October 18, 2015

Pentecost – Proper 24

Isaiah 53: 4-12; Psalm 91: 9-16; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Several days ago a friend of mine from seminary posted an article about Pope Francis on Facebook.  The article was from the Washington Post and it was about the arrival of Pope Francis to Philadelphia, one of several stops on his recent visit to the United States. Included with the article was a video that showed Francis as he walked down from the American Airlines jet at the Philadelphia airport, and stepped into the back seat of a small black Fiat. The backseat windows were rolled down, and Francis waved as the car drove away.  

As the Fiat passed a group of people, all of a sudden, it stopped. Francis opened the door, got out from the back of the car, and walked over to a crowd of people where he embraced a young man with cerebral palsy who was confined to a wheel chair. The name of the young man was Michael, and Francis blessed him, and then kissed his forehead in a gesture of honest and sincere compassion and love. 

The image of Francis embracing Michael in his arms was a complete and perfect summary of the Pope’s theology of disability and inclusion in the kingdom of God. That image, of the Pope embracing Michael, says more about the Pope’s love of God than any amount of words or concepts ever could. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, understood images have the power to awake within us an epiphany, an awareness, that often words fail to do.    

So I want to give you an image. I want you to think about a person who consistently has irritated you, someone who has violated your trust, someone you disagree completely with, a person who you are envious of, someone for whom you have no room in your life for. Do you have that person in your mind? Now I want you to imagine Jesus, holding that person who has done you wrong somehow, in his arms. I want you to imagine Jesus embracing that person, kissing their forehead, blessing them. That person is in need of God’s love and forgiveness as much as you are.  God, I believe, has forgiven that person. Have you?

Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” That means that Jesus came to serve not only you, not only the poor or disenfranchised. Jesus came to serve your own enemy, because as hard as it might be to imagine, your enemy is God's friend. If Jesus came to us as one who serves, then our work is to do the same. Our work is to bless and love others, especially if you disagree with them!  

Several weeks ago at Rhythms of Grace, a weekly service for children with special needs, a ten year old boy with Autism received his first communion. His mother was in tears. The other day a man living on the streets in this neighborhood came to our front door because he was hungry, and had nothing nothing to eat. He was greeted with a smile and called by his name, and a lunch and bottle of water were handed to him. These are simple acts that will never attract the publicity of the Washington Post, but they are just as significant, just as holy.  

To love God means that we affirm the worth and dignity of every human being we come in contact with.  To love God means that we do to label others, we do not dismiss them with a category and demean their humanity. Loving God also means loving, and blessing, our enemies. Who is in the crowd today waiting for you to pass by, who is that person waiting, in need of your healing, compassionate embrace? Pray that God will help you find that person, and love them. AMEN.

February 1, 2015

IV Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13, Mark 1: 21-28


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

A few Sundays ago in the church parking lot I encountered a particularly angry person, a person I had known for some time who occasionally would show up on Sundays at another parish I once served. She usually takes medication to stabilize her temperament, but it was very obvious that she did not take it that day.  She yelled at me and called me pretty much every four-letter word in the book. Now I can have a pretty colorful vocabulary myself, but I was no match for her.  I told her, as pastorally as possible, that I needed to call the police if she did not stop. She got in her car and drove away.  

When Jesus encountered an angry man in the temple, he reached out to him and healed him, making him whole probably for the first time in his life. The Bible says the man was possessed by a demon. Maybe he was. Or maybe he was bi-polar, manic, or schizophrenic. It doesn’t what we call it. What matters is how we respond. I regret that my response to the woman was one based in fear, and it could not have been further from how Jesus engaged the man in the temple. Jesus met the man’s hate, not with fear, but with hope.

Jesus models for us a response to another’s painful suffering – to reach out and call it out of them. We are all healers, and as author Henri Nouwen reflects, and the healing we offer is most effective when it comes out of our own wounds.

I am father of a nine year old son with special needs. My journey with him has been one of growth, joy, and wounding, that I never would have anticipated happening in my life. As a priest, I am forever molded by these experiences, and a love of children with special needs.  It’s part of who I am, and it is inseparable from the rest of my priesthood. Today, St. Andrew’s will begin a new service called Rhythms of Grace (no relation to my last name). This service will reach out and welcome children with intellectual, physical, or behavioral needs, and we will offer them and their families a weekly worship experience that will meet them wherever they are. Each gathering will focus around a Bible story, a creative response, and a Eucharist. We will meet in the parish hall upstairs every Sunday at 2 PM, where families and their children, young or old, can gather.  

The design of this service is that it will be ecumenical, meaning that people of all faith traditions will be welcome. It is an ambitious undertaking for our parish, but it is the right thing to do, for the church and for our community.  

It will take time for this service, like any new service, to grow – but it will.  There are so many families in our neighborhood and city for whom church is impossibility because of the challenges their children face. We are going to welcome them at St. Andrew’s. We will reach out to them with God’s love, and in our wounded and broken ways, show them that we care, and that God loves them. To my knowledge, St. Andrew’s will become the only Episcopal Church in the nation to offer a service like this on a weekly basis.  

So this is new thing for us! And we will grow into it together. We’ll make mistakes, and there will be much for us to learn along the way. All that is to be celebrated and welcomed as we grow together into the people and the church God is calling us to be.  

If you want to help, contact Lisa Puccio, St. Andrew’s Coordinator for Special Needs Worship and Family Faith Formation. Most of all, please hold this ministry in your prayers. It’s time to reach out in hope, as Jesus did that day in the synagogue. We are God’s wounded healers, every single one of us – black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, disabled, enabled. We have nothing to fear, because Christ has already healed us. AMEN.