Letting Go

Homily for Sunday, June 24, 2018
Pentecost 5B
Mark 4:35–41

FullSizeRender (7)Last year at this time I was on sabbatical, riding my bicycle around the Great Lakes.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been revisiting my journals and remembering the trip.  Four weeks ago (last year), on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, after a few weeks of being in the woods on the north sides of Lakes Huron and Superior, I finally pulled into Duluth, Minnesota.  (Given where I’d been, arriving in Duluth felt like arriving in Paris!)  On June 11 Shaw flew into Duluth with his bicycle, and the two of us started the ride back east.  Last week, on June 16, we kayaked at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Lake Superior off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  And a year ago today—exactly one year ago—Shaw and I were in the middle of Lake Michigan, crossing over from Milwaukee to Muskegon, in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

IMG_5108As the high-speed ferry whisked us out into the lake, and as I watched the Wisconsin shoreline recede, I was suddenly overcome with what I can best describe as a “letting go.”  Those shores were the shores along which I had grown up, where as a boy I had gone swimming and fishing and learned to skip stones.  Those were the shores along which in high school I used to go for early-morning runs or bicycle rides and watched the sun rise over the lake. Those were the shores along which our high school class had gathered to watch the sunrise after prom and where many of us had graduation pictures taken.  Those were the shores along which not only I had grown up, but where my parents had grown up.  And both of their parents on both sides before them.  Those shores had been home for me.  And in that moment, as I watched that shoreline grow smaller and smaller on the horizon until finally it disappeared, I remember thinking, “That part of my life is over.”  I was grateful for the next two hours to be surrounded by nothing but the waves, to process this “death,” as it were.  AND… to consider, as we headed east, how Massachusetts is now home.

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus and his disciples are in the middle of a lake.  The Sea of Galilee is nowhere near as large as Lake Michigan, but it is nonetheless a sizeable body of water, and crossing over would have taken a while in the small boats of first-century Palestine.  And if a storm were to come up on the lake, as it did in today’s gospel lesson, it could be terrifying.

IMG_5063If my experience of crossing Lake Michigan was a “letting go” experience—a kind of death, really—how much more must have the disciples’ experience of crossing the Sea of Galilee been a “letting go,” a kind of death?  Not only did they cross a body of water—which since ancient times, crossing over water has been a symbol death—but while in the middle of the lake they experienced a raging storm.  Fittingly, the language Mark uses in today’s lesson rings with death:

  • On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them: “Let us go across to the other side.”
  • He was in the stern asleep on the cushion.
  • “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
  • “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead

I think Mark’s language choice was intentional here, and he drives the death connection home by setting the very next story in a graveyard—the Gerasene demoniac dwelling among the tombs—and the next story after that being the death of Jairus’ daughter.  And the story sandwiched within that the story is the story of the woman hemorrhaging blood.  I think for Mark, today’s gospel story is about death.

Kilmore_Quay_St_Peter's_Church_Window_I_Shall_Make_You_Fishers_of_Men_Detail_2010_09_27We know that Mark’s community was a community undergoing persecution, probably some of them even being put to death.  So in his gospel Mark speaks to them as a pastor, and in his language of death meets them where they are.  AND…  Mark as pastor reminds them that with Jesus there is always the possibility of resurrection.  If today’s gospel is about death, today’s passage is also about resurrection.  Though the boat was boat was “already being swamped,” it did make it “across to the other side.”  Though Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion, “they woke him up;” he arose.  When the disciples shouted out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing,” Jesus did restore calm and save them.  And though the disciples were afraid, when Jesus stilled the storm they were filled “with great awe:”  “Who then is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

And in the stories that follow, Mark drives home this point of resurrection.  The Gerasene demonic is healed and leaves the tombs.  Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead; the hemorrhaging woman’s flow of blood stops.

Mark, as pastor to his community, tells his people that Jesus is with them in their persecution,  AND… that Jesus brings resurrection.

FullSizeRenderIn John’s gospel, the two words associated with resurrection are “peace” and “joy;” Mark’s gospel is very different.  The two words Mark associates with resurrection are “terror” and “amazement:”  “They… fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them,” he writes.  We see these two words echoed in today’s lesson:  “Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks them.  “And [the disciples] were filled with…  awe.”  Terror and amazement, fear and awe.  Here is where Mark bears special witness to us and can be helpful to us—though we trust that, eventually, we will experience John’s peace and joy of the resurrection, there is resurrection to be had, too, in the places where we are afraid, even terrified.  Mark’s is a very different experience of resurrection, a saving that is pulled from the depths of our being, a calm that arises from within our own inner “boat” and “storm.”  For there in the storm is Jesus.  Though he may be asleep, yet he is there in our boat.  If we wake him, suggests Mark—calling on him, praying to him, asking him for help—he will arise and restore calm.  And we will be amazed, and we will be filled with awe.  And then we, too, might proclaim resurrection in a peculiar Mark-like way: “Who then is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”


Able to Hear It

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 17, 2018
The Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 6B

Ezekiel 17:22–24
Psalm 92:1–4, 11–14
2 Corinthians 5:6 –17
Mark 4:26–34

mustard seedsMy Friends: A story is told about a young man who reported to his Freudian psychoanalyst that he had a recurring dream in which he always smoked a cigar.  Because he was not a smoker of any sort, the man was convinced that the cigar must have some hidden meaning for his neurosis.  Freudian psychology, after all, held that every object in a dream—especially in a recurring dream—has a symbolic meaning very often linked to some childhood trauma or inhibition.  So, the patient and his analyst spent a good deal of time and effort exploring the possible significance of that “dream-cigar” with no success at all.  Finally, after several fruitless—and expensive—sessions, the exasperated psychoanalyst threw up his hands and exclaimed, “You know, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar!” Continue reading

Love Personified

Homily for Sunday, May 27, 2018
Trinity Sunday
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington, MA

Yosemite-el-capitanIn rock climbing circles, John Long is legend.  Now 64, Long was one of the first to “free climb”—that is, to climb without ropes—famous rock faces such as the Paisano Overhang at Suicide Rock in California, the so-called Hangover at Tahquitz Rock, also in California, and the east face of Washington Column in Yosemite (also in California).  In 1975—on Memorial Day weekend—he and two friends completed the first ever one-day ascent of El Capitan, the famous granite monolith in Yosemite.

Looking up from the bottom of El Capitan, and then looking out 2,500 feet up, Long writes:

You stumble into the forest and wend through the pines that finally open up, and there—before you, above you, around you—a sea of granite soars straight [up], stunning for its colors and sheer bulk; and terrible for the emptiness that sets in your gut as your eyes pan up its titanic corners and towers. Continue reading

Encountering God’s Essence (and Energies)

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 27, 2018
Feast of the Holy Trinity—Year B

Isaiah 6:1–8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12–17
John 3:1–17

Trinity circle croppedMy Friends:  We have come to that Sunday of the Great Church Year that nearly every clergy person dreads: Holy Trinity Sunday.  Having just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost at the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter last week, with its celebration of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the nascent Church of Jesus Christ, we are now bidden by our liturgical calendar to contemplate and glorify that greatest of all mysteries—God’s self-revelation as a Trinity of Persons—before we cross the threshold into the season known as Ordinary Time.  This movement, of course, implies that we have already been immersed in the extraordinary since the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Great Church Year.  And indeed we have, as we have celebrated every one of the great mysteries of our redemption and salvation with each passing feast day and each special season for the Spirit.  Some will say that with Trinity Sunday, our liturgical calendar has saved the best for last; others might claim that the Church has given us today the “mother of all the mysteries” of our Christian Faith.  I subscribe to both of these points-of-view. Continue reading

Division and Reconciliation

Homily for Sunday, May 13, 2018
Easter 7B
1 John 5:9–13
John 17:6–19

“That they may be one, as we are one.” — John 17:22

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles-Ducchio di BuoninsegnaOver the past weeks we have been “cherry picking” our way through the first letter of John, reading from chapter 1 here and chapter 3 there; from chapter 4 here and from chapter 5 there.  This “cherry picking” is understandable because the letter itself is not a model of coherence.  Unlike John’s Gospel—which came from the same early Christian community as did 1 John, and in which each and every word seems to have been thought through, weighed and intentionally chosen—the first letter of John seems “from the hip,” as it were: more emotional, with less concern for a formal cohesion; more—perhaps—defensive. Continue reading

Going Back

Homily for Sunday, May 5, 2018
Easter 6B
Acts 10:44–48
John 15:9–17

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”
“Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

bakery-3056086_960_720I am a fan—and as of this moment an out-of-the-closet fan—of the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, which I read every Sunday.  A year ago January, one Betsy Verecky, now in Nashua, New Hampshire, but at the time living in Brooklyn, chronicled her crush on the hipster owner of a local bakery.  In her essay, “Boy, What a Fabulous Baker” [Jan 20, 2017], Verecky tells of her first visit to the bakery where she was smitten, not only by the baker’s friendly manner and muscular forearms, but by his bread: Continue reading

Paying Attention

Homily for Sunday, April 29, 2018
Easter 5B
John 15:1–8

hospital bed-Matthew Perkins

Photo credit: Matthew Perkins

In October of 2016, the New York Times printed a letter from the Boston writer Peter DeMarco to the staff of the intensive care unit of the CHA Cambridge Hospital, thanking them for their care of his wife, who at age 34 was first hospitalized and then died from an asthma attack. DeMarco writes:



As I begin to tell my friends and family about the seven days you treated my wife […] they stop me at about the 15th name [… of] the doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, social workers, even cleaning staff members who cared for her:

“How do you remember any of their names?”  they ask.  How could I not, I respond.  Every single one of you treated Laura with such professionalism, kindness and dignity as she lay unconscious.  When she needed shots, you apologized that it was going to hurt a little, whether or not she could hear.  When you listened to her heart and lungs through your stethoscopes, and her gown began to slip, you pulled it up to respectfully cover her.  You spread a blanket, not only when her body temperature needed regulating, but also when the room was just a little cold, and you thought she’d sleep more comfortably […] Continue reading