Of the many so-called hard sayings of Jesus, his commands in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew may well be the hardest of all. It is challenge enough to love and to forgive your neighbor or your kin; it’s quite another matter to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ clear admonition has perplexed and challenged the individual Christian conscience for millennia, and it has vexed nations and empires since the beginning of the Christian era. Is it a categorical mandate for pacifism, or just a caution to individuals and nations contemplating the use of violence and war as “an extension of politics by other means,” to use the apt and famous phrase of Karl von Clausewitz? God knows that we have witnessed both aplenty during the blood-soaked twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to drive the British Raj from India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for American civil rights in the 1960s; to World War l, that so-called war to end all wars, and its extension known as World War ll—the “good war” fought by “the greatest generation.” And what about the horror of the Shoah, and the train of genocides during the second half of the twentieth century in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur in the wake of that “good” war? Should the international community have decisively invoked its “obligation to protect” and have used effective military force to end the carnage in those places? And what should the United Nations Security Council do right now about the ISIS genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in areas under its control, together with the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated every day for nearly six years in Syria, together with the genocide about to break out in South Sudan? Try as we may, we cannot and, as Christians, we may not duck these difficult moral dilemmas with a quick reference to Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel. Our time and place in human history demand answers and urgent action, not soothing evasions, for in a world awash in nuclear weapons, and in the midst of the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War ll, even inaction is a moral decision demanding a moral reckoning. Continue reading →
“I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.”
Episcopal priest and theologian John Westerhoff, speaking about Christian formation, distinguishes between “nurture” and “conversion.” So often when we Christians do formation – like teach prayer, or talk about the importance of regular worship, or teach about the sacraments – we tend to talk in terms of nurture – how church consoles us, for example, or how prayer helps us get through our day. But nurture will take us only so far, says Westerhoff. A mature Christian faith – if we are truly to be the “salt of the earth” and the “lights of the world” – requires conversion: a deep-down, thorough and systemic transformation of the inner person.
We’ll get back to conversion, but first I want to speak to our present social and political environment. In the weeks since the inauguration, many have told me about the rallies they’ve attended, the letters they’ve sent or phone calls they’ve made, and the convictions they have regarding the environment or immigration or religious tolerance. An activism has been awakened, and I see a care for our nation that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, a desire to make a difference. Continue reading →
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Like it or not, our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent challenges us with two profoundly counter-cultural realities in our time and place: prophecy and repentance. As we continue our spiritual preparation to celebrate the birth of the Messiah two-thousand years ago, and to welcome him anew into our hearts and into our world—now, and at the close of the age—holy Church asks us to hear and to heed the fundamental message of the prophets of God throughout salvation history. For, regardless of the historical circumstances, every prophet has sounded one clear and consistent message over the ages: The “people of God” have fallen short of the glory God intends for them, and they must remedy matters by “repenting,” by “changing the direction from which they are seeking their happiness.” Whether it’s by the Hebrew word “teshuvah” or the Greek word “metanoia,” the biblical call to repentance always requires a radical “change of mind and heart,” a turn-around, and reformation of life.
It should come as no surprise, then, that prophets themselves are usually even less popular than their message. And very often, they find themselves either expelled from their community or murdered by the “Powers and Principalities” of this world, as Saint Paul refers to them. It was true for the prophets of the Hebrew Bible; it was true for the prophets of Jesus’ own time; and, regrettably, it will be true for the prophets of today and of every era. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah and the focus of today’s Gospel, suffered beheading at the command of Herod Antipas—Rome’s puppet ruler of the Galilee—after which John’s head was presented on a silver platter to Antipas’ wicked stepdaughter Salome. According to the Gospels, the news of John’s judicial murder shook Jesus to his very core—and for obvious reasons. His execution was the prologue to Jesus’ own Passion and Death. Continue reading →
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.”
Today’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 →
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 →