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 →
Neither do walls or rich furniture make a home. Millionaires in magnificent mansions may never know a home. But where there are good relationships, where love binds the family together and to God, there happiness is always to be found. For good relationships are heaven anywhere. Monotony and misery cannot exist where there is love. But the fire of love must be kept burning warmly and brightly with the sweet wood of sacrifice. In teaching us to cross the “I” out of life, our Lord tells us the secret of happiness; what the Saints call the ecstasy of self-forgetfulness. For divine love is always self-effacing, seeks to give rather than to receive, to serve rather than be served, to love rather than to be loved, and will sacrifice anything for the beloved. Only then does love become a clean and holy fire in the heart, and not an ugly flare of lust.
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 →
Overwhelmed by omnipotence, we miss the heart of love. How can I matter to him? We say. It makes no sense; he has the world, and even that he does not need. It is folly even to imagine him like myself, to credit him with eyes into which I could ever look, a heart that could ever beat for my sorrows or joys, a hand he could hold out to me. For even if the childish picture be allowed, that hand must be cupped to hold the universe, and I am a speck of dust on the star-dust of the world.
Yet Mary holds her finger out, and a divine hand closes on it. The maker of the world is born a begging child; he begs for milk, and does not know that it is milk for which he begs. We will not lift our hands to pull the love of God down to us, but he lifts his hands to pull human compassion down upon his cradle. So the weakness of God proves stronger than men, and the folly of God proves wiser than men. Love is the strongest instrument of omnipotence, for accomplishing those tasks he cares most dearly to perform; and this is how he brings his love to bear on human pride; by weakness not by strength, by need and not by bounty.
If Jonah Lehrer’s new book, A Book About Love, is any indication, true love is less about roses and romantic dinners and gazing into another’s eyes than it is about getting the chores done, showing up when you said you would, and learning to set aside your wants and finding pleasure in your partner’s wants. In the end, steadiness is what will carry the day, says Lehrer, keeping a relationship vital and bringing joy and satisfaction.
At first glance, Lehrer’s premise may sound good. But New York Times columnist David Brooks disagrees. In his review of Lehrer’s book, Brooks writes: “It could be the truth is actually just the opposite,” that “crazy” love rather than “steady” love will, in the end, carry the day. Continue reading →
This morning I am going to preach two homilies – don’t worry, both short. On this All Saints’ Day I want to say something about saints, how we are all called to be saints. And then I want to say something about our country’s forthcoming election.
First, about saints. In September I attended a panel discussion at Boston College for the new movie, “Ignacio de Loyola: Soldier, Sinner, Saint,” about Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Taking part in the panel discussion were the lead actor who played Ignatius, Andreas Munoz, and also the associate director, Catherine Azanza. Both Andreas and Catherine said some insightful things about saints. 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 →
The Pope obviously did not get the memo. Just this past May the Pope published, “The Joy of Love,” an exhortation encouraging love in marriage and the family. But in today’s gospel lesson Jesus said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters… cannot be my disciple!”
Jesus does not of course mean that we are really to hate our family. What Jesus is doing in today’s gospel lesson is using exaggeration to get his listeners’ attention. [Think of a politician on the campaign trail trying to get people’s attention. Not to name names, but it seems that some will say just about anything to get people’s attention!] But what Jesus says in today’s gospel not only gets people’s attention, but also helps introduce his message.
What I hear in today’s gospel lesson is an invitation from Jesus to follow. Following him will be an adventure, Jesus suggests, and will not always be easy. Continue reading →
We heard several great readings this morning! In Luke we heard the well-known story of Mary and Martha. In Colossians we heard the famous hymn with its theologically–significant line: “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” But today I want to focus on the passage from Amos.
But I don’t want to begin with the passage from Amos. Rather, I want to begin with Adele’s list of her favorite break-up songs, a list revealed last month. There are six. Continue reading →
Few things can be more upsetting to a child than acknowledging that his or her parent is not all-powerful and not all-knowing. If something is awry in the parent’s life, it is not unusual for the child to blame him- or herself, then, rather than risk the parent seeming fallible and the child’s world falling apart.
In today’s text from Isaiah 10, Assyria is threatening the surrounding nations, including Israel. Isaiah – like the child who does not want to risk the parents’ fallibility and the world falling apart – ascribes Assyria’s belligerence to God, saying that Assyria is “my rod in anger” and that “the club in their hands is my fury.” It may be unsettling to think of God using a violent nation to serve God’s purposes, but in ascribing Assyria’s belligerence to God, Isaiah preserves God’s omnipotence and omniscience, Isaiah preserves the order of the world. Continue reading →