Monday, September 17, 2018

"The way of all flesh had crossed paths with the Word made flesh."

Fr. Glenn's sermon yesterday on the widow of Nain was beautiful and powerful. It is worth your time.

Luke makes a point of telling us that this death involved an only-begotten son. The mother was a widow who was now childless. She had no family left and she had become an “orphaned parent.” This passage bristles with emotion. Many people in the town shared in the widow’s grief as they gathered around her in mourning. Such mourning was seen as an act of love by one’s neighbors. This is the sad scene that greeted Jesus as he enters the little village. 
...what is absent from this account is the ever present, ever critical, Pharisee. But for the original audience, his touching of the bier was probably enough to bring back the contrast between Jesus’ love for people and the self-righteousness of those who had nothing to offer but the Law. The righteousness of God is not attained in its pursuit, holiness does not glory in itself — but rather as we follow Jesus in his love for others, the righteousness of God overcomes us.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Collect for Easter Even

GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps."

[I am preaching this brief homily today, Good Friday, on the Second Lesson for Evening Prayer.]

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”

+

The crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday frees us from sin and death. When we are “baptized into his death,” as St. Paul says (Romans 6:3), we are transformed in our very being. His death accomplishes our regeneration, but it also provides an example for us to follow when we suffer unjustly in our own lives. In our second lesson today, St. Peter pulls together both effects of the cross: we are transferred from death to life, and we are given an example to follow.

The latter half of our text is explicitly directed to slaves—more specifically, household servants—but there are textual indications that St. Peter intended his advice to apply to all Christians as servants in the household of God. St. Peter calls upon these slaves—who, in context, seem to have pagan masters—to endure unjust suffering patiently, a teaching that was no doubt hard to swallow. But for St. Peter, patiently enduring is not about abstract morality but is, rather, part and parcel of a Christian’s obligation to imitate Jesus. Our text dramatically shifts from the mundane, grim particulars of the Christian slave's daily life to the transcendent reality of Christ's suffering. Why is the Christian slave—and, by implication, every Christian—called to endure unjust suffering? “Because,” St. Peter writes, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” As St. Augustine comments, “Christ taught you to suffer, and he did so by suffering himself.”

In the last few verses of our text, St. Peter draws heavily from the famous “suffering servant” passage of Isaiah 52-53, which is our first lesson today. As God’s suffering servant, Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Despite this, he in “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Note the tangible fleshiness of Jesus' sacrificial suffering—the cross is not simply an abstract spiritual battle between good and evil. It is physical, bodily torture. The language of “the tree” draws us back to the Old Testament. We learn in Deuteronomy that a man hanged on a tree for a crime “is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:21-23). The innocent sufferer Jesus is killed like a common criminal under a divine curse.

This profound theological reality undergirds St. Peter’s difficult instruction for day-to-day life. The household servants to whom he writes may be suffering unjustly, but they are, in a larger sense, not innocent of sin. The implication is clear: if he who was in the fullest sense innocent responded in this way, you who are not ought also so to do. “When he was reviled, [he] reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” Amidst the reviling of persecutors, Jesus' gaze was ever heavenward. This too should be our response to suffering.

At the end of our text, St. Peter points out that Jesus’ death is more than just a good example for us to follow—because his death is what transforms us. Unlike the suffering of saints and martyrs, Jesus’ death is what actually enables us to follow his example. Christ died “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” In this particular passage, St. Peter is less concerned with the eternal status of our salvation than he is with the earthly practicalities of right living before God. As one translation puts it, Jesus “bore our wrongdoings” so that “we, having abandoned wrongdoing, might live for doing what is right” (Elliott, Anchor Bible, 523).

Christ’s suffering on Good Friday gives us an example to follow—and it empowers us to follow him. 

 As the beautiful Collect for the Monday before Easter puts it,

“ALMIGHTY God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

+

"Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest"

[I preached this short homily last year on the First Lesson for Morning Prayer on Good Friday--the difficult story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22.]

“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering.”

+

This story is rich with layers of meaning and symbol. Abraham provides us with a model of great faith. As one commenter notes, his faithful response has enabled many to accept the “incomprehensible, unendurable and contradictory and to reflect upon it” (Clemens Thoma). In this story we also find a prefiguration of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, sacrificed for us on Good Friday. And as the writer of Hebrews notes, Isaac is figuratively brought back from the dead—a foreshadowing of Easter Sunday. On Good Friday our primary focus will rightly be on the sacrificial suffering of Jesus and on our own penitential and sorrowful response. But in light of this passage I would like to reflect briefly on one other symbolic layer of the story—Abraham as the father sacrificing his “only son.”

At first glance, the description of Isaac seems an error—Abraham had in fact two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. In the translation of Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, God tells Abraham, “Take, pray, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac.”

Alter comments, “The Hebrew syntactic chain [the order of the words] is exquisitely forged to carry a dramatic burden, and the sundry attempts of English translators from the King James Version to the present to rearrange it are misguided.” Alter then quotes from a medieval rabbi’s imaginative rendering of the scene: God says, ‘ “Your son.” [Abraham] said to Him, “I have two sons.” [God] said to him, “Your only one.” [Abraham] said, “This one is an only one to his mother and this one is an only one to his mother.” He said to him, “Whom you love.” He said to him, “I love both of them.” He said to him, “Isaac.” ’

Your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac. These brief phrases reveal the unbearable weight of “God’s terrible imperative” to sacrifice his beloved son, the child of the promise.

God’s incomprehensible demand reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants from Mark 12. In that parable, a distant landlord sends a servant to collect rent from tenants who instead beat the poor man. Jesus says, “And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ ” Guess what: they don’t. I remember reading that not too long ago and immediately thinking, “What a very stupid landlord!” Of course, a moment’s reflection reveals that the landlord symbolizes God our Father who sent his Son into the world to be killed. So too does Abraham in our story prefigure the Father who will not withhold his Son.

What are we to make of this God, our Father?

Romans 8 gives us an answer. “What shall we then say to these things?… He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As we consider the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as we reflect on our sins for which he suffered and on our own terrible need for this Savior, let us also reflect upon the immeasurable love of the Father.

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.”

+

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sermon for Lent V

I preached for Lent V this past Sunday.
...while Jesus’ life story discloses God’s relation to creation, that relation is only understood by first grasping what went before. Our Lord’s narrative recapitulates Israel’s narrative. First, Jesus relives Israel’s wilderness wandering, and he reverses Adam’s failure by defeating the Tempter. Next, Jesus reveals his superiority to Moses by miraculously feeding the multitude. The Old Testament lesson for Morning Prayer this past Thursday recounted Pharaoh’s attempt to execute all male Hebrew babies—which foreshadows Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by murdering all male babies around Bethlehem. But before Herod could lay hand on Jesus, the Holy Family took flight to Egypt, which reminds us of Israel’s sojourn there. 
This week’s gospel reading culminates in a startling claim: “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). “I AM,” of course, refers to the Hebrew YHWH, the sacred name of the Lord God, who first bestowed upon himself that title in Exodus 3—tomorrow morning’s Old Testament lesson. 
These are the echoes of the Old Testament in just a few of our Lenten readings.... I’d urge all of you to revisit the felt-board stories of Sunday School. Be attentive to the Old Testament lessons in Morning and Evening Prayer. Because knowing Jesus means knowing his story, and his story is the story of Israel.

Read the rest here.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Dignity Doesn't Defeat Death



"Nothing Grandma did and nothing we do could overcome death. She faced death — and death took her."

Hour of Our Death just published a second article of mine--or, really, the second installment of two pieces taken from a larger essay I wrote for The Imaginative Conservative.

Read it here.

Read the first piece here.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

An Advent Letter

Someone recently reminded me of the beautiful Advent letter my wife wrote for our family. Although we're now exiting Epiphany, I thought I'd share it anyway. In any case, Lent and Advent echo one other: seasons of both penance and hopeful expectation.

---

Advent 2017

Dear friends and family,

The rhythm of this winter season is a welcome shift from the rest of the year. It feels like these short, dark days were especially made for reflection, prayer, wonder, and worship. And there is much for which we pray, wonder, and worship as we reflect upon this year.

We thank God for the life of our daughter, Greta Joyce, born August 10. Greta is doted on by an ever-loving, ever-present big sister who always wants to give just one more kiss or “bear hug.” Ruthie is two-and-a-half and currently loves reading, the cooing and gurgling sounds of “baby sis” (that send her into fits of laughter), and the phrase “no, I can’t!” (by which she means “no, I won’t!”). Greta, four months old, is sweet and good-natured. She has a smile that wrinkles her nose and makes her bright blue eyes sparkle. Parenting continues to be a wondrous and challenging experience—teaching us more about ourselves, each other, and about God than we ever imagined we could learn (grace upon grace)!

Mark continues to juggle the responsibilities of teaching and the pursuit of an online MA in Religion. Lord willing, he will be ordained to the diaconate in summer/fall 2018 with another year of classes to follow. The demands of this season have been so great that we don’t often spend time looking ahead to “what’s next.” It’s exciting to begin to talk, dream, and pray more about our next steps. We value your prayers as we continue to entrust ourselves to the Lord for a life in service to His body, the Church.

As we enter this Advent season, I (Andrea) have been reminded of the question in Ecclesiastes, “Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new’?” (1:10). At any moment in our lives we can look around us and see things that dishearten, discourage, and frighten. The past year has certainly provided many examples—both locally and across the globe—of the darkness of “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). But, this is nothing new. “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). This is why the angelic proclamations surrounding our Lord’s birth are so earth-shattering and even frightening. They announce something entirely new, something long hoped for: salvation from this present age and the promise of an age to come. The incarnation upends “that which has been.” During these dark days of winter we rejoice that in the child Jesus all things are made new—and for his return we wait, hopeful and expectant, longing for creation to be fully healed, restored, and perfected.

Blessings this Advent,
Andrea and Mark

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’” - Luke 2:10-11

Friday, January 26, 2018

"You're Not Pregnant, Right?"

A newish website called Hour of Our Death: A Memento Mori Initiative published a short remembrance of my grandmother today titled, "You're Not Pregnant Right?"

Hour of Our Death is edited by David Mills, an editor (formerly of First Things and Touchstone), writer, and former professor at Trinity School for Ministry. I've never met David but have appreciated his writing from afar for years, so it's a privilege to be published by him.

The article published today is taken from the larger piece I wrote for The Imaginative Conservative a few years ago, a piece in which I quoted David Mills reflections on his father's death.

Anyway, this is the picture they chose to accompany the piece:



It took me a while to figure out why, but then I got a good laugh.

You can read it here.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart."

I got Summerland, a novel about fairies and baseball by Michael Chabon, for Christmas. I'm reading Chabon's introduction which is, in and of itself, quite something.

Anyway, partway through it quotes from A. Bartlett Giamatti's "The Green Fields of the Mind," which is maybe the best short piece of writing on baseball I've ever read (though I'd need to reread Don Delillo's "Pafko at the Wall" to decide). So of course I had to go reread it to see if it really is as good as I remember.

It is.

(Giamatti, by the way, has one of the stranger resumes out there: professor of English to president of Yale to, all too briefly, MLB commissioner.)

You should go read it now, if you haven't already. It reveals that David Bentley Hart baseball essay for the purplish overwrought garbage that it is.

Mark

PS: I should reiterate that I have long felt--ever since watching my grandfather watch the Braves in the early 90s--that I ought to like baseball quite a bit more than I actually do, that my fervent preference for college basketball over baseball is a weakness of character, and so my penance is to read essays, short stories, and novels about baseball that only serve to reinforce that idea.

PPS: The College World Series final in the summer of 2016--in which Coastal Carolina beat Arizona--did convince me that maybe I do have it in me to be a baseball fan. I watched two games in the hotel room at my APUSH training conference. The third was set for my last night there, but it was rain-delayed, and so I watched it via the laptop of the guy in the next row over.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon for Advent II

Yesterday I preached my Advent II sermon--on the nature and sources of true hope, how suffering relates to hope, and the Bible. Yes, it was wide-ranging.
Of course, faith and love are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian—but hope? Does life in Christ mean having a perpetually optimistic, temperamentally upbeat take on life? Does it mean remembering that “every cloud has a silver lining”? Always “making the best of a bad situation”? Making lemonade “when life gives you lemons”? 
Now, these very American sayings aren’t all bad. They can be helpful when we lose perspective amidst the minor setbacks and frustrations of everyday life. In those cases, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “It isn’t as bad as all that, is it?” But these little pieces of sound but limited advice have essentially nothing to do with the theological virtue of hope. 
When, in fact, it is that bad—when real tragedy strikes—(saying,) “look on the bright side” amounts to a denial of reality. And denying reality is not a theological virtue. To the contrary, denial is one short step from despair, hope’s opposite. 
[...] 
This hope in no way denies or reduces the reality of suffering. It does not seek to “balance out,” much less eliminate, suffering. Rather, through hope our suffering is incorporated into the life story of Jesus. Just as the scars of Jesus were not erased in the resurrection, this incorporation does not wipe away the tragedies in our lives. Yet we will find them somehow transformed, healed, and redeemed in Jesus. And just as Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus moments before raising him from the dead, our right understanding of reality and our full anticipation of the triumph of life over death does not eliminate mourning. The promise that Jesus will wipe away every tear is eschatological—it is a distinctly future event. That future is sure. Our task, then, is to live with a right understanding of present reality in anticipation of future triumph. To live hopefully means knowing that death is not the end, that the apparent power of the forces of darkness is an illusion, that our victory is sure.

You can read the whole thing here.