Schedule Fr. Bill to preach:

Call: (434) 422-2229


Fr. Bill Garrott, OP, is a Dominican priest who was born and raised in Hagerstown, Maryland and is the youngest of eight children. After obtaining a B.S. in chemistry from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, in 1986 and working several years in the field of technology transfer, Fr. Garrott entered the Order of Preachers in 1988. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1994 and has served in various parish and campus ministries of the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern US). In 1999, Fr. Garrott obtained an M.A. in spiritual theology from the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (aka The Angelicum) in Rome, Italy. Fr. Garrott served 8 years as director of vocations for his Province during which time God led 90 men to enter the novitiate. Currently Fr. Garrott’s home base is St. Thomas Aquinas Priory in Charlottesville, VA, where the Dominican Friars staff the Catholic campus ministry and parish for the University of Virginia. Fr. Garrott is available to preach year round. References can be provided upon request.


Fr. Garrott has preached over 100 parish missions to full congregations throughout the United States utilizing his skill on piano and guitar. He has preached weekend retreats, days of recollection, youth and Pro-Life events and offered concerts as well. His CD “Preacher of Grace” has sold over 5000 copies. Through music and preaching, Fr. Garrott invites parishioners to a renewed faith in the unconditional love which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reveal to us through our Catholic Faith.

Parish Missions/Retreats/Days of Recollection/Concerts:

Fr. Garrott has two programs for a parish mission. The first is for parishes where he is preaching for the first time. This first program entitled “iMercy: The Divine Hotspot” focuses on aspects of the Holy Trinity, the Eucharist and evangelization in simple ways parishioners will appreciate. The second program is for parishes where Fr. Garrott has already preached before. This second program entitled “The Wide-Screen Life: Getting the Big Picture” focuses on themes of faith, hope, love and grace.

Parish missions typically run 3 or 4 nights beginning on a Sunday evening when possible. Fr. Garrott preaches all the weekend Masses prior to the start of the mission to generate interest. Fr. Garrott leads the Rosary before preaching and hears confessions afterwards.

Fr. Garrott is also available to preach weekend retreats, days of recollection, special events and one-night concerts.


Are You Satisfied?

Panasonic now sells the largest flat-panel TV in the world for only $500,000. It’s a whopping 152 inches in diagonal. So if you’ve got a little extra cash on hand and a man-cave the size of a small air-plane hanger, then you’re all set to watch Super Bowl XLVII like you’ve never seen it before. Whether the Baltimore Ravens or the San Francisco 49ers win tonight is immaterial. The Super Bowl isn’t about football anymore. Over the past 20 years, the Super Bowl has been turned into a showcase for the year’s best TV advertisements. A sizeable percentage of people say they watch the game only to see the ads. So the real contest tonight boils down to Bud-light vs. Doritos vs. Volks Wagon. After all, how many Americans remember whether the Giants or the Patriots won last year? But everyone remembers the baby in the sling-shot swing who snatches the bag of Doritos from his older brother. Isn’t it amazing how people continue to argue that what we see on TV has no effect on our behavior? Tell that to the companies shelling out $3.8 million for 30 seconds of commercial air-time! They know precisely the impact TV has on shaping consumer behavior. And yet, when it comes to sex and violence, we’re told that TV doesn’t form culture; it only reflects what’s already going on within the culture. Tell that to the people in Newtown, CT.

TV has enormous power to shape culture and the Super Bowl is the greatest example. Last year an estimated 166 million Americans tuned in to watch at least some part of the Super Bowl. The amount of food eaten during the Super Bowl is second only to Thanksgiving. Are we becoming a nation of passive couch-potatoes who let the culture shape the way we think, feel and act? Or are we prophets called by Almighty God to shape the culture we live in by our faith? As Bl. John Paul II once wrote: “a faith that does not become culture is not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived.” (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, 1995, n. 78). The prophet Jeremiah, St. Paul and our Lord Jesus all draw our attention today to the fact that society has an indispensable need for the voice of the prophet.

From the biblical point of view, a prophet is one who not only foresees the future. More importantly, a prophet is someone who reveals the true meaning of what is happening right now in light of God’s Word. The prophet delivers God’s point of view not as a weapon to beat people over the head but as a word of love pointing out the true path of happiness. If the truth is not conveyed with love, it will accomplish nothing. That was St. Paul’s point in our 2nd reading. The truth in love that I must speak today is this: there are many false prophets today who claim to know the true path of happiness. What is the source of their wisdom? Opinion polls? Dr. Laura? Dr. Ruth? Dr. Phil? Judge Judy? Oprah? Or is it the Word of God and the teaching of His Church? In the eyes of many, the Word of God has become just another opinion in the market place. And who can say what God’s Word really is any way? I mean isn’t the Bible just the words of human beings? Why should Christianity think it’s got some sort of privileged access to God’s truth over any other religion? Sadly, more and more Catholics are adopting precisely this sort of unbelieving, cynical, agnostic point of view.

We live at a time when the Faith is nearly dead or at best on life-support in many places. Why else has Pope Benedict XVI called the Church to a Year of Faith? The Year of Faith is not some sort of exercise in papal cheerleading so that we can do a few more spiritual push-ups. The Year of Faith is a matter of life and death! Without faith, we wander in a desert of relativism. Without faith, we can’t know the ultimate meaning of our life. Without faith, we can’t shape our culture. Without faith, we live in darkness. Prophets call us to live in the light. Prophets call us to live by faith. Prophets call us to believe God’s Word. And prophets get put to death because people would rather live in darkness than accept the light God’s Word shines on their lives and pointing out where they need to change. Whether you realize it or not, everyone of us in this church is a prophet. During the ritual for baptism, one of the prayers tells us that baptism makes us sharers in Christ’s three-fold office of priest, prophet and king. So, if you’re baptized, then you’re a prophet! Now, like a true prophet, if you want to grasp what’s going on in the world today, then turn off the TV, turn off the computer, turn off the tablet, turn off the cell phone and turn on the Word of God. The first duty of a prophet is to be familiar with the Word of God.

How familiar are you with the Word of God? Let’s find out. Let’s do a quick experiment. I’m going to sing a line from a popular song and I want you to fill in the missing lyrics. 1) “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a ….” 2) “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale….” Now, who can fill in the missing word in this Scripture passage: “Be sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to…..” How come we’re more familiar with songs by Frank Sinatra and TV sit-com theme songs like Gilligan’s Island than we are with the Word of God? If Mass has become a dull, boring, life-less, mechanical routine, well I have to tell you, the problem is not in the hour you spend in here at Sunday Mass. The problem is in the time that you don’t spend at home the rest of the week reading the Word of God. We’ve got plenty of time to watch TV, surf the web or read the latest novel but we don’t have anytime to read God’s Word in Scripture. And so we starve ourselves of God’s Word during the week and then come to Mass on Sunday and expect to make up the difference with a 20 minute Liturgy of the Word. That’s why so many are drowning in the cultural rot sweeping our land like a tsunami.

St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we’re not feeding on a daily diet of God’s Word, there’s no way to stand like a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass against the assault of our culture. I’ve got nothing against the Super Bowl or against clever and funny advertisements. I’ll take it all in this evening with everyone else. But who will advertise the Word of God? Who will advertise the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ if not you? The best advertisement is a satisfied customer. A true prophet is satisfied with the Word of God. How about you?

Solemnity of St. Thomas Aquinas 2013

On behalf of our pastor, Fr. Luke and the Dominican Friars as well as the Dominican Laity here present, I want to wish all of you a holy, blessed, and happy feast of St. Thomas! It’s always a bit of a challenge for Dominicans to preach on the feast of St. Thomas. Where do you begin? His works are voluminous. His contribution to the theological enterprise from Medieval times to the present is monumental. More doctoral dissertations have been written on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas than any other thinker. St. Thomas Aquinas looms so large in the history of the Church and the Order that he’s frequently and mistakenly thought to have founded the Dominican Order. On this patronal feast of our parish when members of the Dominican laity will profess their temporary and final promises and after Mass new members will begin their novitiate, I’d like to focus on only one aspect of the Angelic Doctor’s contribution to the Church, namely his doctrine on grace.

In my estimation, one of the reasons God has allowed the Order of Preachers to flourish for nearly 800 years is to ensure that there will always be a clarion voice in the Church to proclaim a robust theology of grace. We can thank St. Thomas for helping us to exercise that voice but St. Thomas didn’t invent the doctrine of grace. His genius was to sift through all that the great Fathers of the Church had said, to reflect deeply on the teachings of St. Paul and St. John in the New Testament and to articulate better than anyone before or after how grace perfects human nature. It’s been said that if Martin Luther who initiated the Protestant Reformation had understood St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on grace, there might never have been a Reformation in the first place. In fact, when Dominicans and Jesuits first began to spar over the issue of grace and free-will, we Dominicans were at times mis-characterized as being too Protestant, almost Calvinists in our doctrine of grace.

A doctrine of grace was first put forth by St. Augustine who understood that if Christians try to live the new Law of Christ, that is, the Sermon on the Mount, without the power of the Holy Spirit, the Law of Christ will kill us more surely than the letter of the law of Moses. Why is that? Because the Law of Christ is a far higher standard than the Law of Moses! St. Thomas took St. Augustine even further and taught that the New Law of Christ is essentially the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit which comes to us in Baptism.  By the grace of baptism, the Lord Jesus replaces the inordinate drives of the human heart with the grace of the Holy Spirit. We now have a new inner principle of operation to guide our soul.  The indwelling Spirit makes us capable of virtuous acts which lead us to salvation.

Following in the footsteps of St. Dominic and St. Thomas, we Dominicans, clerical and lay, are called to be preachers of grace. Now, that can be taken in two ways.  First our preaching should be moved by the grace of God; it should bear the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, our preaching is meant to highlight the power of grace. But contrary to some spiritualities in the Church, grace is not all there is. There is nature, too. It’s the specific contribution of St. Thomas Aquinas to show how grace both heals and elevates our human nature. Grace perfects nature; it does not destroy it or override it. Everything we have by nature is capable of being healed and lifted up by grace so that we participate in the very life of the Trinity even now!  Some day, God willing, this supernatural life we have now will find its perfection in glory.  But even in heaven, the distinction between nature and grace will still remain. After all, Christ did not unzip his human nature once he took his seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven. For as Fr. Romanus Cessario points out, “The doctrine of the Incarnation stipulates that the individual human nature of the Incarnate Logos (Word) remains the principle agent of divine activity in the world.” It – the human nature of Christ now glorified in heaven – still remains the principle agent by which God accomplishes his activity in the world today.

The Gospel gets mixed up whenever nature and grace are confused or conflated. And some theologians have done just that since Vatican II.  If you minimize grace in an effort to highlight human nature, you can lose sight of man’s transcendent vocation. Nature without grace reduces the Sacraments to the level of merely telling our story or sharing a meal with friends instead of privileged access to the throne of grace. As Fr. Humbert Clerissac said so well: “Reverence and gratitude to God cease when the notion of our supernatural destiny grows feeble and dim.”  Attention to the fact that nature must be perfected by grace instinctively keeps Dominicans from introducing novelties into theology on one hand and the Divine Liturgy on the other.

There are equal dangers when nature is minimized in an effort to highlight grace.  This approach cuts the heart out of the Church’s missionary mandate.  Why preach the Gospel if every path is a privileged path of grace unto salvation?  If grace is all there is then you can end up thinking like that “great” theologian Bill Clinton who once said, “When you get right down to it, all religions are basically the same.” Not so! If we erase the distinction between nature and grace in favor of grace, we end up devaluing the currency.  We end up in relativism.  We end up with the sad but all too frequent contradiction of Catholics who support a woman’s so-called right to choose or Catholics who support same-sex marriage.

One of the main reasons that the Province of St. Joseph is attracting so many new vocations (both clerical and lay) is that God is raising up a corp of eager young men and women who desire to bear witness to the truth about our supernatural destiny in light of St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of grace. A few years ago, we had a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas restored at the Dominican House of Studies. I went with the prior who at the time was Fr. Giles Dimock (who is now assigned to Charlottesville) to pick up the restored statue. When Fr. Giles saw the renovated work for the first time, he commented that he had never realized how the edge of St. Thomas’ cappa was painted with jewels. Again, to quote Fr. Clerissac, the doctrine of our supernatural vocation to Eternal Life is “the finest of the jewels with which the cappa of St. Thomas was seen studded.” (In his work The Spirit of St. Dominic) Our supernatural vocation to eternal life is only possible because grace perfects nature. May the grace of Christ which flows superabundantly from this altar transform us inwardly and outwardly. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us so that together with you we may proclaim: “O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us!”

Viva Cristo Rey! (2012)

A few weeks ago, my mother called in the Geek Squad from Best Buy to unhook all of the peripherals from her TV: the VCR, the DVD, the home theater sound system. She was tired of hitting the wrong button on the remote control and then not knowing how to get the picture back. I sympathize with her and so does Bill Gates. In a Newsweek article some years ago, Bill Gates expressed his philosophy of computers. He said, “It’s all about the power of using advanced software to bring computers into your world, rather than forcing you into theirs.” The Solemnity of Christ the King focuses attention on the fact that God does not want to force us into His world. He wants to enter our world with His Truth. Christ is King of all those who choose to live in the truth. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Christianity proclaims that Truth came down from heaven and entered our world historically.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  On the Day of Judgment, if we haven’t welcomed Christ’s truth into our world then, whether we like it or not, we will be forced into Christ’s world of Truth.  On that Day, each of us will stand before the Lord and say “You are the King.” And Jesus will say to us what he said to Pilate: “Are you saying this on your own or have others told you about me?” Today’s feast invites us to ask ourselves: “Do I believe Christ is King because I know He truly is or only because others have told me about Him?” Jesus is indeed King of the universe but He is not King for me until I accept His reign in my heart. He will not force his way into our hearts. That’s why the Apostle Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as lord of your hearts.” When Christ is sanctified in our hearts, his truth changes our minds. That’s why St. Paul tells us: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Without God’s truth in our heart and mind, we drift with others into darkness and confusion.

Because of our particular history, we Americans find it hard to warm up to the idea of Christ the King. Our democratic republic was established by throwing off the rule of the king — King George III of England. America is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But that does not mean we the people rule ourselves blindly.  In 1778, James Madison, the father of our Constitution, wrote:

We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Notice what Madison didn’t say. He did not say we are to govern ourselves according to what seems right in our own eyes. He said we govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments. Perhaps we are entering a time like the one described in the Old Testament. The Book of Judges recounts how moral chaos spread because the People of Israel were without a king. In those days Scripture says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).  In other words, without a king, the people set aside the Ten Commandments and created their own moral compass. That’s what Pope Benedict XVI calls the dictatorship of relativism. There is no truth except what seems right to me in my own eyes or to you in your own eyes or to the next guy in his own eyes.

For example, how are we to interpret the recent election results in Maine, Maryland and the state of Washington where popular vote determined marriage is no longer between a man and a woman? Can marriage really be re-defined? Where do we look for guidance on this topic? Facebook? Twitter? Newspapers? TV talk shows? Gallop polls? Do we conclude according to what seems right in our own eyes? The truth is, when Jesus Christ is King of our minds as well as our hearts, we no longer waffle in confusion over common sense things like the truth about marriage. We realize that compassion for those attracted to members of the same sex does not require the redefinition of marriage. There are other ways to show compassion socially, civilly and legally without undermining the truth about marriage. An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal got it right:

weakening marital norms will hurt children and spouses, especially the poorest. Rewriting the parenting ideal will also undermine in our mores and practice the special value of biological mothers and fathers. By marking support for the conjugal view as bigotry, it will curb freedoms of religion and conscience. Redefinition will do all this in the name of a basic error about what marriage is. (The Wisdom of Upholding Tradition, WSJ, 11/20/12)

Now, whenever the Church speaks out on some moral issue, there will always be some folks who take a defensive stance. They respond: “But Jesus didn’t go around condemning people!”  And they’re right. Jesus didn’t condemn. But he didn’t condone either. He challenged. Remember the woman caught in adultery? Jesus didn’t condemn her. He didn’t condone her. He challenged her lovingly: “Go and sin no more.” Part of the kingly reign of Christ is to protect us from following paths which ultimately do not lead to true human fulfillment. G.K. Chesterton once said:  “The danger when men stop believing in God is not that they’ll believe in nothing, but that they’ll believe in anything.” On this Feast of Christ the King, let’s ask ourselves: “Will I believe in anything or do I believe Truth has come into the world to set us free?” And let’s not fool ourselves here. We can’t be fence-sitters regarding Christ’s reign. Either we seek to live in the Kingdom of God where Christ reigns or we will drift back into the Kingdom of Darkness. There’s no kingdom of neutrality. Today, we renew our choice. We serve the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come.  Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King! Alleluia!

Thanksgiving Homily 2012

Isn’t it surprising how many people come to Mass on Thanksgiving Day? With turkeys baking, pies cooling, tables set and guests on the way, here you are gathered at the Table of the Lord to offer spiritual sacrifice holy and acceptable to God. Thanksgiving isn’t a holy day of obligation and yet we know we are obligated to give thanks. St. Paul says we are to give thanks always. Why? Because we know that the Lord Jesus Christ offered the perfect Thanksgiving on the Cross for us. That once and for all Sacrifice of Christ redeemed a fallen world and is once again made present to us sacramentally in the Eucharist we celebrate here at every Mass. The very word Eucharist is a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. The Mass is our daily thanksgiving offered to God! 

As far as I can determine, there weren’t any Catholics present at that first Thanksgiving in the Autumn of 1621. But then again there were no Italians, no Filipinos, no Africans, no Koreans or Latinos either. There were only pilgrims from northern Europe and a few native Americans. They came together not for one but for three days and thanked God for a bountiful harvest brought home after a grueling first year in the New World which left many dead. Thanksgiving was largely a New England phenomenon until 1789 when President George Washington invited all 13 colonies to give thanks for our nation’s new found freedom and our newly approved Constitution. It was only when the nation was caught in the grip of civil war that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be observed annually on the last Thursday of November. Then in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to the 4th Thursday of November. Like the year we’re currently in, 1939 had 5 Thursdays in November and so under pressure from retailers who wanted shoppers to have more time to shop before Christmas, Roosevelt shifted Thanksgiving a week earlier. After that decision, the country became divided. Half of the states observed Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November while the other half observed it a week earlier. Finally, to settle the matter once and for all, Congress passed a law in 1941fixing Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November. 

The tradition of Thanksgiving continues to suffer challenges even in our own day. This year Thanksgiving has become Paul McCartney’s personal crusade to save turkeys. 23 million of them! I have nothing against vegetarians but I plan to eat turkey this afternoon — that is, if Fr. Luke successfully bakes the turkey! I recently heard that some retail stores will jump the gun by starting Black Friday shopping this evening at 8 PM. We gather here this day because we are convinced that Thanksgiving is more than turkey, more than root vegetables, more than football or the pause before the mad dash to Christmas. But we are gathered here this morning convinced that Thanksgiving is about – in a word – gratitude. Bishop Fulton Sheen used to say there are two kinds of people in the world.  Those who wake up and say, “Good morning, God!” and those who say, “Good God, morning.” It’s easy to give thanks when things are going our way. The mark of Christian maturity is to be thankful even when things are falling apart. Nine out of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel were completely absorbed in their own misery. They didn’t recognize the source of their healing. They weren’t able to give thanks because they hadn’t learned that grace comes through the wounds.  Primarily through the wounds of Christ but even through our own wounds. Gratitude doesn’t arise magically if it isn’t already present when times are tough. That’s why St. Paul urges us to give thanks in all circumstances.

On October 3, 1863, in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln urged the whole nation to offer “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens” and to “fervently implore … the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.” Today, we are not engaged in a civil war but we do face civil strife as conflicting ideas of culture clash in the public square. Whatever our circumstances, whatever our difficulties, we give thanks in this Eucharist. As pilgrims on the way to Heaven, we do not anguish over unchangeable defeat. We hope in an uncharted future. What that future holds, we know not. But we do know Who holds that future. And He loves us. He will provide for us as He does in this Eucharist. May our thanksgiving never cease and may we always praise God from whom all blessings flow! Amen!

Love of God & Neighbor in the Public Square

C. S. Lewis once said: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal….. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses….” On the day of Judgment when we stand before Jesus, he will explain to us: “the way you treated your neighbor is the way you treated me. The way you loved your neighbor is the way you loved me.” Love of God and love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin. It’s not as if we love God by some sort of divine power and then we love our neighbor by a merely human power. The power by which we love God and love our neighbor is one and the same. We call that power divine charity. The power to love in a divine way is not something we human beings can manufacture on our own. Charity is a gift of grace. Charity is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit because Jesus poured out his blood for us on the Cross.

The scribe in the Gospel was looking for one answer – the first of all the commandments. Jesus gave him more than he bargained for. In effect, Jesus told him: “You can’t separate your worship of God and how you treat your neighbor.” That’s essentially what Pope Benedict XVI teaches in his encyclical on charity. Love of God and love of neighbor is the one fountain from which flows all Catholic social outreach. Catholicism has always understood that true worship of God means serving our neighbor by tangible means of outreach. Hospitals. Schools. Nursing Homes. Orphanages. Soup kitchens. Our faith cannot be confined to Sunday within the walls of this church. Our faith spreads to the rest of the week in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Our faith reaches into the public square. Freedom of worship leads to the free expression of our religion in service to others. We serve those in need not because they’re Catholic. We serve them because we’re Catholic.

The recent Health and Human Services mandate forces a choice upon Catholics. Will our Faith be confined to what goes on in this church – liturgical worship of God? Or will our religion find expression in the public square through our freedom to serve the most vulnerable of society whether Christian or not? Will we share the blessings God has provided with those less fortunate, those without a job, those suffering from Hurricane Sandy? Will we strive to be peace-makers in a nation where 512,000 new civil lawsuits are filed each year? Will we defend in the public square the rights of the terminally ill, the disabled and the elderly who are viewed as drains on society? Will we speak up in the public square for the truth about God’s plan for marriage and sexuality? Will we speak up in the public square for the sanctity of all human life born and unborn? Without the right to life, there are no other rights to protect.

We often hear politicians say: “I’m personally opposed to abortion but I can’t impose my morality if it takes away someone else’s right.” Suppose I say to you that I’m personally opposed to slavery but I can’t take away Elmer’s right to own slaves? Or, I’m personally opposed to theft but I can’t take away Leroy’s right to rob banks? No one has a right to slavery. No one has a right to rob banks. And no one has a right to abortion. We are so very blessed to live in this democratic republic. But no law can make just that which is unjust in the eyes of Almighty God. Moses speaks to us: “Fear the Lord your God!” But some people will say: “My God is a God of love not of fear.” I believe that too. But if there is no ultimate truth, if there is no standard of right and wrong, if there is no evil and therefore no sin, then why did Jesus die on the cross? Why does he live forever to make intercession for us – if we don’t need intercession?

And yet, God’s Word is clear: “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.” The command of Jesus to love God and neighbor is not a rule we have follow to earn God’s love. We don’t jockey ourselves into position so that God will love us. God loved us first. In fact, God loves us not because we’re good but because He’s good. I’m not saying we’re bad. I’m saying that the motive by which God loves us is not our obedience to his commands. His love for us flows from his goodness, not our worthiness or lack thereof. When we accept this truth, life changes. We receive power from above to love God and neighbor the way Jesus wants. Then when we step into the voting booth, we know we can’t separate love of God from love of neighbor.

In the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, it may not be chic to quote his predecessor in the White House but I will anyway. When John Adams was 80 years old, he read a book by the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In that book he came across this sentence: “There is no doubt that people are in the long run what the government makes out of them….” Adams disagreed. He wrote in the margin, “The government ought to be what the people make it.” Every four years we make of our government what it ought to be through our vote. We need wisdom from above because we fear the Lord our God. Voting is not about loyalty to the red or the blue, to the Republicans or the Democrats, to UVA or Virginia Tech. Voting is about loyalty to the One who says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Can the voting booth be near the Kingdom of God? Yes, but only if we keep our heavenly citizenship first and foremost in mind. Vote first as a citizen of God’s Kingdom and you’ll make the government what it ought to be.

Unsinkable Faith

With the maiden voyage of the Adriatic complete and the ocean liner safely docked in the New York harbor, Captain Edward J. Smith sat for an interview. The year was 1907. Captain Smith said, “When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful … I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort…. I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.” 5 years later Captain Smith sunk with the ship he was commanding – the Titanic. You might say Captain Smith was stuck in a mind-set after 40 years of experience. Being stuck in a mind-set shows up in today’s Gospel. Simon Peter knew exactly what a Messiah should be. So did the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. The Messiah would be the descendent of King David. Why? Because God told Nathan the prophet that King David’s dynasty would never end.

Let’s unpack the term messiah. In the Old Testament the crowning of the king involved a ritual of anointing. Afterward the king was called the anointed one. The Hebrew word for anointed one is messiah. Each new king after David was seen as the messiah, the anointed one, during his reign. And this is how things went for several generations. But then the unexpected happened. Invaders overthrew the Davidic dynasty and all the Jews were carted off to Babylon. The people naturally wondered if God had broken his promise. After 70 years of exile, the people returned to the Promised Land to start all over. Unfortunately king after king disobeyed the Law of the Lord. And prophet after prophet condemned their disobedience. Finally, the prophets realized that there had to come a final great all powerful king. He would be a messiah like none other. He would usher in the reign of God. This messiah would deliver Israel from every foreign oppressor forever.

The Greek word for messiah is christos and in English we say christ. So when Simon Peter proclaims Jesus the Christ, he means: “You are the Messiah. You are that king whom the prophets said would come. You are the one who will deliver us from the Romans. The prophecies all point to you.” How could Simon Peter be so sure? Just consider what he had seen up to that point: Jesus driving out demons, healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, healing the leper, the paralytic, the man with the withered hand, the woman with the hemorrhage, the deaf man with a speech impediment and the blind man too. Jesus calming a stormy sea, raising a little girl from the dead, multiplying food to feed 5000, and then walking on water. Who else could do all these things but the Messiah?

This is Peter’s mind-set. No wonder he was absolutely stunned when Jesus said he must suffer, be rejected and killed. Peter sees himself as Jesus’ campaign manager. This piece of info doesn’t fit the party line. Jesus must be confused. So Peter steps up to correct the spin. “Jesus, let me explain a few things. You can’t be rejected or killed. That’s not in the script. So get back on your message and we’ll win this thing.” Jesus doesn’t buy it. He isn’t running for the office of Messiah. He knows that suffering and dying are the only way to save us. Peter means well but he is dead wrong. He’s the pawn of Satan.

In contrast to Simon Peter, we have no problem with a suffering Messiah. We live on the other side of the Resurrection. We see Jesus risen in glory. Suffering Messiah? No problem. It’s our own suffering that bothers us. Jesus said we’d have to carry our cross but we still try to escape it. St. Paul said “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” yet we think we can beat the odds and avoid the cross. We’re scandalized by our hardships. We say life isn’t fair. And yet, St. Augustine reminds us that it is precisely because we are Christians that we can expect to suffer even more in this world.

In his book The Road Less Traveled M. Scott Peck writes that “the tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.” The truth is, only one voice tells us we should never have to suffer. That voice was speaking through Peter and it had to be rebuked. “Get behind me Satan.” Have you ever had to rebuke that voice in yourself? I did the other day. I was meditating in our chapel when I drifted into a dangerous mind-set. Let’s call it the “If only I had” mind-set. You can fill in the blank because I know you’ve been there. “If only I had more money.” “If only I had more time.” “If only I had better health.” “If only I had a normal family.” “If only I had kids who still went to church.” “If only I had more appreciation.” You get the picture. The “If only I had” mind-set is straight from the Enemy. It has to be rebuked. We tell ourselves there’s nothing wrong with regret. We’re just imagining how things might have turned out differently. But you know what? They didn’t turn out differently. And you know what? It doesn’t matter anyway because the past is past. The only path forward to “hope and change” is the Cross of Christ. Without the cross there is only regret. With the Cross there is redemption.

The mind-set we need is the one Simon Peter spoke of after the Resurrection. He said, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” That’s a holy mind-set. That’s the mind-set of faith. Faith which suffers. Faith which works through love. Faith which keeps you afloat when all around you are sinking. If Captain Edward J. Smith wasn’t a man of faith before he boarded the Titanic, I’m willing to bet he was by the time it sank. Take up your cross, follow Christ and you’ll never ever sink!