St. James of Jerusalem’s Day

(23 October 2014)

The Collect:
GRANT, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Readings:
Acts 15:12-22a; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Matthew 13:54-58

Reflection:
There are several men named James in the New Testament, and the Church has not always been completely unified in sorting out exactly who is who. Saint James of Jerusalem is the one understood to be a “brother of Jesus” who initially doubts Jesus’ ministry. But after a post-resurrection visit from Jesus, James became a believer and a leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Just as he was reconciled with Jesus, James’ greatest legacy recorded in the Scriptures is his act of reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christians, as related in the book of Acts. The Psalm describes the type of man he’d become, and the Collect asks God for the continued ministry of reconciliation in our own day.

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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

(19 October 2014, 4 October 2015)

The Collect:
LORD, we beseech you, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 122; 1 Corinthians 1:4-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Reflection:
Today’s Scriptures are very clear in their focus on teaching us about union with God through loving him first above all; the Old Testament even provides the quote that Jesus recites in the Gospel. Such union is meant to enrich our knowledge of God as well as our ability to speak about him, serve him, and anticipate Christ’s return, as St. Paul teaches in the Epistle. The Psalms, then, gives us an example of a prayer putting love for God first, and so the Collect asks God to purify our hearts and minds so we can truly love him first, specifically asking for grace to resist sin’s influences upon us.

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St. Luke’s Day

(18 October)

The Collect:
ALMIGHTY God, who called Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the soul: May it please you, that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Isaiah 35:3-6; Psalm 147:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:5-15; Luke 10:1-9

Reflection:
The concept of sickness and healing is common throughout the Bible, frequently referring both to physical ailments as well as to spiritual ailments caused by sin. The Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel, and Collect each speak to the healing ministry of God through his people in various ways. Because Saint Luke is identified as a physician, his feast day is an appropriate day for the Church to remember Christ as the Great Physician. For God’s blessings of health and peace are not merely worldly promises that apply to our bodies today, but eternal promises that apply to our very souls.

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The Minor Feast of our Lady of Walsingham

The Minor Feast Day of Our Lady of Walsingham is celebrated in Anglican calendars on October 15th.  I will be preaching the following homily this evening.  The Epistle reading is 1 John 4:7-16 and the Gospel reading is Luke 1:26-38.  The Collect is as follows:

Lord God, in the mystery of the Incarnation,
Mary conceived your Son in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb.
As we, your pilgrim people, rejoice in her patronage,
grant that we also may welcome Him into our hearts,
and so, like her, be made a holy house fit for His eternal dwelling.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Image of Our Lady of Walsingham

Our Lady of Walsingham is a title of Mary the mother of Jesus. The title derives from the belief that Mary appeared in a vision to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout English noblewoman, in 1061 in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, England.  Lady Richeldis had a Holy House built in Walsingham which became a shrine and place of pilgrimage. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this quick introduction.)  Although it was destroyed early in the English Reformation, its memory was never quite destroyed, and a shrine has been rebuilt and pilgrimages there have picked back up since the 1890’s.

Why do we celebrate Mary on days like this? Primarily because Mary is a prototype of Christians. This can be expressed in many ways. Let’s look at four quick examples.

First, Mary was the first person to receive Jesus. When the angel Gabriel announced his impending arrival in the world, she said yes, and literally received Jesus in her womb, becoming his mother.

Second, Mary is the first person described in the Bible to be “full of grace.” Those of you who are familiar with the Hail Mary (the Ave Maria), you’re recognize this phrase, or its Latin, gratia plena. Protestant translations of this evening’s Gospel reading have preferred the words “Greetings, favored one.”  The Greek behind it is kecharitomene which is a participle meaning “one who was & remains filled with grace.”  (Yeah, Greek verbs really do carry a lot of information thanks to their complicated system of conjugations.) Protestants interpret this greeting to be a respectful greeting to a woman God has decided to act graciously towards.  The historical interpretation has been more literal, though: God has filled her with grace.

Third, Mary was the first person, after Jesus, to participate in the New Creation. When Gabriel explains to Mary what God has planned, she responds, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (let it be to me according to your will). That word fiat, translated as “let it be,” is the same fiat as God’s “let there be” way back in Genesis 1. God said, fiat lux, and there was light. The Old Creation was by God’s word alone, “Creation by Fiat” it’s sometimes called. But the New Creation in Christ, which we are a part of through faith and the Sacraments, invites our participation. Our labors in the Lord actually contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom! And Mary was the first in line to join in Christ’s work of the New Creation. When God revealed his plan to her, she responded fiat mihi, and it was done unto her.

Fourthly, Mary was a Temple for Jesus, just as the Church has since become the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Think about it: a mother’s womb is an unborn baby’s home! A temple is the home of a god. So when Jesus was being carried about in Mary’s womb, she was literally the New Temple or Tabernacle, physically carrying God within herself! The Church, meanwhile, according to various New Testament Scriptures*, is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Mary was the physical prototype for what we have become spiritually.

(* such as 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21, and Revelation 3:12.)

As we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary this evening, and her amazing role in the most pivotal of Gospel events, the Epistle reading directs our attention to such topics as loving God, God’s love for us, and abiding in Christ. Personally, I tend to find 1 John rather difficult to read; it feels all tangled up, saying the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. The detailed logic of St. Paul and the organized structure of Hebrews instead give way to John’s more creative and visionary writing style.

Attempting to unravel what we read this evening, though, this is what we find.

First, St. John tells us that love must be defined from an objective truth: God loves us. And he showed that love by sending his only Son to us to exchange his life for ours. Only once we believe and understand that, can we then know how to love God in return, not to mention love our neighbors also.

Secondly, because true love for God is built upon his sacrifice for us, it therefore must include our belief in and acceptance of that sacrifice. And in that knowledge and belief is salvation: we are “born of God,” receiving new life from him.

Thirdly, once we have that knowledge and belief, and the resulting love and life, we also receive God the Holy Spirit as a confirmation of that knowledge and belief and love and life. So all these things go together as one package: God’s love for us, our love for God, our knowledge of God, our belief in God and his works, the new life of Christ in us, and the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling (or abiding) within us.

Why do we read this on a feast day celebrating Saint Mary the Virgin? Well, it’s a counterpart to the Gospel reading. There, we see the great glory of Mary: the mystery of her being gratia plena, her becoming the Mother of God, her speaking the first human fiat of the New Creation, her being the prototype of the Church and all Christians… she’s an amazing woman! So what we read in the First Epistle of Saint John is the balancing reminder that all human glory comes completely from God. Mary was “full of grace” because God filled her with grace. And it was that work of God that had prepared her for that precious moment when she would say “yes” to God in her New Creation fiat.

The lesson for us, then, is simple. Towards the beginning of this service I read the Collect of the Day; it started out by asserting that Mary conceived God’s Son in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb, and then it prayed that we also may welcome Him into our hearts, and so, like her, be made a holy house fit for His eternal dwelling. Basically, what we see God to have done with her and through her, we pray the same for ourselves. She accepted Jesus in her heart – expressed through her fiat – before she conceived him in her womb. So in the same way we seek to welcome Jesus in our own hearts in order to become Temples of the Holy Spirit. Now yes, we normally speak of “accepting Jesus into our hearts” as a one-time event at the beginning of our salvation. But in reality, faith is not an event, it’s a life. We have to abide in Christ just as the Spirit abides in us. So we continually look to Jesus and his example of perfection, and we look to Mary and her example of perfect reception of Jesus. She took God by his word, and as a result received his Word. May we do the same, today and every day.

Amen.

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The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

(12 October 2014, 27 Sept. 2015)

The Collect:
LORD, we pray you that your grace may always go before and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Proverbs 25:6-14; Psalm 33:6-12; Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 14:1-11

Reflection:
Starting here, several Sundays in a row deal with various aspects of our union with God.  The Epistle serves as a sort of introduction to this theme.  Today, specifically, the Gospel gives us a parable of a wedding banquet, which teaches us that it is appropriate for us to consider ourselves lesser than others in the Kingdom of God, for God will exalt the humble and humble the exalted.  The Proverbs add their voice to this scenario, adding the advice to avoid hasty judgment, and rather to speak prudently.  The Psalm continues these thoughts by describing the power of God’s word both to create and to judge.  The Collect, finally, is a model prayer of a properly humble Christian, putting today’s Scriptures into practice.

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The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

(5 October 2014, 20 Sept. 2015)

The Collect:
O LORD, we beseech you, let your continual pity cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your aid, preserve it evermore by your help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 102:12-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 7:11-17

Reflection:
This Sunday we are reminded that no matter how young or mature we are as Christians, we always need to rely upon God’s continual help and pity. Like the widows in the Old Testament and Gospel stories who had lost their only sons, we are utterly reliant upon God to protect us. The Collect, Psalm, and Epistle, thus, take this to prayer in different ways. The Collect applies this to the Church: we seek God’s cleansing and defense for all Christians. The Psalm applies this more personally: we remember that God “regards the prayer of the destitute.” The Epistle, finally, contains a prayer by St. Paul that we would all be filled with the strength of the Holy Spirit.

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St. Michael & All Angels

(29 September)

The Collect:
O EVERLASTING God, who has ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order: Mercifully grant, that as your holy Angels always do you service in heaven, so by your appointment they may aid and defend us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Daniel 10:10-19a; Psalm 103:17-22; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-10

Reflection:
Today we remember and celebrate the invisible realms of God’s creation – the whole diverse orders of angels and archangels, particularly with Michael as their leader.  His role as a warrior against Satan and his armies is highlighted in both the Old and New Testament readings.  And, remembering that they do this battle for our sake (and especially for the young and innocent as described in the Gospel), we both ask God for their continual protection over us, and that we can join in their unending worship of Him in heaven.

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