Thursday, March 31, 2016

Little Floaty Things That Say "No" (On Doubt)

"Dad, do you ever have little floaty things in your head that say, 'No'?" My daughter, Becca, was in second grade when she asked this question one night as I was putting her to bed. Taken a bit aback, I asked her what she meant. She said, "Well, like when I say to myself there is a God and the floaty things say, 'No, there isn't.' Or I say, ‘God loves me,’ and they say, 'No, he doesn't.'"

It dawned on me that the "little floaty things that say No" were my daughter’s second grade way of describing her early experiences with doubt. I assured her that I was also familiar with the little floaty things and had been since I was about her age.

I suspect that most of us have had some experience with the little floaty things that say No – with doubts. At one time or another, most of us have wondered about the existence of God, or God’s goodness, or God’s love for us personally. And doubt is not limited to the theoretical. On a more practical level, it includes questioning whether the way of life revealed in Jesus Christ is really the way to our fullest life and deepest joy. Is the way of gentleness, love, and forgiveness really the way? Whether they are theoretical or practical, the questions are bound to arise. What do we do with the little floaty things that say “No”? Here are some suggestions:

1. Do not be ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid of your doubts. They come with the territory and actually act as a spur to spiritual growth. Frederick Buechner calls doubts, "The ants in the pants of faith."

2. On the other hand, beware the snare of pride. It is easy to become self-satisfied for being so clever and sophisticated as to see all the difficulties with faith for "thinking people".

3. Don't be surprised by doubt. It is part of the conversion process. The gospel is, after all, foolishness and a stumbling block. When the values and biases of the gospel conflict with the values and biases of this world into which we have been enculturated, there will be tension. That is true whether the prejudices are intellectual, moral, or theological. That tension leads to doubt. It also leads to a choice. Which biases am I going to live by?

4. Be skeptical of your own skepticism. We live in a skeptical age. It is quite easy   and comfortable  to be a complacent skeptic. But, the bases of many doubts are also subject to doubt. In the areas of science and history, for example, the methods used are not as objective or certain as was once claimed. They are themselves based on assumptions that cannot be proven and their results are shaped by the biases of the researcher. And they are unable to answer every question. Nothing that matters can be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. Truth can only be demonstrated by the living of it. This is no more or less the case with the truth of faith.

Unless we are willing to doubt our doubts, our doubts can become merely excuses to avoid the implications of believing.

5. Do not use doubt as an excuse not to follow Jesus or respond to the Spirit's call. If I neglect to apply for a job because I doubt I will get it, I surely won't. I can remain unchallenged and comfortable right where I am. Hans Denk, a Christian of the seventeenth century, asserted this basic axiom of faith: "You cannot truly know Christ without following him in life.” Jesus calls us to follow just as he called the first disciples. We are left to choose whether we will or not. Thomas exemplifies this in chapter eleven of John’s gospel. When Jesus heads back toward Jerusalem to raise Lazarus, the disciples counsel him not to go because those who want to kill him are there. Jesus starts walking toward Jerusalem anyway. Thomas says to the others, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." He had come to believe that following Jesus was the way to his deepest joy and was committed to following him and sharing his fate. The knowing often comes in the following.

6. It is helpful to recognize that while faith has its difficulties, so do its opposites, unbelief and apathy. For example, the persistence of evil and suffering has been a perennial problem for those who believe in a loving God who desires our good. The problem is not solved, however, by removing God from the equation. The question is only changed to "If we are no more than the most recent byproduct of a cosmic accident, why do we care so much about the suffering of others?" Or, even more problematic, "Why should we care?" Some people are starving. Others are tortured. If there is no God, and life is accidental anyway, why do I care so much? Why should I?

7. Talk to God about your doubts – even if it means starting your prayer with, "I'm not even sure I believe you are there . . ." God is not afraid of your doubts or offended by your questions. After all, Jesus invited Thomas to examine and touch his wounds. He has promised his love to you – no matter what. God would much rather have you spend time with him asking hard questions than have you not spend time with him at all.

8. Continue with the discipline of regular prayer and worship. Taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). An intimate realization of God's presence and love puts to rest a lot of the questions. Such a realization does not usually happen without some discipline and time on our part. We need to be trained to pay attention spiritually. As with physical discipline, it usually takes time to see the effects of spiritual discipline.

9. Remember that the Church includes and has included many who have struggled with believing. You are not the first person to ask questions about the faith. It is helpful to find out, through reading or conversation, how others have answered – or learned to live with – particular questions.

10. Recognize that there is mystery at the heart of it all. As Christians, we believe that God has spoken and acted definitively through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. But God has not seen fit to provide answers to our every question. And even the answers we've been given contain mystery. At some point, we can only rest with humility in the presence of the Mystery at the heart of it all.

There is no simple formula that will silence all “the little floaty things that say no” once and for all. They are natural companions of faith. But, the above suggestions can take away some of the power of our doubts. And even when our questions are unanswered, the struggle with them leads us deeper into the mystery of God where the little floaty things that say, “No” are countered by God's resounding "Yes!"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ten Quotes About the Resurrection

1. "The simple truth is that resurrection cannot be accommodated to any way of understanding the world except one in which it is the starting point."
– Lesslie Newbigin (Proper Confidence)

2. The assertion that Jesus is risen from the dead remains a matter of dispute in a special degree because it cuts so deeply into fundamental questions of the understanding of reality.
– Wolfhart Pannenberg (The Apostles' Creed in Light of Today’s Questions)

3. We may say without exaggeration: at the tomb in Jerusalem the ultimate choice will be made between two totally different world-views.
– Walter Kunneth (Theology of the Resurrection)

4. When we celebrate Easter, we are really standing in the middle of a second ‘Big Bang', a tumultuous surge of divine energy as fiery and intense as the very beginning of the universe. What a recent writer wonderfully calls ‘the fire in the equations’, the energy in the mathematical and physical structures of things, is here at Easter; and when in the ancient ceremonies of the night before Easter we light a bonfire and bless it and light candles from it, we may think of the first words of God in Genesis, ‘Let there be light!’.
– Rowan Williams (Tokens of Trust)

5. Is the body a shell that one sheds, or is it an intrinsic part of the personality that will forever identify a person? If Jesus, body corrupted in the tomb so that his victory over death did not include bodily resurrection, then the model of destruction and new creation is indicated. If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, then the Christian model should be one of transformation. The problem of the bodily resurrection is not just an example of Christian curiosity; it is related to a major theme in theology: God’s ultimate purpose in creating.
– Raymond Brown (The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus)

6. Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.
– N.T. Wright (Surprised by Hope)

7. Christ did not come into the world that we might understand him, but that we might cling to him, that we might simply let ourselves be swept away by him into the immense event of the resurrection.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Mystery of Easter)

8. The risen life is not easy; it is also a dying life. The presence of the Resurrection in our lives means the presence of the Cross, for we do not rise with Christ unless we also first die with him. It is by the cross that we enter the dynamism of creative transformation, the dynamism of resurrection and renewal, the dynamism of love.
– Thomas Merton (He is Risen)

9. Whatever we can know historically about Christ’s resurrection must not be abstracted from the questions: what can we hope from it? And what must we do in its name? The resurrection of Christ is historically understood in the full sense in the unity of knowing, hoping, and doing.
– Jurgen Motmann (The Way of Jesus Christ)

10. Our death is already behind us, and our resurrection before us.
– Ephrem of Edessa (On Paradise)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Resurrection: The Matter of Matter and Why it Matters

The resurrection of Jesus, (resurrected—fully and physically alive, empty tomb and all) is essential to Christian faith. One of the reasons this matters is that it affects how we understand matter to matter and what hope we have for the material reality of this world and our material bodies and histories.

Classically, there are two options for addressing matter. Christianity promises a third.

1. Matter is all that matters – the materialist, atheist option. The material world is all there is and there is no meaning beyond what can be weighed or measured. The universe and all it contains, including human beings, is merely the product of impersonal, purposeless processes. In that case, the best we can do is try to avoid as much suffering as possible and "enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can," as The Misfit says in Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. You can also try to avoid inflicting any more pain than necessary. You can even seek to alleviate and prevent it if that's how you want to spend your minutes. Or, like The Misfit, you can enjoy "No pleasure but meanness." But, which you choose is just a matter of taste. The most we can hope for is that sooner or later, one way or another, each of us will be put out of her or his misery by the oblivion of death.

If matter is all that matters, in the end it doesn’t matter all that much. And it does not matter if it is cared for or destroyed, cherished or exploited. And that is true of all material beings, including human beings. Even those who have aimed at improving the material well-being of humanity while committed to an ideology based on materialism have justified horrific things being done to the actual physical, material bodies of human beings.

Most atheists and materialists try to avoid these conclusions. But none successfully.

2. Matter doesn’t really matter – the option of one or another version of Idealism, Spiritualism, or Gnosticism. The material world and its tragic history is at most an insignificant backdrop to a more real spiritual drama. Or it is a bad and yucky thing. Or it is an illusion. This is true of the world at large and it is true of our material bodies. The hope then is that we can escape the material world with all its challenges and suffering through one or another system of spiritual liberation. Or we can hope that whatever is eternal, e.g., our soul or spirit, will finally shuffle off the mortal coil of material, bodily existence and move on to some realm of spiritual bliss.

As with option 1, if this is true, it doesn’t matter much how matter is treated. It is a matter of indifference.

Christians have sometimes tended to adopt some version of this. To disastrous effect. There has been a tendency to treat material reality as merely "stuff" to be used and exploited rather than a gift to be received with reverence and gratitude. And horrific things have been done to the material, physical bodies of human beings for the sake of their immaterial souls or some larger, spiritual ideal. 

But, orthodox Christianity has not taught that matter does not matter.

3. Christianity affirms something different – matter matters, but it is not all that matters and it matters in a direction. The material world is created by God and God declares it good – very good. It has been further blessed by being assumed by divinity in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection of Jesus we are assured that, in spite of its tragic history, the material creation is destined for transfiguration and New Creation. Matter matters.

If one assumes either 1 or 2, any talk of "resurrection" must be understood as metaphorical with, at best, only tangential connection with physical and material reality. If it has any meaning at all it is only a spiritual meaning. And there are some who talk of resurrection as if that is all it means – while the stories of resurrection have metaphorical meaning, Jesus did not actually, physically rise from the dead.

But, the hope of Christianity is based on a real, physical, material resurrection. First of all, the resurrection of Jesus in the 1st century. But, we also affirm in the Creeds that we believe in (and base our hope on) "the resurrection of the body". And what we hope for matters.

While the evil we humans commit, collaborate with, and suffer under always has a spiritual dimension, fundamentally, it is real, physical, and historical. The trauma, tragedy, torture, and terror are in real space, in real time. The contradictions we live under are historical, not metaphorical or merely spiritual. The Christian hope is not that we will somehow merely escape from the trauma, tragedy, and terror of evil, sin, and death – either that of our personal stories or of the story of human history. Our hope is that it has been addressed and redressed in the Incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that it will all be transfigured in resurrection.

I wonder if, when we say we believe in the resurrection of the body, what we are saying is about more than only the resurrection of individual bodies. It certainly is that. But, it it is also about the whole Human body stretched out on the rack of history. It is that body that was incorporated in the Incarnation. When Jesus Christ rose again on the third day, so did the promise of the resurrection/transfiguration of all the very material, historical sin and suffering of humanity and all creation – not metaphorically, but really and physically.

A real, physical resurrection matters. With that there is hope that the very real, physical torture and suffering of history (and the persons caught in it as victims, perpetrators, and collaborators) does not get the last word. Death and its servants do not win. Because we believe material reality matters and matters in a particular direction, we believe it matters how we care for the material creation. And it matters how we treat and care for the actual physical bodies of other human beings and their real material needs. While our meaning and purpose is found in more than our physical, material needs; the affirmation of the resurrection of the body insists that bodies cannot be separated from that meaning and purpose.

The Christian themes of creation and resurrection affirm that matter matters and it matters in a direction with a purpose and meaning. Rejoicing in the power of the resurrection, we live in the hope that material reality – including us God-breathed, material, embodied creatures – will be transfigured in resurrection glory. In the meantime we are obliged to cherish and care for it all and for the physical bodies and material needs of every human being.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Cross = a Platform, an Altar, and a Throne

A Good Friday Meditation
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1-19:42
Cathedral of St. Paul, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin

When I survey the wondrous cross, what do I see?
When you survey the wondrous cross, what do you see?

A cruel instrument of personal torture and public terror?
It was certainly that.
The Romans used the cross liberally to maintain the order of their empire.
And it certainly was a cruel, painful, humiliating way to die.

As we gather to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus,
we do well to remember that the cross on which he died
was a cruel instrument of torture and terror.

But, when Jesus was hung on a cross to die,
this notorious instrument of personal torture and public terror
was transformed into something more.
It became a platform, an altar, and a throne.

Look at the three windows at the back of the cathedral.

On the right is the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.
On the left is the Old Testament priest, Aaron.
In the  center is the Old Testament King, David.
Jesus is the fulfillment of each of these Old Testament offices.

When I survey the wondrous cross,
I see the platform for the Prophet proclaiming the Good News.

With Jesus, the cross became a platform for a prophet – the Prophet.

This prophet came not simply to deliver a word from God,
he was the very Word of God enfleshed.

From this unusual wooden platform of the cross,
he uttered this prophetic word, “It is finished.”

What is finished?
The reign of death.
With the death of Jesus
we see the death of death.

Now, however much it might seem that death has the last word,
we know that Jesus – his life and love –
is the last word and death is finished.

As the Prophet’s proclamation echoes through the ages
from this wooden platform,
death becomes a whisper.
Death is as fleeting as late spring snow.

When I survey the wondrous cross,
I see the altar where the one Priest becomes the one Sacrifice.

Jesus is the priest able to sympathize with our weakness,
tested as we are, yet without sin.

On that wooden, cross-shaped altar,

Jesus, the one the Sacrifice,
bore our infirmities and carried our diseases.
He was wounded for our transgressions
and crushed for our iniquities.
With his death, our sin dies
and by his bruises we are healed.
Jesus is the source of eternal salvation.

When I survey the wondrous cross, I also see a throne
from which the King of glory reigns.

“Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”
is also King and Lord of all creation.

Especially in the Gospel of John,
the cross is transformed from an instrument
of torture, terror and death
into an instrument of glory.

In chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, Jesus declares,
“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men to myself”
and “the prince of this world will be driven out.”

The prince of this world rules though fear,
torture and terror,
destruction and death.

The prince of this world wins when we respond
with fear and hatred and vengeance.

But, on the cross, the prince of this world
is unseated,
The one true King assumes his throne
and begins his reign of love and peace and reconciliation.

Let us remember on Good Friday that Jesus died a cruel death
on an instrument of personal torture and public terror.
Let us also remember that he transformed the cross into something more.

Let us rejoice that he has made possible our transformation
as we are freed from the power of Death and Sin
and welcomed as subjects of his gracious reign.

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, I see more.

I see a platform for a prophet.

I see an altar where priest and sacrifice are one.

I see a throne from whence reigns the Prince of Peace who is the King of Glory.

On Jesus' Prayer from the Cross for his Enemies

LORD JESUS CHRIST, Fountain of holiness and sweetness, I bless and thank you for your abundant love and heartfelt prayer for you enemies and for those crucifying you. With hands outstretched on the cross, you pleaded for them, asking that they be pardoned, and you generously excused their transgressions, saying, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Indeed, these are words, full of grace and sweetness, capable of softening the heart of any sinner and of moving him to repentance!

O sweet Jesus, how inclined you are to forgive, how easily appeased, and how eager to show mercy. Great and boundless is you kindness Lord, to all who love you; you likewise manifested that same loving kindness toward you enemies. Hanging high on your Cross you were not moved by any bitterness against those crucifying you, nor did you seek vengeance on those tormenting you. You did not pray for the earth to swallow them up, or for fire to come down from Heaven and consume them that very instant. Rather, like a welcome rain, you uttered sweet and loving words on behalf of your cruel tormentors, saying: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

These words reveal you most excellent love as well as your indescribably meekness, qualities that could never be obliterated in you. Nor were you held back from uttering a prayer. Your executioners shouted: Crucify! Crucify! And you responded with the words: Father, forgive them. They drove rough nails into your body and you offered excuses for their unheard-of wickedness, saying: They know not what they do. O Christ, how wonderful is your love.

Penetrate deeply into the five sacred wounds of the crucified, kiss his other wounds, cling to the tree of life with loving arms, and hold fast to Jesus hanging on his Cross, he is the certain pledge for our salvation. Worship him devoutly, commit yourself to him with full faith, and abandon yourself completely into his hands. Since he had shown himself to be good and merciful to his enemies, then he will certainly be more gracious to one who sorrows over his sins.

If you, however, wish your prayer to be heard the sooner, and if you desire to win your Redeemer’s grace and obtain the fullness of his mercy, then from the depths of your heart forgive your brother for whatever he has done against you. Forgive him for small matter so that God may forgive you for more serious offenses, and pray for his salvation in the same way as you pray for your own. You will find grace and, by imitating the example of Jesus, who orders us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, you will become the child of the Most High.

If you train yourself to forgive all injuries done you, even though you suffer them unjustly, and to pray for those who have wronged you, then you have gained for yourself at the hour of your death a confident hope. Such holy prayer for one’s enemies has won eternal blessedness for the apostles, has glorified the martyrs, ennobled the confessors, and made all the saints like unto Christ and deserving of eternal life.
– Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), On the Passion of Christ

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Holy Week and the Way of Jesus

In Holy Week Jesus confronts us with fundamental questions.

Will we be people of the basin and the towel,
prepared to wash one another's feet
and feet of the world?

Or will we be people of the hammer and nails,
enthralled with the way of separation and violence –
in our hearts,
in our words,
in our actions?

Will we crucify Jesus again and again
as we crucify those he loves,
with whom he identifies,
and for whom he died?

Will we justify our own fingerprints on the hammer and nails
by insisting that others have more?

Or will we take up our cross,
deny ourselves and follow
the One who came not to be served,
but to serve;
the One who insisted that God desires mercy,
not sacrifice;
the One who said love your enemy;
the One who prayed from the cross,
“Father, forgive . . .”?

Will we follow the one who took up the basin and towel
and washed even the feet of those
who would abandon,
deny, and betray him?

Do we really believe in the way of Jesus?

Do we really believe in resurrection?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Olives, Olive Oil, and the Mercy of God

This is an amplified  quite a bit longer  version of the sermon I preached at the Diocese of Fond du Lac Chrism Mass at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Fond du Lac, WI on March 19, 2016.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

By now, most of you know that mercy is a basic theme for me. That’s because I believe it is a basic theme of Jesus. It is also a basic theme of our worship. We will explicitly ask for mercy eight times in our liturgy this morning (Rite II Prayer A). That doesn’t count the times we will do so without actually saying the word.

Mercy is a basic Christian theme. But what are we asking for when we ask God for mercy? I read recently an essay by someone who said he does not like the concept of mercy. The reason he gave was that mercy evoked the image of an angry God out to punish us. Mercy is all that prevents God from giving us a well-deserved whacking for our sins. I agree that this is an image of God that leaves much to be desired. And it does reduce mercy to being only about not getting what we deserve. But, mercy is about much more than that.

Certainly, Christians in the early church believed the mercy we know in Jesus is about more than that. To explain and celebrate that mercy, they sometimes used a little word-play. The Greek word for mercy is eleison, as in “Kýrie, eléison,” Lord have mercy. Eleison is similar to elaion, the Greek word for olive. Olives and olive oil were essential in the ancient Mediterranean world. Some commentators of early Church used this similarity as a means of reflecting on various aspects of mercy. Given that we are going to bless olive oil for various uses this morning, it seems fitting to look at olives, olive oil, and mercy


[Holding up an olive branch] In the story of Noah, the dove returns with an olive branch symbolizing the end of the flood and the end of God’s wrath bringing with it peace with God.

We are creatures of agitation and anxiety, tossed about on the stormy waters of life. To pray for mercy is to pray for peace

Jesus is the olive branch bourn by the Holy Dove sent from God to bring peace and deliverance from the storm.

We need peace. We are caught in a web of sin and unlove, of anger, alienation, and violence – a web from which we cannot extricate ourselves. To pray for mercy is to pray for forgiveness and freedom from sin.

Our world is beset with war and violence. The peace of Jesus is a promise that in the end wars will cease and violence will be no more. The peace of Jesus calls us to live in anticipation of that end and be people of peace now. To pray for mercy commits us to be merciful peacemakers.

To pray for mercy expresses a desire for peace – peace with God, deep inner peace, and peace between people.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and know the mercy of his peace.

Living out of that mercy, we can live as a peacemakers and people of reconciliation.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.


[Holding up oil for anointing the sick] In the Biblical account of “the good Samaritan” the man who had been attacked has his wounds treated with wine and oil. Olive oil is still a common “folk remedy” in parts of the Mediterranean used as a balm for various hurts and irritations. As we heard in this morning’s gospel, healing was a central part of Jesus mission of mercy and compassion.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35)

Each of us, one way or another, is sick and broken. We are all walking wounded – spiritually, emotionally, physically. So, we pray for mercy. We pray for healing. We anoint with olive oil the sick and those who are otherwise in need of healing.

But, the healing we need is for more than just each of us personally. In Johns’ vision of the heavenly Jerusalem there is a tree in the center and the “leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). To pray for mercy is to pray for the healing of social wounds and the wounds that come between people and nations.

To pray for mercy is to pray for healing – spiritual, emotional, physical, and social.

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and know the mercy of his healing.

Living out of that mercy, we can live as the healing presence of Jesus in the world.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.


[Hold up clay oil lamp and light it] In the time of Jesus, olive oil was used as fuel for lamps to light the darkness. Olive oil is a slow and clean burning fuel, olive oil lamps require infrequent refilling and produce little to no odor, smoke or soot.

The Psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). Jesus is that lamp and that light. He said of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We need that light

Early in the Gospel of Luke we read that Jesus came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). Death and the threat of death cast a shadow over our lives. The fear of death or injury or loss sometimes cause us to do or support dark deeds. In a world of death and destruction, of dishonesty and deceit, of torture and terror, we feel harassed and helpless. We need the mercy of the light of Christ.

On our own we do not know God or ourselves. We are ignorant of our meaning and destiny. We are enigmas to ourselves. We do things we do not intend. We don’t do things we do intend. We rarely understand our own mixed motives. And even when we do intend good, evil is close at hand (see Romans 7 & Luke 11:35). Each of us has dark passages in our past and dark corners in our own heart. We need the mercy of the light of Christ.

The awareness of all the darkness in the world and in ourselves can be overwhelming. But, by the mercy of God, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Jesus is the light of the world. He calls us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). He calls us to turn from the darkness of hate to the light of love (1John 2:9).

If the LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)

To pray for mercy is to pray for that light and that salvation.

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and allow his mercy to illumine your heart and dispel the darkness fear and unlove.

Living out of that mercy, we can walk as children of the light in the way of Jesus and be light in the world.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.


[Holding up a jar of olive oil for cooking and a can of olive (tossing an olive in my mouth)] Olives are food. Olives are eaten as food and olive oil is used extensively in cooking. 

Jesus is our true food, nourishing our deepest most insatiable hunger. He promised, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55), and “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). In a few minutes, we will again feed on the heavenly manna that is the body and blood of Jesus.

To pray for mercy is to pray to have your deepest hungers satisfied and for and end to all hunger. 

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and be nourished by the Sacrament of his body and blood and the Bible.

Living out of that mercy, we can be the body of Christ, fed by the body of Christ, and offering ourselves to feed a world that is hungry in more ways than one.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.


[Dabbing some olive oil my finger and thumb, I rub them together] This is one I did not get from the early Church. I don’t know if olive oil was ever used as a lubricant. But, it seems a fitting symbol for the mercy necessary for life together. We live in a contentious and fractious world. Too often, that contentiousness and fractiousness is evident in the church and in our congregations. We need the mercy of Jesus to “lubricate” our lives with patience, gentleness, generosity, and hospitality.

In Psalm 133, we hear, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. To pray for mercy is to pray for that kind of unity and harmony.

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and allow his mercy to lubricate your love and the life of your congregation.

Living out of that mercy, we can be the lubricant of love in a world full of friction, heat, and anger.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Joy & Gladness

In the lesson from Isaiah we just heard, the prophet refers to the oil of gladness:

grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

And we read of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Hebrews 1:9).

Jesus himself said: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15.11). To pray for mercy is to pray for that joy.

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus and allow his joy and gladness to pour over you and permeate your being.

Living out of that mercy we can smuggle the joy of Jesus into the world.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.


[Holding up a container of chrism oil] In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed with oil. Moses’ brother Aaron and King David in whom God established his priestly line and his kingly line are examples. I think that is a practice we should reclaim. The next time I ordain someone, I want to pour oil over their head.

In baptism and chrismation we have been anointed – sealed with the Holy
Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Therefore we have all been anointed to the vocation of being “little Christs,” “Little Jesuses.” We are all of us part of that royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) called to bless and serve God’s creation offering it back to him with praise and thanksgiving. We are all of us called to bless and serve one another and the world in Jesus’ name.

The epistle lesson from Ephesians affirms that we all have a vocation to use our various gifts to promote the body’s growth and build it up in love. That means all of us, lay and ordained. We do call some out and ordain them to be deacons – particular icons and leaders in servanthood. We do call some out and ordain them to be priests – particular icons and leaders in blessing. We do call some out and ordain them to be bishops – particular icons and leaders in maintaining the unity and integrity of the Church. I charge those of us who are so ordained to recommit ourselves to the ministries to which we have been called.

And I charge the rest of you, dear people of God, to remember that you to have been anointed to serve, to bless, and bear witness to hope of resurrection and the harmony of new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

To pray for mercy is to pray for the power to live into our vocation.

Sink your heart into the mercy of Jesus’ claim on your life and live into your calling to be an agent of his mercy.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

As we bless the oil this morning and as you use it throughout the year, remember that God’s mercy in Jesus brings us peace. Mercy heals us. Mercy lights our path. Mercy feeds us. Mercy enables life together. Mercy brings us joy and gladness. And anoints us for mission as God’s people — orienting us to know who we are and what our purpose is – to be mercy-bearers to a world desperate for the mercy of Jesus.

Let us now recommit ourselves to that vocation.