I’ve heard it said that, in the East, “religion” is concerned with wisdom, and in the West, with sight. This morning’s Gospel – the story of Jesus healing the man born blind – is clearly of the West and our concern with sight.
But I don’t want to begin with sight. I want to begin rather with something we all experience, something that has on some level brought us here this morning, that has led us to be Christians, to “walk in the way of the cross” and to hope in resurrection. That something is suffering. And I want to look at suffering from the context of the early Church’s catechumenate, the process whereby candidates were prepared for Baptism. For the most part, this year’s Lenten lectionary is the same lectionary that was used by the early Church during Lent for the preparation of candidates for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Candidates would have been in the catechumenate two or three years, and these final Sundays offered a final push of preparation for their Baptism. Taken as a whole, these Scriptures present in a nutshell the process of awakening to fuller life, of experiencing “resurrection.” To sum up: The candidates would have gone from being in the “wilderness” and discovering that Jesus had a wilderness experience, too (Lent 1); to being in the dark with Jesus, as was Nicodemus (Lent 2); to being in the light with Jesus, as was the woman at the well (Lent 3); to being able to “see” with the man born blind (today); to experiencing resurrection, as did Lazarus (next week). Continue reading →
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
One of the first questions that Roman Catholic friends often ask me about the Anglican Communion is whether or not we have “Confession” in the Episcopal Church. They—along with many Episcopalians—are quite surprised when I tell them that we do indeed have sacramental “Confession,” otherwise known as the “Reconciliation of a Penitent.” It is one of the many rites included in our Book of Common Prayer in both Rite 1 & 2. And while there are no traditional “confessionals” in our churches these days —those fabled, purple-curtained boxes for the confession of sins—we do have the opportunity, at any time, to avail ourselves of this individual, sacramental act. The rule in the Episcopal Church concerning “Confession” is that “all may; some should; but none must.” In other words, the “Reconciliation of a Penitent” is an option for those times in the spiritual journey when we feel called to unburden a heart broken open by sorrow and guilt over sin, and when we long to experience the overwhelming gift of God’s real forgiveness and offer of a new beginning. And while we may no longer recognize a distinction between so-called venial and mortal sins, there are times in the spiritual journey when we urgently need godly counsel spoken in the name of Christ and his Church. The “Reconciliation of a Penitent” is an exchange between God and us sinners in which we renew our covenantal relationship with God, broken through our blindness and failure “to love God with our whole heart,” and “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (BCP) And so, it’s not at all uncommon for a penitent to feel an enormous sense of relief and joy and gratitude over the repair of this primary and cherished covenantal relationship with God. These emotions signal the true gift of a new beginning made possible by the grace of our God of steadfast love and mercy. The ancient rabbis taught that God gave the Torah to humans, not to angels, and that the greatest name of God is “mercy”!
The joy of forgiveness and thanksgiving for reconciliation are poignantly illustrated by the extravagant gestures of the forgiven woman in this morning’s episode from Saint Luke’s Gospel, together with Jesus’ parable of the forgiven debtors. Continue reading →
Sermon for Sunday, March 13, 2016 Lent 5C
Were there adults in our parish seeking Baptism, and if our parish had a fully-developed, two- to three-year catechumenate process to help them be prepare, today would be the last “normal” Sunday of preparation before entering Holy Week and before their Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Today – after years of preparation – these men and women would be standing at the threshold of Baptism.
Each year on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, just after Christmas, I feel a little bit like Tevya and Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Wasn’t it just yesterday that Jesus was small? When did Jesus grow to be so tall? Five days ago, on the twelfth day of Christmas, Jesus was an infant. Today, Jesus is a full-fledged adult; and he is making the full-fledged adult choice of Baptism. “Swiftly fly the years,” indeed!
The scriptures are virtually silent about Jesus’ growing-up years. Of the years between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood, the scriptures tell us only that at age 12, on a family trip to Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind in the Temple as his family left for home. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus asked when they found him. But they did not understand what He said to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth… and… increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Continue reading →
This morning’s sermon is about a kind of prayer called “mystical prayer.” “Mystical prayer” may seem a little much for a beautiful May morning, but I know we’re up to the task. I’m going to begin by reminding us about Wile E. Coyote and gravity.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity? If you’ve seen the cartoons, you know how many of the coyote’s attempts to catch the roadrunner rely on gravity: Now the coyote sets up a boulder to push off the cliff and onto the roadrunner below. Now the coyote pours a pile of birdseed over the bridge and bungees down to catch the roadrunner. Now the coyote dons roller skates to skate down the hill after the roadrunner. Even if we haven’t seen the show, because we’re familiar with gravity, we can guess how the coyote fares in each of his attempts: The road runner appears at the cliff’s edge with his signature, “Meep, meep!” and, instead of the boulder, the startled coyote plunges with a whistle to the canyon floor. The coyote bungees off the bridge toward the pile of birdseed and catches, not the roadrunner, but the front end of truck. The coyote with roller skates sees the sign, “Bridge Out Ahead”… but can’t stop, and plunges with another whistle to the canyon floor.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity?
If we knew nothing about the Holy Spirit except what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, we might well ask, “Where would the Holy Spirit be without gravity?” Continue reading →
Several years ago I remember inviting a neighbor “to come to Easter at Trinity.” He had a 7 year-old son whom he wanted to bring to church for the first time. Now, I remember inviting this neighbor “to come to Easter at Trinity” assuming he’d come to the service at 10:00 o’clock on Sunday morning. Imagine my great surprise when they walked into the Vigil on Saturday night. I thought, “OMG, this could either really work or… that young man is never going step foot in church again.”
I happened to bump into young “Kevin” walking to school on Monday morning. Wondering how things went for him, I paused, took a deep breath and said, “Kevin, it was great to have you and your family at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. What was it like for you to be there?” Kevin said, “It was so cool; it was just like being in Star Wars!” After I picked up my jaw from off the sidewalk, I said, “Just like being in Star Wars…?” “Totally. The big fire outside and all those candles were just like the Ewok’s village during the victory celebration in the last episode. Being in that building was just like being in the Jedi temple. And that costume you wore, you could have been in the Imperial Senate! And instead of saying, ‘May the force be with you,’ you said ‘May the Lord be with you.’”
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 →