The Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
For many prayerful people, God’s love is largely theoretical. They can intellectually grasp that God is love, but they do not feel it. I have been among this class of people, and I have listened to others express a similar lament. When someone tells me they intellectually know that God is love but they do not feel it, I ask them the same question that was put to me when I felt this way: “Who is Jesus for you?” Often, this question takes people by surprise. Often, (and it was the case for me) there is an uncomfortable silence, and a level of uncertainty is expressed. For many prayerful people, Christians among them, even people who love God, and who desire to follow God; many of them remain ambivalent about Jesus. Continue reading
These are the end times. I said that to be provocative, though for some people, today, it may hit a little too close to home;[i] but it really is an end time.It’s the end of the liturgical year. In two weeks it will be Advent. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of expectant waiting for the Savior to come into the world for the first time. But that’s in two weeks. Now, it’s the end of the liturgical year, and so our readings are apocalyptic in tone in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. When will the Second Coming take place? Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first…. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[ii] Continue reading
2 Kings 5:1-15
Leprosy is a skin disease, though, in the Bible it is considered a state of ‘uncleanness’, rather than an illness. A person afflicted with leprosy is encouraged to present themselves to the priest, and not the physician. Leprosy is a spiritual condition, and we can understand it as a metaphor for an inward state of alienation. Unlovely, unwanted, lepers are relegated to the fringes of society, and are to be avoided. But most of us know that an unattractive skin disease is not a necessary condition for feeling estranged. Feelings of alienation, being misunderstood, not fitting-in, feeling “less-than”, and apart-from, being on the outside looking in, this is a real experience for many people. Alienation, the experience of not feeling as if one belongs, is a spiritual condition that Jesus came to save us from. Jesus came to save outcasts and sinners. The Bible often characterizes alienation metaphorically, as leprosy, which brings us to the story of Naaman from our first reading.[i] Continue reading
How did your journey to the Monastery begin?
I’m a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up going to church and was an acolyte, a crucifer, a torchbearer, and a server. I enjoyed the church youth group and socializing with kids my age in the fun activities they put on, but I found church boring. Like many people, I stopped going at the first opportunity. I don’t think I ever made the connection between being a church-going Episcopalian and having a relationship with Jesus. Certainly it was the receiver, not the message, that was broken, but that element wasn’t really communicated to me. So I left the church and became wayward (in my own way). Continue reading
All Souls’ Day – Preaching Series: Finding God in Harvard Square
This is the last in our preaching series, “Finding God in Harvard Square”, and the title of this sermon is, “The Soul of the Body.” It is the last of the series, suggesting perhaps that the body is the last place we may expect to find God.
This sort of thinking coincides with the feast we keep today, All Souls’ Day: The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, a day specifically set aside for remembering those who have died, those who, so far as we know, no longer have earthly bodies.
In many respects, we have been taught, and we do feel at times as though our bodies are mere vessels’.We may revere our bodies as temples at times, though we may also view our bodies as prisons which prevent us from living to our full potential. We may go back and forth. Many of us have ambiguous relationships with our bodies. Continue reading
When war broke out in heaven, Scripture tells us, “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world – he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”[i]
But just because Satan, literally God’s adversary, was cast out of heaven and thrown down to earth, does not mean the war is over. Just that the front line has moved.
In the calendar of the church, we keep today the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Michael is the angel who led the battle against God’s adversary in heaven. Michael’s name is the war-cry of the angels in heaven. Michael’s name means, “Who is like God?” It’s a question; a rhetorical question. No one is like God. When Satan desired in pride to be like God, he faced Michael. The name makes clear that no one is like God but God. Continue reading
On a recent visit to Emery House, a friend humorously remarked that waking up to his dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong is not quite the same as the real thing. What my friend said is funny, because it goes without saying. Of course it’s not the same! There is a lot more to the early mornings at Emery House than the gradual light of the sunrise and the frenetic clamor of birdsong. Waking up in clear and observable nature gives a person an awareness of being part of something larger, greater than one’s self. That’s why I like to pray here. Continue reading
Before we can be raised to newness of life; first of all, we have to die. That’s the part we don’t like; but there is no other path to resurrection. Before we can be raised to newness of life, first of all, we have to die; and we know that. Many of us have been there. Many of us can say that we have died; some of us more than once; and all of us are dying. That’s the part we don’t like. But it’s an indispensable part of our Christian identity: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. (1) That is our identity. We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life.
This is not a once and done thing, and we know that, too. Recognizing our identity in Christ Jesus is a lifelong process: we die and we rise, we fall down and get up, we are buried and raised over and over again. Before we can be raised to newness of life we have to die, and we know that. Continue reading
Shrove Tuesday, and the days leading up to it, are days for taking stock – inventory. ‘Shrove’ from the English word ‘shrive’, which means ‘to confess’; on Shrove Tuesday, we take stock, we confess what we find, and get rid of – use up – what doesn’t belong, in preparation for Lent.
The practice of taking stock and confessing has a long history in the Christian tradition. Beginning with the desert fathers and mothers of the 3Rd and 4th centuries; the desert monks placed a high priority on taking stock. “Pay attention to yourself,” the desert monks were fond of saying. (1) “Pay attention to yourself.” The desert monks were aware that the greatest danger facing human beings was self-deception; the kind of self-deception that denies the need for healing, the need for others, and the need for God. It’s the kind of self-deception that pretends to be God by trying to be perfect; but we are not perfect. I know; that’s not news. None of us really thinks we are perfect; far from it, usually. But isn’t it true that many of us often try to be perfect, don’t we often try to be good, try to do better, and isn’t it frustrating? The desert monks recognized this tendency in themselves. They recognized the tendency in themselves to try and be perfect so they could be close to God, and they saw it did not work. They recognized this tendency in the desert, and they found an answer in the desert: “Pay attention to yourself!” Continue reading
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Those who have faith have confidence. Confidence literally means ‘with faith’. From the Latin ‘con fides’, meaning ‘with fidelity’. Confidence literally means ‘with faith’.
Faith is belief that is not based on visible proof or evidence. “[F]aith is the assurance of things hoped for,” we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is belief that is not based on visible proof or evidence, and those who have faith have confidence. They know who God is, and they know what God can do. They trust in God’s promise, they trust in God’s power, and they trust in God’s provision. Those who have faith have confidence. Continue reading
The Feast of St. Agnes
Today the church tells the story of Agnes. The story of Agnes is a dark story, and Christians have been telling it for 1600 years. Agnes was a beautiful girl who attracted many suitors, though she rebuffed them all because she wanted to remain a virgin, and be faithful to God alone. As a result, Agnes suffered a cruel death which violated her sexuality. She was twelve years old.
So what are we to make of this story? The early church Fathers praised Agnes’ courage and chastity, and remarked upon her name, which means ’pure’ in Greek and ‘lamb’ in Latin. In the Gospel reading for today Jesus encourages us to ‘become like children,’ and perhaps what is important to us in Agnes’ story is the exemplification of a certain kind of innocence and purity of heart that Kierkegaard describes as ‘willing one thing’. Continue reading
The significance of Christmas is not that it’s a birthday. The significance of Christmas is that God becomes flesh and blood. The significance of Christmas is that God becomes Jesus; and everything changes. Everything changes when Jesus comes, and we need to remember that.
In the time before Jesus comes (the time of expectant waiting) God is distant. God deals with his chosen people – the Israelites – by imposing rules, laws, and commandments through intermediaries, like Moses. In the time before Jesus comes, God doesn’t even show his face. Continue reading
“Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?”
Being lost is terrible. In the wilderness, it is particularly distressing. When we are lost in the wilderness, every leaf and tree looks the same, we become increasingly bewildered, may wander in circles, and wonder whether we have passed this way before. And though few of us, perhaps, have been lost to the extent of being life-threatened; most of us, I suspect, can identify with the feeling of being uncomfortably lost. When we realize we are lost our hearts race, or sink. We feel confused, and very frustrated. Depression sets in. We get anxious; and – if we are all alone and it is getting dark – progressively, hopeless. Being lost is terrible. Being lost makes us want to cry out: for help, for recognition; to let somebody – anybody! – know we are lost. “Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?” And how much hope does a response bring! Somebody is out there! Somebody knows we are lost, and will find us! A response is the answer to the no doubt innumerable prayers that have been uttered; the answer to the deepest longing of our heart: We are found! The wilderness is the place we get lost, but the wilderness is also the place we are found. Continue reading
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many of us may have been asked this question, and maybe we’ve asked this question. We ask it to inspire children and young adults to dream, to give them hope, and to open their eyes to a world of possibilities. We ask this question to make young people aware of the freedom and responsibility they have in forming their own identity. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But, we also this question to set limits. To make clear that though faced at times with a dizzying array of options and possibilities, one cannot do everything. One must choose what one wants to be, and that always means not choosing something else. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Continue reading
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
It’s Not Good to Be the King (It’s Better to Be a Servant)
Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of the figureheads of a constitutional monarchy, symbols of leadership without actual power. Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of the kings of legend and fantasy; or, we may think of feudal kings, endowed with divine right, their hierarchical kingdoms ruled absolutely, and often tyrannically, by the king. Kings and their kingdoms may lead us to think of these things, all of it sounding to us the empty, outdated, unfair political remnant of a bygone age. Continue reading
The freedom we enjoy in this country is hard won. Men and Women fought and are fighting for this country so we can be free. Fighting so we can be free to govern our lives as we wish; fighting so we can be free to live the lives we choose.
This is not the kind of freedom Jesus promises. The kind of freedom Jesus promises does not depend on us doing what we want, or living the lives we choose. True freedom of the spirit, as Jesus provides it, is having peace when we can’t do what we want. It’s being forgiving when people get in our way, and we can’t live the lives we choose. It’s being loving when we are disappointed, and even hurt by other people. True freedom of the spirit is being able to meet the conditions of our lives consistently, no matter how agreeable or disagreeable, no matter how good or bad other people behave, true freedom of the spirit is being able to meet the conditions of our lives consistently, with peace, with forgiveness, and with love. Continue reading
Jesus uses the image of masters and slaves, as much as any other, to characterize our relationship to God, and to the world. For us, we may not be so quick to identify with the image of masters and slaves as Jesus’ first hearers were. Yet, many of us, I suspect, know something about being a slave; that is, we know something about being owned, being bound, being controlled by something other than God. Perhaps it’s wealth that we are owned by, as Jesus suggests. Perhaps we are slaves to obsessions and compulsions; addictions, in a word, that dictate what we do, where we go, and who we associate with. It may be that pride is calling the shots, or maybe lust is your master; it might be greed, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony, but we don’t have to specialize. Continue reading
One of the great strengths of the Christian faith is that it does not shy away from the fact of pain and suffering. We worship a crucified Lord. We worship a God who knew pain.
Jesus says we too will have pain, and none of us probably need reminded of that. What we might need reminded of is that Jesus promises that our pain – much like the pain of childbirth – our pain will be turned to joy. “So you have pain now,” Jesus says, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” We don’t just worship a crucified Lord; we worship a resurrected and ascended Lord. Our faith is the assurance that though we will have pain – and all of us have, and many of us do – though we will have pain, our faith is the assurance that there is hope, and there is resurrection. When we see Jesus again, and we will, our pain will be turned to joy. Continue reading
The metaphor of thirst is used throughout the Gospel of John to characterize the believer’s relationship to the spirit. Whoever comes to me, Jesus says, will never be thirsty, for, “Out of the believer’s heart”, or as the Greek renders it, out of the believer’s belly, “shall flow rivers of living water.”(1) Yet, Jesus himself cries from the cross in his final hour, “I thirst,” suggesting, perhaps, that this side of the grave our deepest longing – our thirst – for wholeness, for union, for belonging, will not be quenched. Continue reading
If you have ever experienced jealousy, and few of us are exempt I imagine, then you know how imperialistic an emotion it can be. Rooted in comparisons, jealousy drives our attention away from what is good and positive in our own lives, and forces us to focus instead on what we what we lack, on what we desire but do not have, or, on what we do possess and are afraid to lose. It might be the attention and affection of another; or, someone else’s success, health, wealth, a beautiful home, a devoted partner, a dream job, a white-picket fence. Jealousy drives our attention to some privilege we see or imagine others enjoy, which, because it is lacking in our own lives, suddenly appears, in the time of jealousy, essential to our happiness and well-being. Continue reading