Sunday, December 29, 2019

December 29, 2019 - First Sunday of Christmas

In the name of the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.
            Through the Sundays of Advent, I preached about the centrality of the Incarnation in our faith and about how this belief is at the foundation of our Anglican theology. Now that we’ve arrived in the season of the Incarnation this claim of our faith is on full display. As we heard in this morning’s collect, “God has poured upon us the new light of the Incarnate Word.” This light that has been kindled in our world is to be our guiding light. Christmas is so much more than a day, it is the claim that God has come to us to be the Light of the world.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

December 25, 2019

In the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.
            Over the past month, we’ve been focusing on the Incarnation, the central tenet of Christianity that God became human in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. This belief is most clearly seen in this morning’s reading from John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But to say that Jesus is God incarnate can be a rather ambiguous claim. Yes, the whole point of the Incarnation is that God became specific and tangible in Jesus, but when we say that “God became man,” what do we really mean? After all, the word “God” is merely a linguistic symbol for that which is beyond our comprehension. So the question before us on the Feast of the Incarnation is what became incarnate in Jesus?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

December 24, 2019 - Christmas Eve

Eternal God, in the stillness of this night you sent your almighty Word to pierce the world’s darkness with the light of salvation: give to the earth the peace that we long for and fill our hearts with the joy of heaven through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
            We are Christmas people. Yes, I realize that all Christians celebrate Christmas, but it’s been said that Episcopalians are Christmas people. Through the season of Advent, I preached about the importance of the Incarnation in our Anglican tradition and tonight, the Feast of the Incarnation, is where we celebrate and glory in that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

December 15, 2019 - Advent 3A

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            This morning’s Collect is a fantastic one in our Prayer Book tradition, beginning “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” That prayer is answered in the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation is the foundational claim of our faith, that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God did come among us with the might of love in the flesh of Jesus. And this claim that God came among us is at the very heart of what and how we believe as Anglicans.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

December 8, 2019 - Advent 2A

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            The Psalmist proclaims, “May all the earth be filled with the Lord’s glory.” That is our prayer, our hope, and our focus – that all the earth be filled with God’s glory. Last Sunday, I began a sermon series on the Incarnation – the central tenet of Christianity that the God of Israel, the God who created all things, the God who is being itself took on flesh and came to us in Jesus of Nazareth. This radical belief is at the heart of our Anglican tradition and influences how and what we believe.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December 1, 2019 - Advent 1A

Lectionary Readings

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.
            What makes you, you? For the most part, every single one of us is identical. Two hands, two lungs, a central nervous system, dependence on food and water. One way of viewing us is that we’re all pretty much the same. And while there is a commonality among us, there is also a diversity that makes us unique. People are not interchangeable. I wouldn’t be okay if you exchanged my family for another one. So there is something that makes you, you.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

November 28, 2019 - Thanksgiving Day

You, eternal Trinity, are Table and Food and Waiter for us. You, eternal Father, are the Table that offers us food, the Lamb, your only-begotten Son. He is the most exquisite Food for us, both in his teaching, which nourishes us in your will, and in the sacraments that we receive in Holy Communion, which feeds and strengthens us while we are pilgrim travelers in this life. And the Holy Spirit is a Waiter for us, for he serves us this teaching by enlightening our mind’s eye with it and inspiring us to follow it. Amen.
            That lovely prayer comes from Catherine of Sienna in the 1300s. Thanksgiving is a day about a lot of things – sales, parades, football, and family. But primarily, Thanksgiving is about food. What exactly the first Thanksgiving was really like, it’s hard to separate legend from history. But we know it was a harvest festival in which the pilgrims gathered with Natives to give thanks to God, and still today, what is most essential to this day is a feast done in a spirit of gratitude.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

November 24, 2019 - Christ the King

God the Father, help us to hear the call of Christ the King and to follow in his service, whose kingdom has no end; for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, one glory. Amen.
            In Monroe, Ohio, neighbors banded together to file a formal complaint against a man in their development who, in the middle of September, had put up his Christmas lights. In San Antonio, Texas, a homeowners’ association forced a resident to take down the Christmas lights that were shining brightly on November 1. Yes, we’ve all noticed that retails stores seem to pivot to Christmas as soon as Halloween is over, and I understand that’s how commercialism works. They’re just trying to capitalize on holiday cheer, which might be of interest to an economist, but not as much to a theologian. Instead, what I’m intrigued by is what we might call the “Christmas creep.”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

November 3, 2019 - Proper 26C

Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest; nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine. Amen.
            Last month, we took the girls to the Renaissance Festival and had a really good time. I had never been that event before and didn’t quite know what to expect. It’s a 25-acre village that’s set up in Huntersville that mimics an English village in the 16th century. There’s an assortment of food and entertainment options including a blacksmith, jousting, and all sorts of shows. But this is a sermon, not an infomercial for the Renaissance Festival. What absolutely fascinated me as a preacher and someone who has an eye on the culture is how this event isn’t just something you attend, it’s something you participate in.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

November 2, 2019 - All Souls

O eternal Lord God, who holdest all souls in life: Give, we beseech thee, to thy whole Church in paradise and on earth thy light and thy peace; and grant that we, following the good examples of those who have served thee here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into thine unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
            Dearly beloved, we gather here in the name of our loving God to seek comfort and hope in the face of death. Last night, on All Saints, we remembered and celebrated the saints of God throughout the generations, and that is a good thing to do. The tone of All Saints is often one of festivity and victory, as it should be. But when the saints that we are thinking about lived not 500 years ago but maybe 50 years ago or 5 months ago, there is a much more nuanced set of feelings.

Friday, November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019 - All Saints

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy Name, O Jesus, be for ever blessed.” We gather today on the Feast of All Saints to give thanks for the blessed Communion of the Body of Christ that transcends time and space and for the holy ones of God who have inspired us in generations past. William Faulkner once wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” All Saints recognizes the power of that statement. The saints are not dead because once you are in Christ, death has been defeated and, as we know from the Eucharistic Prayer at a Burial, “life is changed, not ended.” And so the saints are still very much with us in providing companionship and witness.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

October 27, 2019 - Proper 25C

In the name of God ☩ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Trust in God and don’t be a jerk.” Isn’t that what the parable that Jesus tells about the Pharisee and tax collector says? While trusting in God and being nice to other people are both good life lessons, if that’s all we take away from this parable then Jesus is little more than a Middle-Eastern version of Aesop. Jesus’ teachings were radical and led to those around him wanting to kill him; and a fable with the moral of the story being “trust in God and be nice” isn’t radical and certainly isn’t a capital offense. The parables though are subversive and surprising stories about how God’s ways our not our ways, and the reversal of the tax collector being justified is such a surprising twist that we know this is more than a simple story about humility.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

October 20, 2019 - Feast of St. Luke and Proper 24C

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            On this blessed morning, we have before us one of those short stories by Jesus that we call parables. What makes the parables so compelling and powerful is that they are stories that begin on earth and take us into the Kingdom of Heaven. As such, a parable is not something that we take, analyze, and then learn a lesson from; instead, a parable is a gift that we receive and enter into. We don’t study a parable to transform its meaning for our modern lives, rather a parable transforms us. This morning I want to quickly give you the fairly standard reading of the parable and then get to two examples of how the parable has continued to be true throughout history.
            The parable of the persistent widow, or the unjust judge, both titles work, is a parable using the literary device called “how much more.” Many times in Luke’s writing, he uses this tool to show how even a flawed person can do good things, reminding us that the good God will always do good for us. A good judge is one who compassionately and fairly applies the law. Luke’s judge is not that sort of judge; he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t respect any person. So when this widow, someone without many legal rights, comes to him to plead her case, he really couldn’t care less about her. So this judge dismisses her and tells her to “get lost.”
            Now, in this parable, we don’t know what the widow’s case is about. She might be in the right or she might be in the wrong. But that’s not what matters. She is persistent and scrappy and decides that she’s going to get justice by annoying this judge until he hears her case. Well, it works. This unjust judge might not fear God or respect people, but he doesn’t like being bothered, so he makes the problem go away by listening to this widow. And if this unjust judge is willing to grant justice because he doesn’t want to be bothered, then how much more will our very good and very just and very loving God grant us justice? It’s a parable of grace because God doesn’t make us argue our faith or prove our worth. It doesn’t matter if we are good people or bad people, and the reality is that we are all both. But we are found righteous not because of the merits of our case, but because of the mercy of God who forgives us and grants us justice in Jesus Christ.
            This isn’t a parable about providing a formula for prayer. The point of the parable is not “If you annoy God with incessant prayers, like this judge, God will eventually get tired of hearing from you and give you what you ask for.” Parables aren’t about us, they always point us to the grace of God. So it would be a very incomplete reading of this parable to come away and think that the point is that we just need to be persistent in prayer. Instead, the parable points to the fact that we can trust in God to grant justice; and, indeed, this is exactly what God does on the Cross. Our sins are not forgiven because we are persistently faithful, but rather because God is persistently and relentlessly loving. This parable wants us to put our faith, trust, obedience, and hope in the God who persistently grants justice. And because we know that God is always with us and for us, we then have a firm foundation to stand upon when we demand justice in our own day.
            There are two stories about this sort of persistence rooted in faith in a persistent God that I want to consider as we celebrate our patron saint, Luke, and this parish that bears his name. The first is related to this afternoon’s debut of our Becoming Beloved Community video and panel discussion. Black faith is something that is certainly about persistence rooted in the persistence of God. About a month ago I realized that I, unintentionally, had a rather narrow focus when it came to what, or rather, who, I was reading. So far this year, I’ve read 54 books and when I went through my list to see how many of the authors were white males, it found that only seven were written by women and four were written by non-whites. If it’s true that you are what you eat, then it’s also probably true that you think what you read. The next several books that I will be reading will be authored by black theologians.
I’d commend such an audit to all of you. Think about what you are engaging with. Who is writing the books you read? Who is making the music that you listen to? Who is producing and acting in the shows and movies that you watch? Who are the politicians that you find yourself supporting? If the people that you read, listen to, and follow are all people that look exactly like us, then I’d suggest that we need to widen our vision. Scripture tells us that humanity is created in the image of God, but if we’re only looking at one corner of that image, then we’re missing out on a lot. And I’m not saying that white men should be ignored, that would essentially end my career, but I am saying that I have found great richness in paying attention to a greater diversity of voices.
One of those voices has been an Episcopal priest and scholar, Kelly Brown Douglas. She splits her time between being the Dean for Episcopal Studies at Union Seminary in New York and being the Canon Theologian at the National Cathedral in Washington. In a book called Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, she writes about the black faith, the way that black people experienced Christianity. She says that black faith is rooted in the understanding that God is the God of freedom. By that, she means that God is ultimately free and can do whatever God chooses to do, and that God is most fully expressed in the acts of liberation and freedom.
This faith insists that God works for justice, the very same trust that the parable points us towards. With this trust in God’s justice, black faith is grounded in the hope that God’s got the whole world in his hands. So even when we are surrounded by pain and brokenness, there is an abiding trust in God to make all things right. And because of this, black faith is about resistance to anything that denies freedom. Since God is about freedom, freedom is our calling and our cause.
In the parable, the judge says “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out.” That’s really not the most accurate translation – the term the judge uses comes from the sport of boxing, so a more linguistically faithful translation would be “I will grant her justice, so that she doesn’t keep giving me a black eye.” This is what black faith is about. With hope and trust in God to grant justice and freedom as the foundation, black faith then expects, demands, and works for justice in this world. Because to demand justice is to worship the God of justice. With this understanding of black faith as articulated by Brown Douglas, I have come to more deeply understand the persistence demonstrated by people who have suffered so much discrimination. The Beloved Community video and panel discussion this afternoon is an expression of this hope and trust in God to make all things right and gives us all an example of what a persistent faith in a persistent God is all about.
Another place where the truth of this parable can be seen in our own history as a parish. St. Luke’s was established in 1753 by an act of British Parliament, but it wasn’t until 75 years later, in 1828, that our first, and current, church building was constructed. This very church in which we are sitting is a testament to a persistent faith in a persistent God. When St. Luke’s was established, it was really more about establishing colonial boundaries than it was about setting up a congregation. And when you read the letters from the second half the 1700s, you read about the struggles of establishing a congregation in Salisbury, the western frontier at the time. And the reason why we have this great legacy of faith at St. Luke’s is because of a group of scrappy women who remind me of the widow from the parable.
When the first Bishop of North Carolina, John Ravenscroft, came to Salisbury on September 7, 1823, he Confirmed thirteen people, all women, who in the face of adversity and struggles for funding, nevertheless persisted and got this church built. They reestablished the heart of St. Luke’s as a worshipping congregation, and because of their persistent faith in a persistent God, we are here today.
My brothers and sisters, as we celebrate this parish today for the Feast of St. Luke, we do so with a reminder in Jesus’ parable that God is fiercely persistent and reliable when it comes to granting justice. And this trust in God has been seen throughout history in the form of a persistent faith in a persistent God. Because of the history of St. Philip’s congregation in Salisbury, we are blessed to have a more diverse congregation than we typically would have. When St. Philip’s, a historically African-American Episcopal congregation, was closed in 1970 and absorbed into St. Luke’s, those members brought with them a faith that is rooted in God’s desire for freedom, and we have all benefited from having that aspect of the faith lifted up in our community. We see this persistent hope in the 75-year struggle through obstacles to establish this parish not only as a geographic boundary, but as a beacon of abundant grace, intentional worship, and beloved community in Salisbury.
And so now, it’s our turn. We are the St. Luke’s of 2019. As Jesus’ parable shows us, we are grounded in the grace of God who persistently loves us. We have the examples of black faith and faithful women in our history to inspire us in this faith. We have a patron saint, Luke the physician, who knew something about the power of God to heal wounds and bring reconciliation even in the midst of illness and disease. This is our legacy – a persistent faith in a persistent God.
We are blessed with the opportunity to participate in this legacy. And we can do this by taking part in these conversations about race and the Beloved Community, by giving generously in our stewardship drive to make sure that St. Luke’s persists and thrives as a parish, by finding our peace not in making a strong case for ourselves but in trusting that God has already declared us to be righteous. The question that our patron saint asked 2,000 years ago as he recorded the Gospel is still one for us to wrestle with today: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Sunday, October 6, 2019

October 6, 2019 - Proper 22C

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Triune God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            St. Luke’s is truly an amazing place. I’ve been in a lot of churches, as I’m sure you have, and St. Luke’s is right up there in terms of architectural beauty: the wood, the organ, the stained glass are all stunningly beautiful. Our Prayer Book tradition gives us intentional worship that roots us both in the historic faith and opens us to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our modern world. As the spiritual writer Henry Nouwen notes, a church’s greatest asset is always community, and we are blessed to have an amazing community full of wonderful people. Truly, it is an honor and privilege to serve a congregation that is so healthy, dedicated, vibrant, and full of great people. St. Luke’s is also home to vibrant ministries – we have strong programs for children and youth, an outstanding music program, we offer Morning and Evening Prayer throughout the week, we have a group for seniors and for young families. We are active in Meals on Wheels, at Rowan Helping Ministries, and we are leading Salisbury in conversations about the racial divide in this city through our work around Becoming the Beloved Community. Indeed, St. Luke’s is a place to come and see the difference that Christ makes.
            And to top it all off – we’re growing. I was recently talking with some people who attend other churches in our community and they were lamenting that their attendance is slipping. But that’s not the case here, as we focus on abundant grace, beloved community, and intentional worship, people are noticing. We’re adding new members. Current members are attending more frequently. And we’re growing not only in number, but also in spiritual depth. Every day, I pray for the growth of this parish, not at all for selfish reasons, but because the Holy Spirit is moving through this congregation and I want more and more people to come and see and experience the life-changing and world-transforming love of God.
            Indeed, we have received such a gift. The most important gift is, as St. Paul puts it in 2 Timothy, that “God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We have been lovingly created, redeemed, and invited to participate in this grace of God. This faith has come to us on down the line through faithful generations past and we are stewards of this faith.
            As St. Paul writes to Timothy, he mentions that the faith first lived in Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice. One of the things that I love about historic churches, such as ours, are the plaques that are everywhere. Those names remind us that it was the faithful work of previous generations that brought us to this moment. It reminds us that faith is always received. Someone had to teach us the faith. Often, it is a mother or grandmother, but sometimes it’s a father or an aunt, a campus minister or a priest, a coworker or an author. Who is your Lois or Eunice? Who taught you the faith? Say a prayer of thanksgiving for that person.
             And while we have received a great legacy of faith from these brothers and sisters in Christ who lived in ages past, this legacy is also one that we will join. There will be a day when St. Luke’s is filled with people that none of us have never seen, who are yet to be born. And so while we look back into history with gratitude for what has been received from God through those faithful generations past, we also look to the future that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church into. We are stewards not only of the past, but also of the future. These blessings that we have received are not to be used up, but rather passed along.
            As St. Paul counsels Timothy, he tells him “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” When it comes to stewardship, that is really good advice. When it comes to money, most of us are afraid. Do I have enough? Will I have enough to retire when I want to? Once I’ve retired, will I have enough to travel, enough to last my whole life, enough to pass down to my family? Will I ever have enough to pay off these student loans or credit card debt? Will I have enough to go to college? And if I give any of my money away, will that really put me in danger of not having enough?
            When it comes to money, there is no such thing as “enough.” We all know that expenses always rise to meet income. And so our relationship to money is often one of fear. As St. Paul put in another of his letters, “For freedom Christ has set us free!” We think that we are in control of our money, that’s why we invest it, we manage it, we budget it. But more often than not, our money is actually in control of us because our relationship to money is one of fear and scarcity. Christ did not die for us to be slaves to anything, money included. If you want to know whether or not you control your money or your money controls you, give it away. And not just a little bit. When that offering plate goes by, it’s not like the tip jar at a coffee bar. It’s not for putting in a token amount. It’s for putting enough in to make it clear that you don’t need that money and that money isn’t going to control you. Now that takes practice and it takes prayer, but generosity is a spiritual discipline, and the more we practice it, the more our relationship with money will be transformed from one of fear to one of gratitude.
            Since it isn’t a spirit of cowardice that we have been given, St. Paul says that it’s one of power, love, and self-disciple – all things to bear in mind as we’re talking about stewardship and are preparing to make our financial pledges for 2020. Power is about potentiality. In physics, power is about the ability to act or influence movement. This is what stewardship does – by giving generously and significantly, we can enable the further growth of this parish. I can only imagine what amazing things God is going to continue doing through this parish and I pray that when given those opportunities that we will be able to respond.
            Next in the list is the spirit of love. Love, at its core, is always oriented towards the other. Love is never selfish, it is self-giving. When you make a pledge to the church, it’s an act of love because, just like God’s action towards us in Christ, it is about giving. And while all contributions are valued, pledges really are encouraged. First and foremost, a pledge is helpful in the spiritual disciple of generosity because it’s about planning and intentionality. Pledges also help us to plan for growth. If the Spirit moves you to increase your giving over last year but we don’t know about that increase, we can’t plan to grow with it. A pledge isn’t a contract, you can always change how much you plan to give based on what happens in life. There’s absolutely no shame in that. If you’ve never filled out a pledge card, please, prayerfully consider doing it this year so that we can be faithful stewards of your giving.
            And then in St. Paul’s list, he says that we are given a spirit of self-discipline. When it comes to stewardship, it really does take self-discipline. Part of the reason why I tend to be so passionate about stewardship is because it’s not fundraising, it’s a part of the salvation of God. I’ve talked to some clergy who really don’t like preaching about stewardship because they feel like they’re begging for their salary. Let’s put that to rest – this isn’t about my paycheck, and to be honest, it isn’t even really about the church’s budget, as important as that is to the mission of this congregation. At its core, stewardship is about your salvation. As I’ve already said, when you give money away, you are liberated from the control it has over you. But the self-discipline that is required to give away 10%, or even 5%, of your income guides our priorities. It reminds us that materialism is not the be-all end-all. It reminds us that we find love, fulfillment, joy, and purpose not in things, but in relationships. When we invest in relationships through pledging, we are not only supporting this church, but we are also being transformed to live a more holy life.
            As this section of the letter draws to a close, St. Paul exhorts us to “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” The theme for our stewardship campaign this fall is a familiar line: The Gifts of God for the People of God. We hear that each week as we gather as a beloved community for intentional worship to receive abundant grace. When we hear that, we usually think about the bread and wine of the Eucharist, of the Body of Christ of which we are made members and the Blood of Christ which shows God’s redeeming love for us. Those are good things to think about. But the gifts of God are numerous and unlimited. God’s gifts include the mission of this church, the community that gathers here each week, and the ways that we are growing as a parish. And these gifts are intended not only for us, but for all the people of God. We receive these gifts in order to share them. We receive and give, and we give and receive. This is the holy rhythm of generosity.
            Each of you is a gift of God. The life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus is a gift of God. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us and blows through this church is a gift of God. The legacy of St. Luke’s is a gift of God. And these gifts are for the people of God. As stewards of these gifts, we give thanks for what has brought us to this moment and we respond in power, love, and self-discipline to share these gifts with generations yet to come. The gift of a growing church has been given to us, I pray that the Holy Spirit will make us faithful stewards of this gift for all people. As you consider your pledge for 2020, bear in mind St. Paul’s words not as a command to donate money, but rather as the invitation that they are to enter into the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus: Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

September 29, 2019 - Proper 21C

In the name of the God who is, and was, and is to come Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            There’s a tension in the Christian faith between what God has done for us, which is everything, and what our response ought to be. You see, when we say that God’s grace is the only thing that matters and that none of the burden of salvation is on us, sometimes we can slip into complacency. But if we overcorrect by claiming that our actions are what bring about our righteousness or the Kingdom of God, well, then we end up diminishing the finality, completeness, and grandeur of what God has done for us in Christ. The trick, as it almost always is, is to let the tension remain instead of trying to resolve it. Think of a piece of string between two points, without tension, there is nothing, but with enough tension between them, beautiful music can be made. Yes, faith rests solely on the grace of God, but like a tree with the roots of this grace in our lives there is an expectation of fruitfulness in word and deed.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

September 22, 2019 - Proper 20C

O God of healing grace, cure our sin-sick souls and make us whole that we might serve the world in your most holy name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” The down-trodden prophet Jeremiah asks that question of lament. This past Holy Saturday, in the homily I mentioned that we often overlook lament as a type of prayer. The Prayer Book lists adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition as the different types of prayer, but, in an error of omission, they forgot lament.
A prayer of lament is about expressing a sense of doubt, pain, grief, despair, hopelessness, or Godforsakenness. It is a prayer of brutal honesty and truth-telling with, or, even, against God. These laments are offered because there is a faithful assumption that when we boldly tell the truth that God will hear us. So often we avoid lament though – we don’t want to burden others with our problems, we want to appear strong and put together, we don’t want to admit our pain even to ourselves because we know that if we name it, we might fall apart. But as we will see through our faith and this Scripture, it is through naming the truth of brokenness that we receive the healing balm of God’s love.
Jeremiah is sometimes called “the weeping prophet,” because much of book that bears his name is a lament. Jeremiah’s ministry occurred between the years 625 and 585 BC, which was an incredibly turbulent time in Israel’s history. The Assyrian Empire had occupied the nation, but its power was fading. So King Josiah was able to restore the religious life of Israel and made restorations to the Temple. But Josiah died in a battle and was replaced with King Jehoiakim who abandoned all of these reforms and Israel was plunged into a time of idolatry, of ignoring widows and orphans, of making political alliances with idolatrous nations, of abusing the resources of the earth for quick economic gain, of abandoning the covenant with God. The end result of all of this is that by 587 BC, the Babylonian Empire would invade and crush Israel. Indeed, there was much to lament over.
The reason why we still read Scripture that is 2,500 years old is because there really isn’t much new under the sun. There is much to lament in our world right now – whether it was the 9/11 remembrances earlier this month, bullying in schools, the destruction in the Bahamas, a cancer diagnosis, an opioid epidemic, the plague of gun violence in our nation, the waning of church attendance across the country, or the impending environmental doom. Now I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the positive things in our lives because there are many things to be thankful for. But we’ve forgotten how to lament. Lament is not the same thing as complaining, or being hopeless, or blaming others for our situation. Lament is truth-telling, it is about acknowledging the fact that we are broken, that there is injustice and we do not possess the means of healing in ourselves.
Lament is a necessary and healthy part of faith because it prepares us to receive the restoring and healing grace of God. There’s a particular phrase in Christianity that I really don’t understand, even though I hear people use it all the time. When someone is struggling with something, you’ll often hear them say “I’ve turned it over to God.” I have no idea what that means. Maybe other people have more discipline than I do, but I can’t control what I think about. If I’m worried about something, I don’t have the ability to just say “That’s God’s problem now, so I’m not going to worry about it.” Again, if you’ve got the willpower to do that, God bless you. But for those of us who still struggle, prayers of lament might be the medicine that we need.
Lament involves us not pretending that the problem is gone because we’ve told God to take care of it, but lament is about continuing to name the fact that things are broken. Lament insists on God’s justice. Lament is about anticipating that God will heal us. And lament is about taking an active role in this salvation – now we might not actually be doing much to cause the healing, but by continuing to acknowledge the pain instead of pretending that everything is okay, we keep ourselves open to God’s gracious healing. Without lament, we might either forget injustices or abandon hope. The steady drumbeat of lament is crucial to our faith and prepares us to receive God’s healing balm.
I truly don’t know why it is this way, but healing comes through pain. The central message of Christianity is that God loved us so much as to become vulnerable and come among us as one of us, enduring the shame and pain of rejection and Crucifixion and then rose from the dead to open to us the way of everlasting life. Pain is central to the story of faith. So any version of Christianity that purports to be about receiving blessings, happiness, or living your best life now doesn’t understand the first thing about Jesus. Acknowledging pain isn’t being pessimistic, it’s being real. Lament helps us in receiving that healing balm of God.
But what is the balm of Gilead? Gilead is a region just across the Jordan River, it’s in modern-day Jordan. It was a place where medicinal herbs were grown and there was some sort of ointment that was made there that had healing properties. But what is interesting in Jeremiah’s question of lament is that he knows that he cannot look towards Jerusalem for this healing. Nor does he ask the religious or political leaders for their assistance. Some problems just can’t be solved by the people who created and are perpetuating the problems. And so Jeremiah turns his hope away from the authority figures. It’s a reminder to us that we might be looking for salvation in the wrong places. Jeremiah isn’t trying to find someone to make the problems disappear, he just wants a balm to soothe the pain and start the healing process.
The thing about a balm is that it doesn’t erase our wounds, rather it heals our pains and promotes healing. Redemption and healing will come from the balm of Gilead, but the scars will remain. The healing balm of God’s grace will not erase the fact that we have reasons to lament, but it does promote healing. You all have heard me quote the famous line from Julian of Norwich before – she writes that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” At the core of my faith and hope is that sense of trust in God’s love to be a balm that will make all things well.
But in a conversation with one of you about that line, I clarified that even though all will be well, it doesn’t mean that all will be easy. Central to Julian’s writing is an abiding trust and hope that is rooted in the Passion of Jesus. Throughout her writing, Julain notes that healing comes despite and through pain. At one point she writes, “God wants us to know that he keeps us equally in joy and in sorrow, and loves us as much in sorrow and joy.” It’s not that God loves us when things are going well and ignores us when things are going poorly, but God is always with us. And then she writes that “The love that made Jesus suffer his Passion so far surpasses all his pain as heaven is above earth, for his suffering was a deed performed at one time through the working of his love, but love was without beginning, and is, and ever shall be without end.”
The thing about love is that it doesn’t always fix everything, it doesn’t take away pain, it doesn’t erase wrongs, but love promotes healing and transforms despair into hope. Of the things that Julian heard Jesus say to her in her visions was that he willingly and joyfully endured the pains of the Cross and would have suffered more gladly had it been necessary. Only love can do that. And this is what makes Jesus our great physician and what makes lament effective. The person who hears our lament is none other than Jesus Christ who suffered on the Cross out of love for us all. As we see in the Cross, his love is limitless, and while not all pain can be avoided, all pain can be transformed. But it takes bold and honest lament to open ourselves to the power of love to heal us.
We all need the balm of God’s love in our lives and in our world. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of the power of this healing balm of God’s love is found in the African-American spiritual “There is a balm in Gilead.” You’ll notice that Jeremiah asks a question: “Is there a balm in Gilead?” and this hymn proclaims that, indeed, there is a balm in Gilead. The hymn dates back to a song sung by enslaved Africans in this country. There were under no illusion that slavery would end overnight or that the whips would stop cracking at their backs. But they had such tremendous faith in the power of God’s love to make all things well that they were able to sing, in the face of pain and persecution, that there is a balm in Gilead. They knew more about the power of the healing balm of Jesus than I probably ever will. We also see this spirit of hope that comes through lament in what is sometimes called the “Black National Anthem,” the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It includes the inspiring line, “Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died… we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.” The witness of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have endured so much shows us the power of lament to name injustice while anticipating God’s redemption, and that ability to lament with hope is what sustained a people who endured so much pain.
It is with their example in mind that I want to say something about the process of lament that we’ve been undertaking at St. Luke’s over the past year. We haven’t called it lament, but a lot of the work that we’ve been doing around Becoming the Beloved Community is lamenting. We’ve been naming the sin of racism and anticipating that God will transform our hearts and heal our sin-sick souls as we seek reconciliation. The Beloved Community framework that was given to us by Presiding Bishop Curry’s office has several components to it, and the place that we’ve begun is a phase called “telling the truth.” This truth-telling is where lament begins.
Over the next several months, these laments will be voiced. On October 20, we’re going to premier an incredibly powerful video series that we produced which captures the voices of five African-Americans, three of whom are members of this congregation, telling the truth about their experiences of growing up in Salisbury in the Jim Crow era. I’ve watched a first draft of the video and I’ll tell you that it really is lament – there were moments when I was on the verge of tears to hear the pain that people I love experienced, there were moments when I was angered that such injustices were tolerated, and there were moments of hope where I saw the balm of Gilead healing wounds and doing the work of reconciliation.
Then on November 8, 9, and 10 we’re going to have two national leaders, Catherine Meeks and Will Willimon, at St. Luke’s to help us in lamenting the role the racism has played in our society. And on January 19, the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend, we’re going to have a presentation by a historian that we’ve commissioned to explore this parish’s history as it relates to slavery and race. In all of these events, truths will be told. Some of these truths will be inconvenient, some will be uncomfortable, and some will be disturbing.
A crucial part of truth-telling is truth-hearing. I ask you, starting today, to start praying for the Holy Spirit to prepare our hearts to hear these truths as the laments that they are. Some of the truths you hear you might not agree with – and that’s okay. Someone else’s experience of truth doesn’t have to be your experience of truth, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s their lament and we need to be prepared to hear those laments. Many of the Psalms are psalms of lament, so in preparation for these events, you might start reading through the book of Psalms and see the power of honestly naming what is broken as a means of preparing those wounds for the healing balm of God.
This work of Becoming the Beloved Community begins with telling the truth and lament because there are wounds that are still festering, that are not yet healed. This injury cannot be ignored, but has to be named with the expectation that God’s love can make all things well. We lament as a commitment to the process of reconciliation and healing. Never underestimate the importance and power of lament, of naming what is broken, because with God as our healer, indeed, “there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

Sunday, September 15, 2019

September 15, 2019 - Proper 19C

In the name of the God who finds the lost. Amen.
            “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” In our modern context, it might seem like the opposite of that is true. Many people find faith to be antiquated superstitions and younger generations aren’t walking away from religion as much as they’re not even engaging with it in the first place. Atheism is no longer a concept, it is the fastest-growing religion in America. So for much of society, they look at the church and they say “How foolish and silly that all is.”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

September 8, 2019 - Proper 18C

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Melt us, mold us, use us, fill us. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Amen.
            Nearly every Sunday, the foundation of the sermon is one of the passages of Scripture that is read. On some occasions, it might be a prayer, hymn, or part of the liturgy that the sermon is based upon. But today I’m going to preach about something that I never, ever thought that I’d preach a sermon about. Today’s sermon is about the bulletin.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

September 1, 2019 - Proper 17C

Loving Father and Creator of all that is, by the grace of your Spirit give us humble hearts that we might be exalted to the Kingdom of your Son. Amen.
            Over the past five Sundays, the readings and sermons have pointed us towards the Kingdom of God. The refrain of this sermon series has been that the Kingdom of God is not a place, rather it is a reality, an event. Furthermore, the Kingdom is not something that we enter only after death; instead, the Kingdom is a present reality and a future promise. The Kingdom of God is what was inaugurated through the Crucifixion and Resurrection of God the Son, the Kingdom happens in the world that was purposefully and lovingly created by God the Father, and it is continually unfolding by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

August 25, 2019 - Proper 16C

O God, grant us by the gift of your Holy Spirit to worship you with our whole lives in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            If you were to ask people what it means to be a Christian, you’d probably have a lot of people who respond with some sort of comment about “worshipping God.” And, indeed, worship is central to what it means to be a follower of Christ. But what is worship?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August 18, 2019 - Proper 15C

Gracious and loving Father, we thank you that by water and the Spirit you have made us a new family in Christ. Amen.
            I’ve never understood those who insist on maintaining Biblical family values. Have they ever read the Bible? Jesus said, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” This isn’t exactly the cuddly depiction of Jesus that we so often make him out to be.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

August 11, 2019 - Proper 14C

O God, help us to treasure the gift of your Kingdom in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Over the past couple of Sundays, our Gospel texts have been Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. One of the refrains that I’ve been repeating is that the Kingdom is not a place, it is a reality in which the love of God rules our lives. And because the Kingdom is an event and not a place, it means that the Kingdom can and does intersect with every aspect of our lives. With Jesus’ teaching this morning in mind, we see that the Kingdom transforms our priorities.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

August 4, 2019 - Proper 13C

O God, teach how to be rich towards you in all things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Last Sunday, with the Lord’s Prayer as the Scriptural foundation, we considered the radicality and challenge of praying “thy Kingdom come.” For the next several Sundays, the Gospel texts will all have stories of Jesus speaking about the Kingdom through parables that show us what living in the Kingdom of God is all about.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

July 28, 2019 - Proper 12C

O God, forgive the sins of the preacher, for they are many; that people will hear only of your grace in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “Your kingdom come.” We pray those words perhaps more than any others. Weddings, funerals, hospital visits, public liturgies, and individual devotions all have the Lord’s Prayer at the center, and at the heart of that prayer is the petition “thy kingdom come.” It’s a rather simple prayer in that it’s only three words – your kingdom come – but it’s an incredibly subversive, comforting, and challenging prayer. To pray those three words with the fullness of our soul is the work of a lifetime.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

July 21, 2019 - Proper 11C

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Earlier this month, while on vacation in Atlanta we went to watch a Marlins’ baseball game. Now, I’m a huge baseball fan, and so though this was the first Major League game that our children had been to, they’ve seen baseball on television at home plenty of times. After a few innings, Ellie mentioned how neat it was to be able to see the entire field of play, not just one little part of it that the television camera captures. And she’s right, part of the beauty of going to a baseball game is that you can watch the fielders position themselves prior to the pitch, you can look to see which fan caught the foul ball, and you can watch both the runner rounding first and the outfielder preparing to throw the ball to second. When you’re at the baseball game, you can see the entire landscape of the game and not just one slice of it as you would on tv; and this vantage point allows us to see connections and appreciate the beauty of the game in a fuller way.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

July 14, 2019 - Proper 10C

O Merciful One, teach us what it means to see mercy in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet that “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” While that logic makes sense on one level, it also completely underestimates the power of language. Names matter; and we run into that when we consider the parable in today’s Gospel passage from Luke.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

June 30, 2019 - Proper 8C

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            This morning, I want to present the other side of the coin. Last Sunday, we heard St. Paul say in Galatians that “We are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” I used that verse to offer a reflection on God’s amazing grace and said that the point of the Gospel is not to get people to accept Jesus, rather it is to get people to trust that Jesus has already accepted them. This means that faith isn’t about what we have to do because we don’t have to do anything – instead of earning our salvation, we are to enjoy it. And all of that is absolutely true; I’d stake my life on it.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

June 23, 2019 - Proper 7C

O Lord, forgive the sins of the preacher, for they are many; that people will hear only of your love and grace in these words. Amen.
            We’ve finally arrived at summer. I realize that school has been out for weeks and that the first sunburns of the season have already healed up, but it’s finally liturgical summer. This year, Easter was fairly late, so that pushed back the dates of Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, and so we have now finally, in late June, arrived at what is sometimes called “Ordinary Time” or “the Season after Pentecost.”

Sunday, June 16, 2019

June 16, 2019 - Trinity Sunday

In the name of God the Holy Trinity Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, one of the Principal Feasts of the Church year. It’s a fairly unique feast day in that its basis is not a Biblical narrative or a specific person, but rather a doctrine of the faith. Today, our focus is on the nature and essence of God, which is, admittedly, a rather lofty topic. It is the revelation that God is Trinity that makes Christianity unique. When it comes to interfaith dialogue, we can find a lot of common ground. But the Trinity really distinguishes our beliefs from that of other traditions. This is because the doctrine of the Trinity goes right to the core of belief, as everything that we believe is rooted in God, and the Trinity is fundamentally who God is.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

June 9, 2019 - Pentecost

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and enlighten us with thy celestial fire. Amen.
            There are many ways to think about the Holy Spirit, whose gifting to the Church we remember and celebrate on Pentecost. The Catechism tells us that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. So the first thing to grasp is that the Holy Spirit is God. And there are many other names for the Spirit, all of which tell us something about what it is. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is described as the Advocate, telling us that it is God’s work of interceding on our behalf, sort of like a defense attorney. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is called the Holy Comforter, reminding us that God’s presence with us is one of peace and support. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is described in terms of natural elements, such as wind and fire, both of which remind us of the Spirit’s power and ability to come and go throughout the world. And sometimes the Holy Spirit is described as breath because all life and vitality emanate from God.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019 - Easter 7C

Lectionary Readings

Grant, O Lord, that in the Holy Eucharist we might behold what we are and become what we receive. Amen.
            This sermon, unlike the last four that I preached, is not a part of my doctoral thesis project. However, the topic will still be the Eucharist. This is the encore that you didn’t necessarily ask for, but nevertheless, is being given. First of all, I want to thank you all for your attention to those four sermons and for filling out the response sheets. I took last week as vacation and worked on writing the chapter of my thesis about those sermons and your input was incredibly insightful and helpful in doing that work. I did get everything done that I had hoped to last week and now just have one more chapter to write. The reason why I want to continue to consider the Eucharist though is that you all raised some really good points and questions in the surveys that I’d like to respond to in order to round out that sermon series.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

May 30, 2019 - Ascension

In the name of the Risen Lord Amen.
One of the refrains throughout the Old Testament is that the culmination of Creation will be when the glory of God fills the earth. The prophet Habakkuk says that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” And throughout the Psalms and other writings, that theme is picked up. We heard it in the passage from Ephesians tonight, that Christ fills “all in all.”

Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019 - Easter 5C

Grant us, O Lord, in the Eucharist to remember what we are and become what we receive. Amen.
            Have you ever walked into the kitchen only to forget why you were there? Or maybe you’ve started an email and then forgotten what you needed to say. Perhaps you’ve forgotten something more important – someone’s name, a family member’s birthday, a meeting that you were supposed to attend. We all know what it is to forget things. One of the reasons why the Church celebrates the Eucharist with such intentionality and so often is because it reminds us of some very important things.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

May 12, 2019 - Easter 4C

Grant us, Lord, always to sit at your table and dwell in your house for ever. Amen.
            Think for a moment about the best meal that you’ve ever had. Maybe it was a home-cooked specialty made by your grandmother or perhaps it was at a high-end steak house. Think back to what made that meal so special. The food was probably good, the atmosphere was likely nice, but I bet that with more certainty than telling me what food you ordered or what music was playing in the background, you can tell me who you were with. What makes a meal sacred is the people gathered around the table with you. I’ve had some really lousy food, but the meal ended up being a good experience because I was surrounded by loved ones. This truth is what makes the Holy Eucharist such a special meal, because in it we are gathered with the dearest of people.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019 - Easter 3C

O Lord, give us this day our daily bread. Amen.
            Meals are central to what it means to be human. Of course, all animals eat, but only us humans make a meal out of getting the necessary nutrients into our bodies. And there’s nothing quite like a meal’s ability to serve as the foundation for so many different occasions. Need to close the deal with a client? Take them to a nice restaurant. Want to celebrate a romantic relationship? Open a bottle of wine and have a nice meal. Celebrating a wedding? Make sure you have a good caterer to provide for a celebratory meal. Have a friend who is mourning the loss of a loved one? Take them a casserole. Birthday parties, farewell receptions, job promotions – sharing a meal is at the center of how we mark these occasions.