The first reading for today begins with the words, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old command-ment is the word that you have heard.” I think that we can recognize that old commandment as the “Law of Love”, found in our Prayer Book in a variant form as “The Summary of the Law”. Briefly, “Love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.” Continue reading
“Society of St. John…” she repeated slowly as she wrote. “Society of St. John the what?”
“Evangelist,” I repeated.
She looked puzzled. “Umm… could you spell that for me?”
‘Evangelist’ isn’t a word in everyone’s vocabulary. For those who do recognize the word, it is likely to be associated with those who publicly proclaim the gospel on street corners or on television, or those who button-hole passers-by to ask whether they have been saved. For many – Christians and non-Christians alike, ‘evangelist,’ ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’ are not words that carry a positive connotation…
…which is odd, given that the word ‘evangelist’ derives from a Greek word (euangelion) that means “good tidings” or “good news.” Evangelists are those who proclaim good news. Most everyone enjoys receiving good news, so it should strike us as curious that so many are put off by the efforts of Christians to share their faith. Continue reading
Memories are a powerful force in the human psyche. They have the ability to trap and imprison, but they have also the ability to liberate and free. They have the power to make one weep in despair or grief and to laugh with the delight of a child. They have the power to shape and mold a life and in hindsight to help make sense of all that was and is, and even is to be. As we all know, it doesn’t take much to trigger a memory: a sound, a taste, a smell, an image, even just a word or phrase and suddenly we are back there as if it were happening this very instant.
I have one such memory that crops up in my mind and heart on a regular basis and it happens many days at Morning Prayer. Had I known it at the time, the event itself was to be a harbinger of things to come. As a memory it continues to delight and console, and even assure me. Continue reading
Christmas is here! The prophet Isaiah proclaims it with ringing words of joy: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in a land of deep darkness – on them has light shined.”(Isa 9:2) Tonight we celebrate with great joy the birth of Jesus, the coming of a great light to a land of deep darkness.
I love the lights of Christmas. I love Christmas tree lights, the lights I saw a few weeks ago along Fifth Avenue and at Rockefeller Center. I even love – and this is a new one for me – the Christmas lights in people’s front yards and all over their houses – illuminated Father Christmases, glowing reindeer, pulsating stars and flashing greeting signs. My all time favorite is one a friend sent me on the internet. It’s amazing. A house and yard in Ohio are covered with 45,000 lights and operated by 176 computer channels. The display is synchronized to a rock version of Amazing Grace. It’s so popular there are huge traffic jams in the area, and there is a crew of three policemen to manage the traffic! Continue reading
This concludes a four-part Advent preaching series entitled “Practicing Patience,” as we wait, watch, listen, and, this evening, look for the coming of Christ. What about looking? Where, at what, why, when should be looking? There is a difference, after all, between our experience and those who were waiting, watching, listening, and looking for the Messiah 2,000 years ago. We are not in the position of Mary and Joseph or Elizabeth and Zechariah, nor are we in the position of the shepherds in the hills, nor the magi in the east, nor nasty King Herod on the throne who were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah. As Christians we recognize Jesus born in Bethlehem as the Messiah, and that was 2,000 years ago. What we now celebrate on Christmas Day is a remembrance. It’s not a reenactment, nor is it a re-visitation – Christmas is not “the second coming” of the Messiah – but a remembrance, a living reminder, that Jesus the Messiah was already born among us, and is really present to us now, which invites a whole different way to look at life every day. That’s a promise, and that’s also a problem. Continue reading
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 18; Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38
Every year at this time I am caught off guard, and it happened again yesterday. For the last several weeks we have been reading lessons, which frankly can terrify me:
But the bridegroom replied, “Truly I tell you, I do now know you.1
You that are accursed depart from me, into the eternal fire prepared
for the devil and his angels.2
… for you do not know when the master of the house will come … [and]
he may find you asleep…. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.3
And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.4
These gospel lessons, beginning toward the end of the Pentecost cycle are not all that fun to ponder. After all, who among us wants to be reminded week after week that it is quite possible to be denied, especially if we have denied; to be left out, when we have left others out; to fall asleep when we have been charged to keep alert.
But suddenly everything has changed, and I am caught off guard. It happened once again yesterday.
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the
son of Abraham.5
For the last several weeks we have been pondering lessons which point us to the coming of Christ at the end of time to be judge and ruler of all. Suddenly, suddenly our focus shifts and we are invited to ponder the coming of Christ, not in glory at the end of time, but in lowliness in time as the babe of Bethlehem. We are invited to ponder Jesus, not as judge, but as messiah; not as ruler, but as savior and we do that today by pondering the familiar story of Mary’s strange encounter with Gabriel; a story which we remember here at the monastery three times each day.
The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary:
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you….6
We remember this encounter because it both fulfills and begins a whole sequence of events reaching back to one garden and forward to another, from one tree to another: from Eden to Gethsemane; from the tree of life to the wood of the cross and beyond. Mary’s ‘yes’ spans time and space and opened her to become the temple of the Lord that David longed to build. In spite of David’s desire to build, it was in Mary that God chose to dwell, for the building blocks of the temple are not wood and stone and gold, but flesh and blood and a heart full of love. And that is precisely what God found in Mary.
By saying ‘yes’ to God and becoming the Mother of the Saviour, Mary made room for God not only in her womb, but in her heart. Because of this act of great love she became, as Orthodox tradition calls her, More Spacious than the Heavens for “He whom not even the universe could contain was contained within the womb of a virgin, making her more spacious than the Heavens.”7
David longed to build a temple fit for God to reside and in the heart of an unwed teenager, God found that temple not because she was a master builder in wood and stone but because she was a master builder in love.
Like that day two thousand years ago, God longs for a temple in which to reside. He longs for a temple, not of stone and light, no matter how glorious, but of flesh and blood and a heart of full of love. Like Mary, you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you8 for when you say ‘yes’ to God you open yourself to God and God’s glory abides in you; when you say ‘yes’ to God, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us.9
Although everyone loves a baby, Christmas is not actually about babies. Christmas is about saying ‘yes’ to God. Christmas is about making space for God. Christmas is about becoming God’s temple. Christmas is about becoming, like Mary, ‘more spacious than the heavens.’ Christmas is about opening the temple of your heart to the love, and life and light of God.
We have just a week to get ready for Christmas and there is a lot to do: there are presents to buy; trees to decorate; puddings and cakes and cookies to make; gifts to wrap; parties to attend; cards to send. But the most important thing to do is that there is a ‘yes’ to say and a temple to build.
Only you can say ‘yes’ to God and only you can open your heart to God. Only you can build that temple in your heart where the one whom the heavens cannot contain may dwell.
Two thousand years ago, Gabriel appeared to Mary looking for a heart of love where God might dwell, and all creation waited with baited breath for her ‘yes’. Today the sound of angel wings stir the air and Gabriel is once again looking for someone whose heart is full of love. Won’t you this Christmas open your heart to God and say ‘yes’ so that the Word might once more become flesh and dwell among us? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and offer him the temple of your heart? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God and make space in your heart so that like Mary’s heart yours too will be more spacious than the heavens? Won’t you say ‘yes’ to Gabriel so that God’s light and life and love might dwell in you?
Won’t you say ‘yes’ to God? Gabriel and all creation are waiting with baited breath for your answer.
We don’t know exactly where this story takes place, but the references to reeds and wilderness and palaces point to the Jordan River area near Jericho—a place associated with John the Baptist. It’s a place of superlatives. A place of great natural beauty: the hauntingly beautiful Judean Desert visible in the distance, the spectacular escarpments along the west side of the Dead Sea, the mountains of Moab across the valley. The Jordan River is part of the Great Rift Valley, a geological feature extending 3,700 miles from Lebanon south into Africa. Jericho is the oldest inhabited city in the world (11,000 years) and the lowest inhabited city in the world—the nearby Dead Sea is over a thousand feet below sea level. 110 in the shade in the summer—lovely in the winter. Even today people from Jerusalem make the 15 mile trek down to Jericho in the winter to get away from the rain and cold and snow. Continue reading
The first week of November a dozen people walked to Emery House, our retreat center in West Newbury. They walked from downtown Boston, walked over 50 miles in three days. They were from Ecclesia Ministries which offers spiritual companionship to homeless men and women in Boston. Both homeless and housed, they walked in community on a spiritual pilgrimage, staying with host churches along the way. We at Emery House had the honor of being their destination: together we celebrated and feasted, shared silence and reflected aloud, rested and prayed. Continue reading
This morning I’d like to propose as objects for our meditation the towering sycamore trees planted along Memorial Drive just outside our monastery. Sycamores are thirsty trees and thrive in wetlands or near rivers or streams. Their roots sink deep into the ground, soaking up nourishment and providing stability for their hefty trunks and branches, which often grow to 130 feet or more in height. Continue reading
Somewhere Oscar Wilde is to have said that we ought not to disparage the legends told about a man, because it’s by them that we have an inkling of his true physiognomy. I’m sure Wilde would have agreed that the same is true for women: that the things that are said about someone—even when not strictly factual—reveal the true contours of a person’s humanity, the sheer force of the personality. Continue reading
In our first reading we heard Isaiah reminding us that God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary. Going beyond that he gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. (Isa. 40:28-29)
In today’s Gospel we heard the comforting words of Jesus; “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) In saying this Jesus was speaking as the Son of God, sharing the gift of power and promising to strengthen the weak and the powerless. Speaking as perfect man Jesus could share with all of us human beings the experience of feeling weariness and of bearing burdens. We can see this very occasionally in the prayers of Jesus and his exasperation when the disciples were slow to understand what he was teaching them. We can see it especially in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his passion. (Mt. 26:39, also Lk. 22:42-44) Continue reading
One of the things that used to be fun about driving to Heathrow Airport was, as you approached the airport, the road took you through a tunnel under the main runway, and as you entered the tunnel there was this large airport notice on the side of the road – “WATCH FOR THE SIGNS.” We used to laugh because this road sign sounded so much like an apocalyptic warning, such as we hear during the season of Advent.
In this second of our Advent preaching series, the word I have been given to reflect on, is the word watch. It is amazing how often this word comes up in Scripture, and it is clearly one of the main characteristics of a faithful Christian disciple, that we WATCH. So why watch? What does it mean, to watch, and why should we watch? Continue reading
There are times in our lives when we recognize that there is an obstacle that is separating us from God.
Sometimes it is an obstacle of our own making, something we have done or said, perhaps a choice that we made that now we deeply regret. We may feel guilty, or ashamed, or afraid. We may be reluctant to show our face before God. This thing that we have done has become a barrier between us and God.
Sometimes it is something that has happened to us, perhaps something that we don’t understand or don’t feel we deserved, and because we can’t make sense of it we fault God, and there is born in us a new fear or anger towards God, and a reluctance to trust that renders intimacy with God impossible. Continue reading
In our first reading for today from Isaiah we can find some of the major themes of the Advent season. The first of these is a reward for patient waiting of the righteous nation that keeps faith in the victory of a strong city that will be set up like walls and bulwarks. Next is the hope for peace for those of steadfast mind, who trust in God who is our steadfast rock. Finally there is the promise that the haughty and proud, that is those who are the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city, will be laid low to the ground and cast into the dust, trampled under the feet of the poor, by the steps of the needy. (Cf. Isa. 26:1-26) Continue reading