“Que Viva el Sagrado Corazón de Jesús!”

The Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at the Comunidad Hispana/Latina

of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

June 19, 2022

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

viva llama de amor y de luz;

amigo tierno de Betania,

maestro y modelo de virtud.

Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre;

reina aquí ¡oh amado Redentor!

y derrama tus gracias, divino Jesús;

quiero vivir tan sólo de tu amor.

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

viva llama de amor y de luz;

amigo tierno de Betania,

maestro y modelo de virtud.

Before I begin my reflection today, I would like to acknowledge the vocation of fatherhood. Best wishes today to all fathers, grandfathers, godfathers—and to every man who nurtures, mentors, and encourages others. We celebrate you, not only on this one day each year, but every day—as you love, care for, and bless those entrusted to your care. May you persevere in love, and never loose hope or become discouraged—even in challenging, and often difficult times.

The excerpt from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, which we have just heard proclaimed, ends with these words: “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

My dear ones, each of us has been challenged by our Lord to give witness to how much God has done for us. In short, we are invited to become missionaries who preach the message of gratitude in this world. Rather than focusing on problems, difficulties, disappointments and hurts, we are called to celebrate the many daily blessings that God so freely and lovingly gives us.

While this is our individual vocation, it is also something which we are called to do as a community of faith. How great is God’s love for us! What incredible mercies and gifts we receive. May we never take them for granted! May we never fail to give thanks. May we never fail to share that joyous news for the world.

I would ask you to prayerfully consider joining us each evening to pray, as a community of faith, the office of Vespers. It is livestreamed each night, normally at 6:00 pm, on our Facebook page. All you need to do is long on to Facebook and join the video. Each night, those who participate are offered the opportunity to share their prayers, petitions, and acts of thanksgiving for blessings received. I found it fascinating that one of my heroes, the Reverend Lorenzo Labrija—in a presentation at the Nuevo Amanecer Conference at Camp Kanuga–shared with us the surprising news that studies have demonstrated that those who engage in such prayer, in an interaction with God’s holy Word, and with expressing gratitude for God’s blessings, find that their lives are often changed and transformed. So, if you are looking for something to help you grow in faith, please consider this option.

Episcopalians from the Americas have often had a complicated relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Many come from countries in which Roman Catholicism was the predominant expression of Christianity. While our own Tradition shares much with theirs, there are differences—and sometimes those differences have been a source of conflict, rather than dialogue. For instance, many may come from countries in which the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (which will be celebrated this Friday, June 24th) is a national holiday. If some come from a more “Protestant” background, they might be willing to casually dismiss this Feast as too “Catholic,” or too “Roman.”

What they might not realize, is that this devotion played a dramatic and pivotal role in the lived experience of most Roman Catholics in the 18th, 19th, and even 20th centuries. At a time in which the radical Calvinist theology of Jansenism had come to infect the Roman Catholic Church, there was such a fear of God, of the sinfulness of the human condition, and of the fear of hell that many Roman Catholics feared to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

The devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus helped to correct that abuse. Rather than stressing God as righteous and indignant judge of fallen and sinful humans, it stressed the love, mercy, tenderness, and compassion of God. Rather than focusing on the imperfection and failings of humans, this feast invited people to conversion, to transformation, and to growth in holiness, and in love. It served as reminder of the all-encompassing desire of God to reconcile every person, and to welcome them into loving Communion. It was a reminder, not of how much our Savior suffered, but of how much He loved—and loves!

In only a short period of two weeks we celebrate two very important civil holidays.  Today, we joyfully celebrate Juneteenth—that amazing day in which the Promise of the Emancipation Proclamation became more than just empty words. The chains and shackles of chattel slavery were broken once and for all in this country after centuries. Enslaved persons of African descent were finally released from the cruel and dehumanizing bonds of slavery. Sadly, the abuse of our Black Sisters and Brothers continued with Jim Crow, Segregation, and Imprisonment. Even so, this was an incredible step forward. Thankfully, two years ago, it became a National Holiday.

Next Sunday will be Pride Sunday—the day in which we recall and celebrate the Stonewall Riot in NYC, which marked the true beginning of the Struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, equality, justice, and inclusion. There is always a huge March in New York City on that day. Sadly, this has not yet become an official holiday. And we are deeply aware of the continual struggle which this community faces—and most especially the trans members-and those who are Black, Brown, or of Native American or Pacific Island descent. There is much progress remaining to be made—and yet this is an incredible milestone and step forward.

In the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus we learn that God’s unconditional grace is feely offered to each and every person without limit, distinction, or condition. We learn that in that bruised, wounded, and broken heart are to be found healing, reconciliation, health, and wholeness. The wounds of sin, of division, and hatred may be washed away by the blood and water which are poured out from the hear of Our Lord. And, it is only in that outpouring of love and grace that these things will be truly made possible.

I invite you to consider for a moment these words from a Preface for this Feast taken from the Mass of the Roman Rite:

“Who, with admirable love, gave himself for us

and, elevated on the cross,

made from the wound in his side

that there should flow forth ,

from the founts of water and the blood,

the Sacraments of the Church,

so that in that way,

approaching the open Heart of the Savior,

everyone may always drink with joy

from the sources of salvation.”

Perhaps this Feast, this Solemnity, could have meaning for Episcopalians as well? Perhaps it could become a focus of dialog, of discussion, and of understanding with not only our Sisters and Brothers from the Roman Catholic Tradition, but with anyone who seeks to be connected to God.

Let us boldly share our gratitude for the Love of God, made real, present, and effective in the reality of the Sacred Heart of our Lord! Live Forever the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

Entronizado serás en todo el orbe,

donde quiera que haya un hogar;

y buscando tu amparo, te busco Jesús;

yo quiero un día contigo reinar.

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

viva llama de amor y de luz;

amigo tierno de Betania,

maestro y modelo de virtud.

Bendecid nuestra patria querida,

se el dueño de nuestra nación;

y que en toda la tierra resuene esta voz:

Viva, viva el Sagrado Corazón.

“Praying in the Upper Room”

A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2022

Preached at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and

prayers, and dispose the way of your servants towards the

attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the

changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be

defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus

Christ our Lord. Amen.

My dear friends, my beloved family in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves in a time of transition. Transition is never easy because it means that we must change. We must let go of the known and move towards the unknown. Transition can be confusing, uncertain, and frustrating. It can provoke in us worry, anxiety, and fear. It is a kind of death, and we can find ourselves grieving for what we knew, what we loved, and what gave us comfort.

But, if we believe that what is yet to come will be good, worthwhile, and perhaps even better for us, transition can provide us with a wonderful opportunity—a time to imagine, to dream, and to hope. Even more importantly, it allows us the opportunity to plan for ways to make our hopes and dreams a reality.

As significant is the opportunity to realize that we are not alone in this experience of transition. No, we are part of a community of faith. We travel together. And in the unity which connects and binds us together, we will find the ability to confront any challenges or obstacles which we encounter.

Perhaps we will find opportunities to strengthen and build up that community. There might even be celebrations with amazing times of hospitality. Who knows, there might even be a feast including delicious Latin food with things like rice and beans and pernil!

All who have been celebrating the joyous Feast of Easter—a time of rejoicing over fifty days in which we give thanks for the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead—are about to enter a most significant and meaningful transition. This coming Thursday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. It will invite us to join the disciples of Jesus in that Upper Room as they gather in prayer for the coming of the promised comforter and Advocate—the Paraclete—who will be sent to assist them in carrying out the vocation and mission which had been entrusted to them.

I find myself fascinated each year as I contemplate the disciples following the Ascension. What trauma they had endured—the passion and death of their Master. The unexpected reality of the Resurrection. The flight to Galilee—running for fear of their lives. The beauty and comfort of those encounters. The brevity of that healing time with the Lord before he left them again. The danger of sneaking back into Jerusalem and of hiding out in that same room in which they had celebrated the Last Supper and in which Jesus had washed their feet.

They had no idea what was coming. Jesus had told them that it would be better for them if he left and sent the Spirit of Truth. But, they had no idea what that meant. All they knew was that they were alone, afraid, and unsure of what was coming. It was entirely possible that things would not go well for them.

Perhaps they imagined the worst—the authorities might come for them too, haul them away, bet them, lock them up—they might even be scourged, stripped, and crucified as well. How had it come to this? They had such hopes and dreams.

What they did not realize was that there was something missing, something lacking, something which they did not have. They were like the cowardly lion in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. So, they did the only thing which they knew to do. They did what Jesus had told them to do. And so, they spent nine days united in prayer. They prayed for the coming of the Spirit.

On that ninth day, the unexpected, the unimagined happened. The Holy Spirit descended on them with Wind and Fire—with power. How I love this Greek word for power “dynamis!” From it we get the words dynamic and dynamite. There was an explosion!

Witness the transformation! Instead of shivering and cowering behind those lock doors, they tore them open and ran into the streets. They wanted to tell everyone about Jesus. Authorities? Bring them to us, we want to tell them about Jesus? Send us to jail? We will tell them about Jesus! And so powerful was the witness—not only of their words, but their actions, that people began to remark on how much like Christ they were—and to call them Christians!

Dear ones, Pentecost is yet to come. We will soon enter into those holy nine days. Let us follow the example of the faithful disciples. Let us commit to praying each day for the coming of the Spirit into our hearts, into our families, and into this community. Who knows then, what might happen on the day of Pentecost? We too might have the power of our Confirmation reignited in us and run out on to Wyandotte Street to tell the whole world about Jesus!

I invite you now to open your bulletins, and to join with me as we pray together the Novena to the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

“May we choose to love, to do good, to bless, and to pray.”

A Sermon for the

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

February 20, 2022

“God of compassion, you have reconciled us in Jesus Christ who is our peace: Enable us to live as Jesus lived, breaking down walls of hostility and healing enmity. Give us grace to make peace with those from whom we are divided, that, forgiven and forgiving, we may ever be one in Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns forever, one holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.”

A Beautiful Life (by William Golden)

The only life that will endure,

Is one that’s kind and good and pure;

And so for God I’ll take my stand,

Each day I’ll lend a helping hand.

Refrain:

Life’s evening sun is sinking low,

A few more days and I must go

To meet the deeds that I have done,

Where there will be no setting sun.

I’ll help someone in time of need,

And journey on with rapid speed;

I’ll help the sick and poor and weak,

And words of kindness to them speak.

Refrain:

The Words of Jesus take us by surprise, as always, when we listen to them closely. “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . . Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

We could be tempted to think that we do not have any enemies. Are there really others who hate us, who curse is, who wish us harm, who want to hurt us? If so, this has to be an exceptional case. But that presupposes that we are thinking of those who know us personally—not of those who might choose to “other us,” to exclude us, to marginalize us because they perceive us to be different—and thus a threat to them in some way. It is to acknowledge that their “mind is made up about us,” even before they get to know us, and that there appears to be little which we can do to change their opinion.

This becomes a more pressing issue, even, when there is an imbalance of power, and they are in a position of control, authority, or some kind of dominance over us. This is the reality of all who live in communities which are diverse. It is an honest admission that in such communities, conflict is inevitable. For that very reason, it is essential that we recognize that we all live in such communities.

This is the kind of ordinary world in which, as St. Augustine might say, “we live, and move, and have our being.” For those of us who aspire to be people of faith, and followers of Jesus Christ, though, this is not the final word. We claim that we belong to not just any old community, but to “Beloved Community.” We continue to be reminded of and challenged by those words from the Acts of the Apostles, spoken of that model Church in Antioch in Syria, “These people are different. They are like that Jesus. See how they love each other.”

The great irony here, is that Jesus was speaking to those who were truly poor, truly marginalized, truly, powerless, and weak, to those who had been brutally conquered and oppressed by a hostile and cruel foreign force. Today, we hear these same words from a very different perspective.

The challenge we face then, is to recognize and to acknowledge that something will have to change if the Beloved Community of which we speak and for which we long ever becomes more than just something for which we hope.

It is impossible for us to ever change anyone else. They only person I will ever be capable of changing is me! If I want Beloved Community to be a possibility, I will have to change, I will have to grow, I will have to think and act in ways that are different than those that I have thought and acted until now.

Those are hard words to say. Those are hard words to hear. It is easy to think of ways in which others have hurt me. It is very difficult to acknowledge ways in which I have acted to hurt others.

The good news, is that I am not unique. What is true of me is true of most of us. To some degree, we are all broken, wounded, hurting, and ill. There are times when we act before we think, there are times when we allow anger, fear, hurt, and disappointment to prevent us from making good and wise decisions. They are times when we are self-centered and fail to consider the needs, wants, and desires of others.

When this is pointed out to us—by others, or by our own prayerful self-reflection and examination, this can be very hard to hear and to accept. But, if we are to move forward, that must be the beginning. Those words which we say so often when we gather as a community pierce us to the heart—

“ Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

The hard truth here is that I am forced to acknowledge and to confess that there are times when rather than acting out of love, I have acted as an enemy, rather than as a fried. In our beloved Episcopal Church this is a reality which we have been called to explore.

In the past century, we have moved towards the inclusion, empowerment, and affirmation of women (our mothers, sisters, and daughters), of our Black sisters and brothers and of other persons of color, and of our LGBT+ Siblings. This has not been easy for us. In each case, we struggled to accept that we had been acting in ways that were exclusionary, hurtful and sinful. Even after we ceased to intentionally exclude and marginalize, we continued to passively prevent true acceptance, inclusion and empowerment.

Thanks to the powerful and prophetic witness of women and men of faith, we made decisions to move towards truly forming loving community. We have made so much progress and growth!. Yet we must not allow ourselves to become complacent and self-congratulatory! We are not there yet. Much work remains undone.  

The simplest things are often the hardest. It is perhaps not so much that we are challenged to forgive as it is that we are challenged to accept forgiveness. Anyone who has ever taken the risk of becoming completely vulnerable and of uttering those live-changing words, “I was wrong. I am sorry, please forgive me,” knows the healing power of hearing the words, “I forgive you.” That forgiveness brings a new possibility. While the hurt we have done can never be undone or forgotten, it does not have to be the end. It can be the beginning of a new way of thinking, of acting, of being. And that is as true of us as individuals and as it is for our community.

I chose to begin this reflection with you today by sharing a well-known song from my Southern Baptist childhood, “A Beautiful Life.” It reminds me that each day offers a new opportunity to “turn away from sin and to embrace the Gospel.” It challenges me to not allow this day to end without choosing to act in love. It echoes the words of our Savior Jesus Christ that if I chose to love, to do good, to bless, and to pray, I have the power to make a difference — and to help to make all the communities Beloved Community–places where God may be truly found.

“Learning how to cast God’s nets.”

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

February 6, 2022

Open unto me, light for my darkness

Open unto me, courage for my fear

Open unto me, hope for my despair

Open unto me, peace for my turmoil

Open unto me, joy for my sorrow

Open unto me, strength for my weakness

Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion

Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins

Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness

Open unto me, love for my hates

Open unto me, Thy Self for myself

Lord, Lord, open unto me!

Howard Thurman, from “Meditations of the Heart”

“Oh Lord, your’re beautiful” by Keith Greene

Oh Lord, you’re beautiful,

Your face is all I seek,

For when your eyes are on this child,

Your grace abounds to me.

Oh Lord, please light the fire,

That once burned bright and clear.

Replace the lamp of my first love,

That burns with Holy fear.

I want to take your word and shine it all around.

But first help me to just, live it Lord.

And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown.

For my reward is giving glory to you.

Oh Lord, you’re beautiful,

Your face is all I seek,

For when your eyes are on this child,

Your grace abounds to me.

I want to take your word and shine it all around.

But first help me to just, live it Lord.

And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown.

For my reward is giving glory to you.

A number of years ago I began to have trouble seeing small print. I remember well the experience of holding things closer to my face, and of squinting. I tried every coping mechanism that I could. For a time, all these coping mechanisms worked. But eventually they did not. I will never forget the moment that I realized that I needed glasses.

I had gone to a restaurant in Manhattan which I had wanted to visit for some time. I was quite excited because I had heard wonderful things about it. It was an Ethiopian restaurant, and so I did not know anything about the food. I arrived, and it was beautiful. There were beautiful murals on the wall. It felt like I truly was in a different world. When I sat down, and the waitress brought the menu, though, I suddenly realized that I could not read it. I could see the general categories—appetizers, meat, vegetables, etc. But I could not read the names of the particular dishes. Even worse, I could not read the descriptions. I was so sad. I realized that my inability to see was going to prevent me from enjoying the meal which I had been looking forward to for some time. This restaurant was not close to where I lived in the Bronx, and it had taken some effort to get there. It was also a more expensive place than I often went to. So, I had saved up for the evening.

Fortunately, the waitress was amazing. I explained that I was having difficulty seeing the menu, and that this was the first time that I had eaten Ethiopian cuisine. She kindly explained what the options were—and even made a few recommendations. I followed her suggestions, and discovered, to my delight, that it was an incredibly delicious meal.

Why had I put off going to the optometrist for so long. Perhaps it was vanity. How would I look with glasses? Perhaps it was laziness. Now there would be something else to keep track of? Perhaps it was fear. What if my eyesight did not get better even with the glasses?

When I did finally visit the optometrist, though, and I made an appointment that week, I will never forget what it was like to finally see again. I had not realized that, little by little, my world had been fading. Detail, light, and imagery had receded even more than I was aware. And, when I put on those glasses and went out of the shop wearing them—it was a whole new world. Oh the joy of going to a restaurant for lunch that day and being able to read every word on the menu. Oh the joy of being able to see so many things—all around me—that I had not even been aware of in such exquisite detail! It was as if my tired, failing eyes had been opened and suddenly I could see.

Each year I now look forward to those annual checkups—and when it is time for a new a new prescription, I am happy—because I know that I will be able to function even better.

A theme which I find it our readings today is that of “seeing things in a new way.” These passages speak to us of the surprising ways in which God invites us to see as God sees, and to discover unseen things all around us.

The passage of the call of the Prophet Isaiah which we heard today is one of my all-time favorite passages in all of the Scriptures-Hebrew or Christian. God unexpectedly breaks into Isaiah’s life and opens his eyes to the overwhelming reality that God is. Isaiah’s comment, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah is literally blinded by God’s majesty, power, and beauty. It is not only that his lips need to be cleansed, healed, and empowered by the burning coal from the censor, his eyesight also has to be adjusted. Now that his eyes have been opened and he sees God, he can not continue as before. Everything has changed. While he would be tempted to just run away and hide, God offers him another option. Isaiah is invited to make use of this new way of seeing, and through it to open the eyes, ears, and hearts of anyone who is willing to put into action God’s plan to “that they may look with their eyes, listen with their ears, comprehend with their minds, turn and be healed.”

The beautiful and surprising account of the call of Simon—who will later be renamed Peter, in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke—is another story of changed vision, perspective, and vocation. This story, though, has a very different meaning for those who fish, or who know fishing folk. Laying aside for the moment the astonishing reality that Jesus seems to have “boat-jacked” the vessel of Simon (who was apparently minding his own business and licking his wounds after a failed and frustrated night of fishing), there are a couple of astonishing things which happen. The first is that, for perhaps the first time in all of human history, a fisher is willing to take advice from a non-fisher and try something different! As the son, and grandson of fishers, I can tell you that it not something which often happens!

Jesus invites Simon to go to another spot, to tray another technique, and to expend the time, energy, and effort to fish in an unfamiliar way. Simon is a professional. He is someone who knows everything there is to know about fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He is successful. Today he would be the host of a fishing show on television. He would be the person writing the books about how to fish. He would be the person giving the TED talk. He would be the person that the news channels invite on for an explanation of the world of fishing. But Simon, like all humans, is limited. He is only able to find and catch the fish that he is expecting to find. God, though, is not limited. When Simon says yes to Jesus and casts the nets in a new place, in a new way, he makes the shocking discovery that the lake is abundantly full of fish which he did not even know were there. In fact, the abundance is so great, so  unexpected, so amazing, that it changes everything. And, as a result, Simon’s eyes are opened to the beauty of God’s loving and inclusive creation—which he now sees and understands for the first time.

A huge element of these stories is that the Prophet Isaish and the Apostle Peter come to see themselves in a new light. They are tempted to believe that they are unworthy, flawed, imperfect, frail and insignificant. God does not see them that way. In God’s eyes they have beauty, worth, and potential. As a result, they are transformed!

My dear parish family, is it possible that God is calling us to open our eyes, to try new approaches, and to recognize that there are realities all around us which we have not truly seen or acknowledged? Is it possible that God is asking us to throw open the doors of this church, to go out into the community which surrounds us, and to cast God’s nets in a new way? Is it possible that in Beloved Community there is such an abundance of diverse and beautiful fish that our tiny sanctuaries could not possibly seat them all? Is it time for a new vision, a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and acting?

There is another lesson to be learned in this Black Heritage Month. For literally centuries we failed to love, affirm, and serve our black sisters and brothers. We kidnapped them from their homelands, tortured them on death ships, enslaved them, and forced them to undertake brutal and exhausting work, without recompense, so that we could live lives of ease and comfort.

Despite all that, today our culture is enriched by their music, food, creativity, wisdom, and leadership. Just imagine what we might be, and might have become, if we had chosen a different path? The good new, and I mean that literally, is that it is not too late. May God open our eyes, our minds and our hearts, to love, to welcome, to include, and to serve each and every person created in God’s own image and likeness. In recognizing their worth, magnificence, and beauty, may God’s gaze rest lovingly on us and God’s grace truly abound to us!

“May we always speak the truth with love.”

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 23, 2022

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania (in English)

and at

La Comunidad Latina/Hispana

at the

Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity (in Spanish)

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this

land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as

their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to

eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those

who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law

and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of

us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Are we teaching the truth in love by Acapella

Are we teaching the truth in love

Telling it like it is

Are we holding pure motives

Showing that we care

Are we teaching the truth

Are we teaching the truth

Are we teaching the truth

In… love

Jesus’ first sermon at the Synagogue in Nazareth Luke 4: 14-21

When I was a boy, there was an expression which I would hear family members say when they saw someone who was especially well-dressed, “He looks just like a Philadelphia Lawyer.” I cannot imagine that anyone would have ever seen an actual Philadelphia Lawyer, but clearly at some point, someone must have. That memory had been passed down in the family. This became especially interesting to me when I was a teenager and became interested in genealogy. It was at that point that I learned that several of the families from whom I am descended had deep roots in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As it happens, these families had lived in Philadelphia and in Berks and Bucks counties before the Revolutionary War. In the decades leading up to the war, these ancestors decided to pack up their belongings and head down the Valley of Virginia—and ultimately into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of these families, the Boone family, lived in a little place called Birdsboro, in Berks County. The Boone homestead is still there, and it is my hope to one day visit it, and to “return home” to the place where my ancestor Sarah Boone Wilcox (the sister of the better-known Daniel) lived. Before they left for North Carolina, the Boone family were members of the Society of Friends, better known as Quakers.

The Quakers were unique in their stance for equality and justice. And for that very reason they were often persecuted. Among other things, they pushed for equality for women, for humane treatment of Indigenous Peoples. And, they were early proponents of abolition. They also provided a fascinating model for the resolution of conflict—and this was both a useful tool inside their congregations and families—and for those outside as well. In short, they proposed a model to be used when speaking truth—and especially if the truth being presented would be difficult, or challenging to hear. It is essential to understand that the goal was not necessarily to change someone’s mind or opinion, but rather to be a person of integrity and honesty. It is like planting a seed. Once the seed is planted, the planter is no longer responsible for what happens. At that point, the farmer—and God take charge. Here is the Quaker model.

  1. Sit together in silence
  2. Identify with the other person
  3. Wait for the moving/inspiration of the Spirit
  4. Speak the truth in love

Perhaps the greatest danger which Christianity has faced, has been the problem which the Southern Baptists in the Blue Ridge Mountains used to call the “me and my sweet Jesus” syndrome. This distortion reduces everything to my desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It means that I am not responsible for anyone else—or anything else. All that matters is that I love Jesus—and that Jesus loves me.

The Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that there is not one essential relationship—but three. There is the relationship between God and me, there is the relationship which I have with others, and which we have as a community, and finally, there is my relationship/our relationship with creation. Sin and evil have the power to damage all three of these relationships. So, when looking for healing, forgiveness, restoration, and justice—all three relationships must be considered. All three of these essential relationships play a constitutive role in creating Beloved Community.

The past years have taught us an important lesson. Beloved Community will only be possible if we proclaim the truth in love. The danger, of course, is that our proclamation, if not done in the right way—and in the right spirit—will not be heard or received in a way to matter. If we come across as judgmental, self-righteous, or “holier than others,” we will viewed as “preaching at,” rather than “sharing in love.” What is required is humility! We need to hear truth as much as anyone else. We do not have a monopoly om truth. We must remember what it is like to be on the receiving end. What was it like for us when we were in ignorance? How was truth presented to us? Did we feel judged, condemned, and dismissed—or did we feel grateful that someone loved us and cared enough to take the risk of sharing the truth, as they understand it,  with us?

In his first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus took the risk of speaking truth. Spoiler Alert—as we will lean next week—his words were not well received. The truth which he spoke called for change, for conversion, and for growth. That was too much for people who just wanted to feel happy, and comfortable. It was too much for the “me and my sweet God” crowd.

Jesus made it clear that his role was to announce that God was doing something new, something different, something unexpected—and for those who were happy and comfortable with the status-quo, God was doing something dangerous, risky, and uncomfortable. In speaking of the Acceptable year, Jesus was proclaiming the fulfilment of that core value of Judaism, the Year of Jubilee.

Dr. Brant Petrie had this to say about the “Year of Acceptance,” the “Favorable Year of the Lord,” or the Year of Jubilee: “If you go back to the book of Leviticus 25, what God says there is, at the end of a seven times seven year cycle, so you have 49 years — like the Sabbath times the Sabbath — after 49 years, the 50th year will be a Jubilee year. It’s going to be a Jubilee year because in that year all debts are forgiven, all slaves are set free, and any land that has been appropriated, that used to belong to a family, but they lost it through debt, will be returned to the original owners.

Now, just imagine if you lived in a Jubilee year and all your student debt, or all your house debt, or all your car debt, or all your credit card debt, whatever debt that you might have that’s weighing over your head, imagine if it was all gone, just like that in the Jubilee year.

Now that would be an acceptable year, right? It would be a year of joy, a year of deliverance, and so what Jesus is saying here is that, or what Isaiah is saying, is that when the Messiah comes, his coming is somehow going to be coordinated with, conjoined with, a great Jubilee year. A great year of release, when all debts will be forgiven, and people will be set free from bondage, which, if you’ve been in debt, you’ll know, it is bondage. It is a burden, and to be freed from it is a source of great joy.”

Notice here that Jesus does not begin by saying anything about spirituality or religious practice, as we are more accustomed to thinking about it. Before he says anything about prayer, or fasting, or almsgiving, or even about living a holy life, he begins by talking about the context which is necessary for all of those things. He begins by talking about God’s vision for justice, equality, freedom, and inclusion!

This past Monday, in honor of the life and ministry of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, our Diocesan Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee celebrated Noon Prayer via Facebook. The reflection was offered by Bishop Kevin. He took this opportunity to speak to us from his heart, to speak the truth as he understands it in love. Bishop Kevin addressed the issues which challenge us as a community—and which call us to work to answer God’ call to enter into the Year of Jubilee—to more fully become Beloved Community.

Here are some of the words which Bishop Kevin shared with us about his hopes for communities which find ourselves divided and in conflict.

“How does one, like me, speak to this moment?

Our own Soul-work is needed. For white Allies – allies who have power and authority – we must go deeper, bolder. On this day, I dare say:

One can’t be an ally if they parse the lies that led to an insurrection – Or worse, speak boldly in outrage at first and then walk ‘it back for self-interest’s sake.

One can’t be an ally and talk about a stolen election, or condone the actions of our former president.

One can’t be an ally and talk about critical race theory and pretend that you know what Dr. King would say about it.

One can’t be an ally and deny a history of white supremacy, focusing instead on the fragility of white children.

One can’t be an ally and enact voting rights laws directed at people of color… or redistricting efforts that favor one over another…

One can’t be an ally and not be outraged at the killing of black youth in 1958 and in 2022. To be an ally demands a deeper acknowledgement of our own reality, our own context, our own white privilege, and a commitment to listen and learn.

Just this day – we might need to Hush our voice.

What I am learning is that Building the Beloved Community is bold and unceasing work.

  • It is about creating a place where love wins out
  • where all are equal.
  • A place where all voices are valued, embraced and all have the opportunity to lead.
  •  Where all feel beloved.
  • It is what I dream for in the churches of the Diocese of Bethlehem.

We must continue the deep and personal soul-work of educating ourselves and listening and learning about the plight of those like Martin Luther King. Our sibling’s hero, who must become our own as well. Let us seek to become Racial Justice Allies.”

There is a fascinating quote from Dr. King which I recently discovered: “We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.”

The Prophet Isaiah challenges us, Our Lord Jesus Christ challenges us, Dr. Martin Luther King challenges us, and today, Bishop Kevin challenges us to speak, and to hear, the truth in love. Rather than reacting in fear, may we rejoice at the good news that God’s promise of Jubilee has been announced to us. “This is the Year of Favor” which is being fulfilled in our hearing today.

To view the video of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.

To read the full text of Bishop Kevin’s Reflection, use this link.

Jesus is our Hope

A Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

January 9, 2022

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

Jordan by Emmy Lou Harris

Oh, come in as you tread life’s journey

Take Jesus as your daily guide

Though you may feel pure and safely

Without him walking by your side

But when you come to make the crossing

At the endin’ of your pilgim’s way

If you ever will meet our Saviour

You’ll surely meet him on that day

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters

Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar

You’d better take Jesus with you, He’s a true companion

For I’m sure without him that you never will make it o’er

It was a bitterly cold Winter evening in January of 1971 at Beech Mountain Missionary Baptist Church in the Dark Ridge when three Southern Baptist Congregations: Beech Mountain, Fall Creek, and Whaley, gathered to observe the Ordinance of Baptism and through this Service to welcome the handful of new believers into membership in the Church. It was a very rare thing for these churches to do something like this together. However, as the result of a series of Revivals after the harvest, there had been a number of persons who had been saved. Since Beech Mountain was the only church which had an inside Baptistry, it was the logical choice for the Service.

Even though there was an indoor Baptistry (with an incredibly beautiful mural of the River Jordan—painted by Deacon Truman Church), the water for the pool came from a stream not far from the church. It was NOT heated, although the church was. As a result the water was VERY cold. It was so cold, in fact, that when the preacher entered the water (wearing wading boots like mountain fishermen often did when they went into the cold mountain streams) there was a thin layer of ice on top of the water. Those who were to be baptized, and who were watching from the room just off the side heard the ice crack as the preacher walked down the steps into the water!

Before each person was Baptized, the choir sang a verse of “Shall We Gather at the River,” and then the baptizand walked down the steps, into the water, and out to where the preacher was standing. At the front of the Baptistry there was a glass window some four feet tall (rising from the metal tank) which allowed those in the church to witness what was taking place).

I was eight years old, and was one of the neophytes that evening. I think that I was tall enough to have at least my shoulders and head above the water. But, this was a mysterious and somewhat frightening thing. I had seen other Baptisms of course, even some at the “Baptismal Hole” in Beech Creek, flowing down towards Watauga River. But those services happened during the day—and in far warmer weather.

The preacher said a prayer, and then when everyone shouted “Amen,” he raised his left hand and said something like, “Brother Mickey (that was my childhood name) upon your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord we baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” He then placed a clean white handkerchief over my nose and mouth with his right hand, and immersed me in those cold Baptismal waters. Even though I was already cold, being thrust below the surface of those cold waters was literally shocking, I nervously struggled, for a moment, to breathe. When the preacher lifted me up, out of the water, I will never forget that first deep breath which I took! Later, in looking back on it, that language which Saint Paul used to speak of burial with Christ in Baptism and rising with him to newness of life made perfect sense to me!

Then, I went into the men’s Sunday School Room and put on the dry dress clothes which Momma had prepared for me in advance and then went back into the church. When all the Baptisms were completed, the Preacher invited the joined congregations to come and to welcome us with the right hand of full membership. Of course, I was related to almost everyone there. So, there were lots of hugs and tears as well as handshakes.

Those of us whom come from a catholic Traditon have a somewhat different understanding of, and a different experience of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. For us, Baptism initiates the Christian life. In it we, who were previously, “strangers and aliens,” are adopted through Baptism, washed from anything which could ever separate us from God, and are claimed as Christ’s own forever. The old language spoke of an indelible mark which no power could ever erase. We were changed. We were reborn. We were welcomed into the household and the family of God.

Through the Blessed Holy Waters of the new creation, we were given a share in the three-fold ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet, and king–and do remember we just celebrated the symbols of that three-fold ministry in the gifts of the magi on the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord: gold (a gift for kings), incense (a gift for priests), and myrrh (a gift for the bodies of the prophets who, more often than not, were martyred).

And thus, we began the Spiritual Life. Now since most of us were babes or children, our parents and godparents made promises and commitments on our behalf. We belong to a tradition which regularly chooses to renew, reaffirm, and recommit to our Baptismal promises. And, so children in The Episcopal Church grow up thinking that this is not just a onetime experience which happened to us in the distant past. We will never be re-baptized, there is no need for that. But, in order to live out our Baptismal promises, we need to turn from sin and embrace the good news every day. And it is with that in mind that we publicly acknowledge our failing to do so almost every time we gather as a community. Several times a year, though, and most often today, we collectively renew our Baptism through the profession of our faith and through our re-commitment to the Baptismal Covenant.

It seems incredible to me that these five questions which we hear, and to which we respond, capture the heart—the essence of what Baptism means to us—both individually, and as people who aspire to become “Beloved Community.”

Celebrant   Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Although Baptism is the beginning of our journey with God, it is not the totality of that journey. God offers us further grace and power through the other Sacraments of Initiation: Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. In times of physical and spiritual illness we are offered anointing and absolution. And to enable those called to Holy Marriage and to the ordained ministry and service to the People of God,  there are Sacramental graces as well.

Our Church made the decision that, because Baptism is an entrance into Community, we ought to routinely and normally celebrate it on a Sunday Eucharist. And so the notion of “private Baptism,” really does not make sense—unless there is some unusual reason which would necessitate such a rare occurrence.

As I have grown older, I have become much more aware of the need for faith in Christ to be a source of light, of leaven, and of salt. There seems to be so much darkness in our world, and such a need for the light of Christ. In my own case, this has caused me to return to certain prayers and devotions which I knew in my younger years. Some of these I later tossed to the side as being “old fashioned,” or “too conservative.” For me, though, and I speak here only of my own life of prayer, they have become a source of hope, encouragement, and of invitation. In reflecting on the reality of Baptism, I am reminded of a prayer from the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy which speaks of the water and blood which flowed from the pierced side of Our Lord on the Cross.

“You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

I began these words today with the music of Emmy Lou Harris. As we approach the cold waters of the Jordan in our own time of uncertainty, fear, and darkness, may we choose to trust in our Good Shepherd to lead us safely to our destination.

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar We’d better take Jesus with us, He’s a true companion For I’m sure without him that we will never will make it o’er.

“God seeks us.”

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

and

The Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (in Spanish)

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lord God, we adore you because you still come to us now.

You come to us through other people and their love and concern for us.

You come to us through men and women who need our help.

You come to us as we worship you with your people.

One of the most powerful descriptions of the Christian vocation which I have ever encountered is taken from the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict. In it, he speaks of the monastic as one who is “truly seeking God.” Of course, he recognizes that most Christians who are beginning that journey will be quite clueless as to how to even begin. And so it is, to assist them on their journey, that he establishes a “school of the Lord’s service.” He offers tools such as prayer, work, and Lectio Divina. But it is clear to anyone who has spent time in one of these schools—or monasteries, as they are more commonly called—that the essential tool is that of life in community.

This makes perfect sense to me, because—at its best—Christianity is truly incarnational. In the Nativity, we celebrate that God chose to become one of us—one with us. One who completely understands our limitations, our frustrations, our sufferings—as well as our joys and moments of transcendent connection. All the theology and theories about God will make sense to us—but only after we have experienced God’s reality in our lives! While that experience does often come to us through prayer, or worship, or even nature, it is far more common for it to come to us through the love, kindness, generosity, and affirmation of others. Anyone who has ever had the experience of feeling loved, of being loved, of receiving love will inevitably be changed, and perhaps even transformed, by that experience. I think that it is for that very reason that Sacred Scripture uses this very language—time and time again. God is love, and all who love, are of God. “That we have passed from death to life we know, because we love others.”

And so, after having encountered God’s love—in some form or fashion—we begin out quest, our journey, to find God. The most important truth is this: It is not that we have first sought God, it is that God sought and encountered us. That is how the spiritual life begins. It is for that very reason that St. Benedict begins the Holy Rule with that word, “Listen.” We are reminded, of course, of that beautiful prayer which is at the center of the Jewish Faith, “Hear Oh, Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one.” Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad.

The last week of Advent is the week in which this reality is laid out for our contemplation in the most basic and profound way. Because in it, we see reality from God’s perspective, and not from our own. In this final week we move from a contemplation of the theology of the Incarnation to the reality of a Holy Family of Mary and of Joseph, looking for a place to welcome God into their lives and into our world.

One of the greatest gifts of Latino Spirituality is that of the Posadas. It takes a theology which might feel abstract or theoretical and makes it real, present, and effective. It is a liturgical re-enactment—in the very best sense of that term—of the Infancy Narrative of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke. This past Thursday evening, at the Cathedral of the Nativity, the Hispanic/Latin Community celebrated this lovely tradition.

How to briefly summarize what the Posadas are about. Here is a good overview which I found on the web: “There are two parts to the traditional posada song. Those outside the house sing the role of Joseph asking for shelter and the family inside responds, singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally, the innkeeper agrees to let them in. The hosts open the door, and everyone goes inside.”

I love this tradition because it helps us to see the action from two very different perspectives. The Posada song is amazing because it gives all the sensible reasons which the Inn Keeper has for turning away the Holy Family. And, after all, those inside the Inn have no idea who this is asking for shelter. In the end, though, a place of welcome and safety—if ever so humble-is offered, and Mary and Joseph are able to come in out of the elements. Then, there is a party, and everyone celebrates.

These final days of Advent, then, challenge us. Is there a place in our Inn for God? Is there a place in our homes, in our church, in our community, in our nation, and—perhaps most importantly—in our hearts to welcome and receive the God who has come to be with us? While there might be a million sensible reasons to say no, will we find the courage to say yes?

If we struggle to understand just how it is that God comes to us in this holy season, we need only to listen to the revolutionary words of our Blessed Mother in the Magnificat to truly understand who it is that God has visited—and who we are invited to welcome too.

  • God comes to lowly servants-to women, to persons who are not valued or prioritized or even acknowledged. In welcoming them, we welcome God
  • God comes to those who respect and love and acknowledge God. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the humble, the meek, the mild. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the lowly, the weak, the powerless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the hungry, the poor, the destitute, the homeless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to families and communities in crisis, to those who long for equality, and justice, dignity and respect. In welcoming them, we welcome God.

Saint Benedict reminds us that it is often in the unexpected visitor who shows up at our door that we discover and welcome the presence of Christ. The challenge, then, is to recognize that is so often in the unwelcome interruption—in that moment in which we are convinced that we are doing God’s work, that we are doing “real ministry”—that we are given an opportunity to truly love, to truly serve, and to truly welcome God. Isn’t that what this holy season is all about? The God who created all that is takes us by surprise—knocking at our door: dirty, homeless, hungry, poor, weak, vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, and excluded. That is what the Incarnation, the Nativity, is all about.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may we throw open the doors to welcome you, to love you, and to celebrate your presence with us this Advent, this Christmas.

“Innkeepers:

Is that you, Saint Joseph?

And the Virgin, too?

I would have opened sooner

if I’d recognized you.

All:

Enter, holy pilgrims,

Welcome to my humble home.

Though it’s little I can offer,

all I have, please call your own.

All:

Mary, Joseph, and our Savior,

what a joy to have you here!

We are honored to receive you,

May you stay through all the year!”

Want to hear a sung version of the Posada Song?

“Saint Nicholas, help us prepare for Christmas.”

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

December 5, 2021

“Grant, Almighty God, that your church may be so inspired by the example of your servant Nicholas of Myra, that it may never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saint Nicholas providing dowrires for theree poor girls by Bicci di Lorenzo.

Every liturgical season has its own focus and theme. Advent is a season which focuses on the two comings of the Christ. The first part—until December 16th, in theory is future-oriented. In it, we begin the new liturgical year by asking ourselves important questions, “What do we want Jesus to find when he returns in glory to bring to fulfillment the fullness of God’s Beloved Community?” And, on a personal level, what do I need to do to prepare and to be ready? Will Jesus find me prepared when he returns?”

The second part of this season—the octave, or eight days, from December 16th-24th are a time in which we more specifically focus on our preparation to commemorate, to celebrate, and to recall that first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—his incarnation in flesh as one with us at the manger in Bethlehem.

Having said that, though, this first part of Advent also has a time of transition. The Second Sunday of Advent ceases to present to us images of the apocalypse, of the eschaton, of the Parousia — of the “final things,” and invites us to enter into a reflection of how it was that God prepared the world for what we as Christians believe to be the culmination of “salvation history.” It is important to choose our words wisely here and to proceed cautiously. The Nativity of our Lord is not a rejection of any of the other covenants which preceded it. Nor is it a replacement. Each of those covenants remain in place, and in effect. However, for those who are called to enter into each succeeding relationship with God, we find in them a greater level of inclusion, and of welcome for the whole human family.

In Second Temple Judaism, there was an ever greater appreciation for the words and example of the Prophets—and especially for the words of the Prophet Isaiah. The primary mission of the prophet, we are reminded was to “comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” Their words were often hard to hear—because they presented God’s view of things—and reminded humans that in God’s plan there was a place for everyone at the table. In particular, the prophets pointed out that those who were comfortable had a moral responsibility to care for, and to protect, the oppressed and marginalized—widows, orphans, and migrants. All too often prophets spoke words of truth to those in power and challenged them to examine their values, priorities, and actions. We have only to remember the words of Nathan to David or of Elijah to Ahab and Jezebel—or of John to Herod!

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke today introduces us to the last prophet, the greatest prophet—in the words of our Lord—John, the Baptizer. John’s words, inspired by the words of Isaiah, inform us that God plans something different, something surprising, something dramatic. What humans have not been able to do, or willing to do, God will do. God will bring about a new reality—a reality in which every person will witness God’s healing, transforming, and inclusive love. This new creation—flowing out of God’s unfolding covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abrahm and Sarah, Moses and the People of Israel, and with the family of David—will now include justice and equality for all. In words which remind us of the hymns of praise of Hannah, Zechariah, and of Mary, we hear that crooked paths will be made straight, mountains and valleys will both be leveled, rough ways will be smoothed out, and humans who have been oblivious to the presence of God in others will have their eyes opened to see, to value, to respect and to love, the presence of God in every single person whom they encounter—without exception! In short, God calls us all to conversion, to growth, to change, and to become something new.

Over the centuries, Christians came to realize that theoretical words about loving and serving God are not nearly as powerful, effective, or helpful to us as are living examples. In other words, we need something which not only touches our mind, we need something which touches our heart. For that reason, we have so often turned to the example of those who lived out their belief in Christ as an image, or—to use the Greek word, an “icon”—of how to put that faith into practice. These holy women and men of profound holiness, and that is what the word “saint” means, allow us to see what happens when we choose to say yes to God. It is fascinating to me that each year, quite early in Advent, we encounter the feast of one of our most popular Saints, that of the Holy Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

I do not feel defensive, and thus have no desire to defend Saint Nicholas against the better know cultural reflection of him, Santa Claus. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we Christians ought to be pleased that the holy bishop, through a complicated process, became an image or icon across so many cultural barriers—who inspires, motivates, and encourages some of the best actions of love and generosity in people of profound faith, and of those who claim no commitment to any community of faith at all. If presented properly—and with love and respect, the story of Saint Nicholas could well be a very powerful tool for evangelization. We should not be hesitant to explain that behind the legend there is an actual person who modeled an important charism of service and generosity. And he did so because of his faith in the child born in the manger at Bethlehem.

Today, in our Advent journey, I think it is entirely appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on one story—out of the many possible ones—to explore the connection between faith and action in the life of Saint Nicholas. This is what Wikipedia has to say about him: “In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.”

It is this story of the anonymous gift of Nicholas which lies at the heart of our custom of giving presents, and of wrapping them up. And, it is important to remember that these first gifts were not given to beloved family members or even to peers. They were given to unexpecting recipients who were poor, marginalized, weak, and vulnerable. The three girls remind of us of the many times in which the Gospels show us us that Jesus cared for the poor, the exploited, the abused, and the oppressed! They teach us that Nicholas looked for ways to do the same thing in his own time and place.

While one might hesitate to use the word “miracle” because there is a rational, normal, explanation, it would be hard to miss the point that for these girls, for their family, and for those who loved them, these gifts were nothing short of miraculous. Their lives were changed. They experienced deliverance, hope, and promise at a time when they had known only fear, despair, and resignation. If that is not the hope promised by the Season of Advent, then I do not know what is! It is no accident that the three gifts remind us of the gifts of the magi—which we commemorate each year on the Feast of the Epiphany. It is that moment in which the Light of Christ is revealed to the nations. Holy Nicholas teaches us to look for Christ’s presence in the most unexpected of places, and reminds us that in serving and caring for those in need we minister to Christ himself. Our gifts to the hungry, the poor, and the marginalized—to those who may never be able to give anything in return—are gifts given to Christ!

In this first part of Advent, we are not yet ready to celebrate Christmas. There is something which we must do first. Before commemorating God’s self-giving to us, we must look at the places of darkness—in our own hearts, in our families, in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Where is the healing light of Christ needed? It is only in acknowledging our need for that warmth, hope, and light that we prepare places to welcome it. May this Advent prepare us to have loving, and generous hearts—and not only for those who are dear to us—so that when the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ comes, we, with holy Nicholas, and with John the Baptizer may celebrate God with us. On that day, or the night before, may all in need find love, welcome, and generous care.

Every day of the year, and not only in Advent and at Christmas, may we live out the collect for the holy Bishop of Myra: “may we never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief.” Amen.

“Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre.”

Sermón por la Fiesta de Cristo Rey.

Noviembre 21, 2021

Te damos nuestra tristeza, desesperación y desesperanza.

Te damos nuestra ira, dolor y rabia.

Le damos nuestros pensamientos, palabras y acciones que son racistas, perjudiciales,  

y discriminatorio,

Te damos nuestra tendencia a menospreciar a los demás y hablar mal de los demás.

Permítanos ver a cada persona por lo que es, un hijo amado de Dios.

Te damos la falta de fe que tenemos en tu misericordia, amor y perdón

hacia nosotros, y por los demás o por tu capacidad de transformar nuestros corazones endurecidos.

Sana nuestras heridas y rompe nuestras dudas.

Jesús, sana nuestras heridas con tu corazón y abre nuestros corazones al amor–con el

amor de tu Sacratísimo Corazón.

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

Coro:

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

viva llama de amor y de luz;

amigo tierno de Betania,

maestro y modelo de virtud.

Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre;

reina aquí ¡oh amado Redentor!

y derrama tus gracias, divino Jesús;

quiero vivir tan sólo de tu amor.

Coro:

Entronizado serás en todo el orbe,

donde quiera que haya un hogar;

y buscando tu amparo, te busco Jesús;

yo quiero un día contigo reinar.

Coro:

Bendecid nuestra patria querida,

sé el dueño de nuestra nación;

y que en toda la tierra resuene esta voz:

Viva, viva el Sagrado Corazón.

Coro:

Querides hermanas y hermanos, a lo largo de muchos años, hemos escuchado muchos sermones. Viniendo, como lo hacemos, de una tradición que valora ambos la Palabra como el Sacramento, semana tras semana, hemos escuchado la palabra de Dios proclamada, predicada y aplicada.

Pero, si son como yo, dudo que puedan recordar muy pocos de esos sermones. Tenemos una tendencia a recordar los que no nos gustó, no apreciamos, o con los que no éramos de acuerdo. ¡Pero se siente como si todos los buenos sermones de alguna manera corrieran juntos! Sería difícil nombrar más que solo uno o dos.

Sin embargo, cuando recordamos un sermón, a menudo es porque nos tocó de una manera inesperada. Tal vez proporcionó alguna idea en un momento de confusión, o de pérdida, o de luto. Tal vez nos dio esperanza en un tiempo de incertidumbre en el que luchamos por perseverar en la fe. O tal vez nos dio una nueva visión que nos hizo ver las cosas de una manera diferente.

Uno de los sermones más poderosos que recuerdo haber escuchado, me tomó por sorpresa. Una mañana, estaba navegando por el canal, y por casualidad me encontré con una misa dominical televisada de la Arquidiócesis Católica Romana de San Antonio en Texas. Resultó que el predicador era el arzobispo Patricio Flores, y predicaba en la solemnidad de Cristo Rey.

Más tarde, aprendí un poco más sobre el arzobispo Flores. Resulta que fue el primer sacerdote mexicano-estadounidense ser nombrado obispo en este país. También fue cofundador del Centro Cultural Mexicanoamericano. Pero en esa madrugada de domingo, no sabía nada sobre el arzobispo.

Casi desde el momento en que comenzó a hablar, sentí algo muy diferente. Habló de años de experiencia pastoral en lugares y situaciones difíciles. Estaba claro que había sido testigo de mucho dolor, angustia y tristeza. Se había ministrado en lugares y comunidades que muchos habrían considerado peligrosos y para personas que muchos otros habrían descartado como que no valían su preocupación.

Lo sorprendente, sin embargo, fue que, en lugar de ver razones para preocuparse, e incluso desesperarse, el arzobispo Flores fue uno de los oradores más esperanzadores y alentadores que había escuchado en algún tiempo. Esto fue aún más sorprendente porque claramente no era ingenuo. Habló de realidades y situaciones que estaban lejos de ser agradables.

Comenzó hablando de las vidas complejas que experimentan aquellos que viven en la pobreza en los centros de las ciudades descorridas. Describió la violencia, el crimen, los problemas con la pobreza, la adicción y la falta de buena educación, atención médica y oportunidades de empleo. Habló sobre la madre soltera que trabaja en dos trabajos y lucha por mantener a sus hijos. Habló de la abuela anciana temerosa de caminar a la tienda o al consultorio del médico porque le habían robado y herido en el pasado. Habló sobre aquellos que carecían de un lugar para vivir, comida y ropa, o cualquier sensación de seguridad.

Habló sobre las comunidades en conflicto, sobre los prejuicios y el odio racial. Habló de la experiencia de los inmigrantes que lucharon por inclinarse por otro idioma, por encajar en una sociedad que no los quería ni los acogía, y de su deseo de aferrarse a su propio orgullo por su lengua materna, su comida y su música.

Hizo preguntas difíciles: “¿Cuál es la fuente y el origen de estas heridas en nuestra sociedad? ¿De dónde vienen el odio, la violencia y el miedo? ¿Por qué hay injusticia, opresión, explotación y abuso? ¿Hay algo que se pueda hacer con respecto a estos problemas que, tan a menudo, se sienten insuperables?”

El buen arzobispo hizo entonces algo completamente inesperado: dijo: “No somos las primeras personas en encontrar estosproblemas. No somos las primeras personas en hacer estas preguntas. ¡No somos las primeras personas en buscar significado y esperanza!”

Luego parafraseó el cuarto capítulo de la Carta de Santiago. Y su punto era este, todos los problemas que vemos afuera, alrededor de nosotros, tienen su origen en nuestros propios corazones. ¡Es en nuestros propios corazones heridos, endurecidos y divididos que encontramos el camino para comprender el caos y la confusión que encontramos a nuestro alrededor!

La solución, que encontró el arzobispo Flores, no estaba en alguna proclamación teórica de que, si solo permitimos que Cristo fuera nuestro Rey, todo estaría bien. No, Flores habló de la realidad de Jesús como gobernante, no como Rey en un trono lejos y celestial, o incluso como una víctima pasiva en una antigua cruz. No, habló de la esperanza, la sanación y la promesa que se encuentran—aquí y ahora—en el Sagrado Corazón roto, herido y sangriento.

Aquí está la gran paradoja: de ese corazón herido fluye agua y sangre. De esas sangrientas heridas fluyen la vida sacramental de nuestra Iglesia: las aguas del bautismo y la sangre de la nueva y eterna alianza. Este corazón sangrante ofrece sanación, reconciliación, perdón y esperanza. El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús ofrece la posibilidad de sanar las divisiones, el odio y la desconfianza.

En los últimos años me he preguntado si la Comunidad Amada, que es inclusiva, afirmativa, empoderadora, justa y honesta, es realmente posible. Las palabras del arzobispo Flores, así como las del Obispo presidente Curry, me dan la esperanza de que la Comunidad Amada no es solo un sueño, o una esperanza cariñosa.

  • Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que sane nuestros propios corazones heridos y sangrantes.
  • Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que sane a nuestras familias rotas y divididas, a nuestras atribuladas comunidades de fe, a nuestras aldeas, pueblos y ciudades caóticos.
  •  Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que llene nuestros corazones de amor por los pobres, los necesitados, los oprimidos, los marginalizados, los explotados y los abusados.
  •  Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que llene nuestros corazones a rebosar de tal amor que queremos amar, alentar, y ayudar a cada persona que conocemos a conocer el mismo amor transformador.
  • Comenzamos comprometiéndonos a erradicar el malentendido, el miedo, el odio, y el prejuicio.

Si emprendimos estos proyectos por nuestra cuenta, probablemente no lograríamos mucho. Pero, cuando Jesús está en el centro de nuestros propios corazones y de nuestra comunidad, nada resultará imposible.

“Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre;

reina aquí ¡oh amado Redentor!

y derrama tus gracias, divino Jesús;

queremos vivir tan sólo de tu amor.”

“Reign, oh reign, Jesus, forever.”

A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

November 21, 2021

We give to you our sadness, despair and hopelessness.

We give to you our anger, hurt, and rage.

We give to you thoughts, words and actions which are racist, prejudicial,

 and discriminatory,

We give to you our tendency to look down on others and speak ill of others.

Help us to see each person for who they are — a beloved child of God.

We give to you the lack of faith we have in Your mercy, love, and forgiveness

 for us, and for others or your ability to transform our hardened hearts.

Heal our wounds and shatter our doubts.

Jesus, heal our wounds with Your Heart and open our hearts heart to love with the love of Your Most Sacred Heart.

“Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

Chorus:

Sacred Heart of Jesus,

living flame of love and light;

tender friend of Bethany,

teacher and model of virtue.

Reign, oh Reign, Jesus forever!

reign here, oh beloved Redeemer!

Pour out your grace into our hearts, divine Jesus.

May we live only in your love.

Chorus:

Be enthroned throughout the world,

wherever your heart finds a home;

Seeking your protection, we seek you dear Jesus;

May we, one day, reign with you.

Chorus:

Bless our beloved country,

be the Ruler of our land.

May this cry resound throughout the whole earth:

Live forever, reign forever, Sacred Heart!

Dear friends, over the course of many years, we have heard a lot of sermons. Coming, as we do, from a tradition which values both Word and Sacrament, week after week, we have heard God’s word proclaimed, preached, and applied. But, if you are anything like me, I doubt that you can remember more than just a few of those sermons. We tend to remember the ones we didn’t like, appreciate, or agree with. But it feels as if though all the good ones somehow run together! We would be hard pressed to name more than just one of two.

When we do remember a sermon, though, it is often because it touched us in an unexpected way. Perhaps it provided some insight at a time of confusion, or of loss, or of mourning. Perhaps it gave us hope in a time in which we struggled to persevere in faith. Or, perhaps it gave us some new insight which caused us to see things in a different way.

One of the most powerful sermons which I ever recall hearing, took me by surprise. One morning, I was channel surfing, and just happened to come upon a televised mass from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio in Texas. The preacher, as it turned out, was Archbishop Patricio Flores, and he was preaching on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Later, I learned a bit more about Archbishop Flores. It turns out that he was the first Mexican American priest to be appointed as bishop in this country. He was also the co-founder of the Mexican American Cultural Center. But on that early Sunday morning, I knew nothing about the archbishop.

Almost from the moment that he began to speak, I sensed something very different. He spoke from years of pastoral experience in difficult places and situations. It was clear that he had witnessed a lot of hurt, pain, and sadness. He had ministered in settings which many would have regarded as dangerous and to people whom many others would have dismissed as not worth their concern.

The surprising thing, though, was that rather than seeing reasons for concern, worry, and even despair, Archbishop Flores was one of the most hopeful and encouraging speakers I had heard in some time. This was all the more surprising because he clearly was not naïve. He spoke about realities, and situations which were far from pleasant.

He began by speaking about the complex lives which those who live in poverty in run-down inner cities experience. He described the violence, crime, problems with poverty, addiction, and lack of good education, healthcare, and opportunities for employment. He spoke about the single mother working two jobs, and struggling to provide for her children. He spoke about the elderly grandmother afraid to walk to the store or to the doctor’s office because she had been robbed and beaten in the past. He spoke about those who lacked a place to live, food and clothing, or any sense of security.

He spoke about communities in conflict, about prejudice, and racial hatred. He spoke of the experience of immigrants who struggled to lean another language, to fit into a society which did not want or welcome them, and of their desire to hang on to their own pride in their native language, and food, and music.

He asked difficult questions: “What is the source and origin of these wounds in our society? Where does this hatred, violence, and fear come from? Why is there injustice, oppression, exploitation, and abuse? Is there anything which can be done about these problems which so often feel insurmountable?”

The good Archbishop then did something completely unexpected—he said, “We are not the first persons to encounter these problems. We are not the first persons to ask these questions. We are not the first persons to seek meaning, and hope!” He then paraphrased the fourth chapter of the Letter of James. And his point was this, all the problems which we see on the outside have their origin in our own hearts. It is in our own wounded, hardened, and divided hearts that we find the path to understanding the chaos and confusion which we find all around us!

The solution, which Archbishop Flores found, was not in some theoretical proclamation that if we only allowed Christ to be our King, everything would be fine. No, Flores spoke of the reality of Jesus as Ruler—not as King on some distant heavenly throne, or even as a passive victim on an ancient cross. No, he spoke of the hope, healing, and promise which may be found—here and now–in the broken, wounded, and bloody Sacred Heart.

Here is the great paradox—from that wounded heart flow water and blood. From those gory wounds flow the Sacramental Life of our Church: the waters of baptism and the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. This bleeding, pierced, heart offers healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and hope. Jesus’ Sacred Heart offers the possibility of the healing of divisions, hatred, and distrust.

In recent years I have asked myself if Beloved Community—which is inclusive, affirming, empowering, just, and honest—is really possible? The words of Archbishop Flores, as well as those of Presiding Bishop Curry, give me hope that it is! Beloved Community is not just a dream, or a fond hope!

  • We begin by asking Jesus to heal our own wounded and bleeding hearts.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to heal our broken and divided families, our troubled places of worship, our chaotic villages, towns, and cities.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to fill our hearts with love for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the marginalized, the exploited, and abused.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to fill our hearts to overflowing with such love that we want to love, to encourage, and to help every single person we meet to know the same transformative love.
  • We begin by committing ourselves to eradicating misunderstanding, fear, hatred, and prejudice.

If we undertook these projects on our own, we would probably not accomplish very much. But, when Jesus reigns in our own hearts, in our homes, and in our communities, nothing will prove to be impossible.

“Reign, oh Reign, Jesus forever!

reign here, oh beloved Redeemer!

Pour out your grace into our hearts, divine Jesus.

May we live only in your love.”