Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate one of our core doctrines: that is, that God is both one and a trinity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As an ancient explanation puts it: “…the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God…the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal…the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.” That is from a 6th century formulation often called the “Creed of Saint Athanasius” which you can find in the back of the prayer book. It’s actually not from Athanasius, but has a more complicated history—and if you’d like to know more about it, please make your request known to the Great Google…
The early Church believed that the understanding of God as a Trinity was foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” [Gen. 1:26] And in the story of Abraham at the oaks of Mamre it says the Lord appeared to Abraham as three men, to whom Abraham bows low and addresses as “lord” (singular). And in Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple, the seraphs sing not one “holy”, but three: holy, holy, holy. These are all tenuous connections to the modern mind, but earlier generations made much of these poetic resonances, because that’s the way they thought about things. (By the way, the familiar Rublev icon of the Holy Trinity is often called the “Hospitality of Abraham” in reference to that story. The icon in the chapel this morning is one written by Br. Eldridge.) Continue reading →
Over this past week, I have had the privilege of leading a retreat for men and women who are preparing for ordination. We’ve been reflecting on, and praying about the mystery of vocation. And “vocation” is the theme of the days of this week, which are called Ember Days. Each day this week we have been praying for those who have a vocation, and in particular those who have been called to ministry.
Today is the last of these Ember Days, and today’s collect is about vocation – but it’s about your vocation and mine. “We pray for all members of the holy church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you.”
If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation! So what is a vocation? Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get. You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation! I don’t think that’s quite right. I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity. It is discovering who it is that you most truly are. Continue reading →
When I was a small boy my father usually read to me from a story book at bed time, before I said my night time prayers and went to sleep. When my grandmother was visiting, usually once or twice a year, she would tell me a Bible story. One of the earliest of those that I remember was the story of the boy Samuel in the Temple that we heard as today’s first reading.
I was too young to understand why Samuel was sleeping in the Temple, but I understood enough to know that he was there learning to serve God. Continue reading →
This conversation between Jesus and Peter took place after Jesus’ resurrection, when Jesus has gone back to Galilee to find Peter. Peter was hiding. The three questions Jesus asks Peter must have been, agonizing for Peter, who at Jesus’ crucifixion had denied he as much as even knew Jesus. Denied three times.
Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” The Greek verb Jesus uses for “love” is agapan, which is a self-sacrificial love, a laying-down-your-life kind of love, it’s the love of the ultimate self-giving of one’s life, the very thing we understand Jesus offered in his death on the cross. That’s Jesus’ question of Peter: “Do you love me in such a way that you would offer up your life for me, just as I have for you?” Peter responds to Jesus, “I love you.” But Peter uses a different Greek verb for love. He uses philein, the kind of love we have for our close friends or mates. A better English translation of the word Peter uses in response is “fond.” Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me, the ultimate kind of love for me as I have shown for you?” Peter responds, “I am fond of you.” Continue reading →
Ephesians 5: 15-20
Psalm 57: 6-11
Matthew 24: 42-47
Have you ever thought you were born at the wrong time? Something about a different time period fascinates you and you think to yourself, “I would love to have been born then”. Perhaps that was 100 years ago or even 500 years ago. Maybe you want to sail with Columbus or walk the land bridge that once linked Asia with North America. Perhaps you can see yourself walking the roads of first century Palestine or being there when the Great Wall of China was built. Maybe it is not the past that fascinates you, but the future. Perhaps you want to be alive when space travel is routine or life is discovered on a distant planet or the cure cancer or AIDS is finally discovered. Continue reading →
Who will the Messiah be? In the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) the coming Messiah is described in language that soars with heraldry and hope, with glory and majesty. The Messiah would be The Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Holy One, Lamb of God, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, The Root of David, The Lord God Almighty, The Word of Life, Author and Finisher of our Faith, The Advocate, The Way, The Dayspring, The Lord of All, Son of God, The Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, The Truth, The Savior, The Chief Cornerstone, The King of Kings, The Righteous Judge, The Light of the World, The Morning Star, The Sun of Righteousness, The Chief Shepherd, The Resurrection and the Life, The Horn of Salvation, the Governor, The Alpha and Omega. And then we discover this Messiah is born quite a commoner in a very common way, living among us. We are introduced to him, not by title but by name, Jesus, and we are invited to use the name. “Call him Jesus.” Use his name. This may give you real freedom in your relationship to God: Continue reading →
In 2012, I left work and school for a while so I could be with my father in the final weeks of his life. It was a difficult time of anxious, exhausted waiting — even with the blessing of a wonderful hospice team. My family and I patiently attended to my father’s needs, being as fully present for him as possible, our one wish being that his final passage be as peaceful and loving as possible. Making it more bearable were small moments of gifted grace — a random smile from my dad, a comment or mannerism that would usher in good memories, or just the touch of his hand.
Not long after my father died, I returned to the life I had left, relying on God’s love and compassion to help me through the painful grieving. On one occasion I found myself asking God for just one more chance to hold my father’s hand, just once more. I remember feeling a little guilty for asking the impossible, but it also felt right and honest — it just happened to be exactly what my heart most needed to ask. Continue reading →
If you could have one treasure in this world that would be a source of unending joy and happiness, what would it be and what means would you expend in order to obtain it? Now if you received an e-mail from someone who said they could procure this treasure and it was yours at no expense as long as you travelled to pick it up, would you be suspicious? Or would you drop everything and go out of your way to pick it up trusting the word of the proprietor? Our gospel lesson this evening is a very small portion from what is commonly known as the ‘sermon on the mount.’ (1) Matthew says that Jesus’ fame was spreading throughout the region and that people were seeking him out as far away as ‘Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.’ People were suffering in body, mind, and spirit and Jesus’ words and actions were giving the hope and healing that were so desperately needed. Due to the growing demands of his ministry it was necessary for Jesus and his disciples to withdraw from the crowds for moments of respite where they could enjoy fellowship and process all that they had experienced. Continue reading →
As many of you know, at the end of next week I am going to England to preside at the wedding of my niece Katherine and her fiancé Michael. I’m really excited about it, and I’ve been poring over the Church of England marriage ceremony online, so that I’ll look as if I know what I’m doing! I haven’t married anyone for quite a few years, and it was certainly one of the joys of being a parish priest. I have always understood Holy Matrimony as a sacrament: that God’s Holy Spirit comes down upon two individuals, and through a deep mystery, makes them one. In the words of the Church of England rite, “The couple shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.”
They are changed. God’s Spirit has the power to change us. As a sign of this change, couples often change one or the other’s surname, and wear a ring of their finger. I’m no longer who I was. I have been changed. Continue reading →
In the calendar of the church we remember today a fourth-century Bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus, which is modern-day southern Turkey. (1) Gregory, a faithful pastor, was known to be wise. In the scriptures, wisdom is the gift extolled above all others for how to make meaning of life. In our first lesson today, from The Book of Wisdom, we hear: “I preferred [wisdom] to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with [wisdom].” Wisdom gives the highest yield in life. Wisdom is a deep knowledge, more than simply clicking onto information. As you well know, you can browse through an almost-infinite stream of facts and stats about life, an endless array of “horizontal information,” surfing life only at the surface. None of this automatically translates into wisdom. Continue reading →
I was thinking about apologizing for the topic of my sermon this evening, but I’ve changed my mind. The image that comes to mind is a dog chasing after a freight train, and what the dog would do if it actually caught the train. At best, the dog might end up chewing on some small part of the train he could sink his teeth into, say, like a dangling rope. But he would probably be oblivious to the sheer magnitude of the unchewable. I had thought to make excuses, but then I thought, well, no: it’s always like that. Every sermon is a bit like a dog trying to catch and sink its teeth into something far too big. Preachers can be good at creating the illusion of certainty or clarity or comprehensiveness. But such illusions should be met with a certain amount of skepticism. So, I’ll carry on. Continue reading →
In our busy lives – with endless emails to return and to-do lists to complete – the call to spiritual fruitfulness can feel like one more task too many. Yet, as Br. David Vryhof reminds us, our fruitfulness has its source in God. “As branches we receive the life of the vine and pass it along to others. The fruitfulness is not ours, but God’s. God is its source; God alone.”
I John 4:7-21
We live in a culture that expects us to be fruitful and productive. We are encouraged to produce, to accomplish, to achieve. We are rewarded for our efforts and applauded for our successes. Our ability to produce or to achieve heightens our worth in the eyes of others, and often in our own eyes as well. We feel good about ourselves when we are able to accomplish important tasks or achieve ‘success’; we despair when we feel that we have accomplished little, or when our accomplishments seem less significant than those of others.
God is interested in our fruitfulness and productivity as well, but in ways that are significantly different from those which society values. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus reveals the source and secret of fruitfulness, drawing on the familiar imagery of the vine and the branches. I’d like to explore that image with you this morning, by looking at three things: (1) the source of fruitfulness; (2) the secret of fruitfulness; and (3) the signs of fruitfulness. Continue reading →
Saint John the Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple
and the Centenary of Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915)
The emptiness of the tomb marks a caesura, a break, in the story of Jesus. There was his life of ministry, then his passion and death, and then…. The empty tomb. Now what? Then the encounters with the Risen Christ began. The accounts of those meetings have a spooky air about them, rather like Elvis sightings. Is it him or is it not? Immediately following this Gospel, Mary turns and sees a man she presumes to be a gardener. He asks why she is weeping, and she tells him why, begging him to give her the body of her crucified Teacher. The gardener then calls her by name, “Mary,” and she knows it’s Jesus: “Rabbouni.” Her instinct is to reach out, to embrace, but he tells her no. Things have changed: between them, between him and all the disciples.
We see that change in other stories about the Risen Lord. We meet a curiously learned stranger on the road. Only after hours spent together does he pick up a loaf of bread, bless and break it, and suddenly we know: it is Jesus. And just as we recognize him, he is gone.
We’ve been fishing all night, catching nothing, and a guy on the shore shouts a fishing tip at us. We’re desperate, so we give it a try, and are amazed: the fish really are on the right side of the boat. And then we know…. it is the Lord. Continue reading →
Isaiah 30:18–21; 2 Corinthians 4:1–7; John 14:6–14
Today we celebrate the roles played by Saint Philip and Saint James as apostles to Jesus, although we don’t really have much to go on. In the case of James, he’s one of a number of James mentioned in the New Testament. The list includes James the son of Zebedee who was frequently mentioned alongside Peter; there’s James the Just, called “brother of the Lord,” who’s described as an important leader in Jerusalem; and then there’s James the writer of one of the New Testament letters. But the James we celebrate today isn’t any of them, and in fact, besides his being listed as an apostle, that’s the only other thing we know about James, who he wasn’t. And so he winds up getting stuck with the somewhat inglorious title James the Less. Continue reading →