Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14: 1-14
Despite the rare grace-note of Pope Francis’ successful apostolic visit to Egypt two weeks ago, following the Palm Sunday bombing of two Coptic Orthodox churches by ISIS terrorists, interreligious and ecumenical relations have been strained in recent years by news of mounting terrorism, nativism, and xenophobia—all in the name of religion. As I thought about and prayed this morning’s readings from the New Testament, I did so against this backdrop of mounting anxiety and frustration over religiously-inspired terrorism and fanaticism worldwide. Car-rammings, shootings, and knife attacks by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli Jews, accompanied by cries of “God is Most Great” in Arabic, are almost weekly occurrences now in the State of Israel and the holy city Jerusalem. Israeli-Jewish extremists, in turn, continue to vandalize Muslim and Christian properties in Galilee and Jerusalem. These so-called price-tag attacks against Muslim and Christian foundations are perpetrated by fanatical West Bank Israeli settlers any time the State of Israel’s government even thinks about making serious concessions to the Palestinian national movement in the longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict. In South Sudan, Christians and Muslims are slaughtering thousands of men, women, and children in a tribal civil war and famine now on the brink of repeating the horrors of the 1990s Rwandan genocide. Over two million children alone have been displaced in the “ethnic cleansing” there. In Nigeria, despite the prisoner swap of 103 of the 276 schoolgirls abducted from their dormitories by Boko Haram—which means “the West is forbidden”—many of the remaining young hostages have been forced to convert to Islam, don the hijab, chant the Qur’an, and become pregnant “child-brides” or worse, suicide-bombers for their terrorist captors. In the interim, 2000 more children have been kidnapped and abused by these terrorists. Iraqi Sunni Muslims at the behest of ISIS continue to maim and kill their Shi’a neighbors in terror attacks surpassing the death-toll at the height of their civil war following the American invasion. And, to be perfectly honest, I often feel that I want to vomit now every time I hear God’s name taken in vain by Islamist terrorists shouting “Allah’u’ Akbar,”“God is Most Great,” as both sides in the Syrian civil war fire rockets at hospitals, buses full of evacuees, and other civilian targets, while the government forces of the war-criminal Bashar al-Assad attack their own people with barrel-bombs and sarin gas in that six-year civil and proxy war that has resulted to date in almost a half-million civilian deaths and four million refugees. I find those words every bit as repulsive as the Christian Crusaders chanting “Deus Vult,” “God Wills It,” as they rode through the streets of Jerusalem and slaughtered thirty-thousand Jews and Muslims following their capture of Jerusalem in the twelfth century CE. Continue reading →
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 1-17-23
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
The Christian “Holy Land” within the modern State of Israel and the Palestinian territories has rightly been dubbed the “Fifth Gospel” because it testifies so dramatically and so eloquently to the reality of the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ. The site of this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is no exception, and a journey to that place is often the last stop on the itinerary of every Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And for many Christian pilgrims over the centuries, it has served as a capstone experience of the continuing “Real Presence” of Jesus Christ in his Church and, especially, in the Holy Eucharist. Continue reading →
In one of his more famous homilies, Augustine preached on the three times that Jesus raised someone from the dead. The first time is the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5. Jairus’ daughter was dead in the house, notes Augustine. Her death symbolizes the sins that we commit only in thought, that are “in the house” and unseen. The second time is the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, in Luke 7. When Jesus encounters the son and the widow, his body is being carried outside the city for burial. His death symbolizes the sins that we actually commit – they are “outside the city” and can be seen by others. And the third time is the story we just heard in this morning’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus has been dead three days, and Augustine says he symbolizes sins that have become habitual, that have festered so long that there is a stench. The punch line – to which Augustine builds and delivers as only Augustine can deliver – is that no matter how dead we may be, Jesus is able to raise us to new life. 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.
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”. Continue reading →
His gifts are very great: our capacity to receive them is small and meagre. That is why it is also said to us in Scripture: ‘Open wide your hearts and do not share the lot of unbelievers.’ We are being prepared to receive that which is immensely great, that which eye has not seen because it is not color, which ear has not heard because it is not sound, that which has entered no human heart because the human heart must itself expand for it to enter. We shall receive in proportion to the simplicity of our faith, the firmness of our hope, and the intensity of our desire.
2 Kings 4:42-44
Many of you know that I spent most of my childhood and adolescence deeply immersed in the immigrant culture and spirituality of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. And while that experience created dispositions and habits of mind and heart that I value and cherish to this very day, growing up surrounded by my extended family as a Roman Catholic in an Italian-American neighborhood of Boston did have its distinct anomalies, especially because my maternal grandparents and great-grandmother were genuinely pious Roman Catholics devoted to the Church.
My beloved grandfather, in particular, had a very deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a form of popular piety very much in vogue during the post-WWll years. In fact, the first Friday of every month, together with the entire month of June, was especially dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus back then. So much so, that on every “First Friday” of the academic year, the sainted nuns would bring our entire Roman Catholic grammar school to a special Mass in our adjacent parish church to honor the Sacred Heart. So, my grandfather’s devotion to the Sacred Heart was very much in the mainstream of Roman Catholic piety at that time. Continue reading →
The Gospel of Mark has something of a split personality. And to read the Gospel all the way through from beginning to end is jarring, because the first half of the Gospel is so different from the second. The first half of the Gospel – the first eight chapters – is set around the Sea of Galilee, with the bulk of the stories taking place on or near the water. These first eight chapters feel green and lush and nurturing – almost womblike. In the last eight chapters the Sea is completely absent. These chapters are arid and stony; and it almost hurts to read them, for Jesus grows more and more isolated as even his friends never really understand him, and Mark’s not one but three passion predictions draw the reader’s attention – force the reader’s attention – toward Jerusalem and the cross.
There are things I like about Mark – Mark is short and to-the-point, for example, and he is a master craftsman at organizing his material to help the reader make associations and draw out meanings. But I find it difficult to read his Gospel all the way through from beginning to end because the nurturing, womb-like Sea of Galilee half so completely gives way to Jesus’ hard, dry march to Jerusalem and the cross. Continue reading →
In Tina Turner’s 1984 top-of-the-charts hit she sings, “What’s love got to do with it?” In the epistle lessons for the Easter season, the author of 1 John answers emphatically that love has everything to do with it. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,” he wrote last week. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us,” he writes today. And we will hear next week, “Beloved, let us love one another, because… God is love.” What’s love got to do with it? According to the author of 1 John, love has everything to do with it, “it” being not “the thrill of boy meeting girl,” as Tina Turner sings, but the thrill of God drawing close to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And it’s not just 1 John that tells us about God’s love. The entirety of the scriptures, from the first jot of Genesis to the last line of Revelation, tells us about God’s infinite, unconditional, unending love for each and every one of us. Continue reading →
Why would anybody want to be baptized? I mean, being baptized is a lot of responsibility with little to no tangible benefits. Baptism commits us to things like “continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,” and “persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin… repenting and returning to the Lord.” That’s a lot. And there are almost no tangible benefits, except, maybe, “club membership” and a bit of bread and wine. Given the big commitment and the small payback, why would anybody want to be baptized? Continue reading →