Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

A reflection on Matthew 5:38-48

February 16, 2017

A reflection on Matthew 5:38-48 delivered during a prison communion service

We seem to be living more and more in times of division – deep division. There is a tendency, a human tendency, to group and label anyway. In scriptures we find the bad and the good, the just and the unjust, your neighbor and your enemy, the sheep and the goats.

So if we look at today’s society, we have divisions that are pretty normal. But there seems to be, now, an animosity, a distrust, a disdain, a willingness to judge rather than engage and listen.

There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in many instances. There are those who love the Packers, but hate the Patriots, love the Cardinals but hate the Cubs, love or hate Democrats or Republicans, love or hate immigrants, refugees, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, unions, Planned Parenthood, the NRA.

But don’t we live in a pluralistic society with many philosophies, many viewpoints, and many beliefs? Brothers, that should be our strength, not a crack in our foundation. I am reminded of the strength when different entities are brought together. In biblical times, mud and straw made bricks. Today, carbon fiber-reinforced compounds are used to build jet fighters.

Why shouldn’t a society made up of many separate parts be stronger, more effective, more resilient, more growthful, and more life-giving? Sometimes what is needed is more confidence in our own principles and beliefs so that we can respond to differences with more tolerance, more patience, more humility … more love … that we may all reveal ourselves to be children of our heavenly Father.

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Blessing and breaking bread

December 11, 2011

On Saturday, we had the annual Catholic Feast … Christmas-themed … at the prison. Seventeen offenders and eight volunteers were in attendance.

It’s a maximum security prison, and several of those present are serving either life without parole or are under a death sentence. All are serving hard time.

Beginning at 1:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m., we ate, read scripture, acted out the infancy narratives from Luke and Matthew, sang, prayed, and ate again.

Blessing and breaking bread, liturgy of the Word, prayer, Christmas hymns, preaching the gospel message (via skits), and the Divine Presence: “I was in prison and you visited me.” [Matthew 25:36]

Father Joe was unable to make it to the event, so we didn’t have Mass. Or did we?

God lit a match!

November 17, 2010

November 19, 2010

Preaching at prison communion service

Luke 23:35-43

Colossians 1:12-20

  • Years ago, back in the 70s, we visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky
  • I’m not a real fan of caves, and I had no trouble, recently, empathizing with the miners in Chile
  • I remember not being able to stand up fully for long distances in that Kentucky cave
  • And when I’m prevented from standing up all the way,
  • guess what my greatest urge is …
  • To stand up!
  • At one point, however, we were in an immense room with a very high ceiling
  • We gathered around the tour guide who said, “Few of us have ever found ourselves in total darkness.”
  • He went on to say, “There is always some light coming from somewhere … you just have to wait for your eyes to adjust.”
  • “Now, however, you will experience total darkness, a complete absence of light.”
  • “I will turn out the lights in this room,” he informed us.
  • “When I have turned out the lights, try to see your hand in front of your face.”
  • He turned out the lights.
  • We stood there for quite a while.
  • He was right, it was really dark, I could see nothing … not a thing.
  • After several minutes, when our pupils must have been as big as an owl’s, he lit a match.
  • A single match!
  • Everything in the room was visible, all the people, even the high ceiling

  • In our second reading, Paul in his letter to the Colossians, says this, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
  • He delivered us from the power of darkness.
  • God lit a match!
  • By sending Jesus into our lives …
  • By sending Jesus to show us the way, God lit a match!
  • And with that match, we can see things we couldn’t see before.

  • Now, that isn’t true for all of us … is it?
  • Some of us are still trying to see our own hand in front of our face
  • We aren’t even aware, sometimes, that the match has been lit … the fire of the Holy Spirit
  • That the darkness has been dispelled by the one who said, “I am the light of the world.”
  • For us being transferred to the kingdom is a personal thing
  • Just because someone else sees the light, doesn’t mean I will, or you will

  • In the Gospel we have Luke’s story of Jesus’ time on the cross
  • In particular he tells us of the exchange between Jesus and the two criminals crucified with him
  • One of the criminals expected more of Jesus than he could deliver,  “… save yourself and us.” He reviled Jesus

  • In our Christology we want to remember that Jesus took on our humanity
  • Jesus could have no more come down from the cross than you or I could
  • But the other criminal expresses an understanding of what was happening
  • He asked Jesus for mercy
  • He asked the innocent victim on the cross next to him to remember him when he enters his kingdom
  • Jesus replied with the same promise he gives us
  • Acknowledge who he is and we’ll be transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son

  • Gentlemen, we have at hand redemption and forgiveness
  • We are being delivered from the power of darkness

A blessing beyond measure

May 7, 2009

Last Saturday marked the eighth anniversary of my work as a volunteer chaplain at a maximum security prison. Eight years which have transformed my life.

How did all this unfold?

I retired at end of ’96 from a career of engineering, manufacturing, and executive management.

Having retired, I went back to school to study theology.

Studying theology, I wanted a means to express what I learned.

To express what I learned, I majored in preaching.

Majoring in preaching required a venue for my internship

A venue for internship came to be a jail/prison environment

Working in a prison environment led to the lay chaplain role I am now in.

So, eight years of ministering to those in solitary confinement have given me the confidence to minster to those awaiting execution, have led to more impactful preaching at prison prayer services, have made me a more patient listener to those who struggle, have prepared me for a whole spectrum of emerging spiritualities, have been a blessing beyond measure.

Is that why I stand in awe?

April 24, 2009

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to preach on John 20:19-31 at a communion service in a maximum security prison.

For so long, that reading had held the “Doubting Thomas” sort of appeal for me. Did he actually touch the wounds or not? That sort of thing.

Then I went through the stage of finding it incredible that Jesus’ first words to the gathered disciples … those guys who had abandoned him, had fled into hiding leaving him to be beaten and executed … were “Peace be with you.”

On Friday, my focus was to explore, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

But yesterday morning, while driving to the prison, there came to me out of nowhere, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.'”

With that invitation, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ sudden awareness arose in the close proximity of Jesus’ suffering, the nail holes in his hands and feet, and the gaping wound in his side. Those perfect symbols of his Passion made present, to Thomas, our loving and gracious God.

In my prison work, in my ministering to men in isolation, have I too been invited to “touch” those wounds? Is that why I stand in awe at the divine presence made manifest in those despised, abandoned, forgotten, and suffering men? Do I hear, “Thomas, put your fingers here and see my hands.”? And in my inner-most being do I reply, “My Lord and my God.”?

Why did all this occur to me as I drove to the prison yesterday? Maybe it is because I have been struggling for eight years to understand how I can find joy and peace in such a horrible and demeaning environment. When I leave the prison, there is a lingering sadness yet a clear feeling of hope. For days, the faces and voices of those men move among and through my thoughts and reflections.  For me, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25, “I was in prison, and you visited me,” is not a figure of speech.  It’s real. He’s there in the collective suffering and despair.

Yesterday was a tough day. Three of the men I visited face the prospect of execution in the next several months.  Another is in a legal limbo with the death penalty a very real possibility. But I have found that letting them talk through their anxieties and fears is a way to take those fears out of their imaginations, and out of their guts, and to put a voice, their voice, the spoken word to their grim reality.

I’m afraid that from now on I will see those wounds … waiting for me to touch … waiting for me to acknowledge that this work is of a most sacred nature. Through him, with him, and in him.

Much reflection is needed

April 23, 2009

This morning I was on my usual drive to the prison. As I rounded a long curve in the Ozark mountains, I had an epiphany. Much reflection is needed, but I will post it soon.