Sunday, December 27, 2020

December 27, 2020 - The First Sunday after Christmas

Lectionary Readings

Alleluia. Unto us a child is born: O come, let us adore him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Merry Christmas! I pray that you all are doing well given the craziness of our world right now. On this First Sunday after Christmas, as we are every year, we are presented with the first 18 verses of John. You might know that in The Episcopal Church, we follow what is called the Revised Common Lectionary – a three-year cycle of readings that is shared among most every denomination. The idea behind such an ecumenical lectionary is that whether you worship at First Presbyterian, First Methodist, Sacred Heart, or St. John’s Lutheran, Christians will all hear the same Scripture readings. Though the Spirit has not yet healed all of the fractures in the Body of Christ, at least sharing the same readings is a step towards unity.

            Also, for preachers, it’s incredibly helpful to have resources that assume everyone is preaching from the same Biblical texts each week – so there are blogs, podcasts, and commentaries all arranged to follow the lectionary. Now, I mention all of this because today is an exception to the rule. Today, others are hearing a reading from Luke 2, about the presentation of Jesus and Mary in the Temple forty days after Jesus’ birth. This is the passage where Simeon and Anna sing praises about the Christ-child. It’s a lovely text and certainly fits within the season of Christmas. And we do read that passage every year on February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation, falling 40 days after Christmas Day. Instead of that passage from Luke 2 being read, we heard the opening of John.

            The Episcopal Church breaks from the lectionary on the First Sunday after Christmas to ensure that this magisterial and majestic text is read at least one Sunday every year. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that distinguishes our Anglican heritage, theology, and practice is our focus on the Incarnation. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” That truth is the cornerstone for our tradition – and so we deviate from the lectionary to have this seminal passage included in every Christmas season.

            John’s prologue, as it is often called, is so deep and rich that if I preach sermons for the next 40 Christmas seasons, I’d never run out of new things to say about it. This year, I want to focus on what it means to be told that God became flesh. This is such a central belief of our faith that it’s right there at the very heart of the Creed that we say each week: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

            That phrase “was made man” is so absolutely powerful and is worthy of our deeper reflection. If you attended any of our outdoor Eucharists this fall, you know that we used a slightly different translation of the Nicene Creed that has been approved for usage and may likely be included in the next version of the Book of Common Prayer. Now before anyone worries about changing the historic Creeds of the Church, we would do well to remember that we aren’t speaking Greek right now, so everything is an exercise in translation. Furthermore, there are even different versions of the Nicene Creed depending on which ancient Church Council you want to go back to. It’s not about changing the faith, it’s about translating it anew – which is actually what the Incarnation is all about – God being translated into a human life that we might know God more fully and his love for us.

            And in this alternative translation, the phrase “was made man” is rendered as “became truly human.” That change might take a while to get used to, but it’s worth the effort as our faith is all the more enriched if we understand not only that God became man, but that God became truly human. For one, this translation gets us away from the distracting issue of gender. Yes, Jesus was male, but masculinity is not what God was taking in in the Incarnation. No, the word in John is “flesh” and in Creed it’s the word from which we get “anthropology” – it’s about all of humanity.

            What this helps us to see is that Jesus did not come to save us from our humanity. Too often in the Church, life is treated as a chore to get through until the reward of heaven, and that is unfortunate. No, Jesus came to save humanity itself. If we understand the Incarnation as God coming to us in the form of a man, or a human, then certainly, it is a glorious and splendid message of grace. In no way would I deny that Jesus became man. But the Incarnation is so much deeper and lovelier than that because Jesus became truly human.

            Absolutely, the Incarnation is about the revelation of God. We know God more fully because Jesus came as God Incarnate. And we do a good job at Christmas talking about that. But it is also just as true that Jesus came to reveal to us the depths of our humanity. Now, we might think, as humans, don’t we already know everything there is to know about being a human? Isn’t that like saying that we have to train a dog to be a dog? Well, it turns out that we do have a lot to learn about humanity.

            What you and I know as the human condition is one that is marred by the brokenness of sin. If we go back to the very beginning of Scripture, we read in Genesis that humanity was created in the image of God. It’s an image though that is now seen as through a glass dimly. We were not created for war, for poverty, for division, for lying, for greed, for stealing, for violence. Those things are not a part of humanity as God intended it. But in giving us freedom, God also allowed that we might corrupt the gift of life that we have been given.

            Jesus comes to restore what has been obscured by sin – namely, the goodness of humanity. This is what the well-known Christmas hymn “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” points towards. In Genesis 3, a repercussion from sin is that “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.” Toil and struggle might seem to be native to the human condition, but this is not God’s intention for us. Jesus comes as “The tree of life my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green.”

            Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes, “It is not a human life when we are too busy to speak words of promise to others; it is not a human life to keep ourselves safe so that we can’t understand the suffering of others.” Instead, he writes, “A real human life is one where we lookout for those who are forgotten, where we give others a reason to live; where we show them that they have friends; where we show them that there is hope.” As we know from the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor, love is the grain of the universe. So to be human is to love. Anything that is less than love is sub-human. And Jesus came not only as the embodiment of this love for us all, but also as an example of this love.

            God did not send a message through the prophets as the fullest revelation of God. God did give us a rule book, even if that is how some misuse the Bible. God did not give a speech and tell us to “work it out.” No, God came as a human life, a life that showed us the fullness of humanity, what it means to be truly human. And so Jesus is one whom we can watch and learn from. He teaches us how to be human. Jesus is one whom we can mimic. He shows us how to be human. Jesus one whom we can follow. He leads us into eternal life, which is the ultimate end of our humanity. This is what that hymn envisions for us in its final verse: “This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, it keeps my dying faith alive; which makes my soul in haste to be with Jesus Christ the Appletree.” Instead of the fruit that led to our sin in Genesis, Jesus Christ offers to us the fruit of salvation.

            Jesus was truly and fully human, not deficiently human as we are, but he was even more human than us. In Jesus we see what God intends for us – a nearness to God that brings conviction and peace; an unwavering trust and commitment to God; a sense of love that overflows into every moment. Jesus is what a truly human life looks like, what a life lived to the fullest looks like. And while it is true that through his humanity, Jesus restored the righteousness that we had lost to sin, it doesn’t mean that we are any more capable of living the sort of life that Jesus did. We will still make mistakes, we will still fall short, we will still have things to seek forgiveness for, we will still not live into the fullness of humanity.

            Christmas though would have us fix our eyes not on our brokenness, not on fallenness, not on depravity, not on sin, but rather on the grace that was embodied in Jesus. Though none of us will live perfectly as Jesus did, by fixing our eyes on him we can see the glory that is intended for us. What it means to be truly human is to have it be clear that God is our Creator, our loving Father, our nurturing Mother. St. John writes that Jesus gives us power to become children of God. Ultimately, this is what it means to be truly human – to be the recipient of God’s grace as the beloved children of the Father.

            While it is absolutely true that as St. Athanasius said that “God became man that man might become God” in speaking about the salvation that comes through Christmas, it is also just as true that God became truly human that we might become truly the humanity we were created to be.” And this is what Christmas gives us – the gift of a truly human Jesus who shows us the way of love lived in a human life that we might have the abundant life that was intended for us before the foundation of the world. I’ve just taken about 15 minutes to say what one of the great hymns of Christmas says in one line – but I hope the next time you hear it and sing it that you will recall that Jesus opens to us the way of salvation in the fullness of our humanity, not despite it. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel!”

Thursday, December 24, 2020

December 24, 2020 - Christmas

Lectionary Readings

Almighty God, with all that we are and all that we have, we thank you for the gift of your love come to us in Jesus and ask that his joy and peace might be ours this Christmas this we ask in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            In the name of Jesus Christ and on behalf of the Parish of St. Luke’s: Welcome! Whoever, wherever, and whenever you are – it is a joy to have you with us on Christmas.

I’m sure you all know the ending of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: “And the Grinch did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low, then it started to grow. But this sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded glad! Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling. ‘How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!’ He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Sunday, December 20, 2020

December 20, 2020 - The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Readings

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.

            Do you remember the commutative property of math? I had to look it up to make sure I had the right name for it and was remembering it correctly. It’s a simple bit of logic that says that since 2+1=3 that 1+2 also equals 3. Essentially, the order of the numbers doesn’t matter. And it’s a helpful mathematical property because it means that we don’t always have to add things in the same order to end up with the same result. And we know that property is useful in many other aspects of our lives. While we may have preferences about the right ordering of things, it really doesn’t matter if you put the salt or the pepper first on your baked potato. I’m sure there are thousands of examples that we can come up with to further show that in a lot of situations, the order of things doesn’t matter much.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

December 13, 2020 - The Third Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Readings

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only they who see takes off their shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” So writes the poet Elizabeth Barret Browning. As this morning’s Psalm notes, the LORD has done (and is doing) great things for us. Whether or not we recognize and rejoice in this saving love of God really is the question of faith. We have all been given the gift of grace, so it’s not a question of earning it, it’s a question of enjoying it and being transformed by it. Like a gift on Christmas morning that sits under the tree, salvation has been purchased for us, it has been presented to us, our name is on the tag. But if we let it sit under the tree, while it will still look quite festive and beautiful, the gift will never be enjoyed and used in the way it is intended. Going back to the poem, it’s a question of whether or not we take off our shoes because we realize that we are standing on holy ground, or do we just sit around and pluck the berries off the burning bush?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

December 6, 2020 - The Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Readings 

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.

If you’re anything like me, you like to make plans. Even if you’re not a super-organized person, we all like to know when certain things will happen and when action is required of us. So, our cars have little lights that remind us that it’s time for an oil change. Or these days, we have to think through our Christmas plans more carefully than usual – how can we gather outside to be safer? And a lot of our planning deals with timing – figuring out when to ship gifts so that they arrive on time, figuring out the best time to go to the grocery store to avoid crowds, figuring out the right time to have a sensitive conversation. Whether it’s a marketing campaign, our daily routines, or personal relationships, so much of our planning revolves around finding the right time to do something.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

November 29, 2020 - The First Sunday of Advent

Lectionary Readings

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Amen.

            “Be careful what you wish for.” We’ve all heard that nugget of wisdom from Aesop’s Fables. Well, the first Sunday of Advent ought to come with a similar caution: Be careful what you pray about. The name of this season comes from the Latin Adventus, which simply means “coming” or “arrival.” Though our focus is on Christmas, Advent is not primarily a season that focuses our attention on that coming of Jesus. To be fair, yes, Advent does help us to receive with joy the celebration of the Word becoming flesh on Christmas. But the main thrust of Advent is really about the Second Coming of Jesus. As we’ll hear later in this liturgy in the best hymn of all time, “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending… Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.” It is that arrival that Advent helps us to prepare for.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

November 26, 2020 - Thanksgiving Day

Lectionary Readings

Blessed are you, God of Israel, for ever and ever,  for yours is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendor, and the majesty. And now we give you thanks, our God, and praise your glorious name. For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. Amen.

            Well, this is certainly a different sort of Thanksgiving. I imagine that many of you are home instead of traveling to be with family and friends. Thank you for making that sacrifice for the good of us all. What a year this has been – one of the most active hurricane seasons in recent memory, raging wildfires in the West, struggles for racial justice, a nasty election that is still dividing us, and, of course, a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 250,000 Americans, isolated us from one another, and wreaked havoc on our economy. Yet, even in the midst of all this, we say, “thanks be to God.”

Sunday, November 22, 2020

November 22, 2020 - Christ the King

Lectionary Readings

Almighty God, we give you thanks for making us inheritors of your Kingdom and ask that you would make us worthy of that gift in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            This is our third Sunday of considering the parables of judgment in Matthew 25. These three parables of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Talents, and today’s Parable which is either called the “Judgment of the Nations” or “the Sheep and the Goats” are told in the final days of Holy Week. Jesus’ arrest is just around the corner and so these parables speak to the waiting that his followers will experience: the wait between his death and Resurrection and between his Ascension and his coming again in glory. These parables of anticipation and judgment culminate in the well-known scene that heard this morning.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

November 15, 2020 - The Second Sunday before Advent

Lectionary readings

Gracious and loving God, as we await the day of your coming, grant us, even now, to enter into your joy in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            We continue the steady march towards Advent, and as we do, our Gospel texts from Matthew 25 bring into focus the coming again of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Last week, we heard the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and today we hear what is often called the Parable of the Talents, in which Jesus takes us deeper into the truth that to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be expected.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

November 8, 2020 - The Third Sunday before Advent

Lectionary Readings

Grant us patience, O Lord, that we might be ready to receive you when you come in glory in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Just as Dorothy takes in her surroundings and declares “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” it might seem that this liturgical space isn’t what it was just a week ago. Our Collect prays about Jesus coming into the world to destroy the works of the devil, about us purifying ourselves, and alludes to his coming again in power and great glory. And this theme of Jesus’ coming again runs throughout the Gospel text, a parable that is introduced with “Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like this.” The hymns – “Lo, he comes” and “Sleepers, wake!” also are disorienting, as we tend to think of those as Advent hymns. And, to be clear, I had nothing to do with choosing those hymns – that was Matt’s wisdom, not my affinity for “Lo, he comes.”

Sunday, November 1, 2020

November 1, 2020 - The Feast of All Saints

Lectionary Readings

In the name of the God who adopts us as children that we might flourish in his love Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“November 3, 2020 is Election Day in the United States. The Sunday prior is November 1, the Feast of All Saints. You are the rector of a congregation in a community that is made up of people all along the political spectrum in terms of both involvement and affiliation. While there have not been open conflicts in the congregation around political issues, a climate of anxiety and political tension is weighing on people. You have discerned that your sermon on All Saints’ Day needs to address this situation. Assume the readings are the appointed ones and that a Baptism will be celebrated. In approximately 1,000 words, briefly identify and elaborate on two pastoral issues which you would address in a sermon.”

Sunday, October 25, 2020

October 25, 2020 - The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

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.

            “Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another.” That word, “refuge,” is often translated as “dwelling place.” But the Psalter that we use comes from the Book of Common Prayer and it is an absolute treasure of our tradition. So much so that there have been other denominations, that when deciding which version of the Psalms to use, borrow our version. This isn’t to say it is a perfect translation, but it is splendid. There is a certain poetic cadence to the Book of Common Prayer Psalter that helps to preserve the beauty and rhythm of the Hebrew poetry. This is, in part, because the translation committee that oversaw this work included not only Biblical scholars but English poets, including the renowned WH Auden. Now, why do I bring this up? Because the choice to go with “refuge” instead of “dwelling place” is what makes our souls to find rest in this Psalm.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

October 18, 2020 - The Feast of St. Luke & the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost


O God, grant us the will, the trust, and the strength to render unto thee our hearts, our minds, and our lives; for all things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own do we give thee. Amen.

            One of the complaints that all of us are hearing, and maybe even making, these days is how everything is being politicized. Certainly, we’ve come to expect that in elections. But now things like masks and vaccines have been “politicized,” even Halloween is going to be swallowed up by divisive rhetoric and taking sides. What I think we have to understand about this is that we’re actually using the wrong vocabulary. “Politics” comes from the Greek word poliƵ, which just means “city,” hence our neighboring Kannapolis means “The City of Cannon.” Politics is simply about the affairs and governance of the city, but the word doesn’t only apply to cities – churches have a politic, colleges have a politic, so do workplaces, and even families. Those rules, customs, and norms that drive the community, whether a household or a nation, are politics.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

October 11, 2020 - The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, for you sustain our lives and make our hearts joyful in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I’ll confess, I’ve been thinking about other things. Like many of you, this pandemic has upended my routines and daily life. Granted, I’m incredibly thankful to have a job that affords me flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it’s all been easy. I’ve been thinking about how frustrating it is that I can’t meet with you all for lunch or coffee. I’ve been thinking of how much I’d like to just get up in the morning and come to the office – because I really love my job and being here. But I’ve been home with our daughters since mid-March. Again, I’m thankful that I can work from home, but I’ve been thinking about how old that’s getting and how balancing my duties to the parish and my attention to a nearly 5 and 8 year old is a balancing act that I’ve never quite sure about. I’ve been thinking about how exhausted I am by partisanship that is destroying civility and prosperity in this nation. I’ve been thinking about my fears around what happens if we have a contested election in November. I’ve been thinking about how anxious I am about our stewardship campaign this year – because of the pandemic, the majority of the congregation hasn’t been physically present in seven months. Yes, we’ve had lots of spiritual connections, but how does that translate to stewardship? I’ve been wondering. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what the future of the Church will look like as we slowly emerge from this pandemic. Every time I am around others, I’m thinking about masks, distancing, and handwashing, wanting to avoid transmission of the Coronavirus. And amid all these things, I’ve been thinking about how drained I am. These are the sorts of things that I’ve been thinking about.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

October 4, 2020 - The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

Almighty God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference ☩ in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why is it that we reject God’s grace? In this morning’s passage from Matthew, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” It would seem that building on the cornerstone would be the best action, but so often we reject it and it becomes a stumbling block to us. How can anyone hear the beautiful message of the Gospel and say “No thanks, I’m good” or how can Christians say “Well, sure, I watch church online most weeks, but I don’t take my faith with me to work, or to the voting booth, or when I’m making out my budget or calendar”? To be clear, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans, “For there is no distinction, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So this isn’t about us versus them righteousness, it’s a serious question – why do we turn away from the grace of God?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

September 27, 2020 - The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O God, help us to remember who we are, that we might become what we receive.

            It’s not enough to say that stories matter. Stories are everything. It’s been said that “humans are meaning-making machines” and the way that meaning is made is by considering and interpreting the past. If you take away our stories, you take away our humanity. And we have sayings that reinforce this idea: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Stories though are not only about the past – they are something like a map that allows us to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. And if we don’t know our story, if we don’t know where we’re going, how will ever know when we’ve arrived or if we have made a wrong turn? Stories are more than things that we tell to pass the time; stories make us who we are.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

September 20, 2020 - The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

Gracious Lord, guide us to seek your truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might ☩ in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the great preachers of the 20th century said that there are two kinds of sermons that are difficult to hear: good sermons and bad sermons. Bad sermons are hard to listen to because they are a waste of everyone’s time. But good sermons are also hard to listen to because they point to truths that we’d rather hide from. Well, through today’s parable in Matthew, Jesus delivers a hard to hear, but very good, sermon.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

September 13, 2020 - The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O Lord, forgive the sins of the preacher, that only your truth may be spoken and only your grace be heard ☩ in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Enjoy your forgiveness.” That’s the tagline on a church sign outside an Episcopal Church in New York City. The idea is that forgiveness is not something we have to struggle to earn, or strive to be worthy of, or worry about whether or not we’ve been given. No, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, period. And this forgiveness, this freedom, is to be used so that we might enjoy the fruits of God’s mercy and grace. In this sense, “enjoy your forgiveness” is a summation of the Gospel message.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

September 6, 2020 - The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O God, grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change; courage to change the things that we can; and the wisdom to know the difference in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            If you had to guess, what do you think this is going to be a sermon about? Yea, it’s another sermon about love. Someone once mentioned that almost every sermon I preach is about love. And that’s true. The thing about love is that love is our beginning and our end, our purpose and our mission, our identity and our calling. And Scripture tells us that God is love. So love really is at the heart of it all. The reason why I so often preach about love is that it’s what we need to hear – that we are loved; and it’s what we need to practice – to love one another. Once the Church excels in love in all things and in all relationships, then we can move on to another topic as the main theme.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

August 30, 2020 - The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

Gracious and loving God, Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; and nourish us with all goodness. This we pray in the name of the God who is. Amen.

            What is religion? It seems like such a simple question, but the answer has implications that will, quite literally, change our lives and our world. There are certainly many ways to think about religion – as being the defining narrative story of our lives, as the ultimate truth of the world, as the beliefs about God that bind us together, as our value and ethical system, or, as one person has put it, our preferred sin management solution.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

August 23, 2020 - The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O God, grant us always to remember who you are, so that we might know that we are your beloved children. Amen.

            Stories matter. Just consider the popularity of documentaries or how many times families reminisce about their shared memories. Stories are one of the few things that set apart human society from the animal kingdom – we analyze, celebrate, and remember the past. One theologian has noted that the problem of modern society is that we have convinced ourselves that the only story that we have is the story that chose for ourselves. The problem with choosing our own story to live by is that is simply doesn’t work. I might wish that I was a 10-time Wimbledon champion, I might even tell people that’s true, I could even buy replica trophies and put them on my fireplace mantle. But that wouldn’t make the story true. Instead of us choosing the story we live our lives by, we have been given a story by God. It is the story of our loving Creation, our grace-filled redemption, and our empowerment by the Holy Spirit. When we forget that story, we lose our guiding star, our hope, our purpose, our identity. And forgetting that story, we turn to other stories to tell ourselves and these other stories are called idols.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

August 16, 2020 - Proper 15A

Lectionary Readings

O God, in the Holy Trinity there exists a beloved community in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We give you thanks for bringing us into that beloved community of divine love and pray that we might foster it on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

            This week’s Collect notes that, from Jesus, we receive the fruits of his redeeming work and are to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life. One of the fruits of this redeeming work of Jesus is the reconciliation that we are given with God and the opportunity for this reconciliation to be a rule of life for us as we strive to follow him as our Lord. A good shorthand way of talking about this is “beloved community.” Through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been brought into the beloved community by God’s grace and in following his blessed steps, we find our fulfillment in living as a beloved community. At St. Luke’s, we’ve been talking about and striving to become the beloved community. Using today’s Scripture texts, we’ll consider what exactly what the phrase “Beloved Community” connotes.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 2, 2020 - The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

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.

            One of the Psalms asks, “Can God set a table in the wilderness?” That’s the question, isn’t it? When we are deepest in our need and have nowhere else to turn, can we trust in God to provide? When we get a bad diagnosis, when the interview doesn’t go our way, when the addiction is taking over, when the bullies won’t go away – is God with us or not? And in this midst of this pandemic which is dragging on and leaving more and more death and disruption in its wake – in the midst of this wilderness, can God set a table of refreshment? I don’t know about you all, but for me, the Good News of the Gospel is that, indeed, God can and does set tables in the wilderness.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

July 26, 2020 - The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things that we can; and the wisdom to know the difference in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            At the beginning of Matthew, we hear the proclamation: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” The life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus is the drama by which this Kingdom is planted on earth as it is in heaven. “And just what is the Kingdom?,” we ask. While we could try to define it by saying something like “The Kingdom is the reality in which God’s people are gathered in peace under his sovereign rule,” we’d still want to know, “But, yeah, what is the Kingdom like?”

Sunday, July 19, 2020

July 19, 2020 - The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O God, give us serenity to accept the things we cannot change; courage to change the things that we can; and the wisdom to know the difference in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            What do we do in the meantime? That’s one of the most basic questions of our faith and the vast majority of our conflicts arise from different responses to that question. The Lord who created all that is took on flesh and dwelt among us, taught us the way of love, died for the sin of the world, rose again on the third day, and ascended to reign on the throne of God. All has been accomplished. The work of salvation is done. And yet, the work continues. We still await the culmination of all things as we anticipate that day when, truly, all shall be well. So what do we do in the meantime?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

July 12, 2020 - The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O Lord, forgive the sins of the preacher, that only your Word may be preached and only your Word be heard in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

            You’ve heard the phrase “Good things come in small packages.” Well, the same might be said for wisdom – that it often comes in small packages. Most wisdom sayings are pithy statements that are chock full of meaning: “the early bird catches the worm,” for example. That simple phrase conveys so much meaning and actually makes the point better than if we tried to explain it by saying “Sometimes in life, there are opportunities that are only available if you are early and follow the natural order of things.” That’s clunky and not at all memorable. But, “the early bird catches the worm”? As they say, that’ll preach.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

July 5, 2020 - The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

O God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Who among us is not burdened these days?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

June 28, 2020 - The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

Almighty God, guide us to seek your Truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might. Amen.
            I know that the sermons over the past month have been heavy – not in a depressing sense, but they’ve been about the weighty matters of justice and race. Well, this Sunday, it’s Genesis giving us a lot to chew on: God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” This is, quite possibly, the most challenging passage in the entire Bible. I’ve been ordained for eleven years and have never preached on the binding of Isaac because I knew enough to not ride the bull the first few times you go to the rodeo. I’m not sure that one is ever ready to wrestle with this text, but Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me take another pass on it this time through the lectionary.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

June 14, 2020 - Proper 6A

Lectionary Readings

O Lord, forgive the sins of the preacher, for they are many, that only your Word may be preached and only your Truth be heard. Amen.

            The Bible is full of verses that are absolutely foundational to our understanding of the faith, and as such, these verses can function as a summary statement of faith. We heard one of these verses in today’s Epistle reading – Romans 5:8 states, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” That verse is a clear and consicse description of Christianity, and so I wanted to be sure to lift up that verse in this sermon. Romans isn’t my focus today, but that verse is one worth knowing. And, in a sense, every sermon points to the Good News that is contained in that verse, so there will be connections to the grace of God that Paul writes about in Romans with the grace of God we see in the story from Genesis about the how Sarah became a mother to Isaac.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

June 7, 2020 - The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Lectionary Readings

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

            There’s no getting around it - this is a difficult Sunday to preach. Even in a normal year, Trinity Sunday is a challenge because when it comes to how we understand that God is a Trinity of persons in a unity of being, as it is classically stated, there are more questions than there are answers. And while the doctrine of the Trinity is full of beauty and fills us with faith, hope, and love, it takes some explanation to get there in a way that the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son simply don’t. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May 31, 2020 - Pentecost

Lectionary Readings

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten us with thy celestial fire. Amen.

            The Holy Spirit, in most Christian traditions, is by far the most neglected person of the Triune God. We pray to the Father often and understand that it is from God’s gracious hand that all blessings flow. Rightfully so, Jesus stands at the center of our faith. And that leaves the Holy Spirit. Part of this neglect is because we can sort of get our minds around God the Father – we even have a helpful metaphor built into it: a loving parent. And Jesus walked this earth and we have earthly stories to help us in knowing him. But who is the Spirit? Do we really mean that part of God is something like a ghost? And the ways that the Spirit shows up in Scripture aren’t always clear – water, wind, breath, and fire. These are inanimate and amorphous things. So who is the Holy Spirit?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

May 24, 2020 - Easter 7A

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Have you ever received something and didn’t realize the treasure that it was? Maybe it was some sort of odd tool that you never thought you’d use, but it’s become your go-to. Perhaps there is someone you thought was only an acquaintance, but in a moment of great need, they became your hero. For me, it was a piece of advice. Many years ago, as I was hoping that a particular job search would open, a good friend said, “Robert, if you want something, ask for it.” At the time, it was simple advice, but, for me, it’s been an invaluable piece of wisdom. Sometimes we receive things and we just don’t understand how life-giving and important they are.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

May 21, 2020 - Ascension

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
            It is good to be with you all this evening to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. You know, in this pandemic situation, it would be easy for us not to have this liturgy. Even in a normal year, if we had more than 50 people here that would be a good crowd. But I want to commend you all for taking part in this liturgy. In the midst of so many unsettling things, it’s so important for us to gather, even virtually, to recount the story of Jesus with each other, to give our thanks and praise for God’s goodness, to be nurtured in God’s grace, and to celebrate that by the Ascension, Jesus reigns as our King, our Judge, our Lord. In the presentation of the Ascension in the Gospel text from Luke, there are four distinct movements. By paying attention to those actions, we’ll gain a better sense of the grandeur of the Ascension and its importance in our faith.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

May 17, 2020 - Easter 6A

In the name of God, in whose love we live, and move, and exist. Amen.
            What is the story that you live your life by? You know, what’s the story that you tell yourself to get through the daily grind, to make yourself get out of bed in the morning, to motivate yourself to do things that you don’t really want to do, to find hope in this pandemic? In a great book called Seculosity that I’ve mentioned before, the author says that religion is shorthand for whatever that story is. Religion is the thing that focuses our desires, ranks our priorities, and determines what we say “yes” and “no” to. And any story that you live by is a religion in this sense. So it’s not a question of which box do you check off for “religious affiliation,” it’s a question of your guiding principles and which gods you worship.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

May 10, 2020 - Easter 5A

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” For very good reasons, John 14:6 is a famous and foundational verse of Scripture. For one, it’s got three words: way, truth, and life. Three is a good Biblical number, and it’s also easy to remember a list of 3 things. And those words all have so much heft – we want to go the right way, we want to know the truth, and we want to receive life. And while a great sermon could be preached by really diving deep into each of those words or by focusing on how Jesus is preparing a place for us to dwell with God, this morning I want to use the passage we heard from Acts as an illustrative case study for what it means that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

May 3, 2020 - Easter 4A

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all people may be gathered into one flock, this we pray by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
            Some of you know the story of why I’m a priest. When I was a boy growing up at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, Florida, I starting serving as an acolyte when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. And I loved it. I loved being close to the altar and I loved having this way to serve God and that’s where my call to the priesthood began. In that parish, there were different classes of acolytes, depending on one’s experience and reliability. The top one was called the Level 4 acolyte, and no one had achieved that level since this program was instituted. Well, I’m competitive enough and enough of a perfectionist that I probably don’t need to tell you who the first was. As a small aside, all of the acolytes wore wooden crosses around their necks when serving, but the Level 4 acolyte got a silver cross – and it’s still the one I wear to do this day when I get vested for worship.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26, 2020 - Easter 3A

In the name of the Risen Jesus. Amen.
            The Bible is full of wonderful and inspiring stories, and this one that Luke presents to us this morning, often called “The Road to Emmaus,” has got to be near the top of the list. For me, what’s so grand about this story is that it’s both every day and spectacular. It includes such normal things being on a commute and eating a meal and such an extraordinary thing as encountering the Risen Jesus. It’s easy to put ourselves into this story, and so for the sermon this morning that’s what I want to do – to consider this story not from the outside, but let’s get into it and let the Holy Spirit guide our imaginations that we, too, might encounter Jesus through it.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 19, 2020 - Easter 2A

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Eastertide greetings to you all. I pray that you all are continuing to be safe and sane during this difficult time. And while we can’t physically gather with one another, I am so incredibly thankful that, through our prayers and with the aid of technology, we can still gather as the faithful people of God and be connected in this way. This morning, instead of primarily focusing on one of the Scriptural texts that were read, I want to focus on a liturgical text – the Pascha nostrum, which is the Latin title for “Christ our Passover.”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

April 12, 2020 - Easter Sunday

In the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.
            Alleluia, Christ is risen! I can’t tell you all how much I miss hearing “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” come echoing back at me. I miss you all. I miss the sundresses and the seersucker suits, the kids hopped up sugar from Easter candy, the college students returning home, having a church full of flowers, brass instruments, and most importantly – you. This is an Easter unlike any other in Church history, as the vast majority of responsible Christians around the world are not in church this morning. And that has to be acknowledged. I won’t pretend that this Easter is normal, because I never want empty churches to be the norm. The women at the tomb experienced both fear and joy, and so we have permission to feel both of those as well. We can be afraid of the Coronavirus while still being joyful that this is Easter.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

April 11, 2020 - Easter Vigil

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            We’ve arrived at the pinnacle not only of Holy Week, not only of all liturgies of the Church, but to the very pinnacle of all Creation. As we heard in the Exsultet, “This is the night when God led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt… This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin… This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave… How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and humanity is reconciled to God.” This is the night. The Easter Vigil is the pinnacle of time and space because it is asynchronous with our understanding of time. By God’s sovereign grace, we are in a sacramental sort of time where God’s salvation is absolutely present to us. My role in this sermon is to serve a tour guide of sorts. Tonight’s liturgy and Scripture readings do all of the work, I merely will be pointing them out so that what becomes apparent is the legacy of God’s salvation.

April 11, 2020 - Holy Saturday

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Holy Saturday is a day of waiting. Yesterday was the day that Jesus was crucified and tomorrow we will be the celebration of the Resurrection, but there is a day between these two major events in our salvation. Nothing happens on Holy Saturday in Scripture, so we can only guess what the disciples and faithful followers of Jesus must have been up to. As this morning’s Collect tells us, just as the crucified body of Jesus laid in the tomb, so we await the coming of the third day. We wait.
            Waiting is hard. If you’re like me, when you order something online, you watch the package through its tracking number to see where it is. Waiting to get news on how an interview or test went can be difficult. While in most situations, a few hours can fly by, but you’re stuck in an airport terminal waiting for a delayed flight, a few hours can seem a lot longer. Children, and adults, struggle to wait our turn, to wait until after dinner for a dessert, to wait to open a package that has arrived on our birthday. Waiting is hard.
            Just ask the Altar Guild about it. The church was stripped on Maundy Thursday and is bare. But Easter is coming. And even though this year we’re not going to deck the church out as fully as we normally do, we still will make it clear that Easter is the queen of all the feasts in the Church year. So there are hangings to hang, lilies to put out, and all sorts of things to put back into their place after emptying the church. And, understandably, the Altar Guild wants to get going on this and get on with their day, especially considering that the Easter Vigil begins not long from now. But before they get to work, they have to wait. On Holy Saturday, we all wait. Instead of getting the decorating done first thing, we have to wait for this liturgy to conclude. And that’s a good metaphor in our faith and in our lives. Sometimes we have to wait because that’s where holiness happens.
            Think of a seed that is buried in the ground, if it is not given enough time, it will not sprout into new life. Think of how many times in your life something amazing has happened when you didn’t plan it out that way. Think of how many distractions turned into blessings. Times of waiting can be just as productive as times of activity.
            But what do we do while we are waiting? We want to still be good stewards of our time, right? Consider the example of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in the reading from John. What do they do? The person they had thought was the Messiah was just executed, which wasn’t a part of the plan as they imagined it. So what did they do while they waited to see what would happen? They did the next right thing. Someone they knew had died and needed a proper burial, so they gave him one.
Nicodemus, who had previously come to Jesus at night and talked to Jesus about being born again, now comes in the light of day. With his presence, he is making a statement – this man’s death was not justified. He brings with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about 100 pounds, which is a lot. So, for one, Nicodemus probably brought some helpers with him, or he was a very strong person. While it can be difficult to know exactly how much that great amount of burial items would be in today’s dollars, we can safely say that it was a lot of money. Think in terms of an expensive funeral today, lik a State funeral, it’s an extremely costly amount of spices.
We know very little of Joseph of Arimathea, other than he was a member of the council, a secret disciple of Jesus, and was wealthy enough to own a brand new tomb in a prime location as a garden near the holy city. Similar to Nicodemus, his actions were the next right thing for him to do, but they were costly, both in the sense that he is publically aligning himself with Jesus by giving his tomb and in the financial value of the tomb.
Both Nicodemus and Joseph are great examples of stewardship and people with wealth using that wealth in generous ways for the glory of God. I’m sure they were just as surprised as anyone on Easter morning that Jesus was risen, so it’s not as if they did these generous deeds expecting to get anything back. Rather, even when such actions made little sense, they aligned themselves with what might have been seen as a losing cause. But they did these things because that was the most faithful and loving thing that knew to do in the moment. And in doing that, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are great examples to us of holy waiting. When you don’t know what to you, you can always do the best thing that you can think to do.
Sometimes making a casserole or a phone call seems small, but it really makes a world of difference to someone in need. That money in your bank account that you really could spare, giving it to the church to further the work of the Gospel makes an impact far greater than you might imagine. A few kind words or a public statement of your faith in Jesus goes a long way in this world.
I see it all around St. Luke’s, even in this difficult time. Staff members who aren’t sure how to be the church in this uncharted territory have been doing what they think would be helpful – Matt, Caroline, Bonnie, Marcus, and Tracey have done their absolute best in this situation and with tremendous results, so please join me in thanking them. The Vestry has been diligent in checking on members of the parish. Some of you have offered your resources, both know-how and physical, to help us improve our live-streaming capabilities. The Altar Guild has still been faithful in preparing this church for a Holy Week unlike any other, but it’s still been a very holy week. Beth and Hunter have served as wonderful singers in helping us to sing songs to God in this strange land we find ourselves in. Many of you have offered to help those in need and have been acting generously in our community in ways that I’m not aware of. Some of you are health care workers and have other essential jobs and you’ve been hard at work, putting yourself at risk by not being at home in order to serve the public good. This is what we do while we wait – we do the next right, the next loving, the next faithful thing.
Yes, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are Biblical models for this, and you all have been following these holy examples. Waiting is hard, but we do not wait alone. We wait with one another and we wait with Christ. It’s going to be a while longer of waiting until things start to resemble “normal” again, so we’re going to have lots of opportunities to practice waiting. As we do so, we wait together in faith, hope in love. As we wait, we will have opportunities to do our best in doing the next right thing, and though we will fall short in doing so, we have an abundance of mercy and grace from God to try again. And as we wait, the Son will indeed rise tomorrow.

Friday, April 10, 2020

April 10, 2020 - Good Friday

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            Jesus Christ is our great high priest. Simply put, seeing Jesus as our great high priest is a good way of understanding what Good Friday is all about. What exactly that means will be the focus of this sermon. As a guide for these reflections, we’ll use today’s opening Collect to guide us.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

April 9, 2020 - Maundy Thursday

In the name of God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
            St. Paul tells us, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, gave thanks, and shared them, telling us that these are his Body and his Blood and that we are to do this in remembrance of him.” At the heart of the Eucharist is memory. And, of course, it must be acknowledged that because of the necessary isolation and online liturgy related to the Coronavirus that the memory of gathering in-person to break bread is all we have. This commandment of our Lord, that we “do this in remembrance of me” though is actually one that helps us in this difficult time.