All posts for the month May, 2017

Ascension of the Lord May 28, 2017

Acts 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Matthew 28, 16-20

Aboard the MS Maasdam

 Jesus is the great boundary crosser. First, from the Father to a birth in Bethlehem. Then through his entire life he crossed every boundary humans had ever erected by touching the sick and unclean, by passing through Samaria and there talking with a woman, and finally by crossing the greatest divide from death to life returning from the realm of death with freedom and authority to tell us to do what he has done. All nations are to be included in the Kingdom we proclaim. There will be no exclusions; no boundaries of race, gender, or ethnicity are to be obstruct the plan of the Father for all God’s children to be one.

Matthew takes us to Galilee today not because of its geographical location, but first of all because it was the place where his mission began. The place where he first met and called those disciples. He calls them home to the place of their first enthusiastic response where their hopes first soared and fired their enthusiasm. He also takes them to Galilee because it was an unsophisticated and marginalized region. He takes them to that world of the less privileged as the starting place for their work.

What we celebrate today with this Feast of the Ascension is the fulfillment of a promise that Jesus makes to all his disciples. It is a promise intrinsic to the Easter mystery that only after they had stopped clinging to his physical presence, only after his Ascension, could the promise of the Father to send the Holy Spirit be fulfilled. The promise of the Father to us is more than a promise that Jesus would remain with them always. The promise is for that new advocate, that new birth of life that comes with the Holy Spirit.

So often when we are parting company we say to each other: “Keep in touch.” And so often we say, “I promise”, and then we don’t. Now comes the Ascension when Jesus leaves and says: “Keep in touch”, and with the coming of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate next weekend, we can and we do stay intimately and always “in touch” with Jesus.

The disciples needed to see Jesus ascending just as the old prophet Elisha was only able to inherit Elijah’s prophetic mantel after he had seen his master taken up into heaven. As long as Elijah stayed with Elisha; as long as Jesus remained with the disciples, they never would have taken up the work of the master. They would simply have been content to watch and let him do the work. He’s gone now, yet his Spirit is with us. At this altar we wrap ourselves, in a sense, in his mantel. We take up his mission looking for those who are lost or left behind and longing for the comfort of his presence. We stand in his place offering forgiveness, a welcome, compassion, understanding, and we feed the hungry never sending them away. Our desire is always the will of the Father. Matthew’s Gospel begins by naming Jesus as “Emmanuel”, “God is with us”. At the end, he repeats the promise: “I will be with you always.”

Easter 6 May 21, 2017

Acts 8, 5-8, 14-17 + Psalm 66 + 1 Peter 3, 15-18 + John 14, 15-21

Aboard the MS Maasdam

There is something tender and deeply personal within the verses of today’s Gospel. We know it is the Last Supper, and while the disciples are in denial Jesus is not. They are about to part. Something is happening that cannot be stopped now, and it will change everything. Jesus has spoken to them again and again about being the Way, about the Light, the Bread, the Truth. These are all descriptions of himself and what he wants to offer them. He has asked them to believe him, to trust him, and to follow him. Now he asks something much greater. It is the only time in all of the Gospel narratives that Jesus speaks this way and asks this of his disciples. It will happen one more time, but that will be after the resurrection. Today he asks them to love him. This is now a conversation of the heart.

This conversation is about something far greater than friendship, the love of husband and wife or the love of a parent and a child. Jesus is talking about love in the way that the Father and the Son love one another. Theirs is a relationship that comes from a mutual devotion. It comes from their unity. In the relationship Jesus has with the Father obedience has nothing to do with rules. It is about sharing the same desires because there is no difference between them. They both long for, desire, and will the same thing.

After inviting us follow him, Jesus asks us to love him which is a great deal more than believe in him. He is not asking us to obey rules, he is asking us to share his heart. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” is a request for love, not obedience. We do not keep his commandments so that he will love us; we keep his commandments because he loves us and love makes it easy.

There is a wonderful song by Andrew Lloyd Weber that kept going through my mind as I was reflecting on these verses. It’s called: “Love Changes Everything.” You may know it, and I may have started it going through your minds as it did mine for hours the other day. “Nothing in the world will ever be the same” are the words that conclude each stanza of the song, and that is exactly what John’s Gospel suggests for us as he describes that night around the table and sums up for us the one thing Jesus came among us to accomplish: simply to entice humanity into falling in love with God.

If we were to put more simply the opening verses of this Gospel, it would read: “If you love me you will love what I love and want what I want.” This is the mystical union between the Father and the Son into which we are invited today. This is the kind of love Jesus asks of us, that we want what the Father wants, and this makes keeping the commandments a matter of the heart, a heart willingly invaded by God.

Easter 5 May 14, 2017

Acts 6, 1-7 + Psalm 33 + 1 Peter 2, 4-9 + John 14, 1-12

St Peter and St William Church, Naples, FL

About two or three years ago I was in a great museum with two families who are dear friends. Another friend who is a guide and docent was leading us around talking mostly to the children at my request. She led us into the Egyptian section which caused me to roll my eyes, but then she asked the children what they thought of the statues representing the gods. The children took some time to explore and came reporting that: “They don’t look real.” Then she led us into the Greek and Roman section, and after a few stories about mythology, she sent the children around to explore. Then she asked them again what they thought of those gods. They said: “They look angry and violent.” Then we went up to a gallery with very early Christian art, and she asked the same question. “They don’t look like real people” was the answer. Finally, we ended up in the Renaissance section, and to the same question the children said: “They look real and beautiful.” What the guide led them to see is that after the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, something changes in terms of how we see God. I think of that afternoon in the museum today when hearing Phillip’s request, “Show us the Father.”

The sculptors and artists reveal what humans have done since the truth about us was revealed in the story of Adam and Eve. Being made in the image and likeness of God requires some humble obedience, but we seem to prefer the other way around and make god in our image. Those children got it right. In describing the gods they saw, they were really describing the people who made them: angry, violent, and fortunately not quite real.

When Phillip says: “Show us the Father” he expresses one of the deepest longings in the human heart. We want to see God, the real God, not a god who could pass for one of us. We want a God who is perfect in every way. God’s response to that plea was to take on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and the consequence of the incarnation was to restore us, God’s beloved creation, to our original condition as the image of the real and true God. Progress has been slow and resistance is great. The scribes and Pharisees resisted clinging to their preference for a harsh and judgmental God enforcing their rules and regulations. For a time, the apostles resisted with their efforts to rain down fire and destruction upon those who did not welcome them. Our resistance is marked by our failure to embrace the model of what we were created to be: perfectly and beautifully human as revealed in Jesus Christ. The Son of God does not only reveal the Father. Jesus also reveals what it is to be perfectly human as well.

The excuse we make for our failures: “Well, I’m only human” is the first and most obvious sign that we are resisting. Being “human” is not something lowly, inadequate, or sinful. It is not an excuse. It is testimony that we have not believed, understood, or accepted the wonderful mystery of what is revealed through the Incarnation. Being human is the highest, most perfect and God-like of all God’s creation. Nothing else created was in God’s image.

When Phillip cries out, “Show us the Father”. Jesus says, “Look at me. The Father and I are one.” When we want to see the Father, we should be able to look at one another, a people made holy and redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ. When someone is seeking God, why should they look any further than into this holy place when we have filled it with our presence. The key teaching of John’s entire Gospel is here in these words. Jesus is God’s only self-description, God’s only command, and God’s only dream for humanity. In other words, if we shape our life on Christ, not only will we be fulfilling God’s will, we will become the kind of humans God has always dreamed of reflecting God’s love to all we meet. Anyone who meets us, a people born in Baptism and fed on this Eucharist, should have seen the Father and need look no further. This is what God wills and dreamed of in God’s  own creation.

Easter 4 May 7, 2017

Acts 2, 14-41 + Psalm 23 + 1 Peter 2, 20-25 + John 10, 1-10

St Peter and St William Church, Naples, FL

There is a turn to be noticed with today’s Gospel. It is a turn from reflection upon the Resurrection toward a reflection upon Pentecost. Midway through the Easter season, the lectionary suggests that we now look ahead after being refreshed and renewed by a look back. This turn also suggests that now we look at ourselves having faced, like the apostles, the risen Christ. In the context of this season then, the image put before us today is an image of us as a church just as much as it is an image of Christ. Having been purified and filled with the Spirit, having been fed on the Eucharistic Body of Christ, having been raised up into the gift of everlasting life, we are now the Shepherd/Church continuing the work of this Shepherd Jesus who has breathed his life into us.

There comes a time in every one of our lives when we stop expecting someone to take care of us and begin to do the caregiving. That is what this Sunday says to us. The character, the mission, the identity of the Church that is born on Pentecost is being sketched out with this image of Jesus as Shepherd. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do Christ’s work. If someone is lost, we go for them. If someone is hungry, we spread the table. If someone is in danger, we protect and defend them. What we see in the Good Shepherd is what we must see in this church. What people imagine and hope for in a good shepherd they must find in us.

In preparing us to continue his shepherding, Christ taught us about compassion which is not learned without suffering. Unless we have suffered and wept, we really don’t understand what compassion is nor can we comfort someone who is suffering. In teaching us about shepherding, he taught us about sacrifice as the surest sign of love. Unless we give and sacrifice for one another no one is going to know about real love and the love of God for us. That man who walked in darkness teaches us that unless we have walked in darkness we can’t help wanderers find their way. But when we have suffered we become pathfinders for others.

Leaders of the church call us today to pray for and reflect upon religious vocations. Good Shepherd Sunday is traditionally a reminder to listen for the call of God to service and sacrifice. Until the courageous and prophetic voice of the Church is louder than the seductive voices of consumerism, materialism, and self-serving pleasures we will continue to want for Shepherds because we have lost our own true calling as a pastoral church. The lame, the sick, the blind, the sinners, the poor, the hungry and the thirsty came to Christ the Good Shepherd. Now they come to us, and they must not go away empty. The more each one of us begins to look and act like a real shepherd, the more shepherds there will be. Just sitting in a pew on Saturday or Sunday fulfilling some felt obligation isn’t going to make any difference at all. Shepherds come from shepherding homes where there is goodness and kindness, and those homes make a pastoral parish. So that whenever we gather in this place because of our goodness and kindness to each other, every soul will be refreshed, every cup will overflow, and the presence of the Shepherd will never be in doubt.