(THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY)
Molly Jane Layton
Come and see! the young girl says to her mother, impatient to display her fingerpainting.
Come and see! the teenage skateboarder says to his crush, eager to show off his newest trick.
Come and see! the research assistant says to her stern supervisor, hopeful to gain approval.
Come and see. Three words full of invitation and hope in the speaker. And three words which
can spark everything from wonder to skepticism in the hearer.
What will that mother find at the fingerpainting table? A masterpiece or a mess?
Is that crush open to being impressed? Or annoyed at being called away from her girlfriends?
Will the discovery be enough to crack through the supervisor’s hard outer shell?
Regardless, the invitation still stands.
You could perhaps make “Come and see” the slogan of the whole season of Epiphany, which we are in right now. Epiphany comes from the Greek word that means “a coming to light” or “an appearing.” 1 At Christmas, Jesus, the Son of God, appeared as the Savior of the world. And now, in Epiphany, our gospel texts center around important moments in Jesus’s ministry where aspects of his identity are revealed to us, such as his baptism last week. We are invited, along with the disciples, the crowds, and the religious leaders, to come and who this Messiah is. Our gospel reading today describes the calling of Philip and Nathanael, two of Jesus’s disciples. Philip is so excited about who Jesus is that when Jesus asks him to follow him, he immediately runs off to find Nathanael to get him to join, too. Nathanael, however, is a bit more skeptical. “Wait – you said he came from Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth was a small, backwater town in Galilee, an out of the way region not particularly
known for anything besides its fishermen and its tendency to produce revolutionaries. This is
why Nathanael doubts that the one written about by Moses and the prophets could possibly come from there. Certainly he would come from somewhere a bit closer to Jerusalem, right? Actually, no. Jesus came from Nazareth. And the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth reveals to us something important about God’s love for the world: God does not send his Son into the circles of power, into the places where it looks like everyone has their act together, into the places where he can make the right connections and get ahead. God sends his Son to minister to the people at the margins, to the places where people struggle to make ends meet, to the places where people are more likely to spend all night fishing than to loudly drop lots of coins into the temple collection plate.
When Nathanael meets Jesus, his response to him shifts from skepticism to wonder. Although
they have never met before, Jesus displays intimate knowledge of Nathanael’s character and his actions. This blows Nathanael’s mind. His skepticism now completely gone, he acknowledges 1 Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
Jesus as both the Son of God and the King of Israel, which is a pretty amazing declaration for an Israelite to make. But instead of patting Nathanael on the back, Jesus gently chides him. “That’s all it took for you to believe? You will see far greater things than that! Even angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man!”
Although a bit more cryptic, this revelation is just as important as the previous one. Jesus alludes to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, where Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth. Thus, Jesus identifies himself with the ladder, as the locus of contact between heaven and earth, the place where earthly humans find the connection to their heavenly Father. Furthermore, New Testament scholar Raymond Brown points out that the phrase “greater things” in other places in the Gospel of John refers to Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. 2 Thus, Jesus is obliquely telling Nathanael to “hold his horses” because the best is yet to come. It’s too much for the disciples to handle right now, so Jesus doesn’t spell it out clearly. But Jesus knows what is coming and is already preparing them to understand the climax of his ministry. Through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the very way to God. This, truly, is worthy of our wonder.
Friends, these revelations about Jesus are good news for us today. Our skepticism may sound
different than Nathanael’s, but it is still just as real. Can anything good come out of a global
pandemic? Can anything good come out of political violence? Can anything good come out of a country with a brutally racist past? We need to know that Jesus, by being our way to God, can heal and redeem our lives and our world.
And so, the invitation stands.
Come and see, that Jesus does not shy away from the hard places in our lives. Come and see that he does not abandon us for the circles of power or leave us for people who look like they have it all together. Come and see that he is present with us in our struggles and in our pain and in our fear. Come and see how he is our pathway to God’s love and affection. Come and see how his death, resurrection, and ascension are our hope and our light in the midst of the darkness. Come and see. Amen.
(The Baptism of the Lord)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Four churches in a small Ohio town:
Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal.
All four, oddly, overrun with pesky squirrels.
The Presbyterians, after much prayer and consideration, determined
that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they shouldn't interfere
with God's divine will.
The Methodists had to deal with the squirrels having taken up
habitation in the Baptismal font. They opted for a very practical approach:
secure a cover on the font. The squirrels, however, somehow managed to
move it and there were twice as many squirrels the next week, having a
The Catholics decided that they were in no position to harm any of
God's creation. So, humanely, they trapped the squirrels and set them free
a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.
The Episcopalians came up with the most effective solution: they
baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the parish. Now
they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
In his Catechism, published in 1538, John Calvin asks,
“How do you know yourself to be a child of God in fact as well as in
Answer: “Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of
and of the Holy Ghost.”
Baptism, as we Episcopalian Christians know and experience it, that is to
as a guaranteed encounter with the Triune God, finds its source in the
of the Lord, the author of Baptism because the “author of our salvation”.
It is odd that Jesus be baptized, however, for He has no need for Baptism.
Jesus had no need for Baptism, for He is “full of grace” (John 1:14),
and grace is what we believe Baptism confers.
If Jesus has no need for Baptism, then why was He baptized?
To make John the Baptist feel that his ministerial labor is worthwhile?
Because He couldn’t resist the cool waters on a hot day?
Jesus can only be baptized if He is to make use of John’s Baptism,
the Baptism that stands at the threshold of the New Covenant.
Jesus does make use of John’s Baptism to institute a Baptism
which confers grace, the Baptism.
As St. Ambrose, 4 th century Bishop of Milan, says:
Our Lord was baptized because He wished, not to be cleansed,
but to cleanse the waters, that,
being purified by the flesh of Christ that knew no sin,
they might have the virtue of baptism.
In being baptized, Jesus makes a promise:
to use the simple element of water to communicate divine life in a special
A guaranteed encounter with the Triune God.
So guaranteed, that it led Saint Isidore, ancient Christian philosopher,
Bishop of Seville, Spain, who died in 636—and who, by the way,
invented the period, the comma and the colon—to say that
“Baptism is not the work of man but of Christ, and this sacrament is
that it would not be defiled, even if the minister were a
Those Baptismal waters…
Those Baptismal waters led Lutheran pastor Nadia-Bolz Weber,
whom I quoted last Sunday, to say,
“Many of us would pray not to die in a car crash before we were
like other people pray not to get sick before their employee benefits
Those Baptismal waters led contemporary theologian Carrie Underwood to
I followed that preacher man down to the river.
And now I'm changed,
And now I'm stronger.
There must've been something in the water.
Those Baptismal waters led another singer of another generation
of another musical genre, Nina Simone, to sing
Take me to the water
To be, to be baptized
I'm going back home, going back home
Gonna stay here no longer
I'm going back home, going back home
Baptism confers grace to us, and grace grants us a share in God’s life,
Indeed, the Baptism of Jesus reveals this.
Jesus comes to be Baptized in the Jordan,
through which the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
By grace, and thus through Baptism, we enter the “Promised Land”.
The “Promised Land”, for us, is nothing less than God’s life.
Finally, the Baptism of Jesus reveals the mystery of God, “the heavens
The Holy Spirit, like a dove, that is to say, full of gentle love, descends,
confirming the divine origin of Jesus.
Then, “a voice came from heaven”, expressing divine delight: the Father.
Son, Holy Spirit, Father.
This epiphany is not only of Jesus but of the Trinity.
It is the first explicit New Testament revelation of the Trinity.
Today, we celebrate
Jesus as God
God as Trinity
ourselves as beloved children of God
Jesus is the Beloved, in whom, we are the beloved.
Each of us is a beloved child of God.
God has given us everything, so that we be born again and live His very life
—which means: a happiness deep in the heart that no one/nothing can
We must, of course, cooperate with grace.
We do so by seeking God and letting ourselves be found by God
and by stepping out in faith to love our neighbor.
Loving neighbor is intrinsic to our relationship with Christ.
Worry not, however. Christ makes this possible: grace upon grace… (John
(FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
The feast of the Epiphany.
Early on, the Church had a sense in faith that this merited a special celebration. Saint Clement of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia!), prominent theologian, who died in 215, mentions it. There is written
and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, in 361.
“Epiphany” means manifestation. We celebrate God incarnate, the Word made
flesh, made manifest to the Gentiles (i.e., to the rest of the world, beyond the Jewish community), in the persons ofthe Magi. The first to visit the Christ-child were the shepherds, simple and lowly, who were Jews. The second to visit the Christ-child were the Magi, these other mysterious figures, who represent the learned pagan world. The first reading (Isaiah 60:3) speaks prophetically of them:
“Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
This passage from Isaiah has led many to conclude that the Magi were, in fact, kings. It is unclear who they are. The term Magi comes from a Persian term, “mag” for “priest”. Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says,
reference to this feast
by Roman soldier
“Three kings from the Orient bringing gifts to Jesus in a manger is a charming
story, but it’s not actually the one we find in the Bible. A closer reading ofMatthew
shows that we have no idea how many people were there, and we don’t know how
far east they came from. Was it the Orient? Was it New Jersey?... And most
importantly, they were definitely not kings.....They were Magi, as in magicians,
and not the cute kind you hire for your kid’s birthday party. Yet history made them
out to be kings, maybe because the reality that they were magicians is too distasteful,
since no one really wants the weird fortune-teller lady from the circus with her
scarves and crystal balls to be the first to discover the birth of our Lord. So, the
story has been nicened up into an idealized picture ofmulticultural diplomacy. But
the Epiphany story ofHerod and his infanticide reveals a God who has entered our
world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be.”
The exact identity ofthe Magi is indeed difficult to specify.
Whatever the case may be--pagan priests or magicians, both astrologers, three or more, named or
unnamed, they are traditionally portrayed as coming in full regalia, with gifts. They come with all their learnedness, rather moved in their minds. Theirs is an attraction of which we may not often think.
The simplicity of the shepherds, moved in their hearts, seems more accessible. The Magi, sometimes called the wise men (not wise guys!), are mysteriously moved in their minds. They come reading the stars: in this case, a star, indicating the birth of a king. Given what they say, we may presume that they came expecting divinity: a king from above.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star at its rising.”
We can perhaps say that they come because they have been given a gift from
Christ, before even seeing Him: faith. This they are given, not because of privilege, but because they are seekers. God likes seekers. God extends Himself to
those who seek.
Faith is a gift, freely given, which entails a very subtle attraction to God, enabling us to discern mystery from above. It is interesting and important to note, also, that faith does not eliminate the use of the mind. Indeed, the Magi come moved
by faith, all the while reading the star...
St. John Chrysostom (+ 407), in a commentary on this, says,
“Since they sought a heavenly King,
though they found Him in no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of a star alone,
Saint Augustine and
Saint Jerome support the understanding of magician.
No Church Father holds the
Magi to have been kings.
Additionally, the Gospel narrative fails to mention the
number of the Magi.
Some Church Fathers speak of three Magi, likely influenced
by the number of gifts.
The Gospel narrative also fails to mention the names of the Magi.
In the Western part of the Church, from the seventh century, we find slight
variants of the names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
With the eyes of the body , they see a fragile infant. With the eyes of faith, they “see” God. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between child and God. It is
very much like our situation regarding the Eucharist. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between bread and God.
The Magi come and find. They find what they were seeking in faith, and they are
filled with joy. The first thing that they do upon seeing the child is to adore. They “prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (verse 11) Adoration is always the first, fundamental act in the presence of God. They also offer gifts, gifts in keeping with the reality of this child. The gifts are revealing for us:
“gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal, and incense,
as to a God.”
More things will later be revealed about the Christ. But this is the initial revelation to the world, through the Magi. Revelation is not a shop window display. It is sharing that invites experience.
Let us adore and experience Jesus, our King of Kings, our God, the Lamb, Who comes to us now in a special way in the Eucharist.
(FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS)
Rev. Mary McCue
What a beautiful Gospel to have before us just after we’ve celebrated Christmas – the season ofLight. And what beautiful lessons John teaches us in this Gospel.
John’s Gospel begins in Heaven – the only Gospel that does so. And it is what scholars have called a Gospel of Transformation. It is not as focused on miracles as other Gospels. Only seven are mentioned in it. It is more about Jesus’ great love for us. Jesus makes God known to us by his example in this Gospel.
And it invites us in to experience that love.
It can happen.
Ignatius of Loyola experienced that love as his life was transformed. Ignatius had been a warrior, a soldier in northern Spain. Severely wounded in battle, he had to remain in bed for several months. During that time, he began to read books about Jesus and the saints. And he let his imagination run free. He began to imagine himself as present at the Transfiguration – at the raising of Lazarus – at the Last Supper. He began to imagine the kinds of questions that he would ask at those events. And he began to experience the Holy Spirit as he imagined, read and prayed. And he became convinced that he could be a warrior of a different kind – a warrior for Jesus. His Spiritual Exercises grew out of his experience. He used them to instruct thousands of people on how to meet Jesus through the Gospels. They are useful aids to prayer to this very day.
Ignatius’ personal relationship with the Gospels led to his transformation. It can be transformative for us, too. By careful reading of this Gospel, by deep prayer, we can experience the deep love that Jesus has for all of us. It can lead us to explore and deepen our individual relationship with Jesus. We can concentrate our thoughts on the love that Jesus shows in his actions and his deeds. By those actions and deeds, Jesus is making God known to us. We receive grace upon grace.
Imagine yourself, as Ignatius did, being there for episodes in the Gospel.
What questions would you ask of Jesus?
In today’s Gospel, often called the prologue, John lays out for us his mystical vision. It begins with the Word, logos in Greek. Ancient Greek philosophers also interpreted logos as the principle of cosmic reason.
In Jewish literature, it is virtually synonymous with Wisdom. John tells us that the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him and without him, not one thing came into being.
That’s pretty cosmic! And very wise.
And it guides us to remember that all things are from God, and with God, and through God.
In this Christmas season, this is a great gift. Let us be thankful for it. And let us rejoice in the never-failing love of Jesus Christ for all of us.
(THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Samuel (Sam) Taliaferro Rayburn, from Texas, served in the House of
Representatives for 49 years, from 1913 to 1961. He was Speaker of the House
three times for a total of
seventeen years. As such, he wielded incredible power and prestige: third in line of succession to the presidency .
One day, he learned that the teenage daughter of a friend had tragically died. Early the next morning, Sam knocked on the door of his friend and, when opened,
asked if there was anything he could do. His friend stammered and replied, “I don’t think there is anything you can do. We’re making all the arrangements.” “Well, have you had your morning coffee?” Sam asked. “No. We haven’t had time.” “Well,” the Speaker of the House replied, “I can at least make the coffee.” As he watched this powerful man make him coffee, the grieving father suddenly remembered. “Mr. Speaker, were you not supposed to have breakfast at the White House this morning?” “Well, I was, but I called the President and told him I had a friend in trouble, and couldn’t make it.”
A right disposition of heart...
On this third Sunday of Advent, we again encounter John the Baptist— apparently an important figure on our path, perhaps an unusual friend. We are likely safe in concluding that Jesus would like us to engage John the Baptist. Recall that the saints are not distant, folkloric, decorative figures whom we are to emulate with varying degrees of failure. The saints are first and foremost divine friends who know us, are present, are active and can act all the more if we invite and let them.
Who is John, whose impact was so great that he came to be called “the Baptizer”? “He was not the light but came to testify to the light.” John the Baptist is all about testimony--which means other-centered. John the Baptist prepares the way for an-other: Jesus, the light. John the Baptist exercises a mysterious attraction upon people, disturbing to the priests and Levites who thus come to interrogate him in the desert. “Who are you?” they ask. And he seems never to really answer: “Oh, I’m John. I hail from _____. I have a degree in _____, a great job at_____ and I’m very happy to meet you.” He only states who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. The only substantive thing that he says--if you can call it substantive, is “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Try that
for a Facebook profile! None of the information that he gives can be put on his ID card! A dreadfully disappointing response, and so, the question shifts from identity to activity. “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” And John simply points to Jesus, declaring how great Jesus is.
In John the Baptist, we see the right disposition of heart if we are to discover how great Jesus is: grateful humility, childlikeness, a sense ofawe-full unworthiness. We see it in the centurion, in Matthew 8, who appeals to Jesus to heal his servant:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word,
and my servant will be healed.”
This is indeed the fundamental disposition of heart, which is why we repeat these words for ourselves every time we are on the threshold of encountering Christ in the Eucharist
“Lord, I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” This disposition comes not so much in realizing how imperfect we are, but in realizing how perfect Jesus is, i.e., how overflowing is His love. When we recognize, for example, that, strictly speaking, when it comes to Jesus, we have no right to be here--because nothing we can do adequately corresponds to the greatness of Jesus’ gift, then we are deeply humbled and grateful and tumble into an abyss of awe. Such is the disposition of heart that rightly prepares Christmas: opening us to the mystery of the Incarnation and to Christ’s Second Coming.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us such faith insight, and to refashion our hearts, that we may be humble, childlike and full of awe--and joy on this Gaudete, “Rejoice”, Rose Sunday.
Zachary Baker Rodes
Oh Lord, help us always to seek the truth, whence it comes, cost what it may. Amen.
When I was young, I was visiting downtown Detroit at night with some family members during a time in that city’s decline in which the city center was devoid of life and light. I remember looking up at the J.L. Hudson’s building, once Detroit’s premier department store nd once the tallest department store in the world. It was now empty, its doors boarded up and its windows shattered out. The massive hulk at night was intimidating. What was once one of the busiest street corners in the world because of this building, was now a distant memory. Today that building is gone, and in its place a new development which many are hoping will lead a further resurgence in the city. The ever-promised comfort of development and urban renewal.
Comfort is a theme found throughout the second half of Isaiah that starts here. But this comfort is not just anyone’s comfort, but God’s comfort. But what is God’s comfort? It is not simply comfort bathed in rest and relaxion. This is about consolation and the deep, holy embrace God gives us and he desires for us to seek, in prayer, in worship, in relationship with others, and in repentance. In Hebrew this word does convey a feeling of repentance. In the Biblical narrative, the Babylonian exile is punishment for idolatry. In that narrative, found at the end of Second Kings, Jerusalem is utterly destroyed by the Babylonian armies. Not simply attacked, but wiped out, the houses flattened, and the city walls toppled. Jerusalem is left in ruin. The exile has begun. But then! “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem!” God declares. Wait, wait. Speak tenderly? God allows for Jerusalem’s destruction and her residents whisked away to another foreign land and suddenly Jerusalem is now to be spoken to with tender, loving care?! Remember, God is not talking to the residents of Jerusalem, not primarily at least. God personifies the city and speaks directly to her. He stirs up for her a divine redevelopment. This tenderness though isn’t about simply talking nicely or sweetly to Jerusalem. A straighter to the point translation might be, Speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” What is this heart? The heart of Jerusalem is who she is. Jerusalem is a city. Built by man. Adopted and ordained by God. And cities, Jerusalem not exempted, have a complicated relationship with God. So why does God care about the city? Because he cares about Jerusalem. David chooses Jerusalem, God adopts her. This city of David is God’s city because it is used as a piece of the plan of God’s salvation. And as this piece, like no other city can do, Jerusalem acts as a witness both to God as a city of man and to man, as the city of God. We need to remember, however, that the city is man’s creation. Cain is the first to build a city; in fact, it is the first thing he does after starting a family. Genesis states, “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city and named it Enoch after his son[.]” He builds himself the security lost by his parents. Thecity is the physical reality of man’s security on earth. It is where we live and make and have our physical being. In the city man has substituted Eden, which was God’s protection, for his own.
Oh, how our cities need this comfort from God! God not only offers comfort to Jerusalem but to all cities. This is the divine redevelopment of the city for she is saved! Our cities which we decry full of grittiness, crime, and inequality are our making. Gentrification and the ghetto are inherently man’s developments. Who becomes our neighbor when self-interest
and profit reign supreme instead of engagement and humility? Who was hurt when the urban freeway made straight a path into people’s homes and lives? Budgets are needed but if that means weekend service cuts to Metro at the expense of the working class and vulnerable, then what becomes of our Christian service? And we need to call into question where God is found in institutions and developments that seek to propagate power and privilege both at the expense of residents and the homeless. His comfort and love are found in the divine redevelopment that God offers us through Jesus Christ. This isn’t to say that the city is not full of excitement or good things. But our cities today need comfort, they need healing. And that starts with the comfort of neighbors and the comfort to all those around us in this city life. Butthat’s the problem. Our comfort is good and holy, but it is not perfect. There is everything we can do to work at healing urban life to today, but as Christians, it is not without understanding that Christ is the chief cornerstone, that Christ is the temple, and that in Christ everything that Jerusalem meant to God’s people is now passed to Jesus Christ. The true healing of our cities will not come about until Christians witness to the divine redevelopment that takes place within us through Jesus Christ. This then leads us to the divine redevelopment of our cities. Placing Jesus Christ as our chief cornerstone. Jesus Christ is, as our temple, the focus of our city. Our true Lord Mayor. The King of Kings. I am not speaking about man’s theocracy (Heaven help us from that heresy), but I am speaking again to the heart of American society. Jacques Ellul comments, “Man sacrifices man to build his cities, instead of accepting the only sacrifice which would enable him both to found them in truth and purify them of Satan’s presence.” This divine redevelopment starts here at the ONE table in which we find truth and the purification of God’s love. It starts here that through remembrance of and witness to Jesus Christ as the focus of our city life so that we may continue to be focused on the New Jerusalem.
From the city to the wilderness, the writer takes us on a small road trip. A voice calling out from the hinterlands. Make a highway. Make straight a path for our God in which His glory is revealed. The word for valley is much more than just a valley, but a valley of death that is raised up. And mountain here is much more than a tall peak, but one of power and prestige, brought low. And where else in cities do we slow down? Do we take a break and think? But in green spaces, ofcourse! And here, a green space is opened for us to remember our mortality. Jesus Christ becomes grass like us. Appearing to us like we appear. First, as a baby. In a manager. Comforted by his mother and father. Understanding it is He who comforts them because of who He is. He is the God the Son. The eternal Word, fulfillment of the Jerusalem that will stand forever.
We take comfort in this season of Advent. We take comfort in listening to Christmas music, baking goodies, doing some downtown shopping, and hopefully again soon, traveling along that highway to a loved ones house in which God’s love is shared. But we also take to heart the consolation and the penance found in God’s comfort given to us. In all these things, midst a busy city life, may we bring heralds of good tidings to all and lift up the divine redevelopment in our lives so that comfort and love of God reign supreme.
May it be so, Amen.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
A new church year begins today.
For the next several minutes let us look at the prayer we offered at the start of this service. It has much to tell us about this day, this new year, and the entirety of the Christian life. Whether it is familiar to you or not, hear again this single sentence known as the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent.
give us grace
that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which thy Son Jesus Christ
came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth
with thee and the Holy Ghost,
now and for ever. Amen.
This collect initially appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the first English Prayer Book, and has been prayed by countless people over four and a half centuries. From 1662 until the current 1979 Prayer Book, it was repeated daily throughout Advent Season. Based in Scripture, this powerful prayer has exercised and continues to exercise an important influence upon God’s people.
Let us explore it in more detail. This collect amounts to a request, a plea, for what we need, and it is directed to God, who hears our prayers. We offer the collect through Christ, confident that our victorious brother Jesus, the eternal divine Son, now reigns as one God with the Father and the Spirit and will do so throughout eternity.
Give us grace, we ask, for two complementary tasks that lie before us. First, to cast away the works of darkness. Second, to put on the armor of light. We beg grace from God as we cannot accomplish these monumental tasks on our own; we do not have that strength.
But what are the works of darkness? What is the armor of light?
A passage in Paul’s Letter to the Romans which is foundational to this prayer specifies only some of the many works of darkness. They include “reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.”1 It’s not hard to imagine others, but do not let them grasp your imagination here in this holy place.
1 Romans 13:13.
2 Ephesians 6:13-17.
What comprises the armor of light? Near the end of his Letter to the Ephesians,
Paul admonishes us in stirring terms to take up the entirety of God’s armor so that we can withstand every threat that comes upon us. This equipment includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that help communicate the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit.2
Cast away the works of darkness. Put on the armor of light. And when, with the help of God, are we to perform these two tasks? The answer is: NOW. Now in the time of this mortal life. Mortal life! That sounds like a contradiction. Yet that is where we are. Constantly we witness life interrupted by death, by mortality.
We need to cast off dark works and put on bright armor with God’s help. And we must do so now and in every new now that comes to us in the flow of time.
This collect not only identifies now as the time of mortal life, of death in life, but also identifies now as something else: as the time in which Jesus came to visit us, born for us, active among us, suffering for us. That time centuries ago is mortal life along with time present.
He came in humility then. He comes in humility today. Be alert. Do not miss his visit with us.
Pray to recognize it. Remember words from a popular Christmas carol:
“O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.”3
3 “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
4 Mark 13:24-25, 27.
Christ came in humility. Christ repeatedly comes in humility. What we must do is repeatedly open our hearts.
Now we move from the first half of this collect to the second half. We move from what has happened and does happen and can happen in this familiar life to what will happen when this life is finally exhausted and surrenders to something different. The word “that” is the pivot, the hinge. We ask for grace now, in this mortal life, that something may happen at the last day.
We beg for grace, hoping for the fulfillment of that grace. We dare to ask for what some call incredible: that we may rise, that we may resurrect, to a life as yet unknown to us, except as we encounter it in the resurrected Christ. We ask that by grace we may rise to this life immortal.
And when will our resurrection occur? When Jesus comes again. Once he arrived in humility. Then he will come in glorious majesty.
Today’s gospel announces that arrival, when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Christ “will send out his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”4
This language has been understood in ways cosmic, environmental, political, and in other ways. Often this language has been discarded rather than understood.
Should it be taken literally, whatever that means? This language is poetry, and poetry, which is language with many layers, should not be dismissed as “just poetry.” This language, this poetry is gospel proclamation. Whether taken literally or not, it needs, more importantly, to be taken seriously.
Our mortal life is finite. Our mortal world is finite. Although in a sense he has never left, Jesus is due to come back, when we do not know.
Stay awake. His coming will seem sudden. This final coming will be a tremendous event and not everyone will welcome it for it will constitute a judgment on all our human ways.
But like his earlier advent in humility, this later coming of Jesus in power and great glory will be an occasion of joy for those able to welcome him. Its promise is eternal life, sorrow replaced by joy.
So in this splendid collect, this long and single sentence, we have a map for Advent Season, for our lives, and for the entire human project. Only one part of it remains tentative, conditional. Will we accept the grace that God so readily bestows? Will we indeed cast away the works of darkness and put on ourselves the armor of light?
Allow me to offer this practical suggestion. Starting today and continuing through the Advent Season, each of us can practice casting away of the works of darkness by a focus on throwing out one sort of dark work. And starting today and continuing through the Advent Season, each of us can practice putting on the armor of light by a focus on taking up one piece of bright armor.
So I invite you, before you leave this place today, to determine what sort of dark work you will cast away, and what piece of bright armor you will put on.
Commit yourself to asking God’s help in all of this, even as today’s collect begs for divine grace.
The dark work and the bright armor you focus on may not be among those from the New Testament mentioned earlier. That is just fine. You can discern appropriate choices. Writing down these two items may make them more real to you.
If each of us does this, however imperfectly, throughout the Advent Season, then I have no doubt that Advent will be a season of transformation for us and gladness will shine a bit more brightly.
give us grace
to cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light.
Rev. Dominique Peridans
An-other unsettling parable.
Last week: the bridegroom rejects the five bridesmaids— foolish.
This week: the master rejects the slave who did not invest his
money— wicked and lazy.
Next week: the Son of Man rejects those who neglect the
Jesus seems to be on a rejection roll,
which doesn’t square with the Jesus that I know.
What is Jesus really saying?
Applying this parable literally would lead to the conclusion
that God is a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
Some of us perhaps sometimes go there in our heads!
“Oh my, how I have wasted the talents; I am doomed!”
Upon first reading, this parable is an unsettling story.
A rich man entrusts his property—his money.
A talent is a measure of money equivalent to 6000 denarii.
One denarius was a day’s wage.
And so, the man entrusts 99 years worth to servant #1,
33 years worth to servant #2 and 16 ½ years worth to servant #3.
An outrageous amount of money—without any instructions.
Now, the average person
would probably simply do his/her best to keep the money safe.
He/she would not risk investment.
Consequently, the choice of the third servant seems to be the wise
—especially given the known harshness of the rich man!
And so what happens?
He is thoroughly excoriated:
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Excuse me!??!? Thrown into darkness for being prudent?
Is God harsh? Can God be a bully at times?
God may seem to be harsh.
There is the story of Saint Teresa of Avila (+1582), Spanish Carmelite
nun, making her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm,
slipping down an embankment and falling squarely into the mud.
The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her
"If this is how You treat Your friends,
no wonder why You have so few of them!”
God may seem to be harsh
—given the complexity of our lives and the unavoidability of pain.
This too, however, is somehow a revelation of God who is king,
of God whom we know, in faith, to be love.
In actuality, God cannot act contrary to Who He is,
and thus cannot act contrary to love.
God does not make bad things happen.
He sure as heck allows a lot of bad things to happen,
which is mysterious and trying and perhaps upsetting and
I know that I repeat myself when I say:
we always read Scripture in reference to the theological truth
that God is love, bearing in mind that Jesus sometimes speaks
in deliberately exaggerated terms to reveal this.
God acts with intensity—like harshness, but it the intensity of love.
And the higher the stakes, the greater the intensity with which God
In other words, the more intimate the matter, or the more awesome
the greater the vulnerability of God,
and thus the more intense the action of God.
The “harsh” cleansing of the Temple, for example,
was an act of love by Jesus.
What is Jesus really saying?
Perhaps the detail to be applied, the key in the parable,
is the entrusting of something precious.
The kingdom of God entails God, the King, entrusting something
precious that He would like to see grow and bear fruit.
And this something He entrusts with a corresponding sense of
What does God entrust?
In the end, God never “entrusts” anything less than Himself.
God entrusts His inner riches, i.e. His life, and thus His love.
Perhaps, response of the rich man serves well, in its exaggeration,
to underscore the unbelievable preciousness of what we have been
and how our refusal, in a mysterious way, impacts God.
Think of a time when you were impacted when, with love,
you entrusted a precious gift to someone
that was subsequently carelessly ignored or even rejected.
I have shared this story before: 5 th grade, Nikki Booth. Big Crush.
And, we had a field trip one day, and I mustered the nerve,
as we boarded the bus, to give her a ring, symbol of my feelings for
It was a cheap ring that was precious to me.
The day seemingly went well; enjoyed being together.
After we alighted the bus, she walked directly to the nearest trash-can
and tossed the ring in it.
I still haven’t recovered—obviously!
It is infinitely greater with God…
Now, we sometimes close ourselves to the gift of God out of fear.
We think God is perhaps a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
The third servant “mismanaged” because he feared the rich man.
The first two servants did not fear.
We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see God as He truly is.
If ever we have pulled back from the gift out of fear
or ignored or misused the gift out of self-absorption,
all we must do is acknowledge our failing, which opens our hearts,
which opens us to God’s merciful embrace.
Let us be embraced this day, this morning.
And, let us ask that this gift, which is not our own, transform us,
and that we communicate it to others—with a sense of God’s
Zachary Baker Rodes
Year A, Proper 27
Let us always seek the truth, whence it comes, cost what it may. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, as we make our march towards Advent, the lectionary gives us a series of complex yet engaging Gospel texts which call for us to pay special attention. Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year and therefore could be seen as a sort of new year. So, as we already take into account the ending of 2020, we can also view this new year of Advent as a way to make spiritual or faith-based resolutions. We should carefully consider, then, what every week’s readings could be telling us for this year. For this week, I am sure many of us are feeling like that last line in Thessalonians. Maybe it would be preferable to be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord than to do anything else right now. This is not the 2020 we expected, and I am comfortable speaking for most to say that we can’t wait to say goodbye. But remember, things will not go back to normal, whatever that means, suddenly on the first Sunday of Advent or January 1. We need to stay alert and so as we move into this week, let us carefully consider what’s presented to us today.
Let’s start at the end of the parable. Keep awake Jesus tell us; we are to be alert and watchful for the coming of the Lord, or we neither know the day nor the hour. He tells us this a lot, doesn’t he? He proclaims this twice just before in Chapter 24. But this is not some sort of obsessiveness in watching, for all the bridesmaids fall asleep. Augustine remarks that the five wise who did fall asleep, fell asleep knowing their light would shine bright even in some rest. He writes, “No coldness of love then crept over them. In them love did not grow cold. Love preserves its glow even to the very end.” We are followers of Jesus Christ and in being followers of Jesus we are to simply have our oil ready. We can fall asleep, we can go about our personal affairs, but our mind is to be set on this, the preparing of the oil. That is to say that having our oil prepared means we are ready to meet Christ in all and at the Parousia, the second coming. However, what this means is a radical shift in our understanding that we as Christians live into this apocalyptic reality Christ is presenting to us. More on that in a moment.
But preparing is hard, isn’t it? Sometime in middle school I tried to be a Boy Scout. Their motto as maybe most of you know is “be prepared”. How practical, yet also how difficult it is sometimes. I grew up in a family that went camping for vacation, so I grew up with my own sense of preparedness that was much less rigid than the Boy Scout guidebook. As a parable of preparedness, we are called to reflect on how exactly we are preparing and what or whom we are preparing for. We know the answer to the second question, we are preparing for Jesus’ return, as this is a parable ultimately about the day of his coming. How, then, are we preparing? Rather, self-reflectively, how am I preparing? That is the question I wish to pose to you today and only one you can answer. But to emphasize, this is not about fretting over our works and faith and worrying about the end times. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses or other end times sects whose literalism is caught up in fanatical worry. But as I said, it seems there is something there that we must dwell on.
This parable is considered an apocalyptic one. That is, of course, dealing with revelation. In it, Jesus is calling for us to be prepared and, in this preparedness we are alert and watchful. We live into this firstly as being baptized into Christ, we are baptized into the love of Christ that transforms us to transform the world in this love. This is the hope of the Gospel in which we find what is means to be Christian. Early church father Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It is in this fullness of life in Christ that we supply our oil. In the face of all of this, this parable, as apocalyptic as it is, is also a parable of hope found in its apocalyptic nature, which is to say a revelatory underpinning. It is in God that we find our truth and life as Christians, whose reality, as reveled through Jesus Christ, transcends history and whose light, poured into us by the Holy Spirit, casts away the darkness of the world; it is the oil in our lamps which helps this light burn.
20th century French lay theologian and scholar, Jacques Ellul, says something stronger which I wish to raise up. Writing in his theological tour de force, Presence of the Modern World, he says, “The only vision Christians can have of the world they live in is an apocalyptic one.” He writes just before this that, “we must indeed consider the present moment as apocalyptic, which is to say the final moment before judgment and pardon.” This is keeping watch! But we know too that Jesus comes to us all the time, not just in the fullness of time. He is our neighbor, the street person, the political opposite, the lowly, and the unborn. His creation is our dominion over which we have the responsibility to care. In all these things are moments full of judgment and pardon, moments of revelation of God’s love not just for us, but for all his creation. We are to see and to seek Christ in all things and in so doing so we are faced with an apocalyptic reality: we come face to face with the revelation of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.
In this revelation we thus encounter as Christians the apocalyptical reality of what our faith is. For having been baptized into Christ, we are now called to live into this reality. At this alter, I dare say we are nourished by this apocalypse. In the bread and wine, as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are fed in substance and in spirit everything we need through this revelation. This is the sustenance of the reality of being members of the Body of Christ. Being in Christ as Paul mentions throughout his letters, including in today’s letter to the Thessalonians, means we have faith in Christ and it is his love that transforms our reality. This faith is a faith with profound implications. Matthew is chalk full of these implications, of course not just Matthew but the entirety of the Gospel lays it out for us, that is the Gospel! The Good News of God’s Incarnation as Jesus the Nazarene, who has brought God’s reality to us. We know we are called to love through faith in Christ! But are we wise or are we foolish? Our imperfection leads us sometimes to feel we are foolish, but in Christ we are led to be wise. We will make mistakes, we will sin, that is not the foolishness Matthew writes of. But God’s love and grace for us is ever present when we stand back up and turn again towards him.
What does all this mean for us right now and right here? Everything! It means that when we are dismissed today, our worship of praise, thankfulness, and sacrifice is poured forth out into the street and into the body politic. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, healing the sick, friending the friendless, and helping the widowed and orphaned as well as proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and thanking and praising him; and preaching in all of this God’s love for us and his redemption through a reality radically different than our own, which is enmeshed in the world, at odds with God. Then again it isn’t so much about the oil, though important, but about the fire it produces. The oil of our lamps produces light to the world which so often hides in darkness. This is what we present to Christ the bridegroom at his coming whether we meet him on earth or at his return.
My brothers and sisters, as we move into each moment through God’s grace, let us be moved to prayer, to charity, to compassion, to worship and praise and knowledge of God’s love for us. Above all let our oil burn as the light of revelation of God’s love so that those who may need it the most bring their oil to the feast that God calls us to. Through God’s grace may it be so. Amen.
Rev. Dominique Peridans
The story is told of two fellows riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. After significant effort, they finally make it to the top. The front rider says, “That was a tough climb.” To which the second rider replies, “Sure was and, if I hadn’t kept the brake on, we might have slipped backwards!”
This is an odd parable that takes poor collaboration much, much further--
to say the least!
A land-owner leases his vineyard; a lease implies an agreement.
It is harvest collection time,
and the tenants to whom the vineyard has been leased, kill the servants
who come to collect the produce, to which the landowner is entitled
per the agreement.
What is that all about?
Then what happens?
The landowner sends another round of servants, larger in number;
and the tenants kill these servants.
Now, at this point, one would normally conclude: “problem!”
and prudentially send no one else.
The landowner, however, sends his son—alone.
Naïve and imprudent, to say the least?
When the tenants have killed several of your servants,
you do not send your son into harm’s way.
The tenants are crazy.
Moreover, they actually think that, by killing the son,
they will get his inheritance!
This is not how it works.
Remember that this is a parable,
wherein illogicality can serve as a doorway to something deeper.
The landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence are significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets and to the Son (of Man/of God)
coming to the Chosen People, His people—to whose leaders He is speaking.
They have been entrusted, in a special way, God’s vineyard.
In a sense, they, with the people, are the vineyard.
In the first reading, Isaiah 5:7, we read,
“The vine of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel.”
Today’s psalm, 80, suggests the same.
Given God’s covenant with Israel, we might find this parable disturbing.
God seems vengeful and vindictive, like He is breaking the covenant.
Know that this is not Jesus looking into His crystal ball, declaring game over.
This is Jesus making a strong appeal to these leaders
who hearts are not open because of entitlement.
This is an invitation, not a verdict.
We must, of course, ask how this parable applies to us, today.
What is being revealed to us who are “tenants”,
i.e. children of God, to whom the life of God is entrusted
and in whom the life of God must bear fruit.
God shares with us His life, not because He is lonely,
but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
What is the fruit that must come forth in our lives,
which the landowner would like to be able to “collect”?
We can surely consider the fruit(s) of the Spirit,
i.e., what the life of God does in us.
9 of them—per Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These characterize relationships between Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Which leads us to John, chapter 15,
in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
of us as branches on the vine which must bear fruit,
and reiterates the new commandment to love one another.
The life of God, entrusted to us “tenants”,
must produce the fruit of love for one another.
Indeed, if our hearts have been lovingly seized by Jesus,
we cannot but love our Sisters and Brothers.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart,
enabling us to love divinely—even enemies.
This perhaps explains the persistence of the landowner.
In actuality, the landowner’s apparent naiveté and imprudence
are persistence in relationship and the bestowal of gifts.
With each visit, the landowner gives more of himself,
until he gives everything in his son.
Why does the divine landowner do this?
Because goodness, by nature, radiates.
Also, perhaps because God sees how we struggle to love one another.
We have been incorporated into Christ, His Body,
with people who are very different.
It is frankly a little much, a little intense for our sensibility.
We also all have, of course, that one person (the Rector)
who really pushes our buttons, such that we bark and maybe even bite,
or despairingly declare game over.
God, however, never grows weary. He persists.
So much does God persist that “the stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone!”
Normally, a rejected stone is, well, rejected.
God always triumphs. Divine love will triumph in our lives.
All we must do is dare to hope.
All we need to do is cling to Jesus.
When you receive Him in the Eucharist—here or spiritually if watching, express your hope.
Acknowledge the struggles to love, and ask Him to transfigure your heart.
And so, we press on in Him, like St. Paul says in our second reading,
with a heavenly call, preceded and indwelt by divine love.
How blessed we are.