The Pearl

Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017 || Proper 22A || Philippians 3:4b-14

Have you ever noticed that when you borrow someone else’s stuff, you’re always extra careful with it? You return the casserole dish wrapped in towels, lest it break in transit. You don’t dogear the borrowed book or break its spine. Leah and I have friends who are so wonderfully generous in lending that at any given time, our house contains six or seven of their possessions, and I’m irrationally afraid of what might happen to them.

One time I had to retrieve a couch for my previous church’s youth room. I borrowed a truck that could have plowed any other car off the road, but I treated it like the most fragile vehicle out there. I wanted to honor the trust the owner placed in me, and so I treated the truck with much more care and attention than I normally would my own car.

The thing is, if we truly lived our lives as children of God and as followers of Jesus Christ, we would treat our own possessions with the same care and mindfulness as we treat the possessions of others. Because, when you get right down to it, our possessions aren’t really ours at all. Everything we have belongs to God, who is the author of all creation. Continue reading “The Pearl”

Opposable Thumbs

Sermon for Sunday, October 1, 2017 || Proper 21A || Philippians 2:1-13

Until recently, my children have been pretty good at sharing with each other. Being twins, they’ve always had the other there, so they’ve never experienced a time when all the toys in the playroom were “mine.” But since they turned three, a switch has gone off in their brains and they have started claiming territory at an alarming rate. They have realized that “if you’re playing with a toy then I am not playing with the toy, and that’s bad.” The top of our refrigerator has become something of a demilitarized zone, where toys go when the twins won’t share.

I remember one moment a few weeks ago. It was almost comical in its illustrative power. One of the kids (I won’t say which) didn’t want the other interfering with the blocks. So the child gathered all the blocks together and held them, just held them, for fear of losing the toy to the other. But with both hands and both arms full of blocks, the child couldn’t play with them. There were plenty of blocks to share between the two, but since one was intent on hoarding that particular toy and the other fixated on getting in on the action, neither had any fun. And the blocks ended up on the fridge’s DMZ. Continue reading “Opposable Thumbs”

The Lord’s Prayer: Learning the Words Jesus Taught

A deep encounter with the Lord’s Prayer through words and photography, to help young children learn the words for the first time and their parents to learn them anew.

A little over a week ago, we began teaching our three-year-old twins the Lord’s Prayer. I said a phrase and they repeated it, and three phrases in I realized something. How was I supposed to explain what the word “hallowed” means? I stumbled through an explanation using more words my kids don’t know, and then I stopped and realized something else.

I’m a trained Godly Play storyteller, and I was going about this all wrong. I was trying to tell my children about the Lord’s Prayer, trying to educate them as to its meaning. What I should have been doing was inviting them into an experience of the prayer on their own terms, trusting that over time its words will become a part of their language system, woven into the fabric of their faith. Continue reading “The Lord’s Prayer: Learning the Words Jesus Taught”

Common Ground

Sunday, September 17, 2017 || Proper 19A || Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

My best friend from seminary is a man named Bret. Back in 2005, Bret and I bonded over our shared love of both Star Trek and Jesus, and our friendship has remained solid all these years. But there’s one thing Bret and I have never agreed on. He’s a high church Anglocatholic, who loves all the smells and bells, all the pomp and circumstance he can stuff into a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. You probably know by now that I am…well…not that. I prefer simpler, unadorned worship.

Now such a difference of opinion could have led us to part ways because Bret could claim I didn’t care about the sacrament of Holy Communion. And I could claim he put so many trappings around the sacrament that its true meaning was lost.* Churches have broken away from each other for far less than this particular difference of opinion. Indeed, a few hundred years ago, people were burned at the stake for espousing one or the other viewpoint. Continue reading “Common Ground”

The Moment of Encounter, part 2: The Confessions

Sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017 || Proper 18A || Romans 13:8-14

Last week, I talked about cultivating our spiritual awareness so we realize we are encountering God’s presence during the encounter and not after the fact. Moses was our shining example in that sermon, as he turned aside to really look at the burning bush. Jumping forward about 1,700 years, here’s the story of another person who participated in an encounter with God’s presence and whose life was forever changed. Continue reading “The Moment of Encounter, part 2: The Confessions”

The Moment of Encounter, part 1: The Burning Bush

Sermon for Sunday, September 3, 2017 || Proper 17A || Exodus 3:1-15

I wonder what would have happened if Moses had ignored the burning bush. Would he have simply led his sheep down from the mountain and lived out the rest of his days in placid comfort in his father-in-law’s house? Or would God have thought up another way to catch his attention? Our faith tells me the latter is more plausible: God would have shown up again in another manner, and perhaps then Moses would be ready for the encounter. And if not then, a third time. And a fourth. And so on. Continue reading “The Moment of Encounter, part 1: The Burning Bush”

The Connecticut Statement

This week I helped my friend, the Rev. Adam Yates, and a group of other clergy in Connecticut craft a response to the Nashville Statement. Our first attempt was little more than a reactionary rebuttal of the Nashville Statement’s affirmations and denials. It turns out we needed to write that first draft in order for it to evolve into what we really wanted to say. The second draft is an expansive vision of God’s creation and the rich diversity of people who belong to that creation. Because it is still a response to the Nashville Statement, ours still focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity. But it goes further than that, because as we wrote it, we reveled in the rediscovery of just how wondrous and creative is our God. Continue reading “The Connecticut Statement”

The Path of Totality

Sermon for Sunday, August 27, 2017 || Proper 16A || Romans 12:1-9

Unfortunately, New England did not fall along the “path of totality” during the eclipse last Monday. I had friends in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kansas who posted their excitement and wonder on Facebook, along with some grainy cell phone shots of the moon getting in the sun’s way. In 2024, we’ll be much closer to the “path of totality” during the next eclipse, which will cut a swath from Texas to northern Maine, and we’ll get a better taste of what our lucky friends got to experience last week.

The eclipse may have come and gone, but the phrase “path of totality” has really stuck in my mind. It’s a fabulous, weighty term, and does an equally good job of explaining the kind of life God invites us to live as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to follow the path of totality, a life given over fully to God. Of course, most of us don’t exist along this path of totality too often: most of the time, we live in Connecticut, which only received about a two-thirds eclipse on Monday. Continue reading “The Path of Totality”

Directing Creativity: The Story of Joseph

Sunday, August 20, 2017 || Proper 15A || Genesis 37-47

In honor of holding a Godly Play storyteller training here at St. Mark’s this weekend, I’d like to take today’s sermon to tell you a story. It is an old, old story, one which we heard the end of just a few minutes ago. We heard the beginning of the story last Sunday, and then we skipped the long roller coaster ride in the middle. It is the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. The story of Joseph teaches one thing above all. It teaches that God’s directing creativity can work through any earthly situation, good ones and bad ones, joyful ones and painful ones. Continue reading “Directing Creativity: The Story of Joseph”

“The Jews” in John’s Gospel

On Sunday, I promised a fuller discussion of the use of the term “the Jews” in the Gospel According to John. Here it is. What follows is a lightly edited and expanded section from my seminary thesis on the “Fourth Gospel,” which my outside reader, the truly wonderful Brian McLaren, encouraged me to include in the final manuscript. Previous to the inclusion of this section, I had footnoted the use of the term “the Jews,” but back in 2008 Brian rightly identified it as more important than a mere footnote.

After the turmoil in Charlottesville, VA where white supremacists were heard chanting anti-Semitic slogans, I now have firsthand knowledge as to why Brian urged me to add it to the final draft. To all my Jewish friends, please know I stand with you in denouncing the hateful and disturbing rhetoric of those white nationalists, Klan members, and neo-Nazis, whom you have been attacked by for years and years, but to whom many of us Christians are only now and belatedly waking up. For not speaking out sooner, I seek your forgiveness. Continue reading ““The Jews” in John’s Gospel”