Epiphany 4

Because nothing can ever be simple, even in the wider Church, there is confusion and even controversy over, of all things, who Jesus was talking to during the Sermon on the Mount, which began with what we just heard, the Beatitudes. 

A beatitude, by the way, is a statement of supreme blessing, or a state of being blessed.  When the Church begins the process of making a person a Saint, it’s called their beatification.  Like when we call our bishop “Your Excellency,” in the Orthodox Church they call their patriarchs “Your Beatitude.”

Anyway, who was Jesus talking to, and why does it matter?  Well, it appears, for all the world, that He was talking to His inner circle, THE disciples, as opposed to the crowds that had been circling Him, looking for the healing of their infirmities. 

This matters because Jesus is here not laying out a roadmap toward salvation but rather what life is like inside the Kingdom of God.  As I read this week, “Each beatitude declares that a group of people usually regarded as afflicted is actually blessed.  Those blessed do not have to do anything to attain this blessing.  Jesus simply declares that they have already been blessed.  Thus the beatitudes are first of all declarations of God’s grace.  They are not conditions of salvation or roadmaps to earn entry to God’s kingdom.”[1]

They also seem completely counterintuitive, don’t they?  Blessed are those who mourn?  We’ve had an awful lot of mournful moments here and in our city over the last month, and no one has told me how happy they were to be mourning a loved one.  But Jesus is not telling us that mourning itself is fun; He’s telling us that in the Kingdom of God, mourning becomes a blessing because the mourners “will be comforted.”  The implication is that God himself will do the comforting.  The affliction of mourning becomes the blessing of profound relationship with God.”

“The beatitudes describe the character of God’s kingdom, but they are not conditions of salvation.  Jesus does not say, for example, “Only the pure in heart may enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This is good news because the beatitudes are impossibly hard to fulfill.  The beatitudes are not a judgment against all who fail to measure up.  Instead, they are a blessing for any who consent to join themselves to God’s kingdom as it “comes near.”” [2]

The great Anglican cleric John Stott, whose book Basic Christianity was required reading in Episcopal circles back in the 70s and 80s, called the beatitudes the “privileges” of citizenship in the kingdom of God.”  What a way to put that, considering that none of these things, being poor, mournful, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted seem to be qualities associated with privilege.  But this is, of course, privilege as we construct it, not how God sees it.  The values of this world clash wholly and completely with what God values, and what God knows is truly good for us. 

If social media counts for anything, we don’t even understand what the word blessed means anymore, considering that any time you see hashtag-blessed next to a photo, it’s inevitably a picture of something shiny and beautiful, the new car or dress or experience the plebeians can’t manage.  

But all of that, of course, ignores the realities of this life.  Not so with Jesus.  He knew that things are not always shiny and beautiful, that the world mocks the pure and the peacemaker.  And Jesus tells us this morning that true blessedness is not about temporary happiness but about eternal joy.  The joy of knowing that though we may be mournful and meek and hungry now, God will satisfy our every need.  Though we may be poor and persecuted now, ours is, is right now, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whatever our circumstances might be, Jesus is telling us, His disciples, His inner circle, that by the promise of His coming near to us, we are already the blessed.  

[1] https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/matthew/the-kingdom-of-heaven-at-work-in-us-matthew-5-7/the-beatitudes-matthew-51-12

[2] Ibid.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Epiphany 3

So, as a Giants fan in Eagles country, I know what it feels like to sometimes wander into hostile territory.  I am a big fan of Jalen Hurts since back in his college days, so I can abide an Eagles win this weekend.  I know I’ll be catching grief one way or another, but I doubt that I’ll have to leave town while it all blows over.

St. Matthew just told us that when Jesus “heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.”  “He withdrew” is a nice way of saying that Jesus had to skip town for His own safety and for the safety of those around Him. 

So first, John the Baptist getting arrested.  John had always set himself over against the powers of the day – it was part of his charm.  His special skill, it seems, was that he was popular with not only the everyday people but also some, at least, of the powerful people of the day, leaders both religious and secular who came out to baptized by him, to hear his message of repentance and amendment of life. 

The Baptist finally got to be too much for King Herod, Herod Antipas, when he condemned the king’s marriage to his wife, Herodias, as illegal, because she had previously been married to his own brother, Philip.  Herodias eventually got tired of hearing that and got Herod to arrest him, though she was unable to convince Herod to have him put to death, which Herod knew full well would be an unpopular move. 

It took a while for her plan to develop, but Herod’s unwillingness didn’t stop Herodias, if we remember, from getting what she wanted.  She had her own daughter, Salome, dance before the king, which he liked a bit too much, and Herod promised her anything she wanted, which turned out to be her mother’s wish of John the Baptist’s head on a platter. 

Knowing that His time had not yet come and that there was still much to be done, Jesus leaves His home to avoid the same fate.  This was a wise move, including His choice of landing in Capernaum in Galilee, which, on top of being a pretty nice place to live, was further away from the forces bent on silencing their opponents.

Capernaum was also about six miles away from the people we met last week, Simon and Andrew and John, who lived in Bethsaida, a fishing village along the Sea of Galilee.  John gave us that story last week, how they followed Jesus to where He was staying after the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God. 

So not only was Jesus relocating to avoid Herod, but also to begin something new, to begin what we call His public ministry.  He did that by going and finding those two pairs of brothers on the shore, by bidding them to follow where He leads.  I read this week that the phrase Jesus used there, when He bid the brothers to follow Him, more accurately translates “to an encouragement to “come on behind me,” (and) none of the verbs in this passage are in the imperative – Jesus isn’t commanding anything,” but rather offering something.[1]  Offering an entirely new life, a life wrapped up in the Kingdom of God.

Tomorrow (today) is our parish Annual Meeting, where we will hear and see what we have done with Jesus’ offer and how we have made that same offer to the world.  We’ll talk about money, of course, because it takes money to keep this place standing and lit and warm and beautiful, and to keep the clergy fed and watered.  We’ll talk about all the ways that you have shown Christ’s love to the world, giving our neighbors not just food and clothes and shoes and presents and funds but also joy and hope and comfort, even in the shadow of death.  We’ll talk about how we’ve given ourselves and our community opportunities to serve, following the example of our Lord who came not to be served, but to serve.  And I truly hope that we can hear your ideas on what or who we’re missing, and how we can do all of the above a bit better.

The Lord bids us daily to leave the things that bind us, to take up His offer to let Him lead us to an entirely new life in Him, and then to make His offer known to the world.  I can’t wait to hear, at our 190th Annual Meeting, how we will continue to do just that. 

[1] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-01-16/matthew-412-23-3/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Epiphany 2

The more I read this passage from John’s Gospel, the more I realized that there’s some deeply strange things going on in this short paragraph.

First, John the Baptist makes a stunning proclamation: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  “I myself did not know him,” John says, despite that fact that he certainly did know Jesus, who was something like his second cousin once removed.  Now, they grew up about 80 miles apart, so it wasn’t like their moms bumped into each other in the Acme, but I think we can safely assume that they had met at some point.  I guess what John meant was that he didn’t know that Jesus, his cousin who grew up kinda rural, could have possibly been the person for whom he was making a straight path. 

The way John the Evangelist wrote the Baptist’s proclamation, it would seem that the Baptist made that proclamation into the ether, or at least to no one in particular.  But the next day, John says it again, “ Behold, the Lamb of God!”  This time, two of John’s disciples were definitely with him.  We know one of them was Andrew and the other one was most probably John the Evangelist, who wrote this story up for us.  They seem to know what to do: leave the prophet they have been following to follow the Lamb of God. 

When they catch up with Jesus, it’s like a scene in a movie where seekers finally find the old sage at the top of the mountain or the old blind kung fu master.  Jesus, being a wise and learned rabbi, asks them the question: “What do you seek?”

If I’m honest, their response always seemed a little weird to me.  If I ever happened upon the Son of the Living God, I’d probably ask Him about His Father or how to achieve inner peace or some other big-picture question.  That’s because I’m stupid. 

Andrew and John got it right.  “Where are you staying?”  That always struck me as being a bit practical.  Hey, let’s ask Him a logistical question to get the ball rolling.  But it might be the wisest question anyone ever asked. 

Because where God is staying is a place you want to go.  Jesus answers, “Come and see.”  It’s an answer to a logistical question but also an invitation to come and see an entirely new thing, the new life, in flesh and in spirit, that can only be seen in Christ Jesus. 

Andrew and John went and they saw.  We don’t know what they talked about that evening, but whatever it was, it was enough.  Andrew ran off the next day to find his brother Simon Peter, which gives us the next weird episode. 

Imagine you’re having a normal day, maybe you’re doing the dishes after lunch and your sibling bursts into your house and tells you that they’ve found the savior of the world.  How would you react?  I’m not sure if I would be amused or worried, honestly.  It reminds me of the time that I’ve talked about before when one of our parishioners told me that she had seen Jesus in Lancaster and I got excited until I realized she was talking about the play at the Sight and Sound Theatre. 

But once again, I’m the dumb one.  I forget that Simon Peter, along with his brother and their friend John, were expecting the savior of the world to show up.  They had heard John the Baptist preparing the Messiah’s way, they believed God when He told them that He would send a savior. 

I guess it turns out that this passage is only strange if 1) we don’t expect God to act in our lives; 2) we don’t want to go wherever God is staying; and 3) when God does act, we just want to keep it to ourselves.

Now, you’re all here, which means that you have followed Jesus, you’ve found where He is staying; you expect God to act, and I know for a fact that many of you tell people all about it.  What a wonderful thing it is, that by the grace of God and in line with the Baptist and Andrew and John, we can expect, follow, stay with, and proclaim the Messiah. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Baptism of Our Lord

Back on December 11th when Bishop Stokes was here, he noted from this pulpit that the baby he was about to baptize was going to be the fourth baptism in eight days, and yesterday morning we just had another one, little Axel James, for the fifth baptism in a month.  I didn’t ask if he was named after a family member or after Axl Rose from Guns ‘n’ Roses or Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop, but all would be acceptable options.  Baptism is a good and joyful thing, of course, and we celebrate today the event of the baptism of our Lord, but we need to remember that the rite of Christian baptism is different from what we call the Baptism of John.   Our baptism is about a lot of stuff, not all of which sounds very nice on the face of it.  So a couple quick notes on our baptisms: 1-as the Church tells us, “In the waters of baptism, we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share…”  Sharing in God’s own life.  2-our baptism is regenerative; a new beginning, freed from original sin.  We die with Christ and rise to new life in Him; we say we are clothed with Christ, marked as His own in an indissoluble bond.  3-right before I baptize a baby, I ask the parents and godparents to “name this child.”  I do that so that 1) I don’t get the name wrong and 2) to remind us all that in baptism, our names are written in the Book of Life, recorded in heaven.  Tradition tells us that when we are sealed by the holy oil, that mark remains visible to the angels, marking us as Christ’s own. The baptism that John the Baptist performed was different.  As Fr. Bret Hays pointed out, it was one of “a ritual of public contrition, repentance, and cleansing.  John’s baptism was a ritual of public penitence associated with the most notorious sinners of the day, oppressors and traitors.” One might ask why Jesus, without sin, completely innocent of any transgression, would go out to John in the river Jordan and get baptized.  John wondered the same thing.  Jesus replied that it was “to fulfill all righteousness.”  What does that mean? Well, righteousness is the state of being in right relationship to God; that means being repentant and freed from sin, yes, but it also means doing the things that God commands us to do.  Jesus, in solidarity with we fallen creatures, performs the positive part of that equation; He doesn’t need to reverse a negative, but following the will of His Father means doing the positive as well.   He also did it, as I see it, to be cool to His cousin John the Baptist.  John had been told by God that “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  Having seen just that, and having heard the very voice of God proclaiming Jesus to be His beloved Son, John the Baptist received what God had promised him.  John sees his entire ministry, his entire life, fulfilled right in front of him.  Not many of us get that chance.  John then proclaims to the world, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” I mentioned my friend Fr. Bret Hays before, and baptisms always remind me of my friend Fr. Mitch Bojarski, whom you might remember as the Deacon of the Mass at ordination.  One of his favorite phrases is “Remember your baptism.”  Surely he doesn’t mean that literally, unless you were baptized as an adult, which some of you were.  Perhaps I’ll phrase it as “Remember that you are baptized.”   How do we remember?  I think the best way to remember our baptisms is to act, in every day life, as if we remember; to treat others as we would treat Christ, to act as if we wore Christ as a garment white as snow, as if we died with Christ in our baptism and then rose again with Him. Because in our baptisms, we did.  And with His example and the strength He provides, we may strive to fulfill or righteousness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Holy Name

Happy New Year, everyone!  Everyone has made their resolutions, right?  The old joke about new year’s resolutions for clergy is that we should all exorcize more, but I’m just hoping to read a little while longer before inevitably falling asleep in my chair. 

January 1st is a feast of our Lord, which is why today we are celebrating that feast instead of it being the First Sunday after Christmas.  Since the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, we call today the Feast of the Holy Name, but if you’ve been around for a while, you would know it as the Feast of the Circumcision. 

As Lesser Feasts and Fasts says, “January 1st is, of course, the eighth day after Christmas Day, and the Gospel according to Luke records that eight days after (Jesus’s) birth (He) was
circumcised and given the name Jesus.

“The Law of Moses required that every male child be circumcised on the eighth day from his birth (Leviticus 12:3); and it had long been the custom to make it a festive occasion, when family and friends came together to witness the naming of the child.

“The liturgical commemoration of the Circumcision is of Gallican origin, and a Council in Tours in 567 enacted that the day was to be kept as a fast day to counteract pagan festivities connected with the beginning of the new year.  In the Roman tradition, January 1st was observed as the octave day of Christmas, and it was specially devoted to the Virgin Mary.

“The early preachers of the Gospel lay stress on the name as showing that Jesus was a man of flesh and blood, though also the Son of God, who died a human death, and whom God raised from death (Acts 2:32; 4:12).  The name “Jesus” was given to him, as the angel explained to Joseph, because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) as the name means “Savior” or “Deliverer” in Hebrew.”[1]

Now, it’s good to remember that God doesn’t mess around with names. “Throughout Sacred Scripture, God Himself names those who have a great role to play in our salvation.  As recorded in… Genesis, He named the first man Adam, which means “Man of the Earth”, and He changed the name of our spiritual Father from Abram to “Abraham,” which means “Father of Many Nations,” and changed that of Abraham’s wife, Sarai, to “Sarah,” which means “Princess” and foretells that she would be the spiritual mother to kings.  (Even St. Peter) had been named “Simon” before he became “Peter” to signify his status as the earthly rock of the Church as Christ is the Foundation and Head.”[2]  The Gospel lesson for this Friday before Christmas was the story of the naming of John the Baptist, a name which was also given to his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah by way of Gabriel.  God Himself dared to let mankind know His name through Moses, which we have received as “I AM”. But no one really knows how to pronounce the Hebrew of the proper Name itself, because the Name was considered so holy, they locked it away in code and essentially threw away the key, which might just be better for all of us.

It is a new year, and though statistics tell us that we will most likely give up on our resolutions by January 17th, I pray that we resolve, and a people gathered together in the Name of our Lord, to invoke the name of Jesus even just a little bit more, that our world may come to know the freedom and peace that only that name can provide.  

[1] Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018

[2] Fisheaters, https://www.fisheaters.com/holyname.html

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Merry Christmas, everybody!  I don’t mean to brag, but I think we do Christmas right.  The place looks amazing, you all look amazing, and our liturgy, the liturgy and hymns and customs of the Episcopal Church, are just the best.

Episcopalians have always done Christmas well, from what I’ve seen and heard.  Fr. (and eventually Bishop) Phillips Brooks wrote O Little Town of Bethlehem (and stayed in the same house Doan did when at Virginia Seminary).  Another Father and eventual bishop, John Young, translated Silent Night into English.  Clement Clark Moore wrote “The Night Before Christmas” at General Seminary.  Go back even further in American history and we see that the Puritans didn’t like Christmas any more than they liked anything else, and, according to Daniel Williams, writing in Christianity Today, “though perhaps slightly less hostile to Christmas than the Puritans, the major American evangelical denominations of the late 18th and early 19th century likewise showed no interest in the holiday.  Baptist, Methodist, and especially Presbyterian churches of the early 19th century shunned the idea of Christmas services.

“It was therefore left to the Episcopalians…to celebrate Christmas—which they proudly did.  In the South, they celebrated the same way they did most holidays: by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and shooting guns.  And in the Northeast, they did so by going to church.”[1]

Thank you for celebrating this Christmas in the latter fashion, at least so far.  Celebrating Christmas always shines some light into the darkness.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined… for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

The people who walked in great darkness.  It would be a mistake to ignore the darkness of this world, especially on Christmas.  That’s why we have the season of Advent.  The great preacher Fleming Rutledge is so often quoted as saying that “Advent begins in the dark.”  She goes on to say that “The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight into it.  The true and victorious Christmas spirit does not look away from death, but directly at it.  Otherwise, the message is cheap and false…Advent begins in the dark.”[2]

When we acknowledge the darkness and the divisions, the disease and the dis-ease, when we see and finally lay claim to the parts we play in this present darkness, it’s only then that we can truly know and feel the joy of Christmas. 

And so while Advent might begin in the dark, it ends bathed in light; it ends with the church glowing with both candlelight and joy; it ends with our trees twinkling in the night.  And it ends with the glory of the Lord bursting through the night, the sky ablaze with the heavenly host.  It ends with a great burning star resting over a village of a few hundred people.  It ends with the Light of the World shining, improbably, from a manger in a backwoods barn. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”  This is important: note who is acting and who is being acted upon. 

Note it because this is the good news of Christmas: you do not have to be the one to shine in the darkness.  You do not have to save yourself, much less the world.  The good news of great joy is that God has acted to do that very thing, to be that very thing, for you, for us, for all people, who could not help but walk in darkness.  The good news is that in Christ, we do indeed shine in the darkness; we shine with the uncreated light of heaven that is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

The good news of Christmas is that God has done what we could not do for ourselves.  We cannot claw or build or code our way to the Almighty; divine intervention is the only way.  As W.H. Auden wrote, “Nothing that is possible can save us; We who must die demand a miracle.”

The good news of Christmas is that in gazing upon the face of the newborn Jesus, we can see the bright Morning Star; we can see the God who acts on our behalf, who promises us that when the darkness of this world has passed, we will have life and light in everlasting day.[3]   

That’s Christmas.  May yours be merry.

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/december-web-only/christmas-advent-history-unitarians-episcopalians-created.html

[2] Fleming Rutledge, “Advent Begins in the Dark,” from The Bible and the New York Times

[3] Paraphrase of Bede.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Advent 3

If you read my Christmas letter, then you saw that Doan and I went down to DC a couple weeks ago for the Evensong and Benediction to mark 50th ordination anniversary of my mentor, Fr. Tony Lewis.  TL+, as we call him, preached my ordination 14 years ago, which probably marked the best sermon preached from this pulpit in the last 14 years (not preached by Fr. Salmon).

TL+ is kind of a big deal, and so our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, was the preacher that evening, and his primary message that night was about witnessing to the Gospel, about telling others about the Savior we have in Jesus Christ.  This is not a new concept.

“And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.””

Go and tell what you hear and see.  The earliest witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were called, in the Greek, martyrs.  The original meaning of martyr was just witness; it was a legal term, like witnessing in court – it was used in the secular world as well as the religious, and it wasn’t assumed, as it is today, that a martyr would end up dying because of their witness, to the Lord or anything else. 

But in the early days following the Resurrection, the deaths, the martyrdoms, started piling up, and the word was loaded with that connotation.  The earliest big-S Saints were all martyrs, and they’ve been commemorated ever since.  Just a quick glance at the sanctoral calendar for December has several of them: TL+ was celebrated on November 30th, St. Andrew’s Day, then you have Saints Lucy, Thomas, Stephen, and at the end of the month, the Holy Innocents, slaughtered when Jesus was just a child. 

The early Church revered these martyrs, of course, and went as far as to say Masses on or at their graves.  The custom of installing a relic of a Saint in the altar comes from that early practice, and from the words of St. John in Revelation where he wrote “and when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held…”[1]  We still mention the martyrs, both ancient and modern, especially at Requiem Masses, where the last thing said, while processing out of the church, is “Into Paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.”

If all this sounds pretty serious, that’s because it is.  Jesus tells us to “Go and tell what you hear and see.”  Make this thing viral, the kids might say.  The old joke about Episcopalians being too reserved to talk about their faith might be a bit too true at times, but we’re all pretty good at being witnesses.  Not surprisingly, one of my favorite subjects is food, and I’ll tell anyone who will listen (or not) that, say, the Buffalo Garlic Parm at the HOB is the best wing sauce I’ve ever had or that I miss, well, everything at Oliver, or my wife makes the best pho in New Jersey. 

So if you’ve ever talked about your favorite foods or that TV show you love, you’re an evangelist, a witness to what you’ve heard and seen.  

Or, if you’ve ever, say, cared for the widow or the orphan in their distress, you’ve also borne witness to the Lord who declared that to be true religion.  St. Francis never actually said to “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words,” but we can that point (with a pound of salt) and remember that our actions, even the little things, witness to Christ, to what He means to our lives, to what you have heard and seen him do. 

So look around, look at what Christ is doing in your lives and in this place, and go and tell the world what you hear and see.  

[1] https://onepeterfive.com/the-saints-and-martyrs-reign-from-our-altars/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Advent 1

It’s the First Sunday of Advent, we’re barely finished getting over Thanksgiving and we’re aiming right at Christmas, so we might as well kick off the season with a story about the end of the world as we know it.

Right in the middle of today’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Jesus says something cryptic: “Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left.”  From this verse and a few other scattered verses in the New Testament, “theologians” came up with what’s called the Rapture, an event in which good Christians will disappear, leaving bad people left behind.  If that makes you think of the Left Behind series of books and movies, it should, because that’s what they’re about. 

The problem here in this passage (and, really, all the others cited) is not that Rapture theology is unsound (which it is), it’s that Rapture theology assumes that being left behind is a bad thing.  Jesus didn’t say that one or the other was preferable.  What if all the people left behind get to just lay in bed and eat bon bons all day?  No one ever considers that.

We start off Advent with the end of the world because the end of the world is what’s called the Second Advent, the second coming of Christ.  The word advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event,” which is why we talk about the advent of the television or the advent of the internet, big things that changed the world as we know it. 

And, since the most notable arrival in history is the first arrival of Jesus, the word advent is inextricably connected to Him.  This Advent season, because Christmas is on a Sunday, is as long as the season can get, a full 28 days.  By the way, you now have only 28 shopping days before Christmas. 

And while shopping for gifts is fun and should not be suppressed, the season of Advent is here to help us prepare in a different way.  The posters that Paul found for us that are hanging in the foyer say it best: Slow Down!  It’s Advent!  Prepare, prepare for joy.

How do we prepare?  Well, first, rejoice that you are not a Sixth Century monk, because the Council of Tours of 567 ordered that monks had to fast every day of December until Christmas Day to prepare for the feast.  We get off easy.  The colors change to violet, reminding us that Advent and Lent are both seasons of reflection and repentance.  The Advent wreath is lit, reminding us of little more than 19th Century German Lutherans and their lack of fire safety, but it’s fun.  We don’t say or sing the Gloria, saving that song of joy for Christmas.  We take some time for rest and silence, for prayer, and we prepare our houses, especially this house and the houses of our hearts, for the celebration of the incomprehensible gift of God walking among us.

And we talk about the end of the world.  “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”  There will be signs of the Lord’s return, but just like the people who watched Noah building an ark for years and were then surprised when it started to rain, so it will be for us.  And if that’s true, then what did Jesus mean when He told us to watch?  Do we have to stay awake all the time, on high alert for a surprise visit?

No, not exactly.  What Jesus seems to be saying here is that we should live with a spirit of watchfulness.  Instead of going about our day to day lives like nothing will ever really happen, like things will always be the same no matter what, living a watchful life is living a life of expectation, a life of awareness of the Lord’s presence in the here and now, and of conscious assurance of His return. 

So just as we have the season of Advent to prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth, we need to make our lives a joyful preparation to celebrate His Second Advent.  Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Christ the King

One of the things I love about Confirmation Class and Adult Education is that we get a chance to talk about what certain words mean or the etymology of certain terms.  A few weeks ago we talked about the seasons of the Church we call Ordinary Time, the times we primarily wear green vestments.  The two Ordinary seasons last (technically, and depending on how you view it) from the Monday after the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord until Ash Wednesday, and the Monday after Pentecost until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent, so we’re wrapping up Ordinary Time this week.  Ordinary Time sounds like the Church thinks these weeks are going to be pretty boring, right?  Avoiding that thought is why we study these words.  These weeks are called ordinary because of the numbers used count off things – first, second, and so on – are called “ordinal” numbers.  They are in order. 

Another awesome term I hope we get to talk about comes from the segment of Paul’s letter to the Colossians we just heard, when he calls Jesus “the first-born from the dead.”  How cool is that?  Paul makes it sound like Kevin Feige and Jon Favreau are cooking up a Marvel vehicle starring Jesus, THE FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD!!!

But the reality is much cooler.  First we should look at what Paul means by firstborn.  Paul uses the Greek word prototokos here, which literally means first born, but should be understood as being the first-born son, he who would be heir to the family authority and fortune.  (As an aside, we often refer to Mary as the theotokos, the God-bearer; here the Greek points to her being the one who gave birth to God).

So as firstborn, Jesus is preeminent, the One to whom all power and authority has been given.  His preeminence stems from being begotten, not made; Creator, not created, through Him, as we say at the end of every Mass, all things were made.  As firstborn of the dead, He is also first in a very specific human timeline, which began when God made all things new through the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

His “resurrection from death opens the way for all who trust in him to follow him in a resurrection like his when he returns.  This is important because it shows that our ultimate hope is not just for our souls to go to heaven but for our physical bodies to be raised to a new life as Jesus was.  He is the firstborn of the resurrection.”[1]  We can only follow where Christ has gone before.

To where are we following Him?  To His home, to His Kingdom, where He sits in glorious majesty at the right hand of His Father.  This Kingdom, present with us but unseen, throws itself over against the kingdoms of this world.  The kingdoms of this world would see even Jesus put to death, but the Kingdom of God would see even us live forever. 

The feast of Christ the King is a relatively new one on the Church calendar, created in the early 20th Century in response to a world whose kingdoms were constantly at war with each other and within themselves.  Not much has changed.  

But this present feast is here to remind us that our hope does not lie in the kingdoms fashioned by human hands but in our sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, the first-born from the dead, whose kingdom, we are about to proclaim, shall have no end. 

[1] https://www.christianity.com/wiki/jesus-christ/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-is-the-firstborn-from-the-dead.html

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pentecost 23

It’s mid-November, and once again we’re heading into the most wonderful time of the year: that time when the political ads are over and we can get back to ads for car dealerships and Camp Lejeune water victims. 

I saw lots of commentary about how terrible the ads were this cycle, but I think the ads were about the same but there was just more of them.  Every two years we see how deeply our political system traffics in fear, in the specter of something, somewhere, being threatened and destroyed.

The problem, of course, is that there is always something, somewhere, being threatened and/or destroyed.  That’s just the cycle of human existence.  One of the great things about the Bible, our set of books that point directly to the divine, to Christ one day wiping every tear from our eyes, is that the canon doesn’t ignore what’s going on around us as we wait for that day. 

Our Gospel lesson from St. Luke couldn’t be any more grounded in our everyday reality.  Jesus didn’t sugar coat what was to come, did He?  “The Temple sure is nice, right?”  Thirty-three years late the Jews led a revolt and occupied Jerusalem, initiating the first Roman-Jewish war.  In the year 70 the Romans reclaimed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple with only a portion of the western wall remaining.[1]

But it gets worse (depending on how you look at it).  False messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, pestilence, famine, and plague, great portents in heaven, persecutions and betrayals.  Time to start building that bunker, right?

Well, maybe, but not in the ways we might be thinking.  Jesus tells us that through all of the above, where the rubber meets the road is with witnessing to the Faith.  “This will be a time for you to bear testimony,” Jesus said.  “Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Make up your mind to not make up your mind on how you will answer those in power who question you and your faith in the Lord.  That’s not an easy thing to settle on, though, is it?  Nor does Jesus’ command mean that we should just be like, “Well, He said not to do anything, right?  Where’s the Lipton Onion Dip?”

What Jesus does mean is that by abiding in the Faith, our souls will be saved.  “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”  This, this endurance, this ability to persevere, is something we can prepare for, something we can do, something we can live. 

How do we do this?  Well, we can look at how Jesus did it. 

By learning.  It’s difficult to withstand the temptation to bow down before false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, pestilence, famine, and plague, great portents in heaven, persecutions and betrayals if we don’t know what we stand for to begin with.  Like the Collect of the Day said, to hear the Scriptures, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, we gain the patience and comfort that comes from God’s holy word. 

By worship:  The Holy Spirit speaks to us and through us in worship, opening our hearts and minds to the mysteries of the Faith and to hearing how God regards us and what He wants for our lives.  In our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, we gain all the benefits of Christ’s saving work and are made one body with Christ Himself. 

By private prayer.  Jesus was depicted as being almost constantly in prayer.  How do relationships deepen?  By presence and communication, through which we learn to trust and love. 

Through service.  If we’re busy living to the best of our ability as Christ would have us live, we’ll spend more time serving others than worrying about all the terrible stuff that may or may not come our way.  “Do not be weary in well-doing,” Paul tells us today.

And by fellowship.  You can’t be a Christian alone.  Just as God is three Persons in one God, a community within Himself, we have been made by Him to be in community, in fellowship with one another. 

Yes, it will always be that something, somewhere, perhaps even something or someone we love is being threatened, being broken, or being lost.  But the good news is that Christ has done and is doing something about it.  The war has been one, even death has been swallowed up in His victory.  He has given us the means to prepare ourselves for whatever comes, and the promise of wisdom that cannot be withstood or contradicted.  In the end, there is nothing to fear, and a Kingdom to gain. 

[1] https://rpl.hds.harvard.edu/faq/destruction-second-temple-70-ce

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment