Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25, 2016 - Christmas Day


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Merry Christmas! It is a joy to be with you this most holy of mornings. As it often is, the Gospel text for Christmas morning, which this year also happens to be the Lord’s Day, is the prologue from the Gospel according to John. This is one of the best-known passages in all of Scripture and it really captures what we might call the most important claim of our faith – that the Word became flesh. Sure, the Cross was important, and so was the Resurrection, as was Jesus’ teaching, but none of that happens if the Word doesn’t become flesh first. So this morning, before us is the cornerstone of our Christian faith and life.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 24, 2016 - Christmas Eve


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Merry Christmas! On this most holy of nights we come together, way past bedtime for some of us, to sing songs, hear lessons, and partake in a holy meal. These hymns, lessons, and meal all point toward something rather odd though. We’ve grown so accustomed to the Christmas story that we forget how absolutely absurd it all is.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 18, 2016 - Advent 4A


O come, O come Emmanuel. Amen.
            Are you ready? Today is the final Sunday of Advent; and Christmas, both the religious festival and the secular holiday, awaits. So, are you ready? This Advent, I’ve been preaching about preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, both as an infant born in Bethlehem and as our king and judge at the last.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

December 11, 2016 - Advent 3A


O come, O come Emmanuel. Amen.
            “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” That’s the question, isn’t it? Is Jesus the one in whom the hopes and dreams of all the years find their fulfillment? Is Jesus the Messiah, God Incarnate? Or is Jesus only a prophet and wise teacher? Because if Jesus is the one whom history has been waiting for, then there are huge implications for our lives and our faith. But if we’re supposed to be waiting for another, well, I’m probably out of a job.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 4, 2016 - Advent 2A


O come, O come Emmanuel. Amen.
            The message of Advent is “prepare.” But you might ask, “prepare for what?” To celebrate Christmas with a heart full of joy? To be ready to serve those in need? To be faithful so that when Christ comes again we will be judged as righteous? It matters what we are preparing for. The way that I prepare to go to the hardware store isn’t at all the way that I prepare for a meeting with the Bishop. If your teacher tells you that there will be a test tomorrow, but doesn’t tell you whether it’s going to be in math, history, biology, or English, well, it’s going to be a lot harder to be prepared. Too often, the message of Advent is “prepare for Christ’s coming,” and we’re left wondering what that really means. If we don’t know what it is that we’re preparing for, it’s nearly impossible to actually be ready.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

November 27, 2016 - Advent 1A


O come, O come Emmanuel. Amen.
            The liturgical season of Advent and the secular season of “Holiday” are quite different, but they have at least one thing in common: preparation. Both seasons focus on preparation. Advent calls us to prepare our hearts and lives for Christ to be born anew. “Holiday” calls us to prepare by baking cookies, putting up decorations, and buying gifts. To be clear, I have nothing against Bing Crosby, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or wrapping paper.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November 24, 2016 - Thanksgiving Day C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Generally, we in the Church bemoan and worry about the secularization of religious holidays. Christmas, largely, is a secular holiday with little to no emphasis on the coming of God to be with us in Jesus of Nazareth, but rather is focused on commercial interests and vague notions of having “holiday cheer.” Halloween really has ceased to be a religious holiday, as it’s about candy, not saints. Easter, while widely recognized as a religious holiday, has become the holiday where Jesus, after he died, was transformed into a chocolate bunny and burst forth from an egg, or so society might lead you to believe. And really, I’m fine with all of that. So long as the Church doesn’t forget what lies behind these religious holidays, it’s okay if capitalism does what capitalism does and tries to make money off of anything it can. But part of the reason why I love the Thanksgiving Day Eucharist is that the church strikes back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

November 20, 2016 - Christ the King C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Today as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, our focus is turned to the Cross of Christ. To begin, I’d like to quote from the opening paragraph of perhaps the most influential writing about the Cross in the 20th century. It comes from a book called The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann. “The cross is not and cannot be loved. Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world because it is no longer afraid of death. In his time the crucified Christ was regarded as a scandal and as foolishness. Today, too, it is considered old-fashioned to put him in the centre of Christian faith and of theology. Yet only when we are reminded of him, however untimely this may be, can we be set free from the power of the facts of the present time, and from the laws and compulsions of history, and be offered a future will never grow dark again. Today the church and theology must return to the crucified Christ in order to show the world the freedom that he offers. This is essential if we wish to become what we assert we are: the church of Christ.” This sermon will turn our gaze towards the crucified Jesus, whom we claim is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

November 6, 2016 - Proper 27C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            You know what happens if you ask a bad question, right? You get a bad answer. Today’s Gospel text from Luke is an illustration of that wisdom. Right from the beginning, Luke makes it clear that the Sadducees did not believe in the doctrinal concept of a resurrection. Why then were they asking about the marital status of people in resurrected life? If they didn’t believe in the resurrection, why ask about it? It was a trap that they set to catch Jesus. Would he say that only the first marriage counted, that only the last one counted, or that polygamy would be the answer. It’s like asking a Carolina fan if Coach K is the greatest coach ever or the best coach ever. It’s a lose-lose answer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

November 1, 2016 - Feast of All Saints


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            These days it seems that everyone is interested in their ancestry. There are websites that help you to fill out your family tree and more and more libraries have staff ready to help in researching genealogy. There’s even a television show called “Finding Your Roots” where celebrities explore the stories of their family histories. Sometimes we are proud to find out that our ancestors were influential people in their time and we are ashamed when we find out that our ancestors owned slaves. We have an innate sense that people who lived hundreds of years ago still shape our lives today. None of us were spontaneously created, we all have parents and mentors who have shaped us into the people who we are today, and those parents and mentors were shaped by their parents and mentors, and so on. William Faulkner once wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We live and move and have our being in a world constructed by our predecessors.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23, 2016 - Feast of St. Luke

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-2, 26-28, 31; Psalm 23; 2 Timothy 4:5-13; Luke 18:9-14

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
            Today is a full day. We began with a wonderful opening anthem by our Novice Choir, we begin our stewardship efforts today, it is the feast of our patron saint, and this afternoon we’ll come together as a parish to Stop Hunger Now. I don’t know about you all, but I actually really enjoy the work of stewardship. A few weeks ago, we had clergy conference for the Diocese of North Carolina and there was an optional workshop on stewardship. I attended, and we were all asked to share why we decided to come to the session. I said, “Because stewardship is a passion of mine and I really enjoy it.” Several priests mentioned how odd that is.
            How did you feel when you opened your mail earlier this week and found the pledge card waiting for you? How about when you opened your bulletin this morning and saw a pledge card in there? Anxious? Guilty? Did you roll your eyes? Were you excited about the opportunity to join in supporting the ministry of this parish?
            The reason why I enjoy stewardship so much isn’t because I like asking people for money; I don’t. The reason why I am passionate about doing stewardship is because I believe it is central to the salvation given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus begins his public ministry in Luke, he says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Central to what Jesus’ Good News is all about is liberation: freedom from the forces that seek to enslave us, whether it be a tyrannical government such as Rome, our own self-doubt, our economic systems which do harm to the poor, or our religious systems which can often limit the boundaries of God’s grace. But another really important part of our liberation is from enslavement to money.
            What is your relationship with money? Is your first emotion that of fear, that there might not be enough? Or is your first emotion gratitude, that you have enough, even if you don’t have as much as you might like? Is money something that you are enslaved to, or is it something that you use to express your values? A really good barometer that you can use to measure your relationship with money is to sit down and calculate how much money you are giving to the church and charities that you support.
            The issue at hand is that money is a very powerful tool in our society. Money is how we value time and effort. Money is how we are compensated for the time that we spend away from our family and our children. Money is how we value things like art, healthcare, and education. While you certainly can’t buy happiness, money can certainly cause disagreements and sleepless nights. And so the question of stewardship is this: do you control your money or does your money control you? If you want to know, try to give your money away. If you can’t, then I’d suggest that your money has more control over you than you might want to admit. Generosity is an indicator of spiritual health.
            Now, of course, life happens and things can get in the way of our giving. With two children in daycare, I get it. Unexpectedly, plumbing breaks, transmissions fail, stocks crash, and prescriptions need to be filled, and so sometimes we’re not able to be as generous as we might want to be. But the question remains, are you able to give anything away or not? If you are not able to part with any of your money, then you haven’t found the salvation and liberation of stewardship which Jesus offers us. This isn’t about fundraising for St. Luke’s. If you don’t believe that this place is worthy of your generosity, then don’t give here. But for the sake of your soul, give your money away and exercise your power over money so that it doesn’t exercise power over you. Stewardship is a part of our salvation because it helps us to be in a right relationship with money.
            And this generous posture is exactly the one we were created to have. As our reading from Genesis tells us, humanity is created in the image of God. And the very first image that we get of God in the Bible is a generative and generous one. As you can hear, the words “generate” and “generous” are related. God creates all that is as a supreme act of generation. All things have come into being through God’s generative actions. And God’s creation is an act of generosity. God didn’t need to create the world or humanity. But God chose to freely give so that the love and grace of God might be more widely known and spread. What Genesis tells us is that God generates all of Creation through an act of generosity.
            This is the image that we are created in. Just as God is generative, so are we. We are gifted with the ability to procreate, to build societies, and construct ideas. And we are also gifted with the ability to be generous. Generosity is a part of our divine DNA. We are created by and fashioned into the image of a generous God.
            And so that’s why it feels so good to be generous, because it is natural. It’s why, even when finances are tight, sometimes the most liberating thing is to give away some money. Even if it doesn’t make financial sense, it makes sense to your soul. There is a video you can find online called “The Generosity Experiment,” and in it the speaker tells the story of living in New York and being constantly barraged with requests for money from charities, street musicians, and beggars. He often said “no,” and realized it was making him closed to other people. So for one month, he resolved to say “yes” to absolutely every single request that he got. And for him, it was saving. It changed his outlook. It changed his relationship to people. It made him more generous.
            In a sense, that’s what the parable that Jesus offers us this morning is pointing to as well. There is the Pharisee who is inwardly focused. He prays about the ways that God has blessed him with privilege, status, and wealth. But his prayer isn’t about the other. It’s absolutely wonderful that he gives a tenth of his income, but that doesn’t make him generous.  At least in this snippet, he doesn’t appear to be concerned with how his giving impacts others; it’s more about duty than generosity.
Meanwhile, the tax collector seems to be outwardly focused, realizing that he needs mercy because he is a sinner. Perhaps you’re familiar with the prayer “Dear Lord, so far I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed, and I’m going to need a lot more help.” The thing is, while not impossible, it’s a lot harder to be a sinner when you’re not around people. The tax collector is aware of the ways in which he’s fallen short in his relationships, the ways in which he hasn’t been as generous in spirit or charitable in action as he could have been, and so he comes and asks for mercy. Generosity is about being open to God and others.
As today’s Psalm proclaims “You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” These verses will be our refrain for this stewardship campaign. What will your response be to the ways in which God makes your cup overflow with goodness and mercy? Will we keep these blessings for ourselves? Or will we be true to our created nature, to be generous and share these blessings with others?
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke today, I think about this parish, and I encourage you to do the same as you fill out your pledge card. I think about the fellowship and bonds of affection of this place. I think of way that the church was overflowing with people at Seth Tinsley’s funeral earlier this year. I think of the couples that have been married here this year. I think of the babies, including my own daughter, that have been Baptized into the Body of Christ here. I think of the backpacks that we collected for Communities in Schools, I think of the Sundays that we presented produce from our Community Garden and the Little Red Wagon at Communion, I think of the relief supplies that we are currently collecting for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, and I think of the 15,000 meals that we will pack later today for Stop Hunger Now. I think of the fun of Purely Socials, the grace of the Eucharist, a spiritually-deep Holy Week. I think of a gorgeous church with beautiful music and liturgy. I think of the great staff and wonderful people of St. Luke’s whom I am truly thankful for and privileged to serve. And lest you think that I have a selective memory, I also think of the healthy ways in which we’ve dealt with conflict, the ways in which we strive for reconciliation in times of disagreement. For all these things, I thank God.
When I think of all those things, I realize how important it is for St. Luke’s to not only survive, but to thrive. I want there to be a place where Christian community can exist in the Anglican tradition. I want there to be a place for babies to be Baptized, loved ones to be buried, and couples to be married. I need there to be a place where the Sacraments are celebrated. Sometimes I just need the doors of this church to be open so I can come in and sit and be still and know that God is God.
And so I look forward to filling out our pledge card. I look forward to being able to be generous, as God has made me to be. I look forward to supporting the ministries of St. Luke’s because I am so grateful for this place, and I want others to come to know it. I give God thanks for the opportunity to be generous and to find the liberation and salvation of the Gospel in practices of stewardship.
This Sunday and for the following two Sundays, you are invited and encouraged to think about St. Luke’s, to be generous, and to fill out a pledge card so that we can plan to be the best St. Luke’s that we can be. As you approach the altar to receive the generosity of God’s grace in the Eucharist, you can put your completed pledge card in the designated alms plate as a show of your gratitude for God’s blessings and of your generous pledge. And as you make that pledge, know that your generosity is also generative because it will continue to build up this wonderful community of faith, hope, and love. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

October 16, 2016 - Proper 24C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            If you’ve been regular in worship over the past few months, you’ve likely noticed that the Gospel readings have been a lot of Jesus’ teachings. This season of the Church Year, known as Ordinary Time or the Season after Pentecost, is the longest liturgical season of the year. The color that we use is green, symbolizing the growth of the church throughout the year. The Gospel texts that we get in this season are focused on the lessons that Jesus offers. In Advent and Christmas, we focus on the birth of Jesus, in Epiphany we see how Jesus is made known to the world, in Lent we focus on repentance as we move towards the Passion in Holy Week, and Easter is, of course, a season that focuses on the Resurrection. And just as green is a symbol in nature of vitality and growth, this season is one of the lush hope that Jesus offers in his ministry of teaching.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2, 2016 - Proper 22C


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            If you’ve been a Christian for more than a few months, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes the faith can seem a bit demanding. You’re supposed to pray, you’re supposed to read the Bible, you’re supposed to work for justice, you’re supposed to give money to the Church, you’re supposed to, by word and deed, share the Good News. Faith though isn’t supposed to be a series of obligations or things to keep you busy. Understood properly, faith is liberating way of life, not a burden of things to do during your life. But still, sometimes our preoccupation with being a “good” Christian can cause stress.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September 25, 2016 - Proper 21C

Lectionary Readings

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” There’s a billboard in rural North Carolina that I’ve passed several times through the years that asks just that question. If you haven’t seen that exact billboard, I’m sure you’ve seen one like it. I wonder how that phrase makes you feel? It saddens me to have the love of God so misrepresented, it angers me to have the Gospel reduced to such certainty, it frustrates me to have faith be more about what happens after death than what happens during life, it makes me uncomfortable to be in the judgment rather than the faith business. And yet, after hearing our gospel text from Luke about Lazarus and the rich man, we might find ourselves wondering about that very question. Will we be spending time with Lazarus or the rich man?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September 18, 2016 - Proper 20C


Almighty God, may you guide us to seek the Truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might. Amen.
            To say that was a challenging parable is an understatement. Lest you think that you just need to reread it a few times and it will make more sense, I’ve been doing that all week and it’s still an enigma. When I read commentaries on the passage this week, I noticed that they all seemed to spend more pages on this parable than other Biblical passages, sort of the way when you don’t have an answer you just stammer on, hoping that something might eventually make sense. One scholar even called this the “problem child of parables.” For one, the explanation that is offered by Jesus after the parable doesn’t seem to line up properly with the parable itself.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11, 2016 - Proper 19C


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            I’m often surprised at how often the lectionary serves up the right readings for the right occasion. The Scripture readings that we have each Sunday morning aren’t chosen by me, or the Bishop, or really anyone. Rather, there is a three year cycle of readings known as the Revised Common Lectionary, and it’s used by churches around the world – such as Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. The idea is that Christians, regardless of denomination and worship style, are hearing the same readings each Sunday. And it seems more often than not, when there is something happening in our common life, by the Spirit’s guidance, the lectionary gives us Scripture that fits the occasion. Today is one such day of providential alignment.
            Today’s gospel text from Luke is all about being lost. Have you ever been lost? I remember back in seminary, we went to a fall festival with some friends. One of the friend’s young children got separated from the group and was lost. I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt such a sense of panic. But when we found the child, who was safe and unharmed, he had no idea of the panic that his temporary disappearance had caused. For him, being lost didn’t cause any sense of panic, as he didn’t even know that he was lost.
But sometimes being lost is a scarier experience. A few years ago I went to Israel, and had an experience of being lost. The Old City of Jerusalem is a walled city that has been built and rebuilt over thousands of years. As such, sometimes it feels more like a maze than city. I was exploring the city on my own one afternoon, map in hand, and found myself in a part of the city that I didn’t intend to be in. Like most big cities that are ethnically diverse, sometimes tensions are high. There was some sort of scuffle unfolding right in front of me and next thing I knew, someone was picking up a chair and throwing it through a store window. I was lost and very much felt terror.
Have you ever been lost? How did you feel? What was it like to not know where you were or where you were going? Of course, sometimes being lost is more of a metaphorical reality than a literal one. Sometimes after the death of a loved one, we are lost – not knowing what to do next. Retirement can make us feel lost – not being sure how we find our identity which had been tied to our job. When you have to make a decision and struggle to make up your mind, you may describe your situation as feeling lost. We lose all sorts of things: priorities, faith, financial security, health; being lost is a part of the human condition.
That fact that today is the 15th anniversary of September 11th cannot be ignored. September 11th will always be remembered as a day of loss. Three thousand lives were lost that day, not to mention the thousands more that came as a response to the attack. Americans lost a sense of innocence that day as we felt the world that we thought that we knew crumbling. The search went on for days after the attacks, looking in the rubble for those who were lost. Signs went up around Manhattan as family members were searching for loved ones who didn’t come home that night and were lost. Regardless of your political views, September 11th was a day that the world changed and it was a day of profound loss.
As we reflect back on that day, I remember the strong sense of unity that came out of it. Flags were everywhere, but not as signs of nationalism but of unity. Americans put aside their differences in the face of a loss that was bigger than politics or ideology. Republicans and Democrats came together to mourn and to rebuild. Of course there were still disagreements on September 12th. Some thought that a military response would be the wrong one, but still unity overcame division, at least for a while.
And I can’t help but look around at the state of our union and wonder, “what happened?” Any sense of unity that came from that tragedy has been eroded. In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln closed by saying “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” Lincoln’s final sentence urged a nation on the brink of war to be touched by “the better angels of our nature.” In the wake of September 11th, our better angels prevailed as we came together as a people. We went out of our way to be kind to each other, because we were all dealing with a sense of loss. We wrestled with ideas, not with each other. It seems though that these better angels have been displaced by old demons.
The thing is, when we are lost and in a panic, we’ll search and search until we find some safety net, something to give us a sense of direction, anything to take away our fear. After September 11th we came together in unity, but soon we found the demons of scapegoats and revenge which have resulted in a seemingly never-ending debacle. And now look at our nation – divided along so many lines in the midst of the most contentious election in generations. We’re lost, and instead of allowing ourselves to be found, we’re alleviating our anxiety with solutions that no longer work in an ever-changing world. We blame “them,” people who are not even in the same room as us and refuse to come together to even sit at the table with each other. Whether it’s #AllLivesMatter vs #BlackLivesMatter, Clinton vs Trump, or Sitting vs Standing during the National Anthem, we’ve become separated from each other and are losing our way.
When I hear these parables by Jesus, I am reminded of ways in which God saves the lost and brings the flock together. The first thing that these parables from Jesus say is that you matter to God. Like the lost sheep or the lost coin, you are worth searching for. You are a unit of God’s grace and love: unpresented, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable. Today we’re having a Baptism, which is great reminder of this to us. Baptism is the Sacrament of belonging. Despite whatever the world says about you or how other people see you, Baptism cements your identity as God’s beloved. So know that you are worth being found.
What’s so interesting about the parable that Jesus tells is that the shepherd not only leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, but that the shepherd, that is God, notices that the one is lost. If you have a flock of 100 and one leaves, we might think it’s not a big deal. But to God, it is. The flock is only complete when all are present, and that’s how the church is. I’m so glad that today is the beginning of the program year at St. Luke’s. I hope that you all had wonderful summers at the beach, in the mountains, and on vacation. But I’m glad that summer is over and that you’re back here – that the flock is gathered together. When you’re missing, you are missed. It’s a lesson that could go a long way in our culture – when one person is missing, we all are affected.
Notice in the reading that the act of salvation, of the lost being found is all God’s action. The lost doesn’t have to send up a signal flare, the lost doesn’t have to admit that they wandered off, the lost doesn’t have to earn the search and rescue operation that saves it. Remember that you are never too lost to be found, and neither is anyone else. But consider what this mercy from the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and carries it home might look like from the perspective of the 99. Perhaps they’ve judged that one lost sheep as a hopeless cause, as a lazy vagabond, as a worthless charity case. But they don’t know that the shepherd loved that sheep so much that the shepherd was willing to leave them all behind to redeem that lost sheep and show it mercy. The thing is, we don’t know all the ways in which God has forgiven, redeemed, and restored those people who we would say are “lost.” So we would do well to remember that none who are loved by God are ever truly lost.
The parables also show us that God is persistent. God will stop at nothing to find us when we are lost. God is relentless in showing mercy and love, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop that: not destroying skyscrapers and not exchanging our better angels for our old demons. There’s a poem written by Francis Thompson called “The Hound of Heaven” which describes God in just that way: as a search hound who pursues us until we are caught up in God’s saving love. The interesting thing about the poem is that the poet was someone who struggled with depression, addiction, and poverty his entire life, and even in this darkness, even when he made his mission running and hiding from God, God didn’t stop seeking him out. Because you matter so much to God, God isn’t going to ever give up on you. You can never cross the line into being unredeemable or not worth finding. How might we have this same persistent passion for doing the work of the Gospel, and living into the better angels of this nation, by chasing after a democracy that works and pursuing liberty and justice for all?
Both of these short parables end with a great celebration, perhaps one that seems preposterously out of proportion with the situation. Consider the lost coin – a woman loses a coin and searches for it. When she finds it, she throws a big party for her family and friends to celebrate finding the coin, presumably by spending the very coin that she found to pay for the celebration. It’s a sense of joy and celebration that defies explanation.
This is what our Eucharistic celebration is all about. When we gather at the altar, all of the sheep are gathered into one flock. Those who of us who have felt lost during the week are found by God’s grace. We are reminded of our worth and value in God’s eyes, and the great lengths that God will go through in order to find us. And the Eucharist also looks forward to that day when all of Creation gathers around the heavenly altar together – when all divisions are ended, when none are lost, when God’s love is known by all. So in that sense, the Eucharist not only reminds us that we have been found in God’s love, it gives us hope that one day the flock will be found all together.
But in the meantime, know that God seeks you out because you are loved by God and you matter to God. Know that if we allow ourselves to be found by God, all wounds can be healed, even the wounds of loss, the wounds of September 11th, and the wounds of partisanship and vitriolic hatred that come from our politics. There is a wonderful invitation to the Eucharistic table that comes from the Celtic tradition of our Anglican heritage, may it be our invitation to be found and healed by God in this Eucharist:
This is the table of Jesus Christ.
It is made ready for those who love God and are loved by God.
So come, you who have much faith and you who have little;
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a while;
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed;
you who have been lost, that you might be found.
Come, for it is Christ who invites us to meet him here and be fed by him.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

September 4, 2016 - Proper 18C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            One of the challenging aspects in preaching is that we often only get a handful of verses read from each book or letter in the Bible on a Sunday. Often, we miss the larger context of the writing when we only focus in on a small section of it. Today though is different, as our second reading is the entire letter of Paul to Philemon. So let’s take this opportunity to consider a full book of the Bible.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28, 2016 - Proper 17C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            The year was 597, and Augustine had just arrived in England after being commissioned to go there and preach the Gospel by Pope Gregory the Great. Of course, Christianity had already existed on the British Isles for a few hundred years by this point, but this was the event that brought British Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church, where it would remain for almost the next thousand years. By 601, Augustine’s mission was going so well that the king was converted and baptized. In 603, there was a conference held between Augustine, who was a bishop at this point, and the leaders of the congregations that had already existed in Britain.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21, 2016 - Proper 16C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            We all know that there are two kinds of stories. There are stories, and then there are stories that are more than stories. Stories such as me telling you about what I did on vacation are simply stories – there is no larger point to them. They might be informative, they might be entertaining, they might remind you of a similar experience, but they’re just a series of details. But there is a second kind of story, you might call it a fable, a myth, a legend, a parable. In these sort of stories, the details are just the skeleton that holds up the larger point or moral. Some stories are more than just a series of facts, but they are symbols which carry a meaning larger than themselves. The Bible is full of these second kind of stories, and today’s Gospel text is a story that is much more than just a story.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14, 2016 - Proper 15C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Have things ever not gone as you had planned? You prepared and practiced for the interview and wore your best outfit, but you didn’t get the job. You planned the perfect surprise party and had wonderful decorations ready, and then the rain came and washed it all away. You had been trying for years to get pregnant and it seemed like a miracle when the test was positive, and then there was a miscarriage. You kept the feuding family members apart and were ready to change the topic if it got heated, and still everyone will remember that family dinner because of the fight. You did everything you knew to do to teach your child about responsibility and making good decisions, and yet they ended up in jail. You tried every treatment and prayed every prayer, and your loved one still died. You studied hard and did every extracurricular activity you could manage, and you still got a rejection letter from your dream college. You loved your spouse and poured all of yourself into the relationship, but the marriage didn’t last. You prepared the soil, watered the seeds, pulled the weeds, but there just wasn’t any fruit on the vine. Sometimes, no matter how deeply your heart is invested in something, no matter how righteous your motives, no matter how hard you’ve worked, no matter how often you’ve prayed, things just don’t go as planned.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 31, 2016 - Proper 13C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Last Sunday, I preached a sermon on the topic of prayer, as the Gospel text presented us with the Lord’s Prayer. But more than a handful of you asked me, “What in the world was going on in that reading from Hosea?” I was planning to preach on Hosea this week all along, but since there was so much interest last Sunday, allow me to recap our reading from Hosea last week as a way of moving into this week’s verses from that same book.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 2016 - Proper 12C


Be with us, O Lord, for if you are with us, nothing else matters; and if you are not with us, nothing else matters. Amen.
            What is prayer? That is perhaps one of the most fundamental questions of our faith. And the deeper we go into that question about the nature of prayer, the more questions we end up with. Many of you know that I spent most of June at Sewanee, and while I was there I took a class on using poetry and fiction in preaching. One story that we read was called “The Question of Rain.” In it, a parishioner comes to the minster with an emergency – the severe drought that the town is going through has no end in sight. He asks the minister to consider doing a liturgy for rain on Sunday. The minister though is uncomfortable with the prospect of using an entire Sunday service to pray for rain, but says that he’ll be sure to include a plea for rain to be in the Prayers of the People. This doesn’t satisfy the parishioner.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 17, 2016 - Proper 11C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            It is quite fitting that we have a Baptism today, as it partners perfectly with this morning’s reading from Colossians. Scholars tell us that verses 15-20, which are contained in the first paragraph of the reading in the bulletin, are an ancient hymn of the early Church. These verses would have been familiar to first generation Christians and is older than the book of Colossians itself. This song of the earliest Church was likely used at Baptisms that took place nearly 2,000 years ago in what is modern-day Turkey. So today, as we prepare to baptize Jacob Grey Storey into the Body of Christ, we are united to Christians throughout time and space as we consider this hymn about Christ’s Lordship.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

July 10, 2016 - Proper 10C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            The parable of “The Good Samaritan” may be the most well-known passage in the entire Bible. We have hospitals, outreach organizations, and laws named after the “Good Samaritan.” Even the great cultural icon of the 90s, the television show Seinfeld used the image of the Good Samaritan in its final episode. We use that moniker, “Good Samaritan,” to denote selfless action – so people who go out of their way to help other people are called “good Samaritans.” The moral of the story ends up being “Help those in need.” But I’m not convinced that’s why Jesus told the story. After all, this is a parable, not a fable with a moral to it. Furthermore, the Old Testament is full of examples where God tells the people to help those in need. It’s not like Jews didn’t know that they were called to take care of their neighbors. Jesus doesn’t tell this parable as a way of saying “Be nice to other.” So, then, why might Jesus have told this parable?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

July 3, 2016 - Proper 9C


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            A few months ago, in the height of strawberry season, Ellie and I went out to Patterson Farms to pick strawberries. It was drizzling the whole time we were there, but that didn’t stop us from going out into a field of seemingly endless strawberries. We picked a row and went to work on filling our basket with the reddest strawberries that we could find. When we arrived home, we enjoyed the succulent and sweet fruits of our labor.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 26, 2016 - Proper 8C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Can you recall to mind a time where you were falling in love? And I’m not talking about the love that you might have for a pet, child, or material thing, but specifically about romantic love. Do you remember those butterflies that you’d get in your stomach as you got ready to see that person? The way your heart danced when you would see them? Can you imagine what the world might be like if there was more of that feeling of love in it? If our souls were stirred up like that not only when we are falling in love, but every time we encountered another person?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

June 5, 2016 - Proper 5C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            When you’re going through the ordination process, one aspect of the formation is to work as a chaplain intern. So the summer after my first year of seminary, I worked at Alamance Regional Hospital in Burlington. Part of the work was to occasionally stay over-night at the hospital, being on-call for any pastoral emergencies. I’ll never forget the first time that pager went off in the middle of the night, I scrambled to look presentable and rushed down to the ER. There, I watched a man in his early 60s come in on a stretcher. He wasn’t breathing, and the doctors and nurses did everything that they could to revive him, but it was too late. In a hospital, death is a medical diagnosis before it is a pastoral situation, so the doctor has to be the one deliver the bad news to the family in a small waiting. In most situations, including this one, as soon as the doctor did his job of notifying the family, he’d leave the room and it was then my job to do what I could to comfort the family.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016 - Proper 4C


Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
            “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Those words were spoken to the people of Israel by Joshua as they are entering the Promised Land. Will they serve the God of their ancestors who brought them out of Egypt and sustained them in the wilderness, or will they serve the local gods of the region? Will they serve the Lord who demands steadfast fidelity, working for justice, and a humble heart? Or will they serve gods who promise to give them pleasure without commitment and prosperity without justice? I know that most of us haven’t even had the chance to cast a ballot, but we’re already tired of making choices. But today’s readings urge us to choose whom we will serve. What choice will we make?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

May 22, 2016 - Trinity C

Lectionary Readings (1 John 4:7-21 substituted as epistle reading)

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “All you need is love; love is all you need.” Those words that come from John really are a decent first draft of the essentials of Christian doctrine, they just happened to be written by John Lennon, not the author of today’s epistle from 1 John. There, the text proclaims that “God is love… if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” I know that it seems overly simplistic, but love really is all we need.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15, 2016 - Pentecost C


Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten us with thy celestial fire. Amen.
            Have you ever learned about the origin of something that had previously been unknown to you? Perhaps you learned that the cordless handheld vacuum was not invented to make household chores easier, but was made by NASA to extract samples from the moon’s surface. Or you learned that when Caesar used to conquer a people, he would announce his victory with a decree known as an euangelion, a word we today translate as “gospel.” And when we learn more about the origin of these things, they give us a deeper understanding of how they work and function. Pentecost is one of things that has a foundation that is often not known.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 8, 2016 - Easter 7C


In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            As Americans, freedom is in our cultural DNA. While freedom is something that most nations value, in the US we place a greater emphasis on it, with mottos such as “live free or die” and “give me liberty or give me death;” and the First Amendment focuses on the freedom of speech, religion, petition, assembly, and the press. But there are really two kinds of freedom, and when we confuse them, we miss the true import of freedom.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

May 5, 2016 - Ascension Day


In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Ascension Day is an oft-forgotten day in the Church. I think it’s because the Ascension is a rather difficult event to grasp. For one, it’s essentially a day on which we celebrate being left behind. If your family and friends were waiting at the airport to board the plane on a fantastic vacation, and they boarded the plane while you were in the bathroom and left you behind, I don’t suppose that you’d want to celebrate the occasion. And, in a sense, that’s what Ascension Day is about – Jesus ascending to some sort of paradise where there is no pain or suffering, and we’d very much like accompany him there, but we’ve been left behind.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 1, 2016 - Easter 6C

Lectionary Readings (John 14 option as gospel text)

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            What is peace? That’s a question that I asked on Facebook this week and I received a number of responses: quiet, being in nature, time with family, painting, music, reading, gardening, and, of course, ice cream. Peace is one of those words that we throw around without ever stopping to consider its meaning. I find it fascinating, and telling, that no one answered that peace is the cessation of hostility, nor did anyone respond with an understanding of peace that is rooted in possessions, prestige, or wealth. And yet, it seems that our lives are all built around the pursuit of material things, winning, and earning money. The things that we innately know are the most life-giving and important to us are the very things that we sacrifice to chase after the idols of money and materiality.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17, 2016 - Easter 4C


In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Wasn’t Easter a magnificent day at St. Luke’s? The azaleas were in full bloom, the music was outstanding, the church was full of people, and we baptized three young girls. Easter was magnificent. Then Easter Monday came; and it’s not that Easter Monday was a particularly bad day, but it wasn’t quite a grand as Easter. On Easter we shouted with gusto the victory cry of “alleluia!” and we talked about how God conquered sin, death, pain, and evil in Jesus’ Resurrection. But then on Easter Monday, when we opened the newspaper or got on Facebook, we were reminded that our world is still full of sin, death, pain, and evil.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seth Tinsley

Homily from Seth Tinsley's funeral
April 16, 2016
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-3; Psalm 42:1-7; Revelation 7:9-17; John 14:1-6

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus in the reading we just heard from John. But how can our hearts not be troubled? We gather this morning to liturgically mark the death of a great father, friend, son, husband, who died far too young. I know that my heart is troubled this morning, and I don’t think I’m the only one here who feels that way. As much as we may want it to be, faith is not an epidural to numb us from the pains of life. We’ve all heard the cliché that the way to move forward is to take things one day at a time, one step at a time. But how do we move forward with troubled hearts?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

April 10, 2016 - Easter 3C


In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            The Book of Common Prayer, drawing from Scripture, states that the mission of the Church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” In other words, the mission of the Church is reconciliation. Reconciliation is what the Easter season is all about – reconciling the dead to eternal life; reconciling sin to forgiveness; reconciling those who denied Jesus to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Reconciliation is about restoring things which have gone astray, about setting things rights. So you might say that doing the work of reconciliation is to do the work of justice, and that is what our readings today are all about.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

March 27, 2016 - Easter C


In the name of the Risen Lord, amen.
            As it is every Easter, my first word to you is “welcome.” There is something special about Easter morning – signs of new life surround us in the form of birds chirping and flowers blooming as we enter the church and who isn’t stirred up by singing “Jesus Christ is risen today”? It will be Opening Day for baseball soon, and so all is right with the world again after the cold and dark of winter. Part of what makes this such a wonderful day is each of you. If you were here for every single service of Holy Week, welcome to you. If you are here against your will, but are just trying to make mom and dad happy, welcome to you. If you are here as family and friends of the children who will baptized this morning, welcome to you. If this is your first time worshiping at St. Luke’s and are looking for a church home, know that you are always welcome. In the reading from Acts this morning, St. Peter says “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,” and I agree with that statement. Whatever your political affiliation, whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever doubts you have, welcome in the name of the Risen Lord. Whoever you are, you are welcome here today.

Friday, March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016 - 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.
            The well-known Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote about certain “texts of terror” within the Bible. She says that these texts “Pry our fingers away from our own ideas about who God should be and how God should act so that there are only two things left for us to do with our fear: use it to propel us toward the God who is, or let it sink us like a stone.” These texts of terror, such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the plague against the firstborn of Egypt, God’s command to King Saul to kill all of the Amalekites, and the slaughter of the innocents, are texts that challenge us. These texts remind us of our vulnerability, of the fact that we do not control our own fate, of the reality that we cannot control or fully understand God.  The Passion of Jesus Christ is certainly one of these texts of terror.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

March 24, 2016 - Maundy Thursday


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Tonight we enter the Triduum, the three holiest days in our liturgical year. It’s not that other days aren’t holy, but Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter provide the essence of the entire Christian story. Love, sacrifice, and redemption are the themes of the Christian life and those are the themes of the Triduum.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March 20, 2016 - Palm Sunday C


Let us pray – Jesus, our true and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah: grant us the faith to know you and to love you; that we may be found beside you on the way of the Cross, which is the path of glory. Amen.
            Today’s celebration of Palm Sunday may seem different from what St. Luke’s is accustomed to, and that is by design. I’ve long thought that this day is the most poorly constructed day in our liturgical calendar. Typically, Palm Sunday lasts for about 5 minutes, and then we transition into Passion Sunday for the remainder of the service. I think that transition happens too quickly and something is lost by only giving a cursory nod to the events of Palm Sunday.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March 13, 2016 - Lent 5C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Today’s Gospel text is like a masterpiece painting. It is full of symbols, and the more we look at it, the more we find. If you didn’t have time to understand the whole story of Jesus’ passion, these eight verses from John would give you the gist. If we had kept reading, the very next event recorded in John in the Palm Sunday procession, so this story about Jesus, Mary, and Judas is an overture to the story of Holy Week.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6, 2016 - Lent 4C


In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            With all due respect to Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would not be as sweet. Names matter. The passage from Luke that I just read often goes by the name “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Notice that that word, “prodigal,” is found nowhere in the passage itself; but, nevertheless, that is the name by which this story is known. And that name influences how we hear the parable and what we take from it. The name changes our perspective. What if we called it “The Parable of the Fatted Calf”? How about “The Parable of the Gullible Father”? Or perhaps, “The Parable of the Self-Righteous Older Brother”? Just by changing the name of the parable, which isn’t actually in the Bible, we can change the entire meaning of Jesus’ words.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

February 28, 2016 - Lent 3C


In the name of God, amen.
            God. We use that word all the time: sometimes in discussions about religion, sometimes in prayer, sometimes in vain. But how often do we stop and consider what we mean when we say “God”? What do you think of that word “God”? Is it provocative, troubling, overused, comforting? How has your view of God shifted through the years?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February 21, 2016 - Lent 2C


Be with us, O Lord, for if you are with us, nothing else matters; and if you are not with us, nothing else matters. Amen.
            FDR famously said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said that in his first inaugural address in 1933 at a time when the nation was in the depths of the Great Depression. Fear can be paralyzing, keeping us from moving forward. When we are gripped by fear we do things that we never do otherwise. When we are afraid of being caught, we will lie. When we are threatened, we will hurt others to protect ourselves. When we fear that there might not be enough, we hoard. When we fear death, we end up denying the vigor of life. Fear narrows our vision and calls out the worst in us. That’s probably the reason why so often in Scripture we hear the refrain “Do not be afraid.” As author Marilynne Robinson recently wrote, “Contemporary America is full of fear, and fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”  Today, the Psalmist puts it this way: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”