The Risk of Being Born

Homily for Christmas, 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

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A War’s Ripples: Syrians arriving on Lesbos, a Greek island, by Santi Palacios (AP)

For my homily this evening I will refer to the photos printed in the order of service on the front and back covers, and on page 11. The photos were cover photos for the New York Times in the fall of 2015.

These photos of young Syrian families help us to imagine what it might have been like for the Holy Family at the first Christmas 2,000 years ago.   As the husband attends with concern to his wife in the cover photo, so I imagine Joseph to have tended with concern to Mary as she traveled, full-term, to Bethlehem.  Maybe – as is the woman in the photo – Joseph even wrapped Mary in a blanket to keep her warm.  Like the mothers in the field care for their infants in the photo on page 11, so I imagine Mary to have been in fields with Jesus as they traveled home from Bethlehem, occasionally stopping to rest and nurse.  Like the boy on the back cover looking up to the woman helping him with a coat, so I imagine Jesus to have looked up to adults helping him when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, for – like the refugee boy in the photo – he probably needed clothing, too, after his family fled suddenly in the middle of the night. Continue reading

Risk Following Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, October 25, 2015
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:46-52

Last February the New York Times Op/Ed page ran a column by Arthur C. Brooks, the President of the American Enterprise Institute.  The column was remarkable not merely because the President of a decidedly right-leaning was writing for a decidedly left-leaning publication, but also because of the column’s subject matter.  The column not about government or politics or economics – things for which the American Enterprise Institute is known – but about love and how Mr. Brooks met his wife.  (It was Valentine’s Day.)

In just a moment, we’ll get to Bartimaeus and the Gospel text we just heard, but so as not to keep us in suspense, let me tell how Mr. Brooks met his wife.  Brooks writes: Continue reading

Pray for Obscurity

Sermon for Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Feast of St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord

This past Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, the New York Times ran an article on the 1863 draft riots in New York City, riots in which the Irish figured prominently.  Rachel Swarns’ article challenged the long-standing narrative that the Irish and African Americans, squeezed into Manhattan’s eighth ward, were a tinderbox of mistrust and racial tensions.   She reports that in the 1870 census, just seven years after the riots, there were 80 interracial couples in the eighth ward. How could members of two competing, antagonistic minority groups have come together so often to form families?  Swarns posits a theory:

We know that economic competition can divide people.  We saw it in the 19th century when many Irish immigrants, egged on by racist politicians and employers, discriminated against blacks and viewed them as economic rivals.  But shared work can also create intimacy and understanding… and for many of these…. men and… women, it appears to have done just that… They were working together and living together and having families together.

Curious to me is that these marriages have gone almost unnoticed by historians, who focus primarily on the racial tensions of the time.   Maybe these couples’ hiddenness is due to the fact that many of them were illiterate and left no letters or diaries, or that they were too poor to have their family photographed. Maybe society’s stigma against interracial marriage effectively hushed their existences.  Yet right there in the census documents, in the spidery script of a late 19th century hand, are 80 couples with children listed as “mulatto.”

When I think of St. Joseph, whose feast day we celebrate today, I am reminded of these interracial couples in late 19th century Manhattan.  St. Joseph reminds me of these couples not only because he did an extraordinary, counter-cultural thing in marrying a woman who was pregnant and not by him, but also because – like these couples – we know almost nothing about Joseph.    Continue reading