All posts for the month March, 2016

 Acts 10, 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + 1 Corinthians 5, 6-8 + John 20, 1-9

March 27, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

No one goes to a grave and expects to find it empty and if they did, they would not expect to find life in an empty tomb. But, that is what happened. That one John calls, “Mary” and then Peter and John went to an empty tomb and confronted the unexpected. They went there because their relationship with Jesus Christ was being challenged by their experiences in the preceding days. They did not expect to find an empty tomb. They did not expect to find life when they had seen death, but that’s the way it had been since they walked away from their past and their old way of life. One surprise after another kept them together with that man who walked through their life. At first they expected a political revolution, and some of them were slow to give up on that. They never expected to hear about a Kingdom that was not of this world. They never expected to see lame people get up and walk, blind people begin to see, and a young girl and an old friend be awakened from the sleep of death. Never expected to see 5000 people fed on five loaves and two fish. They never expected to see Samaritans, Tax Collectors, and sinners embraced as friends and included among the chosen. They never expected to be left alone either fearful of being hunted down and killed as co-conspirators or blasphemers; but they were.

After all, they were just ordinary people working hard to earn a living and care for loved ones when that man walked by and said: “Follow me.” They had no idea where they were going. They never expected to be led to an empty tomb and then find themselves trying to make senses of what it meant much less what to do about it. As we shall see from their stories in the weeks to come, they began to scatter and tried to go back to “business as usual”, but that didn’t work out. He did not leave them alone, and there was no going back. What they heard and what they had seen in his company changed them forever. Now things they never expected or imagined were suddenly very possible. Enemies began to speak to one another. A frightening God who demanded sacrifices and whose name could not even be spoken was now called: “Father”; and this Father preferred mercy over sacrifice, forgiveness over revenge, and love rather than fear.

From a manger in Bethlehem to an empty tomb outside Jerusalem it was all beginning to come together. God has visited God’s people, and God cannot die and still be God. No tomb can contain or restrain this Divine Word by which God has created all things. The Lord of Life will have nothing to do with death. The source of all goodness will change all evil into glory.

As the people of Israel spent 40 days in a desert being formed by trial and faith into a Holy Nation, we who have passed 40 days in the desert of Lent are formed as well into a Holy, Royal, and Priestly People. In forty more days and we shall hear again the voice of an angel that asks why we are standing around doing nothing but looking up into the sky. Ten days later, those who persevere in faith and hope will be lit by the fire by the Spirit and filled with the breath of that Spirit making all things new. There is nothing more to expect, and there is nothing more to wait for. The promise made in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve has been kept. The covenant made in the desert has been fulfilled and folded into the new covenant we share at this table.

No one goes to a grave and expects to find it empty. No one goes to an empty tomb and expects to find life: but we do, and as long as we do not run or hide in fear from anything or any evil, we shall bear witness to what we have seen and heard. We shall fulfill what has been promised, and we shall be a light shining in darkness reflecting the glory of the one who has come to set us free from death, despair, emptiness, and hopelessness. We are the ones called to life this day, a life of joy, a life of peace, a life that reflects the glory of the one who is life itself. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. Peace be with you.

 Luke 24, 1-12

March 26, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Rolled in place and set with a seal, that stone was there to stay so some thought, but those women who had a different idea.

We all have our versions of that stone in our lives. Every one of us here knows what it is like to be in a tomb with a big stone in our way. We know what it is like to be trapped, blocked, or held back from something we want, need, or have dreamed of. We have stones of resentment that keep us entombed in bitterness or anger and rob us of Joy. We have stones of the past, mistakes we’ve made, failures, disappointments, and broken dreams that rob us of Joy. We have stones of self-doubt and depression, stones of old memories and shadows of a past that haunt us and steal our Joy. We have the stones of ignorance and prejudice, unbelief and doubt, stones of fear, independence and stubbornness that have been in our way, blocked our growth, and stifled the work of the Spirit.

But we are here, all of us because those stones have not been as permanent as we thought. A glimmer of light as dim as a candle shines into the darkness of all that stuff with a flicker of hope that gives us reason to think like the women of this Gospel that someone will roll back the stone. We are in this holy place, priests and deacons, sponsors, baptized, and confirmed, children and grandparents, friends, and neighbors all because someone has rolled back the stone that have kept us apart, kept us in the dark, and kept us from the light of a resurrection day.

The story of these women is our best news, and they are great teachers, for they came to that tomb in hope and certain that someone would roll back the stone that kept them from Jesus. Little did they know along the way what it might all mean and what would happen when they found the stone rolled back and what they would become because of it.

It shall not be different for us. The stones have to go. Expect that they will, be confident that by your hope and by the power of Life itself in Jesus Christ all the stones will roll away.

This is the news we share this night. This is the way we walk to the tombs that darkness, sin, and Satan may have prepared for us; singing the Alleluia of Life itself. Walk together, stay together, and preserve this oneness, because the sin and sadness of death, the violence, hatred, anger, power and envy of the days before did not break them apart, scatter them in weakness, nor destroy the bond and unity for which Jesus had prayed just before his death.

It shall be so for us. Stay together, that is the essence of “church”. Look at the ministers at this altar. It is a vision of the church. Two islands and two continents, cultures, colors, and people all one in Christ’s church. In that unity, no stone stays put, no stone is too heavy, no stone can keep us from the risen Christ. Be Joyful. Be confident. Be grateful. Be faithful. Christ is risen, and we shall rise again with him by the power of his Spirit.

 Luke 19, 28-40 + Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 X Philippians 2, 6-11 + Luke 22, 14 – 23, 56

March 20, 2016 at Saint Peter and Saint William Church in Naples, FL

There is a detail in the 19th chapter of Luke’s Gospel that slides by easily. There are no palms in Luke’s Gospel. Having said that, do you remember what it was they spread on the ground in front of him? Yes, their cloaks, their single most important and valuable piece of clothing. It was the most expensive article of clothing anyone had in those days. Constantly mended, it was never discarded. For the poorest of the poor, it was their shelter. For the wealthiest, it was their badge of success. There is something else unique about Luke’s Gospel not found in Matthew and Mark. The crowd is not shouting “Hosanna”. They are shouting: “Peace in Heaven and Glory in Highest.” It’s an echo or a repeat of the message angels brought at the birth of Christ. So, what began with a message of Peace and Glory, ends with that message now taken up by the people of Jerusalem. Today, what began with the ashes of Palms five weeks ago ends with Palms. What begins with a triumphant procession into Jerusalem ends with another procession of shame leaving Jerusalem. Jesus rides in with glory and shouts of joy. He walks out with jeers and scorn. Contrasts everywhere you care to look in these readings and in this liturgy. Even now we began here in song after weeks of entering in silence here at St Peter. We will depart in somber silence.

Something has happened to us, and for believers, there is not avoiding the reality and the truth of it. Jesus Christ, the Son of God has traded places with us. The innocent has traded places with the guilty.

All through Luke’s Passion account, the innocence of Jesus is announced for all. The religious leader, Herod Antipas, knew it and sent Jesus back to Pilate. That civil leader, Pilate, knew it too and said so: “There is no charge against him. He has done nothing to deserve death.” A criminal crucified beside him proclaims the innocence of Jesus. Then at the very end, a Roman Centurion knows it and says it. “Surely this was an innocent man.” The innocent one has died so that the guilty may live. There is nothing innocent about us when we tell the truth about our lives. What we must leave her pondering is how and why God would be willing and able to trade places with us suffering like a guilty one in order for us to share the life of the innocent one. That is what has happened. To give us the child’s place at the Father’s right hand, the innocent Son gave up his place there to redeem and restore us to the place the Father has prepared for us. There is much here to wonder about, and even more here to be grateful for.

Ezekiel 37, 12-14 + Psalm 130 + Romans 8, 8-11 + John 11, 1-45 (Lectionary Cycle A)

March 13, 2016 at St William Church in Naples, FL

In this Gospel, John is not telling a story about Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. John is presenting a “sign”, one of several that make up the outline or framework of the Fourth Gospel. Because it is a sign and not a miracle story, there are a lot of details that get confusing if you simply think this is a miracle story. For instance: why did Jesus take so long to go to Bethany, or is Lazarus going to die again and leave his two sisters to grieve twice? At the very beginning we are told by John that this is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it. This is not about a family crises in Bethany. It is about the crisis of the world caught up in death and sin. It is not about a corpse being resuscitated nearly as much as it is about giving life to the world.

This text is like a thin sheet of paper laid on top of another. There are words here, and there is a story, but bleeding through from beneath there is another message, the real one. This story is like a shadow that tells us something about the real event that is happening in the light. The story of Lazarus is a sign, and for us this weekend, it is a sign pointing us toward what we will celebrate, acknowledge, and affirm as the foundation of our faith in two weeks. This story is full of clues if you read the story carefully. We are told that the end of this story will be the glorifying of the Son. Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” You see, it is pointing toward the death of Jesus and his resurrection, not to the death of Lazarus. Notice that Jesus is deeply  moved and troubled, that he weeps, that the tomb is near Jerusalem, that it is a cave with a large stone covering the entrance that must be rolled back. Jesus cries out in a loud voice – remember that he does that from the cross. Then, the grave cloths are removed from one dead but now alive, and we should think of the grave cloths removed and folded in an empty tomb. John wants us to think of Jesus, not focus on Lazarus.

Lazarus left the tomb, and the price of that was that Jesus had to enter it. Jesus himself said that one cannot give life unless one dies. He made no exception for his own case. This willingness to submit to the giving of life, which he had asked of his disciples, is dramatically stated when Jesus asked where Lazarus had been laid, they said to him, “Come and see.” Do you remember what he said when he called his disciples from their old lives as fishermen: “Come and See?”

It’s all here for us now, the way to life, the way to glory, the way to the Father. A weeping Jesus does not weep so much for Lazarus as he weeps for all of this world still trapped in death and violence, trapped in tombs of doubt and fear. As the weeping Jesus dries the tears of Martha and Mary, he does so for all who share and speak the faith Martha proclaims. The life and the glory that he shares with us is not cheap or easy. It means service, suffering, sacrifice, perseverance, and obedience to the Will of the Father. It will mean rest in a tomb but with readiness to come out when he calls.

Isaiah 43, 16-21 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 3, 8-14 + John 8, 1-11

March 13, 2016 at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

It is a story of mercy well worth hearing again during this Holy Year of Mercy. The woman caught and condemned is not the only one who receives mercy even though she seems to be at the center of the story. The Scribes and Pharisees receive mercy as well. They learn a lesson and also get a second chance although we don’t know how much good it does. As sinners we may find comfort by identifying with the woman in the story, but we might learn more by shifting our attention to the Scribes and Pharisees. While there may be a few big sinners and adulterers among us, if the truth is told we are more like the Scribes and Pharisees than the woman. We judge, we embarrass, we accuse, we reveal secrets, and we often choose the moral high ground when it comes to the faults and sins of others.

The woman, whose sin is acknowledge goes away free and forgiven. She gets to experience mercy, but those others whose sin is never named nor really acknowledged just slip away trapped in their righteousness and convinced that they are doing the right thing. Of course, the “right thing” for them has nothing to do with this woman they are using. The right thing for them is trapping Jesus, catching him in violation of the law. They seem to be deaf to the very word and commands of God they want to enforce. “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice” says God in the sixth chapter of the Old Testament Book of Hosea, but they only listen to themselves jealous of the Rabbi who draws bigger and more admiring crowds than they do. So they are willing to sacrifice this woman to their ideals forgetting all about mercy which they think she does not deserve. What lies behind all this is the fact that justice without mercy is never really just. It is only revenge.

Earlier this week while studying this text, I came across this little story that left me thinking for hours. One day a mother came to plead with Napoleon for her son’s life. The young man had committed a serious offence. The law was clear. Justice demanded his death. The emperor was determined to ensure that justice would be done. But the mother insisted, “Your Excellency, I have come to ask for mercy not for justice.” But he does not deserve mercy.” Napoleon answered. “Your Excellency, said the mother, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it.” “So be it,” said Napoleon. “I will have mercy on him.” And he set her son free.

My friends, Mercy, of its nature, is pure gift. It is something we all stand in need of and none of us deserve. It is a gift we have already received, and a gift the worthy will pass on to others remembering the words of Jesus spoken to us all: “Blessed are the merciful; they will obtain mercy.”

Josiah 5, 9-12 + Psalm 34 + 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21 + Luke 15, 1-3, 11-32

March 6, 2016 at Holy Spirit Church in Mustang, OK

Waiting. It is well past bed time for Mom and Dad, but sleep is out of the question. Their 16 year old son is out with friends. Curfew is eleven, and they know he will be in on time. Sure enough the door slams exactly at eleven. Coming into the living room, he says, “Why did you wait up?” Trying to be cool, they say “We weren’t waiting up – we just wanted to see the end of this movie.” Then it’s off to bed for everyone, home and family once again complete and at peace.

Mom and Dad wait. The angry words still resonate in the house. In time, this storm too will pass like hundreds of others have that rocked the family. It will blow over. Until then, Mom and Dad put aside their heartbreak and get ready to be forgiving and welcoming parents when the angry son or the put-upon daughter returns because that’s what you do when you are Mom and Dad.

Wait. Everything has been a blur since that phone call: she was crossing the street on her way home and a car came out of nowhere. The driver never saw here. Someone called 911 and….after hours of surgery, they sit by a hospital bed. Their precious daughter hooked up to a wall of blinking monitors, and for the time being, this small hospital room is home, and they wait.

The love of a parent for a child is a remarkable thing. Children have no idea how much their parents do and would do for them: while many good parents never realize what that love enables them to do. They just do it, and so it is easy to tell this story again from Luke’s Gospel. We understand it. We know what it means, and what it suggests to us about a God Jesus taught us to call, “Father.”

Yet, at the same time, it is not easy to tell this story, because there is no peace in that house as the story concludes. The reconciliation is incomplete, and while the father may have one of his sons back alive, another stands outside angry refusing to even call his father by that name and refers to his brother as, “That son of yours.” What could be a joyful story of a family united in peace is really a sad reflection on the present condition of the human family broken and angry, envious, greedy, and prideful.

When the characters are removed from the parable, it chronicles the struggle between virtue and vice that goes on within every one of us. The struggle is made all the worse by a confusion within us over values and virtues. Understanding the difference and putting them in the right order provides the insight and wisdom to see virtue victorious over vice. Virtues and Values are not the same thing. Confusing them is not helpful for those who want to grow wise and holy. Confusing them is a formula for personal, spiritual, and social disorder. A virtue is behavior that makes me good. A value is something I want. Virtue speaks to morality. Value has nothing to do with morality. Morality is about what I do with my values. For example, money is value. It is not good nor bad. I can use it to support my family, or buy drugs. I can use it to do good things or bad things. Only my behavior is good or bad when it is consistent with virtue. Values are relative. $50 is a lot of money. $500 is a greater value, but virtues are absolute. Kindness is always good. Patience is always good. Justice is always good. When we confuse these two, values often are often placed ahead of virtues. For example, our culture often places freedom, which is a value ahead of responsibility which is a virtue which can be a disaster because freedom is not a virtue. It does not make us good. Responsibility does.

The boys in this parable are good examples of Virtue and Value face to face. The older son has a lot of values, working hard, doing what is expected of him, but there is no virtue in him. As he stands there proclaiming his values, there is nothing really good about him, and none of us would want to be like him. He is arrogant, mean, proud, and very much alone. Then there is the other one whom I always like to think of in terms of virtue. He has one no one can miss, and it is probably the most important one of all: humility. That virtue makes him good again, and if you would have to choose which of the two you would want as a friend, I hope you would choose the younger one. He would be good to have around. He is wise, humble, and loving.

Tonight, Monday, and Tuesday evenings here at Holy Spirit, I have come to spend a little time with you reflecting upon virtues and vices. Whether or not such a reflection is of value to you remains to be seen, but I would like to propose that as we move through the last days of this Lenten season, it might be valuable to do something with the time we have left. I am going to speak about what our church tradition has for centuries called: “The Seven Deadly Sins.” These vices that make us miserable and continue to leave the human family broken and alienated. Lots of people these days don’t like to talk about or hear about “sin.” Many may insist that they have “issues”; but hardly does anyone like to say they have “sins.” Yet when recently asked by a reporter who he was, Pope Francis without a pause said: “I am a sinner”, and with those four words, he unmasked the lie and the denial with which we stumble through life blaming and accusing others for the choices we make every day.

It will do no good however to simply list the vice or the sin or the “issue” if you want to pretend. What we need is to learn, understand, and practice the virtue that will, when embraced, will lift us up, restore the human goodness and glory for which we were made in God’s image. I’m going to talk about those virtues each night and contrast them to the vice and the sin their absence allows to wound and fester the human soul. Pride and Envy tonight. Anger and Sloth Monday, and Greed, Gluttony, and Lust on Tuesday. I always save the best till last. So I invite you come for an hour or so to pray, reflect on the Word of God, and learn to cultivate real virtues that will eventually, if we wait long enough, and God is patient with us will get the party started with everyone in the house.