Month: October 2013

Thanksgiving

A sermon at the Church of the Holy Nativity, Bronx, NY. October 27, 2013

“Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” (Luke 18:9)

The Gospel of Luke makes it pretty plain what this parable is about. You have two people—one is a tax gatherer and the other is an active and devout religious person. This religious person is very serious, perhaps he’s even a member of the vestry, certainly goes to all the Bible classes that are offered, never misses mass, and maybe even is up-to-date on his pledge.
Allan Rohan Crite ConsecrationSo when he sets up to pray in the temple, he thanks God because he is so religious. “I thank you that I am not like other people”, he says. These others, hoi loipoi in Greek, that’s the key here. He’s not even referring to a specific group of other people: it’s him… and everybody else. Perhaps there are some that are his kind of people, who also fast twice a week, tithe everything they have and are confidently prominent and public in their prayer— but the others, they are all lumped in to the category that includes everything bad.

It’s possible that this Pharisee could not even figure out why so few people were joining his group. They were so good, and of course they were on the inside with God, so why weren’t more people seeing the light?

Jesus’ point is that there are a lot of these “others” in the world, and God loves them all, even the tax collector. Then, as now, a tax collector was usually about as welcome as an Obamacare representative in a Tea Party convention. This tax collector made no defense, he simply prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Of course it’s possible to jump on the band wagon, and say—“ok that’s the prayer that Jesus wants—I thank you God that I’m not like those others who don’t pray: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner,’ and I also tithe and make it to mass more or less on time.” But that would miss the point, wouldn’t it? Contrition and humility are good, but the main thing is, this publican does not separate himself off from those “others.” The largest share of his humility is in recognizing how much he has in common with all the rest of humanity—his need of mercy.

And Jesus was famous for feasting with tax-gatherers and other known sinners, perhaps even with you and me. Christianity is a way of life and that life might indeed include tithing—I would never want to undermine the stewardship committee—but that way of life is to live and to share Christ’s mercy out there with all those “others,” the people who Jesus loves even when they aren’t here doing what we think people ought to be doing.

Like the Pharisee, we do stand here in this temple and pray in thanksgiving to God. But listen a minute to our Great Thanksgiving prayer:
Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

We are all, all of us, those “others” who are reconciled by the mercy of God to Jesus. We gather each week for Eucharist (Greek word: means thanksgiving), because our way of life is to live in thanksgiving and share with others that mercy and love of God in Christ Jesus. You are all loved, and all special in God’s sight, not because you are different from other people, but because you share with that great multitude for whom, in God’s love, Jesus gave himself on the Cross.

Francis

Sermon at St. Paul’s Ossining celebrating the Feast of St. Francis

Sunday October 6, 2013

I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.–Gospel of Matthew 11:25

Hilda

Hilda

Today we are celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Contrary to popular belief, St. Francis was not some sort of new age nature mystic—above and before all things, he was a preacher. He was a preacher who primarily focused on the stories of the Gospel, particularly on the people in those stories, especially Jesus. And he was really a pretty sophisticated guy, but the call that he perceived was to preach, not in the palaces or universities, but in the streets, to the simple people that God loved.
Last year when I preached about St. Francis, I quoted the story of how St. Francis preached to the birds. I won’t give that sermon again, since most of you have already heard it, but thing I want to call to mind is that the reason that Francis was preaching to the birds was because none of the people were listening. Imagine that. Francis wouldn’t put up with that. God’s word wanted to be preached, so Francis went to the creatures who would hear it.
The Gospel, you see, is for the whole of creation—the good news of Jesus is not a philosophy for the smart, or instructions for those who like to win by following the rules the best. The mercy of God is for everyone, that is what Francis preached—and not just to the lepers and the beggars, and not just to those who followed him in the way of voluntary poverty—Francis preached to the ordinary families and workers, perhaps they could legitimately be called poor, but not destitute or homeless. Jesus’ good news is simple: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” and it is for everyone, even for us, even if we are the ones that always want to make it harder and more complicated.
One thing that comes from knowing animals is that they will accept the good of God’s creation. And if we make it complicated: like if I forget and leave a treat in my pocket; they go for the solution: Hilda will head butt my pocket until I take it out and give it to her—simple and not intellectualized. Her simplicity of understanding is extraordinary—when she decides which of the three identical green balls she wants, you can’t fool her. She knows, maybe it smells different, maybe it looks different, but you definitely can’t talk her into one of the others. You definitely can’t reason with her about it.
St. Francis was concerned for the pastoral needs of ordinary people, that is, of all people. He was out among them and addressed the problems directly. It was not so much that he didn’t have a plan or a strategy; it was that his strategy was to prioritize people and their simplicity over talk and theory and fine sophisticated distinctions.
There’s another Francis I would like to talk about. Pope Francis chose that name carefully. Make no mistake; Francis is a conservative and orthodox Roman Catholic. Anyone who thinks differently is bound to be disappointed. But he listens to this same gospel which we have heard today: “you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” I copied about a thousand words relating to this from the interview that was published a couple of weeks ago. I’ll share just this one passage:

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

We must always consider the person—not the rules, not the philosophy, not our own power or sophistication. In today’s Epistle, Paul says, “a new creation is everything!” And in that creation we are God’s creatures, and fellow creatures with these others, like the ones we have brought today to bless us. And Paul continues: “As for those who will follow this rule (that a new creation is everything) peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”

Sisters and brothers, let us continue in blessing.