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Reverend Ref +

Random thoughts and sermons of an average, transplanted PNW priest serving a large parish in a mid-size, semi-coastal city on the right. I might even throw in some football here and there.

Updated: 2018-04-22T06:18:50.333-04:00


Sermon; Easter 3B; Luke 24:36-48


Alleluia! Christ is risen!The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!Today's gospel story may sound familiar to you. In Luke's context this takes place on the evening of Easter Day. At early dawn the women went to the tomb. Later that day two disciples were on the road to Emmaus. That evening those same two disciples saw Jesus take, bless, break, and give them bread, and they ran back to Jerusalem and told the eleven what had happened. And now while they were talking about these things, Jesus appears among them.The familiarity of this passage comes from Jesus standing among the disciples and saying, “Peace be with you.” It comes from him showing them his hands and feet. It comes from the doubting. And it comes from him sharing food with them. It may seem as if Luke freely borrowed from other sources to give us this resurrection story. Or maybe they borrowed from him. It doesn't matter.It doesn't matter because the source material isn't important. What's important and what matters is the story. And the story is that Christ has dies, Christ is risen.This is a story about an encounter with the risen Christ. This is, in Luke's context, one of three encounters with Christ on Easter Day. It is this final story that sums up all the other stories. Jesus appears, people are scared, people doubt, he shows his wounds, he shares a meal. Not only does this story sum up all other resurrection stories, but I think it sums up people today in general.Last week I said that we were the disciples in that gospel story. As the Father sent the Son, the Son sends the disciples. As the disciples are sent, so are we sent. As the disciples were Christ's representatives, so we are now Christ's representatives.This is where the gospel story intersects with today.Jesus came and stood among them and they were startled and terrified. This isn't too different from today. If we are with a group of people – on the golf course, at a restaurant, in a bar, wherever – and we stand up and announce, “Peace be with you. I want to tell you all about Christ,” I'm guessing the people in that group might be startled and terrified. This is probably not the way to evangelize. This is probably not the way to emulate Jesus.But then Jesus does something that we might want to emulate. He points to himself. He shows them his hands and his feet. He lets them know that he is just like them. He lets them know he has been wounded and scarred just like them. In our encounter with people around the issue of religion, church, and faith, one of the things we can do is let them know that we are not perfect. We also have our own troubles, our own wounds, our own holes, our own scars. We are just like them – the issues may be different, but we are all broken and we are all healing.Following this bit of show and tell Jesus then asks for a piece of fish. In the gospel story this is to show that this person is substantially Jesus and not a ghost. It's to show he is not a figment of their imagination. It's to show he's real.I think what we can take from this is that meaningful encounters are not always some mystical, spiritual event, but that meaningful encounters with Christ can take place in the every day occurrences of physical contact, a meal, and a conversation. And although we'd like to have our meaningful, spiritual encounters be mystical mountain top experiences (I remember having one of those while sitting in the seminary chapel), maybe the more common place is through personal encounters while comparing our scars and sharing a meal.This past Thursday I was in Baltimore for my final Fresh Start gathering, and both Bp. Sutton and Bp. Chilton were with us. The topic of spiritual direction came up and where clergy could find resources for that. Bp. Sutton said something to the effect that spiritual direction may no longer be the traditional one-on-one model, but that it may take place over the course of years from time spent at a retreat center, talking and eating with the monks or nuns.This past Wednesday I had an encounter with a man [...]

Sermon; Easter 2; John 20:19-31


Besides Trinity Sunday, I really need to look into getting a supply priest/guest preacher for this Second Sunday of Easter. Like Trinity Sunday, where the topic is always the Trinity, the topic for this Sunday is always Thomas. Unlike Trinity Sunday where we get different gospel passages every year, though, this Second Sunday of Easter is always this passage. Same topic, same readings, second verse, same as the first. Ho hum, here we go again.But let's dispense with the repetition and redundancy. Let's dispense with the misguided notion that only poor old Thomas had doubts about the resurrection. Let's look for something new.On the evening of the resurrection ten of the disciples were all gathered together behind locked doors. Thomas was not with them. Scripture doesn't say why this was so, but my standard answer is that he had been appointed by the group to take over the duties held by Judas – mainly that of being the treasurer. I've said this before, but I think he was down at the bank filling out a new signature card when all of this happened. Regardless of the reason, he was missing for that first group encounter with the resurrected Christ. When he comes back from the bank the other ten tell him what happened, but he won't believe until he sees the nail wounds and places his hands in Christ's side. We know this story. It's one of the favorites of our tradition. But let's look at a few pieces and maybe connect some dots a little more deeply.Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” The disciples are now apostles, being sent out to teach and preach the message of the Good News. The disciples are now Christ's representatives on earth. They are his hands and feet, his ears and mouth. They are now charged with forgiving, healing, and restoring all things to unity with God in Christ.In this story, the disciples represent you. As the disciples were sent, so you are sent. This means that you all are responsible for the spread of the kingdom, as am I. We are all Christ's representatives on earth. We all have a responsibility to teach and preach the Good News of God in Christ. We all are Christ's hands and feet, his ears and mouth. In today's gospel, the ten disciples hiding away in fear. That means that we are also hiding away in fear. But as Christ moves the disciples from fear to action, so are you moved. As the disciples are sent, so you are sent. As the disciples were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, so you have been given the same gift. You have been sent by Christ to proclaim the good news, to be his hands, feet, ears, and mouth on earth, and you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Be not afraid.So if the ten disciples represent you, who does Thomas represent? I think Thomas represents everyone outside these walls. He represents everyone who does not know Christ.Thomas represents everyone who believes that Jesus actually lived. He represents everyone who believes that Jesus was executed by the Romans for being a troublemaker. He represents those who may even believe Jesus was a great prophet, teacher, and/or healer of his day. And Thomas represents those who simply cannot believe in the resurrection without proof.Origen writes that Thomas was a precise and careful man (proving my point that he was now the treasurer for the group) and didn't at first believe because others had thought Jesus an apparition. Thomas didn't believe in ghost stories, so for him to believe Jesus was indeed Jesus and not a vision, he had to see and touch. And Peter Chrysologus questions why Thomas felt the need to touch and handle wounds and organs laid bare by the cruelty of his tormentors.Thomas represents the skeptic, but he also represents all those seeking alliance with one who has been wounded. He represents those seeking to be comforted by those who have also suffered.MADD came about when anguished mothers had had enough of children being killed by drunk drivers. AA works because people who fight that addiction help others who also struggle[...]

Sermon; Easter Day 2018


Alleluia! Christ is Risen!The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!This is the day we celebrate Christ's resurrection. This is the day we celebrate his crossing over from death to life. This is the Passover of Christ where we celebrate and share in his victory over death.Now, technically, every Sunday is a celebration of that event. Every Sunday we proclaim in some fashion, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Every Sunday is a feast day – which is why Sundays are not counted as part of the days of Lent. But only this Sunday, Easter Day, do we make such a big deal out of it.So again, welcome to all of you who have come to join us in this celebration of life over death. Welcome to visitors from near and far who have come to join the party. Welcome to young and old alike as we celebrate the ultimate victory of Christ. Welcome to the traveler and the settled as we join in the feast.Today didn't start out this way of course. That first Easter followed on the heels of a betrayal, arrest, execution, and burial. It followed a day of uncertainty and loneliness.The actual first Easter was one of fear, terror, unbelief, sadness, and confusion. Matthew tells us that the women left the tomb with fear and joy, and that when the disciples saw Christ, some worshiped while dome doubted. Luke records that the women were perplexed and that the disciples thought their story to be an idle tale. John tells us that Mary was incredibly distraught and confused, while John and Peter did not understand. And Mark tells us that the women were so terrified that they initially said nothing to anyone.Of course, nobody knows when this event actually occurred. People have been trying to pin down a date for ages. You would think that for such an important event the disciples would certainly have included it in what they told their eventual followers. And as far as Luke goes, God love him . . . but for someone who begins his gospel by saying that he wanted to “set down an orderly account of the events,” he certainly missed the boat on this one. Add to all of this the differences between Jewish, Julian, and Gregorian calendars, and the actual date of the Resurrection is a mystery.I want to believe that today is the day of Resurrection. Obviously. Let me rephrase that: I want to believe that today, this very date, April 1st of whatever year it was, was the Day of Resurrection. Right now, at this moment, I want that to be the case more than anything.You are all probably wondering why that is. I'm glad you asked.We have just come through Holy Week – the most holy and stressful time of the entire year. On Maundy Thursday we shared a meal, betrayed Jesus, and sentenced him to death. On Good Friday that sentence was carried out and we had him executed. On Saturday all creation held its breath. And today . . . today we go to the tomb.These events are fresh in our minds. Today we go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and pay our final respects. But he is not there. The body is gone.We have no idea what happened. All we know is that Jesus is dead and buried, and that dead men don't move. Dead men don't up and disappear.But then there's Jesus, popping out from behind some bush or tree or . . . stone: “HA!” he says. “April Fool! I'm here and I'm alive!”And we, like the women, stare in stunned silence.I can see Jesus now, laughing hysterically. “You should see the look on your face!” he roars with laughter.Best. Joke. Ever.And so we proclaim, “Christ has died. April Fool!”Well, not really.What really did happen was that four different accounts tell a story with four different points of view and four different points of emphasis. But it's not their differences that we focus on – it's their telling of a story that is capital T True.That story tells us that Christ died, executed by worldly powers. That story tells us that women were the first to experience the resurrected Christ and that those women were the first apost[...]

Sermon; Easter Vigil 2018


In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep . . . And God said, “Let there be light.”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.Early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.We have just come through some dark days. Last week after the celebratory procession, the singing of “All glory, laud, and honor,” after waving our palm branches, we turned around and shouted, “Crucify him!” On Thursday we ate the final meal, betrayed and abandoned him. Friday we denied knowing him and, once again, shouted, “Crucify him!” And yesterday we sat in stunned quiet as we came to terms with the fact that Christ was indeed dead and buried. Dark days indeed.But have you noticed that God seems to be most active and most present in the dark?In the dark, God said, “Let there be light.” In the dark days of Noah, God provided a mode of survival and a covenant of new life. In the dark days of slavery, God raised up Moses and gave the Israelites the bright beacon of freedom. In the beginning, while it was dark, was the Word, and the darkness did not overcome it.In the dark the women went to the tomb, but resurrection had already happened because the darkness could not contain the light of Christ.Our service began in the dark, but the light of Christ shown forth and was not overcome.These examples are important for both recognizing and proclaiming God.On the one hand we recognize that God is the God of life and light. That is certainly true. But this can lead us to seeing God present only in the good times, only in times of light. If not challenged, it can lead to that pernicious interpretation that if you have the right type of faith God will reward you with health, wealth, and abundance.But if we look closely, that's not how God acts, nor is it where God dwells most often. God dwells in the darkness because God's light cannot be overcome. If God weren't there, all would be dark and there would be no hope.We experience dark days during the loss of a loved one. Whether a sudden death or an expected death, it doesn't matter; either way, death brings darkness into our lives. But the light of resurrection shines there and the darkness will be vanquished because that's where God dwells.We live in dark days of financial instability or insecurity. We live in dark days of political turmoil. Our history is full of the dark days of slavery, oppression, and other injustices. We live in dark days of inequality and rising hatred of the Other. And we still live in dark days where some lives are more valuable than others. It's very apparent that we have a long way to go before reaching the light and fulfillment of God's kingdom.It may seem that all is darkness. It may seem that all is lost. Sometimes that darkness and hopelessness overwhelms us and paralyzes us. That seems as likely an explanation for how the gospel story ends: So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.You can't really blame them. Not only did they live through the actual events of the first Holy Week and all that darkness, but now the body of their friend was gone.What those women had yet to learn, at least in Mark's account, was that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second person of the Trinity, the God of light and life, and the God who dwells in the darkness, because it is there where he shines most brightly.In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.”In the darkness the fire is kindled.Three times the procession stops and we proclaim, “The Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.”At the appropriate time we joyfully and loudly proclaimed, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!” as candles and lig[...]

Sermon; Holy Saturday 2018


Well that didn't go as planned.Maybe we thought we were doing the right thing. Maybe we thought that if we did something – anything – to get Jesus to take a stand, it wouldn't have turned out this way. Maybe . . . maybe we just didn't anticipate how bad things would get.But here we are having to deal with the fact that we betrayed Jesus into the hands of tyrants. Here we are having to deal with the fact that we are those tyrants. We are the ones who betrayed him. We are the ones who shouted, “Crucify him!”Here we are in the calm after the storm. The crowds are gone. Jesus is dead. People are getting on with their lives. The only thing left for us to do is to contemplate what happened and try to figure out where we go from here. We have three choices.First, we can spend our time mourning our loss. We can continually look backwards and mourn the loss of how things used to be. We can mourn our bad decisions and continually dwell in our sorrows. We can dwell in those sorrows to the point where nothing else matters. And we can come to the conclusion that if nothing else matters it's okay to give up. This is how Judas dealt with yesterday when he went and hanged himself.Second, we can live in the here and now only. We can recognize that Jesus is dead, mourn his passing, and get on with our lives. In some sense, this is where we are. What was is gone, we only have today. As much as this is true, it can lead to a world with no hope. It can lead to a place where we only concentrate on today. This is how Peter dealt with yesterday when he said, “I'm going fishing.”Third, we can live with the hope of the resurrection. We can mourn. We can recognize our part in this drama, this Passion. And we can understand that we, too, went to the grave only to find it empty. We can realize the tomb is empty and tell the others. This is how Mary and the other women dealt with these events.On every grave stone there is a date of birth, a date of death, and a dash between them. We are living in the dash. And today, somewhere, someone is dealing with the death of a close friend.We are like the disciples in that regard – we are dealing with the death of Jesus. Arrested, beaten, crucified, dead, and buried, today is a lonely day for us.But unlike the disciples, we have the story. Whereas Saturday was a hopeless day for them, it can be a hopeful day for us. Yesterday is past, tomorrow is not promised, but in looking to tomorrow we have hope. We have hope that Jesus' words were true. We have hope in the resurrection. Hope, it would seem, is all we have.As St. Paul wrote, in hope we were saved. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Hope is what will help get us through this day.In some respects, today is like any other day in human history. People go about their business. Some are joyful. Some are sad. Some are having good days. Some are having bad days. Somewhere a child is born. Somewhere a person is laid to rest. Today we all live in the dash between birth and death. Yesterday is past. Tomorrow is not promised. There is only today.But on this subdued day when we mourn the death of Jesus, let us live a life of hope. Let us live a day of hope. Let us offer a hopeful dash to the rest of the world.On this day we can choose to live one of three ways: we can mourn the past and how things used to be, giving up on the future; we can live only focused on ourselves and today; or we can live today in the hope of the resurrection.Regardless of which one you choose, know that every day is a dash. Live with a dash of mourning. Live with a dash of selfishness. Live with a dash of hope.The choice is yours.Amen.[...]

Sermon; Good Friday 2018


Last night was the beginning of the Triduum, the Great Three Days, that runs from Maundy Thursday to the Easter Vigil. Last night we betrayed Jesus for our own selfish desires. Last night we chose ourselves over Jesus and/or God. Last night, because we were so confident we were doing the right thing, we removed everything associated with God from our lives.Our choice to remove God and Jesus from our lives comes from a place where we believe we have a better understanding of what needs to happen than he does. Because he really has no idea how the world works.Jesus told us to love our neighbors. When asked to define “neighbor,” he told us a story about some foreigner. He's asking us to love foreigners. But foreigners are ruining this country. Foreigners are taking our jobs and leeching our public assistance dry. What we really need to do is to keep them out. We need to find a way to stop them at the border.Jesus said for us to give to everyone who begs. He doesn't realize that people are poor because of their own bad decisions. If those people wouldn't spend what little money they do have on drugs or prostitutes or other useless things, they wouldn't be poor and wouldn't need to beg. If we keep giving them handouts, how will they ever learn personal responsibility? Or if they used half as much effort in getting a job as they do in begging, they wouldn't have to beg in the first place.Jesus said if anyone strikes us we are to turn the other cheek. If that's so, how are we to protect ourselves? By doing that, every criminal will know that we are sitting ducks just begging to be attacked. We need to have the right to not only defend ourselves, but to strike first if we feel the least bit threatened. And we need to have the right to use any means necessary.Jesus told us to share what we have with others. But again, this doesn't teach self-reliance but teaches the lazy to mooch off honest, hard working individuals. I work hard for what I get, and I earn every bit of it. We can't have lazy people being fed and clothed by those who work for what they get. Once word gets out, then nobody will want to work and everybody will expect a free handout. We need to keep what we earn for ourselves because there just isn't enough to go around.I could go on, but you get the idea. Jesus is advocating for the disruption of society as we know it. If we actually followed what Jesus teaches . . . well . . . it'd be anarchy. People would expect free handouts. We would be inundated with foreigners and borders would be meaningless. There'd be total chaos because there isn't enough of everything to go around.That's why we got rid of him. We need to have rules and accountability. We need to protect ourselves and our interests from those who would threaten our very way of life.He wants us to submit to him like a peasant submits to a king. We have no king. Our king is the market. We have no king. Our king is our right to protect our interests at all costs. We have no king. We are the kings of our domain. We are the kings of our territory. We don't need this troublemaker in our lives. Crucify him. We want to maintain the status quo. Crucify him. We want to maintain our privilege. Crucify him.And with that, our betrayal is complete and we are left to our own devices.[...]

Sermon; Maundy Thursday, 2018


SermonMaundy Thursday 2018The Triduum begins tonight. These are the three days from tonight through the Easter Vigil. It is one, sequential, and holistic liturgical event. And to rightly understand Easter, to rightly appreciate Easter, we must travel and participate in the events of these three days and in the totality of this liturgy.One of the things we need to remember about this night is that the one who betrayed Jesus was no outsider. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve chosen disciples to be part of Jesus' inner circle. Judas traveled with Jesus and learned from him. He was in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm. He went out with another disciple to preach, teach, and heal. Jesus washed his feet, and he was with them all as they ate the Passover meal.We need to remember that Judas Iscariot to Jesus was not Snidely Whiplash to Dudley Do-right. Far from being the obvious bad guy that we can identify from the beginning, Judas was one of us.This betrayal stuff, though, isn't always crystal clear. I have a feeling that we've all been on both sides of that act. I'd also be willing to bet that we only recognize one side.I can recall one specific time in my life when I felt betrayed. I was trying to come up with a creative solution to a difficult problem and thought I had buy-in from all parties. That is, until one side realized that the suggested solution meant doing something no one had ever tried before; until they realized that trying the new way meant giving up their old way. The turnabout and abandonment was immediate. Years of building relationships were gone in one instant.But the question hangs over me: Who betrayed whom? Did they betray me, or did I betray them? The answer to that question probably depends on who you ask.I am not suggesting that Jesus betrayed his disciples. For one thing, betrayal is a sinful act based in selfishness. So even though we proclaim Jesus was fully human, we also avow that he was without sin. If anything, Jesus was guilty of not living up to the expectations his disciples had for him. But that's not a Jesus problem, that's our problem; especially since he was busy living up to God's expectations, not ours.And really, isn't that the essence of betrayal – someone decides that someone else isn't living up to, or meeting, their expectations? The newly forming United States was not meeting personal expectations, so Benedict Arnold switched sides and betrayed the U.S. The story of The Falcon and the Snowmantells of espionage that began with one character becoming disillusioned with the U.S. Spouses betray each other because expectations are not being met. Judas betrays Jesus for the same reasons. We don't start out bad, but circumstances can push us that direction.Betrayal is an act that we have probably all experienced. Sometimes we have been betrayed. And if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we have been the betrayer. Sometimes that is an obvious fit. Sometimes, though, we don't see it as betrayal but as a necessary act we were forced into; maybe even rationalizing that it is to stop something worse from happening, as Judas did.Ultimately these actions stem from our own selfish desires. Tonight we come face to face with those actions and desires. Is the Church living up to our expectations? Is the Church meeting our needs? Does God live up to and meet our expectations and needs? Have we tried to live up to the expectations and needs of God and Church? Or do we think this is a one-way street that points only to us?Tonight Judas leaves to go his own way. Tonight the disappointment at not having Jesus meet his expectations becomes too great and he decides to do something about it. Tonight is symbolic of us going our own way as well. Tonight is symbolic of our unmet expectations overwhelming us. Tonight we choose another path and remove Jesus from our lives, as represented by the [...]

Sermon; Lent 5B; John 12:20-33


“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” said a group of Greeks to Philip. Philip went and told Andrew, and then Philip and Andrew went and told Jesus. In response Jesus goes on a long, winding soliloquy touching on his imminent crucifixion, self-sacrifice, and the judgment of the world, without once offering to meet with the interested group. But, that's John for you. What are we to make of this non-answer answer?If you're like me, you sort of shake your head and go, “Ummm . . . what?” Because, really, how hard would it have been for Jesus to at least introduce himself to these people. But that's not how John operates. Instead, John operates on a deeper level. It is a level and style designed to proclaim who Jesus is and to persuade his readers of the significance and importance of Jesus. It is a level based in the proclamation of Jesus as one being with God the Father. The question we must ask when reading John isn't, “Did this really happen this way,” but, “What is the significance of what John is writing?”Looking at the gospel this way allows us to move from, “Why didn't Jesus meet those Greeks,” to, “What is the significance of his answer?”At the festival, a group of Greeks want to meet Jesus. Here we need some context. The festival mentioned is the Passover celebration held in Jerusalem. A few days before, Jesus shows up in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus, whom he had recently raised from the dead. A great crowd shows up to see not only Jesus, but also Lazarus. The following day is what has come to be known as Palm Sunday. All of this is what's happening when the group of Greeks come to see Jesus.Those Greeks, though, are operating on a one-dimensional level; a level similar to those who want to see famous people up close, or autograph seekers, or sports fans who hang over the edge of stadium seating hoping to touch their favorite player. They simply wanted an up-close glimpse, a touch, or an audience with this rock star of Judea.But Jesus is operating on a multi-dimensional level. So when Philip and Andrew come to Jesus, his wandering reply only seems that way to us because we, like the Greeks, expect a simple answer to the question. His answer does, however, answer the question – just not in a way we expect. As a seminary professor used to say, “It's more complicated than that.”The overarching aim of John's gospel is to illustrate that Jesus properly dwells with God in heaven, that he was sent to earth as the true light to save people from darkness, and that he will reveal and reclaim God's glory through his unwavering obedience. Everything Jesus says and does in John discloses his true identity as the Son; and everything he says and does helps to reveal the mystery of deity. That is where John's Jesus is operating from.So when the Greeks come to see Jesus, he gives them a glimpse of who he is. He allows them to see him, but he reveals himself on a multi-dimensional level.You want to see Jesus? Look at a grain of wheat. If that grain doesn't die, it remains but a single grain. But if it is placed in the earth and dies, it will produce much fruit. So it is with Jesus. If he lives only for himself, he will remain a single man. But if he lives for God, he will die, be buried, and then rise to produce much fruit for God.You want to see Jesus? Then don't love your own life. Our lives in this world are full of temptations, and one of the greatest temptations we face is the temptation to focus on our own desires and comforts. When we love ourselves over and above all else, we seek comfort, we become greedy, we seek safety in all things. But to follow God, to see Jesus, is to put away our comforts, desires, greed, and safety. Not foolishly, mind you. As Augustine pointed out, suicide isn't the point or answer. But when we seek the will of God over and above all else, we give up t[...]

Sermon; Lent 4B; Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21


In this passage from Numbers we get an odd and disturbing story about God intentionally sending a plague of serpents to kill his chosen people. Taken on its own it may cause people to question whether or not God really is a God of love. Especially when coupled with his command to Moses to construct a serpent which, when looked upon, would save those bitten from death. This God appears to be more abusive and manipulative than loving.But our faith is not built on one or two small snippets from the Bible. If it is, that is more problematic than this passage. Instead, our faith is deeper, more complex, and built on the totality of Scripture. With that in mind, we need to look beyond the first-impression, disturbing oddness of this story. We need to look deeper.The book of Numbers is really the story of the 40-year wilderness wandering. It begins in the desert of Sinai and ends on the eastern shore of the Jordan, the people poised to cross over into the Promised Land. Additionally, it recounts the change in generations from exodus to conquest.The Israelites have complained a variety of times about a variety of things during those 40 years. They complained about getting trapped at the Red Sea; about the lack of food; about the lack of meat; about the lack of water; about, about, about. As it turns out, today's story is the last complaint story of the Exodus. And it's a doozy, as they complain against both God and Moses.In retaliation God sends poisonous serpents. In compassion God instructs Moses to construct a serpent on a pole which will be the catalyst for healing. So going beyond this snippet of Scripture and looking more deeply, what can this ancient story of disobedience, punishment, compassion, and healing teach us today?As I said, this is the last grumbling/complaining story. There are many, many other stories in the Torah in which the people grumble against God and/or Moses. In most of them, they wish they were back in Egypt living as slaves instead of facing death in the wilderness. In some of them, people do die as a result of their complaining. At least once God threatens to kill them all and start over with Moses; that is, until Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. And today the camp is infested with poisonous serpents that do kill many people, but they are saved when they look upon the bronze serpent on the pole that Moses constructs.All of these stories have two things in common: one, they are based in scarcity; and, two, they are inwardly focused.We don't have bread. We don't have water. We don't have meat. We don't have food or water, and we detest this miserable food. At least we had houses and food in Egypt. In all of these complaints there is a constant focus on what they don't have. And when God does provide for their needs, it's never enough,. How much is enough? When we are focused on what we don't have, we are unable to do anything. The second item is their inward focus. Their only concern is for themselves. We don't have . . . we need . . . we were better off. There is no gratitude. There is no concern for others. There is no concern for those who come after.Both of these issues, a dwelling in scarcity and an inward focus, ultimately lead to death. We see that today. Their focus on scarcity in not having any food, and their inward focus about detesting the food they have, leads to the appearance of the poisonous serpents and the death of many Israelites. What ultimately saves them is looking beyond themselves and looking to God.The message is clear – focus on yourself, your scarcity, your selfish desires, and you will die. Focus on something outside yourself, something that may even be foolish, and you will live.Jesus refers to this story in the gospel when he says that just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must he be lifted up as well. Lik[...]

Sermon; Lent 2B; Mark 8:31-38


How is Lent going for you? Are you maintaining your discipline? Maybe you've slipped and need to start again. Either way, whether we've maintained our discipline or whether we've been unable to do so, we need to remember that Lent is a journey. These 40 days of Lent remind us of the 40 days of rain and the journey of Noah and his family. They remind us of the 40 years that the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. They remind us of the 40 days of repentance the Ninevites embarked on after Jonah's warning. And they remind us of the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. These 40 days of Lent are our journey as we move toward Easter.But before we get to Easter we must go through Good Friday. Today's gospel reminds us of that.The gospel of Mark is 16 chapters long, and today's passage comes from Chapter 8 – almost the exact middle of the story. From here on out, the focus will be on Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and his Passion. It is here in this middle chapter where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The answers range from Elijah to John the Baptist. He then asks them directly, “But who do you say that I am?” And here we get Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah.This is important. Because although Peter makes this confession, he still doesn't understand what is entailed in following Christ. There is still a sense that Jesus will triumphantly, and gloriously, overthrow Rome and restore the kingdom of Israel.Rather than confirming their idea of what the Messiah is, they instead get Jesus' first Passion prediction. Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and then rise again. This prediction by Jesus doesn't sit well with Peter who takes Jesus aside and has words with him.As one of my commentaries points out, the issue here is about authority and who has the right to define the meaning of “Messiah.” When Peter confessed Jesus as Messiah, he gave up his right to define what type of Messiah Jesus would be. When Peter laid that title on Jesus, it was then only Jesus who would be allowed to define and live into the the type of Messiah God was calling him to be.The temptation that Peter fell victim to, and the temptation that both Jesus and we face, is the temptation to move immediately to Easter without the suffering of Holy Week and Good Friday. That suffering, though, isn't suffering for the sake of suffering. It isn't a fulfillment of a masochistic fetish or of an abusive father. That suffering is the result of being obedient to God over and above any and all human powers and institutions.When we are faithful to God, there will be suffering at the hands of people who are threatened by that faithfulness. This is a message Peter does not want to hear. And not just Peter, but plenty of other people would much rather avoid Good Friday and go directly to Easter.I was at a meeting on Shrove Tuesday and the pre-program conversation in my corner of the room revolved around Ash Wednesday and what various churches were doing on that day. As it happened, I overheard Rabbi Ari asking someone about Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. This person was struggling a bit, so I interjected and gave some helpful information. A member of another congregation was there and Ari asked him if they celebrated Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.“No,” he replied, “because our focus is Easter.”Without starting another religious war over lunch, I thought to myself, “This is modern-day Peter.” They want to avoid suffering so they can only focus on the fun stuff; or so they can build a Jesus in their own image. But an Easter-only Jesus is power without responsibility. It is glory without humility. Easter without Good Friday, or the recognition of our mortality as found in As[...]

Sermon; Lent 1B; Mark 1:9-15


This year we get Mark's version of Jesus' baptism, time in the wilderness, and beginning of his public ministry. We heard part of this same passage on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and the day we baptized Natalie. On that day I preached on almost this very same passage, but I think it bears repeating.After Jesus is baptized he is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Mark says that Jesus was in the wilderness forty days and tempted by Satan. This account from Mark pretty much lines up with the accounts from Matthew and Luke, but there are a few key differences.The first key difference between them is that Mark doesn't record how Jesus was tempted. He doesn't record a temptation of stones to bread, worldly power, or a ridiculous, no-win testing of God. He simply tells us that Jesus was tempted. The second key difference, and one that is often overlooked, is that Satan never departs from Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus banishes the devil from his presence, much like he does to the demons in various healing stories. And in Luke, the devil leaves of his own volition only to return at “an opportune time.” But no such departure, either forced or voluntary, is recorded in Mark.I think this is an important point and one that makes Jesus closer and more relatable to us.We are now in the season of Lent. It began, as you know, last week on Ash Wednesday. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question this time of year. We give up chocolate, or TV, or Facebook, or any number of things that are fashionable. Or maybe we take on something. We take on reading the Bible, or praying more regularly, or not missing church, or attending Evening Prayer. All of which are nice, but all of which can also miss the point; especially if these disciplines of abstinence or acquisition only last as long as the Lenten season. Remember, Easter isn't a celebration of returning to the way things were, it's a celebration of new life.Our Lenten disciplines, whatever they may be, should be designed to bring us closer to God in body, mind, and soul. Our disciplines should be designed to help heal the world. Taking a good look at the Litany of Penitence would be a good place to start.Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or do we post hateful messages and “funny” memes designed to ridicule and tear down?Do we look to help others? Or do we focus on collecting more toys than our neighbors?Do we treat others with dignity and respect? Or do we attack them in thought, word, or deed because they differ from us?Do we care for this earthly home which God has provided? Or do we misuse, ignore, and pollute it, leaving a vast wasteland for those who come after us?All of these things, and more, are things we do that separate us from God – either intentionally or unintentionally. They are things that we do or don't do on a regular basis – sometimes on a daily basis.We are tempted on a daily basis to stray from God's ways. We are tempted on a daily basis to love ourselves but not our neighbor. We are tempted on a daily basis to rationalize why our dislike or hatred for others is different and okay. And, anymore, we are tempted on a daily basis to rationalize, explain, and approve of a system that values the killing of innocent people more than we value the “sanctity of life.” So far in 2018, someone has successfully succumbed to the temptation to kill four or more people every 1.5 days.Temptation is all around us every day of our lives. Some days we do better, some days we do worse. But every day brings its own challenges.And this is why I think today's gospel passage is so important. It doesn't present Jesus as an omnipotent being who easily dispatches Satan. Instead, it presents Jesus as a m[...]

Sermon; Ash Wednesday 2018


Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. So it was ordained from the beginning at our creation that all of us go down to the dust.If we go back and look at the second creation story with Adam and Eve in the garden, you should notice something significant there. God created Adam and put him in the garden. And he said “You may eat from any tree in the garden, but you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”Eventually Eve comes along, has a conversation with a serpent, and both she and Adam eat from the forbidden tree. God then lists out curses/consequences for their disobedience, and one of the things he says is,”You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Adam and Eve are then expelled from the garden because God is afraid they will next eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.In other words, Paul and all those who thought that death only entered the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience got it wrong: death has always been part of the equation. For out of the dust were we taken. We are dust, and to dust shall we return.Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.We are mortal. We are born, we live, and we die. Despite knowing this fact, despite knowing that 100 percent of people who were, or who will be, born will die, we try to ignore it. We put off doing what we should to prepare for that day. We create euphemisms to soften the words, “He/She died.” But the reality is that we all die.Within that reality, though is uncertainty. Even though we all die, no one knows when we will die. That uncertainty has led to stories and movies along the lines of, “What if you knew how much time you had left?” One of the funnier movies was, “Last Holiday,” starring Queen Latifah. Her character learns she has a terminal brain disease and is given three weeks to live. The movie revolves around the, “What would you do?” theme.What would we do if we were born with a tattoo showing how many days we would live? What would we do if our birth certificate came with a death certificate? Would we live differently? Would we live better? Would we live worse?It's a fact that we will die. It's also a fact that we don't know when that will happen. But what if we took the idea of knowing when we will die and insert it into our uncertain lives? What if we took the best of what we would do given a limited time – more time with family, volunteer more, read more, pray more – and applied it right now?Last week I was in Kingsville for the monthly Fresh Start program and the topic was discernment. It didn't just focus on discerning a call to ordained ministry, but on everything – discerning the direction of the parish, discerning personal goals, and the like. During the discussion one person said, “This reminds me of a saying from the Sufi master Rumi. He said, 'Before anything passes through your lips, consider three things: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?'”Today is Ash Wednesday. Today we are called to the observance of a holy Lent through a variety of actions and examinations. Today is the day when we attempt to empty ourselves of things selfish in nature and fill ourselves with things holy in nature. This is the time when we, like the bread and wine at Communion, make a substantial change in our nature which will bring us closer to the presence of Christ.This Lent, what if we examined our lives and lived as if we knew just how limited our time on earth was? What if, this Lent, we vowed to evaluate our behaviors on whether or not it is true, necessary, and kind?For all of us go down to the grave; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With that in mind, will the changes we make and the life we live allow God to say, “Well done.”Amen.[...]

Sermon; Last Epiphany; Mark 9:2-9


Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Some Protestant denominations refer to this as Transfiguration Sunday. I was talking with a friend about this and the question came up that if the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6, why do we also have, essentially, a celebration of the Transfiguration on this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany?If you have been paying attention over the past six weeks, you will recall that the two major themes of Epiphany are knowledge and proclamation. In Epiphany we gain knowledge of who Jesus is through the wise men, John the Baptist, Philip, and even demons. That knowledge is then proclaimed, made known, not only here, but in the surrounding towns and villages, as we heard last week.These twin themes of knowledge and proclamation culminate in the Transfiguration event. Jesus is made known through the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, and he is proclaimed as God's Son by God himself. This event is the perfect end to the season of knowledge and proclamation.But today I want to deviate from these themes and address a particular and important aspect of this story, and that is the aspect of mystery. Because we may know all there is to know about Jesus or Scripture or the Church, but just because we know it all doesn't mean we know it all.Mystery has several meanings associated with it, usually along the lines of trying to figure out, or find, a solution to something. Agatha Christie wrote murder mysteries for a living. We watch Columbo, CSI, and Fr. Brown. We play games to determine if it was Col. Mustard in the kitchen with a pipe. Scientists are probing the mysteries of the universe trying to find the answer to life and everything. And when I was a kid, I had to find out who was eating my chocolate Easter bunny without my permission. All mysteries to be solved.But the mystery of faith is something else entirely. We do not proclaim a faith to be solved, we proclaim a faith to be lived. And it is in the living of our faith that we live into its mystery.The early Church easily lived into this. Christian doctrine and liturgy were developed with an understanding of the importance of mystery, and they reflect a mystical experience. That mystery is experienced by revelation, such as the event of the Transfiguration that we hear today.Ignatius said that the words of scripture enacted in the Eucharist contain a mystic significance into which believers are progressively initiated, so that we hear the quietness of Jesus. It is the mystery of the Eucharist, with its symbols, rituals, and words, that help draw us beyond intellectual notions of God and into a mystical union with God. This mystery, or these mystical acts, do not persuade us, as a good argument might, but they act on us and move us into a deeper relation with God.In short, the experience of God is a mystery. It is a mysterious and mystical event that cannot be explained. And on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, this is exactly what is happening – a mysterious and mystical experience of God that cannot be explained. A mystery not to be solved but to be lived.Four men ascend the mountain where one of them is miraculously transfigured so that he shown with an other-worldly light and his clothes were more dazzling white than even Tide could get them. Shortly after Jesus is transfigured, Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets. How they got there and how the disciples identified them is a mystery.Peter, wanting to do something, suggests building three dwellings, when suddenly a cloud overshadows them and they hear a voice that proclaims Jesus as Son and that they should listen to him. They were overshadowed in the same way that Mary was oversha[...]

Sermon; Christmas Eve; Luke 2:1-20


At services this morning (earlier today also being the Fourth Sunday of Advent) I preached on the bravery, confidence, and decisiveness of Mary. This was appropriate because our gospel lesson for Advent IV was the story of the Annunciation – that time in history when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son who would be called the Son of God.When the angel appeared before her, Mary did not tremble in fear. Mary listened to all the angel had to say and made the life-changing, world-altering decision to allow God to work through her and trust that God would be with her. In short, Mary fearlessly stared down an angel, agreed to become the Theotokos, God-bearer, the Mother of God, when most people have trouble simply talking about God, and she was willing to carry out a mission that could very well get her killed.Far from meek and mild, Mary was hard core. She was fierce. She was feisty. She was a bad mama.Tonight we come to worship God. We come to celebrate the birth of God made man. We come to hear the stories and sing the hymns. We come to experience a bit of peace in a chaotic world. We come to partake of a holy meal instituted by a man born in a stable in a town whose name means, “House of bread.”But besides all of these reasons as to why we come, and besides recognizing the fierceness of Mary, there is something else going on in this story that we need to pay attention to today. To do that, though, I need to go beyond just tonight's gospel passage and look further back into Luke and over into Matthew as well.Scripture tells us that the virgin Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. Engaged to Joseph but not yet married, she finds herself in a dangerous predicament in which the father of her child is not the man to whom she is engaged. As I said this morning, one possible outcome of these events could have been a death sentence. And yet fierce Mary agreed to let this happen. Fierce Mary agreed to stare down death.Joseph, as you might imagine, was rightfully upset. But as Matthew tells us, Joseph was righteous, not legalistic. Legally he could have had Mary executed. Instead he chose to “dismiss her quietly” so that she and her child could have a chance at life. Eventually, with a little angelic prodding, Joseph believed Mary and became her husband and father to Jesus.When Jesus was finally born angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. After a few terrifying moments when they had to be told to fear not, they heard the story of Mary and the birth of the holy child. They also believed the story and traveled into town to pay their respects.We are here tonight because, on some level, we also believe the story. We may or may not believe all the details of the story, but we believe THE STORY. We believe that God became man through the willingness of fierce Mary. We believe that child grew up to become the same Jesus who died on a cross for our sins.We believe the story of God. We believe the story of a young, yet-to-be married woman. We believe. And this is where this story can speak to us today.We have been inundated lately with stories from women who have shared their experiences of abuse and misconduct at the hands of men. From Hollywood to Washington, DC, in corporations and in churches, women are speaking out. The #MeToo movement is a movement of stories – sad, hurtful, powerful, and shameful stories – but the stories of women nonetheless.The responses to those stories have been varied. They range from immediate termination to defiant denial, victim blaming, and any number of responses that fall somewhere in-between. There has not been one universal response.As unfortunate as that i[...]

Sermon; Advent 4B; Luke 1:26-38


Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Today is the fourth Sunday of our preparation for the coming of the Messiah. And today we hear from the ultimate preparation story, that of what we refer to as “The Annunciation.” In this story the angel Gabriel appears before Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God.Today I want to focus on Mary and how she might help us in our Advent preparation and Christmas celebration.Over the years Mary has been ascribed a variety of traits and characteristics that may or may not be true. My goal here isn't to debunk stories and ideas of Mary as much as it is to challenge our assumptions and maybe give her character a little more depth.Those assumptions about Mary include the idea that she was a young teenage girl, that she was passive, maybe that she had no choice, and that she was “meek and mild.” There are probably others, but that will give us a good start.Mary may or may not have been a young teenage girl. There is ample evidence that she was – the use of the word virgin certainly implies a young teenager, along with our understanding of the social constructs of the time in which girls were married at much younger ages than men, give evidence she was a young teenager. Add to that the fact she was engaged, which means this was probably a family arrangement. So yes, she could have been a young teen.But then again, she may have been older. Certainly not Elizabeth-old, but old enough to have developed a strong sense of self. Consider: when Gabriel appears to Zechariah, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid.” When an angel appears before the shepherds, the first words are, again, “Do not be afraid.” And in both those cases, Zechariah and the shepherds are described as being terrified at the angel's appearing.Not so with Mary. The first words to her are, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And Luke records that she was perplexed, not afraid. So it's possible Mary was older, braver, and more self-assured than a young teenage girl.As to the assumption that she was passive or had no choice, I will say this wasn't the case. The first clue we get is that she pondered over the greeting of the angel. She pondered. She thought. She tried to make sense of what was happening. She just didn't sit back to observe what was happening without any thought to the matter.As the gears are turning in her head about all that Gabriel is telling her, she doesn't ask for proof like Zechariah did, but she asks for clarification. “How can this happen under these circumstances?” She reminds me of the girl in the GE commercial who sees a problem (trash, lawn mowing, etc.) and continually asks, “How will this work under different circumstances?”Mary is always thinking.And Mary did have a choice. God always gives us a choice. An angel could have come to me and said, “You will become a priest of God. You will move your family multiple times and you will end up on the East coast far from family and friends.” Had the angel said THAT, my answer may well have been, “No thank you.” But Mary, after hearing all the angel's words, said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” She not only had a choice and said, “Yes,” but she is more gutsy and brave than I would have been.And speaking of gutsy and brave, Mary was certainly not meek and mild. She faced down an angel without fear. She agreed to being part of God's plan to actively involve himself in the world as he had never done before. And this young, as-yet unmarried woman agreed to become pregnant in order to help fulfill God's mission on earth. Young, unwed, pregnant women have a hard enough time h[...]

Sermon; Advent 3B; John 1:6-8, 19-28


Once again we hear the story (or part of the story) of John the Baptist, but this time it comes from the gospel of John (referred to as “the fourth gospel” from here on out to avoid confusion between John and John). In this version there is no camel-hair clothing, no locusts and wild honey, no frantic calls to repent or accusing the Pharisees of being a brood of vipers. There isn't even a reference to “the wilderness,” since all this takes place in Bethany, across the Jordan. So the image of John in the fourth gospel is very different from Mathew, Mark, and Luke. It is, by comparison, rather tame. But although tame, it is still vitally important.Today's gospel passage is important because it tells what John's role is and how he lives into that role.John came as a witness to testify. In the fourth gospel that is his main function. He does baptize, but that is secondary to being a witness and testifying to the light. Sometimes we get so caught up in the wild, confrontational, earnest and urgent portrayal of John that we miss this aspect of his life. And if we miss that part, then we miss the implication it has for our own lives as well.Let me ask a question: What is a witness? A witness is more than just seeing an event. A witness is one who serves as a legal observer, who provides evidence or testimony in court, or who signs a legal document. A person who is a witness is more than a person who watches the action or is a simple bystander. A witness helps create the framework of a story. When I sat on the jury for a medical malpractice case, the witnesses helped us determine the guilt or innocence of the doctor on trial.A witness, in essence, relays to others what they have seen or known as honestly and truthfully as possible, and with the understanding that they are accountable for that testimony. John is a witness who testifies to the light and truth of the story. And today's passage is John's testimony.Please state for the record of this court your name. Who are you?I am John, son of Zechariah, a priest of the order of Abijah, and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. I have come to prepare the way of the Lord. I am not the Messiah.If you aren't the Messiah but have come to prepare the way, are you Elijah?I am not.Are you the prophet of whom Moses foretold?No.Then who are you? Tell us.I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”If you are neither the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet, why do you baptize?I baptize with water to prepare people for the Messiah's coming. One among you whom you do not know is coming after me and I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.In this exchange we have John as a witness testifying to the light, to Jesus. And not only testifying to Jesus, but removing himself from the spotlight. This is equally important.In their commentaries on this passage, a variety of Church fathers write that those who came to John were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and that they would have gladly crowned him with that title. The line of questioning indicates they were not only cautious about making such an important assertion, but also that they were doing their due diligence. And Augustine writes that those who questioned John were so impressed by his grace that they would have believed whatever he said.That is, of course, one man's interpretation. If we assume Augustine was right and that the questioners would have believed whatever John said, then John is our ultimate example of what it means to be a witness for Christ.The history of Christianity is full of examples of people in positions of authority who use tha[...]

Sermon; Advent 2B; Mark 1:1-8


Last week we heard from Mark's “little apocalypse” and Jesus' promise that his words will not pass away even though heaven and earth will. Today we move from a focus on the last days to the very beginning of Jesus' ministry according to Mark.Mark doesn't give us any genealogies or birth narratives. He doesn't give us any shepherds or kings. He doesn't give us any angelic announcements or choirs from on high. If Mark were buying Christmas gifts for Jesus, he wouldn't give him a 23-and-Me DNA kit because Mark doesn't care where Jesus came from, he only cares where he is going. And in Mark, Jesus is going to Golgotha – but I don't want to get ahead of myself.So here we are on the Second Sunday of Advent and at the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As I pointed out, there is no prologue to the gospel. There is no easing into the story of Jesus with birth narratives or genealogies. Mark immediately jumps into the story by abruptly declaring that this is the beginning of the good news. If you read Mark's gospel, you will notice how things move abruptly and happen immediately. In fact, Mark uses the word “immediately” more than Matthew and Luke combined.But even with Mark's immediate focus, he still must prepare his readers for what is coming. And in order to prepare for what is coming, we must look both backward and forward. That back-and-fore looking requires us to hear the story of John the Baptist; and this is the only pre-Jesus story Mark gives us.This is the beginning of the good news, or the beginning of the gospel. In order to see the beginning of the gospel, we look back to Isaiah: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'.” Mark attributes that quote to Isaiah, but it's really a conflation from three sources: Ex. 23:20, Is. 40:3, and Malachi 3:1 This is why some other ancient sources don't attribute the saying solely to Isaiah, but to “the prophets.” Either way, Mark is looking back to reflect on what's coming.We are doing the same thing – looking back to look forward. We are preparing to look forward by looking back.Advent is the season of expectation and hopeful waiting. Advent is the season of preparation. We are expectantly and hopefully waiting for the coming of Christ, and we are preparing for his arrival. We prepare by putting up trees and decorations. We prepare by sending out Christmas cards and letters. We prepare by displaying creche sets and marching Mary and Joseph and the wise men on their respective journeys to Bethlehem. And, hopefully, we prepare for his arrival in a way that changes us.This was the point of John's ministry – to urge people to prepare for the imminent coming of Christ, to make significant and lasting changes in their lives, and to be baptized as a symbol of that change.So we look back to the arrival of Christ and prepare for his coming again. We look back to his imminent arrival that we celebrate on December 24 & 25. We hope that our preparations today will change us and prepare us for his next coming.The danger we face, though, is becoming too backward-focused. We can spend too much time focusing on the manger and not on his arrival. We can spend too much time trying to arrange the creche set “just so” that we don't work to properly arrange our lives. We can spend too much time remembering the gifts the wise men brought that we neglect to share the gift of the gospel with those around us.This, as you might expect, has implications not only[...]

Sermon; Advent 1B; Mark 13:24-27


As I said at the beginning of the announcements, “Happy New Year!”Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in the liturgical cycle, and the first Sunday of Year B. Unlike most New Years that begin with hopes and dreams of prosperity and improvements, with promises or vows to turn over a new leaf, or with promises to take on goals for personal betterment, the new Church year begins with a dire warning about the end of days. Instead of promises of betterment, we hear promises of destruction, of a darkened sun, of falling stars, and dire warnings about the unknown hour of the master's return.Happy New Year?Chapter 13 of Mark is traditionally called, “The Little Apocalypse,” mainly because it is short. Mark 13 is the extent of apocalyptic writing in the gospel. It is set up by the disciples commenting to Jesus how grand the temple was. Jesus basically replies, “Not one stone will be left; all this will be thrown down.” And in a private moment with the inner circle – Peter, Andrew, James, and John – he is asked, “When will all this take place?” And here Jesus goes off on his apocalyptic rant.In the part of the chapter we didn't hear today, Jesus talks of false prophets and wars, of famines and earthquakes, of trials and tribulations, of beatings and betrayals, of the desolating sacrilege, and of all sorts of other mean, nasty, horrible, ugly things. And from what we did hear, a darkened sun and falling stars, heaven and earth passing away, and a warning to keep awake and stay alert.The end is coming. Happy New Year.This little apocalypse is particularly interesting to me right now because I'm watching a video series on the Book of Revelation that is put out by Trinity Wall Street. If you also would like to watch it, you can go to the “About Us” tab on our website, click on Education, and there's a blurb with a link. In that series the Rev. Dr. Michael Battle says that because Jesus is the alpha and omega we cannot read Revelation in chronological time from Point A to Point B. Instead we must read it in kairos time, or God's time, recognizing that God is the beginning and ending, the ending and the beginning. “How,” he asks, “is God being revealed through the imagination of the Apocalypse?”We can ask the same thing with regard to Mark's little apocalypse: How is God being revealed through the imagination that is being presented to us today?While we may know enough to not read Revelation as a chronological road map to the end days, and while we might apply that non-chronological view to Mark's little apocalypse, we might let our imagination run wildly dark when reading these pieces of scripture.We have probably all heard or read some of those imaginative dark interpretations. The end is coming based on the generational timeline of Revelation and the state of Israel being created in 1947. The end is coming because the ratio of ships destroyed in WWII is the same as the ratio of ships destroyed in Revelation. The end is coming because Apache helicopters look just like the locusts mentioned in Revelation. The end is coming because nuclear war between the US and insert-enemy-of-the-day here will result in a darkened sun. And no, I am not making any of this up.I want you to notice something: All of those interpretations focus on the death and destruction of not only the world, but of those whom the interpreters deem unworthy or evil. All of those interpretations are, in essence, revenge fantasies based on a made up chronological time.But what if we used a different focus for our apocalyptic imagination?In Revela[...]

Sermon; Last Pentecost/Proper 29A; Christ the King Sunday; Matthew 25:31-46


Today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, otherwise known as Christ the King Sunday, or the Reign of Christ Sunday. Whatever we choose to call it, today signifies and celebrates the reign and supremacy of Christ as King over all creation. This is the day, specifically, when we recognize what Paul wrote in both Romans and Philippians that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord. And while this is a relatively new feast on the Church calendar, it is appropriate that we celebrate it here on the final Sunday of the Church year; because, really, this is what we've been working toward for most of the year.The Church year can be broken up into two cycles – liturgical time and ordinary time. Liturgical time consists of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost. These liturgical seasons focus on specific events in the life of Christ and/or the Church. Ordinary Time focuses not on an event, but on the life of Christ and our becoming disciples and apostles by learning what it means to live in communion with God through Jesus' example. It is during this time that we work at deepening our relationships with God and each other. This time is ordinary not because it's boring, but because it is representative of how we are to live our lives each day, every day, day after day, week after week.And this is where it all leads – to Christ the King Sunday. Our daily and weekly journey with Christ over the past six months should have brought us to a point where we can say honestly, truthfully, and with conviction, “My Lord and my God.”Today, like the previous several weeks, we are confronted with an end-time parable. Once again we hear a story of judgment, of who's in and who's out, of who's included and who's excluded. Unlike some of those earlier parables, however, where the exclusion seems random at best and vindictive at worst (“You didn't bring enough oil or the right kind of clothes? Too bad for you; out you go!”), today's parable is neither random nor vindictive but a matter of fact.“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”“What is written in the Law?”“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”In Matthew, Jesus is asked to state the greatest commandment. In Luke, Jesus is asked about eternal life and it is the questioner who gives the, “Love God, love neighbor” answer. In these two gospels we are given two different reasons for giving the the two greatest commandments. Everything comes down to this – love God, love neighbor. Today's parable shows us what this looks like.But it's not only from Jesus' teachings that this parable draws, it also draws from the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In today's parable, Jesus not only reaches back to the Law, but he reaches back to the words of a prophet to show what those words look like when put into practice.The words of Micah and the Summary of the Law are reflected in this, the last of Jesus' parables. This parable appears only in Matthew and it occurs during Holy Week, roughly two days before his arrest. So not only are we at the end of the season and the Church year,[...]

Sermon; 24 Pentecost/Proper 28A; Matthew 25:14-30


Once again we get a story from Jesus having to do with the kingdom and the end of the age. Once again we get a story about judgment, who's allowed to be part of the kingdom, and who is excluded from the kingdom. This story happens to be the third in the series – the first about a master who returns to find his slave taking advantage of his absence, the second about the ten bridesmaids, and now today's story of the talents.Our pledge campaign this year was based on the idea to “Be Bold in Christ.” As it so happens, this idea is also the underlying message of today's gospel story. A man leaves his estate and calls three servants to run it in his absence. He gives each one a number of talents – five, three, and one – each according to his ability.First, we often get sidetracked by that term, talent. It has been used over the ages as a way of talking about our personal gifts and talents. But first and foremost it was an amount of money – an exceedingly large amount of money. One talent was approximately equal to 20 years of day-wages. Thinking about it this way tells us that the slaves received enough wages for 100 years, 60 years, and 20 years. So not only was the master exceedingly wealthy, but he also trusted these slaves with his own personal wealth.Second, notice that the master didn't give an equal amount to the servants, but gave amounts “each according to his ability.” Getting back to seeing the word “talent” as our own personal gifts and skills, it's important to remember that we are not all given an equal number of talents. Some of us can do five things well, some three, and some only one thing. But remember, this isn't about how many gifts or talents we have, it's about the fact that God knows what we can do and what we can handle, and gives us an appropriate gift at the appropriate time. This isn't about comparing gifts, it's about faithfully using what gifts we have.Third, what the previous two observations – that the master gave huge sums of money and that he gave each according to his ability – lead us to is that the master trusted the servants with that money. Also notice that the master never actually told the servants what to do with it; only that there is an assumption (based on the end) that these three talented people would do something with it.In essence, we have large gifts being given to people of varying abilities and an unstated level of trust that those abilities will be put to use in the utilization of their gifts and talents. With no instruction, order, or mandate, two of the three servants took bold steps to double what they had been given.Whereas the first end-time parable, which we didn't hear, focused on religious leaders, and last week's could be said to have a focus on long-term mission, today's parable focuses on us. More specifically, it focuses on whether or not we want to take bold steps for God.All of us have been entrusted with talents. All of us have been given gifts of great value by the Lord of the estate. We don't all have the same gifts, it's true. And it's also true that we don't all have the same abilities. But we all have been given gifts and talents.As an example, I was talking with a parishioner after services last week. This person was commenting on how beautifully the flautist from St. James played. They went on to make the comment, “she has more talent in her little finger than I have in my whole body.” And while I understand the sentiment, with all due respect, that is not true.This person made the mistake of c[...]

Sermon; All Saints' Sunday; Year A 2017


So I apparently posted this to the wrong blog.  Here's the sermon from earlier this month:=================================================================Today marks the one-year anniversary of my first Sunday at St. John's, of my first experience of this congregation at worship, and of your first experience of me as the incoming Rector of this parish. I say it this way intentionally because the role of rector is position-based, while the role of priest is relational-based. One year ago I did not arrive as your new priest, I arrived as your new rector. And I say it that way because any fool can be a rector, but it takes a special kind of fool to be a priest.A rector is defined within the Constitution and Canons as a person elected to have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop.The Rector shall also at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings, together with all appurtenances (that means, “accessory;” I had to look it up) and furniture, and have access to all records and registers maintained by or on behalf of the congregation for the purposes of all functions and duties pertaining thereto.In other words, it is a necessary position in this church so that we can function as a church. You don't necessarily need ME as much as you need the position.A priest, though, and your priest in particular, is something different. A priest is one who is called to not only proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but is one who will love and serve the people among whom the priest works, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. A priest is to preach, to declare God's forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God's blessing, to share in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, and to perform other ministrations entrusted to him or her.During the course of 2015 and 2016 the parish and Search Team did their due diligence and decided that a guy from Oregon should be the 28th Rector of St. John's Parish. And I'm sure they hoped that I would become your next priest. Of course, they may not have known there was a difference; but maybe they did. That search ended with an offered and accepted call, a cross country move, arriving in the office on November 1, and our first worship experience together on All Saints' Sunday.Over this past year I have officiated at several funerals, baptized three children, led one confirmation class, and officiated at one wedding. I have tweaked the Sunday liturgy and I have added daily Evening Prayer. Which reminds me, tonight is the annual solemn Evensong service at 5 and you are all welcome to come back and worship again in that ancient service. I have made uncounted hospital visits, dropped in at homes both announced and unannounced, called people on birthdays and anniversaries, Rambled 13 or 14 times, and generated 52-ish Wednesday Words. Some of this I got right, some of it I've gotten wrong, but I've always tried to give it my best shot.There are other things that have happened over this past year that we have shared and which we may or may not remember, but the point to all of this is that being your priest is much more than being the Rector of St. John's. As I said, it takes a special kind of fool to be a priest; and Joelene, Cece, and I were probably more than a little foolish when we agre[...]

Sermon; 23 Pentecost/Proper 27A; Matthew 25:1-13


We are coming to the end of the Season after Pentecost, or Ordinary time, and Advent is fast approaching. The end of the Church year is only two weeks away. If we didn't know that by looking at a calendar, we might have an inkling of it by the selection of gospel texts.Keep alert. Stay awake. The bridegroom is coming but we know not when. The season of hopeful anticipation is at hand.All of that said, I find today's parable of the ten bridesmaids to be one of the most difficult to deal with. We have a story of ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive so they can celebrate with the new couple. They all fall asleep. Then, when the time comes, five of them will not share their oil with the other five, forcing them to go look for supplies in the middle of the night. When those five eventually come back, they find themselves locked out of the party to which they were originally invited.I find this parable to be more depressing than hopeful. But this is what we get as we near the end of Jesus' ministry on earth and his refocusing on the end times: stories of who's in and out, stories of inclusion and exclusion. So what can we take from this parable for our lives today?The first thing we need to avoid is saying that this parable is clearly about “X”, because as soon as we do that there are valid points and questions to the contrary. And then we begin asking, “If it's not about “X”, then what is it about?” The best we can do is to put forth possible and plausible interpretations.Two possible and plausible interpretations is that this parable is about 1) doing the works of ministry and the works of the Church continually, and 2) we need to look beyond and ahead of ourselves. These are not two separate interpretations as much as they are two interpretations that are deeply intertwined.In the first interpretation, the burning lamps represent our works of ministry. Notice that all ten women had lamps. The story implies that all ten lamps were lighted when the women originally went to meet the bridegroom. And all ten lamps were lighted when the ten women all fell asleep.In this interpretation, the lighted lamps represent our works of ministry. As Christians we are called to work for the gospel. Last week we made promises to this effect: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people? These are the works of the gospel and these works are the lights of our lamps. As Christians we are called to do these things in a variety of ways and to infuse ourselves with these actions and attitudes in such a way as they become part of our lives, whether we are awake or asleep. Let your light shine at all times.But then we get the differentiation between the five foolish and five wise. And here I want to put my own spin on the story. This interpretation incorporates both part of the first interpretation – doing the works of the gospel – with where we are right now in the life of the church, and particularly our parish.The five foolish bridesmaids brought no oil, while the five wise bridesmaids did. All ten had lamps that burned while they were awake and asleep. All ten, in that respect, did the works of the gospel (see above). However, the foolish looked only at the short-term, only to the here and now, while the wise looked to the long-term beyond the here and now (where we are right now).Right now we are[...]

Sermon; 21 Pentecost/Proper 25A; Matthew 22:34-46


“Teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes or not?”If you were here last week you will recall that this was the question asked of Jesus by the Pharisees and Herodians. As I said then, this was a way of doing theology – ask a question and see where it took you. Whenever we talk about God we are doing theology. So asking questions about everyday things and trying to discover where and how God is working in those everyday things makes sense, and it makes us theologians.The problem with that question, though, was that the Pharisees and Herodians had already figured out how they were going to deal with Jesus depending on how he answered. That is not doing theology. That is trying to fit God into a gotcha box to be used against other people. That is using God as a weapon. And it is something we need to pay attention to and avoid doing ourselves.Today we seem to have another “theology on the ground” question.“Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?”But this really isn't a theological question as much as, in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “it's a trap!” Because here again we have an expert in the law trying to force Jesus' hand to pick one or the other and leaving him open to attack. There are something like 613 laws that Jewish rabbis concluded were in the entire Torah, and the expert is asking Jesus to pick the one that he thinks is the most important.To turn the tables, this would be like me asking you, “Of the 600 or so rules, which is the most important rule in football?” Within this congregation I am the expert on high school football rules. I am the lawyer. And probably no matter which rule you pick, I will be able to counter with something else – and a better explanation of why it's more important.It's a trap.But as usual, Jesus is up to the task.The first mistake is to assume that there is only one. Jesus will counter with two and combine them in a way to draw a new focus. The first and greatest is this, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'This is a direct quote of Deuteronomy 6:5. Deuteronomy is essentially a record of Mosaic law. Where the law shows up in bits and pieces in the other books of the Pentateuch, such as interspersed with stories of the Exodus, ritual and liturgical rubrics, and a recounting of desert wanderings and censuses, Deuteronomy is like that wall of legal books in a lawyer's office. So when Jesus recites that passage, he is really saying, “Let's look at what the law says.”And if you think about it, this goes back to last week's question: Is it lawful to pay taxes or not? Whose image is on the coin? Whose image is stamped on you?We bear the image of God. We are the image of God in the world. The coin belongs to the emperor; we belong to God – our selves, our souls, and our bodies. Is it no wonder that the first commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind?But then Jesus goes further. He follows this up with, “And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This, as we all know, is the Golden Rule. It appears in many religions and is the maxim for altruism, whether religious or not. It showed up in ancient Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, and Rome. It's part of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and more. Jesus wasn't the first to say it.What he does, though, is to take this well-known law of reciprocity found in the world and merge it with the Law of [...]

Sermon; 20 Pentecost/Proper 24A; Matt. 22:15-22


After several parables of landowners treating latecomers the same as the early risers, tax collectors and prostitutes entering the kingdom of heaven, tenants being evicted and replaced, and a king destroying a city only to invite all the survivors to the banquet, the Pharisees have had enough. They call a secret meeting to figure out how to trap Jesus and get rid of him – not unlike a parking lot Vestry meeting trying to get rid of the priest. And on top of that, they invite their arch-enemies, the Herodians, to join them – because nothing brings enemies together like someone they perceive as being worse.“Tell us,” they ask, “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”When and how do we talk about God? I'm going to guess that the majority of people here only talk about God on Sundays. And even that could be debatable since we really don't talk about God – you listen to me talk about God and we recite ancient words; but talk . . . not so much. There are, of course, the various Sunday school classes that take place. My wife and Paul Mackey have the teens in J2A talking about God on a regular basis. And a few adults have been talking about God, the Devil, and Bob during the adult forum. For everyone else, when do you talk about God?When we talk about God we are engaging in the act of theology. When we talk about God we become theologians. You don't need a PhD or a seminary degree to do this; all you need is to have a conversation. Unfortunately our conversations tend to be limited to Sundays.Almost every week I receive a rules test, along with everyone else in my officiating association. Questions like . . . It's 3rd and 7 for A on the A-33. Running back A24 takes a hand off on his 27 and runs to the A40 where he is grabbed by the facemask by a B player and fumbles the ball and B41 recovers at the A42. During the run, A67 blocks a B player below the waist at the A34. After the play the B coach comes onto the field to inform the covering official that he missed seeing an A player grab the facemask of a B player. Whose ball is it and where?That is football theology, and we officials practice it every week. What if we Christians practiced our theology like that on a daily basis? Not necessarily to get it right, but to simply talk about God and maybe see where God is working on a daily basis. And not designed to trap people in “gotcha” scenarios, but to expand our vision and understanding of who and how God might want us to handle situations or behave in our daily lives.Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? This was a way to do theology. This was a way to challenge our ideas of God, ask questions, and see where God was on a daily basis.Unfortunately it was also designed as a “gotcha” question. It was a question to which the Pharisees already knew the correct answer and was only being asked to prove how right they were and how wrong Jesus was. We need to avoid “gotcha” questions if we are really interested in discussing God and learning how we and God are active participants in each others lives.And when we discuss God, when we become theologians, one of the most important topics we can discuss isn't some contrived gotcha question, or some pithy, “If God can do anything, can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?” question. One of the most important questions we can ask has to do with the interconnectedness between us and God. How do we r[...]

Sermon; 19 Pentecost/Proper 23A; Matthew 22:1-14


Here we go again with yet another brutal and damning parable that lends itself to replacement theology. But while the earlier parables required thoughtful interpretation to come to the conclusion that Christians could also find themselves in trouble if we don't live appropriately, today's parable is explicitly direct at and inclusive of us latecomers into God's kingdom.In today's story we have a king who wants to throw a wedding banquet for his son. In this story he is not an absentee landowner coming to collect his share of the produce. Here he is an active part of the lives of his subjects and works to bring them all into the party. Like the other parables we have heard, the villagers want no part of what the king is asking/offering.And like the earlier stories, the king turns to others who will participate in an appropriate manner; previously by throwing out the existing tenants and today by sending out his army to totally destroy the city and kill the inhabitants.And here we need to pause, because there are two issues we need to address. First is that, in this time and place, the king is ultimately destroying his own property. Maybe not the smartest move. And the second is a scholarly thought that this story indicates Matthew was written after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 c.e. The thought is that this story was a Christian interpretation of events in the life of Judaism – again a supersessionist form of theology.Despite that, now we move to a place where all are invited, both good and bad. This can be a reference back to Jesus' claim that even “the tax collectors and prostitutes” will come into the kingdom of God. It can also possibly reflect the all-inclusive theology found in Acts. We now have a scene where the king has filled his banquet hall with all manner of people.And this is where the parable becomes pointedly directed at Christians. Yes, we believe that God's invitation and grace have been extended to all people, both good and bad, equally. But here we have Jesus telling us directly that it is one of these new people, it is one of the people picked off the street to join in the banquet, it is one of the late comers, it is one of us, who is suddenly bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness.If the other parables hinted at it, this parable is explicit – God has expectations and just because we've been invited doesn't mean we have a free ride. What is going on here where a person who accepts a last-minute invitation is tossed out for failing to live up to the dress code? Not everyone keeps a spare tux or gown handy in case they receive one of these last-minute invitations. And on top of that, the king asks him how he got in. Um . . . you invited him! It seems that the king is really to blame here.But those are surface concerns and we need to look a little deeper. This isn't just a parable, but an allegory in which everything stands for something else. We need to follow this through to the end, and that's exactly where this portion of the story takes place – the end.The king is God. The son is Jesus. The banquet hall represents the Church. The good and bad people who are invited in represent all those brought into the Church through its evangelistic mission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The wedding robe/garment represents the Christian life. And the ejection from the banquet hall i[...]