In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are told in the gospel reading that a lawyer approached Jesus to ask him a question. Now lawyers were often well educated in matters concerning the Jewish law. He asked Jesus, of the commandments which one is the greatest of all? This was no easy question because the Jewish law is said to speak of some six hundred thirteen commandments. He asks Jesus out of all these commandments that we have been given, laws that we are told that we should keep, which one is the most important? Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our Gospel reading this morning, we are told that religious leaders set a trap for Jesus, and yes, even Jesus had a small group of people that were out to bring him down. As the crowds gathered around Jesus in the usual way, their delegates approached Jesus with loads of flattery and then asked him an apparently straightforward question, “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). Why was that a trap? It is because there are only two answers, “yes” or “no”, and either one of them were likely to get Jesus killed. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We had one of the harder weeks of the pandemic this week, and that is really saying something at this point. The losses continue to mount and the necessary isolation makes them all so much harder to bear. We are in this together, but it does not always feel like it without the personal togetherness, the handshakes, the hugs, and a hundred other small, kind, gestures that we usually rely on far more than we knew we did. I don’t get to talk to nearly as many of you week by week as I would like to, but I am hearing that a lot of us are feeling this heavy cloud these days. It doesn’t help that the days keep getting shorter, darker, and a bit colder. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the pandemic, six months ago now, we had a reading from the prophet Ezekiel. I remember ruminating on it because it is such a sad, heartbreaking book. It’s a book, of faith and hope though, nevertheless. It is a book for 2020. It rarely appears in our readings so I was surprised this week to see it again. It must be worth paying attention to. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We meet up with Jonah at the end of the book this morning and not at the more famous beginning where–running from God–he hurls himself off a boat at sea and is swallowed by a sea monster. After all that, God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah replied, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Jonah was angry at the bush, really angry. To be fair, Jonah had had a really long week. The bush withering and letting him down was just one things too many. He had hit his limit. It is tempting to judge Jonah here and laugh at this comic scene of the man coming completely undone by a bush. Isn’t it? But in 2020 a lot of us have had days that are just one thing too many. There has just been too much disappointment and loss, already. The story of Jonah has had something to say generation after generation and 2020 is no different. From the earliest Christian centuries, we find ancient pictures of Jonah, see here is Jonah on the boat, Jonah being eaten by the sea monster (always drawn more like a dragon than a whale because their knowledge of whales wasn’t great), and Jonah sheltering under his bush.
Jonah was really upset because he had in his mind a pretty clear idea about the way things ought to happen. Ninevah was the capital city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Ninevah was one of the first cities that realized it had the power of enslaving all of its neighbors simply by having the most powerful army. Jonah happened to be one of those neighboring peoples forcibly subjugated to this empire. Out of his deep faith in God, Jonah believed Justice would prevail and really wanted to live long enough to see Ninevah finally get what it deserved. He was waiting for the reckoning. Jonah is one of the good guys and a much-heralded prophet according to the Bible.
Jonah’s real problem was that God didn’t agree with Jonah’s plan, no matter how good it was. As the Bible tells its readers all the time, in the words of the Jonah’s fellow prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The pandemic has not only threatened our physical health. It has taken away from us things that were essential to maintaining our mental and spiritual health. One of those things is what the Book of Common Prayer calls, “the principal act of Christian worship” (BCP p. 13), that is, Holy Communion. We have so far faced the pandemic without it. We have been fasting from Holy Communion because the very communion we experience risks spreading the virus. This fast has been a testimony of the love we have for one another. Jesus has been present with us these months in new and interesting ways.
That being said, there has been no more dramatic change in our worship life than displacing the central act of Christian worship. I know many of you miss it like you miss life sustaining food. We have been weaker without it. We have been weaker when we need to be strong. It has bothered me a lot.
Like many things though, we have discovered we can accomplish most of what we need to during this pandemic if we pull together, use our collective intelligence, skills, and imagination, to find a new way forward. Today, therefore, is our first Holy Communion service in six months. We’ve done it without changing any of our cherished norms governing the sacred. Many of you know that under normal circumstances, Holy Communion is brought from the church with great care and reverence to those who–due to illness, age, or circumstances–could not be present to receive it. It’s an ancient practice that goes back to the earliest centuries. Christians in prison awaiting martyrdom would receive Holy Communion from visitors. Churches would send the consecrated elements to others churches affirming the communion they had with each other. What we have done today is send communion out to the whole congregation because we are all in need and can’t participate in the ordinary gathering. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus gets really personal today. Jesus says, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone…. if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you.” The Epistle of James echoes Jesus’ admonition from the other side of the relationship, from the perspective of the one confronted. James says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (5:16).” Jesus talks about this sort of relationship conflict because well … it isn’t something any of us wants to talk about. People, including me, don’t tend to look forward to conversations about how their behavior may have harmed another person. Few of us ever want to say, “Yes, let’s talk about how I’ve hurt you.” Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our gospel reading tells us of Gentile woman with a sick daughter who pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter. The world Jesus lived in, however, was afflicted with many of the same prejudices, divisions, and hatreds as our world is. The vast majority of our memories of Jesus are stories where he is with his own people. There are a few stories where a true outsider intrudes. This morning’s desperate mother is one of those outsiders. Notice that he at first ignores her and does not respond at all, as if she lacked the necessary status to bring to Jesus any request at all. Jesus’ disciples urge him to send her away complaining how bothersome her shouting at them is. They want it to stop. Dismissed and insulted, nevertheless, she persisted. Continue reading