All posts for the month April, 2015

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 4, 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3, 1-12 + John 10, 11-18

It is very easy to slip into a comfortable, romantic, idealist’s image of a shepherd. Artists through generations have given us paintings of little wooly lambs and the serene face of a bearded and groomed shepherd in a nice white linen robe walking through a field of green grass.  You can almost hear violins playing sweetly. Then the familiar verses of Psalm 23 add to that comforting image allowing us to forget that those verses were composed for a people who were oppressed, frightened, threatened, and in grave danger. That image of a Shepherd stirs their memories of the Shepherd King, David and their past days of glory. For a people like us who are in no particular danger, not really much oppressed, or seriously frightened, there is little to do with this message except grow more comfortable and secure enjoying the role of admiring spectator content with images of little wooly lambs and a smiling serene looking shepherd. There is a danger here for us because it leaves us with a serious dis-connect  from reality that should motivate us to look more carefully at what is being revealed and proposed by John’s Gospel.

We have for too long lived with this image from the sheep’s point of view, and that dis-connects us from reality. Sheep do not see all the dangers lurking in the wild. They are sheltered from the harshness of the weather, and they are protected from other wolves and vultures that would harm them. They do not have the intelligence to understand or see the disorder and greater danger their natural movements create. If these paintings reflected what is really happening, they would show the chaos, fear, and danger that is really going on. It seems to me that the job of a shepherd in the real scenario is to create what is not there, peace. When Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd”, he announces that he will bring what we do not know: peace.

When your children were young you had the responsibility of protecting them from the realities of the world. When they are little they do not need to know about the wars, the poverty, the suffering, and the sin in this place. They need to know love, patience, and comfort. When your children placed their heads on their pillows at night, fear need not be the last thing on their mind even though the world can be a scary place.

The point of this Gospel is not to soothe us into a kind of romantic bliss, but stir us up and leave us to wonder about deeper and troubling things.  More children than ours do not know what safety feels like. They do not enter the world with some naïve notion that someone will take care of them and protect them. They do not know the peace of the shepherd because they have never seen one. Think of what it is like for those growing up on the streets of this world, those who hear explosions all day and night in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe. Consider the orphan who has never had a real hug, or the children who saw their parents murdered before their very eyes. Consider the children in hospitals who suffer from terminal illness and experience lives of constant pain. These are his lambs. They need Jesus. These lambs need real peace; and who will bring to them the Shepherd?

Perhaps we should expand our theological idea of ourselves as the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ the Shepherd. He leads his flock this very day into places where storms, wolves, and chaos threaten. We who have been with him know how peace feels, and so we can Shepherd these places. Every one of God’s children, every one of his sheep deserves at some point to be the snugged one who waits and calls out to be hugged. We can’t relax and feel really safe and comfortable with this image as long as any one of God’s children lives in fear or danger, or just longs be to held and hugged. Someone must bring them the Shepherd or become the Shepherd.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 3, 13-15, 17-19   Psalm 4   1 John 2, 1-5   Luke 24, 35-48

Last week I suggested that the fear felt by the apostles was far more than “fear of the Jews”. I truly believe that their fear must have also included a fear of Jesus; a fear that he might return as he said. Then, what would happen to them. Their lack of action on his behalf made them partly responsible for his death. Add to that their belief that he was the Messiah they had hoped for and then abandoned made this an even greater fear. They were terrified and trapped. This realization that he was the Messiah they had failed had one consequence, damnation. They had lost their chance to be saved. They certainly heard about the death of Judas knowing he had suffered from the same guilt and despair. Now they were hearing news from others about walking, talking, and eating with Jesus who was very much alive. Then suddenly Jesus is there, and two things happen that move them from doubt to belief, from fear to wonder and joy: touch and food. The one has touched others and brought healing and hope now invites them to touch him, and that touch heals their doubt. This is real. In that culture, you do not eat with people you fear and do not trust. Now the one who has fed thousands, broken bread with tax collectors and sinners, and fed them in an upper room asks them to feed him, and that removes their fear.

This greeting of Jesus in that room is rich in meaning. Far more than an end to hostilities, peace is a wish for wholeness and for holiness in mind, heart, and soul. The power of this greeting in peace spoken by Jesus brings healing among them and reconciliation. What we must not fail to see is who come seeking that reconciliation and offering that peace, Jesus. It should have been the other way around. They were the offenders who, by our standards ought to have sought him to say they were sorry and beg for peace and forgiveness. But it is not that way in this story nor is it ever that with God as this story reveals. God comes to us. Jesus seeks. He reaches out passes through locked doors, stony hearts, and walls of guilt and fear to bring hope and the joy of peace where there is none.

In this we have found the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection. It is the ultimate revelation about the Father who sent Christ Jesus into this world. The God from whom Adam and Eve hid in shame is the one who begins the reconciliation. This is the God who seeks communion with human kind, the best and most loved of creation. This is the news Jesus proclaimed among us. He had taught these disciples over and over again to seek the poor and the outcasts, those left behind and those shut out. All the while they argued for places of honor. He proclaimed the privilege of the poor and the necessity of suffering, but they would have none of it. Now when they are at their lowest in guilt and disgrace, he comes with an offering of peace that opened their minds to understand the scriptures in a new way. Having met this Lord, risen in glory, and having accepted his offer of peace, they are prepared then to be witnesses of this to all the nations.

My friends, it must be the same for us. The offer of peace, the promise of forgiveness, the opportunity to live with joy is there for us who are willing to touch and to feed for there are still too many who long to know the touch of kindness and hunger for understanding, justice, and love. The Joy with which we live our lives, welcome others, touch, and feed hungry will be the witness Christ expects from those who have listened to and kept his word. As the Epistle today says: “The love of God will them be perfected in them.”

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 4, 32-35   Psalm 118   1 John 5, 1-6   John 20, 19-31

After more than forty years of study, prayer, and preaching with this text, something new is beginning to dawn on me. Perhaps it has simply taken that long for me to get over it, because being named “Thomas” always put me in a defensive mode when hearing this story. I recall going through a time when I defended him. I would image all sorts of reasons for his absence, and excuse his interaction with the others thinking that because he was out buying the food or preparing meals for that group in the upper room he did not get to share in their conversations and experiences which included previous visits of the Lord.

What I have finally begun to realize is that this is not about Thomas at all. It is about Jesus Christ risen among his people. Thomas is not the point of the story. Jesus is the point of the story. It is the behavior and the words of Jesus that matters most of all. That situation with Thomas is just a set-up for the appearance of Jesus and more wonderful and joyful revelation. What Thomas speaks and proclaims is really the first “Creed”. The first profession of faith. Isn’t it interesting what happens in four hundred years to the “Creed?” It goes from 5 words to 224 counting the Amen! It was a lot easier to memorize, and nobody messed with the translation of that first creed to get us mixed up.

We must pay attention to Jesus in this story. He comes to them when they are afraid. A Gospel writer says that they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.” I suspect that “fear of the Jews” was just an easy excuse. I think they were afraid to see Jesus face to face; afraid of what he might say about the recent behavior. Yet, there he is. Does he berate them for their shameful and cowardly behavior? Does he scold them? Does he look at Peter and say: “I told you so”, or ask were Judas is? None of that. He simply says: “Peace.” Everything is fine. He knows them. He loves them. He called them his own. He embraces their weakness and their failure. Their not too dependable loyalty and even their absence still merits his presence. It’s as though with Thomas he is just going to keep coming back until he finds Thomas there where he belongs. He knows all their doubts and their fears, and he simply comes to be among them bringing them peace.

It is a moment of Divine Mercy. It is a message of hope to a church that he has not left them, and that when his presence is acknowledged, they will know peace and the joy it brings. To imperfect and broken people Jesus entrusts his final and best gift, peace. He describes that gift in terms of merciful forgiveness. It is never earned nor deserved. If it were, it would not be “mercy.” What he asks of them in those words of sending is mercy. What they receive from him they must give.

The power to show mercy comes from being a broken person. The power to show mercy comes from the knowledge and the feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. That is exactly what was going on in that upper room. They had come to the realization that they deserved nothing. They were helpless and hopeless. They were cowards and unfaithful, and in that truth they were able to say and accept the fact that every joy and virtue, every distress, and every success they knew came from the free and undeserved mercy of God.

So, here we are in that upper room. As far as Jesus is concerned, those people in that room were not his friends. In running and hiding, denying and abandoning him, they were as complicit in his suffering and death as the Romans and the “leaders of the people.” Having done nothing to stop it, they were as guilty as anyone. Yet, there he is with the blessing of Peace, and the Joy that wells up from this undeserved mercy is remarkable.

What we see here is the proof of real mercy: the power to see distress, feel pity, perform relief and all of that toward an enemy or someone you thought was your friend.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 10, 34-43   Psalm 118   Colossians 3, 1-4   Mark 16, 1-7

There is an important way to consider what we celebrate today that not many of us have taken up. I know that only recently this thought has worked its way into my thinking and believing. I suspect that those first companions of Jesus had to allow time to sort this out as well in order to see and believe. We learn quickly in life that what you see is not always what you get. It always depends on how you see and what you are looking for. On that first day of the week, they did not see with anything but sadness and fear, grief and disappointment. So what they got was an empty tomb that may have been robbed. What they were looking for was Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, a rabbi/teacher who had stirred their hopes of a Messiah who would reign with glory and restore Israel to its past power.

Had they not been motivated by fear, grief, and disappointment, they might have seen a mighty act of God. There is a clue to that in the text, but you have to read critically to pick it up. By the time Mark’s Gospel settled into a written text, the fear, grief, and disappointment was gone, and what was finally described is written in what grammar calls: the “Passive voice”. It says, “The stone was rolled back.” It does not say who did it. There is no name which leads us to suspect that respect for the name of God caused this detail to be recorded in the Passive voice. They could not say “God.” In other words, this is an act of God. What believers see is not an empty tomb. Believers see an act of God: Divine Revelation.

Through the whole life of Jesus Christ Divine Revelation has been in progress. From the moment it all began with the Annunciation, the nature, the being, the presence of God and the will of God has been unfolding for those who are ready to see it. For those God was present and at work. For those who were looking for something else, perhaps for their own gain or power, there was nothing to see. If we were to choose a word inadequate as one word could be to summarize or describe what has then been revealed, I think it would have to be LIFE, which might be the best and most clear sign of God’s presence. When that presence goes into action, when life is at its best and highest, it is unconditional LOVE.

The whole idea is so immense and so profound that our human minds have to carve it up into smaller pieces to grasp. So we make animal life, plant life, and human life which is all very fine as long as we keep seeing the creator in the beauty of that life. “What you see is what you get”. When it comes to human life unfortunately we do the same thing. There is life before birth, adult life, and life after death for those willing to take a leap of faith. Perhaps there is a better way to look at life which is what Easter can become for us.

Instead of thinking today about “life after death”, it might be better think about “life through death” not only for Jesus Christ, but for us all. At the Incarnation God chose the best of God’s creation to share divine life. God did not choose animals, plants, fish, or stars. God chose the last of creation to share God’s life. In Jesus Christ God reveals the secret of life. God reveals what makes life worth living (so to speak), so precious, so full, and so creative and beautiful: Love. What we celebrate today and what draws us together is Life, Divine Life, not just in Jesus Christ, but in everyone who lives and loves. This room, simple as it is, worn with the feet of the faithful for 40 years in this parish is full of life today and full of love. What we proclaim with our song, our presence, and prayers is that nothing can destroy life because it is of God, and as long as we love nothing can keep us down or hold us captive: not hatred, not disappointment, not betrayal, not even death.

We tell the stories of those first disciples during these days because they are clearly our own. They doubted, they denied, they ran, they hid, and they got the message wrong over and over again thinking it was about them and their lives as though they could separate their life from God’s life. Finally, after seeing and believing that life goes on even through death, they got it. After discovering that in spite of all their failures God still loved them, they grasped the reality that their very lives were a share in all that God is. With that realization, they changed and everything else changed. God continues through them to forgive, to heal, to hold up and lift up those who are bowed down. God continues to call back to life those who are entombed in hatred or racism, violence and revenge. What it really means is that our lives have purpose and meaning, we have a mission and a reason for awakening every day to the opportunities to be God’s presence for those in darkness.

Life through death is the promise we celebrate today because of the witness of the Risen Christ. We can, we shall, we are full participants in his life, not just after death, but through it, within it, and even before it. What Christ is, we shall be when love, heals what is broken in us and awakens us to the dawn of this day. Then others will get what they see in us, life and love.

On behalf of your pastor, Father G, Father Pedro, Father Benjamin, the five deacons who serve this parish, and all the staff and volunteers, I extend to you our great affection and sincere hope that you will live your lives in Christ, through death and every challenge, with hope and joy that brings us all peace. For this is the day the Lord has made!

Saint Peter the Apostle Church, Naples, FL

Isaiah 52:13–53:12 • Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 • John 18:1–19:42

 The Television medium has loaded us with opportunities to become spectators for the past several days with programs called: “Finding Jesus” and “Killing Jesus.” I am not sure what is behind these productions other than the money the sponsors make by drawing people around the screen to watch some writer or producer’s idea of what it was like in Jerusalem at the historical moment Jesus of Nazareth was killed. The trouble with all this business is that it turns revelation into “entertainment” and whatever historical value might possible have slipped in is left unconnected to the present day. This leaves us in the role of the spectator as though we were sitting in our living rooms or a stadium watching a grand drama unfold munching pop-corn. We might feel some sadness or admiration for Jesus of Nazareth, but personally confronting the mystery of what the Passion and Death of Jesus means and what God reveals and wills through the Death of Jesus Christ is the last thing we are encouraged to do so. Television producers are not going to take us there, but at some point, perhaps today, we have to ask the question: “What does this death have to do with us today.” “What have we become because of it?”

Only around this altar and in communion with our companions in faith will we enter into this mystery to discover what it means. Only around this altar can we participate in the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ and move from being spectators into actual participants. Our place in the Life and Death of Jesus Christ is not to sit here and read: “Crucify Him.” Our place is not among the mob and unbelievers. Our place is among the apostles, who though hiding in fear, confusion, and disappointment, eventually, by the power of the Spirit, became the very body of Christ for this world. Here in communion around this altar we become one with Christ and with all who suffer; with the innocent, the imprisoned, the misunderstood, the betrayed, the rich and poor, the sick and the lame, the lost and the sinner. Here we struggle with the question of suffering and confront the reality of death with a faith that gives us hope. Otherwise we are just watching someone die a horrible unjustified death.

The Son of God who abandoned the comfort and glory of heaven took on flesh and blood to become one with us, all of us, and in that “communion” in that bond with humanity divine life is resurrected within us out of the death of sin. Our place in this story is eventually on the cross. That is what the disciples discovered once the Spirit opened their eyes and their hearts. God’s desire to lift us up, heal our brokenness and restore us to our original glory is revealed in Jesus Christ who so completely identified with us that he embraced the most insidious, horrible, agonizing death anyone could imagine at that time so that no one would be left out. All we have left of him now is bread broken in communion, the Eucharist, which when received brings us into communion with him and with all human kind.

Still to this day, the sick must not be alone, those on the edge and fringe of society must be gathered in, the poor must have companions and a voice, the abused must have protectors, the old must have tender respect, the grieving must find comfort, children must be brought to Jesus, and the gospel must be proclaimed to those who live in darkness because these are God’s children. This is what God has revealed through Jesus Christ. The Will of the Father was not about a crucifixion, but about being obedient to and completing God’s plan for all to be saved, healed, forgiven, and loved. What God asked of his Son God asks of us: that we might become one with the same kind of people Jesus came to serve and love. It was not those in power or those with influence. It was not to the healthy and prosperous. It was to the sinner, the sick, the poor, and the powerless left behind.

At some point, the wonder of this revelation must get us up off the couch, and draw us into the mystery of what this cross has done for us. We were not born into this life to be spectators. Our faith will not permit us to watch for long. The Spirit comes with fire and wind, and the Christ who rose from the dead will call our names as he called Lazarus to unbind us and set us free: free to be his disciples living in communion, forgiven, healed, and full of life.