All posts for the month March, 2018

Easter Sunday

1 April 2018 at St Peter the Apostle and St William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10,34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3, 1-4 + John 20, 1-9

In all four of the Gospels as the Resurrection is reported, someone goes into the tomb. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the women go in. John sends in Peter and the Beloved Disciple. They all go in, and they all come out just like Jesus. Our proclamation of the Resurrection today cannot be simply a repetition of these ancient reports about Jesus. We must confirm from our own experience that what is in a tomb will come out, and when that happens, it is a new day, a new beginning, a new man or woman full of life, promise, and hope.

Over and over again, Jesus spoke about the need to go into the tomb. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain, but, if it dies….” you know the rest. “Whoever wants to keep their lives must lose their lives” he says. Yet, it’s not just talk about this, there is plenty of action as well. Lazarus literally goes into a tomb, and he comes out as a living testimony to the power of Jesus Christ. A widow’s dead son is raised up and restored to his mother and the bystanders are struck with awe. The daughter of Jairus is dead and being mourned, but she gets up leaving everyone amazed, says Luke.

For too many of us, life is a tomb with big stones trapping us in darkness; tombs that keep us from living, from joy, from realizing who we really are and how God made us. Whatever keeps us from being born again is that stone holding us back. Until that stone is moved we’re trapped and cut off from life. Stones of resentment and anger keep us in the dark. Stones of doubt and fear keep us in a tomb of isolation and loneliness. Stones of individualism and pride keep us away from others leaving us helpless in a fragmented and broken society. The news we proclaim today is about stones rolled back and empty tombs from which the dead or the dying can escape into the light of a new day. The news is about us as much as it is about Jesus Christ. Yet, who is going to move the stone?

Did you ever notice in the accounts of the Resurrection that no one takes credit, or is blamed for moving that stone? The detail is always reported grammatically in the passive voice. “It was rolled way” says all the reports. I have always imagined that it was moved from the inside. There is a wonderful imaginative painting of the moment of the resurrection from the inside. An angel is lifting up the body of Jesus as though he was waking Jesus up from a nap. Another angel is cleaning up the place folding some sheets, and third is pushing on the stone as a shaft of light shoots into the darkness. That stone has to go.

I would propose that like the tomb of Jesus, the stone will be moved from the inside. We have to move those stones. But as that artist imagines, perhaps we’re not alone in the tomb, perhaps an angel who looks like a friend or a spouse or parent will clean up the mess and lift us up. Perhaps Jesus himself will push aside the stone just enough for some light to come and restore our hope. Then, able to see the light, and strengthened by that hope, we too can step out and start over on a new day.

This in the end, is what we proclaim today. Not just that Jesus has risen from the dead, but that he calls us out of our tombs and into the light of a new day. In which case, as we have said and sung, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”

The Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

25 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 + Mark 14, 1 to 15, 47

Too often suffering is seen as a punishment from God, but nothing could be further from the truth. God does not punish. God saves. The only reason God allows suffering is that good can come from it. Our pain can, if we allow it, bring us closer to God. Comfort comes from knowing that Jesus Christ, innocent and without sin, has gone down the road of

suffering before us all the way to the end. We are reminded that in the midst of his suffering, he cared about others, the women of Jerusalem, the thieves hanging with him, and of course, his mother. There was nothing but love in him, a love that poured out with his blood. Jesus did not die to save us from suffering. He died to teach us how to suffer. The road of suffering is difficult and unique for everyone who makes the journey. No one’s suffering is the same as someone else’s, but in the midst of our suffering, we can be drawn out to see the suffering of others. No one can offer comfort better than someone who has also suffered and is no stranger to pain.

Suffering and pain can make us bitter, or it can purify and make us noble, great, and holy. The greatest people I have known are people who have suffered. They are p

eople who have confronted their pain with hope. The truth is, pain and suffering are an indispensable part of becoming truly human, people of compassion and maturity. These are people who do not run from life, but who embrace it with love and with hope. This is their day. This day and the days to follow this week are a time for us all to grow up and grow out. This is a day to examine our own suffering in the light of how Jesus suffered. It is a time to reject bitterness and embrace compassion, and the time to stand with others who suffer as well and provide by our faith some light in the darkness of their fears and loneliness.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

18 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 31, 31-34 + Psalm 51 + Hebrews 5, 7-9 + John 12, 20-33

It is not just the Greeks who want to see Jesus. This whole world wants to see Jesus, but like many at the time, when Jesus doesn’t look, act, or talk the way they want, they keep on looking. Last week I read a little story about a blind man who had set up a table to sell some things in a busy and crowded airport. Someone rushing by bumped into the table and everything fell to the floor as the one rushing to a plane kept on going. The blind man got on the floor and began feeling around for his things. Another traveler came on the scene, looked at his watch and rolled his eyes knowing that if he stopped, he might miss his flight. But he stopped anyway, and he helped the blind man pick up everything from the floor and arrange it back up on the table. With that, the traveler went on his way probably missing his flight. The blind man called out after him: “Hey, are you Jesus?” In my own reflection on this passage of John’s Gospel, I can’t get past those opening verses about the Greeks wanting to see Jesus. In terms of the scriptures, that part is a set-up for the later verses when Jesus confronts the reality of his death and cries out to the Father for help. It is the lowest point in the life of Jesus. He has hit bottom, and he knows that everything for him is coming to an end; a bad end. He uses images from a prophet to stir up his hope, but the truth is, there is none. Hope is finished, because now it is time to realize what hope had imagined.

So here come those Greeks who look for Philip. Why Philip? Because he has a Greek name and probably speaks Greek. For John writing this Gospel, Philip is an apostle, he is the church, he’s not a gate keeper, protecting Jesus, but rather one who leads people to and introduces them to Jesus. This ought to be an important lesson to us, members of the Apostolic Church about what we are and what we must do. We have no idea about how it goes for those Greeks nor what they see or hear when they come to Jesus, but it can’t be what they expected. They came to see a wonder-worker, and a prophet mighty in deed. What they saw and heard was a man who had hit bottom, talking about his death, and praying to God. John says the whole crowd heard thunder, but Jesus heard a voice that reassured him promising that he would draw everyone to himself; a promise that his life was not in vain.

This world is still wanting to see Jesus. What this world gets is just you and me, a people sometimes in a big hurry bumping into things and ignoring the messes we make and the trouble we cause others. I want to see Jesus too, but all I see is you, and the truth is, most of the time that’s enough, because in your brokenness, your weakness, and even in your sinfulness, there is suffering that reminds me of that man on the cross. I would assume, since you are here in this church, that you want to see Jesus too, and all you get is me and those people sitting around you.  We are a broken people who face things from time to time we would rather not, and we cry out, “Save me from this” only to discover that we can and always do make it through because there is a promise here; a promise that the Father will honor those who serve.

That crowd thought an angel was speaking to Jesus. We know it to be the voice of God who speaks to us again and again through the words of Holy Scripture. The message is clear and simple for those who want to see Jesus. Look for one who serves others and is obedient to the Will of the Father. Look for one who suffers and sacrifices for others, and when we begin to look like that, others will begin to see Jesus.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

11 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

2 Chronicles 36, 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21

There is so much in John’s Gospel about light and darkness. Think of all the things that happen at night: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the trial of Jesus, and the sun darkened at his death. Then there is Mary gong to the tomb before it is light no believing what has happened. One of the great signs in John’s Gospel is the healing of man born blind – someone who has lived in the darkness. Into what is almost a cosmic struggle between night and day, light and darkness comes this figure of Nicodemus. I always think of him as a “twilight man”. Nicodemus makes three appearances in John’s Gospel, this one in chapter three. Then, he’s there again in Chapter Seven among other Pharisees, with words of caution to them about overstepping their bounds as they propose the death of Jesus. Finally, he is there once more in the 19th chapter buying a huge and expensive amount of burial materials for the body of Jesus.

He comes in the night, curious and interested. He is a man with an open mind. He wants to know more, so he goes to Jesus not content with hearsay and what others have to say. In today’s Gospel, we get a clip of what Jesus says to him about light and darkness, the truth, and good deeds. When the conversation is over, he’s gone, and it’s still dark. Nicodemus does not want to be seen. Yet we have think that Jesus liked him just as he liked that rich young man who ran up to him and then went away sad.

When Nicodemus shows up again, he cautions his companions about trying to kill Jesus, but that caution is more to protect the Pharisees than it is to protect Jesus we are led to believe. He never really comes out to defend Jesus or to express any faith in him. He takes no real risk. He expresses no faith or confidence in the truth Jesus speaks. Then the last time he shows up having spent a large sum of money for burial spices and cloth. There is no indication that he did a thing to stop that tragedy. All we can tell is that he felt a little sorry for Jesus. Never in all three appearances does this man ever emerge into the light of faith. All we can say about him is that he was open minded and curious, that he was fair minded about Jesus before his own peers, and that he was generous and maybe compassionate.

It strikes me that Nicodemus never really inspires because he never does anything of really great importance. He misunderstands Jesus like the rest of the disciples, but he also never declares any faith in Jesus. He keeps to his comfortable position of power and only mildly questions what’s going on around him. Compared to the others who were being martyred for following Jesus, he’s not quite going the distance for God.

So, the Church puts him before us today as a kind of “twilight man” inviting us to step out of the shadows so that our deeds can bear witness to our faith. There is still in all of us a lot of darkness from which we are called by this one who is the Light of the World. We are never going to step in the light of Easter morning while we hang around in the shadows timid, afraid, cautious, and concerned about what others will say of us. We are children of the light who act in truth before God because the Light has come into the world.

The Third Sunday in Lent

4 March 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Exodus 20, 1-17 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1, 22-25 + John 2, 13-25

We are accustomed to think of this scene as the last act of conflict that moves Jesus into his passion. That is because Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this incident at the conclusion of the ministry and journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. For them, this is the set-up for the violent reaction of the authorities. But today, we hear John’s version of this incident, and it is only the second chapter of John’s Gospel. Something different is going on. This is about authority and identity. For the other Gospel writers, that is settled by a Baptism and voices. Here it is settled by the voice of Jesus who says: “My father’s house”. It is a claim that sparks a dialogue as the “Jews” perceive that this dramatic temple act is a claim for his authority to represent God. They want a sign to validate that authority. In his response, Jesus speaks of his resurrection as the sign. In fact, John makes this clear in his Gospel by using the verb “raise up” rather than “rebuild”. Jesus talks about his body. They talk about a building. Here, the dialogue breaks down, and there is shift of attention to the disciples as the narrator takes over.

This is where we must find ourselves today. The narrator goes on to tells us that many came to believe because they could see the signs he was performing. In John’s Gospel belief based on signs or “miracles” alone rather than on the true reality pointed to by those miracles is inferior. Jesus will not entrust himself to these half-hearted believers. Something more is asked of us, something greater and stronger. As John’s Gospel unfolds, the way is now open to Nicodemus who appears in the next chapter and next Sunday as someone open to Jesus but not yet ready to affirm full belief in him.

Our faith today may not rest on signs and wonders. If it does, we shall drift helplessly away from him, because he will not “trust himself to us” in his own words. Our faith must rest upon the love of God that he has revealed, upon the hope we have in the power of life over death, and the desire of God to embrace us all in his mercy. As that temple in Jerusalem was once the gathering place of God’s people and the dwelling place of God, a new temple has been raised up. For by the time John wrote this Gospel, that Jerusalem temple was a smoking pile of rubble. By the time John wrote this Gospel, Jesus Christ had been raised up, and now, through him, with him, and in him all people give thanks, praise and glory for God lives in us, in his church. Like Nicodemus and the disciples, it takes time to come to this faith. It takes the Holy Spirit, and a desire to make Jesus Christ for us what the temple was for all those Jews, the center of their lives, a sign of God’s presence, and the place where all faithful hearts longed to find rest and peace.