In the Episcopal Church’s Catechism, the stated mission of the Church “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 855). In Eucharistic Prayer A – the form of the Eucharistic prayers used most often at Trinity – we give thanks to God that God “sent Jesus Christ… to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all” (BCP, p 362).
Our Christian faith is about “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ;” we Christians, following the example of Jesus, are called to be agents of reconciliation. Our country, sharply divided over the recent election and in transition to a new administration, is counting on us Christians to live into our identity and to be agents of reconciliation. Continue reading →
Just to be clear, the church in her lectionary cycle chose today’s readings before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red late Tuesday evening…
Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the Sunday on which we are invited to make a pledge of financial support to Trinity Parish for 2017. In just a moment, I’m going to tell why Ashley and I make it a priority to give generously, but first I want to say something about the election.
Last week in my homily I spoke about how our nation is counting on us to be Christians, to be agents of reconciliation. I spoke about our nation’s polarization, and how we Christians have it in our DNA to hold together two seeming opposites: how Christmas unites heaven and earth; how the person of Jesus unites human and divine. I referred to Paul in 2 Corinthians about reconciliation: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…” I quoted Bp Gates on paranoia versus metanoia – fear vs love. And I urged us to focus, not on what divides us, but on how many good people are in this country, on both sides of the political divide, and to see past stereotypes to see more like God sees – that all are God’s beloved children worthy of our respect and even love. Continue reading →
Fr. Gaston, the protagonist of Bruce Marshall’s 1949 novel, To Every Man a Penny, knows the complexity of God’s world, how not everything is clean and clear-cut, that there are shades of grey and sometimes difficult decisions. And he also understands God’s extravagant and abundant mercy, how God is willing to bend to meet us where we are in complex life circumstances. The novel is set in France between the wars, in a Church with many “shoulds” and “oughts.” In this rigid, rule-bound setting Fr. Gaston frequently runs afoul of Church authorities. For example, Fr. Gaston gave permission to one of his favorite catechism students, Amelle, to become a model – not something Catholics did at the time – and incurred the ire of his fellow prelates. Fr. Gaston’s best friend from the war, Louise Phillipe, became a Communist, and Gaston was shunned because of his continued loyalty to his friend. When the hierarchy forbade clergy from going to the barbers to get a hair cut (on account of the risqué magazines kept by French barbers at the time) Gaston kept going to the barber to whom he had gone for years… and was punished by the Bishop. Finally, when Amelle, upon her mother’s death, resorted to prostitution to support herself, Father Gaston arranged for her out-of-wedlock baby to be taken in by a local convent, further isolating him from his peers. 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 →
“That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in my and I am in you, may they also be in us… so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”
As convoluted as today’s gospel may sound, some say that John chapter 17 – from which today’s gospel is taken – is the most important passage, not only in John, but in the entire New Testament. Some say that John 17 is the most important passage in the entire New Testament because John 17 – in particular the portion of it read today – tells us that the point of Jesus’ life, the whole reason the Son became incarnate, is to make us one. One with each other, one with the Father, one with the whole world: “That they all may be one.” Continue reading →
As you and I know through personal experience, grieving is very hard work. Every loss of any significant attachment—whether it’s a role, a job, our health, a marriage, a home, a pet, a parish or a person—requires us to let go of that attachment; to adapt to this radical change in circumstances; and to find our way in the world without that cherished and familiar person, place, or thing. Fortunately, grief and trauma have been much studied and understood in recent decades, and we now know that “good grief” evolves through identifiable stages characterized by shock; numbness; denial; bargaining; anger; depression; and acceptance. We also now know that these stages do not unfold in an orderly and successive way, and that we never entirely leave any of these stages behind, even when we engage fully again with a life and with a cherished memory of the lost. Even in acceptance, there will be moments and occasions when we re-visit those earlier stages of grieving. And, if it is a truly significant loss, we know that the pain never entirely dissipates; it only becomes less acute over time. “Time,” regrettably, “does NOT heal all wounds” and, like the risen Christ, we carry those wounds with us into the larger life of eternity. These wounds may be transfigured by God’s grace, but they never entirely vanish. Even in this life, we know that every new loss has the potential to stir up all previous losses, especially if we have not fully grieved over them. Continue reading →
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Today’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is my favorite from the New Testament—bar none. I keep a bookmark with Rembrandt’s famous depiction of the reconciled father and son permanently in my Prayer Book at this morning’s Psalm 32. And I also posted a lithograph of the forlorn younger son, seated among the pigs and husks, on my office door at Saint Mark’s School, just below a copy of an icon of Moses at the burning bush, about which we heard last Sunday. That passage is my favorite from the Hebrew Bible—bar none! So it has been, as they say, a “red letter” few weeks for me with our lectionary!
I resonate so deeply with these two stories and images because together, they represent the complete story of my own spiritual journey to date in a nutshell: the one, a dramatic and sudden revelation of the Name of God, together with God’s summons to a fraught and dangerous mission in the calling of Moses; the other, the return of the prodigal to the “hesed,” the “mercy” and “steadfast love” of God’s embrace in Saint Luke’s Gospel. In fact, I always told the students in my New Testament class that if, by some happenstance, we had had no other record of Jesus’ teachings, the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Good Samaritan—both unique to Saint Luke’s Gospel—together would tell us the whole Christian story of salvation in Christ. These two parables represent the substance of Jesus’ teaching about God, humanity, and the “kingdom of God.” Continue reading →
This past week the French sociologist and philosopher Rene Girard died. Girard was known for – among other things – his writing about scapegoating; that is, how groups of people torment and sacrifice other groups as a means of establishing unity.
Recent events seem to validate Girard’s theory. Consider ISIS and the destruction of all groups not Muslim. Or the terrible war in South Sudan between the Dinka and the Nuer ethnic groups. Or the continuing strife in India between Muslims and Hindus. Or in Israel between Jews and Palestinians. In each place one group blames the “other” and seeks to “sacrifice” them as a means of establishing unity.
We need but look at the world around us – or at our own lives! – to see that scapegoating never makes for peace. Scapegoating does nothing but escalate violence as each continues to try to sacrifice the other to establish unity. Continue reading →
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks on the heart.”
In 1976, 19 year-old Susan Lefevre was arrested in suburban Michigan for doing heroin. She didn’t sell. She had no previous convictions. “I thought I was experimenting. I was trying things out,” she said, “what… everybody was doing.” Her attorney recommended that she plead “guilty” to hopefully receive only probation. Instead, the judge sentenced her to ten to twenty years in prison! After 14 months in prison and feeling suicidal, Susan decided to escape. Susan scaled a 20-foot fence, dashed through the woods and met her grandfather, who was waiting in his Oldsmobile Cutlass. Her grandparents gave her several hundred dollars in cash and sent her on a bus out west, where somewhere west of the Rockies she became Marie. She eventually met the man who became her husband and with whom she had three children. Her name was now Marie Walsh, and she lived in beautiful home in a cul-de-sac in Southern California. But in 2008 – twenty two years later – a detective posing as a lawn-care worker asked her to come outside, wondering if, in taking care of the neighbor’s trees, he had mistakenly cut branches from one of hers. “Are you Susan Lefevre?” he asked. She admitted that she was, was arrested and taken back to Michigan to prison, where after 13 months the parole board released her.
Susan, and her husband and three now-grown children, were interviewed on Oprah about what her double life was like. She kept in touch with her parents. She was frank with her husband about drugs in her past. But she never let herself get comfortable, and she never anybody the whole story. “So I had these two worlds,” she said. “This terrible, terrible, destructive world, corrupting world of this prison and then this idyllic world,” she says. “When [the detective] showed me these pictures and said, ‘Susan LeFevre,’ it was like I knew that finally they had collided.” Continue reading →
“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
I’m going to begin today’s sermon with a car. My first car was a 1977 Chevette that I bought when I was in college for $100 from a music professor at Carleton College. The best I can say about that car is that the price was right, and that it made me forever grateful for cars that start and get me where I need to go. The stories I could tell about that car stalling in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota… To try to better care for that car and restart it when it stalled, I began purchasing tools and also a toolbox that I stowed in the rear of the car. I bought a wrench for the oil plug; pliers and socket wrenches to see if could replace the spark plugs; a utility knife and screwdriver to clamp the hoses; jumper cables for when the battery became low. I still have that toolbox, and over the years it has acquired more tools: a hammer for driving nails to hang pictures in early apartments; drill bits to hang anchors in early apartments; multiple kinds of screwdrivers; a hacksaw for I can’t remember what; electrical tape for early attempts at electrical repair; and so on. More recently, my toolbox has acquired tools from my grandfather: his beautiful antique plane; his old, wood-handled putty knife; his hatchet; an even an old hand-drill, which – as fun as it is to think about using it – I’ve never actually used it. Continue reading →