It will come as no surprise to any who know me well that I am neither an athlete nor an ardent sports fan. However, when I began my tenure as a teacher and chaplain at Saint Mark’s School twenty years ago, I felt obligated to attend all manner of athletic competitions, especially those involving any of my handful of student advisees. And so, at the tender age of forty-five, I saw—believe it or not—my very first soccer, hockey, lacrosse, tennis, and wrestling matches. This “brave new world” of athletic competition came to me as quite a revelation. I can vividly recall my horror and alarm as I watched my first hockey and lacrosse games: young men with sticks engaged in what appeared to be savage battle with one another. The real eye-opener, however, came at my first wrestling match. At first, I completely recoiled at the sight of wave after wave of grimacing young men apparently mauling and choking one another. Yet, after that first shock of horror, I suddenly realized that in slow-motion, this fight might easily be misconstrued as a loving embrace. In fact, all of these sports—but most especially wrestling—involved both struggle and intimacy: the cornerstones of any significant and meaningful relationship. Continue reading →
Almost four years after my father’s death, I still receive very vivid reminders of one of the central truths of both the human condition and the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “You can’t take anything with you” or—as a beloved friend once said shortly before his death, “I have never seen a hearse with a U-Haul attached to it.” As my mother and I continue to sort through so many of my father’s things, all carefully labeled, stored, and left behind—many of them for a future that never came—we have had a very sobering reminder that our only real legacy is our character and the good deeds that we have done or failed to do in our short time here on this earth. Our spirit is all that follows us into the “life of the world to come” as we await the final consummation of all things mortal at the “resurrection of the dead”, when “Christ is all and in all,” according to St. Paul. Even Jesus didn’t manage to leave this world without first dying, and, in this world of uncertainty, there is one thing of which I am quite sure: none of us gathered here this morning will manage to do so either. Continue reading →
Here we are on “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday. We have reached the halfway point in Advent, which we mark by lighting the pink candle on our Advent wreath this morning. It signals that we now have less than two weeks to prepare our hearts and our world for welcoming our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into our history as a vulnerable and innocent child, at Christmas. And so, Saint Paul’s admonition in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians: “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything….” came to me as a thunderclap—especially in the wake of the foreign and domestic terror attacks of the past month. “Really,” I thought to myself, “do not worry about anything?” And then, seeming to add insult to an incandescent injury, Saint Paul goes on to say, “…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Clearly, I groused, Saint Paul’s words have nothing to do with the backdrop to this Christmas of 2015 and our violent and distracted world. I wonder just how many of us are “rejoicing”—let alone “praying”—with just eleven so-called shopping-days until Christmas and, more ominously, in the overshadowing presence of such sheer evil—foreign and domestic—in our midst.
Icon Holy Innocents
And, if we widen the lens of our vision just a little, we must somehow reckon as well with the sad irony that children are suffering and dying all over our world: 8,000 die every day from illnesses caused by lack of access to clean water; 20 percent of American children live in poverty; and at least 250,000 civilians—many of them children—have been killed to date in Syria’s on-going civil war, with almost one-half of that country’s population having been driven by the fighting to foreign refugee camps or to the dangerous and unwelcoming shores of southeastern Europe. We need not look any further than our news outlets to see that Bethlehem’s “Holy Innocents” are still being slaughtered in their thousands by the “King Herods” of our world! For so many of us, rejoicing may not even be on our agenda this Advent. Continue reading →
In the still unfolding aftermath of the world’s worst financial crisis since the “Great Depression” of the 1930s, it would be very tempting to focus this morning on Jesus’ pointed words about the very real danger of wealth to the human spirit. Who can hear his admonition that, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” and not be reminded of the greedy and scandalous actions of so many titans of finance who, in recent years, have brought the developed world’s economies to the brink of collapse and the poor of the developing world to financial ruin? As Pope Francis reminded us during his recent trip to the epicenter of neo-liberal capitalism, the poor always pay the highest price for the excesses of the rich. As the prophets of the Hebrew Bible reminded us several millennia ago, we reap exactly what we sow—especially in matters of justice—and we are now reaping the bitter harvest of the culture of sleaze and greed that has been underway in the West since the 1970s. History may yet determine that all of that pious gloating over the collapse of Soviet communism under its own weight twenty-five years ago was a bit premature as we in the West now watch casino capitalism totter and reel under its untenable and inevitable cycles of largely unregulated boom and bust, along with widening inequality gap. Continue reading →
Sermon for Sunday, July 5, 2015
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul”
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
Of course, Paul is talking about himself. Of course, Paul is talking about a religious experience he had and is trying to explain in every-day words something that doesn’t happen everyday. And of course, Paul’s experience and Paul’s language have to do with us. Let me explain. Continue reading →
Pentecost can be a difficult day for contemplatives. Contemplatives know about the Holy Spirit, to be sure. They can probably identify ways in which the Spirit is breathing life into “these bones;” they can probably point to places in their lives where they sense the flame of the Spirit alighting. But they may not always be sure what to do with the Spirit’s gifts for service, or being commissioned, or being sent out, or preaching the gospel or winning converts. Contemplatives tend to live or worship in monasteries and convents like here and have great focus on the interior life; but Pentecost is “out there,” concerned with opening the way of eternal life to every race and nation. How might a contemplative make sense of a life of prayer alongside the feast of Pentecost and preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth? Continue reading →
This morning’s sermon is about a kind of prayer called “mystical prayer.” “Mystical prayer” may seem a little much for a beautiful May morning, but I know we’re up to the task. I’m going to begin by reminding us about Wile E. Coyote and gravity.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity? If you’ve seen the cartoons, you know how many of the coyote’s attempts to catch the roadrunner rely on gravity: Now the coyote sets up a boulder to push off the cliff and onto the roadrunner below. Now the coyote pours a pile of birdseed over the bridge and bungees down to catch the roadrunner. Now the coyote dons roller skates to skate down the hill after the roadrunner. Even if we haven’t seen the show, because we’re familiar with gravity, we can guess how the coyote fares in each of his attempts: The road runner appears at the cliff’s edge with his signature, “Meep, meep!” and, instead of the boulder, the startled coyote plunges with a whistle to the canyon floor. The coyote bungees off the bridge toward the pile of birdseed and catches, not the roadrunner, but the front end of truck. The coyote with roller skates sees the sign, “Bridge Out Ahead”… but can’t stop, and plunges with another whistle to the canyon floor.
Where would Wile E. Coyote be without gravity?
If we knew nothing about the Holy Spirit except what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, we might well ask, “Where would the Holy Spirit be without gravity?” Continue reading →