Lately, I have been listening to a new podcast hosted by the Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Webber called The Confessional. Each episode of The Confessional features a guest who speaks with Nadia and reveals (to her and us) some of the worst things they have ever done. When I first heard about this podcast, before I had heard even a single episode, the traditionalist in me had his doubts. I imagined there might be something a little unseemly about taking the tenderness and intimacy of a one-on-one confession into the arena of public listening. The seal of the confessional is a grace that I cherish. The knowledge that whatever I disclose will be met by only three sets of ears—my confessor’s, mine, and God’s—is irreplaceable. I wondered if something about this kind of sacramental reconciliation would end up lost (even cheapened) over the airwaves and apps.
Yet as I began to listen to each of these brave, faithful people tell stories about their most notorious failures and deepest shames, my own suspicions began to disperse as something else became clear. Yes, these are stories about human failure, human weakness, and human insufficiency. At the same time (and perhaps more significantly), these are stories about God’s boundless generosity, forgiveness, and desire to be reconciled with his creatures.
Matthew mentions a handful of women in his genealogy of Christ. This is odd. If he was following the convention of the time, which held that descent, inheritance, and “Jewishness” were passed down the male line, he wouldn’t have needed to include any women. But if he was attempting to give a holistic family tree, the few women he does mention are wildly insufficient. So what’s he doing?
I think each time he does this, it’s to point out something surprising about the relationship in question. Tamar is the first mentioned; she, having survived two husbands who God struck down for their sins, was regarded as cursed, and was ostracized from her family; through cunning deceit, including deliberately getting her father-in-law to impregnate her under the guise of being a prostitute, she proved that she was being mistreated, and so acquired for herself the security and status of marriage, bearing sons to a husband who was not struck down for his sins. Rahab is mentioned after her; she was a Canaanite, and quite possibly a prostitute or the owner of a brothel. Yet, she was also regarded as a holy and righteous woman, without whom the Israelites could not have conquered Jericho. Ruth is next; she was a Moabite, a member of a nation normally in conflict with the Israelites, but she demonstrated her faithfulness to God so strongly that an entire book of the Old Testament is named for her. And then there is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah; King David committed adultery with her, and then had Uriah murdered to cover up the subsequent pregnancy.
Jesus heals. Jesus heals so often, so many, and so much, that it is easy to forget about. If you stick your finger in a random page in the Gospel, chances are your finger is close to healing.
Our Gospel today features yet another situation where someone asks Jesus what he is all about. This particular day it is followers of John the Baptist asking Jesus if he is the real deal. Jesus’ answer is both vague and blunt. He tells the men to go back to John the Baptist and literally just say what they saw and heard going on around Jesus.
So what was going on around Jesus? Well, tons of healing. We are told by Luke that Jesus had just healed many people right before this conversation happened. Can you imagine those followers of John the Baptist going back and explaining themselves to John? They would have to say something like well John, this Jesus guy wouldn’t give us a straight answer, but man he’s healing a ton of people so he must be doing something right.
‘I have seen God face to face, and yet I live.’ But only just! Jacob had wrestled with the angel all night, and managed to come out alive – but with his hip put out of joint. Yet God blessed him through the struggle, and let him see God face to face.
Throughout Scripture, when the Spirit of the Lord comes down upon a person, there is so often a struggle; the Spirit is experienced as something traumatic and shattering. Dealing with God is not for the faint hearted! Listen to the prophet Ezekiel: ‘A spirit entered me and lifted me up and bore me away. Before the glory of the Lord I fell on my face, but the spirit lifted me up’. Daniel, standing on the banks of the river Tigris see a vision of a man, shining in glory, sent from God. The man spoke, and David fell into a trance, and then fell to the ground. Shaking with fear, he lost his strength and could hardly breathe. The prophet Jeremiah tries to get away from the Lord’s presence, but the Spirit overwhelms him, and he cries out, ‘If I say I will not mention him or speak in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones.’ Well might the writer of the letter to the Hebrews say, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’!
Yet, through each one of these powerful and life changing experiences, God was at work, forming and molding these very different characters to become men of God; able to speak for God, but most crucially, to see for God. Through their profound and life changing encounters with the living God, they would now see as God sees. They would become God’s seers, and they would proclaim what they saw.
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Ordination of Luke Ditewig SSJE to the priesthood
I want first to begin by acknowledging those of you who have joined us today online. We Brothers are delighted to share this important day in the life of our community with you. We are of course, sorry that you cannot be with us here in person. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway because it is important, we long for the day when it will be possible for you to be here in this chapel with us. Please know that we pray for you often. Your physical absence from our life of worship is a tremendous loss for us. We pray that the day when we can once again open our chapel doors to you, will come soon.
There are two people whom I particularly want to say how sorry we are that you cannot be with us today, and on Tuesday when Luke presides at the Eucharist for the first time, and that’s Luke’s Mum and Dad, Sandy, and Bill. After having watched Luke come to this point in his life, not to be here with him, is I am sure a great sadness. I hope that being here, if only virtually, is some consolation.
I also want to extend our gratitude to you Bishop Alan, for the care you have taken to enable this ordination to take place. Those watching online will note that we are all taking care to keep our distance from one another. That is not an indication of our regard for you. Rather the opposite! Please know how grateful we are, for the steps you have taken this past week to assure our mutual safety.
If you love domesticated animals like cats, dogs, and horses, or even some unconventional critters like monkeys, beavers, and squirrels, you have probably run across a website called ‘thedodo.com.’ The Dodo serves up emotional, visually compelling, and highly sharable animal-related stories and videos with the aim of making the care of animals a viral cause. The videos that bring a tear to the eye of a sensitive guy like me are the dog rescue videos. There are countless versions of this scenario: someone comes across a mangy, emaciated pup, that is tired, scared, weak, and not far from death. Animal rescuers are called to gather the animal, carefully and patiently doing what is necessary to subdue it while protecting themselves from the pups self-preserving, fear-filled growls, yaps, and snaps. Ultimately, the animal resigns and is taken to a veterinarian for rehabilitation with the hopes of finding it a forever home. The dogs are bathed, shaved, treated for mange, parasites, and other injuries, fed and nourished. Each video is a brief time-lapse record of its recovery, ending with the dog fully recovered, happy, and unrecognizable from the condition it was found in; it’s disposition one of unreserved love and affection.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like…
Sheep without a shepherd.
Students without a teacher,
Children without a parent,
Eggs without a brooding mother,
Warriors without a commander,
Citizens without a leader,
Treasure without a guardian,
Inheritance without an heir.
Characters without an author,
We begin today, not simply a new liturgical year, with the beginning of the season of Advent, but we begin to read our way through a new gospel. This is the year when we read our way through the Gospel According to Mark over the course of the year.
Mark’s gospel is significant for several reasons. Historians believe that it was probably written for a gentile audience, in Rome, about the year AD 70, making it the oldest of the four gospels. As the first of the gospels to take written form, it is also thought that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a primary source when they wrote their gospels in the two or three decades that followed. When biblical scholars place each of these three gospels side by side, they are able to trace the influence that Mark had on the other two.
Mark’s gospel is also significant for what it does not contain. There is no birth story in Mark, unlike Matthew or Luke, or any pre-existent theology, as we find in John. Jesus simply appears like an actor on a stage, in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John. Scholars will also point out that there are not one, but three endings to the gospel and it is believed that it originally ended without any reference to an appearance of the Risen Lord, but simply stated so [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
We all know the feeling of waiting for that one guy who is always late. That feeling of quiet anger rising as the whole room waits for him to arrive so that the meeting can start. You try to be patient, you try some small talk, but soon the frustrating thoughts creep in… he always does this, God is he clueless, someone should say something to him. The moments drag by…then finally the tardy man arrives two minutes late, holding tea and toast.
St. Paul encourages us tonight to regard others as better than ourselves. Now please keep in mind St. Paul didn’t write these words on his honeymoon. He wrote these words in jail, locked up because he was a Christian. So even in chains he asks us to consider others as better than ourselves…that includes Mr. Tea and Toast.
Why would St. Paul write such a thing? Why not write something like follow the spirit of Christ and always arrive five minutes early so no has to wait for you? The genius of St. Paul was his vision for the long haul. He knew that having the patience to regard others as more important is a short term pain for a long term gain. In other words, patience is a good strategy.
My first encounter with a true mountain range occurred at age sixteen. These mountains were the Austrian Alps, so it was quite the introduction. The summer moon was full, and their peaks were crowned with gleaming snow. Tears of pure wonder streamed down my face. God’s power was written in such large figures and I was so small, but in that smallness I felt significant. I fell to my knees.
My presence in that Austrian valley on that summer night was a wonder in itself. Months before, my high school chamber choir director had announced plans for the choir to go on tour to Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic. The price of the trip was unaffordable for me; paying my school tuition already entailed sacrifice for my parents. I took this news in stride, though as the school year progressed, it became clear that I was the only student in the thirty-member choir who would not be going, and my sense of belonging felt fragile. One morning, a telegram (of all things!) arrived at our front door with a cryptic, unsigned message. Someone wanted to pay my way, on the condition that they remain anonymous. The courier awaited my reply. I accepted humbly and gratefully… but the identity of this benevolent stranger continued to puzzle me for weeks. I suspected anyone and everyone. Everything took on the quality of a gift: a gift I did not earn and no longer took for granted. I had been honored by the generosity of a king in disguise.