Preached at Yale Divinity School
…If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched… (Mark 9:42-50)
Don’t do this. Don’t take Jesus literally – plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. You take this literally, you won’t finish the term. But do take Jesus seriously. This is hyperbole. My little sister used to say this same thing to me when I was acting out, when I had tried her patience to the extreme. She would say, “Curtis, cut it out!” She got my attention.
So I’ll rephrase Jesus’ point in the form of a question to you. What needs to go, stop, end, change in your life? What do you need to cut out or cut off? Continue reading
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
In today’s Gospel Reading there is an incident that is unique. Jesus did something that no one before him had done. He put two commandments together, now known as “The Summary of the Law.” We heard this near the beginning of our Eucharist this morning, just before the Confession. This incident is also unique because both the scribe and Jesus dealt throughout the whole event in a friendly way.
A scribe had heard some Sadducees disputing with Jesus. He felt that Jesus had answered them well. He approached Jesus to ask him this question: “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus replied with the familiar words, “The Lord our God is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk. 12:30/Deut. 6:5) Jesus then added to that, “The second is this, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Continue reading
Mark 16:1-8, with “Shorter Ending”
This evening we continue our series Salvation Revisited. Two weeks ago Br. Curtis spoke of salvation in terms of healing, salving, salvaging, particularly of memories. Last week Br. Geoffrey spoke in terms of coming home to the merciful Father, who runs out to embrace us, as in the parable of the prodigal son. The emphasis has been on the experiences we have of salvation in this life, this earthly life.
Salvation is a very big idea with many layers of meaning. One of those layers has to do with salvation to eternal life, that is, to life after death. That is this evening’s focus. The title for these reflections: “The Sacred and Imperishable Proclamation”, words from the gospel we’ve just heard, the so-called shorter ending of Mark. Continue reading
“Have you ever fallen in love before?”
What could this question have to do with discovering a vocation to the monastic life? Br. James Koester, the community’s current superior, explains why he likes to ask this question of men inquiring into SSJE: “Falling in love is one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences a person can have.” However we live, he explains, and wherever, we are all called by God to be lovers.
Whenever a man expresses an interest in our life, David, who is the novice guardian, invites him to make a few visits to us here to the monastery. Over these visits he gets to know us, and we him. During those visits, he has a brief experience of our life. He joins us for the Offices and the Eucharist, shares in some of the household chores that need to be done to keep this place running, and is invited for countless walks along the river or endless cups of tea, so that individual brothers can have a conversation with him.
For a number of years now, when it is my turn to have a conversation with a prospective member of the community, I ask him the usual questions. Where is he from? What does he do? How did he find us? What is he looking for? I wait for him to ask me questions. Eventually I ask him the one question, indeed really the only question that I am interested in. I ask him if he has ever fallen in love before. For whatever reason, most men, when I ask that question are completely taken aback. It is not a question they are expecting. But for me the question, or in truth the answer, is essential.
Now, just to be clear, I am not interested in the ins and outs of his love life. I don’t want to know the gory details of his romances. I just want to know if he has ever fallen in love and what that experience was like for him.
Hosea 14:1-9; Mark 12:28-34
“After that no one dared ask him any questions.”
I’m not sure why. Jesus was simply agreeing with the man: to love God and neighbor is better than burning animals. Why would they dare not ask questions?
I don’t know. But I’ve got plenty of questions for the next time I see Jesus. What were you doing before the Big Bang? How did you come up with the design of the atom? Can you explain quantum mechanics? How long will I live? Why do you allow so much suffering in this world? Can’t you do more? I’d like to think I would dare ask questions. Continue reading
Jer. 7:1-15, 23-28
The message of our First Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, is that God gave this commandment to his people; “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you; so that it may be well with you.” (Jer. 7:23) But the response to this was; “They did not listen to me, or pay attention.” (Jer. 7:26)
In order to understand more clearly what Jeremiah was saying we should look back to the beginning of chapter 7. Continue reading
In the New Testament Greek there are four different verbs for “love.” There’s the verb stergein, the love within a family, a child’s love for his or her parents. There’s the verb eran, which is the love of sexual passion; the erotic “love of lovers.” There’s the verb philein, the kind of love we have for our closest friends and neighbors. Then there’s a fourth verb, agapan, that Jesus uses here. This love, agape love, is different from the rest. Jesus here specifically says that he’s not talking about loving family or friends, those to whom we’re naturally attracted and already love; nor is he coaching us to fall in love with people. He’s using here this very unique agape love in terms of our most difficult relationships: with our enemies. Enemies, which includes people who are literally out to kill us and folks who give us a hard time, who trip us up, who take advantage of us, who don’t have our best interests in mind, people who are – as we say in slang – not helpful to our program. Enemies. And how do we deal with those sorts of folks? With agape love. Continue reading
It’s the Last Supper. Jesus has just washed their feet; Judas has gone out. “And it was night,” it says. The air is heavy and electric; Jesus knows it is his last night. He begins to speak: of his glorification, of his leaving. And then of what he calls a “new commandment”: love one another. I can imagine the disciples wondering what was new about it. We will come back to this.
Tonight we begin our preaching series “Love Life”. We invite you to stay for soup and ask difficult questions. Each week we’ll be focusing on a different aspect of love. This evening: “Revelation of Love”. Jesus Christ is himself revelation: the Word of God that was God, through whom all things came to be, who was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The entire life of Jesus is revelation. And we think of the texts of the Bible as revelation, words written by those inspired by God. Continue reading
Have you ever had a moment in your life when suddenly some concept has become deeper, wider, and clearer? My understanding of the first verse of today’s first reading, “We love because he first loved us,” was such a moment.
It was in my first year of Seminary in a class on the New Testament in Greek. We were reading the First Letter of John, and had come to Chapter 4.
For most of us The King James Version was deeply imbedded in our minds. Continue reading
A few days ago I was watching drops form on the inside of a window. Moisture condenses on the cold glass and forms drops, given shape by the ratio of surface tension to gravity. At a certain point the drop drops and runs down the surface at a speed determined by gravity and the contact between the drop and the glass. There are some remarkable physical laws at work in condensation, the formation of drops and the timing and qualities of their dropping.
Imagine this scene as if you were watching it from the outskirts of the village of Nain:
A funeral procession winds its way through the center of the village and passes through the city gates, heading for the place outside its bounds where the dead were laid to rest. Hired mourners, weeping and wailing on behalf of the friends and relatives of the dead man, are leading the way, along with musicians with flutes and cymbals sounding their mournful tunes. The mother of the dead man, already a widow, walks ahead of the open-faced coffin, her face worn and weary and her body bent with her double sadness. Then comes the body of the dead man, lying in a long basket carried upon a stretcher and followed by a large crowd from the town, silently shuffling forward. Continue reading
“In April, 1536, at the end of the twenty-seventh year of the reign of King Henry VIII, there were, scattered throughout England and Wales, more than eight hundredreligious houses, monasteries, nunneries and friaries, and in them there lived close on ten thousand monks, canons, nuns, and friars. Four years later, in April 1540, there were none. Their buildings and properties had been taken over by the crown and leased or sold to new lay occupiers. Their former inhabitants had been dispersed and were in the process of adjusting themselves to a very different way of life.”[i]
So begins G.W.O. Woodward’s essay on the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Woodward goes on to write about the reasons for the Dissolution, the way in which it came about, and its far-reaching consequences, not only for the Church, but for the whole of British society. For the next 300 years there would be no monasteries, convents, monks or nuns in the Church of England. Continue reading
Imagine the range of emotions parents might feel when sending their daughter off to college for the first time, or saying good-bye to a son who is moving across the country to begin a new job.
They have loved their children as best they could. They have trained them and nurtured them, disciplined them and encouraged them. They have tried to give them self-confidence and an appreciation of their unique gifts and abilities. They have tried to shape their character and mold their values. They’ve tried to inspire in them a vision of what life can be, and of what they can offer to the world. And now they are sending off these children of theirs, releasing them so that they can find their own way of being and loving in the world. As parents, they are aware of the challenges, the temptations, even the dangers, that will confront their children in these new settings. And so they pray for God’s protection, and for wisdom as they make choices, and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they begin this new phase in their life’s journey. Continue reading
In my reflection and prayer on today’s gospel, one phrase jumped out at me and grabbed my attention. Jesus says, “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” For the Father himself loves you. This is startling in its simplicity but it is the core theme of John’s gospel; the love of the Father for all of us. This simple phrase from the 16th chapter of John: “…for the Father himself loves you, mirrors the sentiment of love from way earlier in the 3rd chapter: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[i] Instead of telling us to be kind, respectful, compassionate or patient (which we are to be), Jesus tells us to love. In the New Testament Greek there are four words for love. One is about family, love between children and parents, between siblings. Another is the erotic, sexual, falling in love. Another is the love of close friends. Then there’s agape, different from the rest. It’s not based on a relationship or affinity.
In order to understand today’s Gospel more clearly we should look back to the middle of this same Chapter 3. There we find the familiar verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)