Monday, April 27, 2015

The Pruning Hand of GOD. A Homily from John 15:1-8 for the 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday Of Easter
Homily for 5.3.12
edited from a Homily
first posted 5.6.12
Year B

Today’s reading from St. John’s Gospel, for this the fifth Sunday of the Easter season, offers us a pre-Calvary and therefore a pre-Resurrection teaching of Jesus from what have come to be know as the Upper-room Discourses. These chapters from John give us those most intimate utterances of Jesus with his disciples. They are filled with poignancy because we know in a few short hours he will be dead. Thus, we can expect that these words would be his most critical thoughts to them (and by extension to us), and we are not disappointed. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Good, Beautiful Shepherd. A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter from John 10:11-18
4th Sunday Of Easter
Homily for 4.26.15
John 10:11-18 
Year B
(revised from a
homily first posted

In today’s Lectionary Gospel reading we find a passage of depth and beauty. Here, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and in so doing he offers us a powerful metaphor for describing his purpose, his calling and his work.

The word here translated “good” is the Greek word: kalos (καλός), and besides “good” it can also be translated, “beautiful,” as in an “outward sign of an inward good.” In this way the word denotes that which is within a person, that which is worthy, honorable and honest, or one that is beautiful because they do the worthy, honorable and honest thing, and in that way they are inwardly good and outwardly beautiful. (for more, go here)

Here we see in Jesus — the Good and Beautiful Shepherd — the one who willingly fulfilled his Father’s calling to lay down his life for the sheep of his fold and for the sheep not of his fold, so that he might restore the world. This shepherd metaphor, therefore,  alludes to the calling of Jesus by the Father to be the Jewish Messiah, a calling meant to finally reclaim, restore and fulfill the promises GOD made --  from Abraham through to Israel -- to his chosen people.

Said differently, GOD is in Christ reconciling the world through the cross-work and the resurrection-work of the Good Shepherd, whose finished work on the cross, through the resurrection and in the ascension certainly will restore GOD’s good world as he represents and defends his chosen people, but curiously, not only his people.

That is, because GOD is good (beautiful) he seeks the good of his people both Jew and Gentile, finally succeeding to tear down the barriers that divide us (overturning Babel) and to restore our relationship with him (thus returning us to Eden). In this way GOD has future plans for his good but broken world. Far from turning from away from his world as damaged goods, GOD intends to restore it to that of a beautiful cathedral, and a place of worship, enjoyment and plenty.

Let us move a little farther toward the text, and let us unpack a little more in order to find a way into it. We might do so by asking just what makes a good shepherd?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sent by the LORD, Indwelt by the Spirit & Given New Life. A Homily from John 20:19-31. [Link]

Second Sunday of Easter 
(or Sunday of Divine Mercy) 
Homily for 4.12.15John 20:19-31 
(This Homily is revised and republished 
from a Homily first posted on 4/9/12 8:17AM)

Go HERE for the Homily from John 20:19-31

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Homily for Resurrection Sunday, 2015, from John 20:1-9
Resurrection Sunday
Homily for 4.5.15
first posted Easter, 2011
John 20:1-9
Year B

Today, that old Charles Wesley Easter hymn rings out in our hearts:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Today, the shadowed-dirge of Lent expires, revealing the snap of hope and the rousing rejoicing of new life! Today, after the 40 day renunciation of the self-life, which always pounds away so prominently in our hearts, comes the embrace of the promise of a new way to live!

Notice the text. While it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning and she discovers the stone has been removed and the body of Jesus is missing! Her first inclination -- tell the others the body was taken, 
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
Peter and John rush to the grave, Peter
 "went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place." 
Then, finally, John 
"also went in...and he saw and believed."
What if I were to tell you, as provincial as it sounds, that all human history turned on that moment? What if I were to tell you that the backs of death and greed and grief were broken on the cold stone floor of that empty tomb? What if I were to tell you that the violent rebellion of sin was quelled in those empty, blood-stained burial cloths?

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
Victory! Savor it for a moment. Before raising the inevitable objections, hold tight to the hum of its power -- Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? Don't let go, now, not yet, not until the old body of death we are wont to carry is lifted, if only for a moment, giving us temporary relief from the stench. For, you see, there is no stink of death in this tomb; the body is gone!

OK. Go ahead. Now you can let go; now you can raise your hand.

"I object, your honor! Ever since this Jesus' death there has been an ever growing chaos! Death does have a sting! The grave does seem to have the last word! Violence rules the day and suffering stalks the night."

True. All true, and then some.

In fact, you haven't told half the story. Death and brutality are open sores, but I submit you haven't really heard the message. Somehow, you haven't picked up the cadence of the good news. Truly, violence rings out. To be sure, starvation and war blight the land, but that is not the only sound. Surely, you hear it? Surely you hear the pulse and rhythm underneath the dirge? Surely you hear the promise of life from the GOD of life?

No? Well, listen again to that passage from 1 Corinthians fifteen, a portion of which I shared a moment ago, only this time I'll extend the quote:

It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die. When this happens -- when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die -- then at last the Scriptures will come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:52-58)

Earlier in this same text, St. Paul describes Jesus as the first-fruits of those who have died. (vs.20) He means us to know that what started in the Christ's resurrection will be continued and completed in us. That his resurrection contained within it the promise of ours!

So here's the question; here's that toward which this all points: Will we believe in spite of what we see? The ending of the Gospel reading says: 
"also went in...and he saw and believed." 
John saw the empty bed clothes and the face-napkin off by itself and he understood and he believed.

In the end this is where we finally stand; we either believe because we have met the risen Christ, or we do not believe because we have not. We either believe because we have seen the transformational power of the living, risen Christ for ourselves, within ourselves, or we do not believe because we have experienced no such change.

So, let me now end by declaring to you the good news: Once you've meet the living Christ, by the power of his Spirit, you are offered a new place to stand within this raging sea of grief; you are provided a lifted place from which to get a clear look at the world. This place to stand, the place of the clear look above the raging sea of grief is named hope, the blessed hope of new life and a new way to live.

And this new place to stand, even as the storms of the human condition rage around you and engulf you, will not be the end of you, for they do not have the final word. That word is reserved for the Christ! (Philippians 2:6-11)

Let us end by quoting the old-time hymn, One Day, by J. Wilbur Chapman.  
We'll let it tell the story:
One day the grave could conceal Him no longer,One day the stone rolled away from the door;Then He arose, over death He had conquered;Now is ascended, my Lord evermore. 
One day the trumpet will sound for His coming,One day the skies with His glory will shine;Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;Glorious Savior, this Jesus is mine! 
Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;Buried, He carried my sins far away;Rising, He justified freely forever:One day He's coming, glorious day!
Copyright: Public Domain 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

SEEING AND FOLLOWING THE REAL JESUS. A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent from John 12:20-33.
5th Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 3.22.15
Year B 

The Gospel Lectionary Reading for this, the fifth Sunday of Lent, brings forward for our consideration the challenge of truly seeing and following the real Jesus. No doubt, this challenge of seeing and following is a proper lenten excursion, especially in this moment of time when all Christian disciples of the West face the reality of such a steep, internal and external cultural captivity. 

That is, today it is extremely difficult to identify the origin our view of Jesus, recognizing whether our view of him is sourced in culture, in Holy Scripture or an admixture of the two. At stake in this consideration, then, is nothing short of a faithful discipleship verses a deformed discipleship. 

What I propose, therefore, in the rather brief homily, is a challenge toward a biblical view of the Savior, one radiating from its most basic understanding. Namely: We must come to see Jesus as the essence of sacrificial Love and reconciling forgiveness -- the Son of Man Must Suffer and Die. Which leads to us follow Jesus in the same way by losing our own lives in him and for him. But then, we must further see Jesus as he faces his troubled future with determination. Which leads us to follow Jesus by drawing even close to the Master.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

John 3:16 in Lenten Expression (revised). A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent from John 3:14-21
4th Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 3.15.15
John 3:14-21
Year B 
revised fron a homily
first posted on3.18.12

The Lectionary Gospel reading from St. John’s Gospel brings to our attention this morning some of the most beloved verses in all of Holy Scripture. One might think, therefore, the homiletic exposition of these words would be, as it were, a piece of cake, but if that is your understanding, then you are sadly mistaken. For, what can one say about such familiar words that has not already been said? And, how can one further explain GOD's most familiar face as described with these words we know so well? Or, how can one repeat these already well-settled words in a different way that improves upon them? 

But, this text is not just my problem as speaker; it is your problem as listener as well. In this case familiarity does not so much breed contempt as it does coma! "Oh, ho-hum, we've heard it all before; so we can nap through this one..." 

However, the interpretive issues are much deeper than our mere familiarity with the text because as preparing to share with you I have been challenged to wonder how these words have anything at all to say about our Lenten journey, and our preparation for resurrection Sunday. 

But, these challenges not withstanding, we must forge ahead and somehow assemble our thoughts, the first and most obvious of which is the proclamation of this text's central truth that the movement of GOD is toward the world and not away from it. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Up the Mountain With Jesus and Back Down Again -- A Homily from Mark 9:2-10 for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.
2nd Sunday of LENT
Year B 
A Homily for 3.1.15 
revised from a Homily 
first posted 3.4.12

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, and the Lectionary offers us the rather astonishing account of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. One might well ask how this text, as beloved and powerful as it is, has anything to do with the Lenten season? 

Clearly, the inclusion of this text is meant to offer us the calling to go apart with Jesus in quietness and solitude, as he was in quietness and solitude with the inner-circle of the disciples on the mount of transfiguration. 

Of course, we see that the quietness is not long-lasting. It never is. In the midst of this sublime moment of drama St. Mark describes Jesus conversing with Elijah and Moses (!) and finally he has the divine voice saying: 
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." 
This voice is summoned both as a response to Peter's interruption of the divine moment with his desire to build three tabernacles -- one to Jesus and Elijah and Moses, and a reminder of the purposes of GOD in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jesus In The Desert & In Ministry (revised) -- A Homily from Mark 1:12-15 for Lent # 1.
1st Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 2.22.15
MARK 1:12-15
Year B 
revised fron a homily
first posted on 2.26.12

Today is the first Sunday of our Lenten journey. Today the church calendar confronts us with questions of discipleship-devotion and community-koinonia

Lenten questions are actually quite basic, really, but if asked correctly they hit us hard and right where we live: 

discipleship devotion -- 
  • Is our discipleship devoted and serious? 
  • Is our prayer life meaningful and ongoing? 
  • Is our character conforming to the image of the Christ? 

community koinonia -- 
  • Is our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ true & pure? 
  • Are we diligently praying daily and in earnest for our forever family? 

Said differently, the Lenten moment calls us back from the brink of hypocrisy. Lent reclaims our wayward hearts from a souring indifference. The Lenten season, therefore, must be seen as a gift, an opportunity, for a heart-felt repentance -- a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. 

Today's Lectionary Gospel reading opens to us several important Lenten themes: 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Taking the Unantiseptic Risk (revised). A Homily for MARK 1:40-45
A Homily from Mark 1:40-45
for the 6th Sunday
in Ordinary Time Year B
first posted 2.12.12

In today's Lectionary New Testament reading St. Paul tells us that we should, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." That is, the great Apostle presents himself to his ancient readers as an example of what it means to follow the living, risen Christ. 

Of course, the idea of following the Christ as he is presented in the Gospels is attractive to the believer's heart and given as a serious goal for the believer's calling, but by and large this practice is very difficult to accomplish. 

Today's Lectionary GOSPEL reading is an excellent example of this challenge. Here Jesus is confronted by a man who has leprosy, which meant he was not only sick, but he was also ritually unclean and unable to participate in the temple activities. This situation is very serious and made the "unclean" person an object of a double ostracism. 

This also meant the leper had to announce his disease to all who came near: 
"Those who suffer from any contagious skin disease must tear their clothing and allow their hair to hang loose. Then, as they go from place to place, they must cover their mouth and call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'" (Lv.13:45)
Nothing tells us of the leper's exclusion from the community and the temple more clearly than this. He lived in isolation and hopelessness, really, and since there was no known cure for the disease, the only hope for restoration was probably the miraculous, which actually did have precedent. Remember the story of Naaman?
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha's house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: "Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of leprosy." 11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. "I thought he would surely come out to meet me!" he said. "I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! 12 Aren't the Abana River and Pharpar River of Damascus better than all the rivers of Israel put together? Why shouldn't I wash in them and be healed?" So Naaman turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn't you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured!" 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child's, and he was healed! 15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, "I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Now please accept my gifts." 16 But Elisha replied, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts." And though Naaman urged him to take the gifts, Elisha refused. 17 Then Naaman said, "All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer any burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the LORD. (2 Kings 5:9-17)
Perhaps the story of Naaman was on this leper's heart when he came close to Jesus. Having heard of Jesus' power to heal, in this man's mind Jesus might well have been his only hope for restoration to his family, to his community and to the temple worship. And so, he breaks the rules and rather than proclaiming his disease from a far off, he comes close to Jesus and dares to speak to him, 
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
Then, a most extraordinary thing happens. Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched the man. I've often wondered how long it had been since this man had felt the touch of another human being. Someone has called what Jesus did here as taking the unantiseptic risk -- a willingness to get ones hands dirty, a willingness to risk uncleanness. Apparently, Jesus has no fear in this regard. He is so moved by the man's situation that he touches him, even when a word spoken could presumably have done the job as well. 

Of course, there is more going on here than just this man and his need. In this healing, as in all of Jesus' works of mercy, he offers the nation a sign of his Messiahship. This time it would be to the priest: 
"show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
And so, Brothers and Sisters, this is a beautiful story of Jesus' compassion and mission, and there is much here for us, as well. I would offer three ideas as windows into the text: