16 December 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3)
Have you ever noticed that there are really just two protagonists in this season of Advent: John the Baptist (as in “you brood of vipers”), and Mary (as in “be it unto me according to your word”).
The strange thing is, that logically the pairing of these two doesn’t make much sense in this season leading toward the birth of Jesus. Mary, sure … as mother of Jesus, it’s obvious that she should figure as one of the main actors.
But John the Baptist? As we’ll be reminded in next week’s readings, he was actually exactly the same age as Jesus: as we will hear, the pregnant Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting, and the child in her womb (none other than the future John the Baptist) jumped for joy at the meeting.
Yet as we heard today, John gets a major role even before Jesus is born, as if he were already on the scene. But that just wasn’t true. In what we heard of John’s preaching in the wilderness today, we’ve actually fast forwarded about 20 or 30 years to when both Jesus and John would have been men, just starting out on their life’s calling.
So why do things get all out of sequence, with John making a rather dramatic appearance today, preaching a message of wrath and judgment, when next week he will not even have been born? Well, in one way this peculiarity does make sense: John is a voice crying aloud, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” which is what Advent is all about. So transposing his preaching to before Jesus’ birth, rather than years later, does seem to be a poetic license that is … well, kind of fitting. [It’s where our opening chant came from, for instance.] And for those of us who are old enough to remember, it may evokes that touching opening song of Godspell: [sing] “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
But I think there’s something deeper going on here as well, more than poetic license. I think that this season of Advent sets Mary and John the Baptist up for us as alternative visions of human life, and asks us to choose between them. On the one hand, there is John, who lives the way of negative prohibition: don’t do this, don’t do that. That’s what he tells the crowds in the gospel when they ask what they should do. “Don’t extort money. Don’t take more than you are due.”
And then on the other hand there is Mary, who is all about saying “yes.” Given the choice by the angel between being part of God’s project of salvation, or turning it down, she says yes: “be it unto me according to your word.” Mary is all about possibility, growth, risk. How different from the accusatory disapproval of John!
And therein lies the rub: in Mary, and by her son Jesus, God seems to have decided that the tactic of telling us through the prophets, what we should and shouldn’t do, just wasn’t working. So God’s had to try something new. In Jesus, God chose to make the way of encouragement and invitation to be God’s way, over and against the way of proscription and law: love one another, Jesus will say, as I have loved you. Abide in me, and I will abide in you. Follow me, and I will make you a new creation.
John represents the other way, the way of trying to live up to a prescribed standard, but even he acknowledges that in the end what he represents must decrease in order that another—Jesus—may increase. He passes his mantle to Jesus, realizing not only that his time has passed, but also the point of his message. His way of negative prohibition, must give way to the new life of receptive, self-giving, self-sacrificial love that is the way of Mary. And the way of Jesus. So contrary to John, Mary represents to us the beginning of the way of growth, of development, of evolution, of new beginning, of opportunity, of possibility, of new creation, of letting go, of expectancy, of hope … whatever you want to call it.
There is, however, only one little problem. By nature, we human beings hate growth, and development, and new creation, and letting go. In short, we don’t like what Mary represents. We instinctively dislike change, we resist conversion, we don’t want to develop, and we certainly don’t intend to move out of our comfort zone. We like things the way they are, even if they aren’t good.
In this week’s Economist, there was a fascinating article about a psychological study that offered participants a certain sum of money, if they would take time to read an article tailored to their existing political opinion. Then, the researchers offered a larger sum of money, if the participants would read instead an article representing a contrary point of view. Remarkably, almost two-thirds of the participants (both liberal and conservative), gave up the chance of earning extra cash by reading an article contrary to their opinion, just to avoid being exposed to the other point of view. Think about that: we can’t even be bribed to entertain a new idea!
So Advent is a bit like that psychological study, in that it asks a pretty basic existential question: would you be willing (even without extra cash), to step out of yourself, as did Mary, into a life of greater discovery, of trust, and risk, and growth? Or would you rather remain in the rule-bound world of John the Baptist, where everything is pretty clear and well-defined, but also dull, and unimaginative, and predictable?
Could it be, that the essential thing about the Jesus who is coming, is that unlike John, who was all about condemnation, he is all about invitation? And what might he be inviting you to do and to be, this Advent season? Are you ready to say with Mary, “Yes, be it unto me, according to your word?” Amen.
December 9, 2018, The Second Sunday of Advent, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pr. JP Arrossa, Preaching
2 December 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Jesus said, “Stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21)
“Our society is suffering from a crisis of trust.” Those words might sound as if they were spoken just yesterday, but they come from a series of Lenten talks given more than a decade ago at Canterbury Cathedral. (Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust, 2007). Trust has been in short supply for a long time.
The source of mistrust, is that we sense that someone else’s agenda or purpose has nothing to do with my own good, or the good of my community. So nowadays we are mistrustful of government, which seems bound by the self-serving straightjacket of bureaucracy and partisanship. We are mistrustful of corporations, which seem motivated purely for the benefit of their investors. We are mistrustful of institutions like colleges and universities, which seem more oriented to their own self-preservation than to the service of society. So too, we are mistrustful of the institutional church, which seems structured to provide an aura of importance to those in authority, while neglecting structures of accountability for their actions.
I would venture to say, that we are even mistrustful of ourselves, knowing from modern psychology that we are often motivated by deeply rooted prejudices and resentments that obscure our judgment and blunt our goodwill.
This kind of mistrust creeps in to relationships of all kinds, short-circuiting their vitality and sabotaging their effectiveness. I recall, for instance, visiting the St. Nicholas Seminary in Ghana when I was dean of an American seminary, with the goal of establishing an exchange relationship with its students and faculty. Its wary president told me, “Mr. Dean, we have been courted before by other American seminaries, only to be left standing alone at the altar when their priorities changed. So our experience is that Americans are not to be trusted. Can you promise something better?” And in truth, knowing the political vicissitudes of American educational institutions, I found that I could not. I knew that we as a school, when all was said and done, did not value, and were not structured, to make long-term commitments. We were, as an institution, fundamentally untrustworthy.
In today’s gospel, Jesus describes what a world lacking in trust looks like. There is distress and tension among the nations, people are full of fear and foreboding, uncertain of what is coming. Anxiety and anger dominate. Sound familiar?
So how does Jesus respond to this atmosphere of mistrust? Well, as you might expect, he tells a parable: a simple parable of predictability. When the trees sprout their leaves, he says, you know for a fact that summer is near. So too, there are signs that God is near, if we are able to read them.
The implication, of course, is that amidst the uncertainties of the world, Jesus is saying there is at least one thing, which is fully trustworthy: and that thing is God. So, of course, the question arises: how do we know that?
Ironically, it is the very one who asserts the validity of the statement that God is to be trusted, who is himself the validation of it. Jesus is the one whose life shows us what God always means to have happen, what God’s agenda is, if you will. In the mercy that Jesus shows to those around him, in the peaceableness that he teaches, in the turning toward the other with complete openness and acceptance—in all these things, we see enacted God’s way with humanity.
God, you see, doesn’t give us ideas about who God is: God gives us a life, the life of Jesus. And that through our own contemplation of that life, we find that we have enough to go on to be able to say to ourselves, “God can be trusted.” Because, as it turns out, we don’t see anything in Jesus that is not in some way an expression of the love that is at the heart of who God is.
Julian of Norwich, the well-known fourteenth-century hermit and mystic, was asked what was the meaning of the recurring visions she had. Her answer was simple and direct: “Love was his meaning.”
Think, if you can, about someone you have known in your own life who you gradually came to realize acted without any thought for him or her self, without expectation of reward, who was wholly focused on the good of others. In lives like that, we see a reflection of what God is like: someone whose joy comes from sharing in the joy of others; someone whose intentions are always for good; someone who doesn’t need other people (in the sense of figuring out how to take advantage of them), but who delights in them. That is the kind of person you can truly trust, someone in whose hands you would willingly place your own life.
That’s what the disciples found in Jesus: someone who was so unalterably focused on others that they came to trust him without reserve. The climactic test of that trust, of course, comes in Jesus’ death—when at first the disciples thought that, after all, their trust was to be disappointed, because Jesus was defeated. But in his return, they discover a whole new level and reason for trust, because it turns out that the life that he lives is not his own, but God’s. And if God’s, then a life of mercy and peace—the very words Jesus first says to his disciples at Easter: “Peace be with you.”
Today, Advent Sunday, has the purpose of turning our eyes toward the life that is given to us in Jesus, that through it, we might see something of the life of God—not the whole of it, but enough to be able to trust in it. To trust that like Jesus, our challenges will not overcome us; to trust that suffering when it comes will not endure indefinitely; to trust that our efforts toward compassion and peace will not be in vain; to trust that love is at the foundation of it all, and that the source of that love cannot be exhausted.
As Dame Julian reported of her visions, “[Jesus] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempted, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be diseased’; but [rather] he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’” Amen.
18 Nov 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Today is Ingathering Sunday, when we offer our pledges of financial support for God’s mission in this parish in the coming year. It is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which encourages us to express our gratitude for the blessings large and small that give us the life we have to live.
It is, therefore, also a time to reflect on the rather basic question of why church? And are there blessings that we uniquely receive through it?
A number of years ago, a political scientist named Glenn Tinder wrote a book entitled, Can We Be Good without God? He didn’t just mean, can we do good things like feed the hungry or vote on election day without God—obviously we can. But rather, he was asking the question of whether human beings can fulfill their destiny to be wholly oriented toward the Other, if we lack any sense of dependence and accountability toward an origin larger than ourselves—call it God, or a higher power, or simply the mystery of the universe. His answer, in short, was no. We cannot be good without God, because otherwise we inevitably fall into self-centered and self-justifying behavior.
When his book appeared in essay form in The Atlantic, it raised quite a ruckus. There were angry letters to the editors objecting to their having let some theist into the pages of a secular magazine. Some letters went so far as to cancel their authors’ subscription, all of which had a way of legitimating Tinder’s contention that without God, we become inwardly focused, unwilling to hear anything that might challenge our own self-righteousness.
In a rather different vein, Rowan Williams (then Archbishop of Canterbury) was asked to speak in 2012 at a gathering of the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of “The New Evangelization,” that is, how the gospel is to be presented in an secularized era when even thoughtful people (such as those angry readers of The Atlantic) are predisposed not even to entertain the idea of God.
You know me well enough not to be surprised by my turning to Williams for inspiration. He’s the kind of person who, without pretension, nevertheless always seems to be the smartest person in the room. His speech to the gathered bishops was no exception.
What I most appreciate in what Williams has to say, is that he has a way of taking a topic that we thought we understood pretty well, and taking it in a direction we had never thought of before. So in addressing the topic of evangelization, instead of talking about how to convince people to believe in God, he talked instead about how to convince people to believe in humanity.
That is, in an era when we are so quick to divide the human community into opposing camps, so ready to reassert the borders that divide us, so ready to scapegoat someone else for the problems of our own making—how do we reassert a fundamental belief in the inherent dignity and value of the human person, every human person? How do we believe in humanity as a whole, and not just our tribal affiliation?
Well, this is where Williams turns back to God, arguing that faith leads us to what he calls a “true humanism,” or the “confidence that we [as Christians] have a distinctive human destiny to show and share with the world” which is nothing less than an “endless growth towards love.” As is typical for him, he grounds this idea in the relationship between God and Jesus: Jesus is the one who “translates” the relationship of loving and adoring self-giving that is God’s relationship to him, a pouring out of life towards the Other. As God loves Jesus, so Jesus loves the world, giving himself fully and completely for our sake so that we might glimpse through him our destiny to be recreated in the image of his humanity. Not the distorted humanity of self-preoccupation and division, but the fully alive humanity of self-giving and unity.
The goal, he says, is to learn to see other people not as they are related to ourselves, but as they are related to God. When we look at other people, we instinctively start to size them up, in reference to ourselves. Are they friend or foe? Democrat or Republican? Educated or uninformed? Citizen or immigrant? On and on it goes.
But when God looks at those same other people, God sees only an object of divine adoration and love. “And it is here,” Williams says, “that true justice as well as true love has its roots.” For if I can really, truly accept that even persons completely unlike myself have the same dignity as God’s beloved as do I, then how I treat them, and the destiny I imagine for them, is completely changed. It is, says Williams, “a deeply revolutionary matter.”
We have before us today some pretty odd readings from scripture. They are visionary passages, anticipating the end of time. And since we really know nothing about the end of time, they are pretty opaque. But even so, I do hear running through them this theme of destiny—and in Jesus’ warning that there will be many who will lead us astray, I hear a warning against any voice that tries to distort or to subjugate the fundamental dignity of all humanity that is given in God’s love for it, for all of us, for each of us.
In the forum today on “The New Monasticism,” we have been looking at some recently formed Christian communities that try to embody God’s vision for the destiny of humanity in the way they live out their common life together: Communities such as Sant’Egidio in Rome, whose motto is “Prayer. Poor. Peace.” Or the Community of Jerusalem in Paris, which aspires to be “Deep in the heart of the city, deep in the heart of God.” Or The Simple Way in Philadelphia, committed to rebuilding the Kensington neighborhood (where our asylum family now lives) through community involvement and celebration. As Williams says of these communities, “They make space for a profounder vision because in their various ways all of them offer a discipline of personal and common life that is about letting the reality of Jesus come alive in us.”
Similarly, we at St. Michael’s are also a community committed in our own way to the evangelization of the world by sharing God’s vision for humanity, “letting the reality of Jesus come alive in us.” In a few moments, we will take some time on this Ingathering Sunday to read and reflect on a summary of the responses you have made over the last few weeks to a few simple questions about our life together—responses which now hang as the fruits on the vine that stretches around the church. As you read those responses, hold in your mind the vision that in God’s eyes, our destiny as human beings is an endless growth toward love, becoming more and more in ourselves a living image of Christ’s humanity. Being part of this parish is nothing more—and nothing less—than that. Amen.
11 November 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29)
So I have a little quiz to give you today. Listen to these words, and then I’m going to ask you to identity where they come from. Here they are:
“May barriers which divide us crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace.”
So do you think those words come from (a) Lincoln’s second inaugural, (b) Washington’s farewell address, (c) the armistice signed 100 years ago today, or (d) the Book of Common Prayer.
If you answered “d, the Book of Common Prayer,” you would be correct. Who knew that the Prayer Book could be so visionary? The reason I ask, is that last Tuesday morning, as a number of us gathered here in the church to offer prayers for the nation as it went to the polls, we read several prayers just like this from the Prayer Book. What struck us as we did so, is that cumulatively they sketched out quite an amazing vision for what a just democracy looks like. If you want to read them for yourselves, they are in the two sections “Prayers for National Life,” and “Prayers for the Social Order,” beginning on page 820.
They talk about aspirations toward such goals as “honorable industry, sound learning and pure manners.” They ask that God will “fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.” They pray for “sound government,” or “courage, wisdom, and foresight” for our leaders, or “understanding and integrity [among us all], that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.” Most striking to me was a prayer “For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience,” where we asked that God would give “to us your servants, grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth.”
But even more striking was how strange these lofty sentiments and high ideals sounded to our ears as we read those prayers, trained as our ears have become to expect discord, accusation, aggression, and distortion in anything related to our civic life. And so I have to say that it felt good, at the dawn of an election day, to be reminded by our own Prayer Book that our nation has thrived most, when there have been leaders of vision and imagination, rather than those who rely on a rhetoric of division and antagonism. As the prophet reminds us today in our reading from Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
This Veterans Day might remind us of the fundamental importance of vision in the shaping all human affairs. As you probably know, Veterans Day had its origins in commemorating the signing of the armistice that ended World War I, at precisely 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918 (100 years ago today).
At the end of World War I, the war that was to end all wars, there were some (like then president Woodrow Wilson), who had the courage to imagine a world order that could be reshaped in a new direction toward integration and collaboration. As we all know, however, that vision quickly gave way on the world stage to the retributive Peace of Versailles, which was so punitive toward the defeated Germans that they soon rebelled in the form of a fascist dictatorship, which set about making Germany great again, leading directly to yet another world war. As Omar Bradley, one of the generals in that later conflict put it, in World War I “we won the war, but lost the peace.” How differently things might have turned out, had there been a truly shared vision for waging peace.
The good news, however, is that although we may not always have a vision for ourselves, God does. And the Christian life is all about realizing God’s vision for the human community. And what’s more--you don’t even have to look very hard to find it. Jesus articulates it pretty clearly: we are not to lead lives centered on our self, but on one another—even when it means (as in today’s gospel) respecting our enemies. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to regard every human being as endowed with equal dignity. Like the Prodigal Son’s father, we are to extend mercy and compassion, even when it seems undeserved. Like the Sermon on the Mount, we are to be healers and peacemakers. And like Jesus himself, we are to discover our greatest freedom in giving our self to God’s ways of relationship and community, for in so doing we put our own life into cosmic alignment with the underlying principle of the universe.
But our reading from Proverbs has still more to teach us. “Wrath stirs up strife,” the writer goes on to say, or as Paul puts it in his letter to the Galations, “Be not deceived: God is not mocked, for we reap what we sow” (Gal 6:7). These are days in our country when each of us would do well to be reminded that what we say and do, whether as individuals or as public figures, is not isolated. Every word that we say, every thing that we do, plants a seed whose harvest is far beyond our immediate intent—for good or for ill.
William Shakespeare, in the play All’s Well that Ends Well, wrote that "The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war." His words remind us that who we are, and what we do, reaches far beyond the immediacy of today and into the future. When those words and deeds are aligned with God’s vision for us, they contribute to the building of God’s kingdom. When on the other hand they are aligned with self centered and partisan motives, they contribute not only to the inhibition of the reign of God, but the erosion of the human capital—the dignity of the human spirit—which is the essence of that kingdom.
Today in the forum, we are talking about recently founded communities of hope known as the new monasticism. They tend to distill the Christian message down to its basics—like one community known as The Simple Way in North Philadelphia, which is all about rebuilding a forgotten neighborhood that had even been abandoned by the church. Their understanding of God’s vision is simply this: “Love God. Love People. Follow Jesus.”
They explain the origins of their community like this: “In 1995, dozens of homeless families had moved into an abandoned Catholic church building in North Philadelphia. They were told by the Archdiocese that they had 48 hours to move out, or they could be arrested. With nowhere to go, these courageous mothers and children hung a banner on the front of the building that said, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday, and ignore one on Monday?” The families held their own press conference and announced that they had talked with the real “Owner” of the building (the Lord Almighty!) – and God said they could stay until they found somewhere else to go. That was the spark that that lit the fire of The Simple Way.
If you want to know more, come join us at the Forum. But even if you are not able to be there, may I suggest that you take away with you this morning those few simple words that give one community’s understanding of God’s vision for human life, and think on what they have to say about God’s vision for our life together, and for your life in particular: “Love God. Love people. Follow Jesus.” It’s as simple—and as difficult—as that. Amen.
October 30th, 2018: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Anne Duran (Director of All Angels Day School), preaching
14 October 2018
Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing …” (Mark 10)
So we have today a young man who comes to Jesus, seeking to know the path to eternal life. For a story out of Mark’s gospel, this episode has an unusual number of details. Usually, Mark is barebones, giving us only the essentials. But in this story he lingers over every element, as if to signal that something really important is going on in this man’s encounter with Jesus.
One detail we aren’t given the man’s name. We know only that he is a person who has led a truly exemplary life: as he tells Jesus, he has faithfully followed all the commandments. And yet, his coming to kneel before Jesus indicates that he still feels a deep insecurity that despite all his efforts, something is missing. He doesn’t feel complete, somehow it doesn’t all add up. He is like one of those college applicants who has perfect SAT scores, a 4. GPA, is valedictorian of the class, captain of the football team … and yet, doesn’t get admitted to the college of his choice. Something essential is missing.
Jesus is clearly touched by the man’s earnestness, for Mark tells us that looking at him, Jesus loves him. Yet sensing this underlying feeling of incompleteness, Jesus sees that his strict observance of the commandments hasn’t produced any real depth of spirit. It’s like the story of the rabbinical student who came to his teacher, excitedly proclaiming that in his studies he had been through the entire Torah three times! “Yes,” his teacher replied, “but has any of it been through you?”
Considering what might be wrong, Jesus intuits that perhaps it has to with his relationship to his possessions. And so, Jesus advises him that what he needs to do is to sell what he owns, and give his money to the poor. At that, the man turns and goes away, shocked and grieving, for he was, as Mark tells us, a man “who had many possessions.”
Now, this story is often interpreted as a warning against the dangers of wealth. And at some level, I suppose it is. And since most of us, by any measurable standard, are actually quite wealthy compared to most of the world, I suppose we should hear the warning as given to us.
But I personally don’t find that a very satisfying reading, because it glosses over many of the details that Mark provides, which suggest that something deeper is going on. To tell a story only about a rich man who was blocked from true relationship with God because of his wealth could have been done much more simply.
So what other clues does Mark give us to a deeper meaning? Well, the most obvious is Jesus’ own comment to his disciples after the man has departed. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he says, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Now, some of you may be aware, though some of you may not, that the reference here is not to a sewing needle, but rather to a side gate in the city wall of Jerusalem that was known as “the eye of the needle.” It had that name because it was so narrow, being intended only for people to pass through, one at a time. A camel, being a beast of burden, would first have to be unloaded before it could enter the gate.
So in making this illusion, Jesus seems to be saying that in order to enter in God’s kingdom, something has to be unloaded, some baggage laid aside—like a camel trying to go through this gate. And the particular baggage of the wealthy (that is, of us), is that wealth has a tendency to make us feel so self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-contained, and self-absorbed, that we think we have no need of God. If I have wealth, it is by my own hard work. If I am materially successful, it is a sign of my own cleverness and wise investment.
Yet like the rich young man of today’s gospel, at some point we find that that story is not sufficient to our inmost self. It fails us, because it cannot account for the simplest and greatest fact of all: that we have life at all. Our life is not of our own making, not of our own achievement, but something that is given to us. It’s only when we begin to take that into account, that we are led beyond the limitations of our wealth to a greater sense of the mystery of our being.
And how does that happen? Well, again Jesus gives us a clue. When he advises the man to sell what he has a give the money to the poor, I think he is not just asking the man to make a generous charitable donation, and thereby to feel better about himself. Rather, Jesus is aiming at something more significant: for the man to admit to himself his own interior emptiness so that he might allow the space to be created for a true empathy to emerge, an awareness of his own need for true relationship both with God, and with his fellow human beings.
Emptiness is, after all, in some way at the heart of every spiritual tradition. There is, for example, a concept in Jewish mysticism known as Tsim Tsum, which holds that in order to create the world, God first had to pull the divine presence back far enough to allow room for creation to come into being. Even for God, emptiness was the required precursor to the act of creation.
Echoing that creation itself is the result of an antecedent emptiness in God, the Christian monk Thomas Merton, reflecting upon himself, once wrote that, “I am the utter poverty of God. I am His emptiness, littleness, nothingness, lostness. [Yet] the self-emptying of God in me is the fullness of grace.”
So the deeper problem of the rich mans’ wealth in our story today, is that it is a sign that he has no room, no empty space, where he might inwardly encounter the true God—rather than just outwardly obey the commandments. You might say that his spiritual life is choked by his own success, much like that physical feeling you get when you’ve eaten just a bit too much at a big meal: there is simply no room left to take in anything more. He has filled his life with everything, except for a true inward spirituality.
And at this more profound level, the story points us toward one of those paradoxical yet inescapable mysteries of the spiritual life: that the one who created all things, and who is in all things, whose Word was made flesh, is nevertheless to be most vividly encountered in a place of emptiness and silence, lying beyond words. Perhaps the lack of emptiness is what Jesus meant when said the rich man lacked one thing: he had no interior place, where God could enter in. And as Jesus did for him, God also points us away from our own encumbrances (whatever they may be), toward places of poverty and emptiness, not to leave us helpless there, but finally to have room to fill us with the divine presence and grace. Amen.