Faith in a Seed – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

John 18:1 – 19:42

Our efforts cultivating the fruit of the earth were modest at best, because growing up in Brooklyn meant not have having much gardening space. In our backyard, we had a few small rectangles of soil in which to plant our hopes for fresh vegetables and herbs. We experimented with everything from eggplants to pumpkins, but what I remember most is the tomato plants tended by my father and grandfather, taller than me at the time and filled with beautiful ripe tomatoes. That such a prodigious crop could come from so tiny a handful of seeds never ceased to amaze me. And after we had planted the seeds for next season, I waited with a mixture of hope and awe for what seemed like a miracle, new tomato plants rising from the ground in which the seeds were buried.

Nowadays, many of us who live in cities don’t consider anything about our food very miraculous, and we probably aren’t familiar with placing all our faith in a seed. But the lives of our ancestors, certainly in Jesus’ time, were intimately woven with nature’s cycles of death and new life. The fruit of each plant gives its life for the rich potential of its seeds, and each seed itself must die so to bring forth new growth. Continue reading

The Radical Practice of Rest – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Matthew 11:28–30

There is within us all a very sacred place, a gift of stillness, light, and love central to our being. We could call it our heart or soul or the indwelling of Christ. It’s at once a point of utter nothingness, while also giving birth to all things in heaven and on earth. It’s a place capable of holding with infinite gentleness both incredible beauty and terrible pain. Against all reason, it’s the place God chooses to call home, and so it’s our home, too. It’s the place where Christ is born, and from where we share Christ’s love and compassion in the world. It’s God’s eternal Kingdom within us, our common inheritance as children of Light.

Very often, though, it seems so difficult to even visit this place, let alone claim our inheritance. We live our lives as if in a dream, where we’re separate from God and from all there is, and often we don’t even realize we’re dreaming. But then something happens, we start feeling restless, a part us senses our perpetual slumber, and we desire something more: to awaken to God’s Loving Presence, and dwell in that sacred place. And our Beloved God is encouraging us all the time, tirelessly offering this generous gift. Unfortunately, we tend to slumber deeply, but there is a way of being more receptive to this gift, and it’s truly very, very simple. Continue reading

Another Way – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Mark 9.2-13

I remember, or maybe I was told, how one day Little Nick clung to his mother’s leg for dear life. It was the first day of kindergarten, and I suppose I was wondering something like “What kind of madness is this? Am I supposed to leave the warmth and safety of Mom for a strange and scary world?” I don’t want to go.

Later, waking up one morning, and feeling a new love pressed close under the cozy blankets, I begin to think of certain responsibilities. “Do I really need to go to work today? Can’t I just stay here in bed, wonderfully entangled with my beloved under the covers. The world seems so cold and cruel by comparison.” I don’t want to go. Continue reading

The Meeting Place of Our Heart – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Genesis 1:20-2:4

While growing up, I was fascinated by questions like “What does it mean to be a human being? What makes us who we are? Why are we the way are?” I would read a lot of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and probably a few more “ologies” I can’t remember at the moment. And it was all very interesting, if ultimately not quite as enlightening as I had hoped. And I remember often encountering one particular sort of statement about human beings that would always give me pause, a doubtful, skeptical kind of pause. It was the kind of statement that would compare humans, usually very favorably, to other forms of life on our planet. Continue reading

A Christmas Wish – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Matthew 3.1-12

Once upon a time, not too long ago, in a place not very far away, there lived a perfectly ordinary man with one curious habit. Whenever he would greet people, instead of saying “hello,” or “how are you?” he would instead wish them a “Merry Christmas!” It didn’t matter the season, winter, spring, summer, or fall. It didn’t matter if it was the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or if it happened to be your birthday. No matter the day or occasion, and for no occasion at all, he would always wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.” I imagine this seemed odd and perhaps confusing to people, especially at other times of the liturgical year like Advent, Lent, or Easter. Continue reading

An Ordinary Friday Miracle – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Luke 4:14-21

I remember very well one particularly horrible Thursday in 2009, it might have even been my worst Thursday ever. I had laid myself down on a couch in the student lounge, barely moving for long stretches of time, eyes staring blankly at nothing in particular, overcome by a very painful depression. Kind-hearted souls would wander by, sitting beside me, offering words of support and encouragement, but I hardly ever glanced at them, let alone responded. It was like being trapped in a deep pit filled only with darkness, suffocated by loneliness, and paralyzed by some unnamable anguish. It felt as though there was not even a sliver of hope, no hope at all for any kind of reprieve, restoration, or healing.

But when it comes to the gospel of Christ, healing and stories of healing seem to go hand in hand with the good news of God’s Kingdom. Wherever Jesus went to spread the gospel, healing seems close at hand. Depending on how they’re counted we can find 30 to 40 healing stories in the gospels. Saint Luke the Evangelist, whom we celebrate today, includes the most which makes sense since Luke is thought to have been a physician, and the healing of body, mind, and spirit would have been crucial elements of his life and writing. He also might have felt a special bond to Jesus since Jesus referred to himself as a physician, ministering and being present for those who were unwell, those needing to be made whole, those suffering and wounded. Continue reading

A Wonderful Story – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Luke 15.1-10

I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, or at least I’m pretty sure the plan was for me to be raised Roman Catholic. When I was still very young I turned away from the church, because parts of my early experience served to alienate me from all things religious or spiritual. But, one thing I do remember enjoying as a child was all the great stories.

Even the gospels considered on their own are filled will wonderful stories about the life and ministry of Jesus, and we know that Jesus himself used stories and parables as one of his primary ways of sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom. Maybe that’s because Jesus grew up formed by the rich tapestry of story and poetry in Hebrew scripture, and maybe it’s because these kinds of stories can offer us so many levels of meaning through which God speaks to us. Today, for example, we heard the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, stories about the joy of finding something lost, some small part of the whole that needs to be recovered and embraced. We’ll begin by looking at the inner meaning, the message leading us to our heart of hearts. Continue reading

Sermons for the Beach: Hermitage of the Heart

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During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, rest, solitude, and recreation.

Br. Nicholas BartoliMark 6:30–34

Jesus embodied stillness and solitude, and he cultivated a kind of hermitage of his own heart, an oasis in a desert where his Father in heaven lived in the mystery of infinite love and compassion. To nourish this place, Jesus often retreated somewhere alone to pray or meditate, and in the reading today Jesus offers a similar experience of solitude to his disciples, inviting them into a deserted place. The Greek word translated as “deserted place” can also be translated as the wilderness or the desert. The root of the word means “lonely” and in fact the New Jerusalem Bible translation has Jesus inviting his disciples into a “lonely place.” The question is, why would anyone want to go to a lonely place?  Continue reading

The Sower of Seeds – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Matthew 13:1-9

Within each of us our Beloved God has planted a seed, and if we can say the Holy One prays for anything, it might be simply that this seed bears good fruit. As followers of the Way of Jesus, that’s our prayer, too, for ourselves and for each other, that  the seeds take root, sprout, and grow.

When Jesus walked ancient Palestine, people were very intimate with the earth and the cycles of seasons, in ways most us in urban societies might find hard to imagine. That’s why agriculture metaphors like this resonated so strongly for those listening to Jesus. Sowing seeds, for example, suggests a spirituality rooted in the ground of being in the world just as we find it, while also suggesting a sense of urgency since the fate of seeds could be a matter of life and death for people relying on the land to bear its fruit. The parable of the sower, in particular, must have struck a chord, because we find it in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, and even in the gospel of Thomas.

Continue reading

Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Acts 8:4-24
Mark 1:9-15

This is the first of a series of sermons on the five marks of mission, five aspects of the mission that Christians are called to in the world. This list was developed by the Anglican Communion and endorsed by the Episcopal Church as a helpful framework within which we can better understand our calling to the mission of Christ. The five marks of mission are: 1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; 2) To teach, baptize and nurture new believers; 3) To respond to human need by loving service; 4) To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation; and 5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. Continue reading

Joining the Dance – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Maundy Thursday – 1 Cor 11.23-26
John 13.1-7, 31b-35

Saint John the Evangelist opens the fourth gospel with some of the most beautiful and majestic lines in the entire bible. “In the beginning was the Word,” he writes, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” He was “the light of all people. The light [that] shines in the darkness…” John also tells us how “…the Word became flesh and lived among us,” and how “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”.

Then, sometime later, John shares with us how the eternal Word made flesh, the source of all being, the bright light shining in the darkness, and the glory of God… offers to get down onto the ground and wash the dusty feet of some of his friends. Now, to say the disciples had a very high regard for Jesus would be a huge understatement, and so Peter, for example, was utterly shocked by the mere suggestion. Continue reading

The Soul of Intimacy – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

1 John 4:16b-19,
Psalm 91:1-6,
John 21:20-23

There’s a ghost-like, ephemeral butterfly, who’s been given the scientific name Leptosia nina. Her flight, like a wandering snowflake, is weak and erratic, as she hovers close to the ground, pausing now and again to flitter playfully near a flower or drink from morning dew. Her delicate wings are a translucent, pearly white, each having a small, dark spot, the color of ashen shadow. Her common name is psyche, which in Greek is both the word for butterfly, and the word translated as “soul” in the New Testament. It’s a word that suggests the deepest and most essential part of our being, the place where our most sacred truths live, and where, in moments of stillness and grace, Christ is born in our hearts.

In this light, psychology could be understood as the study of the soul, and psychiatry the healing of the soul. Now, I suppose those definitions might seem ambitious, or in the medical model perhaps even nonsensical, but long before there were fields called psychology or psychiatry, the wholeness of a human being was considered a soul made well again. Admittedly, this begs the question: what is a healthy soul, and what is a soul like when it’s not healthy? John Sanford, in his book The Kingdom Within, suggests that a soul’s primary purpose is one of relationship, relationship to self, to others, and to God. To the extent that a soul is healthy, those relationships are loving and nourishing. For an unhealthy soul, those relationships are broken, painful, or absent. And so our soul is yearning to share itself in the kind of open, authentic, and loving relationship we call intimacy. Continue reading

Unknowing God – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliExodus 40.16-21,34-38

The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century guide to Christian contemplative prayer, uses God’s appearances to Moses, or theophanies, as models for how we experience God’s continuing revelation in the world. For example, the Old Testament image of a pillar of cloud symbolizes the unknowing of God through a kind of negating of everything we think we know, while a pillar of fire symbolizes the way of affirmation, knowing God through qualities we affirm through images, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Continue reading

Relating to Oneness – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliEphesians 2:11–22

God is one, and the many religions of the world are like many paths up the same mountain, or like many rivers emptying into one great ocean. Then again, maybe not. Maybe God is not one, in the sense that religions are so radically different in their beliefs, practices, their understanding of the human condition and the nature of reality that any talk of oneness threatens to gloss over some very important distinctions, distinctions that define who we are as Christians.

The question of how religions of the world understand and relate to each other is an important one, especially in today’s world where religious violence and harassment continue to rise, a world that cries out for more interfaith tolerance and cooperation. Of course, this is hardly a new problem. In our reading from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians we’re reminded of the tensions between  the gentiles and Jews of long ago. Today, however, with the world seeming ever smaller, our opportunities to encounter those of different religious traditions has grown in ways Paul could never have imagined. Continue reading

A Message for Michael – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Matthew 8:1–4

When I was growing up I remember really liking my Uncle Michael – we used to call him Uncle Mickey. I didn’t get to see him very often, but I so looked forward to his visits. I only found out much later why he didn’t come to visit us more. He felt ashamed, he thought we wouldn’t want to see him, he believed he wasn’t worth seeing. You could say he felt “unclean.”

The notion of uncleanness  was a very important one in ancient Jewish culture, and it was applied to both food and people. Reasons for such laws included, for example, concerns over hygiene or the creation of a unique Jewish identity. Originally, they were never meant to indicate a person’s state of sin or social worth, but by the time of Jesus being pronounced “unclean” could put you in the category of moral failure and social outcast. Continue reading

Real Presence -åÊBr. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliCorpus Christi
John 6:47–58

The Episcopal Church web site speaks of a certain ambivalence towards the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the feast we celebrate today. The ambivalence is born from the differing points of view concerning the traditional focus of the feast, namely the Real Presence (capital “R,” capital “P”) of Jesus Christ in the sacrament. Real Presence refers to Jesus Christ is being really present in the consecrated bread and wine, and not present in some lesser way. But what do we mean by “really” present? Continue reading

Answered Prayers – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliJohn 16:23b–28

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

The Play’s åÊthe Thing – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliIsaiah 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

Show Me Your Resurrection – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliLuke 24:36b–48

There’s a story about a Zen Buddhist monk who visited St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This monk so appreciated the prayer and quiet that he offered to lead a retreat for the monks at Spencer incorporating some aspects of his Zen practice. The retreat included features such as short interviews during which the instructor would offer the student a “koan”. A koan is a statement or question not so much meant to be answered rationally, but rather meant to provoke some lived response or certain kind of awareness. One day, one of the Spencer monks entered the interview room, sat down, and noticed a copy of the New Testament sitting open before the Zen monk, who smiled, and said “I like Christianity. But… I would not like it without resurrection.” Then he leaned forward very close to the Spencer monk and said “Show me your resurrection… That is your koan. Show me your resurrection.” Continue reading

Super or Man? – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliLuke 2:41–52

In 1933, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ushered in the age of the comic book superhero when they created the character “Superman.” Superman went on to become a cultural icon, and is often credited with the success of the superhero genre we see today. He’s faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! He’s a strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Disguised as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, he fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! Continue reading