The Great Silence of Holy Week

Palm Sunday (Matthew 27:11-54)  04/13/2014

As we come into the presence of God, whether alone or in a group as we do this morning, there are many varieties of worship and prayer: sacred music, the reading of Scripture, intercessory prayer, or meditation to name just a few. A month ago I spent a few days at the Holy Cross Monastery and joined the brothers of that Order in their time of silence in the presence of God. Extended periods of silence are sometimes hard to find these days, and there are certainly those for whom this is good news…I will admit, silence is not for everyone, and fortunately we have many varieties of worship and prayer. But silence holds a particular power and silence is something we experience this morning as we listen to the dramatic story of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Holy “thin places” and the presence of Christ

Fifth Sunday in Lent (John 11:1-45)  04/06/2014

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A few years ago my family and I spent a fun and exciting week on vacation in Nevada and Arizona, the highlight for me being our visit to the Grand Canyon. During our time there we spent a day rafting down a river that cut through the Glen Canyon, an area just north of the Grand Canyon. Floating down the river was a spectacular experience, watching the multitude of vibrant colors paint the canyon walls and seeing the many layers of rock and sediment, each layer reaching out into the present, telling its own story of the past. Beyond the rugged beauty of the place, there was a deep spiritual element that seemed to pervade the entire canyon. The canyon seemed to be what many people have called a “thin place;” a place where the separation between heaven and earth is so narrow the face of God seems to be just around the corner. I do not mean to suggest God has some peculiar preference for a few spots on earth over others, but there is some tangible power and mystery to certain holy places. The manifestation of this holy presence, in these thin places, is the foundation of the Christian discipline of pilgrimage. Pilgrims often set aside their cares of the world and take up a journey to seek these thin places, to seek an experience with God in new and mysterious ways (our J2A pilgrims are very familiar with this idea and can attest to its power). We are nourished and nurtured in powerful ways as we come into the presence of the God; powerful ways that sustain us in times when we might feel more distant or perhaps more challenged to be close to the presence of the holy. Continue reading

A clear vision of God’s grace

Fourth Sunday in Lent (John 9:1-41)  3/30/2014

I give thanks this morning for the warmer weather of this weekend and the days ahead, albeit with a bit of rain, but the thermometer is heading in the right direction at least! My wife and I have taken up a Lenten discipline of starting our mornings with a two mile walk and I must admit that this discipline has been sorely tested this past week as the early morning temperatures have been about 18 degrees! But I suppose I should not be surprised, as this is the character of March, a month best described as days of turbulence and turmoil in the weather department. We receive a sunny and pleasant afternoon that tempts us with a foretaste of the warmer spring days ahead; followed by 18 degree mornings that send us scrambling for our wool hats and insulated gloves. Yes, this is the time of year that coat closets contain the full array of our outerwear…and today, every type of waterproof boot or shoe! And we are not alone, the other morning I spotted a beautiful cardinal in the tree outside of my kitchen window; he was trying his best to impress a female a few branches away (his mind on the spring nesting season, no doubt) while at the same time he was bracing himself against the wintry breezes of the early morning. Perhaps March was well designed to shepherd us through the first half of our Lenten season. Today marks the halfway point of our Lenten journey…”half time” you might say. And “March Madness” should not be reserved for the exclusive use of the NCAA basketball tournament! Sure, the tournament is full of excitement, upsets, and surprises, but for real moments of turbulence and surprising revelations we must turn our attention to this morning’s Gospel. Continue reading

Temptations and New Perspectives

First Sunday in Lent (Matthew 4:1-11)  3/09/2014

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Several years ago I attended a dinner party at the home of a friend, an interesting man who has traveled the world during his service in the Navy and had collected many fascinating objects and pieces of art. Wandering through his home was always an adventure. As I passed through his dining room I noticed a beautiful print hanging on the wall, a picture of a woman looking out over the water with a bright and turbulent red sky above. The print was not a simple picture, but was filled with many curious discontinuities. As my friend passed by I asked him to explain the print; he said the print was by Salvador Dali and the name was “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea”…and, oh yes, it’s also a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.”[i] And then he disappeared into the kitchen to prepare dinner! A portrait of Abraham Lincoln? This beautiful print was both a woman looking over the blue water of the Mediterranean and a curiously hidden portrait of the 16th American President. I looked at this print from every angle and used every ounce of my imagination, but the hidden portrait simply refused to reveal itself. Throughout the evening the print created a constant temptation to solve the mysterious whereabouts of Honest Abe. I would have given anything to unlock the mystery. If there was a bowl of fruit on the table, perhaps an apple that might open my eyes, it would have been very tempting indeed! Continue reading

Love and sacrifice: the Holiness of God

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (Lev 19:1-2. 9-18)  2/23/2014

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One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Book of Ruth, a short book of only four chapters that centers on the life and relationship of two courageous women, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. The story begins as a tale of loss and challenge: After the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi was determined to return to her homeland of Bethlehem and seek a better life. Ruth was equally determined to faithfully remain at Naomi’s side, and although Naomi encouraged Ruth to remain in Moab with her people, Ruth joined the journey and left her homeland of Moab behind. These two poor widowed women reach Bethlehem and begin their search for food and shelter, hoping to find favor with relatives of Naomi’s late-husband. In desperate need of food, Ruth approached the servant in charge of the fields and asked to harvest the grain, following behind the reapers in the field. The servant granted Ruth permission to harvest the grain that was left, and she worked from early morning until late in the day. The owner of the field soon arrived and heard the challenging story of Naomi and Ruth, and he said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not leave this field and do not harvest in any other field, for I have ordered no one to bother you.” Ruth was astonished and said to the man, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take care of me, when I am a foreigner from Moab?” The owner replied, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me…May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” (Ruth 2:8, 10-12) For Naomi and Ruth, their story of loss, challenge and sorrow was transformed; their story became a new journey full of hope, promise, and joy! Continue reading

A lively and “perfect” faith

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (1 Cor 3:1-9)  2/16/2014

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We hear in our lesson from the Book of Deuteronomy this morning, “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today…then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you…But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are lead astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish.” (Deut 30:16-18a) And speaking from Psalm 119, the Psalmist tells us, “Happy are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Who never do any wrong, but always walk in his ways.” (Psalm 119:1,3) And Matthew warns us this morning that “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:29) The challenge of perfection seems to have been set before us this morning in our Scripture lessons. In the spirit of the Olympic Games, it seems we have been challenged to perfectly land an “acrobatic triple cork” jump as we rush down the slope style ski range of life…our lessons seem to be telling us, go for the heavenly gold medal or go home! That approach to life would certainly create a fair bit of anxiety and restless nights. Continue reading

Will you keep them or throw them back?

Presentation of our Lord (Luke 2:22-40)  2/02/2014

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Last Sunday we were called by Jesus to drop our nets and our daily entanglements and follow him – “I will make you fish for people,” promised Jesus. Later that same day, I read an interesting news story about a fisherman who spent his entire life fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.[i] The man had died and left behind several pieces of pottery he had pulled from the sea. The relative who received these items called the Antiquities Authority to obtain guidance regarding the disposition of pottery retrieved from the sea that she thought might be a hundred years old. The experts arrived and after a careful inspection informed her the pottery ranged in age from 1000 to over 3000 years old, likely fished out of ship wrecks from the ancient past. All this talk of fishing starting me thinking of a memorable fishing story I experienced as a young boy during a summer trip to Maine with my grandfather and brother. After a full morning of pulling lobster pots, we gathered up our fishing gear and headed back to sea to try our luck fishing for dogfish. Now, other than a few trips to the local river fishing for brook trout, I really had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea what a dogfish even looked like. An hour of working our drop-line fishing gear proved to be completely disappointing, so we called it a day and started to bring in our lines. As I retrieved my line I began to feel a strong tug and I quickly become worried that I had hooked my line on some underwater growth. Everyone encouraged me to keep pulling, and with the assistance of my grandfather and his friend, the line slowly pulled a large grey object in to sight. And as I saw the three foot dogfish below the water I did the only reasonable thing anyone would do if you had never seen a dogfish before…I yelled “SHARK! There’s a SHARK in the water!” As I continued to yell “shark” and did everything in my power to not drop my line and lose the fish, everyone else in the boat found great joy in my terrified amazement. Continue reading