The Power of the Prophetic Word

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
December 4, 2016
The Second Sunday of Advent – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

My Friends:

the_beheading_of_st_john_the_baptist_-_google_art_projectLike it or not, our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent challenges us with two profoundly counter-cultural realities in our time and place:  prophecy and repentance.  As we continue our spiritual preparation to celebrate the birth of the Messiah two-thousand years ago, and to welcome him anew into our hearts and into our world—now, and at the close of the age—holy Church asks us to hear and to heed the fundamental message of the prophets of God throughout salvation history.  For, regardless of the historical circumstances, every prophet has sounded one clear and consistent message over the ages:  The “people of God” have fallen short of the glory God intends for them, and they must remedy matters by “repenting,” by “changing the direction from which they are seeking their happiness.”  Whether it’s by the Hebrew word “teshuvah” or the Greek word “metanoia,” the biblical call to repentance always requires a radical “change of mind and heart,” a turn-around, and reformation of life.

It should come as no surprise, then, that prophets themselves are usually even less popular than their message.  And very often, they find themselves either expelled from their community or murdered by the “Powers and Principalities” of this world, as Saint Paul refers to them.  It was true for the prophets of the Hebrew Bible; it was true for the prophets of Jesus’ own time; and, regrettably, it will be true for the prophets of today and of every era.  John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah and the focus of today’s Gospel, suffered beheading at the command of Herod Antipas—Rome’s puppet ruler of the Galilee—after which John’s head was presented on a silver platter to Antipas’ wicked stepdaughter Salome.  According to the Gospels, the news of John’s judicial murder shook Jesus to his very core—and for obvious reasons.  His execution was the prologue to Jesus’ own Passion and Death. Continue reading

Signs of Ending & Letting Go

Homily for Sunday, November 27, 2016
First Sunday of Advent

6770916105_4081e531a4_bSigns of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days,
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.
Come, O Christ, and dwell among us!  Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us faith and hope and gladness.  Show us what there yet can be. – Dean Nelson

Two years ago Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.   As many of you may recall, she died a month later, just after Christmas.  Two years ago today when my parents went to church, the opening hymn was the hymn we just sang:

Signs of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days,
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise…

Neither could make it through the hymn.

Advent – the Church’s season of New Year that we begin today – reminds us that life changes, and that change always involves letting go.  Let me say that again:  Advent reminds us that life changes, and change always involves letting go. Continue reading

Metanoia, Not Paranoia

kiss-of-peaceIn the Episcopal Church’s Catechism, the stated mission of the Church “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 855).  In Eucharistic Prayer A – the form of the Eucharistic prayers used most often at Trinity – we give thanks to God that God “sent Jesus Christ… to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all” (BCP, p 362).

Our Christian faith is about “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ;” we Christians, following the example of Jesus, are called to be agents of reconciliation.  Our country, sharply divided over the recent election and in transition to a new administration, is counting on us Christians to live into our identity and to be agents of reconciliation. Continue reading

Agents of Reconciliation

Homily for Sunday, November 13, 2016
Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Malachi 4:1-2a
Luke 21:5-19

christ_on_corcovado_mountainJust to be clear, the church in her lectionary cycle chose today’s readings before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red late Tuesday evening…

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the Sunday on which we are invited to make a pledge of financial support to Trinity Parish for 2017.  In just a moment, I’m going to tell why Ashley and I make it a priority to give generously, but first I want to say something about the election.

Last week in my homily I spoke about how our nation is counting on us to be Christians, to be agents of reconciliation.  I spoke about our nation’s polarization, and how we Christians have it in our DNA to hold together two seeming opposites: how Christmas unites heaven and earth; how the person of Jesus unites human and divine.  I referred to Paul in 2 Corinthians about reconciliation:  “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…”  I quoted Bp Gates on paranoia versus metanoia – fear vs love.  And I urged us to focus, not on what divides us, but on how many good people are in this country, on both sides of the political divide, and to see past stereotypes to see more like God sees – that all are God’s beloved children worthy of our respect and even love. Continue reading

Called to be Saints

Homily for Sunday, November 6, 2016
All Saints’ Day

This morning I am going to preach two homilies – don’t worry, both short.  On this All Saints’ Day I want to say something about saints, how we are all called to be saints.  And then I want to say something about our country’s forthcoming election.

idl

First, about saints.  In September I attended a panel discussion at Boston College for the new movie, “Ignacio de Loyola:  Soldier, Sinner, Saint,” about Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.  Taking part in the panel discussion were the lead actor who played Ignatius, Andreas Munoz, and also the associate director, Catherine Azanza.  Both Andreas and Catherine said some insightful things about saints. Continue reading

Persevere in Resisting Evil

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
October 30, 2016
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 26C

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

My Friends:

usa-nyc-statue_of_libertyOver the last two years, our political discourse in this country has focused much attention—and, some might say, far too much attention—on the questions of identity and belonging.  It’s not an exaggeration to observe that this nation of immigrants seems very conflicted about the matter, the Statue of Liberty with its moving inscription about welcoming the “tired,” “poor” and “huddled masses” notwithstanding.  As the grandson of Italian–American grandparents who entered this country one hundred years ago at Ellis Island and the port of Boston, I have found this discourse about immigration, frankly, insulting.  Such vicious talk about national identity becomes even uglier, however, when it concerns matters of religious faith.  For fifteen years, I taught a fall semester, religious-studies course called “The Heirs of Abraham:  Judaism, Christianity, & Islam,” and I did this with the certain knowledge that all three of these monotheistic religions claim Abraham as their ancestor in faith, albeit with very different interpretations of that relationship, as Harvard University’s Professor Jon Levenson has demonstrated in his recent, magisterial book “Inheriting Abraham.”  So, on the eve of this contentious presidential election, it seems only “right and just” that we should use the occasion of this morning’s Gospel, which ends with the words, “he too is a son of Abraham,” to reflect on Jesus’ criteria for judgement on these highly contested issues. Continue reading

Searching for Intimacy with God

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
October 16, 2016
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 24C

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

My Friends:

8111420340_3eedc8bd24_bIt will come as no surprise to any who know me well that I am neither an athlete nor an ardent sports fan.  However, when I began my tenure as a teacher and chaplain at Saint Mark’s School twenty years ago, I felt obligated to attend all manner of athletic competitions, especially those involving any of my handful of student advisees.  And so, at the tender age of forty-five, I saw—believe it or not—my very first soccer, hockey, lacrosse, tennis, and wrestling matches.  This “brave new world” of athletic competition came to me as quite a revelation.  I can vividly recall my horror and alarm as I watched my first hockey and lacrosse games:  young men with sticks engaged in what appeared to be savage battle with one another.  The real eye-opener, however, came at my first wrestling match.  At first, I completely recoiled at the sight of wave after wave of grimacing young men apparently mauling and choking one another.  Yet, after that first shock of horror, I suddenly realized that in slow-motion, this fight might easily be misconstrued as a loving embrace.  In fact, all of these sports—but most especially wrestling—involved both struggle and intimacy:  the cornerstones of any significant and meaningful relationship. Continue reading