June 10, 2018: Third Sunday after Pentecost

By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp5_RCL.html (Track 2)

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729371-july-10-2018-third-sunday-after-pentecost

I come before you today in the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus forms a family. Faced by strong challenges from both the Pharisees and the Herodians, as well as the reasonable concerns of His family for His safety, He does something amazing, something that no one else there predicted. He could have given in to the demands of the Pharisees and promised to strictly follow their interpretation of the law. He could have promised the Herodians who followed the client leaders of Palestine to make waves politically. He could, at the very least, have met with His worried family who loved Him and were concerned that so many powerful out-of-town groups were coming for their son and brother.

Instead, Jesus answers those who lodged unfounded, fearful accusations against Him by doing something unanticipated. He calls all those hearing Him into relationships of mutual care. He establishes kinship between a crowd, people who perhaps were neighbors. Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In its own way, Jesus’ establishment of a new family is also astounding. The text does not state it explicitly, but I imagine that the crowd felt both excitement at Jesus’ healing and teaching, as well as fear that He would be dragged before the authorities. The arrival of His mother and brothers gives Him a chance to express these concerns. Mark has already told us that Jesus’ popular and provocative teaching ministry shocks His family. However, He won’t back down. He takes the bold step of renewing a fractured community, as He had earlier healed a man’s withered hand. He calls His followers from fear into renewed obedience to God and relationship with neighbor.

This brings us to the Garden. The reading from Genesis tells us of the roots of our humanity. In that narrative, the first humans are given a garden to live in, with a simple rule to follow: they can eat of any fruit in the garden, except the one of the knowledge of good and evil. We just heard about their fear when God approaches after they have eaten from the very tree that will lead to their expulsion from paradise. It is possible to take issue with this story on grounds of sexism, and there is no denying that it was told, retold, and recorded in a patriarchal culture; however, it’s also notable that it is Adam, the man, who quickly blames the woman. She gives a much more straightforward answer to God. In response, God first punishes the serpent. Despite the man’s attempt to distance himself from the infraction, both suffer the consequences, since both ate from the fruit. We could also note that this Scriptural conversation succinctly describes the injury and brokenness of misogyny, currently documented through the #MeToo movement. And while this passage has been used in misogynistic ways, some interpreters believe that, given humanity’s curiosity, what we call the fall was near inevitable. We witness here what happens when humans forget the essentials of our existence in favor of other, apparently better, goals.

In comparing the reading from Genesis and Mark, there’s a shared emphasis on relationship and accountability. God is the one who calls us into community, and when we break community through petty, self-serving fights, God calls us back. When the man and woman disobey in the Garden, they must leave, but God gives them another home. This by no means indicates that we have a free license to hurt each other, but it does mean that God understands our shortcomings and is continually willing to work with us. We cannot escape the reality that God has made us radically social creatures. We are formed for community, and in the Gospel we see Jesus take a crowd and call it to be a family. We don’t have to look very far to see that in our society there are still too many desperate crowds and too few caring families. Too many Pharisees and Herodians trying to save themselves by turning to legalism or a security of closeness to earthly powers.

In my short time here, I’ve seen both Baltimore’s beauty as well as its brokenness. Here, the privileged ride the bus for free, while the poor must pay. A top-notch hospital flourishes by exploiting the residents of the poor, racialized neighborhoods around it. Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology, defines poverty as an early death, and it is reprehensible that those with insurance are cured while the abandoned and over-policed poor are offered help only if they accept a minimum wage job. This neighborhood itself witnesses to the Herodian transformation that allows a few to prosper, while desperate crowds are left to fight over very little. Formerly working-class homes are transformed into chic dwellings for well-educated downtown workers. Since we, in faith, follow those who know the difference between good and evil, and know Christ’s call to love God and neighbor, we have work to do. This work will involve getting to know our neighbors and making common community with all. Advent’s choice to maintain senior housing rather than construct luxury apartments speaks to the ways his parish already witnesses to this Gospel imperative.

Today’s Gospel can lead us to wonder what it might look like to live as a human family. Some of us have different experiences with family than others. Here, Jesus gives us an interesting example of spiritual family by calling those who do God’s will his family. This leads me to reflect on mission, mission of the Gospel. I believe that God’s mission to us is Christ, and in Christ we are called to live lives of faith and discipleship in service to others. A professor of mine who studies mission calls the church away from examples of mission that support patronizing acts or cultural superiority towards communities, projects, and witness where all communities, all cultures, and all people are brought together through the power of Christ. When Presiding Bishop Curry speaks repeatedly of the Jesus movement, I think this is what he’s getting at. We need time for work and time for rest, but our communities of faith must live out the Gospel.

We have a choice. We can follow God in courageous love or tear each other apart in fear. In big and small ways, when confronted by evil and fear, let us choose love. Let us seek relationship. Let’s sit at the feet of our teacher, savior and Lord; hear the gospel message, and get up, ready for the life-giving work of building community. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, this protects us from being tricked by hate and fear and can lead us to a closer connection to God and each other. This is work for which we were created, and God equips us every day to carry it out. Amen.

June 3, 2018: Second Sunday after Pentecost

By Dcn. Eric Whitehair on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp4_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729290-june-3-2018-second-sunday-after-pentecost

In the Name ✠ of the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a lot going on in this very short Gospel reading today. A lot below the scenes. So I’d like to begin by introducing the cast, as it were. One of the most, interesting might be the wrong word, one of the most important but barely mentioned characters in this portion, which will have a giant impact later in the Gospel, are the Herodians, that is, people who were supporters of Herod. Know something about Herod, he was the ruler of Judea, the Roman province. He set himself up as a king, but he was not king of Israel. He was not actually even from Israel. He paid a certain amount of lip service, a certain amount of public respect to the Hebrew people. He even rebuilt the Temple, and it’s really hard to underestimate how important the Temple was to the spiritual life of the people of Israel. It was literally, literally, the center of the world, perhaps even the center of the universe. It was the spot where one could only do certain religious things. It was a spot where one must go to to get certain things from the priests. It was a place that was the center of the spiritual world for the Jewish people, and that Herod would spend his money to rebuild the Temple certainly made him appear to be a pious person, and yet what we know both from the Gospels and from history is that Herod did have a true love, but that true love seemed to be power and domination.

Herod really wanted to be king even though he was not of the line of David. He was also someone who used the power of Rome to keep himself in his position. He was willing to make whatever deals need to be made to keep his power, and so he was in a little bit of a balancing act. On one hand, he had the people of Israel, on the other hand he had the Roman Empire, and he was trying to play both, and he was trying to play both for one specific reason, and that specific reason was to stay in power. And the reason why he rebuilt the Temple was not out of a love of anything holy, but out of a desire to keep his own power, and his relationship with the Hebrew people can be best described as oppressive. And the oppression that he put on the people he did not only to increase his own power, but also to increase his own personal wealth; hence when we hear about tax collectors, you’re probably hearing a bit about the government which was glad to take a lot of money from the people. So when we hear that the Pharisees went out to immediately conspire with the Herodians, that’s who we’re talking about, that’s the Herod we’re speaking of here. We’ll get back to the Pharisees in a moment.

The second person in today’s Gospel, appropriately, of course, is our Lord, Jesus. Unlike Pharisees, to an extent, unlike the Herodians, definitely, and unlike the Sadducees, for certain, unlike the officials at the Temple, all of these political parties that I mentioned, beside our Lord, all of these political parties knew that they were living in perilous and precarious times. They were living on a sword’s edge. As a matter of fact, before the close of the century that this Gospel was written, Jerusalem will be sacked and the very Temple that Herod built would be pulled down to the ground; destroyed utterly. To this day only one wall remains of Herod’s Temple, and that’s the western wall that people still pray at. That would happen under Roman rule. That giant blow-up that would see the destruction of Jerusalem, that would see the scattering of the Hebrew people, was imminent, and it could almost be sensed in the air, it seems, because everyone was trying to just keep it cool. Don’t have the big blow-up, because it will be disastrous, and to be fair, it was.

Jesus was a disrupter of that peace. We have a giant pile of kindling, we have gasoline. No open flames, please. And here comes this Man, talking about who the true King is, what the real Kingdom is, about the difference between fake power of this world, and the true power in the world. We’re talking about a Man who would not pay homage to the Emperor. We’re talking about followers who were looking for a Kingdom that was not of this world. Jesus scared a lot of people.

And then, the unlikely third party in our story today are the Pharisees, and, I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but the Pharisees don’t honestly, sometimes, get a fair shake. So let’s talk about the Pharisees of history for a few seconds, and then the Pharisees of the Gospel. The Pharisees of history were a sect, a religious sect of the first century. And, when you hear about Pharisees in the Gospels, basically you could just say, Pharisees equal bad guy, right, and that pretty much get you what you need to know. But that’s not actually entirely fair. What you need to know about the Pharisee movement was that it was actually a populist movement in Judaism. In the way that I told you that the Temple was the center of spiritual life of the Hebrew people, and therefore the priests had a tight control on everyone’s spirituality, and the priests who were in collusion with the government; therefore, were helping to maintain the repressive order of the day. The Pharisees were something slightly subversive, slightly. They took the power somewhat; not fair, they took the focus, I would say, more away from the Temple, but they still wanted people to have a spiritual life, and so instead of focusing on the Temple, instead of focusing on the power structure, they said: We can just read the scriptures ourselves. And they used the scriptures as a way to take the focus’ shift away from the colluding powers of the day. That’s a little bit subversive. Now the way that they were able to tread this precarious ground was to say: We’re not going to get involved in politics. Just do what the scriptures say to do. There’s a list of rules, follow the rules. Even some of the rules that previously had only been for the priestly class, we’re going to make them for everyone; everyone is holy now; follow the rules, read the Scripture. You see where the problem’s going, don’t you. This is why Pharisee equals bad guy in the Gospels. Jesus reminds us that there are two commandments: you should love the Lord your God with everything you have, and you should love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets. The Pharisees were using the law, dare I say it, as an idol.

I have been led to believe by my own experiences that people can make idols of things that would otherwise be edifying. Scripture is important. Boundaries are important. But love is the law. That’s not my words, that’s our Lord’s words. And when Scripture, or a set of rules, are placed above God’s love, you have created an idol. You have worshipped something that is not God as if it were God. What is idolatry? The Psalms tell us: when you make a God that is dumb, that has eyes but cannot see. When you take an object or a thing and try to make that God, you have created an idol. And you can make Scripture an idol. If you worship the book but not what the book is pointing to, you have made the book an idol. Hence, Pharisee equal bad guy.

I think it’s dangerous to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys who lived only two thousand years ago, good thing we’re done with them, the bad guys are vanquished, if only that were true. I see Pharisees today. I see Pharisees who make idols of things that would otherwise be edifying and even holy and place them above God and God’s love; lest we forget, Scripture reminds us very plainly: God is love. Do not place anything above God. Ironically, one of the commandments. The Pharisee nature is alive and well, and the Pharisee nature, to be fair, is alive and well in me.

That any time that I think that, instead of following the rule that I am to love my neighbor as myself and love the Lord my God with everything that I have, that I reduce what I think is holy to a checklist of do’s and don’ts, devoid of love. When I’m shaking my finger at someone self-righteously, in a very Pharisee-like manner, and thinking that they’ve done wrong, tisk tisk, and I’m not thinking of them as a human being, as a child of God, as my brother or sister. If they become a sinner before they become a brother, I am being a Pharisee. I am making an idol of the law.

So with that, indulge me for a moment, with all the background, let’s hear the Gospel one more time one time. “One Sabbath, Jesus’s disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way, the disciples began to pluck up the heads of grain, and the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’” And I’m going to skip ahead, “And Jesus said to them ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.’” And then our Lord shows what it’s like to follow the law, rather than worship the law.

He doesn’t just shake his finger at the Pharisees and tell them they’re sinners, although there’s plenty of that going on in the Gospels, don’t worry, but he’s not just doing that. He goes and he makes someone whole. He takes a person who was, from birth, hurt, possibly pushed to the margins, and he healed them at that moment, he made him whole. He broke the law when he fed His disciples on the Sabbath, technically speaking. He loved that man, that marginalized man, and made him whole, and that’s the true law. Love the Lord your God, with all of your heart, all of your mind, everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself, and remember that to love is a verb, not an emotion. Love isn’t what you feel, it’s what you do. So when I’m having my conversation with my inner Pharisee, this is what I must remind myself of. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May 27, 2018: Trinity Sunday

By Fr. Timothy Kroh on Trinity Sunday:

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BTrinity_RCL.html

Listen Here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/178345/729044-may-27-2018-trinity-sunday

In the Name ✠ of the One Holy Living God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the principal mystery of our faith: the mystery of God Himself. Our God is one God in three Persons, and this mystery separates us from all the other major religions of the world. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.

In a certain sense, we don’t deserve to know it, and yet God chose to reveal it to us, because of God’s love for us, in giving us an intellect, free will, and the spirit to know and love God. All of these things draw us closer to the Trinity.

The mystery was revealed gradually, you won’t find this doctrine in Holy Scripture, and the historical document traditionally associated with this day, the Creed of St. Athanasius, is the only creed that is not a creed, but I won’t get into that today. The point is, the revelation of the Trinity was gradual; it was a process of discernment and revelation, which is an essential concept in all of our lives; that’s really what your life is meant to be: a process of discerning God’s will and responding to it.

In the book of Genesis, when our forbearers Sarai and Abram, in their desert dwellings by the oaks of Mamre, encountered three strangers they made a feast for them and treated them like divine messengers, which indeed they were, but there’s something funny about the text. When Abram lifted up his eyes and looked, “Behold, three men were standing opposite him, and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door and said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not let your servant pass by.’” Why not “my Lords?” This is maybe a hint of the Trinitarian nature of God.

And in the wonderful call of the prophet Isaiah, a call which all of us share, as you must get tired of me reminding you, a call to serve God and to be, in a way, a prophetic messenger in the world, we hear that the angels of God sing a song that hints at the Trinity, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole Earth is full of his glory,” not theirs.

Paul mentions all three persons of the Trinity in the Epistle, although of course he doesn’t reference them in a specifically Trinitarian way. It took the church several hundred years of life, of prayer, of arguing and fighting, to come to our current understanding. And yet I hope none of us would ever make the arrogant claim of having anything like a full understanding of God, much less of the doctrine of God’s Holy Trinity. It is essentially not a doctrine to be understood but a reality to be experienced.

For an example of this we can look to the most significant human in her relationship in the most Holy Trinity, a relationship unique to any other human being, the most Blessed Virgin Mary. Listen to what the archangel Gabriel says to her: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God,” that is, God the Creator, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,” there is the second Person. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” there is the third Person, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born of you will be called Son of God.”

Only the most holy Mother of God shared in this unique way among all of us humans in the life of the Trinity; because through her God took on a body and came to the fullness of the Trinity. So this revelation was a process, which God revealed in God’s time, in that moment, with that most blessed of humans. The revelation is a process, like everything in God’s vast and wonderful creation, just like the creation itself, in the forces of evolution which began in the mind of God, is in itself a continuing revelation; just like our lives. The collect of the day prays in these words: “You have given to your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship.”

We don’t pray to understand the Trinity, but to live into it: to worship the fullness of God, and in the power of that fullness, to be steadfast in faith and worship. And as much as we remain steadfast in our relationship with God, in our faith and worship, which includes service, don’t forget worship and service are virtually one and the same thing: they’re both actions which testify to the reality of God and respond to that reality. So when we hear worship, we should hear service as well, because without one the other is incomplete. So we have to remain steadfast in these things, and we really ought to follow the example of our Lady.

She was called by the Fathers and Mothers of the church “Complimentum Trinitatis,” that is, the compliment of the Trinity. St. Francis called her the beloved daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Those are all definitions, not of full knowledge, but a full relationship, and that’s how God calls us to relate to God’s self in the Trinity.

When we meet God in Heaven, we will understand in a fuller way this reality, but we won’t ever completely understand it. We can, however, choose to be in communion with God. We can choose through our actions, our prayers, our worship here, our service outside of these doors, to be in relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can choose this way of life by every day giving some of our time to God in prayer: even a five minute practice of prayer a day is a wonderful life-giving place to start. A fifteen minute prayer practice is fantastic, and you can always pray the Daily Office, this wonderful gift in our life. If you want to learn more about that, show up tomorrow morning at eight-thirty.

There are so many ways we can commune with the Trinity: by serving dinner at South Station as we do every month; by loving the people God puts in our lives, which as we know isn’t easy; by engaging in Holy Scripture; by studying theology, yes, but by acknowledging God’s presence in our lives. In this way, we will come closer to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So if you want to understand the mystery of God’s existence, it will help you to study the doctrine. It will help you even more if you pray every day. It will help even more if you engage in an act of loving service, not to serve yourself, but to someone in need, and we know this city is so full of people in all kinds of need: spiritual, emotional, physical, temporal.

There are many ways we can live into our relationship with God. Perhaps the most important way is the way which we will do in a few holy moments: to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I’ll leave you with one necessary theological point about the Trinity. One of the mistakes we so often make is thinking about the Trinity from a kind of a top-down approach, where God the Father is on top and then, at some point in time, God created the Son, and then a little bit later God created and gave us the Holy Spirit. That is incorrect: Father, Son, and Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer have all created and been in existence jointly from the beginning. They are the un-created Creator, to think of one God with three Persons, all of whom aren’t bound together by time and space as we are is not easy, but it reminds us that the whole of God is present in the blessed Sacrament, the fullness of the Trinity. And remember that the Body of Christ is also, in a way, the body of our Blessed Lady. It means that the fullness of God is present in you, and in friend and stranger. It means that we are in full relationship with God if we simply follow the example of our Lady by saying, “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.