All posts for the month April, 2023

Acts of the Apostles 2, 14, & ,36-41 + Psalm 23 + 1 Peter 2, 20-25 + John 10, 1-10

April 29 and 30, 2023 at Holy Spirit Parish in Mustang, Oklahoma

I have always found the “Shepherd / Sheep” image of the Gospel to be something of a challenge. Left on the shallowest level, this image in the church supports a kind of “clericalism” that I believe is not at all healthy for the us as a church in our age. It suggests that shepherds are in charge and that sheep are passive willing to fall in line at the shepherd’s orders. That sort of thinking creates a mindset that is not healthy for our church and a bit contrary to the meaning and consequences of our Baptism. I find it difficult to think that with these words Jesus was proposing a governance model for the church, and certainly this Gospel writer did not have that in mind as he preserved these words for posterity.

More likely what this Gospel proposes is that the whole Church is Shepherd, not just some members. Leaving others to be like sheep was is not very complimentary for those who know the behavior of sheep. In listening to and sitting with this text we might risk imagining that if Jesus is the Shepherd, then the Church, the Body of Christ is Shepherd, and what he describes as the behavior of the Shepherd is the behavior of a Church that carries on his mission and is his presence in this world. 

We are not being called sheep. A baptized, confirmed people filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not a running around in danger at every moment, having no idea where we are or where we are going. We are called to be this “Shepherd” and this “Gate” through which those seeking security, salvation, and hope might have access to peace that comes with hearing the Word of God, and being affirmed, respected, cared for, and called by name. That’s what Shepherds do.

This proposes a very important mind-set for us and a kind of behavior that is more in tune with the kind of Church John is writing for. It draws us more closely into the image of God as we were created. It means caring for others, seeking the lost, protecting the vulnerable, knowing people by name, and by our merciful kindness opening the way for those who are wandering, lost, and confused to find their way into the Kingdom of God.

We are the gate as well as the Shepherd. Through our patient mercy, our willing forgiveness, our generous service, our faithfulness to the Word of God, others can see through us the way to salvation, holiness, and peace.

My friends, what Jesus is we, the Church, must be; a source of reconciliation, of healing, and reason to hope when there seems to be none. This is not the responsibility of those entrusted with leadership. It the vocation of every one of us who have passed through the waters and risen to new life in and through Jesus Christ. Those entrusted with leadership came from among us. They are not called to do our work so that we may lie down in green pastures like a heard of lazy sheep. Those entrusted with leadership must stand among us to remind, encourage, support, and keep us focused on the one shepherd who has already laid down his life which is what we eventually must do if we are any good at all as shepherds. Lay down our lives in committed loving service to those who have not found the gate.

Acts 2, 14, 22-33 + Psalm 16 + 1 Peter 1, 17-21 + Luke 24, 13-35

April 23, 2023 

This Homily will not be delivered as I am attending the Blessing and Dedication of a new Pipe Organ at Saint Mark Parish in Norman, OK.

Their grief and disappointment are not hard to imagine. We get that part. Most of us have been there. However, their failure to recognize this one in whom they had placed their hopes is more troubling. I wonder sometimes if perhaps their hopes simply did not match God’s hopes. We have all had times of disappointment and discouragement when God failed to live up to our expectations of what God should do or how God should act. They had hoped for a Messiah who would lift them from the oppression of the Romans, but the Romans prevailed destroying the one they had hoped for. They could not imagine a Messiah who would be rejected and murdered even though the Scriptures they knew and the prophets they had read should have prepared them.

As much as this story from Luke’s Gospel is about the Resurrection. As much as it is one more example of how slowly those disciples moved into the truth of the resurrection, it is also an opportunity to think more deeply about hope which is really a state of mind, a lens through which we might view both the joys and sorrows, the victories and failures we experience in this life. The problem for those disciples headed out of Jerusalem was that they thought hope was the conviction that something would turn out well. It didn’t, and they were about to give up on hope.

A better way to think about and hang on to hope is to see it as the certainty that something can make sense no matter how it turns out because it is God’s plan, and the discovery of God’s plan comes from reading and knowing the Scriptures which is exactly what happens here as they walk along with that stranger discussing the prophets beginning with Moses as Luke tells us. What happens is that their sight is transformed by this study and prayer, by their walking with others and listening, by their taking, blessing, and breaking in a shared meal. What happens is that the Jesus they thought they knew is transformed into the risen Christ who stays with them.

Acts of the Apostles 2, 42-27 + Psalm 118 + 1 Peter 1, 3-9 + John 20, 19-31

April 16, 2023 at St. William & St. Peter Churches in Naples, FL

The tomb is open and empty. The room is locked but full. There is a deliberate contrast here in John’s mind as he continues the Gospel, and we should not miss this subtle message. Locked in a room out of fear, the one who has broken from a tomb comes to set them free; not just free from their fear, but free for the mission he is handing over to them. When we look for a way of describing or naming that “mission” it can only be called, “The Mission of Mercy.”

When we begin to understand that mercy is verb not a noun, the mission with which we have been entrusted becomes clearer. In other words, “mercy” is not something you get, earn, or possess. It is something you do. Mercy is what Jesus did on this earth, and mercy is what Jesus expects us to continue. Mercy is action, not an emotional feeling. It is real, a concrete, generous response to the needs of another. As we see mercy in action it is not a response to those who deserve it either. The mercy revealed to us through the action of Jesus and through his parables is indiscriminate. A disrespectful and selfish son receives a welcome home. An enemy Samaritan is cared for generously by a passerby. Some don’t even have to ask like a widow about to bury her only son who sees him brought back to life. She never even asked. It nearly overwhelms me to think what this means for us. We don’t deserve anything when we are honest with ourselves, yet we have found a God whose mercy toward us knows no end.

As we gather in the coming weeks to continue our celebration of the Resurrection, we will hear again and again about the appearance of Jesus. These reports are not to prove the resurrection. They describe for us the gradual transformation of disciples into apostles. It’s a transformation from a passive learner to an active servant, and what “fires that up” if you’ll excuse the pun, is the Holy Spirit finishing the job on Pentecost.

My friends, it does no good for God or for us to observe “Mercy Sunday” thinking that “mercy” is all about God. Because “Mercy” is the very nature of God, and therefore the very nature of the Church and its members. Mercy comes to us with an uncomfortable grace. It is the grace of a vocation. We are called to step out of the fears, the locked-up rooms, narrow, exclusive ways of thinking, out of old habits and our privileged lives to be what God is and to do what God is still doing through his son.

We can’t ask for mercy, my friends, until we give it. When that happens, it will come back to us a hundred-fold.

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

April 9, 2023 at St. William & St. Peter Churches in Naples, FL

There is a lot of running around in this story and none of the runners seem to know what’s going on. This Mary runs to tell Simon Peter that there’s an empty tomb. Then Simon Peter and another disciple go running as though it was a race, and the Gospel tells us that Peter came in second. A lot of running around over an empty tomb, and no one seems to understand why much less why they were running around early in the morning.

This Gospel give us a lot of details, but not much real information. It does not tell us why she was up at that hour roaming around in the dark among tombs. But when she apparently finds the tomb she had come to see, she jumps to the only logical conclusion. Someone took the body away. If we get the details right, she was there when the body went in, so she had the right tomb, but as we know it, the wrong conclusion. Sometimes logic has nothing to do with faith.

These two men seem to take turns peeking into that tomb, and all the Gospel tells us is that one “believed”, but it does not tell us what he believed. At the same time, it tells us that they didn’t understand, and that raises an important question: “How can you believe what you don’t understand?” Did he believe what the woman had told them, or did he believe something else? The Gospel writer leaves them standing there, and simply tells us the obvious, they didn’t understand, because an empty tomb proves absolutely nothing.

Our scientific age always looking for evidence and collecting data is at loss when it comes to this story. Rolled up and folded cloths, prove nothing. That leaves us today with no proof and a question about believing when you don’t understand. These are people of “little faith.” That’s how Jesus once described them. What we can see is that the “little faith” they had was something to grow on, and they did. So, can we. One thing that beloved disciple understood completely was that he didn’t understand, and at that point, they could begin to be drawn into the mystery of the Scriptures and the message that love is never overcome when it comes to God.

Mary was certain that someone had taken the body, but her little faith began to crack her certainties. All three of these people had just enough faith to allow them to distrust their verdict that this was the end of the story with Jesus. There was more to come as there always is, and it isn’t logical.

We are in this church as people of little faith. We don’t understand a lot of stuff these days, but if we believe just a little bit and listen a little more to the Sacred Scriptures, we can see what this Gospel is teaching us that we are not going to understand the Resurrection until we finally face the tragedy of evil that seems powerful enough to break us. Those disciples teach us not to flee from tragedy, but to stand in front of it with a little faith and a little hope, and not be terrified by what we do not understand and yet are willing to believe.

For anyone still wanting some proof for the Resurrection, we will have to be all they get. Those wanting proof will eventually have to simply look at us, how we live, how we face fear, tragedy, and evil. They may not understand, but they just might come to have a little faith or at least let the certainty of their unbelief be called into question. They empty tomb is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of our story.