Our Season of the Spirit

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
March 5, 2017
The First Sunday of Lent – Year A

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

My Friends:

maxresdefaultIf you have been paying close attention to our election campaigns—at every level of government—over recent years, you will have noticed that we Americans seem to have a great hunger just now for “hope” and “change.”  Many candidates for elected office—some more strident and vulgar than others—have even made these elusive realities the explicit watchwords of their campaigns with such slogans as “Hope”; “Change You Can Believe In”; and “Make America Great Again.”  And this is hardly surprising in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; widening income inequality; amoral globalization with its random winners and losers; and the protracted and continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with ancillary military operations in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and in Iraqi Kurdistan against ISIS.  And just when we in the west thought that the “Cold War” was a thing of the distant past, the world’s two largest nuclear powers are in a stand-off once again in east central Europe—this time in Ukraine, Crimea, and the Baltic nations—in what The New Yorker magazine has just this week officially dubbed the “New Cold War.”  War, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, economic recession, environmental degradation, predatory globalization, and expanding income inequality have made it clear to all save the most obtuse that our present course is simply unsustainable at every level of world governance.  We now need deep, structural changes and a new international system as a matter of mere species survival. Continue reading

This House is Bigger Than We Think

Homily for Sunday, February 26, 2017
Last Sunday After the Epiphany
Matthew 17:1-9

funhome-1cFun Home,” the heartbreaker / tear-jerker Broadway musical that recently closed, is a detective story of sorts about a lesbian cartoonist trying to understand her recently-deceased father and, by extension, herself.  “Fun Home” won five Tony awards in 2015, including Best Book of a Musical for the playwright, Lisa Kron.  In just a moment, I will tell what Ms. Kron said upon receiving her award, but it might make more sense if I first say something about the musical.

While “Fun Home” is a coming out story of a daughter who comes to terms with her sexuality, and while “Fun Home” is a coming of age story about a daughter trying to understand her father’s death, a suicide, “Fun Home” is bigger than a coming out or coming of age story.  As New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley says, “Fun Home” has a universal appeal that “comes from its awareness of… that element of the unknowable that exists in all of us… [and] how we never fully know even those closest to us.” Continue reading

Real & Fruitful Humility

As to your Lent—no physical hardships beyond what normal life provides—but take each of these as serenely and gratefully as you can and make them your humble offerings to God.  Don’t reduce sleep. Don’t get up in the cold.  Practice more diligently the art of turning to God with some glance or phrase of love or trust at all spare moments of the day….Be especially kind and patient with those who irritate you….Instead of wasting energy in being disgusted with yourself, accept your own failures and just say to God ‘Well, in spite of all I may say or fancy, this is what I am really like—so please help my weakness.’ This, not self-disgust, is the real and fruitful humility.

                                                                                                                                                                           —The Letters of Evelyn Underhill


What the Heart Wants

Sermon for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ash Wednesday

ashesSelena Gomez’ song, “The Heart Wants What it Wants” looks like a song about love and betrayal and how “There’s a million reasons why I should give you up,” except that – and this is the refrain – “the heart wants what it wants.”   “The Heart Wants What it Wants” looks like a song about love and betrayal and not giving up and “the heart [wanting] what it wants,” but Gomez’ song is really a song about Lent.

Gomez’ song is about Lent because, like the song, Lent is about love – Lent is about opening ourselves to how much God loves us:  which is absolutely, infinitely and without conditions.  Like Gomez’ song Lent is about betrayal – daily we betray that love (or, at least I do).  Like the song Lent is about not giving up – even though we may have messed up, we are not to give up.  And Lent is about letting the heart want what it wants; letting the heart want what it really wants, deep-down. Continue reading

Just to BE with Jesus

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.

– Mark 3:13-15

In Mark’s gospel the first thing Jesus appoints his apostles to do is not something to do, but something to be:  “And he appointed twelve… to be with him.” So often we think of Jesus as one who does.   Especially in Mark’s gospel Jesus seems to be perpetually doing, moving from one ministry opportunity to the next, preaching and healing and casting out demons at a pace that might well leave the reader breathless.  Given Jesus’ prodigious activity, we might suppose that Jesus would appoint apostles who could keep up with his action-packed schedule, who could join him in going “immediately” (one of Mark’s favorite words) from one act of ministry to the next.   But the first thing Jesus appoints the apostles to do is not something to do, but something to be:  “to be with him.” Continue reading

Redemption from Sin and Death

Sermon for Sunday, February 22, 2015
Lent 1B

At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death.   The Genesis reading is part of the flood story, which wiped out all humankind save Noah’s family. The lesson from 1 Peter speaks of Christ suffering for sins, and how he was “put to death in the flesh.” And this morning’s Gospel lesson introduces the personification of sin himself, Satan, who tempts Jesus in the wilderness.   At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. But if I look more closely at this morning’s readings I begin to see that today’s readings are not so much about sin and death as they are about redemption and life. Continue reading

Welcome Lent

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.

It ‘s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he.
In both let ‘s do our best.

Who goes in the way which Christ has gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
Who travels the by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

— From Lent: Ash Wednesday  by George Herbert (1593-1633)

God Calls the Least Worthy to His Service

Sermon for Sunday, March 30, 2014
Lent 3A

“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” — I Samuel 16:7

For this morning’ sermon, I’m going to let you in on one of the secrets of the priesthood.  No, it’s not some “hocus pocus” about the Eucharist; nor is it a secret handshake we all learned in seminary; and neither is it some Dan Brown-style secret that each of us has been sworn to guard.  The secret is at once more closely guarded than that and yet at the same time an “open” secret.  The secret is this: most clergy feel – at least some of the time – inadequate and unworthy of our calling.   This sense of inadequacy and unworthiness may appear for some of us as we are chairing a meeting.  For others it may come when we are preaching, or officiating at a funeral, or maybe wearing the collar around town.  For me, my sense of inadequacy and unworthiness most often shows up during the liturgy, at the offertory, just before communion.  There I am, up at the altar, the table set, waiting for the gifts to be brought forward (the bread and wine, and the offering plates).   And a voice inside my head will say something like, “What are you doing up here?”  “Think of how many people are more deserving than you to stand here.”  “Where is that trap door where I can disappear, because I really don’t belong here?”  I’ve learned over the years to expect this voice, and not to trust it.  It may well be true – no, I’m sure it’s true – that there are others more worthy and competent to stand there than I am.  But worthiness is not the point.  The point is that God has called.  God knows full well that that there are “better” and more deserving people to stand at the altar; but for whatever reason, God has called me.  I’ve learned – I’m learning – to trust the call.  “I don’t fully understand it,” I might say to God, “But, OK, here I am.  Use me.  And give me the grace you know I need.”

Continue reading

Why not take a step toward Jesus?

Sermon for Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lent 3A

If you’re a New York Yankees fan, I don’t think this sermon will offend you; but I am going to gush a little about our beloved Red Sox.

The first professional baseball game I went to was a Red Sox game, back in 1975.  I was just a kid, living in southeastern Wisconsin and rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers, the home team.  My cousins had bought a block of tickets for “Helmet Day,” and they invited a bunch of the relatives to go as a group.  I remember that it was a beautiful day in early August, warm but with a cooling breeze blowing in off Lake Michigan.  We drove to County Stadium in our ’66 Oldsmobile, a pre-pollution control affair with an engine so powerful that the car dipped to the left during acceleration, and that had seat belt buckles big enough to chip a tooth on, if you weren’t careful.  As we drew near to the stadium parking lot, I remember the smell of charcoal and sausages from the tailgaters, then the long walk across the parking lot, the long ticket line, the yeasty smell of stadium beer, and the long climb up to the second-highest row of seats deep along the right field line.   The stadium was packed, and not just with Brewers’ fans.  Even then the Red Sox faithful traveled to watch their team.

It was only much later, after I moved to Boston as a young man, that I realized what an extraordinary day that was.  I got to see the ’75 Red Sox!  There, right in front of my eyes, were names I had known only from baseball cards:  Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans.  There was Carlton Fisk, who looked big even from deep down the right field line.  And, of course, there was famous number 8, Carl Yastremski, whose name we had no trouble pronouncing because we were from Milwaukee.

What a line-up!  There was no stopping them that day.   The Sox just kept hammering out hits, and they eventually wore the Brewers down, winning 5-2.

As I consider the series of readings that our lectionary gives us this Lent, I can’t help but think of the ’75 Sox.  What a line-up!  In past weeks we’ve heard the story of the fall in Genesis 2.  We’ve heard God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12 to “Go from your country, your kindred, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”   We’ve been hearing from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 4 and 5 and how “one man’s act of righteousness leads to… life for all.”  And in the gospel, we are midway through a series of powerful readings from John’s Gospel.  Last week we heard the story of Nicodemus; today, the story of the woman at the well.  And in the coming weeks we’ll hear the story of Jesus healing the man born blind and Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.   Taken together, these readings form a line-up, not intended to get runners across the plate, but intended to take us even deeper into relationship with Jesus Christ, in preparation for his Passion.

Continue reading

Cowboy Take Me Away

Sermon for Sunday, March 16, 2014; Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

AbrahamStarsOK.  We’ve known each other long enough that I can finally admit to you… that I love the Dixie Chicks.  What a great band!  I love their clear voices and tight harmonies.  I love their instrumentals, how skillfully arranged and played they are.  I love how they’ve got a knack for a catchy tune and a moving text.  And, OMG, Natalie Maines’ voice (Natalie Maines is the lead singer) – so powerful yet fluid, with a wide range, not merely in pitch, but in tone:  now it’s tender, now defiant; now it’s playful, now sassy; now it’s like a Camaro, now a Mercedes.   With nine children between the three of them, it’s rare to see them in concert, and the country music stations tend to carry the newer stars, so it’s possible that some of us may never have heard one of their most famous hits, Cowboy Take me Away.   Here are the opening lines:

I wanna touch the earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly

I wanna sleep on the hard ground
In the comfort of your arms
On a pillow of bluebonnets
In a blanket made of stars
Cowboy take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can
Into the wild blue
Set me free oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and
Closer to you, Closer to you.

As I try to imagine what it was like to be Abram obeying God’s command to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” I can’t help but think of “Cowboy.”  Continue reading