All posts for the month April, 2019

April 28, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 5, 12-16 + Psalm 118 + Revelation 1, 9-11,12-13,17-19 + John 20, 19-31

3:30pm Saturday St. Peter

As we proclaim this Gospel today, it is easy to zero in on the Apostle Thomas, but if we do, we run the risk of missing the whole point of John’s narrative here. John is writing this Gospel long after most people who had seen and heard the historical Jesus have died. John is writing to people who have never seen Jesus. The people who were to receive this Gospel never saw or heard Jesus before his resurrection. That’s the point of having Thomas absent and then having him come to faith in the risen Christ. So, Thomas becomes you and me unless some of you are older than I think! Having seen Jesus before his death and resurrection is no longer the measure or the criteria for who belongs in the Apostolic church. Now, by our faith because we have not seen but believed, we are included, says John, in the mission of Jesus Christ.

John sees and reveals to us that creation is happening again. The breath of life, the very Spirit of God, passes through Jesus into us. God breathes life into the body of His son. His son breathes life into us. We have in us, and we are because of Jesus and the Spirit he has breathed into us the very power of God, and that should scare us just a little bit. By the breath of that Holy Spirit breathed into us, we have and may exercise the power of God. The responsibility that comes with that power ought to make us tremble. And so, we have to ask, “What is this God Jesus has revealed?” “Who is this God with whom we have become one through Jesus Christ?” Well, we know his name. It is Mercy! Forgiveness is his Peace. Reconciliation and healing are the consequence of this God’s presence. Without mercy, there is no God. Where there is no Mercy, God will not be found.

Jesus Christ made man is the greatest act of God’s mercy. It was God’s way and God’s plan for forgiveness. In Jesus Christ with the human and divine made one, our alienation from God is healed and our oneness with God is restored. With God’s live breathed into us, we become mercy and forgiveness is not ours to receive any longer as much as it is ours to give in the name of Jesus Christ. We have been warned by Christ that we have the power to “retain” sin, and his words in that regard are more of a warning than a commission. “Don’t do it” is what he says, because if you do, your sins will be retained.

Vengeance, retribution, and justice without mercy are all signs that sin is being kept or retained, and this only give sin more power. As disciples of Jesus sent out into this world, we are heralds of mercy and bringers of peace which we can only bring through forgiveness. The words: “As the father has sent me, so I send you” spring out of this Gospel today right in our face. This is God speaking to us, not just to that group on the shore. The power that comes with this commission is the power to bring peace, to restore respect and love on this earth. When we get this right, we shall once again be living in paradise where there will be no more fear, no more tears, no more sadness: only the love and the glory that belongs to those who are blessed.

April 21, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Church in Naples, FL

Acts 10, 34, 37-42 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3, 1-4 + Matthew 28, 1-10

St. William Church 1:00pm Mass

A choice is presented for the Easter Sunday Gospels, and I have chosen Matthew because it is the Gospel of this year. A problem arises when faced with this choice because each of the four accounts of the Resurrection is very different, and after reading and hearing them over the years, they all blend together. This is a problem because the blending “waters down” the unique elements of each Gospel account leaving us with too many details and no way to identify what is significant. When put together, they are all significant, and it is simply TMI, too much information. For instance, in John’s account, Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” run to the tomb. Peter arrives last in that race, but the other disciple stands back to let Peter enter first, and Peter is then the first to conclude that the Lord has risen. Notice that there is no mention of that in Matthew’s account. It is quite different, quite simple, and almost without detail until you begin to take it apart.

In Matthew’s Gospel, unlike the others, there is an earthquake. There is an angel sitting on the stone that had been in the way. I like the image! There are no spices. The two women named Mary are simply going to visit the grave. There are guards only in Matthew’s Gospel, and they are “like dead men.”

When there is an earthquake, no matter what you are doing, it gets your attention. I’ve been through a couple in San Francisco, and we are beginning to become more accustomed to them in Oklahoma. None the less, we still know when they happen. Things shake. Some things fall down. We remember that we are vulnerable, and we look around and pay attention because something is going on out of our control. No matter how we might want to or try, an earthquake is not under our control. So today the Resurrection is announced by an earthquake. Wake up. Pay attention. Things are coming apart. What was closed is open. It’s an earthquake!

An angel came. Even though Matthew gives the angel no name, I like to imagine that it is Gabriel. Luke is the one who names angels, and Luke liked Gabriel. Besides, it’s the same message: “Do not be afraid.” So, why not the same angel? Every time that angel shows up, God is doing something no one could have ever imagined, and in doing so, God is being revealed. An angel says to an old childless couple, “You’re going to be parents.” Now there is something new, and it is something only God could have done. An angel says to Mary, “You will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit.” Something new again. That has never happened before, and only God could do it. An angel says: “He is risen as he said.” Again, something new and never imagined! This is God at work, God being revealed. Then there is an image I really enjoy: that image of an angel perched on a rock. A stone that had blocked the entrance to the tomb…. or was it blocking the exit from the tomb? It works both ways. That stone kept the women outside unable to see the emptiness, and that stone kept the Lord of Life in. It had to go, and there sits the angel right on top as though it were a throne. There is the angel sitting on the obstacle. It is a kind of victory pose that is a message in itself.

Finally, there are the guards, the brave, big, tough, fearless Roman Guards! They are afraid of nothing. They have conquered the world, but they fall down in the face of the one who conquers death. In contrast to life itself, they are like dead men. Suddenly the dead are alive and the living are dead suggests Matthew. That is earth shaking!

Then the women are sent to Galilee. That’s not home. The angel sends them to the outside world, away from home. They are sent out, and there they experience the risen one. Not in the Temple, not in the safety of their homes, not in the synagogue or any of the places where they are safe and comfortable.

My friends, on the cross we venerated two days ago, the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all God could do to the world; and the earth shook! You do not explain that, you witness it. The risen Christ appeared first to his own; the ones who heard him teach, heal, and forgive. They witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He went to them first because they would be the ones to recognize that this was the crucified Jesus. That crucifixion was not an unfortunate mistake in the Roman legal system. It was the inevitable and predictable result of saying the things Jesus said, and doing the things Jesus did. That is what the world does to people who threaten the way things are. Face the facts here!

On that first day of the week, God presented a new fact. The God who made light from darkness and a world from a void took the worst we could and turned it toward life. The earth shook, and a new world is offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the disciples for abandoning him. The new world is about forgiveness, not vengeance, and the earth shook. When the stone was rolled away, and the earth shook, we got our first glimpse of a new world where death does not have the last word, where injustice is made right, and innocent suffering is vindicated by the hand of God.

Those two women came to a cemetery to grieve over the sad story of death and one more chapter in the sad story of how the good always get it in the end when cruel power, jealousy and fear have their way. But then the earth shook, the obstacle, the barrier between life and death is moved away. That angel plopped itself right down on that stone in one final act of impudent defiance of death and Roman soldiers. It is as though the angel says to the soldiers, “Boo! Be afraid! Your world and what it was built on is shaking apart.” To the others the message is simply: “Go out and away from the old familiar places where you feel safe and secure. You will find him elsewhere.”

So just as with another story that opened Matthew’s Gospel, there is a story here at the end in which no body went back the way they came. Once we experience the risen Lord, healing and forgiving, there is no going back.

April 14, 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 + Luke 22, 14 to 23, 49

Luke 19, 28-40 At the Beginning of Mass

4:30pm Saturday at St. William

In the Passion account we have just proclaimed, Luke puts before us three crowds of people: a crowd at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a crowd in the courtyard with Pilate, and a crowd following Jesus to the site of his crucifixion. Each crowd is different. There are now three days before Lent ends on Holy Thursday. You might reflect Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday about in which crowd you might be found. Each crowd is characterized by an emotion: the first is jubilation, the second angry crowd demanding crucifixion, and the weeping crowd walking the way of the cross. You may notice that this last crowd is the only crowd to which Jesus speaks. Pay attention to how many times the second crowd cries out: “Crucify Him.” Three times. It should connect with something Peter did before the cock crowed.

We must look at where we can be found. Which crowd? Does the Joy of our faith ever show when we’re not in a crowd of believers? Are we complicit bystanders who avoid speaking up when something is wrong? Maybe we simply recognize our weakness and walk with Jesus as a sign of our solidarity?

For just a couple minutes, I want to give you something to think about and ponder through this week we call Holy. You reflect upon it, and with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, you can bring this lent to a fruitful conclusion.

You have to wonder where were those people in the first crowd when the second was shouting for Barabbas. They were all into “Jesus” when he was like a “Rock Star”. They were like a lot of people who can and do quote the Bible, but avoid living it. Their commitment wasn’t very deep or lasting. When it gets hard, they can’t be found. That second crowd just followed the leaders without questioning the demands of their leaders. Were those demands right or wrong? They went with the flow. Then there is a third crowd that Luke identifies as “women.” They can do nothing but be there. They seem to know that presence is the only and most important thing they have to offer.

April 7, 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 43, 16-21 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 3, 8-14 + John 8, 1-11

Today we get a report from St John about mob violence which is something that sadly is still too common. We have seen it over and over again in the past years from Charlottesville, Virginia to Suburbs of St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. It happens with gangs of bullies on school playgrounds and parks, and today we hear about it in the Gospel of John. It has become so common that we are almost insensitive to it, and that is dangerous. The danger lies in the fact that any of us could be caught up in this senselessness at any time or in any place. Mob action is always anonymous, and the mob can end up doing things that are as self-destructive as they are offensive. In that anonymity a mob can get away with doing things most of those people in the mob would never think of doing if they were in their right mind. What we see in the news if often good people who somehow have lost their bearings, have surrendered to some collective madness that leads them into behavior and thinking that is far from the reality of their lives and their goodness. That mass action of a mob generates feelings of indisputable righteousness even when the behavior is contemptible. We’ve seen this all through history to the shame of the human family and even the church. The Spanish Inquisition made the Roman Coliseum look like a picnic. A century later it was witch hunts in Salem, then came the mob lynching we are just beginning recognize here in this country only to move on to Selma, and Charlottesville.

These people who drag that woman before Jesus were probably good people angry and fed-up with something they abhor and something that strikes at the values of their lives and the community in which they live and want raise their children. The whole scene, ugly as it is, puts both of them, the woman and the mob on trial. The woman is exposed in public. There are witnesses, perhaps even the man with whom she committed that adultery was hiding the crowd. Imagine that. Anonymity is a safe place to hide. They want to force Jesus to choose between the law and mercy. He doesn’t choose. The fact is, and they knew it: the same law that required an adulteress be stoned demanded the same punishment for a rebellious child. They knew that, and no one among them had ever stoned their child for drinking, smoking, or wrecking the car!

What Jesus is doing here is get the crowd to come to its senses. He shows a merciless crowd what mercy can do. He gets them to realize that genuine religion invites people to ask for and rejoice in forgiveness rather than pretending or even attempting perfection. They left one by one John tells us. Perhaps in breaking up the mob, those people could only look at themselves in truth and in all honesty without the fake righteousness of the mob. Jesus does not let the woman off easily. He firmly instructs her to stop sinning, but his real focus is on those who accuse others and excuse themselves. Perhaps, when his successor assumes the burdens of the papacy, Pope Francis will be remembered for one thing he said that touches us all: “Who am I to judge?” When we finally embrace what that question means, we will be well along the way to have established peace, and build up the Kingdom of God.