Posted in Preaching, Words!

A Wise Reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel (no, it’s not mine!)

“When you give a lunch or dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbors,”

Jesus tell us. “No, when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

Click on the link for thought and action-provoking truth . . .

via | Saint Louis University Sunday Web Site

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Posted in Preaching, Words!

Good Friday

Good Friday 2016 – Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Really?

At a first glance, and admittedly at a surface level, they certainly do seem to know what they are about.  These are professional executioners.  They know this prisoner has been found guilty of a capital crime.  They know that he has been sentenced to death.  And they know that they are the death squad. 

They know how to stretch the prisoner’s body across the instrument of torture.  They know how to angle his limbs to assure the greatest suffering.  They know how to secure hands and feet to the wood.  They know what it takes to raise the cross, with its living burden, upright.  They know how to keep watch and how long it usually takes for the death throes to move to the silence of death itself.

With the possible exception of the youngest among them, the newest recruit to their team, who may feel a bit squeamish, they know what they are about.  And they set about the work, again.

But he, the condemned one, the Nazarene, breaks the usual script open.  Others used their dying breath to curse the empire and the emperor and the soldiers beneath.  This one breathes words of . . . forgiveness. 

He addresses an unseen Father, but in tones of confidence that there is a Father and that he does hear.  He asks forgiveness for his executioners, for the ones who brought him to arrest and trial, for the one who betrayed him, and for we who stand at a distance two millennia later, but still in the shadow of his cross.  “Forgive them.”  He prays, from that time and place, for a universal gift of forgiveness.

The 20th century Austrian priest and author Karl Rahner wrote that the soldiers who placed Jesus on the cross to die in fact did not know what they were actually doing for this seminal reason: they did not know they were loved, each one, by God, by this Father upon whom Jesus called.  They did not know how much they were loved.  They did not know that God loved them with a love as bright and lasting and transformative, as that moment on Golgotha seemed dark and of passing significance, and unlikely to change anything, except the presence among the living of one Jesus of Nazareth. They did not know that this Father Jesus called upon knew each of their names and their stories, and how they came to be a part of this chain gang of executioners, and what else they might become in days to come. And not knowing that they were so truly loved, they could not be guilty of sin, even there and then as the Son of God died on the cross.  And so, he asked for them what should be theirs: forgiveness.

How completely do we know God’s love for us?

How truly do we know that we are forgiven, that we are caught up in this stream of forgiving love that becomes a river running from the cross to every time and place, to every generation, to every man and woman and child, to this moment on this Good Friday as we come together in prayer?

Fastened to the cross, Jesus is still supremely free.  In the face of hatred, misunderstanding, and fear, Jesus accepts the violence brought against him into himself, into his own body.  He freely allows that violence to kill him, and in return he gives not more violence, not deeper misunderstanding, not paralyzing fear nor confirmed hatred.  In return rather, from the cross Jesus pours out peace, compassion, comfort, forgiveness – all of these founded on limitless love, the revelation of the very heart of God.

Where retaliation might be expected, instead he pours out amnesty, grace, vindication.

We receive this forgiving grace, we who are blessed to know that we are loved, as Jesus taught us in the prayer that is his and ours.  Deep in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

The grace of forgiveness flowing from the cross of Christ calls us to become channels of that same forgiving love.  On our willingness to forgive, rests the gift of our own forgiveness. 

And so.  If we are ridiculed, we are called to forgive.  If we are attacked, verbally or emotionally or spiritually, we are called to forgive.  If we are betrayed, by friend or spouse or son or daughter, we are called to forgive.  If we are shut out, left alone, ignored, we are called to forgive.

. . .

In this world, today, at this moment, there is much suffering.  There are many crosses, some borne with courage and love, some cursed and rejected. 

We are the people of this cross, the cross of Christ, the cross from which flows the unexpected and real gift of forgiveness.  We accept that gift, for we all deeply require it.  And in turn, as Christians we say of others, of all others, echoing our gentle Lord:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

~ Preached at Trinity-St. John’s Church | Hewlett NYimg_8484

Posted in Preaching, Words!

Word & word 2 Lent 2016: the invitation home from exile

Word & word

2 Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2016

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

What strength and confidence Jesus consistently shows before the powers of his day, whether governmental or religious. Warned of Herod’s intent to destroy him, as the prior Herod had attempted in Jesus’ infancy, this time there is no flight into Egypt, no exile.

Rather, in his forthright bold response – “Go and tell that fox for me…” – there lies the revelation that Herod, and the city of Jerusalem, are themselves in exile. They may be situated at the expected place on the surface of the earth, but their hearts are nonetheless exiled. Exiled from their own truest selves and best potential.  Exiled from the loving relationship God is offering them. Exiled from the future God intends.

Here is both challenge and invitation. Why might I presume that I am where I should be in relation to God, to community, to the potential of days to come? Might I too not be in exile, and blind to it?

Jesus’ expressed desire to gather us together is a part of the work of healing he undertakes today, tomorrow, and the until the third day. Are we willing to be brought together?

~ J.P. McGinty

 Herod Antipas

[Image from biblicalarcheology.org]

Posted in Images, Music/Video, Preaching, Words!

Receiving Christmas

Merry Christmas to all this day!

Light and fog are having morning-long conversation over the surface of Job’s Pond this morning.  Directly across the water there  is a rounding of the land where it presses out toward the water.  There, every morning, there seems more light than elsewhere.  The light appears to congregate there.

Christmas2015

(Job’s Pond, Portland CT 12/25/15)

It is, perhaps, a ‘thin place,’as the Celts would describe it.  As travel writer Eric Weiner described his recognition of such places in a New York Times piece in 2012, “They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever” (March 9, 2012 Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer).

Weiner on finding ‘thin places’ around the world.

Whatever one might call it, I am blessed to look out directly at such a place as the light is reborn each morning I am here.  And today, today is such a thin place as well, a thin moment? Christmas Day is a thin memory of a time and place long ago whose import for every other time and place cannot be overstated, nor over-sung, nor over-felt (though I will not rule out over-thinking or over-preaching :-).

The preacher I heard last night* made a point that is saving and true.  We do an awful lot to ‘prepare’ for Christmas.  We all know what those various activities are.  There is never enough time to do them all, and at last we collapse into the day, this day, itself.  Among the most laudable things many of us do is to give.  We give to charities.  We give to relief organizations.  We give to churches.  We give to one another.  All this we do, and rightly so the preacher noted, to honor the Christ.

But there is something amiss even within this best of what we do. Ultimately this thin place is about receiving first of all.  Before anything can be given, we must receive.  As the old theological dictum has it, “Nemo dat quod non habet” | “No one can give what they do not have.”  And what we receive is not given by human hands or mind or heart.  What we receive at this thin place comes directly from the hand and heart and mind and will of God, from the Center of all that is, from the beating Heart of Love that is what is.  Yes, it comes by the cooperation and the courage, the faith and the openness of a young woman.  Praise God for her.

Bethlehem-Palestine-Milk-Grotto-Mary-Jesus

(Painting of Baby Jesus nursing from Mary in the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem)

But there would be nothing to accept, nothing to receive, were it not for the initiative of the Divine.  “All is grace,” murmurs Bernanos’ Country Priest as he breathes his last.  Therese of Lisieux’ last words were “Grace is everywhere.”  But that doesn’t mean any of this is easy.  It does mean that at any and every moment, at the thinnest places and the ‘thickest’ as well, all that is needed is being provided.

Quite often we need to redistribute what is received, as the food doesn’t often come first to the plate of the hungriest, nor the saving therapy first to the body of the one whose health insurance is inadequate.  But still, enough is given freely, in profligate fashion, at every moment this old universe rolls on.  We have enough.

Not only in preparation for Christmas Day, but across our majority culture, this at first apparently comforting truth is an affront and a challenge.  We speak and act and work and run for office as if there were no grace at all, as if all things were done by our hands.  As if we can accomplish whatever we will.

We establish borders so that, if there might be grace after all, we can receive it here and prevent its flowing over to ‘them.’  We strengthen those borders to render a clear boundary as to who is deserving of whatever gifts might be received, if any there are.  We send bombs and missiles and ships and drones to accomplish our will far away.  Even in terms of violence we are too busy giving to ever imagine that we are sowing the seeds of violence to be received as well.

This Day, as comfortable as we have rendered its point of arrival, is meant to be a point of departure.  Every year on this Day, as we stand on the brink of the year’s ending and beginning we need a radical restart.  We need a rebirth.  And every year the need becomes more painfully clear.

Our instinct, if we accept that assertion, is to begin to plan how we will begin again.  And again, we have missed the point.  The beginning point is not to begin again to do.  The beginning is to be.  The beginning is to receive.  The beginning is to accept the gift of rebirth on this day of birth. The beginning is to let go of what we have believed we ‘know,’ and to open to the possibility of knowing something else.  Something ever old and every new.  Something hidden in plain sight in the Gospels.  Pick up one of them (Mark is a quick read!) and let it enter you tonight in the waning hours of this Christmas Day, as if you had never heard it before.

This is as real, or moreso, than the campaign for the presidency or the latest efforts to protect ourselves from terror or anything else the news cycle will bring us even today.  Once you look for it, you see it and hear it everywhere.  One example came last week in the words of Martin Sheen in conversation with Krista Tippett at “On Being.”  Deep into their dialogue, when the heart of the matter in his life and faith is revealed as love, as community, as belonging, he speaks these words:

It’s like giving back. But just that embrace — it is so overwhelming, at times, this reality of loving because one is loved that it just brings you up short. You just sit and stare sometimes into a vacuum and say, where did this come from, and why is it so clear, and why is it so simple, and so powerful? And one of the great mysteries that I experience at mass is the reception at communion. How do we embrace that? How can we possibly, consciously understand what that is? And I don’t have a clue. I just stand on line and say, “I’m Ramón, called Martin, your friend, you’re welcome here. And I’m with them.” [laughs] Whoever the crowd is, I’m getting on line with, you just look at the people who are on that line, that community, that is the greatest and simplest expression of overtly trying to explain this mystery I’m talking about, because it is a mystery. It is probably the most profound mystery in all of the universe, this love. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed just watching people on line to embrace that sacrament. It is the most profound thing. I never ever can get over it. It’s just something you have to surrender to. And just saying yeah, I’m with them. That’s the community of saints.

They are on line, together, to receive.  To receive first, so that later, transformed over a lifetime of Christmas Days, changed by their travel past thin places throughout life’s geography, they may finally give.

And even then, the only gift to give is grace.  Pass it on.  Pass on the invitation.

“All Is Grace,” by Shaun Groves, from Third World Symphony

  • At Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford CT