All posts for the month November, 2022

November 27, 2022 at St. Peter, St Agnes, & St William Churches in Naples, FL

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

On this first day of Advent the first reading of the day and season is the voice of Isaiah who awakens us to the promise of this season. He speaks today just as he did generations before Christ. He speaks to a people in danger of giving up hope on their dreams because their experiences suggest that faith no longer makes sense. They knew the stories of how God had acted in the past, of how God had delivered a people from Egypt, of how God had spared Noah, of how the faith of Abraham had been affirmed by his countless descendants. But for the people of Isaiah, it seemed as if that time had passed as well as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is as though they asked the question: “Is this all there is? And they answered that question with a hopeless “yes”. 

We are the people of Isaiah today, a people in danger of giving up hope as many around us have already done so. “What’s the use?” they say. “What’s the use of going to church?” “Where is God?” and “Why doesn’t God do something?” So, many dreams of peace vanish as we awaken to news once again of another mass shooting. Celebrities with jaded and sordid lives have become heroes only to betray us with another scandal. While our real heroes like dedicated teachers and public servants go underpaid and dismissed with no word of thanks. In the meantime, another batch of power-hungry men and women have bought their way into positions of power and influence desperate at all costs to win promising nothing, with no plan to bring us together while their rhetoric demonizes others leaving us even more polarized.

Isaiah laments that imaginations are dulled. He complains that prayers are little more than laments of self-pity or just rote recitations that come from lips with no desire to change anesthetized hearts. Yet, he cries out today in this church just as he did ages ago: “In days to come…” He has no time for looking back. He understands what the word “past” means. It’s over. It’s finished. His message then and today is simple: “God is not finished with you.” There are days to come he says. What has happened in the past is not the end of our story. Isaiah tells us what God intends for the world. He knows that the world as we know it is not what God intends and that God wills to help us do better and be better. St. Paul echoes that message today as he urges us to wake up and walk in the light of Christ.

Jesus translated the words of Isaiah into his own by reminding us about Noah when things were headed to hell in a handbasket. For some it was all about making money, luxury living, fast cars and country clubs while others went about their business, assuming that nothing can change the way things are going. That’s my version of “eating and drinking and marrying”. Jesus used his imagination with fantastic ideas about the time when God would finally come bringing all things to fulfillment. His message really simply suggests that by not living up to our vocation, we make a mess of things, but hope is possible because of who God is.

The season we have just begun reminds us that our hope is little more than childish wishes until we recognize how we have failed to live up to our human vocation. It invites us to awaken our dull imaginations, stir up our hopes, dare to dream again about what God has from the beginning called us to be and how God has so longed to walk with us again in trust and friendship. This season of Advent proposes that we invest our hearts, hands, and feet into active hope in God’s days to come. Pope Francis, like Isaiah has spoken to young people about a new Pentecost calling us out of the mess we have made of things because it is not the end of the story. Redemption is possible, and in four weeks we are going to proclaim that Redemption story once again. Not because it’s what we always do on December 25th, but because we need to and because the joy of that proclamation will give us life and lift us up once again with real hope that we can walk away from our past and all the hurts and offences we sometimes love to hang on to and imagine real and lasting peace. 

November 20, 2022 at St. Peter & St. William Parishes in Naples, FL

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

It is hard for us Americans to really wrap our minds and imaginations around this idea of Christ as King. Those who dared to dream this country into existence and shape our governance with a constitution were certainly not monarchists. Far from it. The consequence of their dream and hostility toward a monarchy gives us some trouble with this idea of Christ as King. I guess we could look to Pilate when it comes to formalizing this image of Christ, but for the people of Israel, the memory of King David and their whole collective memory that things were better when David was King had already set the stage for Pilate’s proclamation.

Since we inaugurate our leaders after election, we don’t quite get what makes a king or for that matter a queen since it’s not popular election that provides that title and its awesome responsibility. On the 6th of May, a man from the house of Windsor will be “crowned” as King Charles III. Many who are curious or interested in those things will watch that spectacle, but I suspect few will really understand it. For one thing, the ritual is mis-named when called “Coronation.” It is not the placing of the crown on someone’s head that makes them a royal. There are other rituals just as important such as handing the new king an orb and a staff. However, what really matters is not those external things, but a very intimate and holy gesture, the anointing when consecrated oil is poured onto the head of the one who is becoming the king, the ruler, the servant and protector of the people.

We must remember that the word Christos comes from the word Chrism. In other words, it is the anointing that matters. It is the anointing that changes a prince into a King. It is the anointing that changes a non-believer into a Christian which of course means that they now are a member of the anointed ones, and in the Jewish/Christian tradition, who are anointed? Priests, Prophets, and Kings. 

Celebrating the Feast of Christ as King challenges us to affirm more than the rule of Jesus Christ over this world and our lives. It is powerful reminder that because of his fulfillment of the Father’s Will we, by our own anointing at Baptism are becoming day by day more and more a priestly people, a kingly people, a prophetic people, and a holy people.

As sons and daughters of God we are royalty in every way. That means we must act like it living with royal dignity, credibility, and never forgetting that we are here to serve and protect the most vulnerable, helpless, and poor of God’s children who either have never heard of the Kingdom for which we live or have never been treated with the dignity that comes with being children of God. Our church suffers from many ills in these days that come about from members of the Body of Christ acting like anything but royalty. 

With Baptism comes responsibility. With the name Christian comes accountability. We are called and we are chosen. Too many believe that the universe is just fine without Jesus Christ. This Feast celebrated every year could hardly convince them. It will take all of us together – anointed and on fire for our King to make a difference. This is the day and this is the hour for that to begin.

November 13, 2022 at Saint Peter & Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

Malachi 3, 19-20 + Psalm 9 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19

About forty-six years before the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great, looking for favor and admiration from the people began refurbishing the Temple. It was not because he was a holy man or necessarily because it needed it, but because he wanted to impress with his vision and power. Archeologists tell us that some of the granite stones as big as boxcars were cut with such precision that they fit together so well there was no need for mortar. The episode in this Gospel today takes place on a hill just opposite the hill on which Jerusalem is built with the Temple sitting there like a crown. The sun reflecting off the brilliant white marble made the Temple visible for miles. To imagine Jerusalem without the Temple or to imagine that Temple coming down would have been impossible. It would like us trying to image Washington D.C. without the Capital Building or the Washington Monument, like New York City without the Statue of Liberty. Yet, because of what Jerusalem had become and how the Temple had become a place of commerce and the domain of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus knew it would come down. It did not take any divine knowledge to believe that. Just about 40 years after Jesus said these things, it happened.

A thirty-year-old roman general named Titus stood just about where Jesus was and with sixty or eighty thousand men starved the city into submission. Historians tell us that when the Romans finally entered the city they found that the Jews there had been fighting among themselves. Fanatics, extreme nationalists, and bandits held control of various parts of the city. Enraged at the stubborn behavior of those citizens, Titus allowed the soldiers to sack, burn, and destroy that Temple carrying off everything they found of value.

Luke wrote shortly after this disaster, and the signs he recorded had already happened. The false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, plagues, and persecutions happened before he wrote. Judaism had excommunicated Christians from synagogues, families were betraying each other. Mt Vesuvius had cast darkness over much of the Mediteranean world, and the Roman persecutions had begun. We could ask why Luke writes like this and certainly wonder what are we to do about it, and these are questions we ought to ask

The answer to the first question is there in the text. Luke writes to people who living at critical times with words of hope for the future and a wisdom that will guide human life. Rather than be frightened by whatever tragedy is happening, we cannot miss those words: “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. “  Those tragedies, that fear, that violence from the time of Luke still goes on. The World Trade Center came down, children are running wild with guns shooting their parents, and friends. War and rumors of dirty bombs are still a reality. Christians are still persecuted for their faith even here at home. The church itself is torn apart by those refusing to listen to the Holy Spirit, and this country is ripped into red states and blue states. Luke’s comforting message must still be proclaimed.

And the answer to the second question is found in the wisdom of God’s Word: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” This kind of endurance is an essential quality of discipleship. There is no measuring the good that has failed to happen in this world because of hesitation, faltering and wavering cowardice. Fear keeps people quiet and timid. This cannot be so for us. It was never so for Jesus Christ, and it cannot be so for those of us who claim his name. As Saint Paul wrote, we endure all things because of love which is patient and kind. It is never jealous, pompous or rude. It does not seek its own interest. It does not brood over injury but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

November 1, 2022 at St. Peter Parish in Naples, FL

Revelation 7, 2-4 & 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

Apparently, the writher of the Book of Revelation expects one hundred and forty-four thousand to be the population of heaven. One hundred and forty-four thousand is less than half the population of Collier County. If you read this literally, it might give you some serious anxiety about whether or not you are going to make the cut. But, before make some sense of this, we ought to dig into the first reading today with a little combination of Mathematics and Bible knowledge. First of all, how many tribes are there in Israel? Now the math. What’s 12 squared equal? Now, the big round number of that day was “one-thousand”. In our times, we often think of a huge number by saying “millions”, but at the time of this writing they would have said “one-thousand” to express a really big number. So, take the number of tribes, square that number and then add the number that means “huge” and we get 144,000. 

Is that really the population of heaven? This might be a good day to figure this out since the closer we get to the end of this liturgical year selections from the Book of Revelation and the apocalyptic style of writing will become more frequent in the Gospels.

The whole purpose of this is to draw attention to the big picture and the direction of salvation’s history. For almost a year, we have been proclaiming Luke’s Gospel which his one long journey to Jerusalem – not Jerusalem as place, but the “New Jerusalem” of heaven. So, our readings from Sacred Scripture to day and in the next few weeks are going to remind us of the big-time-space picture within which we live our Christian hope as we head to Jerusalem.

So, we have to figure out how to take seriously talk about 144,000 saved people standing with robes washed in blood holding palm branches. That takes some informed reflection and some study. It helps to know that first century Jews thought that the “age to come” would see the restoration of the scattered twelve tribes. The writer of Revelation sees the fulfillment of that expectation and even more. In other words, it’s going to be that restoration of the twelve tribes and even more, even better. Heaven won’t be just the twelve tribes, it will be twelve times twelve tribes and a million more! To make sure readers to do not get too literal about a head count, he adds a picture of numberless, multitudes representing every nation, race, people, and tongue under the sun.

What it all means is that the end of time turns out to be more than Israel ever imagined. It is more than anyone can imagine. Rather than a limited number, it is countless, and the implication for us then is that we have a chance. In fact, it’s probably better than a chance since in the end it involves God’s grace which is not a chance thing. It’s real. There’s room for us all, and this God revealed by Jesus is out get is all.

The saints we honor and remember today are hardly all dead and gone. We all know living people, ordinary Christians who live their lives enduring trials, sometimes terrible pain, family tragedies with great faith never stopping their love and service to others. They are constant in worship and in virtue. The power of grace is visible in their lives. 

The saints are marvelous and many, way more than the nearly 10,000 named by the Church. To think that those named are the only ones limits the grace of God. The saints are as numerous as the grains of sand. They are with us and for us in every generation. They are in every parish, and they are sitting here in front of me. Today, we praise God for them, and we are encouraged to look forward and to work for that day when no one is ever excluded from God’s love and God’s house.