Only Servants Doing Our Duty

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
October 2, 2016
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 22C

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

My Friends:

mustard_plant_bangladeshAlmost twenty years ago during the first of my twelve subsequent visits to the Land of the Holy One, I was very eager to collect anything that I might share with the students in my Heirs of Abraham course to make the Bible come alive for them.  So, when we came upon a field of blooming mustard plants, I took some of their almost microscopic seeds to show my students.  Unfortunately, there was no way for me take home a mulberry tree because such trees grow to a very large and bushy height in Galilee.  Besides, I would never have made it through US Customs hauling a mulberry tree along with my luggage.  While Jesus’ disciples would have immediately caught this morning’s contrasting images drawn from their familiar world, we must rely upon the flora and fauna more common to us in these parts.  So, in your mind’s eye this morning, picture a pumpkin seed beside a giant oak in full bloom for comparison. Continue reading

The Joy of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
June 12, 2016
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 6C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

My Friends:

jesus-feetOne 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

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 1, 2016
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year C

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

My Friends:

6358045085_b1f300a069_bAs we approach the great Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, followed by Pentecost just ten days later, we too may be experiencing something akin to the disciples’ feelings of confusion and dread in this morning’s Gospel.  Modern psychologists would call these feelings “separation anxiety”:  the fear and the anticipatory grieving over a significant and looming loss.  Because Jesus’ reassuring words in this morning’s Gospel were spoken just before his Passion and Death, they may have had an even greater urgency for his disciples at that moment.  Jesus, the “good shepherd” is preparing his “little flock” for the trauma about to befall them, when evil will strike the shepherd and the flock will be scattered.  And like those disciples, we may be wondering:  How do we survive in Jesus’ absence?  What about all those promises in Psalm 23 to walk with us and to defend us, just prayed together on “Good Shepherd Sunday” two weeks ago?  Where is Jesus going, and how do we get there?  When will he return?  Why doesn’t he just stay on and claim the “kingdom of God” in its fullness when “God will be all in all” right now?  These are just some of the questions, doubts, and fears roiling both Jesus’ disciples in the first-century CE and us in the twenty-first. In short, how do we Christians live in the “already, but not yet”; how do we cope in this fraught time between the inauguration of the “kingdom of God” and its final fulfillment? Continue reading

Fulfilling the Works of God

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
January 24, 2016
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Year C

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

My Friends:

During my many years as a religious studies teacher, I was always reminding my students that—no matter the religion involved—a scriptural text without its context often becomes a pretext for anything we may want it to say.  I said this so often that it became a kind of “mantra” in our classroom.  And over my many years of preaching, I have discovered that the compilers of our lectionary are often the worst offenders in this regard.  Our Gospel readings are often plucked from their context in the larger narrative and, as a result, they skew any interpretation and frequently fail to convey the thrust and purpose of both the evangelist and, most importantly, of Jesus himself.  This morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke is, regrettably, a case in point.

christ-preaching-in-the-synagogue-at-nazareth-14th-c-fresco-visoki-decani-monastery-kosovoOur reading this morning from Saint Luke’s Gospel comes just after Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River and his forty-day confrontation in the wilderness with Satan, the enemy of our true nature.  Having resisted the Divider’s allurements, Jesus then undertakes his solo public ministry, not in his home town of Nazareth, but in Capernaum, where he has apparently performed a number of “signs and wonders” as a testament to his messianic claims.  Then, in today’s reading, he moves on to Nazareth and its synagogue for the local observance of Shabbat.  His reputation has clearly preceded him because the synagogue leader calls Jesus—now something of a local celebrity—up to the “bema” or lectern for the privilege of reading the “haphtarah,” the weekly “parashah” or “Torah portion” from the prophets of Israel.  Like almost all Jewish males over the millennia, Jesus, despite his humble origins, is both literate and well-versed in his people’s sacred scripture.  He is able to turn to the passage in the Isaiah scroll quoted in this morning’s Gospel and read it to the congregation in Hebrew—by this time no longer a vernacular language to most people living in the Roman province of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.  And, like Ezra and his scribes in this morning’s reading from Nehemiah, he is expected, as a learned rabbi, to explain the sense and the meaning of the text for the assembly of his co-religionists.  It’s the basis for both the synagogue liturgy and the Christian “Liturgy of the Word” to this very day.  In fact, I would like to think that something very like it is happening here at this moment:  the “people of God” have come together as a community on the Lord’s Day to pray and to reflect on the word of God. Continue reading

Deep Looking and Patient Waiting

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
November 29, 2015

The First Sunday of Advent – Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

My Friends:

Well, here we are this morning, at both the beginning of a new Church year and our first liturgy together as a brand new congregation.  I can’t speak for you, but for me, the First Sunday of Advent has always been my personal “New Year’s Day.”  And it is even more so this year because today, our formerly two parishes are now (finally) one.

818273297_calendar_ad_ce_xlargeNow, in the bad-old-days of political incorrectness, when we marked recorded history with the designations “B.C.” or “Before Christ” and “Anno Domino” or “In the Year of Our Lord,” this First Sunday of Advent would have been the first day of the two-thousand and sixteenth “Year of our Lord.”   And while Jews and Muslims—our sisters and brothers in the Abrahamic faith—still proudly keep their own religious calendars and mark their years according to their own reckoning, we “thoroughly modern” Christians have foresworn our legacy and now carefully avoid offense with the bland designation “CE” for the “Common Era.”  And perhaps, after centuries of anti-Judaism, Eurocentrism, and Christian supersessionism, we Christians are right to observe this small courtesy toward our Jewish and Muslim neighbors and fellow believers in the one “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” Blessed be He—especially in these fraught times. Continue reading