(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.
Rev. Dominique Peridans
How many of you have ever struggled with jealousy?
Oh, jealousy, that ugly response that can lead to ugly things!
We all fall prey, do we not?
I do! I can recall jealousy of Gordon, who effortlessly swam to victory,
Dana, whose Master thesis was brilliant,
and Eric, whose pastoral faithfulness seemed beyond reach to me.
Jealousy, as a result of which, I never got to know these people.
Jealousy is sadness at another person’s good:
looks, achievements, possessions, relationships, social position, upbringing…
Sadness at good? Terribly disordered.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, the general is wrongly convinced by Iago, junior officer at his command, that his wife is unfaithful.
We hear Iago say,
O beware, O lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meet on which it feeds.
Jealousy plays tricks on the mind—and heart.
St. Augustine (+430) says, “He that is jealous is not in love.”
As it intensifies, jealousy becomes envy--deadly sin.
The sadness at another person’s good becomes anger and contempt,
with a desire to destroy that good.
Terribly, terribly disordered.
Hence, the words of Proverbs 14:30,
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot”.
The book of Wisdom (2:24) reminds us,
“By the envy of the Devil, death entered the world”.
The chief priests and elders are jealous, becoming envious, of Jesus,
and are unable to hear and welcome him.
Just before this passage, in the first half of Matthew 21,
we have Jesus’ entering Jerusalem with triumph, cleansing the Temple, “cursing” the fig tree and declaring such things as
“Whatever you ask in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
Saint John Chrysostom (+407), Church Father, says that
the Priests were tormented with jealousy, because they had seen Christ entering the Temple in great glory. And not being able to master the fire of jealousy, which burnt in their breasts, they break forth in speech.
Their question does not seek truth and encounter.
“By what authority…?”
Jesus’ response? Well, there is no inclination to cancel them.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question, but He’s not dismissive.
He gives them an opportunity to think, thinkers that they should be.
But, alas, they refuse… And, even then, “what do you think?”
In mercy, Jesus reveals their lack of faith.
Saint Jerome (+420) says “thus much prefaced,
the Lord brings forward a parable, to convict them of their irreligion.”
But, the parable is, as suggested, one of mercy,
designed to attract to the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is seeking to reach them where they are fragile.
The doorway to the Kingdom is mercy,
the doorway to the heart of the King is gratuitous love that reaches us
in our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness.
Which son in the parable “did the will of his father”? The first.
The one whose immediate response was not exactly enthusiastic,
but who came around and did.
There may be times, in our relationship with God,
when we are not enthusiastic, are indifferent,
feel like we are going through the motions.
There may be times when we say “no”,
and pursue and get entangled in other stuff.
It is never too late to come around
—like the workers of the 11th-hour in last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16).
The wasted time is not held against us.
Indeed, the most unlikely people are “going into the kingdom of God ahead” of the elders, i.e., ahead of the serious people in Church,
accessing the heart of the King: tax collectors and prostitutes!
In other words, those who work for the occupant system
and those, well, whose lives are rather complicated
and make use of their bodies in ways they may prefer not.
These are messy lives that, likewise, do not seem to be
an immediately enthusiastic response to God’s invitation.
What liberating revelation for us:
our disbelief, our arrogance, our knee-jerk refusal and our brokenness
are not a hindrance to God’s attraction and embrace
The only hindrance is deliberate, pondered refusal,
for God respects our freedom to say “no”.
All that is necessary is a whisper of faith,
Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,
but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.
Rev. Dominique Peridans
At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 11, Jesus’ ministry is in full swing: soaring sermons, holy healings, companion commissioning and town tussles. If Jesus had a Facebook page, it would be bursting at its seams! [A good question to ponder: if the Incarnation had occurred in our time, would Jesus have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account?]
Jesus then underscores the unbelief and the resulting inhospitality of his own people. Early Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom (+407) says that Jesus “puts this question, showing that nothing had been omitted that ought to be done for their salvation.” In other words, God gave His people all that they needed for their encounter with their Savior, and they did not believe in or welcome Him.
Contrasted with this, from a place of vulnerability, we have a surprising, surprisingly intimate moment, a conversation with the Father—and we get to eavesdrop! Jesus thanks the Father for sharing His secrets (i.e., what He carries deep in His heart) with those whom one might not expect: not the leaders of His people, but with the child-like. “You…have revealed them to infants.”
In so doing, Jesus reveals the key to receiving the secrets of God: being child-like. Is that it? You mean: no ascetic practices, no social justice campaign, no theology degree, no moral perfection, no yogic stillness, no perfect church attendance? No. These are all secondary—important, perhaps even intrinsic, but secondary. Children are not ascetic or engaged in social justice, have no degrees, are morally immature, cannot typically sit still and, on their own, would probably not attend church because too boring . The child-like: those who trust, who judge not, who welcome.
Now, what is beautiful, and so hope-filled, is that God actually wants to share His secrets. It is His wish. He does not need to. God, however, is love, and love, by nature, radiates. God simply wants to share His secrets, and His true(est) secret is Himself. God opens His mystery to each of us. And thus the great(est) secret in our lives is God, is Christ.
From this intimate conversation with the Father, Jesus extends the unconditional invitation that we read in verse 28: “Come to me.” You will notice, as suggested, that there are no contractual terms. Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who can pay dues, all you who understand the divine mysteries, all you whose track record is impeccable and have your act together.” Au contraire, we are invited to “come” as we are: indebted, misunderstood, hobbling, incomplete, uncertain, scared, indifferent—“all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” What an invitation!
There is one unusual condition in the un-conditional invitation, however. If we are to experience the rest of which Jesus speaks, rest that comes directly from His heart, we must take upon ourselves His yoke and His burden. And this is where Jesus loses me.
Another yoke does not equal rest! And, so, I respond, “Jesus, if you give me your yoke and your burden, I’ll be pressed to the ground, and will never find rest.” Well, if ever there were a man of his word, it is Jesus. And, Jesus promises rest—somehow, in taking His yoke and burden upon us. This, of course, can only make sense if the yoke, is, in fact, a source of liberation and strength. What liberates and strengthens? Love.
Now, which act of Jesus—although burdensome at one level for a time, in fact, supremely communicates divine love? The Cross. The mystery of the Cross. And so, I think Jesus says, “Meet me at the Cross.” Which does not translate: “Meet me, in your imagination, in Jerusalem on Calvary.” or “Meet me in your ascetic attempts at imitating the Cross”. Instead, “Meet me in my pouring forth of divine love—which can even occur in your suffering.” The love that Jesus poured forth at the Cross is eternal. The horrific pain that he endured at the Cross was momentary. The love liberates and strengthens, and attracts us to Jesus, who says—unconditionally—“Come to me”.
If we accept the invitation, we are set free from all that keeps us from loving, i.e. burdens of the heart, and we find rest for our souls. Our souls can only find rest in our Source, in God, our home. “Come to me” can otherwise be said, “Come home.” We have only to let ourselves be drawn, to accept the invitation. Jesus will take care of the rest. Jesus deposits His Spirit within us Who, within us, “takes care of the rest”.
Let us then “rejoice greatly” and “shout aloud!” “Our King comes to us…triumphant and victorious, humble” (first reading), gracious and full of compassion, of great kindness…loving to everyone” (psalm).
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Dominique Peridans
for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Preached by the Rev. Dr. Tricia Lyons.
A Sermon prepared by Fr. Dominique Peridans
for Corpus Christi Sunday
June 14, 2020
Set aside the eye-glasses of faith for a moment and, with fresh, naked eyes, imagine entering a church, our church, for the first time, as also your first time ever with a group of Christians, hearing “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” for the first time, from their religious leader, Jesus Christ, unfamiliar to you, and observing what the people then do after a few prayers and hymns (something that they do every Sunday): Eucharist, Communion.
You go home and, when asked about your experience, say, “Really weird. They claim to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a guy who lived over 2,000 years ago. Really weird.”
If Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, creators of the musical The Book of Mormon, were to create The Book of John, they could draw plenty of weirdness from this passage! I actually hope that we never grow too accustomed to the weirdness, truly.
We are in chapter six of John’s gospel, in which there is an interesting succession of events: from the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm, to the crowd chasing Jesus down and demanding more bread, to Jesus seizing this opportunity and saying that he is the bread, the Bread of Life come from heaven, to the anger of some upon hearing this. Then, rather than backing off, Jesus makes it even weirder, by saying that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.
Jesus seeks to deposit this revelation in the hearts of his listeners. Some disciples eventually leave. It’s hard to blame them. Really weird. The Twelve, however, as weird as it may seem to them, stay. They will carry this revelation in their hearts until Jesus gathers them at the Last Supper, when he celebrates this, giving them his flesh and blood for the first time: Institution of the Eucharist.
There, Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, recalled in our second reading today. Jesus does not address the Apostles’ difficulty in understanding the weirdness. Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, words that Jesus, in the person of the priest, echoes during our celebrations. This is really the gift that most unites the Christian Church. We do not all believe the same thing about the gift, alas. Thankfully, Jesus simply (and forcefully) says “do this in remembrance of me”, not “understand this in remembrance of me” Do this—in remembrance of Jesus, in living remembrance of Jesus, in Jesus.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran minister, described by the Washington Post as a “tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick and tired of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right and too Jesus-y for the left.” She says:
“What unites us isn’t a doctrine, it’s a table—a table that is open to all, in which we receive this Bread of Life come down from heaven. The body and blood of Christ is what unites us and makes us a church. Hopefully not in a
prideful see-how-inclusive-we-are way, but in a Lord-to-whom-shall-we-Go?-way, a You-have-the-words-of-eternal-life way.”
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, to receive the bread and wine, which are the body and blood of Christ. Some of us have perhaps grown so accustomed to this Church “practice”, that we don’t realize how radical, how wonderfully weird this is.
Jesus is adamant about Communion. Indeed, in today’s gospel, Jesus doubles-down on what he says. To those who grumble “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” he responds “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus is adamant about Communion because he is adamant about loving us, forever. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. That is love.
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, along with surprising guests, guests we might not have included on the list. But, recall who was at the Last Supper: one betrayed Jesus at table, all but one abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. That God would become human, walk among us, and offer his own flesh for the sake of life that lasts forever, and do this knowing who was gathered around the table.
That is love. It can be hard to accept that persons we may not like receive the same overflowing love, that Christ welcomes all of us. It is sometimes even harder to accept that Christ welcomes all of me: the part that gave at my spouse the silent treatment this week or yelled at my children, or drank alone, or has a problem with lying, or hates my body; the part that suffers from depression and can’t admit it, or is too fearful to give some of my money away, or is riddled with shame over sexuality or cheats on my taxes or judges and is afraid of getting sick and/or old and dying.
All of us and all of me are invited to this feast. We unfortunately cannot gather yet to celebrate it. But, we are invited, and we respond affirmatively, by expressing our desire to participate and partake. This desire and the response of Christ, touching us as if we were present, is called “spiritual Communion”. Respond affirmatively and, in your response, bring the broken pieces of our world and lives. In return, Chris will share Himself. We will, hopefully soon, re-gather in person and celebrate and rejoice. In the meantime, let us believe in Jesus, Bread of life, knowing that “whoever believes has eternal life.”