Rise Up and Follow Jesus

Homily for September 21, 2016
Feast of St. Matthew
Matthew 9:9-13

Caravaggio completed his “Calling of St. Matthew” in 1600 for the chapel of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, where it remains today.


There are many artistic elements on which we could focus in this painting:

  • Caravaggio’s use of light. Notice how a beam of light breaks in on the dark (like Christ had just surprised a group of gangsters in the back room).  The light slants across the painting and illumines the tax collectors’ faces.
  • Christ’s pointing hand. When I look at this painting, the first thing I see is Jesus’ hand.  Commentators say the hand is identical to Adam’s on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • The “Zoro-like” face of Christ, half obscured. The partially-lighted face of Christ is not unkind, but neither is it kind.  Jesus’ expression is all-business; he is a man on a mission.   The obscuring of his eyes creates a sense of mystery; Matthew does not – indeed, cannot – know what lies in store.
  • The cross in the window above Jesus’ hand. The juxtaposition of cross and hand foreshadow the crucifixion.
  • Matthew’s legs already moving. Notice how Matthew’s legs are already in motion; despite still being seated, he is about to stand and follow.

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Honest Wealth

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
September 18, 2016
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 20C

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

My Friends:

parable-of-the-unjust-stewardAmid all of the name-calling, mud-slinging, vulgarity, and demagoguery of the current US presidential election campaign, any meaningful discussion of income inequality has receded into the deep background and the white-noise of what now passes for political “discourse” in America.  So, it may be worth remembering that Thursday marked the “eighth anniversary” of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the “Great Recession,” described by politicians, economists, and pundits alike as the worst economic catastrophe in the nation’s history since the “Great Depression” of the 1930s.  And, even so, lobbyists are still hard at work to eviscerate any meaningful structural reforms that seek to prevent another such calamity in the future.  Meanwhile, extreme income inequality in America continues to surge and is likely to get much worse over the next ten years as the United States struggles to adjust to a post-industrial, globalized economy dominated by free trade, robotics, and the revolutionary innovations of the digital age.  With most of the financial gains of these last eight years going to the top ten-percent of the population, one economist after another has pronounced that the “good old days” of a burgeoning economy and an expanding middle-class are gone and will likely never return.  Some economists even estimate that the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in America is headed toward a 20 to 80 ratio within the next decade—precisely the divide that exists right now in China between the 20% of its population living in the economically booming cities and the 80% still toiling in the vast Chinese countryside.  Almost 47 million Americans—15% of the population, most of them women and children—are now living in poverty; the top 1%  of Americans possess 23% of the nation’s wealth; and the 400 richest Americans have a combined net-worth larger than the monetary value of the entire Russian economy. Continue reading

Christians Aren’t Nice

Homily for Sunday, September 18, 2016
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 16:1-13
Preached at St. John’s, Newtonville

shrewd-managerAugustine once remarked that God gives us easy scripture passages to keep us from starving, and difficult passages to keep us from being bored.  This morning’s Gospel lesson is definitely one of the latter, that keeps us from being bored!

Two words sum up for me the Parable of the Dishonest Manager:  “puzzled” and “shrewd.”  I am puzzled that Jesus tells a story extolling one who squanders property, who seems to not want to earn an honest living, and who cheats his master out of his property.  I’m puzzled at what sort of a master would commended a slave for cheating him out of his property.   I’m puzzled as to what Jesus means when he says that we should “make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”  And I’m not the only one who is puzzled; for centuries preachers and scholars have been trying – in vain, so far as I can see – to make adequate sense of this text. Continue reading

The Cost of Following Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2016
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:25-33

la_cathedral_mausoleum_jesus_and_the_childrenThe Pope obviously did not get the memo.  Just this past May the Pope published, “The Joy of Love,” an exhortation encouraging love in marriage and the family.  But in today’s gospel lesson Jesus said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters… cannot be my disciple!”

Jesus does not of course mean that we are really to hate our family. What Jesus is doing in today’s gospel lesson is using exaggeration to get his listeners’ attention.  [Think of a politician on the campaign trail trying to get people’s attention.  Not to name names, but it seems that some will say just about anything to get people’s attention!]  But what Jesus says in today’s gospel not only gets people’s attention, but also helps introduce his message.

What I hear in today’s gospel lesson is an invitation from Jesus to follow.  Following him will be an adventure, Jesus suggests, and will not always be easy. Continue reading

Changing Season

(Offertory for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 1 May 2016)

road-1072823_960_720Summer is passing, even as our climate here in Massachusetts clings to a pattern of dry yet humid weather that has dominated for much of the season.  The sun tells the tale without ambiguity: this morning it rose after 6:00, and it will be dark by the time my child is tucked into bed this evening.

Autumn leads us into times of harvest and work, thanksgiving and celebration, new endeavors and a new year in many traditions.  As we make our preparations, listen below for a memory of the preceding season in the church year, Easter.  The anthem is the second of Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Trinity Parish’s choir returns for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 18 September).

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The Trouble of Treasure

August 7, 2016  •  Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also..”
Preached by Rev. Mark Eddington, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Newtonville

9230473694_63ed5dab3e_bYou may have seen the news item this past week about a plane that crashed on landing in Dubai. In case you didn’t, let me start right off by saying that everyone on the plane actually managed to survive, although, very sadly, one of the firefighters who came out to battle the flames around the aircraft died.

What seems to have happened was that the landing gear on the aircraft did not deploy properly, with the result that the airplane landed right on its belly and skidded down the runway. The crew knew that something was amiss, and had warned all the passengers, and immediately after the aircraft came to a stop they quickly opened the doors and deployed the escape slides, and that’s why everyone on the airplane survived without so much as a single injury. Continue reading

Burial Sermon, James Spinks

Sermon for Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Burial, James Spinks
John 14:1-6

Picture 089I find Jesus’ words comforting:

Do not let your hearts be troubled… I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go… I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

To non-Christians – and maybe even to us Christians! – Jesus’ words might seem preposterous:  “When we’re dead, we’re dead!”  But our Christian faith is rooted in belief in resurrection.  As we began our liturgy this afternoon:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God… Continue reading