The Power of the Prophetic Word

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
December 4, 2016
The Second Sunday of Advent – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

My Friends:

the_beheading_of_st_john_the_baptist_-_google_art_projectLike it or not, our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent challenges us with two profoundly counter-cultural realities in our time and place:  prophecy and repentance.  As we continue our spiritual preparation to celebrate the birth of the Messiah two-thousand years ago, and to welcome him anew into our hearts and into our world—now, and at the close of the age—holy Church asks us to hear and to heed the fundamental message of the prophets of God throughout salvation history.  For, regardless of the historical circumstances, every prophet has sounded one clear and consistent message over the ages:  The “people of God” have fallen short of the glory God intends for them, and they must remedy matters by “repenting,” by “changing the direction from which they are seeking their happiness.”  Whether it’s by the Hebrew word “teshuvah” or the Greek word “metanoia,” the biblical call to repentance always requires a radical “change of mind and heart,” a turn-around, and reformation of life.

It should come as no surprise, then, that prophets themselves are usually even less popular than their message.  And very often, they find themselves either expelled from their community or murdered by the “Powers and Principalities” of this world, as Saint Paul refers to them.  It was true for the prophets of the Hebrew Bible; it was true for the prophets of Jesus’ own time; and, regrettably, it will be true for the prophets of today and of every era.  John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah and the focus of today’s Gospel, suffered beheading at the command of Herod Antipas—Rome’s puppet ruler of the Galilee—after which John’s head was presented on a silver platter to Antipas’ wicked stepdaughter Salome.  According to the Gospels, the news of John’s judicial murder shook Jesus to his very core—and for obvious reasons.  His execution was the prologue to Jesus’ own Passion and Death. Continue reading

Metanoia, Not Paranoia

kiss-of-peaceIn the Episcopal Church’s Catechism, the stated mission of the Church “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 855).  In Eucharistic Prayer A – the form of the Eucharistic prayers used most often at Trinity – we give thanks to God that God “sent Jesus Christ… to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all” (BCP, p 362).

Our Christian faith is about “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ;” we Christians, following the example of Jesus, are called to be agents of reconciliation.  Our country, sharply divided over the recent election and in transition to a new administration, is counting on us Christians to live into our identity and to be agents of reconciliation. Continue reading

Called to be Saints

Homily for Sunday, November 6, 2016
All Saints’ Day

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

Repentance for Renewal

Sermon for Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Ezra 9:5-9
Luke 9:1-6

The book of Ezra, from which we’ve just heard, tells a portion of the story of the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the Temple, following their exile to Babylon in the 6th century BCE.  The Book of Ezra is the story of the renewal of a worshiping community.

The Book of Ezra is about Trinity because, as we work towards merger with the Parish of the Messiah, we, too, are in a process of renewal.  As we can hear from today’s reading, one of the dynamics of renewal is repentance.  Ezra “got up from [his] fasting, with [his] garments and [his] mantle torn, and fell on [his] knees” and prayed:

O my God… our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to heavens.  From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt…

If we truly wish to renew our community – if we truly wish for our merger with Messiah to be renewing, and not merely a continuation on a slightly larger scale of what has gone before – our renewal likewise will need to include repentance; that is, a coming to terms with our past, with our sins, and an intention of doing things differently. Continue reading

Repentance is a Kind of Turning

cross bearer‘Therefore now, saith the Lord, Turn you unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.’ Repentance is nothing else but a kind of circling, to return to God by repentance from whom by sin we have turned away. And much after a circle is this text of Joel. He begins with the word ‘turn’, and returns about to the same word again. Twice he repeats the word, which two must needs be two different motions. First, a ‘turn’ wherein we look forward to God, and with our whole heart resolve to turn to him. Then a turn again, wherein we look backward to our sins wherein we have turned from God, and with beholding them our very heart breaketh…. These two between them make up a complete repentance, or to keep to our text, a perfect revolution.

— From a sermon of Lancelot Andrewes
Preached before King James I at Whitehall,
Ash Wednesday 1609

Having That One Back Again

Sermon for Sunday, December 7, 2014
Advent 2B
Isaiah 40:1-11

“I’d love to have that one back again.”  Serious sports fans who watch the post-game interviews will have heard the phrase.  Pitchers who let a pitch hang too long so that it was hit for a game-winning home run will say it:  “I wish I could have that one back again.”  Quarterbacks who under-throw the ball and have it intercepted on the final, losing drive of the game will say it:  “I’d love to have that one back again.”  Golfers who miss an easy putt that costs them the tournament will say it, too:  “I wish I could have that one back again.”

I bet all of us have had times in our life when we would love “to have that one back again.”  Maybe it was something we said or something we did.  And even though we said it or did it many years ago, we might still wish “to have that one back again.”

The Israelites to whom Isaiah writes this morning’s lesson had a real-life opportunity to “having that one back again.” Continue reading