and to those who have injured or offended us. And then we go out into the world, fully intending, fully resolving to live in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, but no sooner have we driven out the parking lot—if we even make it that far—and we find ourselves once again stumbling. Falling. The light of God shines into the darkness of our lives, exposing every blemish. And it is then that we have two options: remain face down in the dust or get to our knees and begin again. Do… or do not. There is no try.

With that in mind, what are my resolutions for 2018?

Next year at this time, I really would like to look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel – at least have a little of their hair – but the truth is, unless I can take a pill for it, its not going to happen, because I’m not really all that interested in looking like one of the shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novels. That said, I am interested in my collars not being so tight. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like for our church to have doubled in attendance so that we have to start figuring out where to put everybody, but the truth is, we can add numbers, but not depth. We can be a church that is a mile wide and an inch deep. That said, instead of chasing some number, I resolve to chase souls. To reach as many as the Lord places before me with the Good News of His Son, Jesus. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like to be like one of those great saints of prayer, who spent so much time praying before the blessed sacrament, that they had to be pulled away and reminded that they needed to eat, but the truth is, I’m not that obedient and I’m great at finding other things to keep me “busy.” That said, I resolve to spend some time each day in sincere prayer, seeking my God, and hoping to draw at least one step closer to Him. I resolve to work on that one, too.

To this list, I will add one more resolution. A resolution for me as your priest. Saint Paul said it in his first letter to the Corinthians: I resolve to know nothing while among you except Christ Jesus, and him crucified. (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2)

Whatever your resolutions may be, resolve to love God more and to love your neighbor more. When you fail at either, get to your knees and begin again.

The following is a prayer by Francis Brienen, a minister in the Reformed Church. Let us pray:

God of all time,
who makes all things new,
we bring before you the year now ending.
For life full and good,
for opportunities recognized and taken,
for love known and shared,
we thank you.

Where we have fallen short,
forgive us.
When we worry over what is past,
free us.

As we begin again
and take our first steps into the future,
where nothing is safe and certain,
except you,
we ask for the courage of the wise men
who simply went and followed a star.
We ask for their wisdom,
in choosing to pursue the deepest truth,
not knowing where they would be led.
In the year to come, God of all time,
be our help and company.
Hold our hands as we journey onwards
and may your dream of shalom,
where all will be at peace,
be our guiding star. (source)

Amen.

 

 

Sermon: Christmas Eve RCL B – “Mangers”

The podcast can be found here.


pexels-photo-374918.jpeg


Little Johnny was having a tough day in his fourth grade math class which ended with him standing toe-to-toe with his teacher who did not look at all pleased. Behind them was the blackboard covered with math problems that Johnny hadn’t been able to answer. The teacher stared down at Johnny with angry disappointment written across her face and declared, “Johnny, you are an underachiever.” With rare perception Johnny said, “I’m not an underachiever, you’re an overexpecter!”

On any given day you can read the news and discover that our world is fascinated with folks who are the famous and infamous. We want to know who the OKC Thunder are going to sign next to which celebrity is caught up in the latest scandal to what color Meghan Markle’s dress will be at the reception following the next royal wedding.

Unlike these news makers, the average man, woman or child simply fade into the background. The fella who put in the fifty hour work week, paid his bills on time, loved his wife, played with the kids, and helped with housework never makes the news. The single mom that works two jobs, sees to it that her child gets to school on time and has what they need is never going to be a story on CNN. And the fact that Little Johnny, after months of hard work, finally got that passing grade in math will never make the headlines.

We look at the world around us and we say that these folks up here are the ones that matter and these down here—that is, the rest of us—are not so significant in the great scheme of things. We don’t live in big cities, there are no paparazzi trying to take our pictures, and most likely, if we are going to have a seven digit income we are going to have to count the two numbers after the decimal point.

Unfortunately we have a tendency to look at our life with God in the same way. We look at the folks like St. Francis and Mother Teresa, the Popes and the Bishops, those rare saintly priest, and we think that as far as the things of God are concerned, those are the ones that really matter. As far the rest of us… we’re not so significant in the eyes of God. If God is going to move, to reveal himself it will be through one of them, not through one of us.

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” The angel of the Lord did not come to kings, presidents, Lady Gaga or any other celebrities. The angel did not come to the Emperor, the Roman governor, the Temple leaders, or any of the movers and shakers during that time to announce the birth of the Lord. The angel of the Lord came to sheep herders. Sheep herders! The Mishnah—the interpretation of Jewish law—refers to shepherds as incompetent and goes on to say that you are not obligated to save one if you see that they’ve fallen into a pit. “To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.” There status was the equivalent of a tax collector, which—to show you how low that was—was equivalent to those whose job it was to sweep up the dung in the streets. This is who the birth of the Lord was announced!

What do we know about this Jesus who these sheep herders went to see? He was born in an obscure village in an obscure country. The child of a peasant woman, he grew up in another small village. He worked as a carpenter for most of his life with only three years as an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, had an office, or even a cell phone. He never had a family or owned a home. Never went to college or to a big city. For that matter he never traveled more than two hundred miles from where He was born. Yet the world has never been the same.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God becomes human out of love for humanity. God does not seek the most perfect human being with whom to be united, but takes on human nature as it is.” As it is.

During this season of Advent we have been talking about the Incarnation. God becoming flesh. And we have talked about living Incarnational lives, that is, continually putting flesh on God in this world. Making Him known through word and actions. But so often we mistakenly think that in order to do this we must be some kind of super Christian, leading the perfect, sinless life, but that’s not the case. God used a young girl. A Carpenter. Shepherds. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. For crying out loud God even used a dead guy – Lazarus. These were ordinary people living ordinary lives and they too changed the world. The baby lying in the manger was not born for ivory towers and silver tea sets. He was born for hearts like theirs. He was born for a heart like yours.

The angel of the Lord said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people… for all people!… to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The manger where Christ was born existed 2,000 years ago and it exists today, but today that manger is not in some far off land. Today, that manger is within you. It is within each and everyone of you… as you are.

Scripture says, “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is within you.’” The Kingdom of God, the manger, the place where God desires to be born is within you. It is within you so that he might be made known to you and to the world.

We may never be the movers and shakers of the world who change the course of history, but in the eyes of God we are worth so much more. In the eyes of God, we are worth more than life itself and He desires to be joined to us… born within you. There was no room for him at the inn, but there is a manger within your heart? Allow the Christ Child to be born there.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.

Sermon: St. Thomas

The podcast can be found here.


467px-Rubens_apostel_thomas

Image: St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens


The Apostle Thomas appears several times in John’s Gospel, but what happens to him after the Ascension of Jesus is unclear. It is however believed that he went to India, for there is the Mar Thoma Church (St. Thomas), which claims its roots in the missionary work of Thomas. The Mar Thoma Church has over a million members worldwide and there is even one located near Oklahoma City in Bethany.

Although the lives of the Apostles following Jesus’ Ascension were different, I suspect they were quite similar in the ways they suffered for the sake of the Gospel. One of the accounts of this suffering comes to us from St. Paul and his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes to them of the trials he has experienced:

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.  And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”

Shortly afterwards he writes, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul endured all these things, but rejoiced and kept going. I cannot say for certain, but I suspect that the Apostle Thomas also endured similar trials, but he also kept going. What kind of life is that?

Think of this: in 2015, the average lineman in the NFL was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 315 pounds. One of the greatest running backs in history was Emmitt Smith. He was 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighed 216 pounds. The linemen had almost a foot on him in height and 100 pounds. Yet, during his career, Emmitt was able to rush for a total of 18,355 yards against those big ol’ boys. Do a little math and you’ll see that Emmitt rushed for 10.4 miles! Impressive, but what is even more impressive is the fact that he did it averaging only 4.3 yards per carry. In other words, every 13 feet Emmitt ran, he was clobbered by a 6 foot 5 inch, 315 pound lineman, but he got up and did it time and time again.

Want to know what it was like to be an Apostle? To be a Thomas, Paul, Peter, Andrew… think of getting hammered on like Emmitt Smith, yet getting up and moving forward after each time, and you might catch a glimpse.

I suppose we all have days when our faith is weaker than others. When I begin to doubt, I think of these Apostles and ask, who in their right mind would endure so much, if it weren’t all true? I don’t believe you can keep up that kind of pretense if what you are proclaiming is a lie. Especially when you consider, in the end, these Apostles did not receive a Super Bowl ring. For his troubles, the Apostle Thomas was run through with a spear.

We can take our faith and our freedom to practice that faith for granted, so even as we are about to freely and joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior, remember those who brought us the Good News through the many trials they endured.

Sermon: Advent 3 RCL B – “The Incarnation, 3”

The podcast can be found here.


pexels-photo-60086.jpeg


St. Francis was in Spoleto and a man afflicted with a horrible disfiguring facial cancer came to him seeking prayers. When he met Francis he was about to throw himself at his feet, but Francis prevented him and then kissed the man’s face, which was immediately healed of the cancer. Remarking on this event, St. Bonaventure writes, “I know not which I ought to wonder at, such a cure or such a kiss.” Reflecting on Bonaventure’s comment, author Michael D. O’Brien writes, “Which was the greater miracle, the suspension of natural law for the sake of physical healing, or the conversion of the human heart by absolute love?”

These past few weeks we have been speaking of the incarnation—God becoming man—so that he could first, wrap his arms of love around us and draw us to himself and second, so that we could become like him, that we might be with him where he is. However, becoming like Christ is not only about some future event, it is also about today, which means that because of the incarnation, we are to live incarnational lives. That means that not only do we become what he is, but we do those things he did. To live incarnationally means that we are to reveal God’s very nature to the world, not just in words and sentiments, but in deeds and actions. St. Augustine writes, “You are the Body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken. You are to be blessed, broken and distributed, that you may be the means of grace and vehicles of eternal love.”

The incarnation is God wrapping his arms of love around you and helping you take one faltering step after another, but he created you in his image so that you—living incarnationally—will wrap your arms of love around another and help them to do the same. The incarnation was God redeeming all flesh, but you are his messengers, the bringers of the Good News.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “A truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learnt, and apprehended, and that is all. But the incarnate son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him. That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality. Having been called they could no longer remain in obscurity, they were the light that must shine, the city on the hill which must be seen.”

God calls on us—like He did Francis—to live incarnationally, to be the ones who kiss the diseased face of humanity and to love unconditionally and without fear.

God became what we are, so that we could become what he is; therefore, we must be transformed. We must go from being holy observers of the world around us to incarnational disciples intentionally putting flesh on God? I like what my friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “Don’t fly like a barnyard hen when you can soar like an eagle.” That is not easy. It takes courage, but that courage is within you. As Escrivá also writes, “Courage! You can! Don’t you see what God’s grace did to that sleepy, cowardly Peter, who had denied him to that fierce, relentless Paul, who had persecuted him?” To go from observer to incarnational disciple requires that we repeat the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the words that she spoke on the day that the angel of the Lord came and visited her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” But we must not only speak those words, we must also allow them to breathe new life into us—a life filled with the Holy Spirit of God, so that we might transform the world around as we have been transformed.

I’m not preaching works—what we do for God—over faith, but there must be action behind our words. As the Apostle James writes, “I by my works will show you my faith.” We are not saved by our works, but our works are a testimony to our faith. Brennan Manning says in The Rabbi’s Heartbeat, “The Christian commitment is not an abstraction. It is a concrete, visible, courageous, and formidable way of being in the world forged by daily choices consistent with inner truth. A commitment that is not visible in humble service, suffering discipleship, and creative love… ‘a life that is not living incarnationally’ – is an illusion. Jesus Christ is impatient with illusions, and the world has no interest in abstractions.” Therefore, allow the Father to wrap his loving arms around you, become what he is, and then go, courageously performing the work he has given to you.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.

Sermon: Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy)

The podcast can be found here.


Statua_di_Santa_Lucia_-_Siracusa


Fr. John Julian writes: “When a martyr lives and dies in Sicily, has a world-famous song written about her which is still sung 1500 years after her death [Santa Lucia], has her name included in the Canon of the Roman Mass, is listed in the oldest Christian Sacramentaries, has two churches dedicated to her in pagan England before the 8th century, is the most popular saint in Sweden and Norway, had her biography written by a member of the Saxon royal family, and a poem about her by John Donne, and whose feast day was originally the date of the winter solstice, she has to have been some remarkable lady! And such a person is Saint Lucy—the ever-popular Santa Lucia.”

Legend has it that Lucy was born to a noble Sicilian family, but secretly decided to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to Christ. Since her mother was unaware of this commitment, she went and promised Lucy to be married, but when Lucy finally told her of her intentions, her mother allowed Lucy to do as she pleased. However, the suitor was sorely disappointed, he was apparently looking toward a sizable dowry, so when the wedding was called off, he became angry and turned Lucy into the governor for being a Christian, which, under the current emperor, Diocletian, was illegal. Brought before the governor, she refused to recant her faith and was ordered to work in a brothel, but when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her from the spot she stood. It only gets gruesome from there, but she was put to death for her faith. A virgin martyr.

Using the old Julian calendar, her feast day, December 13th, was the winter equinox, which is the returning of the light with longer days. Given her name in Latin means light, you can understand why those in the far northern hemisphere would celebrate the saint who brings the light and the lengthening of daylight to their short winter days. Such is her renown, that in these Scandinavian countries on this night, it is said that you may hear cattle speaking or see running water turn to wine. If, during this season, you have ever seen a young girl wearing a white dress, with a red sash, and crown of candles, then you have seen a representation of Santa Lucia.

It is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, but it and the equinox are also reminders to us of the words from John’s prologue, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” We celebrate this same coming of the Light through our own traditions and celebrations, from the lights on our trees to the candles of the Advent wreath—all of which point to the birth of our Savior and the light he brings into the world.

Santa Lucia’s Song speaks of this coming, so I’ll close with it:

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

(Much of the information for this sermon comes from Fr. John Julian’s book, Stars in a Dark World.)