God Repented!

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
September 15, 2019
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 19C

Exodus 32:7–14
Psalm 51:1–11
1 Timothy 1:12–17
Luke 15:1–10

My Friends:

God on Mt. SinaiBecause all three of our readings this morning so strongly emphasize the theme of God’s infinite concern for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners, it’s possible to overlook the truly astonishing statement about God embedded in these same readings.  The Hebrew Bible’s Book of Exodus states this morning: “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people”!  That’s right—that’s what it says—“The Lord changed his mind”!  In other words, God “repented”!!!  Now, if this is really true, then we need a big re-think about a whole lot of modern assumptions about the way things are.  Perhaps we are not living in a purposeless, clockwork universe after all, in which the cosmos mysteriously came into existence with the “big bang” billions of years ago; is still expanding and unfolding according to the immutable laws of nature; and will burn itself out in the distant future when all of the energy of that initial explosion of energy is finally spent.  In this schema, our “accidental cosmos” is nothing more than blind and meaningless exploding and imploding energy and matter, and we are merely an improvised variation of the “stuff of stars.” Continue reading

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Our Good Shepherd

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 12, 2019
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year C (“Good Shepherd” Sunday)

800px-adriaen_brouwer_-_inn_with_drunken_peasantsMy Friends: Our Gospel this morning is another vivid example of the adage that “the past is another country; they do things differently there.”  Jesus’ image of himself as a “good shepherd” in Chapter 10 of Saint John’s Gospel would have struck his original audience as a contradiction in terms.  Despite those bucolic portraits of meek and mild “shepherds in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night,” drawn from Saint Luke’s Gospel, shepherds were not highly esteemed by the locals of first-century Judea, Samaria, and Galilee’s towns and villages.  And their ill-repute was richly earned: they often were “hirelings” who lived in the rough and by their wits.  And they seldom owned the sheep they were paid to pasture.  Whenever the locals knew that “the shepherds” were coming into the town for a night’s entertainment, they would shutter their windows and bolt their doors until the inevitable mayhem was over.  An analogous situation from our own history might be the local reaction to gunslingers in the Wild West drinking at the local saloon: whenever they came into town, you just knew that trouble would not be far behind. Continue reading

Saved by the Cross

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
April 14, 2019
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50: 4–9a
Psalm 31: 9–16
Philippians 2: 5–11
Luke 22:14–23:56

My Friends:

camp_gestapo_and_place_of_hanging_the_auschwitz_commander_28930463617729

Camp Gestapo, Auschwitz

Of the many testimonies to horror, cruelty, and courage to reach us from the Shoah, one in particular, witnessed by Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, is especially poignant.  In his memoir Night, Wiesel describes the summary execution of a young boy at that notorious death camp in which Wiesel himself was imprisoned.  The boy had been caught by a camp guard in some minor infraction of camp discipline.  After questioning the child to determine his alleged “guilt,” the commandant decided to make an example of the boy before his fellow prisoners.  So, he ordered the whole camp, including Wiesel, to assemble at dawn the next morning to witness the boy’s execution.  When the prisoners had been herded into the freezing, snowy yard of the camp, the frightened child was dragged before them, stripped of his clothing, and hung from a makeshift gallows as the entire prisoner population watched in helpless horror.  The camp guard who had caught the boy in his petty infraction then turned to a rabbi prisoner and asked in a sneering and tormenting voice, “So, rabbi, where is your God now?”  The rabbi looked his tormentor in the eye and calmly pointed to the twisting body of the hanging child.  “There he is,” the rabbi said, “hanging from your gallows.” Continue reading

All Things Are Possible

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
November 11, 2018
Proper 27B: The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8–16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24–28
Mark 12:38–44

My Friends:

Tallulah_Bankhead_1941Every time I hear this morning’s beloved Gospel narrative—commonly referred to in the tradition as “The Widow’s Mite”—I am reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, told about the late, great actress Tallulah Bankhead, who really was a devoted Anglican, albeit with a wicked and ironic sense of humor.  Apparently, Ms. Bankhead had just attended a high Anglican liturgy in an English cathedral, at which an Anglican bishop, all bedecked in his episcopal finery, presided.  The liturgy included the use of incense burning in a golden thurible on a long chain.  Anglican lore has it that, at the conclusion of the service, Ms Bankhead approached the bishop and, in that legendary, deep gravelly voice, said to him, “Your Grace, I love your drag, but your purse is on fire.” Continue reading

Unless You Become Like Children

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
September 23, 2018
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 20B

Jeremiah 11:18–20
Psalm 54
James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a
Mark 9:30–37

My Friends:

Jesus with Children stained glassBy now, all of us have likely seen far too many images of Jesus Christ that I like to refer to as the “Swedish Jesus”: that is, Jesus portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes, surrounded by a crowd of adoring, happy children.  And yet, we know that such a depiction is both a complete and a literal misrepresentation of Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century, Mediterranean Jewish artisan living under Roman occupation in the Roman province of Syria.  He was entirely embedded in his west Asian religion and culture, and his little world consisted of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, with occasional incursions into adjacent Greco-Roman cities, as we have heard over the last two weeks.  He lived, along with everyone else, in what we in the West now call the “Middle East.”  His cultural background included a system and hierarchy of honor at least as old as the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible, and persisting to this very day in that part of our world. Continue reading

Able to Hear It

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 17, 2018
The Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 6B

Ezekiel 17:22–24
Psalm 92:1–4, 11–14
2 Corinthians 5:6 –17
Mark 4:26–34

mustard seedsMy Friends: A story is told about a young man who reported to his Freudian psychoanalyst that he had a recurring dream in which he always smoked a cigar.  Because he was not a smoker of any sort, the man was convinced that the cigar must have some hidden meaning for his neurosis.  Freudian psychology, after all, held that every object in a dream—especially in a recurring dream—has a symbolic meaning very often linked to some childhood trauma or inhibition.  So, the patient and his analyst spent a good deal of time and effort exploring the possible significance of that “dream-cigar” with no success at all.  Finally, after several fruitless—and expensive—sessions, the exasperated psychoanalyst threw up his hands and exclaimed, “You know, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar!” Continue reading

Encountering God’s Essence (and Energies)

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 27, 2018
Feast of the Holy Trinity—Year B

Isaiah 6:1–8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12–17
John 3:1–17

Trinity circle croppedMy Friends:  We have come to that Sunday of the Great Church Year that nearly every clergy person dreads: Holy Trinity Sunday.  Having just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost at the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter last week, with its celebration of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the nascent Church of Jesus Christ, we are now bidden by our liturgical calendar to contemplate and glorify that greatest of all mysteries—God’s self-revelation as a Trinity of Persons—before we cross the threshold into the season known as Ordinary Time.  This movement, of course, implies that we have already been immersed in the extraordinary since the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Great Church Year.  And indeed we have, as we have celebrated every one of the great mysteries of our redemption and salvation with each passing feast day and each special season for the Spirit.  Some will say that with Trinity Sunday, our liturgical calendar has saved the best for last; others might claim that the Church has given us today the “mother of all the mysteries” of our Christian Faith.  I subscribe to both of these points-of-view. Continue reading