Metamorphosis

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Saint John’s Church,Newtonville
August 6, 2017
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36

 

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The Transfiguration, by Fra Angelico, 1442

My friends:  Of the many “signs and wonders” reported in the canonical Gospels, the story of the Jesus’ “Transfiguration,” recounted by Saint Luke in today’s Gospel, is probably the one most outside our ordinary human experience.  Our imaginations can at least grasp changing water into wine; walking on water; healing the sick; even raising the dead.  But what in the world are we to make of this strange and curious event on the height of Mount Tabor in first-century Galilee?  The New Testament Greek word for “transfiguration” is “metamorphosis,” a visible change in the outward appearance of a body, and its morphing into something else.  Continue reading

The Risk of Being Born

Homily for Christmas, 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

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A War’s Ripples: Syrians arriving on Lesbos, a Greek island, by Santi Palacios (AP)

For my homily this evening I will refer to the photos printed in the order of service on the front and back covers, and on page 11. The photos were cover photos for the New York Times in the fall of 2015.

These photos of young Syrian families help us to imagine what it might have been like for the Holy Family at the first Christmas 2,000 years ago.   As the husband attends with concern to his wife in the cover photo, so I imagine Joseph to have tended with concern to Mary as she traveled, full-term, to Bethlehem.  Maybe – as is the woman in the photo – Joseph even wrapped Mary in a blanket to keep her warm.  Like the mothers in the field care for their infants in the photo on page 11, so I imagine Mary to have been in fields with Jesus as they traveled home from Bethlehem, occasionally stopping to rest and nurse.  Like the boy on the back cover looking up to the woman helping him with a coat, so I imagine Jesus to have looked up to adults helping him when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, for – like the refugee boy in the photo – he probably needed clothing, too, after his family fled suddenly in the middle of the night. Continue reading

All Human Hearts Seek God

Homily for Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Luke 7:18-23

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”… “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed, the dear hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have good news brought to them.”

areyoumymotherI have a hunch that the question John’s disciples put to Jesus is a question that we all ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  All human hearts seek God.  Like the newly-born baby bird who falls out of his nest in P.D. Eastman’s children’s classic,  Are you my mother?, and who runs around asking various things, “Are you my mother?”(the dog, the airplane, the steam shovel) so do all of us humans run around to different things to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?  Are you God?”

All human hearts seek God.  But only God is God (and not the steam shovel, or the plane or the dog).  And Jesus urges John’s disciples – he urges us! – to pay attention.  “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”  Pay attention!  Pay attention to what brings healing and wholeness; pay attention to what makes life more full and gives joy.  Continue reading

Healthy and Authentic Relationships

Homily for Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Wednesday in the 22nd Week after Pentecost
Luke 11:42-44

“You tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds,
and neglect justice and the love of God.”

mint-521401_960_720Today’s gospel text is a call to authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.   “Authentic” relationship with Jesus is not about rules and regulations – it’s not about tithing “mint and rue and herbs of all kinds” – but is about doing justice and loving God.  To be sure, there are rules and regulations in the Church, as there are in any institution, and we are called to follow them as best we may.  But it is important to keep in mind that the goal of these rules, the aim of our institution, is human health and wholeness, “justice and the love of God.” Continue reading

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.

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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.

Continue reading

Agents of God’s Love

Sermon for Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Wednesday after the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 10:5-7, 13b-16
Matthew 11:25-27

childFew things can be more upsetting to a child than acknowledging that his or her parent is not all-powerful and not all-knowing.  If something is awry in the parent’s life, it is not unusual for the child to blame him- or herself, then, rather than risk the parent seeming fallible and the child’s world falling apart.

In today’s text from Isaiah 10, Assyria is threatening the surrounding nations, including Israel.  Isaiah – like the child who does not want to risk the parents’ fallibility and the world falling apart – ascribes Assyria’s belligerence to God, saying that Assyria is “my rod in anger” and that “the club in their hands is my fury.”   It may be unsettling to think of God using a violent nation to serve God’s purposes, but in ascribing Assyria’s  belligerence to God, Isaiah preserves God’s omnipotence and omniscience, Isaiah preserves the order of the world. Continue reading

It Does Not Take Much

Sermon for Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Matthew 5:13-16
Bethany Convent, Arlington, MA

‘You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world.”

2015_1025_lop_mustard_seedAs the priest of a small congregation in the shrinking Episcopal Church in the least-churched part of the country (here in the northeast), I take comfort in this morning’s gospel lesson.  I take comfort because, just as it doesn’t take much salt to add flavor, just as it doesn’t take a big light to see in the darkness, so does it not take being large to make a difference in our world.  Living in Newton, I live in a place where Christians are a minority, and where practicing Christians are a distinct minority.  And yet – if we Christians really are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” – we can take comfort in knowing that it doesn’t take much – we need not be many – to help make the kingdom of heaven a bit more real here and now. Continue reading