Pause for a moment to consider your own response. “Do people who suffer deserve to suffer? Are the bad things that happen to us our fault? Is there a connection between suffering and sin? Is God punishing us when we suffer?”
They were weighed down with sleep—but they stayed awake, it says. Icons of the Transfiguration often show the disciples lying on the ground while Jesus and Moses and Elijah stand in glory on the mountain peak. Perhaps Peter and John and James are in that half-awake, half-asleep state we all know. That dusky neither daylight nor dark state, that in betweenness familiar to people everywhere. The disciples do awaken more fully to the mystery light before them in the days ahead, in the months and years ahead, those bracing months and years ahead—and in the eternity to which they have finally arrived. Continue reading
A few days ago I held a baby. That might not seem like such a remarkable thing, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a chance to do it. I suspect it’s been a couple of years. Babies don’t frequent monasteries much.
Holding a baby is wonderful. That is, it’s an experience full of wonder. I marveled at his tiny fingernails, perfectly shaped on the end of delicate little fingers. And his full brown eyes, captivated by the lights in the ceiling of the chapel. The incredible softness of his head against my cheek, and the sweet smell of his hair. At first he was squirming, but then he settled in, dropped his head on my shoulder and relaxed. I could feel his breathing. I thought, what a miracle! To be alive! To be breathing, and seeing, and hearing, and touching. Wonderful!
The Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula was intent to install his bust in the Temple in Jerusalem. And why not? The Emperor was the emperor, after all, and one of his many titles, Divi Filius (Son of God), was inscribed on every coin used by Romans and Jews alike. In Jesus’ lifetime, the Roman Emperor was called “Divine,” and was titled “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Savior of the World.” So why not install his own bust in the Temple in Jerusalem? There was huge resistance to this threat of desecration among the Jewish community, as might be imagined. A revolt was predicted… which is why we read in the Gospel appointed for today about wars and rumors of wars: the Jews versus Rome, nation against nation. And to compound the tension and despair, our Gospel lesson speaks of a severe, multi-year drought that affected the lands east of the Mediterranean. The good news we hear on Jesus’ lips is that the end is not yet. This may seem like the end, but it’s not yet… which is a word of hope. Our knowing that historic information will make a difference how we make meaning of this Gospel lesson appointed for today: the historical context in which Jesus spoke.
There is a word, or at least the implication of a word that pops up frequently during these days of Easter. Jesus implies it when he tells Mary Magdalene in the Garden on that first Easter Day to “… go to my brothers and say to them ….”1 And Mary certainly acts on it when she proclaims to the disciples ‘“I have seen the Lord” and [then] she told them that he had said these things to her.’2 Jesus himself uses it when he says to the assembled disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”3 Continue reading
The first reading for today begins with the words, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old command-ment is the word that you have heard.” I think that we can recognize that old commandment as the “Law of Love”, found in our Prayer Book in a variant form as “The Summary of the Law”. Briefly, “Love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.” Continue reading
Christmas is here! The prophet Isaiah proclaims it with ringing words of joy: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in a land of deep darkness – on them has light shined.”(Isa 9:2) Tonight we celebrate with great joy the birth of Jesus, the coming of a great light to a land of deep darkness.
I love the lights of Christmas. I love Christmas tree lights, the lights I saw a few weeks ago along Fifth Avenue and at Rockefeller Center. I even love – and this is a new one for me – the Christmas lights in people’s front yards and all over their houses – illuminated Father Christmases, glowing reindeer, pulsating stars and flashing greeting signs. My all time favorite is one a friend sent me on the internet. It’s amazing. A house and yard in Ohio are covered with 45,000 lights and operated by 176 computer channels. The display is synchronized to a rock version of Amazing Grace. It’s so popular there are huge traffic jams in the area, and there is a crew of three policemen to manage the traffic! Continue reading
Four times a day when I was at seminary in England we were called to chapel by the sound of a bell. And on that bell were inscribed, in Greek, the words “faithful is he who calls.” (1 Th 5:24) Faithful is he who calls. And our readings today on this second Sunday of Epiphany are all about being called.
In Isaiah we read, “The Lord called me before I was born. While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” Called into being – and named. That is what God has been doing from the beginning of Genesis, where he called the creation into being and then named it. “God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.”
Each one of us were called into being by God – and given a name to show that we have a unique and special vocation. “The Lord called me before I was born. While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” We are not just anybody – not just a number, a statistic.
We are each unique. We are, each of us, as the Psalmist puts it, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139:14)
If we know someone is coming, we wait for them. After a while, waiting becomes longing. Now, as we approach the darkest day of the year, we long for the return of light. Now, as we see that “darkness covers the land and deep gloom enshrouds the peoples” (as Isaiah put it), we long for the return of light.
We’ve been celebrating the return of light for thousands of years. Nearly every culture has ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice, the day when the hours of sunlight, having become less and less, begin to increase again.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…” [BCP p. 70] For most of human existence the “perils and dangers” of the night have not been metaphorical or poetic or emotional. The night, the darkness, was a time of actual physical danger—danger from predatory animals, danger from unseen enemies, danger from simply not being able to see things. Darkness could mean death, actual loss of life. And, so, light has become the giver of life. In celebrating light, we celebrate life. Continue reading
At the Easter Vigil, during the pre-dawn darkness, we announce Christ’s resurrection by first kindling a New Fire, lighting the great Paschal Candle, and proclaiming repeatedly: “The light of Christ!” “The light of Christ!” “The light of Christ!” Fire is a powerful symbol. Fire provides warmth for the body and a hearth for food. Fire provides light, and without electricity, fire and light are both alike. In the scriptures, the symbols of fire and light are often used interchangeably. The psalmist writes, “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.”[i] And, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”[ii] For the people of Israel during the years of Exodus, the glory of the Lord, shone in the Shekinah: a pillar of fire which guided the people by night.[iii] In the ancient Jewish Feast of Booths, a great candelabra was lighted in the Temple at Jerusalem on the first day, and there followed great processions with the faithful carrying torches in hand, not unlike what is done here and in so many places early Easter morning. We do this in memory of God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.[iv] And so, it is no surprise that the long-awaited Messiah was anticipated as a light-bearer.[v] Jesus even said of himself that he is “the light of the world”: the fire of light, the fire of love.[vi] Continue reading
O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
This great olive-wood crèche scene which trails down the center of the chapel came to us through the craftsmanship of Palestinian woodcarvers in Bethlehem. Aside from the baby Jesus, whom we’ve all come to adore, my favorite piece is the biggest camel, with its majestic green saddle skirt, and the wise man at its side. The Gospel tradition tells the story of wise men, living in Arabia, who brought treasure chests full of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh to present to Mary and Joseph, parents of this infant child Jesus, who was prophesied to be the Messiah.[i] There’s no record that the wise men were Jewish. They were among the many, “outside the household of faith,” who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. They reportedly followed the sign of a star which led them to Bethlehem. Today we would probably call these wise men “astrologers” or “shamen” or “soothsayers.” There’s very little recorded about their encounter with the Holy Family. We read that they shared in the homage and joy of all those around that original crèche. However there’s no record that they “changed religions” upon meeting Jesus. (Maybe so; maybe not. We know even among our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers that Jesus is revered, and so, perhaps this was the case for these “wise men.” We don’t know.) We do know that King Herod was quite threatened by the birth of this so-called infant king, a potential rival. And Herod wanted a full report from the wise men after they had visited the newborn child. Herod was up to no good, a realization the wise men woke up to in a dream. The Gospel record reports that they avoided Herod by changing their course of travel, and “went to their home country by another way.” Continue reading
Habakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29
The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens. The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.
Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned! We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas. Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned. There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it. Continue reading
The lesson this morning from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of our need for spiritual armor. This is so we can withstand evil forces, “for our struggle [in this world] is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” For many people, perhaps many of you gathered here, “spiritual armor” is not something quite in vogue. That’s my hunch. You probably have up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer; you will take seriously your doctor’s recommendation to have an H1-N1 swine flu vaccination this fall; you wash your hands before you eat; you accept our country’s need for military defense to guard us against adversaries… All of these are protections to ward against enemy forces, whether armed confrontation or in the form of viruses and germs. But your sense of need for “spiritual armor” may not garner much of attention. It should. Continue reading
Jacob was a rather shrewd scoundrel. His latest coup was to trick his father. Jacob knew it was the father’s prerogative and power to bestow a blessing upon his eldest son, such a blessing, highly significant and irrevocable. By means of deception, Jacob himself co-opts the blessing intended for his brother, Esau. Jacob receives the blessing, but it comes at a near-crippling cost because he does not have the stature to carry the blessing.
Acts 2:29-42 (or 49)
This is the final sermon in a five-part series we have offered here at the monastery during Eastertide. Throughout this series, we have sought to offer hope by examining the experience of resurrection in the early Christian community, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and by applying its lessons to our own time. Each sermon has focused on a key word. Tonight the key word is “believe.”
Eastertide Preaching Series: A World Turned Upside Down
We continue this evening with our series “A World Turned Upside Down”—a series inspired by an uproar in the city of Thessalonica nearly 2000 years ago. The Book of Acts tells how Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with their witness to the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus was indeed the galvanizing experience of the first Christians. And it has been at the core of the Church’s proclamation down through the ages. But, as Br. Geoffrey so eloquently pointed out last week, resurrection is not only for that great day when we awaken to life in heaven; resurrection life is here and now.
Eastertide Preaching Series: A World Turned Upside Down
Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
During these weeks of Eastertide, on these Tuesday evenings, we are preaching on what it was which ‘turned the world upside down’ at Easter. For me, the good news of Easter can be summed up in one word, and that word is ‘Life. Jesus came that we may have life. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been given the gift of life – eternal life.
Mark 9:2-9; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-35
In early February my brother Bruce and I were on top of Mount Tabor where this event, Jesus’ transfiguration, took place. We were traveling with a group of pilgrims following the path of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection in Israel/Palestine. Mount Tabor is north of Jerusalem, and about 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. Mount Tabor is forested with pine trees and offering stunning, panoramic views. Continue reading