Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Though cautiously doing so by night, still, Nicodemus feels compelled to come to Jesus. This elder, a respected leader among the religious authorities, comes to see the mysterious rabbi from Galilee. However, mere curiosity does not motivate Nicodemus’ visit. He seems, rather, to be one of the “many [who] believed in [Jesus’s] name because they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23) during that first Jerusalem Passover festival at which Jesus appears in John’s gospel.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”(John 3:2) Nicodemus, I would say, exhibits a certain amount of courage and imagination. Courage in approaching Jesus in the wake of his disruptive action in the temple; imagination in that though there is much that Nicodemus already knows of God, he comes to Jesus aware that there is likely still much that he does not know. Continue reading
Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Thess 1:1-4, 11-12
Several years ago, I found myself in Jericho. I was there with a group of pilgrims and we had stopped off to see the excavations. Jericho is thought to be the oldest city in the world and is of course the scene of that famous battle when the people of Israel marched around Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. But we hear about Jericho in the gospels as well. It was to Jericho that the man who fell among thieves was going and about whom Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was in Jericho that Jesus healed the blind man, whom Mark names at Bartimaeus. And it is of course where our gospel story takes place today. Continue reading
Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ
Take a moment to remember the last baptism you witnessed. Perhaps you can recall the proud parents and godparents, dressed in their Sunday best, standing around the baptismal font. In their arms they hold their young, freshly-bathed child, hoping that she won’t create a fuss. Before them stands the minister or priest, neatly dressed in suit and tie, or robe, or colorful vestments. The font stands ready. The congregation looks on with curiosity and pleasure, wondering how the child will respond to what is about to happen. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene. It is a family occasion, a beautiful moment that will long be remembered. Continue reading
“The Son of Man was revealed….” In my prayer on the scriptures appointed for today, this snippet from the 1st letter of John is what jumped off the page at me. “The Son of Man was revealed.” It almost has a game show quality to it doesn’t it? It’s as if we’re watching “The Price is Right” and Bob Barker has just asked Rod Roddy to reveal to us what is behind door number one. What are we going to see? What is going to be revealed? In the gospel lessons yesterday and today, John the Baptist is the equivalent to our Rod Roddy. John is revealing the Messiah, the long hoped for deliverer of Israel, the one spoken about by the prophets. John says “Here is the Lamb of God!” Continue reading
If any of you were present at the Red Sox’ victory parade in Boston yesterday, you may have some sympathy for Zaccheus, the undersized tax collector who scrambled up a tree to catch a glimpse of a local celebrity as he passed by. It was a bold move, one which would have invited the ridicule of others, but Zaccheus, I think, was used to the ridicule of others. As a chief tax collector, Zaccheus was implicated in the corrupt and oppressive rule of the Romans over the Jews. He was a man on the margins of society, despised by his fellow-Jews and used by the Romans. But some strong desire – perhaps the fruit of his own unhappiness – compels him to look for Jesus, about whom he had undoubtedly heard so much. He climbs a tree to see Jesus, but is surprised when Jesus sees him, and invites him to come down and share a meal with him, an act of generosity that upsets the crowd. “All that saw it began to grumble, and said, ‘he has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’” (vs.7). The result of the meeting, however, is a dramatic conversion, in which Zaccheus promises to give half of his worldly goods to the poor, and to make restitution to all those whom he has cheated.
In the calendar of the church we remember today the life and witness of a seventh-century monk from Rome named Paulinus. In year 625, Paulinus was made a bishop. He was among the second generation of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory I to assist Augustine in evangelizing England. The church historian, the Venerable Bede, described Paulinus as “a tall man with a slight stoop. He had black hair, an ascetic face, a thin hooked nose, and a venerable and awe-inspiring presence.”[i] Paulinus began his work in York, where there were already a few Christians. Paulinus engaged in long private conversations about the Christian faith with King Edwin. The king sought advice from his councilors, whether he should become a Christian. One of the councilors responded by telling a parable: Continue reading
“So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.’”
Jacob wrestling the angel until daybreak is surely one of the more mysterious and dramatic episodes of the Bible. Jacob not only prevails, but he is given a new name, a new identity: Israel. Continue reading
I came to live in this country in 1999 – fourteen years ago. When I first came here, I missed England so much. In the first few months in the Monastery, I would spend much of my time remembering my former life: filled with a mixture of homesickness and nostalgia. I think I lived most of my conscious life at a point somewhere half-way across the Atlantic!
Jesus never ceases to amaze me. We read in this passage how he lived his mission. He taught wherever he travelled. He told the people how transformative love can truly be. And he manifested that love through “curing every disease and every sickness.” While travelling he interacted with many people who were “harassed and helpless”. He met and saw people who were abused, mistreated, and left for dead. People who had lost their trust and hope. People whose outlook in life was diminished by living day to day without a hint of change. People who found more comfort in death than in life, because life can be incredibly painful. Continue reading
Acts of the Apostles 9:1-20
I wonder how many of you remember Kathryn Kuhlman. Ms. Kuhlman, who died in 1976, was a well known evangelist and faith healer. Her television program featured a now familiar mix of preaching, music (with Dino at the piano) and faith healings. Ms. Kuhlman began each of her broadcasts with these very carefully enunciated words, “I believe in miracles” or more precisely in Ms. Kuhlman’s own inimitable pronunciation, “I believe-a in miracles.” Continue reading
Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are here together in this lovely church to be still before a great and mighty wonder. On this holy night God spoke one word, which was his Son. And the word was made flesh – and we have come to worship and adore him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the shepherd at the end, playing the pipes. And the shepherd gazing at Jesus, while gently and with immense care and affection, holding his sheep. And right at the far end the straggler camel, coming behind everyone else. And there, right in the middle, the beautiful figure of Joseph, with his hands cupped, looking at Mary and Jesus with adoration, amazement, wonder. Continue reading
“Their sound has gone out into all lands…” So goes a bit of Psalm 19. Our sermons now go out into all lands on the Internet. So I hesitate to admit what I’m about to, lest I expose myself to international ridicule and opprobrium. Others will have to decide whether to suppress this confession in the electronic media: some days, when I feel like I could use a little self-indulgence, I make my way over to Burdick’s Chocolate Shop. Then I order a pot of tea and “a little somethin’”. The “little somethin’” is usually a slice of their chocolate mousse cake: a thin but intense layer of chocolate ganache on top, then a thick, creamy layer of chocolate mousse, and at the bottom, a layer of chocolate sponge cake—soaked in Poire William, (that’s the liqueur that comes with a whole pear inside the bottle). Three clearly differentiated layers unified in a common theme: chocolate! Three manifestations of chocolate in one glorious epiphany. Hallelujah for chocolate! It makes me happy to know that something in this world can be so delicious.
You may have heard me say in the past that the Christian faith, and specifically the liturgical cycle of feasts and fasts is one of the few ways that connects many of us to the world around or rather, under us. In the past few decades wide open spaces have turned into strip malls. Soil has become a toxic waste, and our feet rarely touch the ground. It is not because we have finally discovered how to fly. Rather it is because out cities have become concrete canyons. In places like Toronto and Montreal there exist a labyrinthine system of tunnels and underground shops, office buildings and walkways which connect most of the downtown to the subway system. There you never have to go outside to swelter on a hot and humid July afternoon, or freeze on a frigid February morning. We have become observers to the world outside us, sheltered from the elements by air conditioning and central heating. Electricity extends the day, far beyond nightfall and what we can do and when we can do it is no longer limited by our need to cooperate with nature, but rather by our ability to harness it. Continue reading
The New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini had an article over the weekend about his encounter as a twelve year old with the Ballades of Chopin—actually, the first one in G Minor, and, especially, a certain three-note turn of phrase toward the beginning. He goes on to write about those musical moments that are so powerful that, in an instant, indelible impressions are made and lives are changed. Even children are susceptible to these occasions of transcendent beauty. Perhaps especially children.
As a teenager, my favorite musical and social activity was being in a church handbell choir. It was so important to me that I chose a college with a handbell choir. That greatly limited my options, and it brought me to Massachusetts, for which I’m thankful! In high school I also began solo ringing. Rather than a choir in which a dozen ringers each has a few notes, I rang from a six-foot table full of bells with a piano accompaniment. It is delightful but unusual art form. From solos at my home parish and my college chapel, most everyone knew me as “the bell guy.” When visiting my home parish, inevitably someone still recalls the bell solos and asks if I keep ringing. I haven’t rung for years. I have new pursuits and even new nicknames. Yet to many, I’m still “the bell guy.” That memory sticks. Visiting California, I usually run into that memory.
It’s refreshing that the Scriptures present folks just as they are. We see the characters in the Bible, warts and all. From Joseph’s lying and deceit, to King David’s adultery and murder, to Saul’s murderous campaign against the early Christians – it’s all there. And now, it’s Jesus’ own disciples who are exposed.
It might have been tempting for the gospel writers to cast these disciples in a better light, to put a more positive “spin” on their words and actions, to “photo-shop” their portraits in the gospels by covering up the blemishes. It might have been tempting to re-tell the story in a way that made them seem a little more heroic and a little less human.
Before I came to this country, I was the rector of the parish of St. Mary’s Welwyn in Hertfordshire, just north of London. It is a very ancient parish, part of the building had been paid for by King Edward the Confessor – and on one of the walls there is a panel listing all the rectors of the parish with their names and dates. They go back for a thousand years. It was always a strange feeling to read the names – Saxon names, Norman French names – and then right at the end, my name! Continue reading
I doubt that there are many people here today who believe that the Bible was handed down by God intact (and in English) in the year 1611, in the form of the King James Version. What you may not realize, though, is that there has not always been universal agreement about just which books should be included in the Bible, and that one of the books that has had a little trouble with Church authorities over the centuries is the letter of James from which we have heard a passage read today. It was only in the late fourth century in the West and the fifth century in the East that the letter was widely accepted as Scripture; in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther would have liked to have had it removed from the Bible. In his introduction to James in his German translation of the Bible, Luther said, in effect, “It’s not in my canon” — i.e., it was not a book he considered to be the inspired word of God.
What’s heaven going to be like? Do you ever wonder? Have you ever had any glimpses of heaven? For me, one of the times I’ve glimpsed heaven has been those wonderful meals you share with really good friends, where you eat and drink and chat and laugh for hours and hours, and it seems just a few minutes. And you never want the meal to end.
And in Scripture, heaven is very often described in terms of a great meal – a feast – a banquet. And so in our readings today. “On this mountain,” writes Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.” And then in our Psalm today, Psalm 23, we read those lovely words, “You spread a table before me…You have anointed my head with oil and my cup is running over.” And in today’s Gospel we have this parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Continue reading
Romans 12:1-8: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I once lived next door to a young couple who loved to collect old furniture. On Saturdays and Sundays they would often set out for local flea markets, searching for bargains. When they returned home, they would unload their purchases, which invariably appeared to me to be pieces of junk, hardly worth even the little they had paid for them. But then they’d set to work: stripping and sanding the wood, reattaching broken pieces, realigning drawers, tightening joints, and finally painting or staining the surfaces. The results were breathtaking. Pieces of furniture that only days before had appeared to be battered, worthless pieces of junk now stood proudly in their appointed places, looking every bit as beautiful as the day they were made. Continue reading