holy cross announcements for friday, february 3, 2017

Announcements:

Sunday, February 5th:  The Annual Parish Meeting will be held after mass.

Wednesday, February 8th:  There will be no afternoon mass.

Thursday, February 9th:  Holy Cross will host the neighborhood crime watch meeting at 6:00 pm.

Sunday, February 12th:   We look forward to welcoming Fr. Victor Austin, Theologian in Residence in the Diocese of Dallas), as our special guest preacher. He will also address the Rector’s Study Group on the topic of suffering. All are welcome.

Hagiographies:

220px-bendixen_ansgarFebruary 3: Anskar 

Born about the year 796 in Corbie, in what is now northern France, Saint Anskar (or Oscar) was an archbishop of the see of Hamburg-Bremen, and was known as the “Apostle to the North”. He was a monk of the abbey of Corvey (which remains an active monastery to this day), and went on preaching missions to what is now Denmark and Sweden, preaching faith in Christ and making many converts. He became the Archbishop of Hamburg, with the right to send missionaries and consecrate missionary bishops for the northern countries. And the conversion of many of the Scandinavian peoples to faith in Christ is a direct result of the ministry of Anskar.

 

gerbrand_van_den_eeckhout_-_vision_of_cornelius_the_centurion_-_walters_372492February 4: Cornelius the Centurion

Cornelius was a centurion (an officer of the Roman army) of the Italian Cohort residing at Caesarea. Acts 10 records that Cornelius was a devout man who feared God, prayed constantly, and gave alms liberally. One day in a vision, Cornelius saw an angel who said “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” and instructed him to send servants to Joppa and bring back Simon Peter (Acts 10.4-5). Cornelius obeys, and finds that Peter had had a corresponding vision, in which a sheet full of ritually unclean animals was lowered from heaven, and a voice told him “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”. When Peter protests that the animals are ritually unclean, the voice says “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” When Cornelius’s servants arrive asking for Peter, Peter understands his vision to mean that the Gospel is to be preached among non-Jews (such as Cornelius). Accordingly Peter went and preached to Cornelius and his household, and they all believed in Christ and were baptized. Thus Cornelius is the first non-Jew to come to faith in Christ, and his feast represents, as Peter says to him, that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10.34f). Thus Jesus came not merely to the Jews, but to men of good will from every nation under heaven.

martyrs-of-japanFebruary 5: The Martyrs of Japan

St. Paul Miki and his companions, were twenty-six Christians who were martyred by the shoguns of Japan after refusing to renounce faith in Christ on February 5, 1597. They included six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits priests, and seventeen Japanese laymen. All were crucified and pierced through with spears at Nagasaki. 250 years later, when European Christians returned to Japan, they found that faith in Christ had survived underground, without the assistance of clergy or books, among a number of Japanese.

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holy cross announcements for friday, december 2, 2016

Announcements:

Sunday, December 4th:  The Rector’s Study Group meets at 9:30 on Sunday mornings in the rector’s study. All are welcome. We are currently continuing our discussion of Christian prayer.

Please note that our regular mass schedule is, for the time being: Wednesdays at 6:00 pm, and Saturdays at 10:00 am.

Sunday, December 11th:  The next Vestry meeting will be held after mass.

Hagiographies:

st-francis-xavier-with-crossDecember 3: Francis Xavier

Born at Navarre, in the Basque region of Spain, in 1506, St. Francis Xavier was one of the early companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola and with him a co-founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). After ordination to the priesthood at Rome, Xavier became a missionary, laboring for the gospel in Mozambique, southern India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan, and the islands off of China. It is estimated that the number of people who received the light of the Gospel through the preaching of Francis Xavier is second only to the number converted to faith in Christ by the Apostles themselves. Xavier labored for only ten years in the mission field, but suffered much, and worked many miracles. He died of sickness in a hovel on Shangchuan Island (modern Guangdong Province) in the South China Sea while awaiting transportation to mainland China in the year 1552. His relics are kept in a Jesuit Church in Goa, India, where Xavier had labored for a number of years; though his right arm (with which he blessed so many souls) is venerated at the mother church of the Society of Jesus, the Gesu, in Rome.

john-of-damascus-05-codex-in-iviron-monasteryDecember 4: John of Damascus

Born around the year 676 in the city of Damascus, John grew up in a Christian family in a land recently conquered by Islam. He received an excellent education from a Sicilian monk named Cosmas whom John’s father hired as a tutor. John became very learned in the disciplines of law, philosophy, theology, and music. Upon his father’s death, John inherited the family’s traditional role of chief counselor of Damascus, serving the Islamic Caliph. After faithfully serving in this capacity, John eventually retired to the monastery of Mar Saba in the Judean wilderness, outside of Jerusalem, where he lived out his days as a priest-monk. Already ancient in John’s lifetime, Mar Saba is still active today. The iconoclast controversy raged during John’s lifetime, and John entered the fray, defending the ancient Christian tradition of venerating holy images (icons). His great work on the subject, “Apologetic Treatises Against those Decrying the Holy Images” is still read and studied today, along with a number of John’s other works, including his systematic exposition of the faith, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, and a polemic against various heresies. In the 19th century Pope Leo XIII declared John to be a “Doctor of the Church”. He is sometimes called the “Doctor of the Assumption” because of his exposition and defense of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. He died at Mar Saba on December 4, 749.

saint-clement-of-alexandriaDecember 5: Clement of Alexandria

Born about the year 150 AD, probably in Athens. He was originally named Titus Flavius Clemens. He became a convert to Christianity, and set out travelling through the Levant in search of a teacher. After studying with several masters, Clement eventually settled at Alexandria, in Egypt, to study from a master named Pantaenus, in whose teaching Clement says that he “found rest”. Alexandria was a great center of learning in the ancient world. Clement became the head of the Christian Catechetical School there, which trained Christian clergy, apologists, and teachers, and which was very influential in the early exposition of the faith. A number of Clement’s writings survive, and remain valuable to student’s of Christian theology. Clement died about the year 211 AD.

nicholas-of-myraDecember 6: Nicholas of Myra

This is the Nicholas who evolved into “Santa Claus” in the western Church. In truth, little is known for certain about St. Nicholas except that he was bishop of Myra in Lycia of Anatolia (the southern coast of modern Turkey) in the 4th century, and that he died on December 6 in 345 or 352 AD. He is said to have gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a youth, and to have become bishop of Myra upon his return. Likewise he is said to have been imprisoned during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian, and to have been released when Constantine (who was himself a Christian) became emperor. He is said to have been one of the Fathers present at the Council of Nicaea in 325. One popular legend says that there was a poor man in Myra with three daughters. He could not afford his daughters’ dowries, and so rather than being married, they would either have to turn to prostitution or be sold into slavery. The legend says that St. Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the window of the man’s house during the night, and each bag landed in a shoe (or stocking) of each of his daughters. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of pawn-brokers, and the three gold balls often appearing on pawn shops are an allusion to this story. Nicholas is also the patron of mariners, merchants, bakers, travelers, children, and a great number of European cities and states. His relics were stolen from Myra by Italian merchants in the 11th century, and brought to Bari in Italy, where they are still venerated. An oily substance, known as “Manna di S. Nicola” flows from his bones, and is collected and used medicinally by the faithful. St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints of Christianity, both East and West.

st-ambrose-of-milan-capella-palatina-palazzo-dei-normanni-a-palermo-palermo-sicily-italy-circa-1140December 7: Ambrose of Milan

Born around 340 to a Christian family, Ambrose was raised in Trier (modern Germany). He had two siblings, Satyrus and Marcellina who are also saints. Ambrose began his career as a politician, as his father had been. Eventually Ambrose became Governor of the north-Italian province of Aemilia-Liguria. In 374, the Bishop of Milan died and a riot between Arians (who denied the divinity of Christ) and Catholics broke out in the city over the Episcopal succession. Ambrose came to the scene to restore calm, and as he was addressing the crowd, they began to call out “Ambrose, bishop!” Although he was a believer, Ambrose had never been baptized, remaining a catechumen because of what was regarded as the radical manner of life that being a disciple of Christ entailed (the practice of deferring baptism for this reason, sometimes until one was on one’s deathbed, was not uncommon at that time). Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and installed as Bishop of Milan. As bishop, he remained celibate and embraced an ascetic lifestyle, giving away all that he had to the poor. He also undertook intense theological study, becoming one of the greatest teachers of the Christian faith there has ever been, and one of the original “doctors of the Church”. Before his conversion to Christianity, St. Augustine of Hippo attended Ambrose’s sermons and found them compelling, eventually receiving baptism at the hands of Ambrose at the Easter Vigil at Milan in 387. Ambrose died in 397. His body may still be venerated in the church of San Ambroglio in Milan.

immaculate-conceptionDecember 8: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The orthodox faith teaches that Jesus Christ is both perfectly and completely man, and perfectly and completely God, all in one divine person. Likewise the Church teaches that the manhood (the humanity) of Jesus was “from the substance of his mother” (in the words of the Athanasian Creed). Scripture teaches that there were two primary actors in the becoming-flesh of the eternal Word: the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Virgin Mary (see Luke 1). The Church has ever affirmed that Mary was prepared for this most special and unique of vocations from the very moment of her conception. Mary is not unique in being “called from the womb” (cf. Isaiah 49.1). Jeremiah the prophet speaks this way about himself (Jer. 1.5), and the Gospel of St. Luke speaks similarly of St. John the Baptist (Lk. 1.15). Indeed we were all called by God from the womb (and so the Church has always recognized the inviolable dignity of every human life, from the moment of conception – cf. Psalm 139.15). The providential preparation of St. Mary for her most important vocation meant that God preserved her from sin and from the effects of sin, and that by grace her heart was made and was kept susceptible to the will of God. The Church officially puts it this way: “her soul, in the first instant of its creation… was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

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holy cross sermon for the twenty-sixth sunday after pentecost, november 13, 2016

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I was tempted to begin today with Psalm 47.5: “God is gone up with a merry noise : and the Lord with the sound of the trump.”

I won’t. Instead consider what Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

“As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” And he said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, `I am he!’ and, `The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.”

The apocalyptic register of today’s Gospel lesson seems appropriate given the political situation in our country. The great Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, famously said that war was politics by other means. Riffing on that sentiment of Clausewitz, the late great Rene Girard observed that it also works the other way around: politics is war by other means.

People on every side of every divide in American life – and the divides in American life seem to be proliferating – but people on every side of every divide can agree that this election cycle was remarkable. And most agree – and certainly the self-described and self- appointed “experts agree – that the RESULTS of the election were remarkable. I have certainly never experienced anything like it in my lifetime, and I am struck by the fact that those much older than I am seem to have felt much the same. There has never been anything quite like it.

Most remarkable to me has been the hysterical reaction of some on the left who felt most alienated by the outcome. The famous pop starlet, Miley Cyrus, treated America to a bout of sobbing on Twitter as she attempted to wrap her mind around what had taken place. There have been protests in Dallas and Fort Worth and Austin, and there have been riots in the streets of a several other American cities. The house of my society in New Haven was defaced with leftist graffiti. Trump has been burned or hanged in effigy in New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. A number of my friends have announced on social media that they cried themselves to sleep out of fear after the election. It was even reported that the immigration website of Canada had crashed due to a post-election surge in traffic.

The apocalypticism felt by many in light of Trump’s victory is frankly ridiculous. The sun rose on Wednesday morning of last week, as it has done every morning since, and as it will no doubt continue to rise each morning for some time. That is not to say that ideas don’t have consequences, as Richard Weaver famously put it, nor is it to suggest that elections don’t have consequences. But our attitude, as Christians, towards any potential consequences, and towards secular politics itself, must be tempered by an appropriate apocalyptic, as well as a recognition that, as Wendell Berry said several decades ago, “our country is not being destroyed by bad politics; it is being destroyed by a bad way of life. Bad politics is merely another result.”

Empires rise and fall. Indeed our sacred texts, under one aspect, are largely a record of the rise and fall of various empires. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, etc. etc. Right down to the Americans. One of the things I have most appreciated about the presidency of Barack Obama is his critique of what has come to be called “American exceptionalism.” Surely our country IS exceptional, in any number of ways. Yet so were the Egyptians. So were the Romans. But where is Pharaoh today? Where is Caesar? There is a political reality that is destined in God’s providence to come “down from heaven, as a bride adorned for her husband.” But the name of that political reality is not the United States of America. It is rather the heavenly city, new Jerusalem, and its boundaries within this world are coextensive with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And Peter goes even further, in his second epistle (3.10): the elements of the material universe will themselves be burned up, together, he says, with the earth and all the works that are upon it, and the heavens themselves, he says, will pass away with a loud noise. That ought to temper the excitement of political conservatives about what their candidate might accomplish. Likewise it ought to temper the disappointment of political liberals about what opportunities may have been lost, or about what kind of “progress” might have been forestalled.

It was controversial, in the context of the Roman empire, for the first Christians to call Jesus “the Lord” – kyrios, in Greek. That was a title that belonged to Caesar. It was fine for local people to worship their gods, but the worship of their gods had to be under the auspices of Roman hegemony. It had to recognize “Caesar, kyrios.” It was on account of this demand that so many Christians in the first centuries of the Church’s existence lost their lives to Roman justice, being fed to lions, beheaded, crucified, burned to death. But our brethren in those years held fast to their confession: there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. And the blood of those early martyrs, as Tertullian said, became the seed of the ascendant Church.

We American Christians in 2016 are tempted with the same form of idolatry – of thinking that our faith (and any particular faith for that matter) can only be practiced legitimately under the hegemony of the regnant order. That our faith is one thing among many possible things that we are free to choose or not to choose. But that’s not how “lordship” works. Perfect freedom is in the service of Jesus the Lord, in the service of what is true. It is not, in the final analysis, something that can be chosen, nor is it something that can be given or taken away by the constitution of the United States.

The slightly-adapted words of Psalm 146, which I quoted in a recent newsletter, before the election, remain apt now, in the election’s wake: “O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man : for there is no help in them. For when the breath of [Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton] goeth forth [they] shall turn again to [their] earth : and then all [their] thoughts perish. Blessed is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help : and whose hope is in the Lord his God; Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is : who keepeth his promise for ever.”

In the wake of the election, one political philosopher at Notre Dame wrote the following, and for what its worth, I concur absolutely:

“We have made politics our God, and many will be tempted to regard this election either as an apocalypse or [as] redemption. It is neither. My fondest hope would be that we would invest far fewer of our hopes and fears in the government, [and] more in our families, communities, churches and [in] local democracy. Some good and some ill will come from the new administration. I am committed to calling out the latter as much as hoping for the former. But I am most committed to building a culture of faith, hope and charity, one that might hope to make politics far less important in our lives, and see people in their wholeness, not merely as partisans…”

“As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down…”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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holy cross announcements for friday, november 4, 2016

Announcements:

Sunday, November 6th:  The Rector’s Study Group meets at 9:30 on Sunday mornings in the rector’s study. All are welcome. We are currently continuing our discussion of Christian prayer.

Wednesday, November 9th:  There will be no mass.

Saturday, November 12th:  Services of Hope is having a volunteer day at the K.B. Polk Recreation Center (6801 Roper St., Dallas), from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 pm. We will be helping prepare Thanksgiving baskets for distribution to neighborhood families in need. If you would like to help, please email ruth@servicesofhope.org

  • Please note that our regular mass schedule is, for the time being, and not withstanding the irregular schedule for this coming week: Wednesdays at 6:00 pm, and Saturdays at 10:00 am.
  • This week we begin our 2017 Stewardship Campaign. Please look for a pledge card in the mail early next week and make your pledge as soon thereafter as you can. We count on your generous support to continue all the good work of Holy Cross.

Hagiographies:

san_carlo_borromeo_1November 4: Charles Borromeo

Born of an aristocratic family in 1538, Charles’s uncle became Pope Pius IV. From an early age, Charles showed great liberality to the poor. He studied civil and canon law at Pavia, and in 1559 took a doctoral degree. Pope Pius made him a protonotary apostolic (a high ranking prelate of the Roman curia) and a cardinal at the age of 22. Shortly thereafter he was raised to the Archepiscopacy of Milan. Though living in great splendor as an archbishop, Charles continued to show great generosity and concern for the poor. He founded schools, notably at Milan and Pavia. He employed himself likewise in answering the errors of the Reformers, and facilitated the final deliberations of the counter-reforming Council of Trent. Nor did he neglect his own diocese. Unlike his predecessors, Charles took a hands-on interest in the affairs of Milan, making pastoral visitations, and ensuring that all was done decently and in order. He founded seminaries and schools for the clergy, and ensured the conformity of his churches to the reforms of Trent. In 1576, as Plague swept through Milan, Charles busied himself with care for the sick and dying, and the burial of the dead. He made frequent visits to places where the plague raged most fiercely, seemingly insensible to the danger posed to himself, and ensuring that the clergy were discharging their responsibilities. His labors and austerities may have shortened his life. He contracted and unshakable fever, and died on November 3, 1584. He was canonized in 1610.

elizabethzechariahNovember 5: Elizabeth and Zachariah

The Gospel of Luke includes an account of John’s infancy, introducing him as the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, who previously “had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years”. His birth, name, and office were foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, while Zachariah was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Zachariah was a priest of the course of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron; consequently John automatically held the priesthood of Aaron. St. Luke states that John was born about six months before Jesus. Zachariah had lost his speech at the behest and prophecy of the angel Gabriel, and it was restored on the occasion of Zachariah naming John. On the basis of Luke’s account, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas. According to Luke, Jesus and John the Baptist were related, their mothers being cousins.

November 7: Willibrord

Born in a very pious Angle family about the year 658 in Northumbria, Willibrord was early sent to the Ripon Abbey, where he began his education. He would later move to the ancient Abbey of Rathmelgisi in what is now Ireland, and which was at the time an important center of European learning. He studied under St. Egbert, and was sent by Egbert with 12 companions to proclaim the Gospel among the Frisian pagans in what is now the Netherlands. He traveled to Rome and was consecrated Bishop of the Frisians, and was given the pallium by the Pope. He returned to Frisia, establishing his see at Utrecht (and becoming the first bishop of Utrecht). He planted numerous churches and monasteries and labored constantly for Christ, in the face of not a little opposition, later aided by St. Boniface. He died on this day in the year 739, and his relics were interred at the Abbey of Echternach which he had founded, and which remains to this day.

leo-the-greatNovember 10: Leo the Great

Leo I, or Leo the Great, was pope from September 29, 440 until this day (November 10), 461. He was born to an aristocratic Tuscan family and early in his life entered an ecclesiastical career, becoming a prominent deacon of the Church at Rome. He became known as an ardent and uncompromising defender of the true and Apostolic faith against the errors taught by Nestorius, Pelagius, and others. He was unanimously elected pope in 440, and his pontificate help to solidify the Roman Church’s position as the primary defender of Catholic Christianity, and the leader of all the churches of Christendom. At the Council of Chalcedon – which finalized and promulgated the Nicene Creed – received Leo’s work, now known as “The Tome of Leo”, which set forth the orthodox teaching that Christ was a single person who was at once both perfectly God and perfectly human. When the work was read out at the Council, the bishops of the council shouted “This is the faith of the fathers! Peter has spoken thus through Leo!” In 452, Atila the Hun invaded Italy. St. Leo went to meet him, and thanks to the saint’s intervention, Atila refrained from sacking Rome. Likewise, under Leo, the universal primacy of the See of Peter came to be recognized throughout the world. Many of Leo’s orations and letters survive. Due to his great sagacity and insight, he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1754. Leo’s relics are preserved under an altar dedicated to him at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

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holy cross sermon for the twenty-fourth sunday after pentecost, october 30, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“And there was a man named Zacchae’us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for Jesus was to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchae’us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’  So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.”

No doubt some of you remember the song from Sunday School: Zacchae’us was a wee-little man, and a wee-little man was he!  He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see!  and so forth.

Zacchaeus, we are told, was a tax collector.  Tax collectors in the first century were about as popular as they are now.

The Gospel says he was “small of stature.”  And this lends vividness to the portrait St. Luke paints of the petty little bureaucrat who had grown rich by bilking struggling, hard-working people, on behalf of the government.

But Zaachaeus had heard about Jesus.  And now he hears that Jesus is coming to town, that he will be passing by.  So this petty, corrupt little bureaucrat goes out into the crowds seeking TO SEE WHO JESUS IS (19.3).  But he can’t.  He runs up against two obstacles.  First, there is a jostling crowd, pushing and elbowing him – a crowd of people like himself who were curious to see this healer about whom they had been reading in the newspaper.  Secondly, he runs up against his own smallness of stature.  Being “small of stature” is no good in thick crowds of jostling people.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, Zaachaeus runs ahead (19.4), and climbs a sycamore tree by the road, and waits there to see Jesus.  And Jesus does pass by.  And imagine the shock, maybe the glee, when Zaachaeus sees Jesus stop under the tree and look up at him, and speak his name.  “Zaachaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  Not only does Zaachaeus get to SEE the man he had heard so much about – he gets to talk with him, to listen to him, to be his host – to share his food and his house and, for a night or two, he gets to share his life with Jesus!

But beyond the easy lesson of the general badness of petty bureaucrats who grow rich off the backs of hard working people, and the general goodness of having changes of heart about such things, what is the story of Zaachaeus saying?  What does it say to those of us who are not petty bureaucrats, and who are not small of stature?

First of all we should notice what the text says (v. 3):  Zacchaeus SOUGHT TO SEE WHO JESUS WAS. This is the center of the spiritual life: seeking to see Jesus, and having an open heart about what and whom you will see at the end of your seeking. Jesus said “seek, and you shall find.” I think we’re prone to read this as though it were a conditional statement: IF you seek, THEN you will find. But that’s not what it says. The mood of the word “seek” is imperative. It’s a COMMAND.  SEEK, and you will find. In light of the Lord’s imperative, therefore, Zaachaeus can be seen as answering the summons of the Lord in his heart. Zaachaeus is obeying the inward compulsion of the voice of God. He is SEEKING the Lord. He doesn’t know what the Lord will be like, but he WANTS to find out. His heart is open and eager. And we get a sense of his excitement and yearning in Luke.

We all have a duty as human beings to search for what is ultimately good, true, and beautiful. We don’t have a duty to attain it – seeing to the attainment is the Lord’s job – but we have a duty to seek it, to stir up within ourselves a desire for ultimate reality; and this requires an open mind and an open heart. Often, when we take an honest look inside of ourselves, we will find that we DON’T desire ultimate reality – the good, the true, and the beautiful – that we’re more than willing to settle for much less. When we see that this is so, we can perhaps at least stir up within ourselves the desire to desire ultimate reality. That’s a good first step. It leaves room for the Lord to work.

But Zachaeus could not see Jesus on account of the crowd, and because he was small of stature. There are two impediments to seeing the face of Jesus. One is the opposition of the crowds. The crowds in our day might be the culture and the media, the gawkers and gadflies and the murmurers – the people who have indestructible preconceptions about who God is, who the Messiah is, or who he or she should be. These will not create a space for the openhearted seeker. They insist that we stay behind them and let them tell us about the Messiah. And what do they say he is or should be? Very often they claim that he is, or should be, the administrator of a social program, or the leader of a liberation movement of some kind, or a reformer of this or that, the architect of some kind of social change. At the very moment when the open-hearted seeker himself comes looking for the face of Jesus, he is shoved back by the foregone conclusions of skeptics and ideologues, the predominant voices in culture and the media. What we NEED is salvation, but what we get is unbridled sexuality, or fraudulent little “liberation” movements of one sort or another, or promises of tax cuts or healthcare reform, or some enhancement or restoration of the “American dream.” We live in a time when it seems like nothing is off limits; nothing is out of bounds. Yet nothing ever seems to satisfy. Its never enough. A wise man once said: if you have a yearning deep within yourself that nothing in this world can satisfy, maybe that means you were not created for this world.

Like Zachaeus, we are all small of stature when faced with the crowds of murmurers and skeptics, and the relentlessness of cultural propagandizing. We are all jostled and swayed on a daily basis. We all fall back. The truth is that as people of faith, we are all like Zachaeus: small of stature. Our faith is little, and whenever a History Channel program about the “historical Jesus” comes on television around Chrsitmastime, or an article about “the Real Jesus” appears in National Geographic, or the next installment of the Da Vinci Code comes out, or the next political debate gets going, our faith – that faculty by which we seek to see who Jesus is – our faith gives ground to the jostling of the crowd.

So what are we supposed to do? What did Zaachaeus do? He ran ahead and climbed a tree. He admitted his smallness of stature, and he rose above it. He rose above not only his own smallness, but above the jostling crowd too. He was determined to SEE JESUS FOR HIMSELF, and he would not give way to the crowds. He did not succumb to complacency. He was not deterred, but he PURSUED HIS PERSONAL QUEST FOR THE FACE OF THE LORD. And so must we. We will run up against opposition from the crowds, our faith will be jostled and shoved and elbowed, because we are all small of stature, spiritually. That’s alright. But we must not give up our quest because of the jostling, and whatever we do: we must not join the crowd. We must SEE JESUS FOR OURSELVES. As the Prophet Isaiah put it: we must seek the Lord while he wills to be found; we must call upon him when he draws near. And we must NOT accept from the skeptics and murmurers a second-hand substitute for faith, we must not allow the crowds to mediate the Messiah’s presence.

For us, this encounter, this struggle, takes place in the heart, as we prayerfully seek Jesus in the Gospels. We seek Jesus when we read the Gospels, and especially when we read them ON OUR KNEES – that is, when we read the Gospels with simple, humble, open-hearted DEVOTION.

When we seek the Lord, when we refuse to be deterred, when we find that place of devout seeking and waiting, above the fray of murmuring and conjecture, suddenly we will find that HE IS THERE. That he always was right there. That his presence with us all along was the material condition of our seeking him to begin with. And we find ourselves looking on his countenance – catching a glimpse of “the king in his beauty.” Today’s Gospel says Jesus “was to pass that way.” You may recall another passage where the Lord passed by. In Exodus, Moses asks to see the Lord on Sinai: “Moses said ‘I pray thee, show me thy glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  ‘But,’ said the Lord, ‘you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.’ And the Lord said ‘Behold… you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by… my face shall not be seen.’”

And this is the great mystery of what happened that day in Jericho for Zacchaeus, and what will happen for us when we seek Jesus with faith: No longer does God just pass by. Not on this side of the incarnation. Now he stops. He looks at us, and we look at him. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And when he stops, he says to us: “make haste and come; for I must stay at your house today.”

The vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus – what was denied to Moses, is possible for Zacchaeus – and its possible for all who devoutly and open-heartedly search for ultimate reality by means of faith. Not only are we graced to see the face of God, but even more: God will come to us and lodge with us. He will take up his dwelling place in our hearts. In John’s gospel Jesus says “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

That’s the significance of the story of Zacchaeus. That’s what Jesus means. “Today salvation has come to this house.” Because Zacchaeus went looking for Jesus with faith and devotion.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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holy cross sermon for the twenty-third sunday after pentecost, october 23, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

In today’s Gospel lesson, the Savior gives us a picture of the kind of attitude God desires.  It is, in brief, an attitude of penitence and contrition.  “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

 I would like to challenge you to think about yourself in light of what the Lord says in today’s Gospel.  I would like for you to ask yourself who you are really like – the Pharisee, or the Tax Collector?

 This passage opens by telling us the context within which our Lord was speaking.  First of all, “He… told this parable to some who TRUSTED IN THEMSELVES that they were righteous…”

 Already we ought to feel convicted, if we’re being honest. Do we not trust in ourselves that we are righteous?  Very often I do, and I bet you do too. 

 The question naturally arises: How do you know whether you are trusting in yourself?  You know it when you fall into comfortable routines.  When you’re perfectly happy to go on the way you’ve been going on, with a kind of distant but vaguely benevolent concern for the poor and needy, and with an equally vague conviction that “I’m okay / you’re okay.”

 We might think of this kind of attitude as Christian cruise control.  And unfortunately, I would wager, this is the default setting for a lot of Christians.  But part of the point of today’s Gospel lesson is that its deadly. God hates it. And he hates it because its deadly – because if you don’t root it out, it can separate you from him forever. This kind of attitude is frankly rampant in Episcopalianism and bourgeois American culture generally, but the Lord says that this kind of attitude has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Mat. 10.28).

 Where does this attitude come from?  Many of us are like this because we fear causing a scene, or we fear being a burden, and almost all of us fear letting anyone know what we are really like inside – we don’t want anyone to find out that we have terrible thoughts, terrible desires; that we nurse bitternesses, hatreds, resentments, lusts, and envies in our hearts; we don’t want people to know what we’ve done in the past, or what we’ve done in secret. So we keep up appearances. We build around us a wall of superficial pleasantness; we bury our bitter memories; we stifle our hatreds and our evil desires. Or sometimes, like addicts have always done, we refuse to admit even to ourselves that we have a problem. We say things like “well she deserved it,” – or we make up excuses for ourselves; we say “Well I couldn’t help it,” or “that’s just the way I am.” Or sometimes we delude ourselves about the Gospel. We tell ourselves that we’re educated, broad-minded, modern people – we tell ourselves that OUR religion matured beyond all that superstitious stuff about hellfire and eternal damnation.

 But where did we get that idea? Not from Scripture. Not from the teachings of the fathers and the saints.  Frankly, I think we just made it up somewhere along the way. But God hates it, precisely because he loves us, and he knows the truth:  he knows that all this pent up wickedness and self-delusion and superficiality can kill us forever.

 But “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

 That is the kind of heart, the kind of attitude, the “soulish” disposition, that God is looking for.  This Tax Collector has conquered his fear.  He’s plucked up the courage to face the truth about himself – to take an honest look into his own heart, to leave off the denial, and the self-delusion and superficiality – he’s found the courage to face his own sin, the bitterness or evil desire or malice or whatever it is: he faces it honestly, and he cries out: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

 Psalm 51 says Lord, “had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.  THE SACRIFICE OF GOD IS A TROUBLED SPIRIT; A BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, YOU WILL NOT DESPISE.”

 God is not interested in our burnt-offerings – he’s not interested in the games we play to appease our consciences. God desires honesty. And facing the truth demands courage. God desires the integrity it takes to look into our hearts and face the nastiness that’s in there, and to cry out for him to help us. Trusting that he is merciful – trusting in his love for us – confident that he wants more than anything for us to be free and to “be whole again, beyond confusion,” (Robert Frost). God wants us to be filled with joy and peace. He waits only for us to accept his gift of mercy. And accepting mercy means that we have to acknowledge that we NEED mercy.

 Salvation is at once very easy and very difficult.  Its easy because its free.  God is waiting for us with open arms.  His love and acceptance have no bounds, no limits, no conditions.  The difficulty is on our end.  The difficulty lies in facing the truth of our situation, of picking ourselves up, and running into God’s embrace. You can see how hard it is in how neglected is the sacrament of confession. We don’t want anyone to know what we’ve done, or what we’re capable of doing. We don’t even want to face it ourselves. Its much easier not to. Its easier to bottle up the nastiness in our hearts and burry it. Its easier to tell ourselves that we confess our sins and get absolved at the general confession at each mass. But we don’t. God is not a fairy-godmother. We don’t get magically plinked into a right disposition just because a priest waves his hands over you and says the magic words. I have sometimes lamented that the General Confession is even a part of the mass, because it creates the false impression that it is sufficient. That Christians don’t need to do the real work of facing the truth about yourself – of taking stock of what’s really in your heart, and enumerating your sins, one by one in all their hideous banality, and asking for mercy.

 Can God’s grace operate outside of the sacraments? Can he forgive you for your sins without your going to Confession? Of course he can. He’s God. But its not a question of what God can do – it’s a question of what WE can do. Can we really face our need for forgiveness without taking stock of our situation, without the difficult work of naming our sins before God, face to face, in the person of his minister, and asking for mercy?

 The Church didn’t institute Confession to gratify the priest’s salacious interest in your nastiness. Rather the Lord himself gave us confession because he knows how easy it is to trick ourselves into thinking we’re okay without it. He gave us a means of doing what must be done – of running headlong into our need for mercy.  He prescribed a time and a place and a means of saying with the Tax Collector, “God be merciful to me a sinner” – and not just saying it, but meaning it. It takes humility to go to Confession. And that’s the point. God has given us a means to humility: because he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 “But the tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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holy cross sermon for the twentieth sunday after pentecost, october 2, 2016

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 Today’s Gospel is rather stark and short. It begins with the Lord’s well-known teaching on faith “the size of a mustard seed.”

 “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

 Perhaps the first thing to notice is that the Lord indicts even the Apostles’ lack of faith. The mustard seed is famously tiny. Jesus seems to be saying that if you have even a little bit of real faith, you can do the seemingly impossible – you can perform miracles – do the work of God. And yet we can’t perform miracles. The impossible remains impossible to us. We may therefore infer that we do not even have a modicum of faith. And this appears true, at least at times, even of the most faithful among us. Even of the Apostles themselves.

I recently read an essay by the famous Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, in which Hart talks about how an intensive, sustained, meditative reading of the New Testament changed his attitude toward what the life of faith means, what a life of faith ought to look like. The article was a pretty severe critique of contemporary Christian culture, which Hart sees as imbued now with the air of secularism – with the world’s blandishments and priorities. But the picture of authentic Christian life, the life of faith, stands in stark contrast to all of that. Hart says:

 “The Gospels, the epistles, Acts, Revelation—all of them are relentless torrents of exorbitance and extremism: commands to become as perfect as God in his heaven and to live as insouciantly as lilies in their field; condemnations of a roving eye as equivalent to adultery and of evil thoughts toward another as equivalent to murder; injunctions to sell all one’s possessions and to give the proceeds to the poor, and demands that one hate one’s parents for the Kingdom’s sake and leave the dead to bury the dead. This extremism is not merely an occasional hyperbolic presence in the texts; it is their entire cultural and spiritual atmosphere.”

 Occasionally in my preaching I exhort all of you (and myself as well) to notice and to dwell upon the troubling passages in the Gospels, the difficult sayings of Jesus – not to try and mute or qualify them, but rather to allow yourself to be disturbed. Today’s Gospel might qualify as one such passage. Jesus said:

 “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

 But that seems impossible. Yet Jesus is in the business of making the impossible actual. Recall his indictment of the rich in Mark’s Gospel:

 “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’”

 There, I believe, is the key. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” We need to remember that faith is a gift from God. It belongs to God – it is his alone to give. God gives us faith, and so enables us to live lives of faith. God makes the impossible, actual. That anything exists at all testifies to this fact. Our job is to till the soil of our hearts so that the seeds that God scatters may take root within us and grow and blossom and bear fruit.

 We know this happens because we have the testimony of the saints. Beginning perhaps with Abraham, our confession is filled with exemplars of faithfulness. Trusting God, Abraham set out to receive a patrimony from God. He saw the birth of his son, Isaac, even though Genesis says: “Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; [and] it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” Yet Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac, who became the father of Israel, the inheritor of God’s promises.

 By faith Mary too accepted God’s invitation by the ministry of his angel, and she conceived by the Holy Ghost and brought our salvation into the world by giving birth to Jesus. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

 And by faith too, Jesus, Abraham’s offspring, the son of Mary, endured the agony of the cross, trusting his Father. And he rose victorious from the grave. Jesus thus shows one facet of my previous assertion that faith belongs to God. Jesus is the Son of God, and is himself God, and yet he demonstrates his faith in God when he suffers and dies on the cross. Faith belongs to him. So faith is his to give.

 Note also that in each of these three figures – Abraham, Mary, and Jesus – faith makes the impossible to be possible. And in each case, the “impossible” thing that God accomplishes has to do with bringing new life to the world. And in the ultimate case, in the resurrection of Jesus, it is not just new life, but a radically new KIND of life.

 This is the impossible that God makes possible by faith. It goes well beyond telling a sycamine tree to be planted in the sea.

 It works because faith means acquiescing to God’s will, conforming your life to it, even though you don’t fully understand it, and even though you can’t see how the outcome could possibly be good or could make you happy. The way is a way of suffering within the world, because the world and the world’s authorities stand in opposition to the divine work. So Abraham had to be a pilgrim, and he had to fight. Mary had to become the Mother of Sorrows. Jesus had to endure the cross, despising the shame. But the end is glory, and glory in communion with all of the actors on the stage of God’s story of salvation – with Abraham, with Mary, with all the saints, and most crucially, with Jesus.

 Let me read to you the testimony of a young Greek Orthodox monk at Mount Athos, who was the disciple of a famous elder who died in 1994, Elder Paisios. This testimony is the kind of thing that we are apt to forget or to dismiss in America in 2016. But it is important for us to remember.

 In the middle of the night, the young monk, Fr. Maximos, and his master went into a small chapel near the hermitage where they lived, to keep vigil and to pray. As they were praying, Fr. Maximos says:

 “…suddenly and inexplicably everything was transformed around us. Things changed so suddenly and dramatically that I could not figure out what was happening.

 “….a very subtle wind rushed into the chapel even though the door as well as the window were both firmly shut. The lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin began swinging back and forth by itself. There was a lamp in front of each of the five icons. Only the one hanging in front of the Holy Virgin went on moving back and forth, back and forth.

 “….I was neither afraid nor rejoiced. I simply witnessed those events like an outsider. I just turned with curiosity toward elder Paisios, trying to figure out what was happening. He signaled to me to remain quiet as he knelt down and touched the floor with his forehead, remaining in that posture for some time. I stood there perplexed, holding the candle in my hand while the strange phenomena went on around me. After about half an hour, and while the lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin continued its back and forth motion, I resumed the reading of the service. When I reached the seventh prayer of the blessing of Saint Symeon the lamp gradually stopped swinging. The luminosity that had inexplicably filled the room up to that point vanished and everything went back to normal.” (From The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides)

 This testimony, this little vignette, is a glimpse as it were through the window, a glimpse at two simple Christians living their life of faith, praying, fasting, repenting, worshipping God. The fact that it seems extraordinary to us should spur us to till the soil of our hearts with greater zeal – by means of prayer, frequent recourse to the sacraments, and especially confession. The truth is, this sort of thing is normal. The life we live in America in 2016 is upside-down.

 “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

 In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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