You can tell that our politicians are anxiously anticipating the 2018 mid-term election year in America because they are practically tripping over one another these days to climb aboard the “holiness” bandwagon. At the evangelical Liberty University commencement ceremony a few weeks ago, Donald J. Trump offered his undying allegiance to so-called traditional values. The “Make America Great Again” agenda apparently includes returning America to its “Judeo-Christian roots” and “free market values,” aka laissez-faire capitalism. No matter what we may say in America about the constitutional separation of Church and State, like it or not, politics and religion are constant—albeit often uncomfortable—bedfellows in our culture. And very often, when religious leaders do occasionally summon the courage and audacity to intervene in matters of public policy, both sides in our “culture wars” are equal-opportunity critics who alternately applaud and pillory God and religion whenever it suits their comfort and convenience, regardless of political persuasion. Continue reading →
Unless you count yourself among the reported thirty-five per cent of the electorate who would support Donald J. Trump even if—in his own words—“I were to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” you may well be among the many who are telling area clergy that they are feeling unusually anxious, stressed, and helpless since the November presidential election. The numerous missteps, scandals, and almost daily misadventures that have erupted since his January inauguration as the nation’s forty-fifth president likely have done nothing to allay those anxieties and fears. In fact, if there were not so much at stake for our nation and the world, the daily melodrama and pending constitutional crisis, including their improbable cast of characters, might even prove humorous. Who needs House of Cards when reality itself provides so much, as they say, “must see TV”! Continue reading →
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
A few years ago, Newsweek magazine published a cover story called “The Changing Face of the Church.” This provocative and prescient article chronicled both the now-familiar decline of the Christian faith in Western Europe and in North America, and the burgeoning of that same faith in Africa, Latin America, and even in Asia. According to the article, there were, for example, seven times more Anglicans in Nigeria alone than there are Episcopalians in the United States of America. And, if recent communiqués from places as diverse as Canterbury Cathedral in England, the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and even our very own Diocesan offices in Boston are to be believed, we can only conclude that our chief pastors are realizing what we in our local congregations, especially in the Northeast—often dubbed the “graveyard of the churches”—have known for a very long time: All is not well in the Church outside the global south; the “household of God” in these parts is shrinking; and we Christians can no longer continue to engage in business as usual. And this is not a matter of crisis for the Anglican Communion alone. This precipitous decline is occurring in every so-called mainline Christian denomination, including the Roman Catholic Church, whose US membership would also be plummeting if not for the influx of largely Hispanic immigrants, thanks be to God. The hopes and dreams of the failed “Decade of Evangelism”—in which we were to have doubled the size of the Anglican Communion in Western Europe and North America notwithstanding—we have only to look around us every Sunday in our local congregations to behold the sad wages of post-modernity, scientism, and secularism for the Church. Where are our young people or, for that matter, where are our neighbors? I, for one, sometimes feel as if I am living in some local version of the Incredible Shrinking Church (sic). Continue reading →
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 →
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Almost 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 →
Magnified and sanctified
may God’s great Name be,
in the world He created by His will.
May He establish His kingdom
in your lifetime and in your days,
and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel,
swiftly and soon – and say: Amen. 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 →
Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 1, 2016
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year C
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
As 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 →
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.
Our 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 →
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
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.
Now, 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 →