All posts for the month January, 2016

Ordinary Time 4

Jeremiah 1, 4-5, 17-19 + Psalm 71 + 1 Corinthians 13, 4-13 + Luke 4, 21-30

January 31, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.

Just after the end of World War II a Lutheran minister named Gunter Rutenborn wrote and staged a play he titled The Sign of Jonah that had a profound impact on the city of Berlin which was in ruins. The play takes place in Germany still reeling from the war. It begins with a group of refugees trying to determine who is to blame for the horror. Some blame Hitler. Some blame the munitions manufacturers who financed Hitler. Other claimed that the German people themselves should bear the responsibility for the destruction of their own country.

Suddenly a man in the crowd speaks up: “Do you want to know who is really to blame for the suffering we have been through? I’ll tell you. God is to blame. He created this world. He placed all of this power in such unworthy hands. He allowed all of this happen.”

At first, everyone is taken back by this accusation, but gradually the chorus is picked up by all: God is to blame! God is to blame! And so God is brought down on stage and put on trial for the crime of creation; and he is found guilty. The judge then pronounces sentence: “The crime is so severe that it demands the worst possible sentence. I hereby sentence God to live on this earth as a human being.

Three archangels are called down to execute the sentence. The first angel declares, “I’m going to see to it that when God serves his sentence, He knows what it is like to be obscure and poor. He will be born in a ghetto. There will be shame about his birth, and he will live as a Jew. The second angel vows, “I’m going to see that when God serves his sentence he knows what it is like to fail and suffer disappointment. No one will understand what He is trying to do, and he will be cursed and humiliated despite the good He does.” The third angel swears, “I’m going to see to it that when God serves his sentence, He will learn what it is to suffer physical pain. He will die the most painful and humiliating death imaginable.” And the play ends with the three angels disappearing to carry out the sentence.

And so, God’s sentence is carried out in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, God-made-human. Last month we observed the fulfillment of the first sentence regarding his birth. Today we mark the fulfillment of the second angel’s vow with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. So convinced that they were perfect, that they were right, that they were the best there is and the most favored and blessed of all peoples by God, they were outraged to hear that there might be others who were different from them yet equally favored, blessed, and loved by God. So indignant were they that they ran off and closed their ears to the news, to the Truth, to the Prophet. No signs were worked among them.

We must take great care and draw an important lesson from this Gospel regarding our own times. A prophetic church is still chased away when the Gospel calls into question the privileges of the self-satisfied. Communism has done this, and secularism is doing it today. Sometimes masked under the veil of super patriotism, there is outrage when the church favors the poor whose poverty is the consequence of economic systems that protect the wealth of a few. The prophetic Christ in his prophetic Church is silenced with ridicule when it speaks of the value of all human life to a violent culture that legalizes murder and calls it a “right” or calls it “justice.”

The audiences who saw The Sign of Jonah and all who have met Jesus of the Gospels understand immediately that God has completed his sentence. God knows what it is to live as a human being – which means that nothing we face today is unknown to God: being misunderstood, run off, silenced, mocked when the truth is spoken, betrayed by friends, it’s all there! The central message of the Gospel Jesus is that God became what we are so that we can better understand what God is and what God is about: love, forgiveness, selflessness. Such is the good news of Jesus who enters human history and sanctifies our humanity for all time.

Ordinary Time 3

Nehemiah 8, 2-4, 5-6, 8-10 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 12, 12-14, 27 + Luke 1, 1-4; 4, 14-21

January 24, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.

“Today” is an important word in Luke’s Gospel. He uses it 11 times, and one of those occasions we have already heard in the second chapter with an announcement by angels: “Today is born a savior.” Today is where it’s all happening in Luke’s Gospel from the song of angels through the healing of bodies and souls, on to the betrayal by friends and then his last forgiving moments on the cross when he says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The Gospel, not just Luke’s, is not about the good old days when Jesus was actually preaching in synagogues. Neither is the Gospel about tomorrow or some time way off in the future when eventually things will be good. Those words were spoken for those people to understand who he was and why. The Gospel is about today. As Jesus fulfilled his mission so clearly spoken in that synagogue, things were happening right then. When he saw someone blind or deaf he didn’t say we’ll take care of that tomorrow. When he met someone who was sick he never told them they would get better eventually. When he spoke to that man who came down through the roof, he said: “Your sins are forgiven.” He didn’t say “tomorrow”, or “after you’ve done enough penance”. It happened then.

A busy world and busy people making it so usually find this whole idea of “today” a little challenging. Who wants one more thing to do today when more will probably be left undone at the end of the day than was actually accomplished?  I suspect that those people sitting in that synagogue were doing just fine with Jesus until he sat down and said that word, “Today.” Until that moment, they must have been amazed at how well he read, at how comfortable he was in the synagogue among them. Then suddenly the mood changes with that one word. They were quite used to having the scriptures comfort them and talk about the days to come when things would be great for them again off in the future. They liked it when the preacher told them about how loveable they were in God’s eyes and when the teaching shored up their self-satisfaction. They liked hearing about what God was going to do for them, but then he said that word. He was promising things for others: the poor, the blind, the captives, and the oppressed!

“What about us?” they surely must have been thinking, and the more they listened, the more they got the point. There were no poor, blind, or captives in that synagogue any more than there are poor, blind, and captives here. This message did not offer them anything except a challenge. It was not about them, in fact, it was for them that he said these things. These words were spoken for those people to understand who he was and why he was there. He had no good news for them unless they wanted to confess that they were impoverished, blind, bound, and oppressed. The truth of the matter is, they were all of those things, but they could not admit it. They wanted to be told how good they were, not have someone suggest what they should be doing that day.

The same thing is happening here. We are not poor, blind, captive or oppressed. This Gospel does not offer us any great comfort or pat us on the back nearly as much as it expresses who we are and what we should be doing today. As Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians says:  “Now you are Christ’s body.” If that is true, then there is no doubt about what we are to do with our lives, and what we are to do today. As Paul suggests, there are no excuses. There’s no putting it off till tomorrow or till we finish what we’re doing later today. There’s no opting out because we’re too old, too tired, or too sick. It is all about what we are doing today.

We are a people who have been anointed with the Holy Spirit no less than Jesus himself. The power, the grace, the gifts of our Baptism and Confirmation make it unmistakable that we are sent to relieve the suffering of the poor and give them some Joy. We are sent to give the blind a vision of the Kingdom of God letting them see the face of God by our merciful presence. We are sent to free those who are held captive by refusal to forgive and release them with mercy. This is to happen today, not tomorrow. If you choose to receive the Body of Christ today and become one with Christ in Communion, then there is no doubt about what you are to do today. The truth of the matter is, the world has its eyes fixed upon us watching and waiting to see if this Scripture passage is fulfilled.

Ordinary Time 2

Isaiah 62, 1-5 – Psalm 96 – 1 Corinthians 12, 4-11 – John 2, 1-11

January 17, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.

I am of the opinion that we ought to read this Gospel backwards, or at least move the last verse up to the beginning, then we can avoid all the romantic, sentimental, and overtly devotional conclusions that are always being drawn from this episode. John’s Gospel is a lot of things: dramatic, complex, unique, and long, but it is not sentimental or romantic. This story is not about Cana. There is not one reference to that place ever again. The location is unimportant. It is not about the Blessed Mother as much as we might make something of her intervention and the fact that she is present. It is not about weddings or brides and grooms. It is about wine and water when you are ready to explore a sign, and right away that should turn our attention to this table feast. John tells us that it is about revealed glory, and it is a sign, the first of several that make up John’s Gospel and lead people to believe.

As the verses go, something has run out. It is finished, and that’s the point. The old way of doing things is over. With the coming of Christ, the presence of Jesus, something new is at hand, and that is the sign John is putting before us. There are six water jars. That detail is part of the message. Seven is the number of fulfillment or completeness, but here, there are only six. It carries a sense of incompleteness. The old order, the old Law of Moses was not enough. What comes now is the law of Love and the Spirit. A seventh vessel is needed to complete the plan of God, and that vessel is Christ from whom water will flow at the end.

These symbols have to connect if the genius of John’s Gospel message is going to be passed on to us. John begins the episode by saying that “It is the third day”. How could anyone miss the Easter suggestion when the hour finally comes to reveal the glory on the third day, Easter?  This is the “hour” that enters that dialogue with Mary. Some are stunned by the way he addresses her as “woman”, but that word itself should jump us right to the foot of the cross when again he calls her “woman” commending her to John.

Apparently, what happens with the water jars is unknown to everyone but the disciples. They see his glory, or least the beginning of it, and it brings them to believe which is the purpose of the sign: belief!  For those of us who know the end of John’s Gospel, all of these images and these signs begin to come together. It starts here with a feast, and the most constant image Jesus uses for the Reign of God is a banquet feast. It starts here with a wedding, and John is fascinated with the image of Christ the Bride Groom and the church as a bride. It is a significant image in the Book of Revelation with the “Wedding of the Lamb” and all its glory as the last and finest moment of time.

So today as we begin “Ordinary Time, we can see that these Sundays will lead us deep into the Pascal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is then that his “hour” will have come, at the Supper Feast when wine again is the focus of the message. In the new age, in this new creation, wine will not run out. His sacrifice will be enough for our salvation. The mission of Jesus Christ to reveal in his glory the truth and the presence of God begins here at this feast. The abundance of this excellent wine, by measure today probably about 120 gallons speaks of the superabundant generosity of God that is now, in Jesus, to be revealed. If you have not seen God’s generosity in your lifetime, then there is no reason to believe, but if you have then there is reason to wonder and to ask if anyone has come to faith because of what they see in your life. This gives us reason enough to repeat this story once again as a reminder both of God’s inexhaustible mercy and of how that glory is reflected in the church and in each of our lives.

The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 104 + Titus 2, 11-14 3, 4-7 + Luke 3, 15-16, 21-22

January 10, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. & MS Eurodam


It is a true story that I think we all know, but there is a detail about it that may have slipped your mind. I think that detail is essential for anyone who wants to enter into the event and experience we remember today as a church.

Annie Sullivan is partially blind and she has taught a seven year old blind and deaf student finger spelling during the four months they have been working together trying to break through and connect this child with some reality. One day they were passing a water pump, and Annie Sullivan placed the child’s hand under the running water and pressed into it the word: W-A-T-E-R. From that moment, Helen Keller became a new person who would eventually amaze and inspire so many through her work for people with disabilities, especially the visually impaired.

The story is real, and so is the experience. It is about water. The powerful story of someone isolated, alone, closed off and frightened awakening to a new life is the story of Baptism. It is the experience of knowing who you are in relation to another and to all creation. For Hellen Keller there is suddenly a new relationship with Annie Sullivan that quickly leads to a new relationship with all creation. It is the story we tell today of Jesus Christ who emerges from the desert where he was alone, isolated, and I think perhaps frightened. His experience with the evil one who tempts him had to have been frightening. Then suddenly there is water, and he is not alone. He knows who he is, and his relationship with John the Baptist and everyone else comes into focus.

It’s about water, and it is about what water has done for us. We are not a people who were baptized. We are a people who are baptized. We are called into connections between the reality of our world and the water of baptism. We are called into connections with the one who touches us with water, not a priest or a deacon, but with the one in whose place they stand. The isolation, the loneliness, the emptiness, even the silence of the past collapses into awareness, excitement, discovery, and ultimately joy.

There is no past tense in talking about Baptism. It is a present and living reality. It is an experience that is on-going. You are a lot more baptized today than you were on the day of your baptism. The same thing is true of marriage. You are lot more married today than you were on that wedding day; and I am a lot more priest than I was in 1968 when Bishop Reed put his hands on my head and anointed my hands.

Celebrating the Baptism of Christ leads us to awaken to the reality of our own Baptism. Touching that water when you step into this holy place awakens you and connects you to the others who have stepped in before you, and all those who are connected with us in the Communion of Saints.

A people living their baptism are a people connected to God all through every day and every night. A people living their baptism are a people connected to everyone else who is coming to life just as Jesus found his connection with the blind, the lame, the deaf, the sinners, and the lonely. A people who are baptized are a people who know who they are what their mission in life is set to be. They never forget that they are children of God who claims them as God’s own and loves them.

To this good news of solidarity and healing oneness, Luke adds the significance of prayer. Notice that Luke does not provide any details about the baptism event, but rather its aftermath. Jesus prays. It is his prayer that tears open the heavens for the decent of the Holy Spirit and his true identity by the Father’s voice that acclaims him as the beloved Son on whom favor rests. The details of our own baptism make for family lore, but they are of little importance until we awaken to the sound of God’s voice in prayer. Then we shall know, believe, and act like the chosen ones we are upon whom so much favor rests, and then we shall know what to do with this great gift.

Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60, 1-6 – Psalm 72 – Ephesians 3, 2-6 – Matthew 2, 1-12

January 3, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. & MS Eurodam

This is perhaps the greatest episode in all the Gospels. It makes this the feast of seekers, of wanderers, and wonderers. It speaks to everyone who will not give way to comfortable indifference. It is the story of good over evil, and of the clever outwitting hypocrisy and political intrigue. It comes upon us at a time when we need to be drawn out of consumerism, credit card bills, all the shallowness of “Seasons Greetings”, and festivities of a New Year that may not be much different from the old one. It is a story and feast that leads us back to love and to wisdom.

While these wise men may have questionable historical roots, they still thrill our imaginations and make us wonder about their visit to this child. Their names do not come to us until an 8th century monk names them. They do not become multi-racial for another 8 centuries. None the less, we accept their story laden with symbols and rich theological associations, and a story is often the surest and straight line to the truth. Wonder and excitement are important for every one of us, and their story teaches us some valuable lessons.

Searching for the truth can lead you in to a political minefield. The powerful of this world are always threatened by the truth and by simplicity which always reveals what they would prefer to hide. “Yes men” like the men Herod consults will say anything to stay in favor and avoid the truth. It also reminds us that we are not self-sufficient, and we all need help on our search needing discernment to know right from wrong, a lie from the truth, and light from darkness. At the same time the story teaches us that every nation, every race, every culture seeks the light, and in Christ all will come together. It teaches us that every culture and perhaps every religion has some gift to offer God, and we would be wise to never refuse the gifts of strangers. A multi-cultural society and church bears witness to the inclusiveness we shall later see in Christ’s intent in his mission.

In the end, I suppose, this is all about gifts more than magical wise men. It is about one gift given to us richer and more valuable than gold, frankincense or myrrh: the gift of our love. In a stunning short story by O. Henry called “Gift of the Magi” Jim and Della, husband and wife, decide to give each other special Christmas presents. They are poor, but each has a prized possession. Della’s is her lovely long hair; Jim’s is his pocket watch. Della cuts her hair and sells it in order to buy Jim a platinum chain for his watch. Jim sells his watch so that he can buy a set of pure tortoiseshell combs for Della’s hair. Then comes the moment of “epiphany.” The revelation of the love behind both of their sacrifices that is the most precious gift. He ends the story with the affirmation of the loving wisdom of Jim and Della as gift givers. Matthew proposes to us today that it is often the stranger or outsider who can reveal to us, as individuals and as nations, how and what we should be seeking and how to come home to this truth.