Of the many so-called hard sayings of Jesus, his commands in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew may well be the hardest of all. It is challenge enough to love and to forgive your neighbor or your kin; it’s quite another matter to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ clear admonition has perplexed and challenged the individual Christian conscience for millennia, and it has vexed nations and empires since the beginning of the Christian era. Is it a categorical mandate for pacifism, or just a caution to individuals and nations contemplating the use of violence and war as “an extension of politics by other means,” to use the apt and famous phrase of Karl von Clausewitz? God knows that we have witnessed both aplenty during the blood-soaked twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to drive the British Raj from India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for American civil rights in the 1960s; to World War l, that so-called war to end all wars, and its extension known as World War ll—the “good war” fought by “the greatest generation.” And what about the horror of the Shoah, and the train of genocides during the second half of the twentieth century in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur in the wake of that “good” war? Should the international community have decisively invoked its “obligation to protect” and have used effective military force to end the carnage in those places? And what should the United Nations Security Council do right now about the ISIS genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in areas under its control, together with the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated every day for nearly six years in Syria, together with the genocide about to break out in South Sudan? Try as we may, we cannot and, as Christians, we may not duck these difficult moral dilemmas with a quick reference to Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel. Our time and place in human history demand answers and urgent action, not soothing evasions, for in a world awash in nuclear weapons, and in the midst of the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War ll, even inaction is a moral decision demanding a moral reckoning. Continue reading →
“I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.”
Episcopal priest and theologian John Westerhoff, speaking about Christian formation, distinguishes between “nurture” and “conversion.” So often when we Christians do formation – like teach prayer, or talk about the importance of regular worship, or teach about the sacraments – we tend to talk in terms of nurture – how church consoles us, for example, or how prayer helps us get through our day. But nurture will take us only so far, says Westerhoff. A mature Christian faith – if we are truly to be the “salt of the earth” and the “lights of the world” – requires conversion: a deep-down, thorough and systemic transformation of the inner person.
We’ll get back to conversion, but first I want to speak to our present social and political environment. In the weeks since the inauguration, many have told me about the rallies they’ve attended, the letters they’ve sent or phone calls they’ve made, and the convictions they have regarding the environment or immigration or religious tolerance. An activism has been awakened, and I see a care for our nation that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, a desire to make a difference. Continue reading →
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
It’s not very often that our popular culture provides us with a touchstone for understanding the Gospels. As I prayed these propers in preparation for today’s homily, however, I thought of the classic film starring Bette Davis, “All about Eve.” There is a marvelous scene in the movie when the upstart actress Eve Harrington unexpectedly stands in for the famous and renowned actress Margot Channing, played by Bette Davis, who is late for a dress rehearsal of her latest Broadway play. The conniving Eve has invited the cynical and debonair theater critic, appropriately named Addison DeWitt, from the New York Times to witness her rehearsal performance. He is appropriately impressed by her acting and writes in his review that the ingénue Eve is all “fire and light.” After reading the review, in which the acerbic critic is also careful to remind his readers of Ms. Channing’s advancing years, Bette Davis’ character grouses, “Fire and Light, Fire and Light. What am I, just an old kazoo and sparklers?” Continue reading →
As a Massachusetts resident and a part-time history buff, and in light of Friday’s inauguration, this past week I went back to President Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1961, the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech. In this speech Kennedy lays his vision for the country. A vision of “unwillingness to witness or permit the slow undoing of… human rights.” A vision of the “survival and the success of liberty,” here and around the globe. A vision committed to those “south of the border,” and our “special pledge… to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.” A vision of support for the United Nations, “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace.” A vision of a world in which “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” A vision of “both sides [exploring] what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.” A vision of “a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.” Anybody remember? It was – and is – a stirring, hope-filled speech. Continue reading →
Like many of you, I have been both fascinated and inspired these last four years by the world’s reaction to Pope Francis: the bishop of Rome; the Roman Catholic Church’s leader; a genuine peacemaker; and an emissary of God’s mercy and pastoral concern for all humanity. He has clearly created quite a stir among both the churched and the un-churched across the globe, including members of other Christian communions as well. And it has been a very long time since—not one, but two—papal documents known as Apostolic Exhortations, an ordinarily obscure and unnoticed Vatican pronouncement, have achieved bestseller status and have been commented upon and debated by so many in the media. They have even attracted commentary from political leaders at the highest level. Our own clergy, wardens, and vestry here at Trinity have “read, marked, and inwardly digested” (BCP) this first Jesuit pope’s stirring exhortation to evangelism, entitled The Joy of the Gospel, and have been moved to enlarge our new parish’s mission statement to include the aspiration to become “contemplatives in action”: missionary disciples and evangelists for whom prayer leads us to action, and action leads us back to prayer. We have multiple copies of The Joy of the Gospel in the parish office for any of you who may be curious—or even inspired—to explore for yourself the cause of the great fuss.
Gregory Palamas, the 14th century Greek Orthodox bishop and theologian, held that the natural world, the Scriptures, and our inner life all illuminated and informed each other. That is, if we want to know about our inner life, study the Scriptures and nature. Or if we want to know about the natural world, look to the Scriptures and to ourselves. Or, if we would truly come to appreciate the Scriptures, we must first truly appreciate both the wonders of nature and the depths of our souls. Continue reading →
In the old Prayer Book today’s feast, the Feast of the Holy Name, was called the Feast of the Circumcision. In the Roman church the first Sunday after Christmas is usually the Feast of the Holy Family. The three are basically the same Feast with basically the same readings that provide further occasion to drive home messages of Incarnation: Jesus is one of us, Jesus is part of God’s plan for salvation, God placed Jesus within a particular people and within a particular family. And it’s this last that I want to talk about this morning – families. Continue reading →