Sunday, December 27, 2015

December 27, 2015 - Christmas 1C

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” During Christmastide, we celebrate the Incarnation, the coming of God to us in Jesus. Matthew and Luke give us nativity stories with Mary, Joseph, wise men, angels, and shepherds, but John gives us a cosmic nativity scene. And in doing so, the gospeller John connects Jesus to Moses and to John the Baptist. Our reading notes that Jesus “came to his own people.” Though there is a very transcendental nature to Jesus that is not confined by time or space, Jesus also lived in a very finite context. He was born in modern-day Palestine, spoke Aramaic, and grew up learning about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus was Jewish, and that fact not only influences our interpretation of him in Scripture, but also has important implications for us today.

Friday, December 25, 2015

December 25, 2015 - Christmas Day

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            A very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. It is a joy and privilege to spend Christmas morning with you all. Though you can probably still smell the incense in here that was used at last night’s service, there is a noticeable difference between our celebration of Christmas this morning and last night’s liturgy. There is also a rather significant variance between the two gospel texts that we read. Last night, we heard the story, as told by Luke, of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem for a census and Jesus being born in a manger; and we heard of angels announcing the birth to shepherds in a field. The image last night was of an infant who had nowhere to lay his head.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24, 2015 - Christmas Eve

Merciful God, illumine this night with your celestial brightness as we gather in joy to sing your praises for your love made manifest in the Holy Child, Jesus. Amen.
            A very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. It is so wonderful to have you here. If you are at St. Luke’s regularly, it is a blessing to celebrate with you this most holy night. If you are returning home from college or living in another city, but grew up at St. Luke’s, it is a treat to have you back with us. If you haven’t been to St. Luke’s since Easter, it is great to see you again. If you don’t have a church that you would call your “spiritual home,” we are glad to have you with us this evening and hope to see you again. If you were dragged here by a family member, I’ll try to keep the sermon short, but nevertheless, we welcome you. If you’re not sure why you are here, we are thankful that God brought us together. Whoever you are and wherever you are in your faith journey – welcome and Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

December 20, 2015 - Advent 4C

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            Advent calls us to pay attention. Whether it is Jesus or John the Baptist, the message of this season is to focus. There are so many distractions this time of year: lists running through our heads, an overbooked social calendar, and stress about year-end budgets. It can be easy to miss the important things. And it doesn’t help that this passage from Luke is a familiar one, so it could be easy to gloss over it. But this morning, I’d like to pay close attention to our Gospel text.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

December 13, 2015 - Advent 3C

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            The lectionary’s move through Advent mirrors our move through this season. A few weeks ago we were entering a season of putting up Christmas decorations and starting to listen to holiday music. But now things are getting real – you no longer have all month to buy gifts or plan for parties. Christmas is no longer something on the horizon, it’s nearly here and there are things that need to get done. As we began Advent a few weeks ago, we talked about themes like hope and God’s promises, but in today’s reading from Luke, things are getting very real as John the Baptist begins his preaching.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

December 6, 2015 - Advent 2C

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            By definition, a psalm is a song of praise to God. Generally, we sing one of the psalms from the book of Psalms on Sunday, but today the lectionary presents us with a psalm that is found in Luke. Generally, psalms are named based on their first word in Latin, so today’s psalm is commonly called the Benedictus.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

November 29, 2015 - Advent 1C

O Come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            What an absolute joy it is to be back in this pulpit, in this worship space. After three years of planning and five months in the Parish Hall, we are back home. The organ sounds amazing, the altar is stunningly beautiful, the Baptismal font can be seen in all its grandeur, the duct work has been replaced, the ceiling structure is now structurally sound. What a glorious morning this is!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Day 2015

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is a joy to spend part of this day with you as we celebrate the Eucharist. As you may know, Eucharist is a word which means “good thanks” in Greek. There is no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than gathering in the name of God to give thanks for the grace, love, and salvation with which God blesses us.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

November 8, 2015 - Proper 27B

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What would a stewardship season be without the widow and her two coins? It would be Thanksgiving without the turkey, Halloween without the candy, or St. Luke’s without the birthday prayer. It’s a fairly well-known passage: a widow puts in the only two coins that she has to rub together and Jesus lifts her up in comparison to those who give out of their abundance. In the context of stewardship and trying to raise funds for the church, we preachers often use this widow to encourage you to give more. But if you’ll recall my first sermon in this stewardship season, I made it clear that I don’t do guilt and I don’t do shame. We’ve taken the passage from St. Paul as our central message this year: Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. Not because of guilt or obligation, but because God loves a cheerful giver.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November 1, 2015 - All Saints' B

Almighty God, we give you thanks for the grace and virtue shown in the multitude of your saints. Give us the courage to follow in their footsteps of loving service in your most holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, throughout all generations. Amen.
            “Unbind him, and let him go.” I’ve always found those words by Jesus to be among his most powerful and important. As John narrates the Gospel, this incident with Lazarus is the tipping point in the story. When word of this event reaches the chief priests and Pharisees, John records that “From that day on they planned to put him to death.” Jesus’ parables and other miracles made people uneasy because they upset the power dynamics of the day, but this one crossed the line. Lazarus died and when Jesus arrives, he commands that Lazarus get up, and he does. They worry that if word spreads that Jesus has this power, that Rome will come and crush them. And so they decided that it would be better for one man to die than for an entire nation to be destroyed. Jesus knows all of this, and so that makes his statement even more compelling: “unbind him, and let him go.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October 25, 2015 - Proper 25B

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            What’s the best meal that you’ve ever had? For me, it was at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from where we lived in Alexandria, Virginia. We eat several times a day, and so it can become routine. But when we have one of those truly exceptional meals, they tend to stick with us. What’s the most beautiful thing that you’ve ever seen: perhaps a piece of artwork in a museum, a sunset in the mountains, a star-filled sky on a clear night, your spouse on your wedding day? Again, our eyes are so used to seeing things that when we are presented with true beauty, it stops us in our tracks. Taste and vision are powerful senses, and perhaps that is why the Psalmist wrote “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18, 2015 - Proper 24B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            This is a full day here at St. Luke’s: we’re continuing our sermon series on Job, we’re launching our financial stewardship efforts, and we’re celebrating our church community as we commemorate our patron, Saint Luke. There is a theme though that will run through all of these topics: gratitude. Gratitude is something that I’d like you to keep in your mind, well, always, but especially so over these next several weeks.

            You’ll recall that Job’s faithfulness is being put to the test. Though Job has gone through tragedies, none of these events were the result of his actions. As wisdom literature, the book of Job helps us to see God in new ways. Last week, we heard Job speaking to his friends, claiming that he wanted a chance to plead his case before God. Our reading this morning is God’s response to Job. Chapters 38-41 record God’s speech to Job, and I’d highly recommend reading the full speech when you get home this afternoon. God’s response to Job is yet another example of us needing to readjust our expectations of God.
            Job is questioning God’s sense of justice. And how does God respond? It isn’t with a legal or logical defense of God’s actions. No, instead of answering Job, God takes Job on a safari. God shows Job the power of storms, the depths of the oceans, the dimensions of outer space, the beauty of stars, the loveliness of goats and deer, the strength of an ox, the speed of an ostrich, the soaring wonder of eagles’ wings. Instead of answering Job’s question, God replies with a question to Job, and us – “Did you make these things? Do you sustain these things? Are you more powerful than they?” God reminds Job of his place in Creation.
            The universe is unfathomably old and large. The universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old, and humans have existed for about 200,000 years. If you condensed the time of the universe into a clock, our existence wouldn’t even take up one second. On size, it’s really difficult to put it into terms that have any real meaning. If the earth were shrunk to be the size of a grape, the sun would still be 163 yards away and the nearest galaxy would be a trillion miles away. And that nearest galaxy is just one of roughly 100 billion galaxies that are out there. Given the factors of time and space, we aren’t even a blip on the radar.
That’s not quite the response we might have expected from God. I would have preferred that God explain things in terms of love and free-will. Even a statement like “I have my reasons, but you can’t understand them” would have been expected. Instead, we have a puzzling and frustrating response. St. Teresa once said to God “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”
But we would misread God’s response to think that God is saying “You don’t matter in the scheme of things, so get over it.” There are two things to take from God’s response to Job. The first is that God is God, and we are not. We only have our perspective. Mine are the only eyes through which I will ever see this world. Sure, I can talk to others, I can study biology or read literature to understand people and the natural world better, but I will never fully see things from their perspective. You will never know what it like to be a starfish or an asteroid. Ignorance is a part of the human condition, and when we make it all about us, we commit idolatry. God’s speech to Job reminds us that we don’t have all the facts, so a bit of humility will be helpful.
The more powerful thing to glean from God’s speech though is that God is with us. Yes, the size of Creation is beyond comprehension and God is grander than our intellects will ever grasp, and yet God still talks to Job. God knows that Job is suffering and is with him in that. God still heard the cries of the Hebrew people in Egypt. God spoke to the prophets. God came to us in Jesus. God hears your prayers, cries with you, loves you. One of the things that I find most problematic with the way we approach science and philosophy is to assume that there is a separation between us and God; that somehow God is outside of the universe and we are inside of it. As the Psalm today proclaims, light is God’s cloak and God rides the wind. It has been said that “God is closer than your jugular vein.” God is present in every moment. Every atom was created out of God’s love. God’s answer to Job is the wonderful proclamation that God is always with us, and for that, I am grateful
So with those themes of humility and gratitude in mind, I’d like to pivot to stewardship. The theme for our stewardship efforts this year is gratitude. Gratitude is born out of humility. Without an acknowledgement that we are not self-sufficient, we can never truly be thankful. As God reminds Job, we are not our own masters. We did not choose to be born, nor did we create ourselves or the world in which we entered. We are created, we are loved, we are redeemed. These are things not that we asked for or earned, but rather have been given by God.
Our stewardship efforts are rooted in a passage from 2 Corinthians that says “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Let’s start with the first part of that sentence: Each of you must give as you have made up your mind. Giving is something that we need to actually think about, as it doesn’t always come naturally. You should have received a stewardship packet in the mail this week, and if you didn’t, there are pledge cards near your seat. But before you fill that pledge card out, the Stewardship Committee asks that you give it some thought and prayer. And in addition to the pledge card, we hope that you’ll fill out a gratitude card. No need to put your name on those cards, but think about a recent moment of gratitude. Think about a recent example of God’s grace and love that you’ve noticed. Then consider your pledge to church – remembering that everything comes from God and is in God.
There is a reason why we don’t do “donation drives” in the church, instead we do Stewardship. A steward is a person who holds a gift in trust for someone else. Your life, your skills, your income, those all belong to God. Yes, many of us have worked hard to get to places we are today. But just as God reminded Job, we did not create the world, nor did we create ourselves. Today, as we celebrate St. Luke and our parish, think about the ways in which we are stewards of God’s mission. As Jesus proclaimed the Good News in today’s reading, God brings good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. And this work happens at St. Luke’s. Here, God’s love is proclaimed, Habitat houses are built, children and youth learn about God, community is formed, Sacraments are celebrated, the Word is proclaimed, forgiveness and reconciliation happen, peace and healing are prayed for, and the Gospel is made known. That work excites me, and I hope it does you, too. You are a steward of God’s mission, and this stewardship effort is your invitation to join more fully into this good work.
The passage then says that we should give without being reluctant or under compulsion. I don’t do guilt. I don’t do shame. And I don’t do pandering. And I’m truly sorry if any of you have ever experienced stewardship as anything other than a wonderful opportunity to join in God’s work at the church. Giving isn’t about “shoulds.” I want you to give, and to give generously, because you have experienced the grace of God and want to respond faithfully. I want you to give because you want St. Luke’s to grow in the area of Christian Formation for our young people. I want you to give to St. Luke’s because you think that St. Luke’s is doing the work of God and you want to be a part of that. I want you to give so that you have control over your money instead of your money having control over you. But I don’t want you to give because you feel guilty, or because you want to buy your seat in the Kingdom, or because someone shamed you into it.
The passage then says that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Desmond Tutu once said that “Without us, God will not; Without God, we cannot; But with God, together we will.” When you give, you join the work of God in this world. And there is great joy and cheer in this work. When Job seems to be lost in his pain and grief, God comes to him and reminds him that he is not alone or forgotten. There’s a call and response that is often used in some churches – “God is good all the time; and all the time God is good.” And how true that is. There is so much goodness, and hope, and joy in God. Now, Job helps us to redefine this goodness not as being a divine version of Batman, but rather as being with us in our suffering and redeeming us through love. There is great joy in finding the love out of which we were created. There is a reason to be cheerful when we align our mission with the mission of God. When you give out of a sense of gratitude and with a prayer for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, there is indeed much to be cheerful about.
As we celebrate this feast day of St. Luke’s, let us pray for our parish: Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. We give you thanks for the legacy and future of this holy community, and pray for grace and wisdom to be faithful stewards of this place and in this time. Strengthen the faithful, O Lord, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Make us aware of your gracious and loving presence with us. Help us to remember with humility our place in the cosmos and with gratitude our place in your heart. Bless us in our stewardship efforts, that your will might be done at St. Luke’s for the glory of your name and to the benefit of our community. Be with us as we consider our giving, and make us cheerful givers. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11, 2015 - Proper 23B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            As I mentioned last Sunday as we began our exploration of the book of Job, this Biblical book forces us to rethink our assumptions. We’ve skipped over 21 chapters since last week and today we have a speech by Job as our entry into the unfolding story. The premise of the book is that Job is being tested to see whether or not he will ever curse God for all the calamities that have befallen him. Job doesn’t quite curse God, but he does curse the day he was born. And then some of his friends come by to offer him encouragement and advice. Today’s reading is part of Job’s response to one of his friends. The book of Job invites us to go deeper into our faith, but doing so will require rethinking some of the most foundational aspects of our faith.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October 4, 2015 - Proper 22B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Imagine that you lost everything. You get into an accident on the way to work and your car is totaled. When you get to the office, you find out that you’ve been fired. So you go home, only to see several fire trucks in front of the place where your house used to stand. Tragically, all of your children also died in that fire. Your phone then rings and it’s your doctor calling you with the test results, and it isn’t good news. Then your neighbor comes over to you and says “What did you do to make God so angry at you?” You insist that your actions didn’t warrant such calamities, but everyone around you insists that this is all your fault. The question that haunts you is “Why did this all happen to me?”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

September 27, 2015 - Proper 21B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            This is a sermon on the Book of Esther. I’ve never preached on Esther before, and chances are that none of you have ever heard a sermon on it either. This is the only time Esther shows up in our rotation of Sunday readings, and it does so as one of two options for the Old Testament reading. And the lectionary that we currently use was first used in 2006, before then, Esther was completely absent from Sunday mornings.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

September 20, 2015 - Proper 20B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Silence. Our world is so full of stimuli that we are often uncomfortable with silence. There are a lot of reasons why we are silent. Sometimes we are speechless and there just aren’t words that fit the situation. Sometimes we are silent because we are hoping to hear the still small voice of God in prayer. Other times we are silent because we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Those of you who are teachers, or students, know that silence in class often means that someone didn’t do the assigned reading. Sometimes silence is a form of protest or anger, as in giving someone the “silent treatment.” Sometimes we are silent when we are guilty and have chosen to “plead the Fifth.” Sometimes we are silent because we just don’t know what to say. Sometime we are silent when we have a question, but are afraid of what the answer might be. Silence comes up twice in the gospel text from Mark this morning, and looking into the meaning behind these silences shows us something about what it is like to follow Jesus.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

September 13, 2015 - Proper 19B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            This section of Mark that we just heard is often referred to as the “turning point” in the gospel. Up to this point, Jesus has been traveling throughout the Galilee region of Israel, while casting out demons and healing the sick, both of which are signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The second half of Mark tells the story of the events that will lead to Jesus’ execution in Jerusalem. These verses today are the fulcrum on which the whole story pivots.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

September 6, 2015 - Proper 18B

            Today’s gospel passage contains two separate stories: the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the healing of a deaf man. Each of these passages really is robust enough to stand on its own; the lectionary could have put these two stories in different weeks, but by keeping them together, as Mark did in his writing of the gospel, a connection becomes apparent that we might miss if we were to read these stories separately. What we see in these passages is that hearing leads to speaking, and specifically, to sharing the Good News.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015 - Proper 17B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            There was a father and son who had become estranged from each other. The cause of the estrangement really doesn’t matter, but the rift in the family was real. At the urging of wife and mother in this family, the father and the son begrudgingly agreed to go on a fishing trip to patch things up. They got in the car and spent the three hour drive in awkward silence. Eventually, they arrived at the river that they had grown up fishing in, but before they could even get the bait on their lines, the silence had been broken. The argument started over what sort of bait would be best to use, but at least they were talking to each other. Somehow, by the grace of God, one of them put their finger on the source of their estrangement, and their yelling turned into crying, which turned into a hug of reconciliation. They fished the rest of the day and didn’t catch a thing. When they got home, a neighbor asked them if they caught anything. They said “Nope.” And the neighbor said, “So the fishing trip was unfruitful.” This is a sermon about missing the point.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015 - Proper 15B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Whether it’s Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth or the latest miracle treatment, we’re all ears when it comes to eternal life. Over the past several weeks, the sermons have been focusing on the readings about King David that we had from 2 Samuel, but you may have noticed that the Gospel texts the last three Sundays have all come from John 6. This chapter of John is called the “Bread of Life discourse.” It begins with the multiplication of the loaves and fish and then Jesus talks about the implications of that miracle.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015 - Proper 14B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “Christianity is all about salvation,” is a phrase that you’ve probably heard. And it’s true, Christianity is about salvation. Sometimes, though, we use words that are so big and nebulous that they actually have very little meaning- and salvation is one of those words. Salvation from what? What happens if we are not saved? Who does the saving? These are all good and valid questions, but they are questions for another day. Instead, today, the question before us is what are we saved into? That is, what does it mean to be a recipient of salvation?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 - Proper 13B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            You’ll recall a few Sundays ago that I mentioned that the lectionary gives us three strikes against King David. The first was three Sundays ago, when David relocated the Ark of the Covenant for his own political gain. Two weeks ago, David built himself a very fine house of cedar before he thought about building such a house for God. Then last week, when I was on vacation, you all heard the story of David and Bathsheba. I understand that the guest preacher focused on the Gospel last week. So as an introduction to today’s reading from 2 Samuel, let’s quickly review the events of that third strike against David which we heard last Sunday.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 - Proper 11B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Last week, you’ll recall, we took a look at King David. He is a flawed and tragic character, and yet, it is through his throne that the Messiah comes. We heard the story last Sunday of how David repeatedly used God for his own purposes, most notably in relocating the Ark of the Covenant to force those in opposition to him to support his new regime. If that was strike one, then today we get strike two. I’ll be on vacation next Sunday and won’t be here, but strike three comes next Sunday.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

July 12, 2015 - Proper 10B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
         So, obviously, I am not Fr. Mike Cassell who was scheduled to preach today. I don’t know the details, but he called me on Thursday night to tell me that he’s come down with some rather unpleasant illness that precludes him from travelling. To be honest, immediately after I got off the phone with him, I checked my computer files to see if I had a sermon on these texts that I might be able to adapt for this morning. But I’ve never preached on the seventh Sunday after Pentecost in the Mark cycle of readings. When I looked at the readings though, I was immediately drawn to this absolutely fascinating story about the Ark of the Covenant and David. So for the sermon this morning, I’d like to reread this passage from 2 Samuel, and as I do, I’ll stop periodically and make some comments about the text, putting it in context, and also reflecting on what the lessons this ancient and holy story have for us today.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July 5, 2015 - Proper 9B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            At the back of the Book of Common Prayer, there is a catechism that lists several questions and answers about the faith. One question is “What is the ministry of the laity?” The answer is “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” If that sounds like a tall task, that’s because it is. Sometimes being a follower of Jesus can feel overwhelming, as there are countless ministries that could benefit from our support. There are always those in need, there are always things around the church that can be done, and there are always causes that could use a financial gift. And then there are systemic problems like racism and poverty that, quite frankly, seem like insurmountable issues.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28, 2015 - Proper 8B

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            I can’t imagine. Can you imagine it? We use those phrases when we encounter something that stops us in our tracks, whether it is good or bad. Sometimes when we rhetorically ask “can you imagine?” it is because in our horror and disbelief we, ourselves, cannot actually imagine it. We hear stories of the violent atrocities committed by ISIS and we shake our heads, saying “can you imagine that?” That reality simply does not fit into our frame of reference. But sometimes we lack this imagination in the positive sense of the phrase. “She donated a kidney to a complete stranger,” or we see a beautiful painting and say I can’t imagine. Sometimes we observe something that seems to be larger than life, full of more beauty or compassion than we thought was possible. When we hear this reading from Mark, a fitting response very well might be “I can’t imagine.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 21, 2015 - Proper 7B

Almighty God, may you guide us to seek the Truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might. Amen.
             “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” If we read Mark chronologically, then by the time this storm arises on the sea of Galilee, the disciples have already been called by Jesus, have witnessed him heal people, and have heard his first parables. Perhaps the disciples were beginning to put together that there is something different about Jesus. That night on the waters, a violent storm popped up and Jesus calms the wind and the waves. And so they ask the question that has been asked, fought over, and prayed over for thousands of years- “who, then, is this?”

Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015 - Trinity Sunday B

In the name of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This sermon is a bit of a milestone for me. About a year ago, I stood nervously in this pulpit for the first time as I preached a sermon on the texts of Trinity Sunday in front of the search committee when I was here for an interview. I’m not sure if they liked it, or if they chose to call me in spite of it, but either way, I am so very happy and thankful that I still have the privilege of speaking from this pulpit. Trinity Sunday is a tough day on which to preach. Most Sundays we have a narrative to explore, but today we have before us an unexplainable mystery. God is three, but also one. In school, I got as far as calculus, but never quite figured out the math behind the Trinity. As seminary professors are fond of saying, “to say anything definitively about the Trinity is to commit heresy.” Up front, we must acknowledge that the concept of the Triune God is a mystery, and mysteries are not intended to be solved, but rather appreciated.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 2015 - Pentecost B

Descend, O Spirit, purging flame and brand us with Jesus’ name. Confirm our faith, consume our doubt; sign us as Christ’s within, without. Amen.
There’s a story of a parish secretary who wrote all of the priest’s sermons, but never got any of the credit for doing so. Finally, she could stand it no longer, so on Sunday when the priest was in the pulpit he said “and this is the most important thing to understand, it is an example of the most complex feature of the human condition as expressed by the great fourth century theologian…” The priest turned the page and saw a blank sheet of paper marked only with the words “You’re on your own now.” Last Sunday, our Collect prayed, in part, “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 17, 2015 - Easter 7B

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            “The Church should not be run like a business,” or so many people say. We hear the message in Scripture that we should be “in the world, but not of the world,” and so the Church often finds resistance when business strategies are employed within our walls. The first chapter of the book of Acts though is a chapter about the business of the Church. Acts, which is the second volume written by the author of the gospel according to Luke, tells the story of the organization, mission, and growth of the early Church.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Day

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            The Feast of the Ascension is a feast day a bit like George Selkirk. “Who’s that?,” you ask. That’s the name of the man who started in right field for the Yankees the year after Babe Ruth retired. Today is a forgotten celebration in the Church year. This day is actually one of the principal feast days listed in the Book of Common Prayer, and the theology and story of today are as important to our faith as any other.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015 - Easter 6B

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.

Have you ever been at a social gathering where you walked up to a group of people having a conversation in which you had no clue what was happening? That’s what today’s reading from Acts feels like. The whole of chapter 10 of Acts is, I think, one of the most compelling and informative passages in the entire New Testament, but it’s hard to understand in isolation. So before we dive into the text and consider what the Holy Spirit is saying to us today through it, let’s review the tenth chapter of Acts.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

May 3, 2015 - Easter 5B

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” It’s such a great metaphor for the Christian life and vocation. But I want to focus on the reading from Acts this morning, so you’ll have to reflect on that metaphor throughout the week. Each verse of this passage from the Acts of the Apostles is saturated with meaning. In the John passage, Jesus speaks of bearing fruit, and this Acts passage is a great description of what that might look like in a real life situation.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26, 2015 - Easter 4B

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Preaching 101- never tell people what they “ought” to do. At the leadership program I attended last week, they told us that when we’re trying to influence people that it is better to lead people to the answer rather than giving it to them, so that they will think it was their own idea. The expression is “don’t should all over other people.” Well, the authors of our readings from 1 John and the gospel according to John never got this lesson- “We ought to lay down our life for one another,” “we should believe and love,” and “I must bring them.” So much for leading us to the still waters of Psalm 23, these texts seem to be pushing us there.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12, 2015 - Easter 2B

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Often this Sunday is referred to as “Low Sunday” because, well, after the highs of joy and attendance last week, today seems rather low. And while I wish that every Sunday had the church packed like it did last week, that’s just not the way it works. Mountaintop experiences are great and wonderful, but you can’t stay there. And so, for me, the question for today isn’t “where did everyone go?” or “do people really think that Jesus wants us to show up on Easter and then forget about church until Christmas?” No, the question to be asking today is “so what?” The Lord is risen, but so what?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5, 2015 - Easter Day

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            I have been looking forward to this day for a while now. The days are getting warmer and the flowers are beginning to bloom. With the return of spring, it seems as if new life abounds. This is the chance for a fresh start, when anything is possible, I’m really excited about it. Of course, I’m speaking of the fact that the first game of the baseball season will be played today, alleluia. Though, there is another reason why we gather today. Easter is the queen feast day of the Church. And so my first word to each of you is welcome.

Friday, April 3, 2015

April 3, 2015 - Good Friday

Lectionary Readings

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
            I’ve always found Good Friday to be the holiest day on which to preach, meaning that writing the Good Friday sermon can be a challenge. The cultural assumptions are nearly insurmountable, the theology is quite complex, and the readings are very long. One theologian has noted that a mystery is not a problem without a solution, but rather a reality in which the more we know, the more we are forced to rethink all that we know. In this sense of the word, Good Friday is most definitely a mystery.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April 2, 2015 - Maundy Thursday

Lectionary Readings (note, verses 17-30 were added to the John reading)

In the name of the One who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.
            Welcome to this most holy night. The Maundy Thursday liturgy is perhaps the densest of the entire church year. In some church traditions, this day is called “Thursday of Mysteries,” and there are many mysteries tonight. There is the mystery of the master washing the students’ feet. There is the mystery of the Eucharist when Jesus says that the bread and the wine are to be his body and blood. There is the mystery of salvation in the connection of the Passover meal to this meal shared by Jesus and his disciples. In the stripping of the altar we are faced with the mystery of betrayal. Based on the commandment given by Jesus, we have the mystery of love’s ability to conquer all things. And it is this last mystery, the mystery of love, that ties the tapestry of Maundy Thursday together.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22, 2015 - Lent 5B

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
            Here we are, at the homestretch of Lent 2015. Over the five Sundays of Lent, we’ve been exploring the theme of covenant and how it impacts our lives and our faith. The thing to remember is that though the covenant is presented in different ways, there is still one God and one covenant. Each time the covenant comes up in Scripture, it is being described by different people, at different times, in different circumstances. So through the ages, the covenant is reconsidered, reframed, repurposed, but it remains intact.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 15, 2015 - Lent 4B

Note: The substitute first reading was 2 Samuel 7:1-14 and the Gospel text was expanded to John 3:1-21.

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
            When you study a foreign language, one of the exercises that you often do is conjugating verbs- I run, you run, she runs. But when you do this, sometimes you’ll run into verb forms that you can’t really think of a situation in which you’d need to use it, such as the first person perfect tense of “to die”- I have died. Another conjugation that you’ll probably never hear is the first person future of “to be born”- I will be born. And yet, Jesus says “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” So that we’re all on the same page, the Greek of that sentence can be translated either as “being born from above” or “being born again.” But either way, it seems that Jesus might indeed have a use for that verbal form- I will be born.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March 8, 2015 - Lent 3B

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
            “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” So says St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. The British writer and theologian GK Chesterton put it this way- “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” The way of the cross is absolute foolishness and extremely demanding. Thus, many have instead adopted a tamer version of Christianity. As we continue our Lenten exploration of covenant, we will consider the way in which living as members of the covenant is both foolish and challenging.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015 - Lent 2B

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
            What if I told you there is something more meaningful than the grind of daily life, that we are prisoners to a false reality which surrounds us on every side? That is the premise of one of my favorite movies, The Matrix. Part of what led to its popularity was the philosophical depths that the movie presented: what is real, and how do you know that it is real? The main character in the movie is invited to be blissfully ignorant of the true nature of the world, or to go deeper into that truth. This is the same invitation with which we are presented in our readings from Genesis and Mark this morning.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 22, 2015 - Lent 1B

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
            The story of Noah’s ark may be one of the most well-known stories from Genesis, or even the entire Bible. But after the two-by-two, the flood, and the dove, comes a very important part of the story. At the conclusion, God says to Noah “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants… that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood.” Then the covenant is enacted through the sign of a rainbow. This is the first covenant between God and Creation that is found in Scripture, but the idea of covenant will be reintroduced with Abraham and David, the prophet Jeremiah will write about the covenant, and at the Last Supper, Jesus will allude to the covenant. Over the next five Sundays of Lent, the idea of covenant will be present in our readings, so my Lenten preaching will focus on the idea of covenant and what it means for our life and faith.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18, 2015 - Ash Wednesday

In the name of God, who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.
       “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” What is the purpose of Lent? Though the Judean prophet Isaiah was not writing about the Christian season of Lent, for thousands of years the faithful have asked the question – what would God have us to do?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February 15, 2015 - Last Sunday of Epiphany

In the name of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Have you ever had an experience of the Divine? A moment where you were aware of God’s presence as certain as you were of your own existence? Today’s Gospel passage from Mark records one such Divine encounter, known as the Transfiguration, though, I’ve yet to meet anyone whose experience has been quite that robust. Perhaps you’ve had such an experience through prayer. Though, in full disclosure, prayer has not yet led to such a Divine rendezvous for me. It’s important to notice that these encounters with God in Scripture never come about as the result of any incantation or as the result of human action. Abraham wasn’t expecting a child in his old age, Moses did not expect to find a burning bush, Mary did not plan her pregnancy, and Paul did not deserve to meet the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015 - Epiphany 4B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” Those are Jesus’ words in John, noting that love is our highest calling. Faith and discipleship boil down to that very simple practice- love one another. In the letter to the Corinthian church that we heard this morning, St. Paul writes to encourage the community of the faithful there to focus more on love and less on the competition of who is right. It was good advice 2,000 years ago, and it is good advice today.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January 18, 2014 - Epiphany 2B

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
            That prayer, known as the Collect for Purity, begins our worship each Sunday. It is, perhaps, one of most powerful and intimate prayers that I know of. A version of that prayer dates back to the 11th century, so it has quite literally been prayed for over a millennium. The form that we have today has been in every Book of Common Prayer since the first one was published in 1549. That is one of the best parts of the Episcopal tradition- that our prayers have roots and when we pray them, our voices join with the multitudes through the ages that have prayed these very words. But anytime a prayer is so familiar, it can easily become rote. Given the context of Psalm 139, this morning I’d like to consider the depths of the Collect for Purity.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 11, 2015 - Epiphany 1B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Today is a day about beginnings. Our reading from Genesis starts with “in the beginning;” and our reading from Mark comes from the start of that gospel. And, of course, we’re at the start of a new year. In The Four Quartets, TS Eliot famously says “in my beginning is my end.” If you attended the December class on the Gospel according to Mark, you’ll remember that we discussed the notion that this first chapter of Mark is an overture of sorts to the entire Gospel. This story of Jesus’ baptism serves to set us up for the theological and emotional trajectory for the rest of Mark.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 6, 2015 - Epiphany

May Almighty God, who led the Wise Men by the shining of a star to find the Christ, the Light from Light, lead us also, in our pilgrimage, to find the Lord. Amen.
            On Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus to the world, as the Holy Family was visited by visitors from the East. And in their encounter, there are several things for us to take note of and build upon in our own faith journeys. The first thing we see about the magi’s encounter with God is that it did not go according to the plan. It’s often the same for us too, isn’t it? These wise men were astrologers, journeying from a far away land because of a sign that they saw in the night sky. But notice that they don’t follow the star all the way to Bethlehem. No, instead they show up Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are about 6 miles apart, roughly the distance from here to the Rowan County portion of the Yadkin River. Not bad by car, but by camel that’s a least a an hour off. What we see in the magi is that they missed finding God on their first attempt. They thought they were following the signs, they thought they were on the right path,  they even had a divine sign in the star, and they still managed to miss Bethlehem by a decent margin.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

January 4, 2015 - Christmas 2B

Be with us, O God, for if you are with us, nothing else matters; and if you are not with us, nothing else matters. Amen.
            This text from Matthew is an extremely challenging one to preach on. Sometimes this event is referred to as “the slaughter of the innocents.” The word slaughter should never be used in a story about children, and that is what makes this so hard. When an elder dies, we mourn the loss and reflect on what happened in the past. But when a child dies, it is a loss of the future. My stomach is in knots even considering what would happened if we ever lost our dear Ellie. Exactly one month after Ellie was born, I sat on the couch at home, holding an innocent newborn in my arms, while the news on the television was that 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I simply cannot imagine.