Responsibility (From the Eyes of Zacchaeus)

Sermon for Sunday, October 30, 2016 || Proper 26C || Luke 19:1-10

It being Halloween tomorrow, I thought I might dress up in costume today – at least in my sermon. So imagine with me the memories of Zacchaeus the tax collector, as he reflects on the fateful day when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house in Jericho.

They were empty words when I spoke them. I admit that. I had absolutely no plan to follow through with my grand gesture after Jesus left town. I guess I was pretty unscrupulous back then, wasn’t I? Everyone was grumbling about Jesus talking to me, so I made use of the attention. “Look,” I said. “Half of my possessions I will give to the poor.”

I remember looking around at the crowd; not even that stunning display of philanthropy mollified them, so I compounded my worthless pledge. “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” That received much more approval. Maybe the crowds thought I was apologizing for my lack of scruples, for my admittedly, shall we say, creative approach to tax-collecting. But I stuck that little word, that little two-letter word “if” in the middle of the pledge. That teeny-tiny word – “if” – that was my bread and butter back then. There’s quite of lot of room to maneuver, to wiggle, when you use the word “if.” Continue reading “Responsibility (From the Eyes of Zacchaeus)”

Finishing the Race

Sermon for Sunday, October 23, 2016 || Proper 25C || 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Jeremy is my best friend from college. We co-hosted a radio show together that had exactly zero listeners. (This was quite liberating, by the way.) We spent hours in the quad just tossing a Frisbee back and forth. He’s a great guy, who now has a beautiful wife and daughter. Now he’s an endocrinologist in Georgia, but when we were at Sewanee together, mostly I sang in the choir and he ran. He was a member of the cross country team, so he ran a lot. Like everyday.

I’ve never understood the appeal of running as an end in itself; for me, running has always been a necessary evil, a part of training for soccer. But Jeremy loved it. He was always a good runner, but never truly elite. When he ran marathons, he never started in the front of the pack with the elite runners. He just wanted to finish the race in a time that he set for himself, a personal goal. Continue reading “Finishing the Race”

Fueling our Hope

Sermon for Sunday, October 16, 2016 || Proper 24C || Luke 18:1-18

Today’s Gospel lesson begins like this: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

This is strange: rarely, if ever, does the Gospel writer tip his hand while introducing a parable. Jesus seems to enjoy speaking in parables for the simple fact that parables make his audience dig deep into his words and find meaning for their lives by searching for meaning in his stories. But I think we should let the Gospel writer Luke slide just this once. He has our best interest in mind, after all. Luke doesn’t want us to miss the meaning of this story because living out this parable makes our lives fundamentally better. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” To pray always and not to lose heart. In other words, the story is about having the stamina and fortitude to pray persistently and to hope all the time. Continue reading “Fueling our Hope”

Naaman Syndrome

Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 || Proper 23C || 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

*Plays the opening riff to the Beatles’ “Blackbird”*

Does anyone know what this song is? (Hopefully someone will.) That’s right. “Blackbird” by the Beatles. I’m having something of a Beatles kick in my sermons recently. Not only is it “Blackbird” by the Beatles; it is also the very first song I ever tried to learn on the guitar.

It was the day after Christmas my senior year of high school. I had used my Christmas gift money to buy an incredibly cheap acoustic guitar from the local shop. My friends in musical theatre class all knew how to play guitar, and it seemed like a really good way to impress girls.

So I thought to myself, “What was in impressive song I could learn on the guitar?” And, of course, “Blackbird” came to mind. The trouble is, “Blackbird” is not an easy song to play. Your left hand has to move away from the precious comfort zone near the neck of the guitar where most chords are played and venture into the hazardous territory closer to the body of the instrument. Your right hand has to pluck the correct strings at the correct times, in concert with the movement of your left hand hand. Continue reading “Naaman Syndrome”

Acts of Faith

Sermon for Sunday, October 2, 2016 || Proper 22C || Luke 17:5-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Read literally, this passage could have saved the church several thousand dollars this summer. It’s true! After all, we had to have several trees removed from our property, and getting that done safely and expertly was expensive. But Jesus seems to say that a faithful person could just tell a tree to be uprooted and hurled into the Mystic River. I must confess to the members of the vestry and finance committee in attendance that I didn’t try this tactic before we engaged the tree-removal service. I apologize.

Then again, I would not have been my own first choice within this parish as the person of faith to go talking the trees out of the ground. I don’t have nearly as much faith as some sitting in this room.

And right there, with that thought, I fall into the same trap that catches the apostles at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. I fall into the trap of thinking faith has something to do with quantity. “Increase our faith,” they say. “Increase our faith.” Give us more. We don’t have enough yet. Continue reading “Acts of Faith”

Great Chasms

Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2016 || Proper 21C || Luke 16:19-31

This past summer marked the 10th anniversary of a fateful decision in my life. I had just started my hospital chaplaincy in Dallas and the two-year long relationship I expected to fill my free time had evaporated mere days before. So I picked up the game. Several of my friends played World of Warcraft, and they encouraged me to give this immersive online fantasy game a try. I did. And I got immersed. I got addicted. And I became detached. Continue reading “Great Chasms”

Can’t Buy Me Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2016 || Proper 20C || Luke 16:1-13

There was a group of fabulous philosophers active in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, their names spread quickly throughout the world, and their words continue to influence people to this day. One of their early well-known treatises speaks the same message as Jesus’ words this morning. They write:

Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.

These lines of the Beatles #1 hit bring the song to a very different conclusion than you might expect from hearing the beginning. The first two verses say, in part: “I’ll buy you a diamond ring… I’ll get you anything… I’ll give you all I’ve got to give if you say you’ll love me too.” Continue reading “Can’t Buy Me Love”

Claiming our Mission

Sermon for Sunday, September 11, 2016 || Proper 19C || Luke 15:1-10

The unsavory elements of society come to listen to Jesus, and he does not send them away. The scribes and Pharisees watch from a distance so as not to rub shoulders with such disreputable people, and at every turn Jesus’ behavior confirms their opinion of him. Either he does not understand the basic tenets of society, which force the unsavory elements to the margins where upstanding folks can ignore them. Or he does not care that he risks his own reputation by welcoming them into his presence. Either way, his behavior allows the scribes and Pharisees to write him off.

But there’s a third option that I doubt ever enters their tightly closed minds. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe he does care; maybe he cares about the people and not about his reputation. Perhaps the reason he welcomes those on the margins is that he has accepted his life’s mission, and he is living that mission to the fullest. Continue reading “Claiming our Mission”

Jesus’ Sales Pitch

Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2016 || Proper 18C || Luke 14:25-33

The date is March 29, 2010, just over one month since I moved to Massachusetts. The rain is so heavy that I feel like I’m driving through a carwash. I can barely see out the windshield, and I keep thinking that I’ve missed Furnace Brook Parkway. But just when I decide I need to turn around, I spot the sign, turn left, and five minutes later, I make a mad dash for the dryness and warmth of the Coffee Break Cafe.

The rain still manages to soak my jeans during the ten seconds I’m out in the elements, but the moment I step into the café, I forget the torrential downpour. I forget the dangerous drive. I forget the soaked jeans and the English language and my name and how to walk correctly. The woman I planned to meet stands before me wearing houndstooth rain boots, holding a steaming cup of tea, and smiling. And I forget everything about myself except for the fact that she is there to meet me – me of all people. Continue reading “Jesus’ Sales Pitch”

Spiritual Deadheading

Sermon for Sunday, August 28, 2016 || Proper 17C || Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

I hope it hasn’t escaped your notice that the gardens here at St. Mark’s look fantastic right now. Over the course of the summer, a group of dedicated parishioners came together to restore every one of the gardens here at the church — and there are about a dozen. Now that the weeds are plucked and the mulch is poured, the hard work of maintaining the gardens has begun. I don’t know much about gardening myself, but I watched the gardeners work and I listened to them strategize. And I learned a horticultural word unknown to me: deadheading; that is, the process of removing dead flower heads to encourage further growth and blossoming. Continue reading “Spiritual Deadheading”