What Do You Want?

Homily for Sunday, August 18, 2019
Pentecost 10C
Luke 12:49–56

Ashley and I have just returned from Ireland where we saw beautiful scenery, drank good beer, heard fabulous music, survived driving on the “wrong” side of the road, understood most of what was said to us, and almost nothing of what people said to each other.

sheep-dog-showIn rural Ireland some farms have “sheep dog demos,” in which a local shepherd demonstrates how he and his Border Collies herd sheep.  They are astonishing.  (Astonishing!)  By the shepherd’s whistled commands the exact dog—a good shepherd can work with up to four at once—the exact dog knows exactly when to sit or when to stand; when to move the flock to the right or to the left; when to bring them closer or to drive them further up the range.  And with some pointing, the dogs can even separate the males from the females(!).  It was truly astonishing—and beautiful—to see this centuries-old craft still practiced, and to such a high degree.

I hope that, when we came home to our dog lounging on the sofa, he didn’t detect my twinge of disappointment…

And I want to get back to sheep dogs in just a minute, but first, today’s challenging lesson from the Gospel of Luke…

saint_luke_the_evangelist_-_iconThough Mark’s is the Gospel most often associated with a fast pace—“immediately they left their nets and followed him”; “at once his fame began to spread”—Luke, too, beginning in the middle chapters, moves at a rapid pace.  Though Luke begins in a measured way—with his leisurely infancy narrative and a genealogy, and by giving the full texts of songs like Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s Nunc dimittis—by chapter 12 (from which today’s Gospel lesson is taken) Luke’s Gospel is moving right along: here Jesus dashes off a parable, there he tells off the Pharisees; here Jesus comforts, there he admonishes; here he heals, there he warns.  The Jesus in these chapters is a Jesus on the move and with a purpose.  And he takes no prisoners: the choice is to be with him or to be against him, to follow or to be left behind, to repent or to perish.  It could be that Luke, the master story teller, picks up the pace in order to mimic Jesus himself as he in these chapters journeys to Jerusalem.  It could be that Luke is trying, by a quickened pace, to build tension and to prepare us for the crucifixion.  Or maybe Luke picks up the pace in order to foreshadow his action-packed, never-a-dull-moment sequel, The Acts of the Apostles.  Whatever the reason, Luke’s writing in these chapters is urgent, his style “breathless,” and the effect on the reader is not unlike being on a river whose previously calm flow has turned to white water rapids.

Today’s Gospel lesson in chapter 12 is part of this new, faster pace.  And it’s not just Luke’s pace but his content that begins to unsettle: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”  “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division….  Father against son…  Mother against daughter… Mother in-law against daughter in-law.”

I wonder if Luke in these chapters writes the way he does—with urgency and “breathlessness,” and with unsettling content—because [and here we return to sheep dogs], like sheep dogs gather the flock, nudging and funneling them through the gate, Luke in these chapters is gradually gathering, nudging and funneling us his readers—gradually shepherding us toward a choice point, that of: “Are you going to follow Jesus?”

One of the questions asked of the shepherd during the sheep dog demo was “Why do the sheep run from the dogs?”  “Because to the sheep,” he said, “the dog—with his long muzzle and his eyes set on the front of his face—looks like a predator.  Even though the dogs have never hurt them, even so the sheep still run from them.”


Good Shepherd, Bernhard Plockhorst

Though we might want to run from them, I have a hunch that Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, though difficult, are actually healthy words.  Though Luke often uses easy words to “shepherd” his readers, sometimes he uses challenging words…  all for the purpose of nudging us to a place that is good and life-giving.  A place that we might not naturally go and for which we might need some more nudging.  So maybe the difficult words in today’s lesson: as in the story of Zacchaeus, these hard-to-hear words tell us that following Jesus involves giving things up and making a complete about-face in our life; or maybe, like Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan, these words tell us that following Jesus involves practicing extreme generosity and engaging with others beyond our comfort zone; or maybe, like his story of the Prodigal Son, these words tell us that choosing Jesus involves recognizing how far we have fallen and our need to return home.  In these stories, and in these difficult words –and throughout his Gospel –Luke shepherds us to one choice point: “Will you choose to follow Jesus?”

As we consider Jesus’ words, Luke’s “shepherding” and our choosing, I will leave us with a question: “What do you want?”  What we want—our desires—are one of the ways God speaks to us.  To get in touch with what we really want—what we deep-down really and truly want—is one of the ways we can open ourselves to Jesus’ shepherding.  And if you’re not sure what you really want, why not ask Jesus to show you?  Jesus is the one who gave us the capacity to desire, after all; why not ask him?  The place our Shepherd invites us to go is the most life-giving, satisfying, joy-filled place that our souls could possibly desire.  Why not this week ask God to show you what you desire?  And maybe ask God for the grace to allow yourself to be shepherded there?


Living the Life You Wish You Had

Homily for Sunday, August 4, 2019
Pentecost 8C
Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

last willI suspect most if not all of us have experience—be it directly or indirectly—with the devolution of property after a death.  Issues regarding inheritance are so common, and the dynamics often so fraught, that even Jesus in the Gospels is asked to weigh in about an inheritance:

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

After (wisely) refusing to be drawn into the family’s dispute (“Friend, who made me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”) Jesus creates a teachable moment not only about inheritance but about possessions in general: Continue reading


Stop (Right Turn No Stop)

Photo Credit: Bart Everson

Homily for Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18

The Bible is full of contradictions.  For example:

  • “No one has ever seen God,” wrote John (I John 4:12); but “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend,” said Exodus. (Ex 33:11).
  • “Returning from the tomb, [the women] told all this to the eleven and to all the rest,” wrote Luke (24:9); but “They went out and fled from the tomb… and they said nothing to anyone,” writes Mark (16:8).
  • “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” wrote Paul in Romans (3:23); but, “We know that those who are born of God do not sin,” writes John (1 John 5:18).
  • “Whoever is not against us is for us,” says Jesus in Mark (9:40); but Jesus in Matthew disagrees: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (12:30.

Today’s gospel lesson offers yet another contradiction.  In today’s reading from Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says:

  • “When you give alms, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.” And…
  • “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” And…
  • “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret.” But…

Continue reading

Two Streams

Homily for Sunday, June 23, 2019
The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Galatians 3:23–29

map13Paul seems to have been grumpy when he wrote his letter to the Galatians; I don’t think he wanted to write it.  But Paul was also extremely creative when he wrote Galatians.  In just a moment I want to get back to Paul and his combination of grumpiness and creativity, but first I want to look at the cities Paul evangelized on his first missionary journey, to the Roman province of Galatia.

Arranged from driest to wettest (because, why not?), the five cities that Paul evangelized on his first missionary journey to Galatia (in present-day Turkey), are: Continue reading

Open Doors

Homily for Sunday, June 9, 2018
Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1–21
John 14:8–17, 25–27

Cocoanut Grove fire (BPL)

Photograph courtesy the Boston Public Library

Did you notice, when we came into church this morning, that the church’s doors open outward?  All church doors open outward.  And (if we are up to code) all church doors have breaker bars so that we can’t be locked in.  Which is good because, in case there’s a fire, it means we can get out.


Old timers in these parts—and I mean old timers; those of us who are in our 80’s are probably still too young to remember—often will remember two significant events from Boston’s past: the “Great New England Hurricane of 1938,” and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in 1942. Continue reading

The Right Place

Homily for Sunday, June 2, 2019
Easter 7C
John 17:20–26

hermes_3000_typewriterJust so you know, the homily this morning is not about typewriters.  I will mention typewriters.  I own typewriters.  (I have a Hermes 3000 that was my mother’s high school graduation present from my grandparents in 1960; it’s gorgeous and still works perfectly.)  But the homily is not about typewriters.  The homily is about how much Jesus loves us and that—if we could but see—we would see that Jesus’ love is close, intimate and enduring, and is—deep-down—what our hearts crave. Continue reading

Joining in the Dance

Homily for Sunday, May 26, 2019
Easter 6C
John 14:23–29

We can do this; I know we can—even if we don’t know Greek, we can at least wade into the Greek of John’s Gospel. (We can “Greek out,” if you will.)

pnbrep40773But I don’t want to begin with Greek; nor do I even want to begin with John. Rather, I want to begin with Alastair Macaulay, the recently-retired dance critic of the New York Times and a review Macaulay wrote in 2007 on the 50th anniversary of the premier of George Balanchine’s “Agon.” In his review Macaulay describes a passage from a pas de deux—a “dance for two”—in which the relationship between the dancers is so fluid and changing such that audience is not sure what they are seeing, but that is so beautiful it brings everyone to their feet. Continue reading