Making Mistakes

Homily for September 12, 2021
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 3:1–12

Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect,
able to keep the whole body in check.” – James 3:2

saint_augustine_portraitWe’ll give Augustine the benefit of the doubt and say not that Augustine was unfamiliar with today’s reading from the book of James, but say rather that in a moment of candor with a dear friend Augustine momentarily set aside his familiarity with the book of James when, in a letter to this friend, Marcellinus, Augustine wrote,

“Cicero, the prince of Roman orators, says of someone that ‘he never uttered a word that he would wish to recall.’ High praise indeed! But more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man.”

Though James and Augustine seem to say the opposite—“anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check”; versus only a “complete ass” would never utter a word that he would wish to recall—what James and Augustine have in common is that both acknowledge that we all fail in the control of our tongue; we all say things we wish we could take back.

What can we do when we have said something we can’t un-say?

There is no hard-and-fast rule about what to do when we say something we wish we could take back—and there probably shouldn’t be, given the complexity of our circumstances. But the Bible has something to say about what we might do when we wish to take back what we have already said or done. Perhaps the Bible’s most famous story about what we can do when we might wish to take back what we have already said or done is the story of the Prodigal Son. Recall how the Prodigal, once he “came to himself” in that “distant country” where he had “squandered his property in dissolute living,” said to himself, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned…[and] am no longer worthy to be called your son…’” The first thing we can do when we say something we wish to take back is to acknowledge our fault, and to apologize to the one whom we have offended and to ask their forgiveness.

modern1-e1329068773290Now it may be that the one whom we offended will not or is not ready to forgive. Recall the older son who became angry and refused to go in and who said to his father about his brother, the Prodigal: “‘When this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’… And…he refused to go in.” Though we may apologize, it could be that the one whom we have offended may not forgive.

Though the other may not forgive, the third thing we can do is to nonetheless come to forgive ourselves. Again, recall the parable,

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him… and said to his slaves… ‘Get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again!’

God can forgive us. Can we forgive ourselves?

Lastly, notice how at the son’s return the father does not interrogate; he does not drive home the son’s culpability or assert claims about his inadequacy; nor does the father insist on a period of probation or rehabilitation. Rather, the Father focuses on the present—“Quickly, bring out a robe, the best one, and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet… Let us eat and celebrate!” About repentance and the present moment, Martin Smith writes,

Repentance… is not about erasing the past—we cannot erase the past—[repentance] has little to do with raking over the past and everything to do with coming to accept the here-and-nowness of Christ… who trusts us now to be expressions of his life, who now recruits us to be his “walking sacraments.”

On the Isle of IonaJames is right, and Augustine is right. “All of us make many mistakes,” writes James. Never uttering a word that one would wish to recall is “High praise indeed!” writes Augustine “…but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man.” We all say things we wish we could take back. When we do, we can 1) apologize and ask for forgiveness; 2) recognize that the one whom we offended may not forgive; 3) accept God’s forgiveness and hopefully begin to forgive ourselves; and 4) focus on the present, learning to see that in this present moment Jesus trusts us to be expressions of his life, to be his “walking sacraments,” who, though we may have fallen, yet are forgiven and redeemed, and who are called to manifest in our own lives now the risen life of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Deserts

Homily for September 5, 2021
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 7:24–37

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon
towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”

Kinnereth - Sea of Galilee (Panorama)In today’s Gospel lesson, Mark refers for the last time in his Gospel to the Sea of Galilee. The first part of Mark’s Gospel takes place on or around the Sea of Galilee, but over the course of his Gospel Mark gradually moves away from the sea and from water until—excepting one passage—water disappears entirely from Mark. All the great stories from the opening of Mark—Jesus’ baptism, the call of the disciples, the ministry in Capernaum, the feeding of the five thousand, the stilling of the storm, the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus walking on water, Continue reading

Love Deep and Pure

Homily for Sunday, August 29, 2021
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23

the-tenant-of-wildfell-hall-inside-cover-1In her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë (the youngest of the three novelist sisters) describes an exchange between the newly-weds Helen, the protagonist, and her husband Arthur. From an entry in Helen’s journal:

Feb. 18, 1822…. We were walking home from the morning service—for it was a fine, frosty day, and, as we are so near the church, I had requested the carriage should not be used.

“Helen,” said [Arthur], with unusual gravity, Continue reading

To Whom Shall We Go?

Homily for August 22, 2021
The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
John 6:56–69

1q_mweiys0dvjczo0m-njnqAbout a [now] former President of the United States, Salena Zito of The Atlantic Monthly once wrote:

The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally. (Sept 23, 2016)

Though you might guess the identity of this former President, it is not his identity on which I wish to focus. Rather, I want to focus on these two ways of “taking” words about which Zito speaks: seriously or literally.

So far John chapter 6—from which our Gospel lesson has come for these past five weeks—has told us about those take Jesus literally. When Jesus says, “My Father gives you the true bread… which… gives life to the world” (6:32–33), those who take Jesus literally say, Continue reading

Crossing Over

Homily for August 15, 2021
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
John 6:51–58

christ_feedingAs it has for the last few Sundays, our Gospel this morning comes from John chapter 6. Though John chapter 6 is perhaps best known for Jesus’ so-called “Bread of Life” discourse, what is often overlooked in John 6, and what may be key to understanding this rich and meaning-filled discourse, is the setting. John 6 takes place on either side of the Sea of Galilee, which John also calls “the Sea of Tiberias” (6:1). Jesus feeds the five thousand on one side of the sea, then crosses back to Capernaum for the “Bread of Life” discourse. By this crossing—a crossing that takes place in the dark, with a strong wind, and in which the disciples are terrified to see Jesus walking toward them on the water—[by this crossing] John says in effect, “We are now crossing over; crossing over a threshold of language, meaning and symbol; we are crossing into a sacramental place whose outward and visible signs happened on one side of the lake, but whose inward and spiritual graces only become manifest on the other.”

On one side of the lake—we’ll call it the “Sea of Tiberias side”—Jesus feeds the five thousand. On the other side— Continue reading

Inner Hunger

Homily for August 8, 2021
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
John 6:35, 41–51

st-augustine-of-hippoAugustine—never one to let a good line get away—in a homily on today’s Gospel from John chapter 6, quotes Virgil, from Virgil’s Bucolics: “Trahit sua quemque voluptas”, which means, “Each one is drawn by their own delight.”

By this line Augustine sets the stage for his “read” of John chapter 6, from which, for five weeks this summer, our Gospel comes. Building on “Each one is drawn by his own delight,” Augustine preaches that relationship with Jesus is not about duty or obligation, that relationship with him is neither about need nor necessity; nor, says Augustine, is relationship with Jesus about (God forbid) fear. Augustine preaches rather that authentic relationship with Jesus is rooted in Jesus’ goodness and beauty, a goodness and beauty to which we are drawn, a goodness and beauty that we desire, a goodness and beauty through which we ourselves are moved to love. From the same homily: “Give me the man who is in love,” says Augustine: Continue reading

The True Bread

Homily for Sunday, August 1, 2021
The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
John 6:24–35

john_wesley_by_george_romneyThe 18th century English clergyman John Wesley once remarked that many Christians have religion just enough to make themselves miserable. The crowd following Jesus in today’s Gospel might well be numbered among those who have religion just enough to make themselves miserable. For though the crowd has “religion” and follows Jesus, they follow for the wrong reasons. As we heard last week, the crowd wanted “to take him by force to make him king.” And in this week’s Gospel Jesus says, “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowds follow Jesus for the convenience of bread rather than for the truth of revelation; the crowds have religion just enough to make themselves miserable.

Jesus offers more than a “just-enough religion.” Jesus offers the opportunity for people to live new lives. For those willing to follow, Jesus offers changed lives, satisfied souls, and life, joy and peace in abundance. For what Jesus offers is… Continue reading

When in Doubt…

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Proper 7B: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2021

800px-george_romney_-_22lear_in_the_storm2c22_king_lear2c_act_iii2c_scene_ii_-_google_art_projectMy paternal grandmother was from—as she would say—“the Old Country.” She was also a daily reader of the Boston Globe, with a particular interest in any story about her native Italy. Once, after reading about a terrible earthquake that struck the region of Italy from which she had emigrated, she commented aloud, and in an especially accusatory tone of voice: “Well, I guess that God must be asleep.” Little did she know that she was in the excellent company of the disciples in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Mark. And, for that matter, who among us would not own a similar sentiment following the last fifteen months of the continuing COVID pandemic? I, for one, will readily confess to sharing her dismay at times over an apparently silent God, and to have cried many times over, along with the terrified disciples in today’s Gospel, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Continue reading

Doing Nothing

Homily for June 13, 2021
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 6B
Mark 4:26–34

Frog was in his garden. Toad came walking by. “What a fine garden you have, Frog,” Toad said. “Yes,” said Frog, “it is very nice, but it was hard work.” “I wish I had a garden,” said Toad. “Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground,” said Frog, “and soon you will have a garden.” “How soon?” asked Toad. “Quite soon,” said Frog.

Frog and Toad-gardenDoes anyone recognize this story (anyone besides our resident children’s librarian)…? It is “The Garden,” from the collection Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel. As you may recall, Toad goes home and plants the seeds, and…. Well, does anyone not know this story, and would you like to hear it? Or even if you do know it, would you like to hear it? (It takes about two minutes.) Because I must admit that during the pandemic I have been envious of Daryl reading to some of our young people, this morning I’ve asked Daryl if she might please read to us.

Toad ran home. He planted the flower seeds. “Now seeds,” said Toad, “start growing.” Toad walked up and down a few times. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head close to the ground and said loudly, “Now, seeds, start growing!” Toad looked at the ground again. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, Continue reading

Conversation with God

Homily for Sunday, June 6, 2021
Second Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 3:8–15

adam_reation_iconic20emailRabbi Schlomo Yitzchaki, an 11th century French rabbi better known by the acronym made by his initials, “Rashi,” once said about Genesis chapter 3 (from which we heard this morning) and God’s question to Adam in the garden, “Where are you?” that

God [already] knew where Adam was, but God asked Adam this question in order to enter into conversation with him… So with Cain, God said to him, “Where is your brother Abel?” and so with Balaam (in the book of Numbers) [God asked], “Who are these men?” for the purpose of entering into conversation with them. And so with Hezekiah, in regards to the emissaries of King Merodach-baladan: [“What did these men say? From where did they come?”] (Isaiah 39:3).

To all these, God asked questions in order to enter into conversation.

In this morning’s reading from Genesis, God asks not only one but four questions: Continue reading