Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lucky you: 4th Sunday OT 2017

Let's ease into this, easy question. Maybe the easiest question you've ever been asked: Do you want to be happy? Assumptions are dangerous, but I’m going to go ahead and assume I know the answer to that one.

Can you tell me how?

It’s a big business.  Go to the bookstore and find the self-help section.  It’ll be a big section.  There will be dozens of books explaining how to be happy.  Some of the advice is achingly obvious.  Some of it is very, very strange.  There’s a long line of people ready to tell us their secret... read my book, follow my advice, and you’ll be happy!  

If it’s so easy, then why are there so many unhappy people around?

A priest friend up in Chicago posted a question on social media just today: “Complete this sentence: ‘I will be happy when…’” It was a really interesting exercise! The first response was “I will be happy when our parochial school stays open.” One woman said “I will be happy when I retire.” Another, “I will be happy when I’m with God.” More than one said “I will be happy when the world is at peace.” Only two answers out of nineteen said they were currently happy. Of those two, one said their happiness came from knowing the Lord.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

500 years of 95 Theses: 3rd Sunday OT

Paul wrote two long letters to the Corinthians; he clearly has a lot to say to them. But the very first thing he chooses to focus on - after some greetings and encouragement - the first thing Paul wants to write about is division within the Corinthian church. He’s just out of the gate, and he’s worked up, and he’s calling them out. “You have these slogans: ‘I am for Paul,’ ‘I am for Apollos,’ ‘I am for Cephas,’ ‘I am for Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

I think you could pick any time and place in the history of the Church, and Paul could call us out on this very same thing. Staying together, staying united, is one of the hardest things the Gospel demands. It doesn’t sound like it should be, but I think history proves that it is.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Dreams and Our Nightmares: 2nd Sunday OT

I’ve been thinking about Carl Sagan. Some of you will remember him, sort of the celebrity scientist of his day, writer and great popularizer of science in the wider culture. A bit before my time but I met him in books. Sagan was famously agnostic, but in a much more thoughtful and wise way than the blowhards who seem to get all the attention today. He thought a lot about the sort of things we call spiritual.

Maybe one of the reasons he came to mind is last week’s feast of Epiphany.  Those wise and learned men did not have the light of God’s revelation to Israel, but they did have the light of the star sent to them. It’s my hope that like those ancient astronomers, this more recent magus, so captivated and obsessed with the light of the stars, found the same unexpected and eternally surprising salvation at journey’s end.

Sagan would be so annoyed by my suggestion:
that he was far more right than he knew.

Sagan’s most popular book is his only work of fiction, and he poured his spirit into the novel Contact (you might also have seen the Jodie Foster movie). And that’s the other reason he’s come to mind right now. Not believing in God, the most transcendental and transformative thing he could imagine happening to humanity was contact with an alien civilization… the discovery that we aren’t alone. In the novel, we get to hear an alien’s take on humanity:
“You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Keep Looking Up: Epiphany 2017

Only Matthew tells their story, and he tells almost none of it. People are sometimes surprised to learn that the Bible doesn’t actually say most of what they think they know about the Three Kings. Like, for example, that there were three of them. Or that they were Kings. Matthew does say that they came from the East following a star.

I just keep thinking about that star. It’s always been fascinating to people. Astronomers have scoured the records and charts to see if they can find some trace of it in a supernova or some other astronomic event. Historians have looked for other reports from that time period that might give a clue. But that sort of thing is less interesting to me — because even pinpointing some supernova that everyone saw just wouldn’t go very far at all in explaining the journey of the Magi. I’ve seen unusual and surprising things in the sky before. None of them ever made me say, “I’d better get a few friends and pack some bags and start walking westbound until I get some signal from the universe that it’s time to stop. And I’d better take some frankincense. Just in case.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of Mary 2017

There are two main reasons people find it difficult to approach and honor and develop a great spiritual relationship with Mary. They are two mistakes, and they’re both mistakes about Jesus.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

The Christmas story will be read from pulpits today, performed on stages and screen, broadcast across the airwaves and read in quiet studies. It is only part of the story of Jesus, but it is the part that tells us how He came among us, and that makes it inexhaustibly fascinating and profound. It is a story about Who He is, and why He came, and how. I think I am safe in saying it is the best-known story in human history.

But the cast of characters is really pretty small! That’s one of the surprising things about this story: it is completely particular. We don’t tell the story of humanity receiving Jesus; we tell the story of two particular Jews - Joseph and Mary - receiving Jesus. We don’t tell the story of how whole civilizations have found Jesus; we tell the story of a few particular Shepherds who were nearby. We don’t talk about the Gentile nations coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah; we talk about just three particular wise men from the East. So in one sense, this is the biggest and grandest story ever told. But in another sense, everything about it is small. Not the halls of power and empire, but a stable behind a small-town inn. Not the remarkable historical figures and emperors, but the most ordinary shepherds and such. And that fits: because this is, after all, the story of how the Eternal Creator God, whom the universe could not contain, becomes small.
Giotto, Nativity

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sevenfold Grace: 28th Sunday OT

I knew a little girl who misunderstood ‘leper’ in church as ‘leopard.’ The Bible had lots of stories about leopards. I was kind of sad when the mistake was corrected; the Bible must have seemed a lot less interesting all of a sudden.

If you’ve studied the Bible and heard sermons about it very often, you’ve probably heard plenty about what a bad deal it was to be a leper. You were totally outcast, an object of fear and loathing, and ritually unclean unless and until you got better. Which you usually didn’t.