All posts for the month September, 2016

Habakkuk 1, 2-3, 2, 2-4 + Psalm 95 + 1 Timothy 1, 6-8, 13-14 + Luke 17, 5-10

October 2, 2016 Aboard the MS Veendam

Faith is not a thing that we pack up and carry around with us. It is not something that we can measure out in a glass or weigh on a scale. Faith is a relationship with God, and I believe that this is what the disciples are asking for as this episode of Luke’s Gospel unfolds. They have been on the way to Jerusalem with Jesus for some time. They have seen what he does and listened to what he says. What they are beginning to discover is that this man has an extra ordinary relationship with his father, and they want one too. Because it is a relationship, it is not a matter of how much, but of how deep, how lasting, how real, and how personal it is. In other words, it is about quality, not about quantity.

In response to the disciples then, Jesus uses a relationship as an example: the relationship between a servant and a master. It was a relationship that they would have easily understood, because there were plenty of masters and servants around. Now the cultural age in which this Gospel is formed was dominated by the notion of “merit”. Everything was earned, and when you did something you had a right to expect something in return. That was how it worked between masters and servants. Servants did their work and masters protected them. The servants had a right to expect that. This was all based upon an idea at the time that suggested that if you kept the Law (God’s commandments) then God owed you salvation. Jesus comes along and rejects this whole idea. God does not owe us anything. In doing so, Jesus emphasizes the sheer goodness of God, and in the light of that, there is nothing left to do except acknowledge that after all is said and done, we are only servants.

In his relationship with the Father, Jesus realized his total dependence upon the love God had for him. His response to that love was his unfailing obedience to the will of his father. It came out of love, not from some idea that if he did what God wanted, he would have some claim on God’s love. That love was already there. It was not the result of what Jesus did.  It was the result of who he was and who God was. This is the faith for which we must pray; the kind of faith that springs out of mutual love.

To God’s graciousness we owe everything beginning with the first breath we take. We recognize ourselves as “useless servants,” deserving nothing by our own account. Faith is always a choice we make choosing to be grateful servants who never forget how blessed we have been to see ourselves and others as brother and sister “servants” at the table of the Father. The only adequate response we can make to God’s unfathomable and immeasurable goodness is to live lives of joyful gratitude and humble service. Let that be the spirit with which we live and celebrate this week aboard this ship together.

Amos 6, 1-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6, 11-16 + Luke 16, 19-31

September 25, 2016 St Peter Church in Naples, FL

Images of hell are found all through the scriptures, and they often have to do with fire and heat. If this is to be taken literally, we’re in trouble here in southwest Florida. It’s been hot the past several weeks! This may not be the “Paradise” that the Chamber of Commerce would like to portray. When Jesus speaks of hell, he often refers to a ravine outside of Jerusalem City that had been used by an earlier religious sect that sacrificed human life. Because of that, the Jewish people would not go near the place, and it became the city dump a wasteland outside of Jerusalem that was a smoldering, stinking place everyone avoided. The physical features are important: it was outside the city, it was always burning, and no one wanted to go there.

With that image in mind there comes this episode of Luke’s Gospel. What emerges with great importance here is this “chasm”, this separation that exists between that rich man and everyone else. It is a chasm that was there before he died. He just didn’t notice it. He did not notice a lot of things before it was too late. That poor man was right there at his front door. There is no way in the world he did not know Lazarus was there. He would have had to step over him or walk around him to go in and go out. But maybe he was so walled up already in his life that he never went out. The fact of the matter is; this rich man had simply learned to look the other way, and with Jesus, that’s a problem.  Urban life for all of us these days makes it really easy to do that. It is now very easy with our freeways and turnpikes to speed past neighborhoods where Lazarus still lives and never notice anything we don’t want to see. But those people are still there, and the result is the same.

As it was then and so it is still now, Lazarus and everyone like him remains invisible especially when we look the other way. It fascinates me the way Luke reports the parable. Notice that the rich man still does not see Lazarus. What he really sees is what Lazarus has! The rich man is not connected to what binds us together as human beings. He lives in privilege and power, and he begs Abraham, not Lazarus because he assumes that Abraham is a powerful influential figure like he is. He wants to order Lazarus around like one of his servants, because he thinks he’s still so privileged. All that did is deepen the chasm between himself and others. Then he tries to extend his sense of class and hereditary privilege by pleading for his brothers. This guy is clueless! What he needs is a change of vocabulary that would reveal a change of heart. Instead of saying “me” he needs to say “we”. He needs to demonstrate that he gets exactly what it is that Jesus is about with his ministry among us.  Clan, class, and privilege are gone in the Kingdom of God. Among those who are citizens of that Kingdom, there is only a concept of “ours” that includes everyone the Creator refers to as “mine.” God is the only one who can every say, “mine.” When that happens, death will appear as a promise instead of a threat, and we will not be content until that promise comes true in the age Paul writes of in his letter to Timothy.

That rich man like too many still today has locked himself into his own little world. While it might be fine for a little while, it does not take long to realize that there is a chasm that cannot be bridged, and it is very lonely on the other side. We must take careful note that this man is not condemned because of his wealth. It has nothing to do with where he finds himself. He is condemned because he did nothing with his wealth except wall himself up and look the other way. What Jesus condemns is using wealth to separate ourselves from others rather than enrich others. There is a responsibility that comes with wealth. We must put people before possessions and relationships before belongings. The hunger that drives us is not for material things but for a loving, personal relationship with the God who created us, and nothing else will do.

Amos 8, 4-7 + Psalm 113 + 1 Timothy 2, 1-8 + Luke 16, 1-13

September 18, 2016 St Peter Church in Naples, FL

 This parable is so complicated and complex that skipping over it becomes a great temptation, or at least skipping the first part and diving right into the second part. It is easy and perhaps lazy to just think this is about making a choice between spiritual things and physical things or between God and Money. It might be helpful by the way to know that the word translated here as money is not spot on when it comes to what Luke means in the original text. Luke is not referring to cash. The most accurate translation would say “Mammon” which means much more than money. It means anything of value. It could mean property as in livestock or crops or a home.

 To get in touch with what Jesus is praising and with what he encourages here, we must stay with the first part of the parable. This is not simply about priorities in life or about comparative values or about how to win friends. It is not the dishonesty of this manager that gets the attention of Jesus, because some think that this may actually be a real situation that everyone knew about. What Jesus admires here and proposes as appropriate behavior for disciples is this man’s decisiveness and his quick decision to do something about his situation when he realizes that it will not last forever. There is no praise here for dishonesty or cheating. This parable is about taking action without delay when someone realizes that there will come an accounting, a time to settle up with the “rich man.”

 Anyone who goes through this life thinking that there will not come a time for accounting and a time to stand before the “rich man” is a fool. The man in this parable is not foolish. For you and me, there will come a time to account for how we have managed what God has given us, not just money, but everything including this earth itself. As Pope Francis has reminded us again and again, how we treat this earth, its water, its air, its soil will be a matter for an accounting just as much as how we use all the other resources with which we have been charged and entrusted. It will not be wise to go for long fooling ourselves into thinking that God or “the rich man”, as this parable calls him, is not coming. “Give an account of your service” says this parable. “It’s going to come to an end.” There is the message, and this crooked manager shows us that a decisive action and a change in the way things are is called for. So Jesus suggests that we become clever and make some decisions quickly and wisely. This is what is praised in this parable: an awareness that an accounting is coming, and the need to change and do something about it.

 In a very subtle way, the cleverness of this “manager” goes far beyond just making friends for himself. The consequence of his decision is much more than being liked by those whose debts he adjusted. Those people, especially in that culture and time would have known that such generosity was not his alone to grant. What he really ends up doing is making the “rich man” look really good and really generous, because those people would have thought that this is what the rich man wanted the manager to do. That is clever, and making God look good or look like a generous God is very smart.

 So we proclaim today a Gospel that announces an accounting to come. We proclaim a Gospel that proposes a quick change from the way things have been in terms our management style, and some decisive action now on our part, for we are the managers here entrusted with quite a lot, entrusted the poor as well. What we do for them and what we do with them revealing a generous and loving God to them will gain us more in the eyes of that “rich man” than we might ever imagine.


Exodus 32, 7-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1, 12-17 + Luke 15, 1-32

September 11, 2016 on board MS Amsterdam

When I got on this ship last month, there was a lady quite distraught over the fact that she had lost her cell phone between the hotel and the ship. With my phone and that of another passenger, we made some calls to the hotel and to the shuttle company to no avail. Later when her luggage was delivered to the room, the phone was found in her luggage, and she was a happy lady. Then at the first of this week, I received an email from a passenger who had been on the ship the week before asking if I could check the lost and found on board to see if something left in her stateroom had been turned in. It was, and in Sitka I mailed the item back to her. In both cases there was great relief and a lot of joy.

The experience told to us in this Gospel is very real to everyone of us who lose things and find them again. Luke sets up this chapter of his Gospel in an ever more intense way. Sheep, coin, son is the progression as he leads us deeper into what he wants to reveal about God and to what he expects from disciples of Jesus Christ. What is constant in each of these parables is the emotion or the response of Joy. What he reveals about the nature of God is consistent in each parable: a patient and consistent seeking of what is lost. This is a God who, by our judgement, seems ridiculous. Leaving 99 at risk while searching for 1 is silly. Tearing up the house and burning more oil than the coin is worth makes no sense, but that’s the point. Waiting, watching, running outside with a ring and robe and then throwing an extravagant party for a kid who has treated you like you were dead makes you think that this dad has already spoiled this kid enough and ought to make him pay for his behavior. But then, that’s not the God Jesus has come to reveal. This is a God of Joy who is actually crazy with love for us. If you’ve ever been crazy in love with someone, you know very well that you don’t act predictably and are likely to do some wild and wonderful things.

Joy, in the end, is what these parables reveal about God, and Joy is what Jesus has come to bring and to proclaim. Joy must be the first and obvious sign of disciple of Jesus. To make the point, Luke gives us that other son who is anything but joyful. His problem is that he thinks he deserves everything, and the saddest thing we see about him is that he is without love. He does not love his brother, and is even without love for his father. We should notice that he never once speaks to his father respectfully nor lovingly. He refers to his father as “you” without a hint of respect or love. His resentment, his anger, and his jealousy make it impossible for him to enter into the joy and share the love the father has for them both.

Now in the morning we will all shortly head for home, and I hope that most of us will be welcomed there by people who love us, and in that love we shall again experience a kind of Joy that reveals something about our faith. I have begun to believe that Joy, like faith is something we must choose. Few of us have had any great or profound religious experience or been face to face with God. We have simply had to choose to believe or not believe. We all know people who have simply chosen not to believe. It is much the same with Joy. In the face of tragedy, sin, our own brokenness and the sadness we experience from time to time we have every opportunity and sometimes every reason to be angry, resentful, and jealous. We can choose to stay that way, or we can choose be joyful recognizing and choosing to share in a kind of Joy that is divine.

Fifteen years ago on this date something happened because of people who were resentful, angry, and jealous of us. Hate overwhelmed them and led them to choose violence and death rather than peace and life. Today we look back and we look ahead. Today we proclaim a Gospel of Joy because we believe in a a God of Mercy, renewing our faith through this Eucharist making sure that we shall not stand outside when the party has already begun. We choose Joy. We choose life. We choose peace. We choose Jesus Christ.

 Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9-10, 12-17 + Luke 14, 25-33

September 4, 2016 on board MS Amsterdam

A few weeks ago much of this country had a welcome distraction from political advertisements and speeches as athletes from all over the world competed in Rio. Just the presence of those young people in Rio was the real story not whether they won or lost took home the gold, silver, or bronze. The score keepers had their lists, but to me it was a story of sacrifice and commitment told over and over again. In my extended family, we have an Olympian who competed in the winter Olympics in Tokyo. I know for a fact what his parents sacrificed to get him there, and I know what it took on his part in terms of practice and training early in the morning and late at night while continuing studies at school. It went on from the time he was ten till he was twenty five years old. I suspect many of you may also know a story like this from your families or friends. This story of commitment and determination, of sacrifice and suffering is there in any life that has some glory. As I said however, it’s not about winning or losing. It is simply about being there and being a part of it. Those young people who never mounted a podium came home with something just as valuable as a medal when they eventually tell their story.

There is a kind of parade going on in this Gospel, a march to Jerusalem. The crowds seem to be growing as people fall in behind Jesus. Some are there as spectators, and some are there because they want to be part of what they think is going to happen in Jerusalem. The apostles certainly were marching along quite confident that they were on the way to victory, and many others surely hoped that Jesus would enter that city and be the messiah they hoped for restoring the glory of Israel, sending the Romans back to Rome, and lifting the burdens the Pharisees had imposed upon them all.

Jesus had a different sense of this journey to Jerusalem. He did not see it as a victory march but rather as a funeral procession: a funeral for himself. The closer he gets, the more serious he becomes. The more he senses the way others are looking at this journey, the more he feels the need to bring them around to the truth because the destination was not really Jerusalem. The destination was the “right hand of the Father.”

When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he was not enlisting part time or seasonal volunteers, he was calling those who would be his own to total unconditional and persevering commitment. This text is not really addressed to those who are just along for the ride, to those who expect to be entertained, amused, and maybe cash in on the consequences at the end. It is addressed to those who have begun to listen, to follow, and to hope that what Jesus has promised will be theirs.

We hear three different conditions for discipleship in today’s reading.

First, a disciple must prioritize relationships in life. One’s primary relationship must be centered on Jesus. From that single relationship, all other relations, including family and self, can be ordered. It’s like those young people in Rio. You run with runners. People who are going to distract you from your dream have no part in your life. People who share your same goal will encourage you and push you bringing out the best.

Second, a disciple must be willing to suffer. The “cross” of Christ should be the guiding image and template by which disciples come to understand the divine, as well as come to understand the purpose in one’s life. This suffering does not necessarily mean something physical. It’s like the suffering of those young athletes who gave up party nights with friends to get up early and practice while everyone else is in bed in the early hours of the day.

Third, a disciple must “renounce all his possessions.” Dependence on material goods and wealth serve only to distract a disciple’s total commitment to God and the mission of discipleship that follows. What we have is a means for getting where we need to go, and a disciple always looks upon what they have been given with an eye toward what they are to do with it.

So as our week long adventure into the beauty of God’s creation comes to a end in the morning, we take with us the encouragement of this Gospel. Renewed and refreshed after these days away from all other distractions, we can step ashore and head for home remembering that all the days of our lives are a journey to the Right Hand of the Father. We are reminded of what getting there will ask of us, and we are always assured that this not a journey we ever have to make alone.