Ambivalence and the Holy Trinity

Sermon for Sunday, May 30, 2021 || Trinity Sunday B

I did not understand the concept of ambivalence until my kids were about three years old. (That would have put me at 34 years old if you’re counting.) Before then, I had a vaguely negative idea about ambivalence. If I had used the word in a sentence, I might have used “ambivalent” as a synonym for “uncomfortable” or “aggravated.” 

But then, I watched an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with my kids, and I learned all about ambivalence. Daniel Tiger is the modern day equivalent of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from when I was a child; many of the animated characters are drawn directly from the old show. And even though Mr Rogers himself is not in it, the new show has the same tone and the same dedication to learning about feelings that the original show had. Each episode of Daniel Tiger includes a short, snappy song – like a jingle – that sums up the theme of the episode. What I learned that day watching with my kids is that the concept of ambivalence is neither negative nor positive, and that’s sort of the point. Ambivalence is feeling multiple emotions at the same time. 

As Daniel Tiger sings, “Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay.”

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Staying in Touch

Sermon for Sunday, May 23, 2021 || Pentecost B || Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit inspiring the first disciples of Jesus to spread his message of love and reconciliation to people of all nations. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit happened for the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ascension. In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his followers that when he is no longer physically present among them, he will send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. Today, on the day of Pentecost, we celebrate this sending of the Spirit. And we believe that the Holy Spirit did not just descend on those first disciples, but fills each of us with the creative imagination of God.

I can think of no better feast day of the church to share Holy Communion for the first time since March 8, 2020. Every celebration of Holy Communion is a miniature Pentecost because we believe that the Holy Spirit descends upon the gifts of bread and wine, filling them with the presence of Christ and making them his Body and Blood. Later in this service, we will pray: “Gracious God…send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant.”

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Psalms of Uncertainty

Sermon for Sunday, May 16, 2021 || Easter 7B || Psalm 1

Human beings do not particularly like ambiguity. We want good data. We need to know where we stand. We crave certainty. The trouble is, there’s no such thing as certainty and the ground tends to shift beneath our feet and even data is often skewed by the biases of the collectors. And still, we have this elemental desire (unreasonable as it may be) for everything to fall into perfect categories so that we can understand our place in all of this.

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Of Asparagus and Introspection

Sermon for Sunday, May 9, 2021 || Easter 6B || Acts 10:44-48

One of my favorite questions to ask people is this: “What is a food you used to not like but now you like very much?” Pretty much everyone can answer this question, even if they have to reach all the way back to childhood. For me, the answers are many. I was not an adventurous eater as a child, but ever since I got married, my tastes have broadened. I started eating avocados and beans and hummus and shellfish. Recently, Leah invited me to try muscles. And to my surprise, I found I liked them a lot.

The reason I like asking this question about food is that it gets people into a mindset that we don’t often put ourselves into willingly. The question forces us to think about a time when we changed our minds. You used to think asparagus was gross…and now it’s among your favorite vegetables. What changed?

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Emmett Till

We had a guest preacher at St. Mark’s yesterday, so no sermon from me this week. Instead, I’d like to share a poem I wrote recently. It was the day after the verdict was handed down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, and I was feeling the same ambivalence so many were feeling: a sense of vindication that the court found George Floyd’s death to be murder paired with a sense of dogged endurance because accountability is only a small piece of justice.

That day I began reading Imani Perry’s beautiful, tender, honest, and wrenching letter to her sons in her book Breathe. Early in the book, Perry speaks of Emmett Till’s mother:

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Other Sheep

Sermon for Sunday, April 25, 2021 || Easter 4B || John 10:11-18

On Monday morning last week, the buds on the maple tree in front of my house appeared. They weren’t there last Sunday, and then – BOOM – there they were in all their potential glory. I knew they were coming in the vague sense that it was spring and that’s what happens to trees. But I hadn’t spared much thought as to when. And then, suddenly, there they were: skeletal sticks one day, green buds the next, like a quick costume change between scenes of a play.

At least that’s what I saw from my perspective. What about the tree’s perspective? What would we see if we imagined our way into that majestic maple? We would feel the slow return of warmth and sunlight that would get the sap moving again after the near dormant days of winter. We would explore deeper with our roots, seeking nutrients and water. We would spend weeks gathering and converting energy to power all the tiny interactions within our complex body to send forth those little green buds. Over the course of one night, the buds would slowly unfurl from the ends of their little flagpoles.

What looks to me like a spontaneous greening, the maple spent all winter preparing for. What looks to me sudden and surprising was for the maple slow and deliberate. What a difference our perspective makes.

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What We Will Be

Sermon for Sunday, April 18, 2021 || Easter 3B || Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7

One of the challenges of growing as human beings is expecting perfection when we try something new simply because we are pretty good at something else. I thought I could pick up the violin because I’m a fairly good guitarist. Not so much. We humans do not like doing things we are bad at because our egos get in the way. The older we get, the more solidified becomes the subset of activities that we think we are good enough to engage in. Does that resonate with you? I can still play soccer because I’ve been playing it since I was a kid. But don’t expect me to pick up lacrosse any time soon. I don’t want to feel foolish when the ball stubbornly fails to stay in the little net for the hundredth time.

All right. So why am I talking about this? The innocuous music and sports examples are one thing. But we need to grow in so many ways so we don’t become static and stagnant – ways that we naturally resist because growth takes energy and focus. We need to keep growing in kindness and compassion so we outgrow selfishness and callousness. We need to keep growing in the desire to be of service to others while also understanding our own healthy boundaries and limits. We need to keep growing in all facets of our identity – as spouses, family members, friends, neighbors, citizens, and followers of Jesus.

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Peace Be With You

Sermon for Sunday, April 11, 2021 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31

Today, I’d like to talk about peace. But first, a confession. I am a total, unabashed, and excitable nerd. Most of you know this about me. I know way too much about Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and several other properties that live in nerd space. My first book, which became Digital Disciple, originally had the working title “God’s Nerd.” I even co-host a podcast called The Podcast for Nerdy Christians. I say all this to prepare you for what I am about to say next. 

When I created the world of Sularil in which to set my first ever Dungeons and Dragons game, one of the things I really wanted to do was create a language native to the world. The very first new word I created for my Elvish language was the word, “Peace” – “Fyara” in Elvish. I wanted “Peace” to be the word of greeting for the elves in my world, and so the first person would say, “Fyara” (Peace) and the other person would respond, “Fyarana” (Deeper peace).

I did this because the elves in my world are peaceful people. I wanted the first and last word on their lips to be a word of peace. Indeed, this word is also the first word on the lips of the Risen Christ when he encounters the disciples locked in the room on the night of the resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he says (or in the Elvish translation of the Gospel, “Fyara”). Three times in today’s reading, he offers them peace. Jesus offers this greeting of peace to his fearful disciples, and like so much else in John’s Gospel, even something as simple as this greeting has layers of meaning.

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The Cliffhanger

Sermon for Sunday, April 4, 2021 || Easter Sunday B || Mark 16:1-8

That’s it then. That’s the end of the Gospel: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a cliffhanger to me, like the end of part one of a two-part television episode. My favorite TV show of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation ended four of its seven seasons on cliffhangers to entice the viewer back in the fall. (That’s how television used to work, by the way.) The most memorable was the end of Season Three when Captain Picard was captured by the Borg, and the season ends when the Enterprise crew has developed a new weapon to take out the Borg cube and Commander Riker says, “Fire,” and then the picture goes dark and the words “To be continued…” flash across the screen. I had to wait all summer to see what happened when the Enterprise fired the weapon from the modified deflector dish! And I was seven-years-old. Waiting was not my strong suit.

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Field Trip to Jerusalem

Sermon for Sunday, March 28, 2021 || Palm/Passion Sunday B || Mark 14-15

We have arrived at our second Holy Week of the pandemic, with people participating in this service from home instead of the pews of this church building. At this time last year, we were all holding our collective breath and waiting for the surge of COVID-19 cases that the experts said was sure to come. It hit a few weeks later and then more surges followed until the baseline of cases was orders of magnitude greater than that first surge. Thankfully, over 3 million doses of vaccine are being administered each day right now. Thankfully, there is a new beginning in sight. But for today, and for a little while longer, we remain put.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how Noah and his family remained in the ark for just over a year. We are at that exact mark now, a mark we could not fathom on Palm Sunday last year. I spoke about the spiritual posture of lamentation and how necessary it is in times like these. But I had no idea just how much cause for lament was before us. And here we come, once again, to the reading of the Passion Gospel, in which lamentation collides with hope as we remember Jesus dying on the cross. And as we try not to forget the promise he made to his friends about what would happen three days later.

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