What the Spirit is Saying

Sermon for Sunday, May 20, 2018 || Pentecost B || John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Since before my time at St. Mark’s, the readers of our biblical lessons have concluded their readings with this line: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” Before coming to St. Mark’s I had never heard this response to the lessons, and I fell in love with it immediately. At my previous churches, the more traditional line was always used: “The Word of the Lord.” Let me hastily say the traditional response is just fine in its own right, but there’s something about what we say at the end of our readings that really gets my blood pumping.

A few weeks ago at our Episcopal 101 class, they asked me why we say, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” This was a new formulation for them just as it was for me back in 2014 when I came to St. Mark’s. And their question got me thinking. Why do we say this? What are we proclaiming about God and God’s Holy Spirit by ending our readings with such a bold statement? “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” Continue reading “What the Spirit is Saying”

As I Have Loved You

Sermon for Sunday, May 6, 2018 || Easter 6B || John 15:9-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus says these words to his disciples during their last meal together. The next day he will walk to the cross, to his death, and so his words in the upper room take on the urgency of someone knowing they will probably be his last words. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

At first we might take issue with Jesus’ words: how can you command someone to love? It’s not like a drill sergeant shouting at his recruits to “drop and give me twenty.” That command can be followed pretty easily. You drop to the ground and do twenty push-ups. But the command to love? The reason it feels weird to us, the reason we might take issue, lies in the fact that we often think of love in terms of an emotion. This is love as “affection.” This is what we mean when we say we are “falling in love.”

Continue reading “As I Have Loved You”

God’s Abiding Presence

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 5B || John 15:1-18

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. Before the age of twelve I had lived in eight different houses in five states. When we arrived in Alabama right after Christmas in 1994, my parents promised my sister and me that we wouldn’t move again until I finished high school seven years on. I smiled and nodded, but the whole time I was thinking, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.”

I simply had no frame of reference for remaining in one place more than three years, which was my previous best. I wasn’t great at making friends because my experience told me I would be leaving them soon, so what was the point. I had to adapt to numerous new cultures and speaking patterns. Notably, when I moved to Alabama I had to amend every statement with the words “sir” or “ma’am.” If I had said either in my prior home of Rhode Island, adults would have thought I was sassing them. It was very confusing. Continue reading “God’s Abiding Presence”

Heart Expansion

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 4B || 1 John 3:16-24

I know it’s Easter season, but please permit me to begin this sermon quoting a piece of an epic poem about Christmas. Okay, here goes:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

My kids are on a Dr. Seuss kick right now, so when I read this morning’s lessons, the famous character of the Grinch immediately jumped to mind. In the entire canon of English literature, the Grinch is the best example of an anti-hero that I can come up with. Most stories are about a good guy, a protagonist, who overcomes some obstacle to achieve a goal. But in the Dr. Seuss classic, the main character is the bad guy, the antagonist, who thankfully is redeemed, in the end, by the selfless witness of his victims. I hope I didn’t spoil anything there. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published 61 years ago, so I think I’m in the clear.) Continue reading “Heart Expansion”

Radical Aliveness

Sermon for Sunday, April 15, 2018 || Easter 3B || LUKE 24:36b-48

There’s a great scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where a tank drives off a cliff with Indy aboard. Henry Jones, Marcus Brody, and Sallah race to the cliff’s edge and watch in horror as the tank tumbles to a stop below. In the meantime, Indiana Jones is clambering up a vine nearby. He staggers to his feet and comes up behind them. Sean Connery, who plays Indy’s father, does a fantastic double take and then grabs Harrison Ford in a frantic embrace. “I thought I lost you, boy,” he says, and the hug extends past the point you would expect this stern and professorial father to embrace his child.

I imagine a similar scene taking place in the upper room when the Risen Christ appears in the midst of his disciples. They think he’s a ghost, but he assures them he’s real: “Touch me and see!” Certainly, some of them grabbed him in the same frantic embrace that Indy and his father share. “I thought I lost you, Lord.” Others are still skeptical, so Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of them to prove he really does have internal organs, especially an esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Continue reading “Radical Aliveness”

The Intention of Peace

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31

“Peace” is one of my favorite words. It has a bit of onomatopoeia to it – you know, a word that sounds likes its meaning, like “buzz” or “hiss.” When I say the word “peace” I become more peaceful. I take a deep breath and exhale on the first sound of the word, and the sibilant at the end takes the rest of my breath. “Peace.”

I imagine Jesus doing this with his fearful disciples in the upper room. Of course, he wasn’t speaking the English word “peace,” but he does breathe on them. If they’re anything like me, then their anxiety would have stolen their breath from their lungs. But Jesus gives it back to them when he twice says, “Peace be with you.” And then a third time when Thomas rejoins the group: “Peace be with you.” Continue reading “The Intention of Peace”

Rolling Away the Stone

Sermon for Sunday, April 1, 2018 || Easter B || Mark 16:1-8

Good morning. I am so glad to be worshiping with you on this Easter morning. And I’m so glad that I got to read the last eight verses of Mark’s Gospel a minute ago because they hold some good news I never noticed before this week. Unlike the other accounts of the Gospel, Mark focuses entirely on the women’s walk to the tomb and their conversation with the young man in the white robe. The Risen Christ doesn’t actually appear in these verses, and we’re left in that unsettling moment when the women run off and don’t tell anybody because they’re afraid. Of course, they must have said something eventually or else this story wouldn’t have made it into the Gospel.

I can imagine Mary and Mary and Salome recounting their story to the disciples later on. “We got up early that morning and bought some spices to anoint his body. We had no idea how we were going to move the stone, but we went anyway, and when we got there –” Continue reading “Rolling Away the Stone”

I Am. I Am Not.

Sermon for Friday, March 30, 2018 || Good Friday || Passion According to John

Way back in Chapter Four of the Gospel According to John, we hear Jesus use a particular phrase for the first time. The phrase is special for it links Jesus’ identity to the divine identity of God. This one little phrase is just two words long, with only three letters among them. The phrase is “I Am.” In Chapter Four, Jesus says these special words to the Samaritan woman at the well. They’ve had a long talk about living water and where to worship, and their conversation ends with Jesus revealing to her his divine identity, saying,  “I Am.”

These two little words reveal his divine identity because of their link to a famous passage in the book of Exodus, in which Moses meets God in the burning bush. God gives Moses the mission to free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To gain some credibility, Moses asks to know God’s name. “I Am Who I Am,” says God. Jesus echoes this name many, many times in the Gospel of John, beginning first with the Samaritan woman. Continue reading “I Am. I Am Not.”

The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

Sermon for Thursday, March 29, 2018 || Maundy Thursday || John 13:1-17, 31b-35

I don’t normally ad-lib in sermons, but this one has quite a bit, so I would suggest watching the video instead of reading it.

(The Story)
Jesus’ hour has come. He knows he has come from God and is going to God, and he knows the Father has given all things into his hands. He is at table with his disciples, whom he will soon call friends. He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Rather than setting himself over his disciples as his position of Lord and teacher dictates, he takes the place of a servant and washes their feet.

(The Flu)
Ten years ago this month was the last time I got the flu. It was the Thursday before Palm Sunday. It was late in the evening, and I was sitting on the futon in my dorm room at seminary. I was doing what I always did in my free time, which was playing World of Warcraft on my computer. But something was wrong. I felt feverish and sluggish. My reaction time in the game was super slow, and I thought I might throw up on my keyboard. I closed the laptop and went to bed. I slept fitfully and awoke Friday morning with the flu. A full blown case: even blinking hurt. Continue reading “The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency”

The Way of the Cross

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, for the seventh year in a row, I have had the pleasure of presenting the Way of the Cross along with several teens from my churches. The teens present each station as a stationary tableau, each full of potential energy, but each remaining still. It’s quite a moving service, and the teens always do an amazing job. To accompany their presentation, I wrote a series of musical stations, which I present below in a slightly compact form.

I hope they bless your Holy Week observation as much as singing them blesses mine. Continue reading “The Way of the Cross”