Stephen the Red Shirt

Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2023 || Easter 5A || Acts 7:55-60

The folks who put together our schedule of Bible readings did something really weird today. In our first lesson, they gave us the very end of the story about Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. But they skipped everything about him leading up to his execution. So for the sermon today, I’m going to go back and talk through his story because the way it is written gives us a few things to think about.

But first – Star Trek.

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Even the Good One

Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2023 || Easter 4A || Psalm 23; John 10:1-10

This sermon is about God remaining faithful even when tragedy or pain or grief keep us from acting out our faith. Before I start, though, I need to share a trigger warning. I will be briefly talking about the death of a child.

Between March 2020 and May 2021, this building was closed to the public due to the pandemic restrictions. For fourteen long months, we gathered together via Zoom and YouTube, worshiping together in love any way we could as we supported one another through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. During those services of Morning Prayer, I shared with you 27 of the songs I’ve written over the course of my life. That’s every song I’ve ever written (that’s fit for people to listen to). Well, every song but one. There’s one particular song of mine that I deliberately did not sing during those fearful months because I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it. The song is raw and it does not end on a particularly joyful note. But I think now the time is finally right to sing this song for you.

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Where is God?

Sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2023 || Easter 3A || Luke 24:13-35

One of the most common questions people ask me in my role as priest is, “Where is God? Where is God in all of this?” I usually turn the question back on the other person and ask where they think God is. And this usually elicits a sigh or a raised eyebrow – they like had asked their doctor for a diagnosis and the doctor had said, “Well, what do you think you have?”

So, today, outside of any particular situation or context of a person asking me this question – Where is God? – I thought I’d share with you my answer. This answer may or may not speak to you, which is why I’m sharing it in a sermon and not a one-on-one conversation. Or maybe it will. First off, we need to talk about prepositions.

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The Two Endings of John

Sermon for Sunday, April 16, 2023 || Easter 2A || John 20:19-31

The year was 2003. It was a drab, wet December day in Charleston, West Virginia. I was at my parents’ house for Christmas break during my junior year of college. We went to the movies and saw The Return of the King, the third and final film in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’ve been a huge Tolkien fan since I was a kid, and I loved the movies. I was nervous going into the third one, hoping fervently that the filmmakers wouldn’t mess it up. They didn’t, and I wound up crying so hard for the last half hour of the movie that I gave myself a migraine headache.

The thing about this movie, and the biggest thing that critics disliked about it – despite it winning all eleven academy awards it was nominated for – is that the movie ends about six times. Over the last twenty minutes or so, the movie keeps ending! It closes the story on this region and this set of characters, then on that region and that set of characters. Again and again, it ends, until, finally, Samwise Gamgee walks home to his front door, picks up his little daughter and says, “Well, I’m back,” which is exactly how the book ends too.

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Simon, Lazarus, Philip, Mary

Sermon for Sunday, April 9, 2023 || Easter Sunday A || John 20:1-18

Good morning and welcome to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on this cold and sunny Easter Sunday. I’m Pastor Adam Thomas, and today we are celebrating our tenth Easter together in this special place on Pearl Street. During the season of Lent, I preached a four-part sermon series on the verse John 3:16, which culminated in this new interpretation of the most famous verse in the Bible: 

For God so loved the entirety of Creation that God revealed God’s own self in the gift of God’s only Child: to draw us deeper into relationship with God, to find our place in God’s story of reconciliation, and to embrace the true life of God’s presence now and forever.

I’d like to spend today’s sermon offering a bit of a coda to the sermon series and speak again about God drawing us into deeper relationship. This makes sense to do on Easter Sunday because today is the day we celebrate God’s full and eternal embrace of Creation through the power of the Resurrection of Jesus.

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The Crowd’s Four Lines

Sermon for Sunday, April 2, 2023 || Palm/Passion Sunday A || Matthew 26:36 – 27:56

At the end of today’s service, we will present the Passion Gospel, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. We will read it like a play, with myself and others taking on the various parts. One of the parts is the crowd, and that’s where you come in. If you follow along in your program, you will notice about two-thirds of the way through the reading that you, the members of the congregation, are playing the part of the crowd. You have four lines, and I’d like to spend a few minutes during this short sermon to talk through those four lines in order to prepare you to say them.

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May Not Perish But May Have Eternal Life

Sermon for Sunday, March 19, 2023 || Lent 5A || John 11:1-45

(Part Four of Sermon Series on John 3:16 – Part One – Part Two – Part Three)

Today we finish up our sermon series on John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Three weeks ago, we talked about God loving every nook and cranny of creation. Two weeks ago, we said that God gave the gift of God’s only son to show us how to enter into the story God is telling. Last week, we looked at the concept of belief as “abiding in relationship” with Jesus. And that brings us to the final phrase of John 3:16 – “may not perish but may have eternal life.”

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So that Everyone Who Believes in Him…

Sermon for Sunday, March 19, 2023 || Lent 4A || John 9:1-41

(Part Three of Sermon Series on John 3:16 – Part One – Part Two)

Today we are going to continue our four-week sermon series on John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Two weeks ago, we talked about God loving every nook and cranny of the universe. Last week, we talked about what God did because God loved the universe; namely, God gave God’s only son to show us how to enter into the story God is telling. We’ll finish up the series next week, but first we’ll tackle the next phrase: “so that everyone who believes in him.”

The thrust of this sermon is very simple: Jesus will always be present. That’s the simple idea at the heart of this sermon. But I’ve got to warn you. I’m going to over-complicate things for a few minutes before returning to this simple and beautiful idea: “Jesus will always be present.”

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That God Gave God’s Only Son…

Sermon for Sunday, March 12, 2023 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42

(Part Two of Sermon Series on John 3:16 – Part One)

Last week we talked about God loving the kosmos – every nook and cranny of creation – into being. We focused on the first six words of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” The next few words tell us what God does because God loves the world. And that’s what we’re going to focus on today.

For God so loved the world that God gave

Let’s just pause there for a minute. Let’s pause on that verb “gave” and appreciate the truth that Jesus shares about God. God loved creation so much that God gave. God’s love propels God’s gift-giving. This giving expects nothing in return. This giving is free, not earned or purchased. This giving is an outpouring of God’s love, which is the only thing God’s love ever does. God’s love pours out; it spills from a wellspring that never runs dry; it gushes up like living water, bringing new life to creation.

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For God so Loved the World…

Sermon for Sunday, March 5, 2023 || Lent 2A || John 3:1-17

Today we’re going to talk about the most famous verse in the Bible. I read it a minute ago. Did you hear it? How does it start? For God so loved the world…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

This verse, this famous verse, is tricky for three reasons. First, people tend to isolate it by itself, far from the context of the verses around it. This happens even in the way English translations of the Bible lay out the text; they make John 3:16 its own paragraph for absolutely no discernible reason. Second, people tend to focus on the second half of the verse and decide (because they haven’t read it in context) that John 3:16 is a verse of exclusion. You have to “believe” to have eternal life, and that usually means in practice that you have to assent to a certain set of doctrines that a denomination or a charismatic pastor lists out for you. And third, people tend to make God smaller than God is, in order to fit God inside our limited human understanding. Rather than expand ourselves through prayer and spiritual practice, we instead shrink God to conform to our meager expectations.

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