Back to Blog
First Sunday of Advent - Year C
Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, was also famous for his unusual quips such as it is “déjà vu all over again.” There are various stories surrounding these memes. 
The season of Advent is “déjà vu all over again.” We’ve been here before. Every year about this time Christians recycle the liturgical countdown to the mythical date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  At this time in history, when troublesome realities are mixed with visions of hope, we are compelled to rethink the significance of Advent. 
The passage today, from Jeremiah (Jer 33:14-16), recalls the trouble that God’s chosen people were in. Apparently, they forgot their part of their covenant with God to keep the commandments. As they readied for the invasion of the ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, who was in prison at the time, pleaded with the people of Israel and Judah to once again trust in God and change their ways.
The Bible reminds us that the path to reconciliation, peace and justice is through acts of kindness and mercy. (Psalm 25) Margaret Odell, Professor Emerita of Religion at St. Olaf College, remarked: “In the ancient world, justice was not an abstract concept. It was always a personal practice of care and attention to the needs of others .…” We’ve heard this call to discipleship over and over but now there is some urgency.
In the apocalyptic gospel passage (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) Jesus claimed that things would get worse before they got better — “on earth nations will be in disarray.” We could take this dire prediction as a call to change our ways. Or, we could consider it a wake up call to be more aware of what is going on all around us today.
During his ministry Jesus cared for the underdog promising them better days ahead. He also opposed the imperial style of leadership practiced by both secular and religious leaders. The time was ripe for someone like the itinerant preacher Jesus to shake things up and promise deliverance from evil doers.
Today, many wait in joyful hope for the coming of a saviour to repair the world. This kind of hope (waiting for someone else to save us) is not a good strategy. Too many hard-hearted powers working against humanity are out of control and gaining strength. The strains of autocracy, plutocracy, and oligarchy are infecting other countries and making America sicker by the day.
This weekend the biblical message is familiar … all over again. Yes, “people will die of fright” but not only because of the “roaring of the sea and waves.” The refusals by governments and ourselves to accept responsibility for climate change are unnerving. The gnawing presence of infectious viruses is tiring and frightening. Stormy political and religious culture wars over other prickly ethical issues are dividing this nation into clashing camps.
Advent is not about “preparing the way” of the Lord or St. Nick for that matter. The Christ of faith is already walking among us. The problem is that God is not always recognized in our streets, classrooms, offices, congressional halls, or our homes.
Christians often fail to see the radiance of Christ’s face not only in the environment but also the stranger, the outcast, the prisoner, the teenage prostitute, the drug user, the homeless person and even people who are most familiar to us.
To make a dent in the maelstrom we are enduring it is important to accept that the Spirit God energizes and implores us to follow the path that the Nazarene prophet laid out for us. Action is required. The disciple Paul, who changed his way of living, urged his followers: “strengthen your hearts, conduct yourselves to please God. You [do] know the instructions we gave you from Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2)
Our task this Advent is to find ways to stop thinking only about ourselves and our destinies. While personal domestic responsibilities cannot be ignored completely we can tailor them to include others living on the fringes of the human family.
Mindfulness is a good practice to focus on what is happening around us. Although the new Omicron Variant is already spreading globally, tourists are visiting this country again. They ogle Times Square, gasp at the Grand Canyon, and revel in the Magic Kingdoms.
However, other travelers have been on the move for ages. They are the refugees and migrants seeking a land of milk and honey where they can settle and live with dignity. We have to prepare a land where all lives matter starting with those who are people of color.
Responsible persons have shown incredible resilience in countering many similar troubles before us. Audrey West, Associate Professor of the New Testament at Moravian Theological College, wrote: “The ability to interpret a future-shaped present depends, in part, on reference to the past.” As spiritual sojourners we remember that history often repeats itself with both good and bad news.
We can learn to be advocates for the good news, the human rights taught by our ancestors. The voices of women like Sarah, Ruth, Lydia, Esther, Mary, as well as Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Mohammed gifted us with the same sets of golden rules that are being presented to us, all over again, by the teachers and prophets of our time.
There is still time to make sure there is a better tomorrow for all of us especially our children. This was the promise of the One called messiah. As a legendary baseball catcher once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over!” 
1. Yankee fans might maintain that Yogi uttered this particular phrase after Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back-to-back home runs in 1961.
2. Most sources agree that the 25th of December was formally established as the date of Jesus’s birth @ 336 CE.
3. Advent was originally a time of preparation for Christian initiation at Epiphany.
4. Thank you Yogi Berra!
Back to Blog
Solemnity of Christ King of the Universe
In his recently published memoir,  Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese multi-media artist and human rights activist, writes about how his progressive minded and artistically gifted grandfather and father endured the punishments of Chinese dictators. Wei Wei himself suffered similar indignations and intimidations as the government sought to “remodel” free thinkers, artists, writers and others who opposed authoritarian control.
I started thinking about the freedoms enjoyed in this country. Most people, with determination and a bit of luck, can still pursue the careers and lifestyles they envision for themselves and their families. I am also aware of those who have no opportunities for advancements; whose rights are snuffed out by the whim of insensitive and self serving government leaders. What does God have to do with these problems?
Today, for many Christians, is the liturgical commemoration of Christ as King of the Universe, whose dominion is eternal. (Daniel 7:13-14) Christian doctrine asserts that Christ is the sovereign over all earthly matters. Today’s feast marks the conclusion of a liturgical year and sets the cyclical stage for Jesus of Nazareth entering world history. In our faith-filled imaginations Christ is called prophet, healer, peace activist, king, and savior “whose decrees are worthy of trust indeed.” (Psalm 93:1, 1-2,5)
In commenting on the gospel for today (John 18:33b-37), Samuel Cruz,  remarks: “This passage … shows how the powerful do not like it when they do not control the discourse … just as the powerful elites are accustomed to determining/controlling the ideology and the discourse in our day.”
In this context it is discouraging to think that the time honored liberties enjoyed in the United States and rooted in democracy are slowly crumbling due to an endangered election system coupled with the self-serving agendas and ideals of an elite class of politicians, wealthy individuals and corporations.
The global trend toward dictatorial government leaders is frightening. Those countries, where a single person or political party, has absolute power include Belarus, China, Nicaragua, Syria, Turkey, and Russia just to name a few. In some places dictators act like religious leaders while the religious leaders act like politicians.
One cannot, therefore, avoid thinking about any institution, especially religious ones, where a privileged class monitors the spiritual and secular lives of the memberships. If equal rights for all human beings is the objective in society then hierarchical and patriarchal forms of governance have to give way to leadership roles that include all people regardless of race, gender identity, class or wealth. This act of justice, established by the Sovereign Christ, is a law based on love of neighbor.
Francis, the bishop of Rome, is right to initiate a world-wide synod calling for bishops to listen to the members of their churches, their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties. These words are found at the beginning of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World where it also states that respect and love for humanity is expressed “by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.” (No. 3)
Professor Cruz continues to comment on what Jesus meant when he said to Pilate his “kingdom was not of this world.” Cruz wrote: “The values of Jesus’ kingdom are so vastly different from those of this world that often we Christians fail to understand them. The church, which purports to—and should—represent Jesus’ kingdom, is here to serve in humility rather than to seek earthly power.”
According to a new study  congregations that work for justice and peace are more proactive in the public square when they are exhorted to do so from the pulpit. South African Methodist bishop Peter Storey, in an interview on the role of Christians in the world, recently remarked: “The church is only the church when it is engaging the world. The rest of the time it’s just getting dressed for the job.”
We find our place in the cosmic enterprise, where the Creator and Sovereign God continues to move about, by carrying “forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit … Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.” (John 18:37; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45) 
Ai Wei Wei wrote about the joys and sorrows of being a Chinese artist and social activist. Jesus of Nazareth said that his followers’ lives would also be filled with difficulties and delights. It is up to us who practice a religious tradition to join others who hold similar values to find ways to assist those who have no power to determine their destinies. It may be for us both a costly act of discipleship and a worthwhile one.
1. Ai Wei Wei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir. Trans. Allan H. Barr, New York: Crown, 2021
2. Cruz is Associate Professor of Church and Society at Union Seminary in New York City,
3. Race and the Power of Sermons on American Politics by R. Khari Brown, Ronald E. Brown, and James S. Jackson. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 2021
4. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 3.
Back to Blog
The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Homily at the Sunday Liturgy, the College of St. Rose, Albany, NY
According to tonight’s gospel Jesus was deeply disturbed about the grave inequities in the economic and social system of his time.  He publicly criticized the hypocritical behavior of the religious leaders who, under the guise of their piety, took advantage of the weaker members of society. 
In this gospel and the Book of Deuteronomy we read that, even though they had very little, the widows gave what they could. In this sense the widows are the exemplars of the ways we should serve one another.
Theologian Amanda Brobst-Renaud suggests the “widow’s offering is both an expression of trust in God in the midst of the world comprised of broken people, systems, and communities of faith.” Brobst-Renaud suggests that the undocumented alien, the widow, and the orphan are frequently forgotten.
This gospel is not only about what the widow gave. It is a biting criticism of the behavior of the privileged class of scribes who ruled the Temple and the lives of the people. The widow in the story had no access to food stamps, soup kitchens, social security, medicaid, medicare or health care. Neither do many women today.
Although some studies suggest the percentage of widows’ living in poverty has fallen, largely due to education and employment opportunities,  women who are widowed and women who are single parents continue to struggle to make ends meet. Women of color suffer even more so. The gospel makes us mindful of their plights.
If Jesus, the itinerant Jewish prophet, were standing in the halls of Congress today he might be railing against self-serving politicians who have placed their careers above the needs of their constituents. On the public record there is little evidence of their passion for helping families who live below the poverty level.
A lesson from history may be helpful here. Heather Cox-Richardson reminds us that, after the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover could not find support for a program that would get this country back on its feet. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, trying to pick up the pieces, would later propose a New Deal.
Congressional leaders at the time — liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican — felt a national emergency existed and passed Roosevelt’s programs quickly. The New Deal created opportunities and a social safety net for all Americans including widows, orphans, and the elderly.
These two political parties, that once advanced economic and social liberalism, are now competing for power and wealth in our country already torn apart over racial issues, the pandemic, education, falsehoods, voting rights, religious liberties, and the economy.
Although the infrastructure bill was passed, Congress must now pass the social and environmental package. To do so, politicians need to stop operating in secrecy, which makes it easier to push their agendas and avoid scrutiny and criticism from the very people they are elected to serve. 
Where does religion come in? Working for the common good is a corporate responsibility. Civic and religious leaders need to listen to one another and learn to work together to promote new programs and strengthen existing ones to serve those in need. Individual agendas have to be set aside.
Psalm 146 reminds us that God secures justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. How will those of us who gather here to worship God and share communion respond not only to the voices of the widows in these biblical stories but to our local and global societies that desperately need repair?
In her book, Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel, Jennifer McBride, professor of theology and ethics at McCormick Seminary, urges that we must learn to connect our participation in the eucharist with social action.
McBride comments: “Since the gospel demands discipleship … it is inherently social and political. It concerns how we structure society in a way that demonstrates love for the neighbors, strangers, and enemies, a love that leads to both social and personal transformation.”
Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti, we can seek “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (no. 154). These hope-filled words are challenging for political and religious leaders as well as you and me in a time that is both unpredictable and troubling. Change requires all of us working together with all our “might.” Every person matters.
1. Adams, J.R., From Literal to Literary (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press) 2005, 310.
2. Byrne, B. A Costly Freedom (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008, 194.
4. Editorial, The Sunday Gazette, November 7, 2021, D1.