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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: 2018-01-15T11:28:35.294-05:00


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 is, it is also a fairly typical response to any story we hear. Some are believed outright. Some are patently ignored. Some are taken with a grain of salt. Some are researched. Some accuse the storyteller of lying. But with accusations of abuse, very rarely will someone invent that charge. And woe to us if we treat all those who have been abused as[...]

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 here in the 21stCentury U.S. Imagine the difficulties and fear she may have faced in that time and place; not the least of which was a possible death sentence.When Gabriel tells her to not be afraid, it isn't in reference to his presence, as it was with Zechariah and the shepherds. Rather, this, “Do not be afraid,” is looking forward. Do not be af[...]

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 that authority to say, “I am he.” Oh, they may not say that outright, but their behavior and words certainly indicate otherwise. People who claim that they have the only correct interpretation of scripture. People who condemn those who differ from themselves. People who build large followings only to have them fall away when they themselves retire [...]

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 for Advent and Christmas, but for us as we move forward. We can look backward to “the good old days,” while not recognizing that these are the good old days. We can spend so much time looking back longingly to how things used to be that we neglect to see how things are now, or how they could become in the future.So yes, we can look back. But let[...]

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 Revelation we are given a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. A vision of God dwelling with his people and a place where death, mourning, crying, and pain are no more. A place where the tree of life grows for the healing of nations.In today's gospel passage we are also given some dark and terrifying images. There are those who would interpret and use t[...]

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, but this story is told near the end of Jesus' life on earth. And what have we learned during this time of discipleship? Have we deepened our relationship with God? Are we closer to living lives in accordance with God's will?I would hope so. And on this Sunday I would hope we are closer to both proclaiming Christ as King and living as our King desir[...]

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 comparing one talent with a perceived lack of talent. One is not better than another, just different. There are things this person can do, and do much better, than the St. James flautist can do. We all have been graced with an abundance of talent, each according to our abilities. For instance, there are people in the choir with fantastic voices, but [...]

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 agreed to live on the other side of the country. But it has been good, there have been no regrets, and I will be happy to continue to be considered your fool.I've touched on a few things about this past year, but it's important for you to know that the three of us have enjoyed getting to know the area, the people of this parish, and people in other walks o[...]

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 officially wrapping up our pledge drive today. That doesn't mean we will stop collecting pledge cards, but it does mean that the official drive is over. This always seems to be a tense time for certain people as we try to budget for the upcoming year and/or as we try to get a handle on expenses. And everywhere I've been there is always a push to cut[...]

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 God. And on these two laws – Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself – hang ALLthe law and the prophets.Love God. Love your neighbor. These two commandments cannot be separated. These two commandments are the basis and the support of everything else. And you cannot claim to follow one while ignoring the other.Plent[...]

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 relate to God? How is God manifested in our lives? And a good place to start is in the beginning.Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”What does it mean to be made in the image of God? In his letters, John says several times, “God is love – if we do not love our neighbors whom we see, how can we love Go[...]

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 into the outer darkness represents the final judgment at the end of the age.That wedding robe essentially represents the good fruit we talked about last week. The wedding robe signifies that our baptism really is a significant change in our lives, or should be. Loving God, loving our neighbors, living in peace, unity, gentleness, with self-control, and[...]

Sermon; 18 Pentecost/Proper 22A; Matthew 21:33-46


Once again we are confronted with angry passages about the failure of Israel to hold up their end of the covenant with God. Or maybe it's about their desire to control what God has given them for selfish purposes and gain. The problem, though, is that the parables we have been hearing recently with the theme of replacements eventually gave rise to something called supersessionism; a theology stating that Christianity is the full and complete revelation of God that replaces and eliminates Judaism. As you might expect, this can have catastrophic consequences for Jewish people.Using this theology it is easy for us to say that we are the new chosen people. It is easy for us to say that we are better or more special than others. And when we begin thinking that way it's not beyond imagination that we become overly possessive of what we feel is rightly ours, even to the point of resorting to violence in order to keep it. But again, using this parable as a story about Jews losing favor with God and being replaced by Christians is a convenient way for us to dodge our responsibilities as Christians. In other words, we cannot look at biblical texts meant for a specific audience and think we are off the hook.This parable was not only directed at the religious leaders of Jesus' day, but it is directed at all people down through the ages who put their own self-interests above the mission of God. And with that in mind, I think the key line in this passage is this: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces fruits of the kingdom.”Jesus talks several times about producing good fruit. Obviously in this parable, but also in the parable of the sower and a few others where he says that bad trees don't produce good fruit, and vice-versa. But even though he talks about his followers or the children of the kingdom producing good fruit, he never actually says what good fruit is – only that we will know it when we see it.For guidelines on what good fruit is, we need to look elsewhere, and there's probably no better place to look than in Paul's letter to the Galatians. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruits of the kingdom. These are the behaviors that come about when we love God, love our neighbor, and have a kingdom mindset.Paul sets those traits over and above bad fruit: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. Whereas the behaviors above, those kingdom behaviors, or the fruit of the Spirit, are outwardly directed, these behaviors, what Paul calls the works of the flesh, are inwardly directed. They are all about us. And this is where we get into trouble. This is where we run the risk of being removed from the kingdom and having it given to others who will produce good fruit.There are a few things on that bad fruit list I want to address.Idolatry: There are lots of ways to define idolatry, but basically it is the worship of a thing over and above that which it represents. Worshiping the Bible over and above God. Worshiping the flag over and above the best ideals of the country. Some people view icons this way, as a worshiping of a picture or statue over and above God. We need to ask ourselves what we are worshiping and if we are more attached to the thing or to what is behind the thing.Envy and Anger: These two things often, not always, but often, go hand in hand. We become envious of what someone else has, or for what we don't have, or for a perceived entitlement that we think is undeserved, and that enviousness can[...]

Sermon; 17 Pentecost/Proper 21; Baptism of Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel


Today we welcome three new people into the household of God. Today we baptize with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three people and seal them with holy oil marking them as Christ's own for ever. Today we sign the adoption papers for Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel. Today these three young people take their first steps in their walk with Christ. Today their journey begins.As with any first steps there will be stumbles and falls. As with any journey there will be joys and disappointments, awe-inspiring vistas and boring scenery, wrong turns, set backs, sorrows, and joys. These are things we have all experienced, and things we continue to experience. Some of these will be shared and some of them will be specific to each child.As I've said, baptism is that act by which we are adopted into the household of God. Today's lessons don't really lend themselves to baptism, but there are a few things we can take away. The Collect for today makes a petition that, through the fullness of God's grace, we may run to obtain God's promises and become partakers of a heavenly treasure. I like that imagery, especially for today.Paul often talks about the promises of God, beginning with the patriarchs and being fulfilled in Christ's resurrection. Through our baptism we also become partakers of those promises. Beginning with our baptism we run to obtain those promises.Baptism, though, is not the finish line. Baptism is the starting line. Baptism is where our Christian journey begins, not where it ends. Those who are baptized are grafted into the body of Christ. Those new members will draw strength and nourishment from this body – from us, from the Church, and from Christ himself.During today's service all baptized Christians will renew their own vows by reciting the Baptismal Covenant. Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? Those, along with five other behavioral questions outline what we believe are how we should live lives grounded in the gospel. We should use this covenant as the basis for everything we do – from regular worship to respecting the dignity of every human being.In the passage from Philippians Paul lays out his form, of sorts, of a baptismal covenant. Be of the same mind, have the same love, do nothing from selfish ambition, look to the interests of others. Do these things because this is what Christ did. He didn't see himself as better than anyone, but he humbled himself and became obedient. And because of that obedience, God exalted him.Our baptism doesn't make us better than anyone else. Our baptism allows us to empty ourselves, to have all our sin washed away, to be cleansed, and to be reborn as an obedient child of God.That sinless bit, though, may not last long; but being sinless isn't the point. The point is that we have been reborn as a new creation in Christ. If you haven't noticed, new creations begin small – a seed, a sapling, a puppy, a baby – and grow over time.Today we welcome three new creations into the world. Today we welcome three new members into the household of God. Today these three young people – Rafael, Alexandra, and Randel – begin their journey of running to obtain God's promises. Today these three people's lives will be bound together in the life of Christ who took the form of a human to show the rest of us what a life lived in total relationship with God could look like. Today these three people's lives will also be bound up with us, the parishioners of St. John's, as we help them along on their journey.Today we celebrate a baptism – three of them, actually. Today would be a good time to reflect on your own Chris[...]

Sermon; 16 Pentecost/Proper 20A; Matthew 20:1-16


Today's gospel passage is one of those familiar ones that we think we hear more often than we actually do. The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hires laborers first thing in the morning at the going daily/hourly rate. He must have been pushing to get the crop in because he goes out again and again at 9, at noon, at 3, and at 5 o'clock to find workers, promising to pay them a fair wage. At the end of the day he lines them up, the last hired to the first hired, and pays them all the same wage. At which point the first hired praised him for his generosity and wished that all business owners were so good to their employees . . . Not.We know otherwise. The first hired complain that they should have been paid more based not on their original agreement with the landowner, but on their self-comparison to the last hired. From there all sorts of opinions and interpretations are birthed as to the meaning of this parable.This has been described as a parable of justice, a parable of injustice, a parable of financial equality, a parable of human behavior, a warning against greed, a parable about Christians and Jews, and so much more. But the area I want to focus on today is grace, and not necessarily the grace of the landowner.The ancient Christian tradition is to interpret this parable as the relationship between Jews and Christians. In other words, Jews have been God's chosen people since the calling of Abram way back in Genesis 12. They have been working for the kingdom of heaven essentially since the beginning. Comparatively speaking, Christians have been working for the kingdom of heaven only since 5 o'clock. Nevertheless, we are all graced with the same reward, and this generosity of God has been the cause of Jews complaining to God about Christians.We need to be careful here. Because while that is one way to understand the parable, it is an interpretation that feeds into dissension and mistreatment.This parable of the generous landowner is, I think, Matthew's version of the parable of the Prodigal Son over in Luke. In that parable the younger son leaves home, falls into poverty, returns home as a self-described slave, but is instead welcomed back with full restoration and a party, while the older son pouts outside. The father explains to the older son that it's not about where we have been, but it's about being restored.In today's parable we have people who work all day (the older brother) and people who have hardly worked at all (the younger brother) being paid the same (welcomed back), the all-day laborers complaining they deserve more and the landowner (the father) explaining it's about his desire to see all people treated equally (full restoration).And while both parables may have been told to the Jews with an eye toward the acceptance of others, we can't leave it there. We can no longer say it's about Jews and Christians and their attitude toward us.We can no longer say that because we have been at this long enough now where we have become the all-day laborers. We have become the older brothers. This parable is a parable directed at those of us who have been working for the kingdom of heaven a long time and the grace we either extend to, or refuse to offer, those new people in our midst.We just had a ministry fair not too long ago. During the fair we were all asked to list our talents and interests for areas we might be willing to serve. Those blue sheets were collected and collated and will be passed out at upcoming vestry and commission meetings with the instruction to make use of those people. As a volunteer, there is nothing worse than offering your time only to be ignored.There are a variety of ways to sabotage a [...]

Sermon; 15 Pentecost/Proper 19A; Matthew 18:21-35


Today's passage from both the Hebrew scripture and the gospel have to do with forgiveness. In the first lesson we hear of the final reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. You may recall that, years earlier, the older brothers had tossed their spoiled, uppity younger brother into a dry well, debated about killing him, then sold him into slavery and passed him off as dead to their father.“What if he still bears a grudge against us?” they ask. Um . . . ya' think??So the brothers concoct another lie, telling Joseph that their father begged for forgiveness on their behalf. It's hard to tell from this passage if the brothers were reconciled because of the false edict from Jacob, or if Joseph really would have forgiven them no matter what. But the result of this story is that forgiveness wins the day.Today's gospel also addresses forgiveness. Peter asks, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how many times should I forgive? As many as seven?”Many translations have Peter asking how many times he needs to forgive his brother, not another member of the church, leading some people to postulate that Peter and Andrew had been arguing, or that this was intended to focus more on family issues. But the point is the same, how many times are we supposed to forgive a person who has hurt us? According to Jesus, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.One of the things we need to know about Matthew is that he is making the case for Jesus as the fulfillment of God in the Hebrew scriptures. He is arguing that this Jesus-movement thing is not a new religion, but a fulfillment of the Hebrew faith. We see this in the beginning of his gospel where he opens with the genealogy, or genesis, of Jesus. His first two chapters of the life of Jesus are, essentially, the story of Israel. Generations and dreams and the killing of infants and escapes into and out of Egypt all tie Jesus to the history of Israel. He also does this subtly in other places, like today's passage.Do I forgive seven times? No, seventy-seven times. This also goes back to Genesis. There was a seven-fold vengeance placed on anyone who killed Cain for his killing of Abel. And Lamech proclaimed a seventy-seven-fold vengeance on anyone who attempted retribution against him for his murder of a young man. Matthew has Jesus going back to the Hebrew scripture and saying the level of forgiveness will be equal to or greater than the vengeance that was proclaimed.Okay – enough Bible study and back to this issue of forgiveness.Forgiveness is often misunderstood and it can never be forced. The line, “You're a Christian so you have to forgive me,” comes to mind. There seems to be a belief that forgiveness is simply granted because Jesus said so. But this does nothing to rectify the problem and places the onus all on the victim.If I leave here and slam into Bill's car, and then say, “Sorry, please forgive me,” without doing anything about it, I'm not so sure bill has to forgive me. In the Rite of Reconciliation, the sinner can be asked to perform acts of penance or to make restitution as part of the act of forgiveness.The disciplinary rubrics state that if a priest knows of a person who is living a notoriously evil life, they are to withhold Communion until repentance and amendment of life has been made.Repentance, amendment of life, and forgiveness all go hand in hand. But does forgiveness REQUIREsomeone to repent and change? That is a tricky question. Do I, as a priest, offer absolution on the condition of repentance, or do I offer it on the promise of repentance? That's a deep discussion.But when talking about forgiveness,[...]

Sermon; Feast of St. John the Evangelist (tr.); 1 John 1:1-9


SermonFeast of St. John the Evangelist (tr.)1 John 1:1-9Welcome to the annual St. John's Day Celebration and Ministry Fair. For those who pay attention to such things, the Feast of St. John is celebrated on December 27, but we received special permission from the bishop to transfer the St. John Propers to today. And, yes, I have to ask. But technicalities aside, “Welcome.” Welcome back the music at 8 a.m. Welcome back to our choir. Welcome back to our Sunday school teachers. Welcome back everyone who has been on vacation. And welcome to any and all visitors. Welcome to St. John's and today's festivities.This congregation takes its name from St. John the Evangelist. I don't know why that name was chosen or assigned, because it's not like there is a shortage of parishes named St. John's in these parts. But let me venture a guess.I would guess that the reason for taking on this name is because of the beauty of both the fourth gospel and the three letters attributed to author whom tradition calls John. The fourth gospel and those three letters are beautiful pieces of literature. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.Add to this their high christology and theme of love that runs not only through these writings, but as the overall theme of the New Testament, and it's no wonder why St. John is a popular patron.And I believe with my whole heart that this particular parish of St. John's reflects the best of our patron Saint. The beauty of the gospel and letters are reflected in the beauty of this space. From the steeple to the altar, we gather in a beautiful space. The beauty we see here can seem other-worldly. The beauty of this space breathes holiness. The beauty of this space is the first thing that reminds us we are in the presence of God and that we are standing on holy ground.But there's an old saying that goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” And that can certainly be true of any parish that relies solely on its building.Joelene and I attended another church last Sunday. The building was certainly beautiful and easy to find (if you were walking and didn't have to maneuver around closed streets). When we walked in it felt like church, if you know what I mean. But that was the extent of it. Nobody greeted us. The Peace was obligatorily and enthusiastically shared, but the singing and congregational responses were lackluster. Nobody spoke to us as we filed out the door. And the priest did nothing more than say, “Good morning.” It was, in my opinion, a beautiful church on the outside, but one that lacked any depth of beauty.We also have a beautiful space, as you've noticed. But we also have an inner beauty that goes much deeper than the steeple and/or altar.We value the people who worship here. We strive to include people in a variety of ministries. We will greet you as you enter and, if we don't recognize you, do our best to not abandon you either as you try to figure out the Episcopal book shuffle or as we invite you downstairs for coffee hour. We try to treat outsiders and visitors as we ourselves want to be treated, with dignity, respect, and a smile.This beauty will also be reflected in the ministry fair as peop[...]

Sermon; 12 Pentecost/Proper 16A; Romans 12:1-8


I don't preach on Romans very often. In fact, I believe this might be the first time I've done so. One of the basic reasons for this is that Romans is a long, carefully worded document from Paul focusing on basic Christian tenets, a Jewish/Gentile divide, as well as an attempt to garner support for his mission. Good or bad, this long letter has probably done more to shape Christianity than any other piece of scriptural writings.Because of both its content and its length, it is difficult to use as the basis of a sermon series. Add to that the way the lectionary chops it up, and you would do a grave injustice to it. Romans is much better suited to an in-depth study than a series of sermons.That said, today's passage was just too good to pass up – especially given where we are as a parish right now.In two weeks we will celebrate St. John's Day and hold a ministry fair. During that time you will get to see all of the different ministries we offer. You will also have the opportunity to sign up to participate in as many of those ministries as you choose. Along with that, though, please remember that it's not quantity, but quality. If you only sign up for one thing and do it well, that's preferable to signing up for many things and doing none.The Ministry Fair is also the lead-in to our annual pledge drive, as this event focuses on the time and talent portion of what we pledge to the life of St. John's. It is through our time and talent where the work of ministry is done. Our time and talent are the visible incarnations of our pledge to the church and to the mission of God.As we move forward as Christians, Episcopalians, and members of St. John's, we need to continually ask ourselves, “Who is God calling us to be?” and, “What is God calling us to do?” Maybe we are called to increase the Community Cafe one Saturday a month so that we serve people on both the 2ndand 4th Saturdays. But that particular decision will only happen when we spend time discerning God's call for us, when we look at the time and talent offered, and when we evaluate the increased financial base something like that will require. But that's just one example. Maybe we are called to expand our relationship with Bester, or increase our involvement with Micah's Backpack, or maybe we offer an Evensong service one or more times a week.All of this gets back to what Paul has to say in this passage from Romans, and it is all tied to the question of priorities. There are, of course, exceptions – I will never ask anyone to choose between paying their pledge and buying food or necessary medicine. But in general, where is your faith and your parish on your personal priority scale? Are we presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God?The Church, and by extension our parish, can only be identified by its people. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity in God through Christ. How that happens, though, is as wide and varied as the people who make up the body of this holy institution.We are one body with many members, and not all members have the same function. Each of us have different gifts, and those different gifts allow us to do many different things.This is, I think, both the blessing and curse of St. John's. It's a blessing because we do a lot of stuff. I've said this before, but that was one of the things that originally attracted me to the parish profile. There is a lot going on here. And, as I said in the newspaper article that ran shortly after I arrived, this is a place that gets it. You understand that “church” isn't just [...]

Sermon; 11 Pentecost/Proper 15A; Matthew 15:10-28


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and Redeemer.I don't know about you, but this past week has been overly long. It started with the white supremacist/Nazi march on the campus of UVA and went downhill from there. A counter protester was killed as a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of people. Promises of more Nazi/KKK rallies were made. The president downplayed the event, then sort of condemned the racists in reading from a forced script, then backtracked, both validating bigotry and laying equal blame for the situation on both the white supremacists and anti-Nazi demonstrators, while also managing to turn “antifa” (which means “anti-fascist”) into a slur. In Boston, the Holocaust Remembrance Museum was vandalized, and a so-far-unknown vandal defaced the Lincoln Memorial.But in a slice of good news, Texas A&M canceled an upcoming white supremacist rally.I never thought we would get here. I never thought that in a country founded on the ideal that all men are created equal and with a national icon that pleads for the influx of other nationalities and refugees . . . in a country that helped stem the tide of Nazism and fascism . . . in a country that fought a civil war to end the bondage of slavery . . . I never thought we would be in a place where the evils we fought to end in the name of all that is moral, right, and good would not only be allowed to rise again, but encouraged to rise again. I never thought that pro-Nazi chants, derogatory remarks, and white supremacist and segregationist propaganda would be considered a normative political opinion. And to make matters worse, these views are often wrapped up in a warped version of Christianity that looks to validate oppression and elevate hatred to a spiritual gift.One of the issues some clergy have with the lectionary is they say it limits their freedom. Being tied to the lectionary is too constricting and doesn't allow for the preacher to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. But my experience is just the opposite. Over the years there have been more times than not when the appointed lectionary text has been exactly what was needed. Today is such a day.Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles . . . What comes out of the mouth procedes from the heart . . . for out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”A Canaanite woman came to him and began shouting and begging for mercy, but Jesus ignored her. The disciples insisted that he send her away. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She begged more urgently and he said, “It's not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the scraps.” To which Jesus praised her faith and healed her daughter.As I said, today is a day when the lectionary text fits perfectly with what is happening in the world around us. The first part is easy, and anyone with ears should be able to hear and understand. “It is what comes from the heart and out of the mouth that defiles.”What is really in our hearts? Rage over some perceived loss of rights based on a false assumption that a person of color or different gender or different orientation is now getting more rights than me? The reality is that equal rights are exactly that – e[...]

Sermon; 10 Pentecost/Proper 14A; Matthew 14:22-33


Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. And while that was a good and proper thing to do (or, as the people in the BCP study learned, it was “very meet and right so to do”), it took us out of our normal cycle of gospel readings. So I'll take a minute here and get us back up to speed.Two weeks ago we heard the last set of kingdom parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of different stuff – the discovery of buried treasure, finding one thing you do well, a tree full of beautiful, messy birds. That is followed by two stories not told in the lectionary, one being Jesus' difficulty in his home town, and the other being the beheading of John the Baptist.Today's gospel follows immediately after the feeding of the 5000 men plus women and children, which we would have heard last week had it not been for the Feast of the Transfiguration. After hearing the news of John's execution, Jesus goes off alone only to be tracked down by the crowds. Once gathered, he spends the rest of the day healing those who were sick. As the day is coming to a close we are given the story of the mass feeding. And this is where we pick up the story today.Immediately after the leftover food is collected, Jesus makes the disciples get into a boat to cross over to the other side while he dismissed the crowd and goes up the mountain to pray. There he spends the night alone. The disciples, meanwhile, have spent all night on the water battling a storm.In the morning Jesus comes to them walking on the water, terrifying the disciples. Peter demands Jesus bid him to come out of the boat. He does, Peter walks on water, begins to sink, is saved, gets put back in the boat, and the storm ceases.As usual I could talk about all kinds of things in this story – Was it a theophany? Is it a misplaced post-resurrection story? Is it a testing of God? And on and on. But wrapped up in all of these interpretations or understandings or explanations is the ultimate question for us today and for all Christians in all times: What does this story have to say to me today? So I'm going to skip talking about the miraculous aspect of this story and focus on three things that have value for us today.First should be the obvious fact that following Christ is not always easy. As disciples, we may be asked to do any number of things for which we feel we aren't prepared, qualified, or even remotely ready. We also may be asked to do something for which we believe we are well-qualified, but once we undertake the mission we discover we weren't as ready as we thought we were.Jesus sent the disciples out on ahead of him. Some were experienced sailors. Most were probably not. As the boat heads out onto the water a storm erupts; and the disciples, fighting a losing battle, are taken further away from shore. Doing what Jesus asks us to do can be hard, and it can feel like we're fighting a losing battle. Have you been asked to participate in the life of the church only to feel like you're being battered by a storm, not able to do what you were asked to do? Or maybe you've been asked to participate in the life of the parish only to decline because you are afraid of the unknown? Discipleship is hard, but Jesus is commanding us to get into the boat.The next point comes from Peter. “Lord,” he said, “if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” This touches on the idea of discernment.As disciples we are all called to use our time, talent, and treasure for the good of the kingdom. Sometimes that's relatively easy – it [...]

Sermon; Feast of the Transfiguration; Luke 9:28-36


Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. We don't get to celebrate this feast very often because it has a fixed, non-transferable day of August 6. That being said, the BCP rubrics do state that when this feast falls on a Sunday it takes precedence over the regularly scheduled Propers. So on this day we celebrate a theophany, a glimpse of the eternal God in the here and now, a revelation into the true nature of Jesus, and a recognition of the transfiguration event as a bright, sometimes blinding, light shining in dark places.This idea of Christ's light shining in the darkness may be why the feast is celebrated on this day. Pope Callixtus III ordered its celebration on August 6 to commemorate the successful defense of Belgrade from the Ottomans in 1456 – because nothing says, “the light of Christ” quite like a military victory over the forces of evil . . . But I digress.As I said, today is the actual date of the Feast of the Transfiguration. As we celebrate this event, there are several things to consider.First, we need to look at some background material. At the end of Chapter 8, Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead. In the room with him were Peter, John, and James.As we move into Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Luke says that they were successful in that mission. Upon their return he takes them away to a private place to debrief. During this time of solitude, however, crowds gather to hear Jesus preach and to be healed. And at the close of the day we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand.Later, when they are alone, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses him to be the Messiah, and Jesus talks about his Passion and what it takes to be a disciple – take up your cross daily. All of this brings us to today's gospel.About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain. While there Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, when a cloud overshadows them, terrifying the disciples in the process. There are some major points in this story we can't overlook.Eight days later. There are seven days in a week. The eighth day, then, is the first day of the week. On the first day, God created. It was also on the first day of the week that the women went to the empty tomb. The eighth day is symbolic of the first day of the new creation.Peter, John, and James were with him on the mountain. These were the same three who were with him a short time earlier when he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. These three witnessed his power to restore life. And now these three are witnesses to Christ in his eternal glory, Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (as indicated by the presence of Moses and Elijah), and the voice of God confirming Jesus as his holy son.This event took place on a mountain, a traditional place of holy events. It was on a mountain that God spared Isaac. It was on a mountain that Moses received the law. It is on a mountain that the Lord's house will be established. And it is here, on a mountain, that Jesus is transfigured and revealed.A cloud overshadowed them and they were terrified. That word “overshadow” occurs only four times in the gospels, and once as a synonym in Acts. Three of those times are in reference to the Transfiguration when the cloud overshadows the disciples and they were terrified. Once occurs in Luke 1 when an angel tells Mary not to be afraid and that the power of the Most H[...]

Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 12A; Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52


Today is the last in the series of kingdom parables we've been hearing. As promised from last week, these are all of the parables we missed then. Also, as promised, these parables come in quick succession.The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great shrub where the birds of the air make their nests. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixes with 50 pounds of flour. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure found in a field that gets reburied, after-which the person sells all they have only to purchases the field with the hidden treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who finds a single pearl of great price and he, too, sells all he has to purchase the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like a fisherman who catches fish of all kinds, keeps the good and throws out the bad. The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things all at the same time, and our senses and sensibilities are assaulted with so many visions it can seem impossible to make sense.The obvious question we ask is, “So what exactly is the kingdom of heaven like?” The answer is, “D – all of the above.” I think we ask that question because we want to know exactly what we are in for, or exactly how we are to behave to ensure we make it in. It's sort of like the difference between football and baseball fields.If the kingdom of heaven were like a standard football field, we would have it all figured out. The kingdom of heaven is like a football field – 120 yards long, with a playing area of 100 yards, two end zones 10 yard deep, and 53-1/3 yards wide, regardless of whether you have NFL players, college players, or high school players. But it's not.Instead, the kingdom of heaven is like a baseball field – it might be 280 feet to the fence, or it might be 320 feet, or it might be 440 feet. It may be a perfect arc between left and right fields, or it may have random cut outs. Outfield fences may be 10 feet high, 15 feet high, or maybe even 37'-2” high. The kingdom of heaven may be like an outfield that is smooth all the way across, or it may have a hill in dead center.So what is the kingdom of heaven like? It is like a small seed that grows into a great shrub so big it becomes home to many different kinds of birds. The kingdom of heaven starts small, maybe as small as one church, but grows into something so big that it becomes home to many different kinds of people.Have you ever noticed that when a variety of birds get together we find beauty in their different songs? Can we find beauty in the different voices of all the different people of the kingdom? Have you also ever noticed that when there is a large group of birds living in one place there is also usually a very large mess? Are we able to live with the idea of a messy kingdom?The kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into three measures (or 50 lbs) of flour. We hear this today as a good and necessary thing. But remember that yeast is more often used negatively in the gospels. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In the gospels, yeast is often used as a warning against corruption and hypocrisy. Today we might use rust or a spoiled piece of fruit in a bunch that ruins and taints everything around it.But here we have Jesus telling us that the kingdom of heaven is a small, imperceptible force that will corrupt the world. The kingdom of heaven is a force that ruins the world for good.The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone fi[...]

Sermon; 7 Pentecost, Proper 11A; Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43


Today we continue our journey with kingdom parables. If you remember from last week, I said that Matthew uses the word “kingdom” more than any other gospel, and because of that, how he presents Jesus' lineage, and his telling of the birth narrative, we refer to Matthew as a kingdom gospel. All of the parables we hear in this three week period have as their basis, “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .”Last week's parable was about the sower scattering seed over a variety of landing places. Today we hear of a farmer who plants good seed only to find out later that an enemy has sown a weed in the midst of his crop. If Jesus were from Hagerstown, those parables may have been less agrarian and more along the lines of, “The kingdom of heaven is like a hub that draws to it all manner of highways and railroads,” or, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a city held hostage by an enemy army.” But he didn't, so this is what we've got to work with.The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a farmer who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the plants came up, the slaves were astonished to find weeds mixed in among the wheat and they ask the farmer if they should pull up the weeds. “Let them be,” says the farmer, “otherwise you will uproot the good with the bad. I will have my reapers separate them at harvest time.”Like last week the lectionary skips over several passages in order to focus on one parable. Unlike last week, what was skipped over today will be heard next week with another grouping of parables. And like last week, we also hear Jesus' explanation. The sower, he says, is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed are the children of the kingdom of heaven, the enemy is the devil, the weeds are the children of the evil one, the reapers are the angels, and the harvest is the end of the age.What's going on in this parable?First is that both here and in the kingdom of heaven we are being asked to live with people who differ from us. This is easier said than done. It's difficult living with weeds when we ourselves are beautiful flowers. It's difficult living with prickly weeds when we are gentle to the touch. It's difficult living with people who seem to have no redeeming social values as opposed to ourselves who are morally upstanding individuals. It's difficult living with people who have the wrong ideas about church, liturgy, and theology, when we ourselves have the right, correct, and orthodox ideas that have been handed down for generations.But this is precisely what God is asking us to do. He is asking us to live with those we consider weeds. He is asking us to share our resources with those who are different from us. He is asking us to be patient with those prickly people who annoy us to no end. The reality is that we don't always get along, even with flowers of our own species – just ask anyone who has been married or serves on a vestry. God knows this. God knows we are different. God knows there will be friction and competition for resources. And God asks us to live with weeds. Are you willing to obey God and wait until the end of the age, all the while living with the tension of difference?Besides this issue of learning to tolerate the other, we need to understand that it is not our job to pull weeds. In this parable, the farmer tells his slaves that the reapers will gather and separate the[...]

Sermon; 6 Pentecost, Proper 10A; Matthew 13:1-19, 18-23


Today we begin a three week journey with what are commonly called “kingdom parables.” One of the things we need to know about Matthew's gospel is that it is a kingdom gospel. Matthew uses the word kingdom more than any of the other gospels. He traces Jesus' lineage through a royal line going back as far as Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites. He is the one who records the three wise men (or magi or kings) arriving at the Holy Family's house in Bethlehem. So as we listen to these parables, note that they are all about the kingdom of heaven.Today's kingdom parable of the sower appears in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Next week's parable appears only in Matthew. And of the three parables we'll hear in two weeks, only the parable of the mustard seed appears in all three. Additionally, it is only that parable where all three gospels relate it to the kingdom. So while the other gospels may reference the kingdom, Matthew consistently does.Parables are interesting things because even though we think we know the meaning of parable, there can be multiple layers and multiple meanings to it. It is that multilayered aspect that gives a parable life; it is that multilayered aspect that allows it to have meaning for us today.Today's parable is a perfect example of this. For those of us who have been involved in church for some time, we have heard this parable countless times in our lives. The traditional way to understand this parable of the sower is that the sower is God and the various landing spots are the people. God scatters the seed of the kingdom and some people do not understand, some people cannot endure, some people are distracted by the ways of the world, while some people hear and produce results.. But because this is a parable, there are a variety of ways to understand it.For instance . . . previously in Matthew's gospel Jesus gave us missional instructions to proclaim, cure, cleanse, and restore. If we go out into the world proclaiming the good news, then we become the sower. The seed we sow is the gospel message, and where the seed ends up is, again, the people. Some of those people will not understand, some will get distracted, and some will produce results for the kingdom.The parable could also be about the foolish generosity of God. If I'm a farmer sowing crops, I want to make sure that what I sow has the best chance to produce. I will either plant each seed by hand, or drop seeds only in good soil, soil that will lead to yields of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. But here's God scattering seed willy-nilly across the land not really caring where it ends up, only caring that everyone has a chance to receive the good news. If we see ourselves as the sower, then maybe we need to do a better job of being foolishly generous.A follow-up interpretation to this version is that there are no lost causes. The seed that was scattered on the path is often taken up and eaten by birds, having no time to take root. But that's not always the case. How many times have you been out walking and noticed a shoot of new growth springing up from a crack in the pavement? We all have cracks. It just may be that the seed, the word of God, finds a crack on the hard path and causes something good to grow. Maybe there's hope for being foolishly generous.Another interpretation focuses on the use of parables themselves. Today's passage is, like last week, chopped up. What[...]

Sermon; 5 Pentecost, Proper 9A; Matt. 11:16-19, 25-30


The gospel passage for today is, in my opinion, misplaced. It has no context in which to place it. And it is a chopped up version of Chapter 11 that makes one wonder just what the lectionary committee was thinking. So let's see if I can put a frame around it.First, it follows the missionary passages/instructions we heard over the past several weeks. Those missional instructions were given to both Jesus' original twelve disciples and his disciples of today – us. They were to go and proclaim, cure, cleanse, and restore in a world that is hostile to our cause, welcoming those who welcome you, and remembering to give cups of cold water to the little ones you meet.Unlike Luke, though, Matthew never tells us how that mission turned out. Instead he moves Jesus into the cities to teach and proclaim the message. While doing this, word of Jesus gets back to John who is now in prison. His disciples are sent to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one?” Jesus answers by reiterating that the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. Jesus also chastises the crowd for not understanding who John was.And that brings us to today's passage.But then next week, as the lectionary moves on, it totally skips Chapter 12 in which Jesus has several run ins with Pharisees, performs a few healings, foreshadows his Passion, and turns away from his family in favor of his mission. Instead, next week begins in Chapter 13 with a three week focus on kingdom parablesSo, again, we have this passage between mission and parables, with no connection to either. That said, I want to focus on the first half of today's passage. This generation is like children calling to one another, “We played the flute, and you didn't dance; we wailed, and you didn't mourn.”There are a lot of ways to go with this, and I want to focus on a dual allegory.We played the flute, and you didn't dance. This can represent Jesus and his excitement, eagerness . . . passion . . . for the coming kingdom. With Jesus, the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk. With Jesus there is joy. It was Jesus who turned water to wine at a wedding. It is Jesus who is referred to as the bridegroom. Jesus plays the flute, but the people are unwilling to dance. We wailed, and you did not mourn. This can represent John and his end-time focus. He was called by God to prepare the way of the Messiah. He was called to bring people to repentance. He was called to bring about a major change in the advent of the coming storm. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John has no time for frivolity. He wailed, but the people were unwilling to mourn.The flip side of this dual allegory is that the children represent this generation and are the ones calling out to Jesus and John. They are the ones playing the flute wanting John to dance. They are the ones wailing wanting Jesus to mourn.In either case, we, the children of this generation, are trying to make Jesus bend to our desires. Jesus is playing the flute and asking us to dance, but we refuse because it is beneath our dignity. We would rather spend our time wailing.Or Jesus asks us to notice the hurt, neglected, alienated, disposed people of this world. He asks us to wail over their plight and mourn their predicament. He asks us to change. But we would rather turn a blind eye and continue to dance as if nothing were wrong.I think this dancing and wai[...]