All posts for the month April, 2018

 5 Easter Sunday

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

Acts of the Apostles 9, 26-31 + Psalm 22 + 1 John 3, 18-24 + John 15, 1-8

Jesus never wrote, composed, or built anything. What he left behind was a community. His whole life and mission was about relationships, bringing us to share his relationship with the Father. Whenever there was something that kept people apart from one another it had to go. Martha and Mary lost their brother Lazarus. Two women on their own in that culture was a disaster. So, Jesus called Lazarus back. A widow is about to bury her only son. Jesus raises that boy and gives him back to his mother. Over and over again the Gospels give us examples of Jesus restoring and building community.

On the last night he spent with his friends and disciples, after washing their feet and sharing a meal and prayer, he walked with some of them out to a garden knowing that things were falling apart. He knew that they would scatter and run, hide, and deny him. He knew that betrayals would splinter the relationship he has enjoyed with them. He walked in the darkness of that night through a vineyard on the way to an olive garden, stopped and spoke the words we have just repeated. “Without me, you can do nothing.”

Of all the sayings of Jesus, there is probably nothing said that is more challenging and difficult for our age than those six words. A do-it-yourself age, with all the independent individualists of our time must find this very hard to take. A world of isolation politically or spiritually will not fit with this gospel. If we are disciple of Jesus Christ, we are connected, mutually dependent, and responsible. Yet there is evidence everywhere still fresh in our memories that a lot of people think otherwise. They want to go it alone. They want to be “spiritual” but claim no faith community or relationships. Where are all those people who crammed themselves into this place five weeks ago? The truth is, people are leaving. Our young people walk off thinking what? That they can do something that matters without Jesus Christ? That they can make a difference in this world by themselves? I don’t believe they can. They may make a lot of money, but the world they leave behind will be a wreck, dirty, and uninhabitable.

We sit here all too often unmoved by this. We feel sad and wonder why or we blame someone else, and in this behavior, there lies the problem. Too few of us have ever done anything to call them back, to speak of our need for them, or of our feelings about their absence in the spirit of this Gospel. Too few of take very seriously the importance of their presence here. For them, Mass is a matter of convenience not commitment. This Gospel reminds us: “Without me you can do nothing.”

However, this Gospel says nothing to those who are gone; but it says plenty to those of us who are here about why we are here and what we become because of it. In the end, the absence of everyone else must come as a challenge to us about how seriously, personally, and faithfully we have bound ourselves to Jesus Christ in his Church. His work of building community, healing what is broken, and finding the lost continues for us a Church. This is a lonely world filled with people longing for relationships and connections. Facebook, Twitter, and all that electronic stuff is never a substitute for real communion, for the look and the touch of a real loving person standing beside us or behind us ready to pick us up when we fall or forgive us when we offend and fail. By this, the Father will be glorified, and we shall bear much fruit.

4 Easter Sunday

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

Acts of the Apostles 4, 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3, 1-2 + John 10, 11-18

Seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus says: “I am.” Now pay attention. There might be a quiz! I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am the Vine. Now today, I am the Good Shepherd. Each of these rely on an Old Testament image of God, but only one describes a human role. Jesus has just had an altercation with the Pharisees who have objected that he healed a blind man on the Sabbath. This is his response to them:  a commentary on the quality of their leadership. It does not win him any points with the Pharisees, but it certainly tells them how he sees his role. Yet, there is a message here for us as well.

As we proclaim this Gospel today, it could well function as a critique of leadership in the church, but that would leave us out of the picture. That is not what is happening here. Jesus is speaking to you and me right now in the living context of this liturgy. He speaks of his relationship to us and of his relationship with the Father. When he speaks of knowing his sheep, it is about his relationship with us.  As he describes the kind of Shepherd that he is, he is saying that unlike any other Shepherd, he shares the very essence of his life by his willingness to give all on our behalf. It is just four weeks since we commemorated that act of love. For the last three weeks, we have recalled and relived stories from after the resurrection. Now we begin to reflect on what that was all about: a God who calls us by name, who knows us and has let us come to know him and the sound of his voice in Jesus Christ.

After Jesus expresses his relationship to us, he then speaks of his relationship with the Father, and that leads to the heart of these verses today. As he links his role as Shepherd to his relationship to the Father, he shows us that his mission as this good shepherd was not simply to care for the sheep, but to make the sheep like himself by bringing them into his relationship with the Father. This is what he reveals to us today. As we listen to the Word, we may not indulge in romantic and sentimental images of a nice white robed, long haired, fair skinned man patting little woolly lambs. We must ask what it means and move more deeply into what is said, what offered, and what is promised. We can have the same relationship to the Father that Jesus enjoyed. That is what he says to us today. All it takes if for us to know him, to listen to him, and to follow him. He cares for the lost. We care for the lost. He shows mercy. We show mercy. He forgives. We forgive. He feeds. We feed.

We are being offered a relationship with the Father like the relationship that Jesus experienced: a relationship of hope, of promise, and of trust. God will do for us what God has done for Jesus because Jesus shared his very essence with us, his life, his body, his blood, and his Spirit. Obedient and desiring to do the will of the Father and conforming our lives into the life of Jesus Christ restores us to the relationship we had with the Father before there was sin and alienation. That is the mission of Jesus Christ. Today we proclaim by our lives and our faith that it is a mission accomplished. This is really good news.

3 Easter Sunday

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

Acts of the Apostles 3, 13-15, 17-19 + Psalm 4 + 1 John 2, 1-5 + Luke 24, 35-48

In all four of the Gospels, Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem. That is the focus of his life, and the center of his mission. These disciples are not just grieving, they are all mixed up. Maybe their grieving is an excuse, but the fact is, they are going the wrong way. The whole life of Jesus, and the message of the Gospels, takes us to Jerusalem, to the cross. Those disciples are going away from the cross, and I suppose we tell their story because too often we are doing the same thing. We go the wrong way. We look for safety, comfort, power, acceptance, understanding, and even intimacy in the wrong places. None of these things are found in the stock market, in shopping, in the various ideologies that promise things they cannot deliver. There is no acceptance, understanding, or intimacy on the internet, in chat rooms or pornography. There is only one place we can find everything we need and long for: Jerusalem at the Cross.

The wonderful and exciting revelation of this story is about a God who does not wait for us to come to Him or turn around and go back. What we discover in this familiar story is that God comes after us even when we are going the wrong way. Those disciples, do something that afternoon that changes everything. It says: “They stopped.” Their willingness and decision to just stop what they were doing, stop running away, stop what they were thinking and listen to the Word of God changed everything and turned them around. In that conversation with the stranger, we see that they had all the facts about what had happened in Jerusalem, but they had failed to ask what it meant.

My friends when something happens that we do not understand or that shakes our expectations about how God should work, it is useless to ask “why”. We must ask ourselves what it means and what we are going to become because of it. The only question they were asking themselves on that road was, “Why?” When a storm or a fire destroys all the stuff we have collected, piled up and stored away, asking “why” is useless. When any tragedy strikes, we must wonder what it means and consider what we are going to become because of it. Only then can we move forward and not run away or become bitter.

As they listened to the Word, they began to understand that the path to glory for Jesus and all his followers was the path of suffering, sacrificial love. Once they got it, they knew what to do, who they were, and where to go. When that happened, they became real disciples. They no longer ran away from the cross. They stopped looking for glory anywhere except in sacrificial love. They run back to others like true disciples, because they had something to share and news to tell about someone who remains with them. This must become our story, our experience of the resurrection so that we know who we are and where to go.

2 Easter Sunday

8 April 2018 on Board the MS Amsterdam

Acts of the Apostles 4, 32-35 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 5, 1-6 + John 20, 19-31

This story is about fear as much as it is about faith. It explores the two experiences and reveals how fear is to be overcome. In my opinion, fear is the first human experience. Did anyone ever hear of a new born baby giggling or laughing? The first and deepest fear in all humanity is the fear of being alone, of being abandoned. That fear is what causes us so often to be terrified of death which is why we need to tell this story at the beginning of the Easter Season.

We look at the behavior of these apostles, and we see what fear can do to us. Afraid, they lock themselves up. Afraid of crowds who followed Jesus who might come and mock and ridicule them? Afraid that the news they heard from the women is true and Jesus is back, and that he might come and ask why they abandoned him? Afraid of the “leaders of the people” who might track them down and put them to death as well? They have plenty to fear, and in their behavior, we see the consequences of fear. They are cut off, isolated, hiding, denying, and helpless.

They tried to keep everyone out with their locked doors. Jesus got in, and he says: “Peace be with you.” That word, “SHALOHM” describes a kind of “wholeness”. When it is used as a verb, it means mending as someone might mend a net or repair a rip or torn clothing. It has to do with putting back together whatever is broken. When used as a greeting by Jesus, it announces that the relationship he had with the apostles was not broken by death.

In his first Epistle, John writes, “Perfect Love casts out all fear.” It is perfect love that stands in their midst to declare an end to fear, so show that God’s love is more powerful than death, and that faith in the risen Christ who promised to never leave us provides the ultimate victory over fear. There is no fear in love. We who have been loved know that. When not associated with abandonment, fear often has to do with punishment, and so in quieting that fear, Jesus speaks of and commissions forgiveness. Now there is nothing left to fear: we’re not abandoned and we have been forgiven.

All of this is the great Mercy we celebrate today. The mercy of a God who lifts fear from our hearts and would replace it with love. The mercy of a God who will seek and find us no matter where we hide and no matter how many doors are locked. Thomas, that wise and faithful apostle reminds us of something very important. With no idea where he was or why he was out and not among the others, we see that faith and the risen Lord are found in relationship with the apostles: in the church. Jesus waits for him to come back and then Jesus returns for him. Thomas does not find Jesus out on his own. In that faithful community about to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and reborn into a church, the only response to this great mercy is Joy and gratitude which draw us together this week aboard this ship where laughter can lift us from sorrow and fear, and where the beauty of the sea and all creation can stir our hopes for the Paradise for which we were created.