The story is told of an Eskimo hunter who went to see the local missionary who had been preaching in the village.
“I want to ask you something,” the hunter said.
“And what’s that?” the missionary responded.
“If I did not know about God and sin,” the hunter asked, “would I go to hell?”
“No,” the missionary said, “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” the hunter said, “did you tell me?”
This is the very point being made in our first lesson, from the Letter of James, of not living hell: “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” The Greek word used here for “sin” literally means “missing the mark.” If your life has a goal or purpose or destiny, this is to completely lose track of the target, take the wrong turn on the path, miss the mark. That’s sin.
The energy in James’ letter around “sin” is not so much about doing what is wrong, but about not doing what is right. Throughout his letter, James is very clear about what is right: about living your faith, about recognizing life as a gift from God; about being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; about being single-minded; about honoring all people, rich and poor alike; about being patient; and – in the lesson appointed for today – about living a day at a time, a step at a time. We need to think about tomorrow and speak about tomorrow with real humility. We have no idea if we’ll even be alive tomorrow. James says, very soberly: “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So think this way, he says: “If the Lord wills, we will do such-and-such tomorrow.” Continue reading
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Acts 1:15-26 / John 15: 1, 6-16
So, who’s going to be the next Bishop of Massachusetts?
There are seven names on the slate, and to help us choose there will be a series of open meetings throughout the diocese from March 14-17 to meet the candidates and get to know them. It’s been a huge process so far, taking many months, and it will all culminate on Saturday, April 5, in the cathedral when the elections will take place.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to flip a coin? That’s what happened, or something similar, when the early Christians met to choose a successor for Judas Iscariot. Judas was dead, and the apostles wanted to replace him with somebody who had also known Jesus as intimately as they had, and in particular, someone who, as they said, “would become a witness with us to his resurrection.” They didn’t have seven names on the slate, just two: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus – and Matthias. Continue reading
Some very unlikely partners have been dancing around in my head this last week, a kind of “odd couple” duet. I’ve been reflecting on these verses from the Sermon on the Mount—which are some of the most radical and resonant words ever spoken. And then, alongside those reflections, intertwined with those reflections, twirling around with these reflections on the dance floor of my mind has been a meditation on stem cells.
I know very little about stem cells; I managed to get through the educational system with no training in biology beyond 7th grade science class. But a recent article in the Boston Globe got me to poking around a bit. As best I can tell, a stem cell is a kind of generic cell that has the potential to become a specific kind of cell in the human body. A stem cell carries encoded genetic information that gives it the capacity to become a specific type of cell: a bone cell or muscle cell or blood cell or soft tissue cell, etc. Stem cells are present in human embryos, as well as in the mature body—in bone marrow, for example. Continue reading
I was marveling the other day that Lent is just around the corner. Isn’t that amazing? It seems like yesterday we were dressing this chapel liturgically in blue for Advent, in excited anticipation of Christmas. Now, Epiphany is almost over and I’m getting a little panicky…..because I haven’t had one yet. Maybe you can relate. Have you had an epiphany during this church season of Epiphany?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary an epiphany is: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. In the church, Epiphany is a season beginning on January 6th when we celebrate Christ being made manifest to the world through the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem (epiphany, from the Greek, literally meaning manifestation). Continue reading
As you pray, allow the light that is all around you to be a constant reminder of the presence of God: always at hand, illuminating our world. Look for ways to embrace the light within you.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
The Gospel of John reveals to us a God who is love. This love is at once transcendent, beyond all our imagining, and immanent, present and tangible in the world around us. We encounter this mysterious paradox from the very first words of the Gospel, where we read that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is John’s Revelation: The Word that is God comes down and takes on our humanity. The Greek term John uses, logos, has a much broader definition than our English “word.” It means a dynamic energy, the animating force. What becomes clear, as we come to know and understand Jesus through John’s writings, is that the energy and force of God is love. Love is God active in the world: Love is God made flesh and dwelling among us.
Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus embodies this active principle of love in the way he interacts with his friends and with strangers. We learn that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus demonstrates this radical love by offering his life for others on the cross.
But John’s Gospel does not end with Jesus’ death: It goes on to narrate his resurrection and the appearances he made to his followers. The fascinating thing about these sightings of the Risen Jesus is that the disciples do not recognize him at first. Jesus evidently no longer bears the same face his friends knew him to have in life. It is only when he speaks their name in love, or shows them his hands and his side, or summons them from the shore, that they recognize the Lord. The face of God, the face of love, in our lives is always changing. God will come to us in many different guises. Open your eyes today and wonder, “Where is God speaking my name in love, showing himself to me, summoning me to follow?”
How will God be revealed to you today?
Our reading from the Letter of James uses an Olympic word, the Greek word stéphanos, which is a crown of laurel or olive leaves, the most coveted prize for the victor in the ancient Greek games of sport. James writes, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (1) James is here using the metaphor of the victor’s crown to signal three things about living a fulfilled life: life will require training, it will be exceedingly challenging, and it will be equally rewarding. St. Paul also repeatedly uses metaphors of sport – of running the race, competing in contest, setting our eyes on the goal, and pursuing victory with great energy and discipline – to signal how we must train for and vigorously practice our calling to be followers of Jesus Christ. (2) It’s like a relay race where Jesus has handed the baton onto us. Continue reading
Christianity was introduced to the people of Japan in the 16th century, first by the Jesuits under the leadership of Francis Xavier, and then by the Franciscans. This was a complex time in Japanese history with rivalries between various religious groups; between Spain and Portugal in their intent to colonize Japan; and between the Japanese emperor and the feudal overlords, the shoguns. Christians became a target for persecution and martyrdom. By the mid-17th century, what was left of the church was driven underground for many, many years.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 / Matthew 5:21-37
“I wish you would stop quarrelling!” I can hear my mother’s exasperated tone as she tried to stop my two brothers, my sister and me from endlessly fighting and arguing with each other.
I sometimes think St. Paul must have felt the same thing about the young churches which he was trying to build up into Christian maturity. You only have to read his letters to get a sense of his exasperation: “Stop arguing!” he says to the Philippians, “…do everything without murmuring and arguing.” And to the Galatians, “You bite and devour each other – there are quarrels and dissension and factions.”
I Kings 12:26-33; 13:33-34
What on earth could have prompted King Jereboam to erect two golden calves as objects of worship in the northern kingdom of Israel? Surely neither he nor the people he ruled could have forgotten the thorough condemnation of a similar action taken by Aaron, the brother of Moses, at Mount Sinai centuries earlier during the flight from Egypt. It seems an absurd decision; how could he have imagined that this would please the Lord?
Cyril and Methodius, whom we remember today in the church calendar, were brothers born in the 9th century at Thessalonica, a large Greek city on the Mediterranean, a city evangelized by St. Paul many centuries earlier. By invitation, they became apostles to the southern Slavic people, the Moravians. Cyril was a student of philosophy and a deacon, who eventually became a monk and missionary. Methodius was the first governor of this, a Slavic colony, then became a monk, and was later elected abbot of a monastery in Constantinople.
1 Kings 10: 1-10/Psalm 37
There are many seasons and all kinds of weather in our life of faith. As Ecclesiastes might have put it, there is a time to fear God, and a time to not fear God; a time to worship God, and a time to complain to God; a time to praise God, and a time to accuse him; a time to turn to God and a time to turn from God, a time to thank God, and a time to be silent. We pass through all these seasons in the Psalms—winters of content and discontent.
Today we read in the Psalm: “Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire.” [Psalm 37:4] There is a season to take delight in the Lord. If God is not immediately present to us in some kind of mystical way, God’s creation is immediately present to us. The verse just before invites us to “dwell in the land and feed on its riches.” Continue reading
1 Kings 8: 22-23, 27-30
Mark 7: 1-13
In the Temple of the Lord, All are Crying, Glory!
You might know the story of David, how as a boy he killed a giant with a few stones and a slingshot. How as a young man, a jealous king tried to kill him. How ultimately he became king and ruled with wisdom and courage, sort of. How as king he decided to construct a temple for the glory of God in Jerusalem but that God had other plans. It was not David who would build the Temple, but his son Solomon. And what a temple it must have been! Continue reading
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
“You are the salt of the earth.” Salt has many uses. It preserves, purifies water, helps heal wounds and brings out flavors. In Jesus’ day, salt was particularly valuable. Privileged places at the table were closest to the salt. People have been paid in salt, the origin of the word salary. In the Old Testament, salt signified both our gift to God, bringing out flavor in the burnt offerings and salt was God’s gift to us, a sign of a lasting contract.(1) Salt has been a commodity for exchange, so valuable that merchants routinely traded it, even ounce-for-ounce with gold. Continue reading
Jesus calls his disciples to many and various good works. In the story today they’re all exhausted. So he calls them to something very different: let’s go for a boat ride and get away from all this. So they go for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It doesn’t say whether it’s a row boat or a sail boat or some kind of motor boat, but out they go. Continue reading
Today is Candlemas, and it’s a feast I’m very fond of. But then, I like candles! I remember as a young child, we lived in the country, and we were often having power outages. It was so exciting to slowly walk upstairs to bed carrying a candle, and then, tucked up in bed, nice and cozy, looking around a once familiar bedroom, now mysteriously alive with flickering shadows. Later, as I came to faith, looking at a candle helped me to pray: the flickering light spoke of the light of Christ, of warmth and comfort, and the mystery of God.
The candles in today’s procession, and on the altar, celebrate the event which took place 40 days after Christmas when Jesus, the Light of the World, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the required ceremonies of the Law. He had already been circumcised on the eighth day and received his name. But because he was the first born, he was regarded as “holy” – in other words, belonging to the Lord – and his parents had to, as it were, buy him back by paying a shekel to the sanctuary. He was then “presented” to the Lord. Continue reading
I am impressed by many people who cry out to Jesus for help. Bartimaeus who shouts louder and louder when he hears Jesus is nearby. A woman who works her way through the crowd and reaches out to touch Jesus’ clothes. The small group who climb up on a roof to lower their friend in front of Jesus. The centurion who says: “If you just say the word, my servant will be healed.” I am impressed. Jesus heals them, and he commends them for their faith. Continue reading
As you pray, dwell with the image of Jesus as the way. Jesus is not merely with us on the way; Jesus is the Way. Following him, we are led into truth, and toward greater life. Where does your life need more truth? How could you grow into larger life? Toward what new future is Jesus leading you in this chapter of your life?
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
The Gospel of John is book-ended by scenes of vocation or calling: In John 1, Jesus calls two of John the Baptist’s disciples to “Come and see”; in John 21, the Risen Christ invites Peter, saying “Follow me.” The key position and importance given to these scenes reveals how paramount the sense of being called and chosen was to the community who gathered together to remember and commemorate their experiences of Christ. “You have not chosen me,” Jesus tells his disciples, “but I have chosen you.”
Jesus has chosen each and every one of us. Everyone has a vocation. This vocation is not equivalent to our career or our business card, though for some people, their vocation might be related to their career path. Rather, our vocation is the unique life to which we are called as children of God. It encompasses our relationships, our talents, the whole of our identities.
The only constant in vocation is that it is other- oriented. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says, “love one another.” We can express this vocation to love in our work, in our relationships, or in our world. One way to step into this larger sense of vocation is to ask yourself: What do I love to do? What makes me feel passionately alive? Where do I respond deeply to the needs and desires of others? God does not shout and God does not force us in helping us grow into our vocations. Often, our desire and our joy can be a very good indication of where God might be leading us. Jesus is in that joy, beckoning us forward toward larger life, saying, “Follow me.”
As you pray, allow the metaphor of the vine and the branches to help you to reflect on interdependency and collaboration: Without the branches, the vine bears no fruit; without the vine, the branches have no root. Where are you bearing fruit in your life? Where do you need to be pruned? How can you tap into the deep source of Life?
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
There is a wonderfully poignant scene at the close of John’s Gospel: The Risen Christ meets his disciples on the lake shore and shares a meal with them. Then he takes aside Peter, Peter who has lately betrayed Jesus by denying three times that he knows him. And Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” He asks him this three times, once for each denial Peter uttered. Every time Peter answers, “Lord, you know I do.” And each time, in response to this avowal, Jesus gives him a command, “Feed my sheep.” “Tend my flock.” “Feed my lambs.” Jesus invites Peter and the other disciples to collaborate with God in continuing the work Jesus has begun.
We are all called to this collaboration. Our love for God is not solely an emotion we experience in the silence of our hearts and the stillness of our rooms. It is not meant just to enrich our lives and ease our troubles. Our love for God has a very practical and active component in the world: We love through our actions. We love God by collaborating with God’s work in the world. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks each of us. And his next suggestion holds for us as well, “Feed my sheep.”
Collaborating with God can seem a very lofty, even overwhelming, charge. And it is. Yet like every other element of our call to life with God, it is also utterly personal. God calls you to collaborate in the way that only you uniquely can. There is no cookie-cutter collaboration, no one- size-fits-all answer to how we collaborate in the work of the kingdom: binding up the broken- hearted and setting the prisoners free. Teresa of Avila reminds us, “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.” What opportunities will come into your path this week? How will you collaborate with God and bless the world?