The Very Reverend Thomas F. Reese
stlukestom@gmail.com
direct & confidential

Thomas Reese

Sermons

(How) Am I Willing to Wash You?
Maundy Thursday 2017
Imagine the feelings and the surprise of the disciples, that their teacher and leader, upon removing his outer wear, wrapped a towel around his waist and proceeded to wash feet. What would they have thought? They wouldn’t have been thinking about how dirty their feet were or how they would have tried to prepare for this if only they could have known Jesus was going to carry out this action. Actually, they would have expected the action; just not with Jesus doing the washing. In the time of the disciples, entering a home and being met with someone who washed feet was the cultural norm. Open-toed sandals and dusty foot paths were the ways things were. And since those days were well before the advent of running water in homes, someone was assigned with the task of running for water, someone was in place specifically to be utilized in providing water and towel for the washing of feet—carrying out this common but important act of hospitality—of saying to your friends and guests, “I am so happy you are here. Please, allow me to make you more comfortable so that you can enjoy your stay”.
Yes, hospitality. From our vantage point today, we need to be careful not to see or place more upon the act than it was; at least, not at first. Because, at first, we need to be grabbed by and simply appreciate what’s going on. Jesus, the rabbi and their loved leader, he who was to preside at the disciples’ Passover observance and meal, Jesus the Host is assuming the position of the hired hand, a servant; what today at a catered event might be the valet car parker or the one who takes your coat. Jesus—Prophet, Teacher, and starting to be somewhat understood as God’s Promised One who is to come, God’s Son—Jesus is doing simple things to make his followers comfortable. And the fact that Jesus shed all these developing titles and prerogatives and simply wanted those with him to feel the comfort would make at least some of them feel awkward and uncomfortable, because something they had always taken for granted, they could no longer be so blasé about.

Peter’s “No, no, no. Be our Guest. You cannot possibly wash my feet” brings the discomfort or disconnect all the more into stark relief. And here’s where we can begin to read more into the event. Jesus takes simple, household table fellowship and turns it into a revelatory moment for the disciples and for us. Just as God’s Son does something simple and needed regardless of his “elevated” status, simply because feet have to be washed for comfort’s sake; so, too, are those who follow Jesus commanded to simply do such common and good things for others, regardless of status. For when we shed pretention and through simple acts embody hospitality, God uses that opening to bring “washer” and “washee” closer. Instead of role division between people, we begin to have comfort, appreciation, understanding, intimacy and deep caring. It builds; it builds. And it starts out small. It’s simply touching. Yes, Peter says, at first, “I’m not going there”. But when Jesus replies, “Well, then, no, you are not going to be with me,” Peter is ready to dive in head first instead of letting his head get in the way of this wave of love.
The love of God starts out in very simple gifts; and it builds, it builds. And that’s how we are able to get down to washing others, which is all about responding to the need of others. Jesus starts out being born in a stable; he ends up a house servant washing feet. That’s one unusual God who comes to us, to be with us, under the conditions of the very usual—as usual
and common as bread and wine. On this night, when we recall the first Eucharist and Jesus’ emblematic servanthood, we are reminded by Saint John Chrysostom that if you do not find Christ in the person in need beyond the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.
In such simple ways we begin to build up more and more into the Body of Christ. In the Spirit of our Servant Son of God who calls us to servanthood, I share with you the meditation of a good friend.
I don’t care to go to heaven
I don’t care to get a mansion
I don’t care for a forever blissful life.
I don’t care to be liked by all.
I don’t care to live forever.
What I do care for is to stop the pain and suffering of others.
What I do care for is to bring happiness and joy to others who haven’t smiled in awhile.
What I do care for is the ability to give endlessly
to those who may not have ever received a thing.
What I do care for is the ability to wipe the tears of someone who may not want anything else than just a loving hand.
What I do care for is to remove all the sadness that exists all around us and replace it
with nothing but love.
(Shalini Rikhi, posting on Facebook, 13 April 2017)
She goes on to say that she hopes for all this to come true on earth, in this lifetime, but that she settles for being able to express this prayer as the way to be steadfast in love when witnessing how much pain and suffering others are enduring.
This is why we enter into Triduum, the Three Days of our Christian Passover.
We celebrate redemption.
The heart of love is to welcome all and to respond to the needs of others.
What the world needs now is love. And the love of Jesus Christ is radical—Radical Hospitality; hearts and doors that open wide to all people. AMEN.
©Thomas F. Reese 13 April 2017


A Great Joy for All People
(Christmas Eve 2016)
(pdf)

Good people all, this Christmas time,
consider well and bear in mind,
what our good God for us has done
in sending his beloved Son.
With Mary holy, we should pray
to God with love this Christmas Day.
In Bethlehem upon that morn
there was a blessed Messiah born.

These lyrics from a very old Celtic song, the Wexford Carol, go on to tell how the woman and her guide were repelled from every door; and that shepherds, fearful at the angel’s appearance are nonetheless coaxed by the messenger to go to Bethlehem:
With thankful heart and joyful mind,
the shepherds went the babe to find.
It is the joy of the shepherds, which the angel announced as a great joy for all people, it is this joy that I ask us to consider this evening.

Joy is defined as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness; a state of mind, an orientation of the heart—delight, jubilation, exultation; rejoicing.
Joy is our birthright. Joy animates our lives. We are made for joy. Joy is our desire and our contentment. Joy is not a fleeting feeling, a pleasure or even happiness which is often dependent on external circumstances. And it is possible to be joyful even in the face of our daily troubles, whatever those troubles may be.
Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee O God; and full of joy we can be with others. Joy is the dynamic, the dynamo of the Incarnation we celebrate tonight.
“Joy does not save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. Yet because of joy—and our adopting a certain perspective about life because of joy—we can face sufferings in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken” (The Book of Joy).
These words by Archbishop Desmond Tutu along with His Holiness the Dalai Lama provide a wonderful Christmas read. Perhaps, you can use one of your gift cards to purchase The Book of Joy.
The authors go on to point out that many of the things that undermine our joy, we create ourselves. But they are equally quick to say that we also have the ability to create more joy. For the ultimate source of joy is within us—our approach to the world, our attitudes and perspectives.


Within us—Joy dwells within us.
And we can become dwellings of joy for others; a flesh and blood crèche.
Good people all, this Christmas time, coming into the world in which we live right now, can help us with our attitude and focus on joy. To do so we need to be more concerned with this celebration of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: announced to Mary who carried joy within, the Shepherds who witnessed and experienced the joy come in the babe; the Magi who would cross culture and geography, drawn to the joy we all desire; and the angels who song of glory was, itself, joy amplified.

The joy we experience cannot be harbored. The shepherds say let’s go tell others, let’s praise and share the joy.
You cannot store joy, like money for a rainy day account. But what does get stored up and fortified is your ability to be a source of joy—reframing your life situations more positively, expressing gratitude more readily, and your choosing to be kind and generous with others. Again, these are the dynamics of joy within a person—the joy that can and does build bridges between people, the joy that fills this world with more joy.
All this might be hard to believe in our world of Aleppos, assassinations, terror, political intrigue and duplicity, fear and unrest. And this litany of lament could go on, we know it too well. What we also know but under these conditions need to be reminded is that God’s greatest joy is to give us the Son, Jesus Christ—our love, our hope, our joy. And our greatest joy, in a reflection of God’s glory but also as an authentic act on each of our parts, is when we seek to do good for others. This is the gift-giving basis of our Christmas celebration; but more, it is how we are made. We are wired to be compassionate; and, when we do act compassionately, we light up the world.
Not money, not fame, not power—rather, it is our generosity of spirit with others that lights up the world. The star of wonder, star of light was a beacon to joy. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, and Kings: they knew it. We know it too, with our heads and with our hearts. Joy to the World is God’s gift to the world, in Jesus who gives himself to others—Joy, so that joy might dwell within you, that you might share that joy with others—more Joy: A virtuous cycle, not a vicious cycle.

So, it is possible not just on Christmas but every day, that with love to God we pray all people may wake to this great joy. What does it take? A lot! A lot of time, energy and practice. Joy is learned. “Being on this earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate”, writes the Dalai Lama. “And we really learn”, adds Desmond Tutu, “when something happens that tests you” (The Book of Joy). Then, even our experiences of suffering and confusion can become wellsprings of insight and energy for joy.
For too long our social and cultural mantra has been about how far we have come and with technology how connected we are. But now, in this country, we are experiencing how disconnected we are. How can we minimize the worry we are experiencing? Whereas fear fuels a threat; faith faces a challenge. Fear builds walls, which in turn reinforce difference, worry and fear. Faith seeks understanding, bridging, and a connection with others as the way forward. Instead of flight—recoiling back, burying your head in the sand to avoid reality—or fight—we are better, we are stronger, we will win—we invite others into joy. This is our time of testing, prepared for in Bethlehem upon that morn when our blest messiah was born.
Yes, we need be realistic about what people do, how bad things get. But we need remember and recognize that despite the terrible aberrations, the fundamental thing about humanity, about people, is that they are good, they were made good, and they really want to be good (The Book of Joy). People are born desiring joy and contentment. Let us be part of the rescue and redemption of this birthright, this great joy for all people.

Joy must train our vigilance, clarify our vision and animate our actions.
We practice and exercise joy by rejoicing—gathering, singing, praying, going out.
Rejoicing predisposes us to repeat good deeds in the future.
Joy is the replicating dynamic in God’s Creation.
Joy is contagious Incarnation.

And now, may your Christmastime be an experience of the joy that is truly God’s embrace of all that is. May we all be reminded that we carry within us the capacity for joy which renews and builds up all creation.
May we celebrate and share this joy with those we love.
And let us go out offering this joy and love to others in need.
Quite a manger scene indeed.
Amen.

©Thomas F. Reese 12/24/2016


All Saints C 2016

Sacramental Moment—Election (pdf)

Today is a special time, so special that it might be a sacramental moment, which cannot be forced or invoked but happens under certain conditions. We observe such a “wrinkle in time” this time of year when we both celebrate all the saints as well as to remember all faithful departed—All Saints Day/All Souls Day, November 1st and 2nd. And also the previous evening, All Hallows Eve, October 31st—the line on the fold of that “wrinkle.” An original Halloween custom, rather than to knock on a door to receive a treat, was instead to bring a treat, a sweet taste of life, to the lonely who might have suffered a recent loss or who were going to be particularly exposed to the harshness of the coming winter—an indigenous custom, an act of compassion; thereby also ennobling the living not to fear.

The conditions of “sacrament” are trust and vulnerability. That which thwarts the “sacramental moment,” and which even threatens to pervert the substrate of existence is fear—walling one’s self in: family, neighborhood, nation. Trust and vulnerability open doors to meeting, are the hinges of faith. “Faith is the responsibility of an I for a You” (H. Richard Niebuhr).

People of faith don’t talk “rights” but responsibilities—not “the right to bear…” but the responsibility to bear others.

Our words, our prayers, our songs are all about this deep intimacy, our relationships. The responsibility of an I for a You is the respondability between one and another. The “other” is another I, full of Christ: not a means to my getting somewhere nor an obstacle to things as I want them.

In openness to this intimacy is the sacramental awareness that who I am, who I become, is interconnected with your becoming all God has in store for you. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it: “We are bound to each other in an inescapable web of mutuality”. As Martin Buber, Jewish theologian wrote: “All real living is meeting”.

A “wrinkle in time”—past and future crease upon each other now. These moments pass but provide vision of God’s creation and impress upon us the commitment to be part of what builds us up—enfleshment/incarnation—and sustains community/commonwealth.

On this day, every day, words matter, quietly imparted; longingly, lovingly.

What you say to a young child, a baby—have you ever noticed—and to those who have died: the words are one and the same; intimate, felt. Words of love, hope; promises of protection made to the newborn, thanks extended to those loved ones who came before, encouragement and uplift; even forgiveness sought and granted in our conversations

with the dead, warm and tender not cold. In so many ways, saying to the living and the dead, in the sacramental moment, “You are filled with God… You make me more aware of the God in me… the God, the Spirit between us”.

Betweenness. This “betweenness,” neither of us own, is the way, the truth, the life. Betweenness – Spirit – we meet: In the sacramental moment, an I meets You. Even more, I meets Thou. I bow to you, the God in Thou, in me, in all others.

Yes, words matter. What are we saying to this baby, James, about to be baptized?

You have an inheritance. You are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened; see and live the hope to which God has called you (cf. Ephesians 1:11-23). You are given the grace to live the life of a saint—someone blessed, not cursed. And even if someone tries to hurt you, to curse you, the power of God working in Christ works in you. Listen for God, who will not let you forget, because God does not forget you. You are called O Blessed One.

Blessed are you, little one. The success of your life will not be measured in dollars but by your sensing God’s embrace, love, kingdom. You will never be impoverished if you have eyes are heart open to Christ coming again, and again, in everyone you meet. You are blessed, my little one. When you weep, when you have hungers, fear not. Have faith. You will smile and laugh and be satisfied. If people exclude you and revile you, do not let their indifference or hatred change you. Love more. Do good. Bless. Pray for those who would strike you. Rejoice and leap for joy. Swing wide the gate. Remember the hinges of faith. O Blessed One, give of yourself. For to you much is given. (cf Luke 6:20-31)

Renounce evil. Refuse to give in to the snickers and shaming from those who say the world is harsh and cruel get used to it. Say no to the evil which corrupts societal structures with greed and polarizing injustices which exacerbate tensions and pit people against each other. Say no to your selfish me 1st. How? Disarmingly simple, but a lifetime of trusting God’s embrace as really present; trusting love as salvation. Love heals, love nourishes; love is strength. Turn to Jesus, trust his love; listen to his leading.

There are times when you will fall O Blessed One. We all do. But God is there to catch us, to lift us up. When you listen and accept God’s forgiveness of you, God makes you gracious in love again. And it is with this gracious power that you can and will go out and meet others—seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Your striving for justice and peace has no borders, knows no boundaries. Respect the dignity of every human being. (cf The Baptismal Liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer)

O Blessed One—you are bathed in the waters of God’s Creation; you are washed in your parents and Christ’s tears of joy for your new creation; you are sanctified to grow up, to rise up out of these waters, for the work God has given us all to do. You are sealed, anointed. This is a profound and wondrous “election day”. Elected, chosen, set apart for a sacred responsibility: God is calling you (and thereby reminding us) to show others this way of faith, hope and love—just as God calls Israel to walk with God; just as Christ calls us to allow ourselves to become the flesh and blood of the body of Christ, the building material of the Church without walls; just as the Spirit beckons all people of faith the world over.

The faith of a lifetime, quiet words, little actions nurturing the baby, guiding the boy, congratulating the girl; celebrating, giving thanks, reaching out: meeting the other. The rich texture of such sacramental living prepares us for decision-making and faithfulness in hard times—Faith, not fear, when the light flickers or a monster roars.

Whether gathered at the Baptismal Font or surveying the landscape where those we love we see no longer, the words we speak and the respect we show inform all our actions. This is who we are. This is what we do—Together: Through Christ and with Christ and in Christ, making of this world a commonwealth for all and, hopeful, trusting God’s joy of the life to come.

Amen.

© Thomas F. Reese 6 November 2016


Proper 7C

June 19, 2016

#Orlando

Love is love is love

I received this text message from a young man last week: “Fear is everywhere! In Orlando, it was pretty clear that this was a man who was struggling with knowing that he was gay, but because of what sounds like a very conservative and bigoted family, and society’s violent hatred for Gay people, he took it out on those very people and had no intention of leaving there alive. 49 innocent people; and many more injured and scarred for life. And they thought they were in one of the places where they would never be attacked because of their sexuality and ultimately they were murdered by someone who hated himself because of the hate with which society and so many families treat LGBT kids. Just now, I turned on the news to see what was being said and they are talking about the fact that he was likely gay; but they are still acting as if he were affiliated with ISIS. This was an attack directed at gay men in particular because of how society treats them and how this ill person felt that he needed to slaughter people who were openly gay and proud of it, when he could not be. Homophobia is just as pervasive and horrible as any phobia! Islamophobia and Homophobia are no different. Hate is hate and now 50 more people are dead. And did you hear about the pastor who says he is happy about the attack? He and the families who right now reject their own children—their own hate contributes to this massacre” (K. John Reese, 6/14/16).

On the same day, I received this letter from a Rabbi, a mother, who writes to her little daughter (for the benefit of parents with small children): My dear innocent child,

Something terrible happened. A very bad man took a gun and went into a place where there were many kind, innocent, loving people, and he shot them. He killed many and injured even more. No, none of our family members were hurt. No, no one we knew personally was there. No, that bad man is not alive anymore. “Why would one person hurt other people?” you asked me. I don’t know. But he did. He hurt people who are gay and people who are straight. He hurt Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists. He hurt people who live here in Orlando. In Florida. The United States. Canada. Israel.

He was a man who believed that people aren’t allowed to be different. That people aren’t allowed to love whomever they want. That love isn’t the most important thing. I know that it’s so hard for you to imagine that anyone could believe something so ridiculous, and I am so grateful that you are growing up in a family and in a community that has allowed, and God willing will always permit you the freedom, to love anyone you choose. Because love is love is love (Sharon Barr Skolnik via Out Magazine Instagram).

And we gather today, praying this morning to the God who has set us “upon the foundation of loving-kindness.” “Be not far away, O Lord,” we continued to pray in the psalm. “We declare your Name…, in the midst of the congregation we praise you…. The poor shall eat and be satisfied” we said, because what we mean is that people will not be left to the margins. Our hope, even in times of tragedy, is that “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the nations shall bow before God” because our unity as community in God’s Spirit is great. “Kingship belongs to the Lord,” wrote King David. And people of faith enthrone none other than this Spirit (cf. Psalm22:18-27).

About this Spirit, Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: “In Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith.” And so, on this day, we are reminded our unity is not in grief, which would be but a truce in what is otherwise our separateness and brokenness amidst so many grievances. Our unity is in our coming to accept that we all proceed from the same Spirit.

But we cannot overlook our demons—our tormented selves, our taunting talk and gun-toting rhetoric. This is why our unity cannot be only in grief: we need to have respect for people before they are dead. What is going to bring us back to our right mind? Our obstacles are legion—those who are tone deaf appreciate only the sound of their own ranting voices. But our faith and hope is God, who we Christians appreciate and see revealed in Christ Jesus. And whether you follow Jesus, descend from Jacob and from Judah, give praise to Allah or seek stillness in the Buddha’s way, we learn there is no longer Jew, Christian, Muslim; there is no longer East or West and North or South; there is no longer gay or straight; terrorist and terrorized. We are all people.

These truths of scripture, we know these things here. We sing it here; we pray it here. In the Gospel, the man from whom the demons had gone begged Jesus, “Can I stay here with you?” But Jesus sent him away saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And we know Jesus is saying the same to us. We are here praying. Prayer helps shape our words for out there and prayer helps shape words that take shape in action. That’s incarnation: our words becoming our flesh and blood presence for good in the world.

In this world as it is right now, we are called to stand up against those who would wield the Cross of Christ as a weapon hurting people. The pastors preaching hate against LGBTQ people are not as few as we might think or wish. And those who are silent or who equivocate, as some bishops in our own Episcopal Church do, mouthing an ambivalent tolerance, are causing just as much harm. This must stop.

Also, under the current conditions, we people of faith must say no to those who would target Muslims. We don’t target Christians because an extremist blew up an office building in Oklahoma City or because someone who claims the Christian faith murdered nine Charleston churchgoers at Bible study just one year ago; or because a fringe church group plans disruptive and disgusting demonstrations during the funerals of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who were killed in Orlando. Hate is hate.

But love is love is love.

We who have been set upon the sure foundation of God’s loving kindness can say no to bullets. We have the baptismal responsibility and the tools, human and divine, for building up our dwelling together in peace and love. Amen.

© Thomas F. Reese June 19, 2016


 

Pentecost I

May 15, 2016

"When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place..."

There are things which can be told only as a story. Someone offers to tell; we listen, we receive it, and we know instinctively it is pointless to ask questions because its truth is not housed in the realm of questions and answers. The story is offered to us for one purpose -- that we take it with us and wait for it to become true in our own experience.

The telling of this Day of Pentecost is such a story. The more we read Luke's account in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the more we realize that Luke knows nothing more that we can ask. As he tries to tell of the event, he reaches again and again at metaphor, admitting he can do no more. He is sure of only one thing -- that something of immense power and significance took place. But how it happened and what exactly happened can only be expressed by metaphor. A wind? Yes, but something more, something "like" a wind. Fire? Yes, but not just fire, something "as of fire." There is no neat explaining, no clear analysis here, because there cannot be. Whatever has happened was as far beyond analysis as is the expression of passionate intimacy or a soul-shaking experience of great music.

What meaning, then, is Luke determined to give to what happened in that room? Above all, Luke and the early church see it as an indication that whatever the birth, life, death and resurrection of that particular Jesus meant, it is a reality with universal significance. The sojourn of the Christ was not a miraculous quirk, a divine "wrinkle in time," but a character line on the face of humanity, evident and true for all until the end of time, for men and women of "every race and nation." Somehow his life, death and resurrection opened a way, and will always open a way, to a new quality of human living for those who choose his way.

That was the claim of Luke and the first Christians. It was the claim of generations in the church well into the 20th century. For more than four decades, however, it has ceased to be the claim of millions of would-be Christians. So many today have great ambivalence about the consequences of this Pentecost claim, which is why during the modern era we have tended to ask so many questions about the story, the entire Biblical story -- it lets us off the hook; we put the Good Book on the hot seat instead. The psychologists call that "transference." And it's all part of the crisis, whether you call it the breakdown of the culture or the dysfunction of once esteemed institutions such as the church.

Yet crisis is also opportunity. As values get only more relative and a common language even harder to pronounce, we may be coming to realize that the source of our ambivalence is not so much with the Gospel claim itself as with the attitudes and methods we have employed in making the claim. We can and should stop imposing our Lord on the other great religious traditions, but we cannot and should not stop from offering Christ as the gift for humans who are seeking the Spirit to guide them into fullness of being.

Within this great tradition of Christianity, we can and should stop breaking ourselves off into ever smaller homogeneous ghettos of like-minded theologies and pieties. However, we cannot and should

not stop from speaking and sharing our experience of the truth as we have seen it and lived it. For the word of God is ever and only spoken in dialogues, never in monologues, or by the ideologue. For all of our denominational and in-house babel, let us remember there is only one church, and that is the church where its members, though many and different, are open to the spirit which brings them together in the communion of one body. And in this so-called post-modern world, where we feel little common ground, let us dare to be The Church by meeting each other half way. Be warned, it's scary. We don't get the seeming advantage of our two feet planted securely on terra firma. Instead, we are called to wade in the dynamic and fluid power of Spirito Sancti.

Such a meeting, such a life, such a church will call for changes and not allowing fear of the unknown to get the better of us. But as a wise person once said, "The more I know, the more I know how little I know." How little we all really know, we who live in a small place on a little planet in but one solar system in a universe of uncharted space.

Reaching at metaphor, it's like the seminary professor who upon ending his lecture turned to the large blackboard behind him, placed a tiny chalk dot in the middle of the blackboard, faced his class again and said, "That blackboard represents everything we do not know; the chalk mark, that which we know."

What we know is precious little, but what we know is precious.

Amen.

The Reverend Thomas F. Reese


 

Sunday of the Passion C

20 March 2016

What Would Jesus Not Do?*

On many occasions we have heard it said, "What would Jesus do?" The question is posed as a kind of theological exercise to examine our ethical options for decision-making. The trouble with this question, though -- "What would Jesus do?" -- is that it puts on a pedestal the action we theorize Jesus doing. And once on that pedestal of perfection, the good-thing-to-do, raised to the pinnacle of divinity, becomes easily arguable as being out of human reach. After all, it's an imperfect world; what Jesus did got him crucified!

However, such a conclusion is heresy: because God so loved the world that in Jesus Christ we are shown and given the way to respond. To bring the question back down to Earth, then, let us rephrase it: "What would Jesus not do?"

Given what we know all too well about human nature, our considering what Jesus didn't do might give us more practicable insights about acting humanly and being faithful.

Jesus would not single out any one person or group as a target, a scapegoat for blame, or at whom to aim our fears.

Jesus would not foreclose on a person -- Jesus approaches, he never reproaches only. He always speaks in such a way as to allow for (even encourage) penitence and reformation of character (a new creation).

Jesus would not shout down those who challenge him. Instead, he waits for the opportunity to challenge them to a fuller life.

Jesus would not engage in name-calling; rather Jesus calls people by name. Even about the person or groups he did tag as needing to reconsider how to live their lives, Jesus said leave judgment to God.

Jesus would not stoke fear by implicitly suggesting or explicitly insisting that you can protect yourself by walling yourself in or by excluding those seeking help and sanctuary.

Jesus would not come down from the cross, not because he had to die, but because he would not give up bearing God's love for the living.

Jesus would never issue a threat but always offers a gift.

Jesus would not preach about a more prosperous tomorrow for the believer but, by example, demonstrate the life of prayer day by day.

Jesus would not incite followers to throw punches or to strong-arm anyone, but encourage everyone to better embrace each other and show compassion.

Jesus would not separate faith from relationships -- personal, corporate, political.

_______________________

*Thank you, Peter Wehner, for the title and inspiration:

New York Times 3/1/16 Op-Ed What Would Jesus Do?

For that matter, Jesus would not separate church from state. However, Jesus would not promote a single religion or elevate any nation. For Jesus came to teach and show the way that opens to life.

Jesus would not shame anyone. In fact, those whom society shames, Jesus claims.

Jesus would not feed people's feelings of powerlessness with promises of power; nor would he extend to those who are beaten down the tools or weapons to beat others.

To those who harbor resentment, cite injury or say they have been forgotten, Jesus would not hold out the prospect of greatness (again) but would remind them his kingdom is not from this world.

Why would Jesus not do these things?

Because he lived and died demonstrating that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Because he recognized that the one thing evil cannot stand is forgiveness.

And forgiveness is the one thing Jesus would not stop offering.

Amen.

The Reverend Thomas F. Reese


 

Lent 1C

February 14, 2016

ON THE BRIDGE

I would like to introduce you to four children in a family. There are two teenage sisters. Helen is the oldest, a senior in high school, determined to score well on the SATs as the presenting step in making something of her life. Adele, one year younger, is more attracted to the vitalities and energies of life than to the math formulas and vocabulary definitions filling Helen's head right now. The third sister, the "baby" of the family, is Bonnie. She's somewhere between four and five years old, I guess. The fourth is Peter, the one brother amongst sisters. Just about ten years old, Peter thinks a lot, feels a lot, observes everything, but doesn't say much to others. Yet he is the narrator of the novel* in which I met this family. I haven't finished the book yet but I want to share an exchange that took place.

After passing a summer afternoon in the air-conditioned haze of a movie theater, which was going out of business in a town with many shuttered businesses and unfinished housing projects, these four siblings, still with some time on their hands, meandered together in the opposite direction of home and came to the new bridge.

Peter narrates:

Bonnie dropped her arm down over the railing of the bridge. Cars rumbled behind us, a few at a time. They weren't in a hurry either. "How do they build bridges?" Bonnie asked. She pushed her toe against a large bolt jutting up through the metal.

I remembered the hollow frame being lowered on a hook. "Cranes," I said.

"Like the bird?" Bonnie traced a split in the concrete with her foot.

"Sort of," Adele said. "They're a lot like birds. They dip their beaks, pick up parts of the bridge, and raise them up high."

Bonnie nodded. Giant white cranes with in-stained wing-tips and red crowns built the world, steel crossbeams balanced on their stick legs. She traced the groove in the concrete again. "And what are these lines for?"

"I don't know," Adele said.

Helen had walked ahead a few steps, her back to us. "Those are expansion joints," she said. The wind carried the words back to Bonnie.

"What does that mean?"

"So that the bridge doesn't break when it expands and contracts with the temperature."

Bonnie stared down at her feet in horror.

"What?" I asked

"Heat makes it expand, cold makes it contract," Helen finished. Her hands were in her pockets and she leaned back on her heels.

"Why?" I asked.

Bonnie climbed up the railing, trying to get her feet off the bridge that might collapse at any

moment. Adele went to hold her safe. "Concrete's like people," she explained. "When it's hot, each little bit of concrete tries to get away from every other little bit. Like how it sucks to share a bed with someone

The Reverend Thomas F. Reese

________________________

*For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu. NY.Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014

in the summer. When it's cold..." Adele squeezed Bonnie hard until she had to giggle "...they snuggle together close. Like you two, always climbing into my bed in the winter and sticking your cold feet on my back."

"That's not it at all," Helen said, still facing away from us. "The kinetic energy releases as you heat something, so the particles vibrate at higher amplitudes, increasing their average distance from one another."

Adele tickled Bonnie, who hooted and arched backward over the railing, almost falling. "That's just what I said."

Helen turned around. Her chin-length hair tangled in her face from the hot wind. Her shoulders broadened. Expanding. "That is not what you said." She gestured at Bonnie and me. "They believe whatever bullshit you say, you know. They're going to think concrete has feelings."

"Of course not," Bonnie protests. "It just doesn't like to be cold."

So what do you believe about the concrete; the concrete poured, the foundation laid in today's Gospel account about Jesus and the devil and temptation? What might Helen, Adele, Bonnie and Peter think?

Helen is very quick to say, "It's all about human weakness and divine power."

Adele, leaning towards Bonnie, puts her arms around her and says, "God knows what we are afraid of and comes quickly to help us."

But I'm wondering about God. Jesus is led by God's Spirit to be tempted by the devil. "Why?" I blurt out. "Why would God let that happen? Why would God do that to Jesus?"

Standing tall, Helen recites the beginning of the story. "After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is about to begin his public ministry with people. But first he is tested. Before being confronted by people, he is assaulted by the devil." Then, looking straight into my eyes, she adds, "Peter, this is the scary way life is for us, and Jesus is being exposed to it, too. On top of which, he hasn't eaten anything for forty days and he's famished."

Bonnie, stamping her feet as she sits down on the curb, asks, "What's 'famished'?"

Adele tries to explain. "He's very hungry because all these days, weeks, more than a month he's been talking with God. Jesus has been having such a wonderful time praying that he forgot about going home to eat."

She might have been talking to Bonnie but this was making sense to me. "Is that why Jesus tells the devil, 'One does not live by bread alone'?"

"Could be," Adele says. "But also the devil is trying to play a trick on Jesus. 'If you are so hungry, turn this stone into bread.' Think about it. Does Jesus need to do that to get food? I think he could just walk a little way in the direction of where his friends are. They'd be happy to give him something to eat."

"That's not the point, Adele," Helen says as she walks closer to them. "He's the Son of God. He could turn stones into bread if he wanted to."

"But he doesn't want to. Why?" I ask.

Helen continues, "Because he is the Son of God. The devil, try as he might, can't make him sin!"

"Huh?" Bonnie exhales she props her chin on her hands, elbows on knees.

Adele has more to say. "If Jesus is going to use the power he has, it isn't going to be to show off. He won't use his power to feed himself, but to feed others. God sent him to take care of people."

I'm thinking, OK -- Jesus is showing the devil he is not going to give up on why God sent him. "But why does God keep letting the devil tempt him more?"

"Because the world is full of trouble," Helen almost shouts. Well, it feels like a shout to me. "People give in to temptation all the time!" Helen seems to be glaring at Adele but then she looks my way. "Just look at the sorry state of nations at war, cities with crime and poverty; right here in our town. People cause these problems because they give in to the devil's temptation to have power."

"The devil sounds so scary. People sound scary, too. I'm afraid." We could hardly hear Bonnie say that because she had covered her head in her lap with her arms.

But Adele is right there with her. "Don't worry. God sees what's going on. The devil is scary but the devil is not in charge."

"But the devil does try to trick people by tempting them with power -- money, weapons..."

Adele interrupts Helen. "Yes, but Jesus doesn't trick, he teaches. He teaches people. He shows them his power is love."

Now I have to speak. "So Jesus doesn't trick people. He is honest with them. But the temptations keep coming for Jesus. Is God tricking Jesus? If he is God's beloved Son, why didn't God protect him more, or give him more power to fight the devil. Why?"

"Maybe, Peter, it's because this story is more about us than about Jesus. Maybe God and Jesus are trying to show us that we don't need the power to fight if we have faith to believe."

"Adele, stop," Helen protests. "They're going to think there's nothing to be afraid of in this life."

"Of course not." Bonnie raises her head. "It's just that Jesus isn't afraid of the devil. He isn't even mean to the devil at all in this story. He even is trying to teach the devil how to be good."

"Yes," Adele says. "God loves Jesus and Jesus loves God. Just think of it as hugs that are stronger than anything. The devil is so frustrated about not being able to pry the hug apart."

""And that's why the devil stops testing Jesus," I say.

"Maybe it was the devil who was being tested," Adele adds. "Maybe the devil was being given an opportunity to come back home to God."

Helen started as if to walk away. "Enough, Adele. You're really changing the story now."

"Am I?" Adele looks at Helen with a smile that makes it seem she is tempted to continue. But then Bonnie leans her head against Adele, and any trace of a smirk changes to love, leaving me with an unsettling question.

The devil departed from Jesus "until an opportune time." If the meaning of this story might be more about us than about Jesus, then when in my life is temptation going to be opportunistic?

I realize that both Helen and Adele are looking at me like they are reading my thoughts.

Helen says, "Be careful."

Adele says, "Be trusting."

And then Bonnie, getting up from the curb, starts tugging me away from the bridge and asks, "Can we go home now?"

The Reverend Thomas F. Reese


Lent 4C

February 21, 2016

TODAY'S PRAYER:

God's Glory -- always ready to show mercy.

God will always be gracious to those who go astray; and God will ever seek to give them the chance to repent, to come back to the embrace, the love God intends for all.

In our world all too often of push, shove, shrug, God offers embrace. And what Jesus Christ is all about is his proclaiming in word and deed, "Come and get it" -- God's love for all. That's this morning's Gospel in a nutshell. That's every day's Gospel -- that's the Gospel in a nutshell.

Some nuts are hard to crack. That's probably why some Pharisees come to Jesus. They don't know what to do with him. Pharisees are portrayed as being generally annoyed by Jesus. So it is hard to tell what their intention is when they say to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." Hard to tell if they want to warn Jesus or if they just want to scare him in order to get him out of town by sundown, out of their hair by any means possible; because he's been messing up the order in society which the Pharisees play a part in trying to maintain. That's their job -- to be teachers and beacons of good order, the model society.

Pharisees often take it on the chin in the Gospels. They come off sounding like the opponents of everything that is good and true. But that could be because we already know Jesus is the good guy. Also, we tend to join the previous generations of Christians before us in coloring the Pharisees as the bad guys, not so that Jesus will stand out in stark relief as the good guy (after all, we already know that) but so that we can be relieved that we could never be as duplicitous as to push, shove and shrug when it comes to Jesus as did some Pharisees.

Here's what got those Pharisees into trouble. There are rules for the maintaining of order and when it comes to social and religious order, the rules, say the Pharisees, take precedence. Now that really does make sense. But if that sense is melded to someone -- or a group of someones in a privileged position guarding their position in society by insisting on the maintenance of order when something goes out of order, well, that's when Pharisee morphs into Pharaoh -- when rules become the rouse for trying to exercise power to your own advantage.

I was on the subway the other day, heading to Manhattan. When we reached Jackson Heights, the doors opened, passengers left and entered. The doors closed. And we went nowhere. After some minutes, the doors opened. And did not close. A woman seated on the other side of the car had her briefcase, which she clutched, and her wristwatch, which she started regularly checking. "Why aren't they closing the doors?" her soliloquy began. After a few more minutes, another would-be passenger entered the subway car. "We aren't going anywhere," the woman announced to this walk-on. "Yes, I know," he replied. "It seems a subway rider has passed out."

"Oh, my goodness!" said the woman, starting to show emotion while still checking her watch. "You know about this? You saw this happen on one of the other cars?"

"No," he said, "the person passed out on the platform."

"On the platform!?" She checked her watch again and clutched her briefcase. "The person passed out on the platform? I don't mean to sound cold, but if someone passes out on the train it makes sense to halt the subway. But they passed out on the platform. So why isn't this train moving yet?!"

A Pharisaical passenger or an anxious worker who will be late for a make-or-break meeting on the F train? Regardless of how we might characterize her, Jesus gets up and gets off the train, saying to his disciples, "Let's see if we can offer any assistance until help arrives."

"Hopeless do-gooder," somebody mutters as the "F-Train Jesus" steps off the train, the doors close and the subway starts up again.

"No," the woman sighs, still checking her watch. "He's a much better person than I am."

So maybe the Pharisees who came to Jesus had some heart, too, warning Jesus about Herod wanting to kill him. In any event, Jesus isn't going with that (word???). "You tell Herod from me that I am going nowhere except deeper into this. I am not about to let the fox into the hen-house. I am healing and teaching others how to heal people today, not giving up. Neither tomorrow nor on the third day will I stop because it's gotten dangerous. Today, tomorrow and the next day, I am heading to the heart of the city. 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem.' You say and sing that you are the greatest city in the world. What good is a greatness that towers to impress itself while hurling cynical and stony ridicule at those who call you to care for all.


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