All posts for the month November, 2016

Isaiah 2, 1-5 + Psalm 122 + Romans 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44

November 27, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

Did you get that first line of this Gospel Proclamation today?  “As it was in the days of Noah” it read. Jesus presumes that everyone knows how it was in the days of Noah. Knowing that is essential to knowing what Jesus is talking about. What is described there is people eating and drinking marrying and being given in marriage. That seems like normal behavior. Yet what it also says is that the earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness. Again, not meaning to sound cynical, but nothing much has changed: normal stuff! What is absent in the days of Noah is any obvious attention to God. What is missing is a relationship with God that would make a difference in the way things are. What it says is that Noah found favor with God, and what Noah did that no one else would do was listen to God. He did what God asked. He did what made no sense to anyone. He built a big boat. He risked the ridicule of everyone to do what God asked of him. So, that’s the way it was in the days of Noah, people just going about their lives with no thought of nor any attention to God. Yet there was one person who was listening and obedient to God, and because of that obedience and willingness to take a risk, there was salvation. There is a connection here that I hope you put together between Noah and Jesus.

Notice how Jesus describes life at his time: two men were in the field; two women were grinding at the mill. They are doing the ordinary things of life. The difference between them is that one of them is awake. We could add two people were sitting in a church, one will be taken and the other will be left.  Which one will you will it be is the question Jesus would like us to consider. He urges us to stay awake, which means a lot more than not sleeping through this sermon. The two in the field or at the mill may not sleeping; but they may not really be awake – totally awake. This disposition, attitude, or wakefulness is a spiritual awakening. We have to be spiritually awake, alive, and alert, which means living in the awareness that God is among us or that God is with us, Emanuel! That ancient Hebrew word is a proclamation more than a wish. On the lips of believers, it proclaims that God has come.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, and what is the third acclamation? Christ will come again. “Again” is the word that gives this focus. He comes “again” because he has already come. For those who are awake, aware, and attentive, this is the guiding principal behind everything we do, every choice we make, and every way we respond to events and challenges of this life. Two men in the field: one is taken, the other left behind. Which one do you want to be? The one left behind is working that field because he thinks that’s all there is. The one taken has been doing that work for the praise of God in whose presence he lives. Two women at the mill: one is taken the other left behind. The one taken grinds that grain and makes that bread conscious at every moment that it’s all a gift from God, and all the effort of that work is a song or a prayer of gratitude because she is spiritually awake and never forgets why she has the grain to bring to that mill.

How shall it be for us who hear this Gospel and are urged to wake up, listen to God’s Word, and live with full attention in the conviction that Christ has died, that Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again? If you’re folding clothes out of the dryer, every fold is a litany of thanks that you have something extra to clean and fold. If you hit a ball into the rough, instead of what you might say, a smile breaks out because you are standing there with the time and the resources to play that game not because God has blessed you with riches, but because you have a little more time to think about what it’s all for. You sit in traffic and become impatient because someone else is slow ahead of you, and if you are spiritually awake, you might recognize that this little extra time is not being taken from you, but given to you so that you might wake up and look around. It is better to be the one taken while in grateful prayer and reflection than the one who is filling a barn with things they will never see, need, or use.

This day in the life of our faith and our church is ultimately about time. A sense of urgency comes from Isaiah. A timely reminder from Paul about the salvation we have already found in the light of Christ. All of this confirmed by Luke who urges us to live spiritually awake, alive, and prepared for not at any moment, but in every moment, God is with us.

2 Samuel 5, 1-3 + Psalm 122 + Colossians 1, 12-20 + Luke 23, 35-43

November 20, 2016

Today tells us as much about the Kingdom as it does about the King, and I think it is important to focus on that Kingdom while reflecting upon this King we have come to honor and adore. This is a king who redefines what true authority in this world really is. This is a king who has refused all riches common to leaders of this world. This is king who uses the language of mercy and forgiveness rather than the language of commands and judgements. This is a king who has come to serve rather than be served. This is a king then who has established his reign through the power of love rather than the power of the sword. This is a new weapon that to this day attracts the attention, and is the only weapon that can bring peace. This is a king who sets people free rather than imprison or enslave enemies. This is, a king acknowledged by the mighty Pilot and the helpless dying criminal. This is a king whose realm is called, “Paradise.”

Paradise is something bigger than we might think. It is not about a place or some kind of blessed life hereafter. Paradise is the reality of a God who enters into the pain and heartache of human suffering. Paradise is a God who embraces a world immersed in the consequences of violence, homelessness, and despair. Paradise is for anyone who can be reached by love, because it describes a relationship not just of us with God. But even more wonderfully, it describes a relationship of God with us, and herein lies the cause of our joy today, and even some excitement.

The old story that tells of our fall from paradise is not just a story of Adam and Eve. It is the story of a God who goes looking for them calling out: “Where are you?” With that divine cry, the whole story of salvation begins to be told. Its final lines are spoken today with the proclamation of “paradise” to a sinful yet repentant sinner/thief who speaks for us all to the God whose son poured out his life so that we might have it.

Come to this altar today to be filled with what has been spilled. Come to this altar today to pledge allegiance to the new kingdom of mercy. Step into the new kingdom today or go deeper into it. Learn the language of mercy and forgiveness and speak it boldly. Learn the only way to make peace, and set people free by forgiveness and mercy. In as much as we do, we shall not have to wait any longer, suffer alone any more, or ever battle the darkness of doubt or fear. We who gather under this throne (crucifix) and eat at this table are one with God who, for all eternity, has waited and searched for us. This is where he will find us in paradise.


Malachi 3, 19-20 + Psalm 98 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19

November 13, 2016

Personally I take no comfort in the words: “Not a hair of your head will be harmed.” That’s not working for me these days. So, let’s move on to talk of endurance. That makes more sense, because here again we have Jesus talking around and not directly answering a question. They ask, “When?” He talks about things already happening. He talks of signs, but not of the end. He talks of persecutions, even within families, but says that these come way before the end. He talks of endurance, but never says how long we must endure and for what. So we can get all caught up in these signs with our imaginations and miss the point failing to notice what God is doing for us.

There is a paradox here. The new age is coming, but it does not come with wars and tumult. The new age comes in the quiet of the night. It comes not with a violent uprising, but with the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The new age comes not by resisting the forces of this world who use the threat of death to control. It comes with a journey through death to new life as God destroys death with a greater power in Jesus.

The truth, as we believers must see it revealed by Christ, is that the wars and tumult in our day are the dying cries of an old world. They are the final fits of an empty dying world of sin, oppression, fear, and violence. The powerful of this world are thrashing about in one last losing effort to control and resist the power of grace and of love. The point that Luke is making is that we should not and must not be panicked by such events. The faithful must not turn to irrational ungodly behavior and think that the violent ways of this dying world have anything to do with what is coming. Should we turn to these ungodly ways, the casualty is always the truth as prejudice, hatred, or racist, ways add to the chaos, suffering, and violence. Patient endurance is what is called for because the God of Love has subverted this world’s power and sown the seeds of a new reign of God within this world.

Suffering is terrible everywhere at any time, especially suffering caused by human sinful behavior. The suffering of injustice and poverty, homelessness, abuse, and hatred is a suffering shared by all humanity and therefor by God as well. Yet this suffering cannot control Jesus, and it does not control those who are named and claimed by God in baptism. Though it may kill us in the eyes of this world, it does not really harm us. We must not be fooled by the endless cycles of violence in this world. We take them for what they are, the death throes of our own sinfulness on a grand scale. Our hope is not in beautiful churches, great cities, and military might. The ruins of too many past civilizations should teach well the lesson that all those things come down eventually, and most of them by violence.

Our hope is in the crucified and risen one. Like the Son of God, we children of God believe that our future is in God’s hands, and no torment can change that. Ultimately we believe and must affirm today that will be will be taken into the heart of the God of Jesus, the God who loves and, therefore, even in the worst adversity, we can set our faith in God.

Trust in God has profoundly personal implications. It also has important political, social, and religious ramifications. Luke has not withdrawn into individualism. He still weeps for Jerusalem and longs for its liberation. He is prepared to tackle the madness of fear and hate and the fanatics this fear and hate generates. Where events whip up panic, there is a lot hate to go around. Anyone who advocates the way of Jesus can expect to land some of it.  Luke keeps our feet on the ground about abuse and oppression. He stands in a tradition which tackles adversity in a way that is not thrown off by hate or fear, but informed by the stillness and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. When he tells us not to worry about what to say, he simply means that if we speak with the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it will be irresistible. There is always something irresistible about love even when it is crucified. He calls then for a shift from quantity of time to quality of being in all times and all places. So when the questions are asked: “How long” or “When”. The answer is, don’t worry about it, just pay attention to how well you live conformed to Christ.

2 Micah 7, 1-2 9-14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16-3, 5 + Luke 20, 27-38

November 6, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

In my personal reflection on this Gospel text, I find it interesting that Matthew, Mark, and Luke report this same incident, which means that they were all being asked this question and were dealing with a response. What is most curious is that in all of my 49 years as priest I can’t remember any time when anyone asked me about this. I suspect it is simply because most people in our day and age do not even give much thought to the future, to what comes after death, and what it all means. For them life is too hectic, too demanding, and all too immediate for thinking about that future. This is especially so for people younger than most of us. They just can’t seem to be bothered about it.  On my own part, I also recognize that I never gave it a lot of thought for a long time until really good friends, parents, and family members began to go ahead of me. The thought that I would “see them again” was a little comforting, but it gets a little too abstract when you get serious about the fact that there is no body and therefore no eyes with which to “see”. “How’s that going to work?” I would ask myself. When I got a little more serious about this, someone suggested that it’s not a matter of “seeing” but of “knowing”, at which point it became far too philosophical, and I put it off to think about another day. I never did buy into that idea of joining the choirs of angels and singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” for all eternity. The lyrics seemed a little monotonous, and sometimes the melody a little lame. If that’s the future for me, I should be standing over there practicing (pointing toward the choir) and not over here.

What the Sadducees reveal by their question is that they were thinking of the next life as merely a continuation of this present life. That was their problem to which Jesus responds in these verses. He never says what it will be like in the next life. He simply says that it will be different. What he does say is that our relationship with God will continue, and that death will not change that in the least. In fact, if you work with that idea long enough, you might come to the conclusion that the relationship with God will then be even better because there will be no distractions or competition for our time and attention.

With that revelation from this Gospel, we are face to face with a reminder that the time will come when there is nothing left but our relationship with God. Therefore, if there has not been one here, nothing will carry over. This Gospel, when taken beyond the superficial, which is what the Sadducees can’t seem to do, proposes that this life is the time for discovering, building, and nurturing our relationship with God, because all other relationships are going to be found in God when this is all over. The time we spend here and now at work with our careers, at becoming a success in terms of fame and finance, at our games and our pleasures will count for nothing in the next life because it is going to be very different. If that’s all we do is chase after those things, we are going to have a problem in the next life. Those things will not be there. The message that the Gospel leaves with us provides some ideas about what this life is for, and what ought to really matter for those who know and believe that there is another life to come. What Matthew, Mark, and Luke all suggest is that what will not be different in the next life is our relationship with God; and so these are the days and the times to build up that relationship for that is all that will carry us over. Nothing here will mean nothing then and there for eternity, and that would certainly be “hell.”

There is also a way of understanding the Gospel message that insists that the future is already present, and so we are called to live lives already transformed: lives that really do make the relationship with God the first and only one through which and in which all other things have their meaning and value. So, here we are still in this life, but already called by faith to live transformed lives. We can daydream, put it off because we’re too busy, in too big a hurry, and just be silly about it like the Sadducees, or we can embrace the transformation to which we are called and make the Covenant relationship with God we renew at this sacred table what matters most of all.

November 2, 2016 Outdoor Mass at the Parish Columbarium

Wisdom 3, 1-6, 9 + Psalm 27 + Revelation 21, 1-5, 6-7 + Luke 7, 11-17

Feed the Hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Bury the dead. Shelter the traveler. Comfort the sick. Free the imprisoned. These are the Corporal Words of Mercy that describe God’s people. Six of these works come from the parable of the last judgement in Matthew 25. Where there is a description of how God’s mercy will be given to those who have been merciful. “When did I see you”, goes each of the verses. However, this work of mercy stands alone which is perhaps why it is given a day of its own in our yearly celebration of feasts and grace. There is no such thing as “All Sick Day” or “All Hungry Day”, or “All Travelers Day”, but there is “All Souls Day”.

The times in which we live are wildly inconsistent when it comes to the human body. On the one hand we are fitness-conscious and a great deal of money and energy is spent on being in shape and looking good, healthy, and young. But then, at death, for too many the body becomes an inconvenience and at worst an embarrassment to be disposed of quickly and discretely. We seem to be confused about what this is, this body in which we live with joy and with faith discovering who we are as God’s children. To this confusion, the Church speaks with divine wisdom and hope.

This work of mercy is not simply about the customs we have for burial of human bodies and the respect we have for human remains. It is about a respect for life, all life. It is about how we respond to those who are grieving with compassion and understanding as well as how we embrace our own grief and yet cling the hope for life everlasting which we profess in our Creed. This day we acknowledge that grief is part of living and sharing in the life of Christ whose grief over Jerusalem and whose grief at the grave of his friend Lazarus tell us something about a God who knows grief: a God who grieves over sinful and unfaithful children of his own making and who grieves the death of his own son. This is a day that draws us close to that God.

Grief is only possible for those who love, and it bears witness to that love gratefully. The memories we have for those who have gone before us reveal the power of love that defeats the power of death. The final act of kindness extended to Jesus Christ was a decent burial that provides for us a model of respect and kindness for one another.

The Gospel we proclaim today stirs hope in us not just for those we have buried, lovingly remembered, and grieved, but hope for ourselves who will follow those who have gone before us. For them and for ourselves we proclaim today a risen Christ who has said and will say again: “I bid you, rise.”