Three Kinds of Power (With a Lot of Help from Star Wars)

Sermon for Sunday, October 4, 2020 || Proper 22A || Philippians 3:4b-14

Today, I want to talk about power. Like the word ‘love,’ we use the word ‘power’ to mean several things, which makes any discussion about power challenging. I’m going to move through three understandings of power, and I hope you will stick with me because the third one is the one we are aiming for. Also, I’m going to use Star Wars to illustrate the three types of power. (I’ve only used one Star Wars reference this year, so I’m well within my limits.)

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I Don’t Know (Third Base!)

Sermon for Sunday, September 27, 2020 || Proper 21A || Matthew 21:23-32

There are a lot of contenders for most famous comedy routine of all time. There’s Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch or perhaps, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” There’s the cheeseburger skit from the early days of Saturday Night Live. There’s George Carlin’s seven words you can never say on TV (which are also words I won’t say in a sermon). But they all fall short of one comedy routine, the absolute pinnacle: the baseball routine of Abbott and Costello, commonly called “Who’s on first.” The Yankees have some players with very strange names, and as Abbott teaches the players to Costello, Costello gets increasingly confused and frustrated.

Abbott begins by telling him the infielders: “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.”

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Surge Capacity

Sermon for Sunday, September 20, 2020 || Proper 20A || Exodus 16:2-15

At the end of this sermon, I’m going to talk about the prophetic voice of the movie Frozen II, but first let me talk about the church hymn board affixed to the wall to my left. This is the attractive wooden rack into which our altar guild slides in the numbers that correspond to particular songs in our hymnal. At the top of the rack, we display the particular Sunday of the church year. I haven’t touched the hymn board since the last time we used it. I’ve left it alone as a memento from our last in-person gathering. Right now the hymn board reads the “3rd Sunday in Lent.” Half a year ago. 

I remember the anguished discussion the vestry had about closing the church building back in March. We had no idea how bad the pandemic would get, but the writing was on the wall. Thankfully, the vestry made the hard choice in that moment of uncertainty. Now, six months later, we are faced with the opposite hard choice: how and when to invite people back to in-person services as we balance our need for physical proximity with our collective goal of deterring the spread of the virus.

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The Funeral Anthem: A Meditation

Sermon for Sunday, September 13, 2020 || Proper 19A || Romans 14:1-12

Today’s sermon is a meditation. In a minute, I’m going to invite you to find a relaxing sitting position, which will be easier on your couch than if you were here sitting on a hard pew. I decided to offer a meditation today because recently I’ve been feeling my jaw clenching more and more. Sleep isn’t restful. I’m on edge all the time. I’d wager you are responding to the abnormally high level of stress in our society in similar ways. A friend of mine has a newborn in the NICU whom he says is there because he has to “remember to breathe.” I think that goes for all of us right now.

So, in lieu of my regularly scheduled sermon, I’d like to lead us all through a meditation designed to bring our ultimate future into this present moment. This is a meditation about God’s presence and promise when death is an ever-present reality. I’m offering it because today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans includes a paragraph that we read as the third stanza of the opening anthem at the beginning of every Episcopal funeral. All four stanzas are quotations from scripture, and I’d like to meditate on them with you this morning. This might seem like a strange thing to do – focus on words spoken after someone has died. But these words are shared with those who remain, and I believe these scriptural truths actually help to bring us more fully alive.

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In the Middle of Them

Sermon for Sunday, September 6, 2020 || Proper 18A || Matthew 18:15-20

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus says this amazing promise at the end of our Gospel reading this morning. We’ve heard this promise every week since we began worshiping together online at the start of the pandemic. At the end of the service of Morning Prayer, we say a prayer written in the early centuries of the Church by St. John Chrysostom: 

“Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them…”

I am so thankful that our Gospel reading inspired John Chrysostom to write this prayer, especially in these days when we cannot be in close physical proximity with each other. The prayer reminds us of the singular truth that Christ connects us one to another. But “I am there among them” is a rather anemic translation. I “am in the midst of them” is better. The original language translates most directly to, “I am there in the middle of them.”

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Get Behind Me, Satan

Sermon for Sunday, August 30, 2020 || Proper 17A || Matthew 16:21-28

“Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve always wondered how Jesus said these words. Peter has just named Jesus the Messiah. And Jesus has just said what will happen if he continues his mission on its current trajectory. He will undergo great suffering and be killed! (He mentions rising again on the third day, but Peter doesn’t key in on that part.) Peter says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” That’s when Jesus says these famous words: “Get behind me, Satan.”

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Renewing Our Minds

Sermon for Sunday, August 23, 2020 || Proper 16A || Romans 12:1-8

When I was a kid, I was a know-it-all and proud of it. I spent two and a half years at Hillcrest Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL, making sure everyone knew I was the smartest kid there. I mellowed a bit in high school, but my know-it-all nature still asserted itself all too often. One time in tenth grade, I got into an argument with my English teacher about the proper pronunciation of the word “conch,” as in “conch shell.” We were reading Lord of the Flies, and I was an idiot. (Turns out, both konk and contsh are correct.*)

It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 – between my first two years of seminary – that I understood that thinking you are a know-it-all is really dumb. First off, it’s never true. Second, thinking you know everything makes you completely impervious to new information and, for that matter, personal growth. Thanks be to God for a summer of hospital chaplaincy that showed me in excruciating detail the vast expanse of things I didn’t know. After that, I no longer conceived of myself as a know-it-all, but a lifetime of inhabiting that identity made it hard to shake. Nearly 15 years later, I find myself lapsing back into it all the time, and so I try constantly to inject myself with the viewpoints of people who differ from me in order to remember there’s always something more to learn.

I mention all this because of a verse we heard this morning, one of the most important sentences the Apostle Paul ever wrote. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

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10 Books to Light a Fire for Racial Justice

In a footnote of a sermon from June, I quoted eminent theologian James Cone and mentioned that his book, A Black Theology of Liberation, would not be the first or even the tenth book I would read if you are a white person just coming to a new awareness of racial injustice in the United States. A person commented on the post and asked me what would be the ten books I would read before it, so I figured I would offer that list today.

I’ll begin with a caveat. I have been engaged for about three and a half years in personal reading and reflection concerning my own place in the great sin of white supremacy. I am by no means an expert, and I can only recommend books I have read – there are plenty more out there, as well as plenty of great lists to get engaged in the work for racial justice. What I offer below is a list of ten books leading up to Cone’s Theology, which would be book eleven. After that, I’ve added a few other resources that aren’t books but are incredibly worthwhile, especially if your own learning style leans towards the visual or auditory.

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40,000 Words

Sermon for Sunday, August 9, 2020 || Proper 14A || Matthew 14:22-33

Before I jump into my sermon, I’d like to say I was hoping that at least some of us would be gathering in person outside this morning. Our reopening team decided that we would wait until I was back from vacation to begin our in person experimentation. But that was all predicated on Connecticut being in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. Our prudent and cautious officials have kept us in Phase 2 as much of the rest of the country experiences a huge upsurge in their cases. We will have in person outdoor services during Phase 3, and we will be bringing back Holy Communion during Phase 4. For now, patience, perseverance, and continued compassionate sacrifice mark us citizens of both the state of Connecticut and the Kingdom of God. We don’t know when we will move to Phase 3, but I am very much looking forward to seeing you all when the state reaches that goal.

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Dependence Day

Sermon for Sunday, July 5, 2020 || Proper 9A || Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

One of my favorite things about writing fantasy novels is the task of “world building”; that is, constructing a new world with its own geography and history and cultures and political entities. I know, I know – super nerd alert. But it’s fun for me, and one of the most fun parts is creating holidays within the contexts of fantasy cultures. In the fictional city of Thousand Spires, Cornerstone Day marks the date when the cities of Farhome and Canlas grew big enough to meet each other at the site of the laying of the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Light. League Day celebrates the founding of the Sularin League following the Three Sisters War. The Great Step…No, never mind. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Every holiday, fictional or real, springs from a culturally significant event or observance.

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