I am of Paul

Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2023 || Epiphany 3A || 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

This sermon is about the danger of fundamentalism, but it’s going to take me a few minutes to get there. I need to start like this: something’s going on in the Church in Corinth. We don’t know exactly what because we only have Paul’s side of the story. But we know that within a few years of its founding, fractures have appeared between the church’s members. Later in the letter, Paul references a few issues that divide the people: issues around what to eat, issues around who is most important in the church, and issues around which spiritual gifts are the best. Paul addresses all of these before culminating in his great poem about love – you know, “Love is patient, love is kind,” etc. 

But here at the beginning of the letter, Paul talks about another type of division that goes beyond the ideological. Paul has heard that the members of the Church in Corinth are assigning themselves to camps based on certain individuals. There’s Paul. There’s Apollos, who was another church planter in Paul’s orbit. There’s Cephas – that’s Simon Peter. And there’s Christ.

Okay, I’m going to get in the weeds here for a minute. Fair warning. I promise it’s important.

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The Intention of Giving Thanks

Sermon for Sunday, January 15, 2023 || Epiphany 2A || I Corinthians 1:1-9

The action of giving thanks is a profound spiritual discipline. It may not seem so at first because we often think of spiritual disciplines as arduous additions to our lives, while we already tend to do a lot of thanking. We thank the cashier at the grocery store. We thank the person holding the door open for us. We thank our kids when they do something especially considerate. We’d be hard pressed to find a day in which we didn’t say “thank you” to someone. But the idea that a spiritual discipline must be an arduous addition to our daily routine sort of misses the point. A spiritual discipline need only be intentional, not necessarily arduous. And it’s even better if we build that intentionality off of something we’re already doing – like giving thanks.

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Intro to Baptism

Sermon for Sunday, January 8, 2023 || Epiphany 1A || Matthew 3:13-17

We have a pair of baptisms today, so I’d like to take the sermon time to do a quick session of Christianity 101: An Introduction to Baptism. It’s fitting to do this on a day when we will participate in these two baptisms and when we’ve just read about Jesus’ own baptism by John in the River Jordan.

So what’s really going on in baptism? The traditional understanding tells us that baptism serves as the initiatory rite of the church and marks the cleansing of our sins. Both of these definitions are accurate (let me be clear), but I think if we stop there we will be prone to misunderstanding. We need to dig a little deeper. Here’s one thing to remember about baptism: the sacrament of baptism affirms and celebrates a state of being that already exists. The action of baptizing doesn’t create anything new; rather, the sacrament marks our participation in something God is already doing.

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The 26-Foot U-Haul

Sermon for Sunday, January 1, 2023 || Feast of the Holy Name || Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

This sermon is about emptying ourselves of all the junk inside us so there is more room for God to fill. And boy do I have a good example to start with. My family moved this week. We bought a house here in Mystic and moved out of the rectory. Our new house is quite a bit smaller than the rectory, so we needed to downsize in a hurry. Every Tuesday and Friday for the last few weeks, we have filled the garbage and recycling cans and watched the truck’s grabber arm scoop up all our accumulation. We’ve made several trips to Goodwill with books and toys and games and clothes. We’ve put pieces of furniture up on Facebook Marketplace. And still our new house is full.

How did we end up with so much stuff?! When I moved out of my dorm after grad school, I could fit everything I owned in my compact car. But I needed the 17-foot U-Haul for the move out of my townhouse in West Virginia, then the 20-foot U-Haul for the next move, then Leah and I needed the 26-foot U-Haul when we moved to Mystic. Then the kids were born, and our stuff, you know, **Explosion Noise**.

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O Magnum Mysterium

Sermon for Saturday, December 24, 2022 || Christmas Eve || John 1:1-14

Tonight, I’d like to share with you a great mystery. It is the mystery of God’s movement in creation in the singular way that we call the Incarnation; that is, the presence of God coming among us in the flesh and blood person of Jesus of Nazareth. Notice, I said I’d like to share this mystery with you. I’m using the verb “share” on purpose, because it is way above my paygrade to try to “explain” this mystery. 

This isn’t the type of mystery one can explain. This isn’t like the kinds of mysteries my mother loves to read – Whodunnits. In those books, a mystery is set forth: say, how does the killer manage to murder someone in a room locked from the inside? The plot revolves around the detective attempting to solve the puzzle. In the end, the detective figures out that the bell rope used to call for the maid is replaced with a poisonous snake, which somehow slithered unnoticed out of the room in the ensuing hubbub of discovering the body. Mystery solved. No more mystery. 

The mystery of God’s presence in creation is not this kind of mystery. The mystery of God cannot be solved. It cannot be grasped. But the mystery of God can be embraced. My prayer for all of us this Christmas is that we embrace this mystery of God’s movement, even as God embraces us with God’s love.

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Joseph’s Letter

Sermon for Sunday, December 11, 2022 || Advent 4A || Matthew 1:18-25

Imagine with me a letter written by Joseph to his father on the night Joseph had the dream of the angel that today’s Gospel reading narrated.

Joseph, eldest son and protégé, to Jacob, my father, mentor, and confidant: Blessings and peace to you, my mother, and my brothers and sisters.

By the time you read this letter, I will have left home. I awoke in the still hours of the night to write it, and I imagine that when I leave, the sun will be many hours from rising. I hope someday you will welcome me back into this house. I know it will not be tomorrow or the next day. But someday, I hope.

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The Fire

Sermon for Sunday, December 4, 2022 || Advent 2A || Matthew 3:1-12

Today I’m going to talk about the concept of repentance. But to get there, I need to talk about my experience of the fire here in Mystic that destroyed Seaport Marine last Sunday night. On Sunday evenings, Leah and I play Dungeons and Dragons with some friends in our basement. We were wrapping up our game when we heard a thunk coming from upstairs. Leah went to investigate and found a book had fallen off of one of the kids’ beds. No big deal. But right when she got back downstairs, we heard another thunk, and then another. But they weren’t thunks. They were explosions.

We went outside into the parking lot and that’s when we saw the intense orange glow filling the sky over the buildings in downtown Mystic. Orange smoke poured northward, deepening to gray then black as it billowed forth. We could see flames above the buildings. Sirens rent the air, a near constant wail of fire trucks from all over the region screaming towards the blaze. The trouble for the six of us, however, was that, from our position, we couldn’t tell where the fire was. We couldn’t tell where the fire trucks were headed. I climbed out onto the roof of the education wing to try to get a better look, but I still couldn’t tell what was on fire. 

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NIMBY and the Reign of Christ

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2022 || Reign of Christ C || Jeremiah 23:1-6

Today is the final Sunday of the church year, the day on which we celebrate the Reign of Christ. Next week, we begin a new church year with the season of Advent. Both today’s event and the season of Advent share a similar theological lens. They both celebrate a present reality that is always happening AND a future reality that fulfills or completes the present one, a future reality that we long for and hope for, but has not yet come to pass. 

We tend to shorten these two realities into two camps: the “already” and the “not yet.” The upcoming season of Advent is a time when we celebrate the constant presence of Christ (that’s the “already”) while we also wait in hope for the second coming of Christ (that’s the “not yet”). And today, on this day we celebrate the Reign of Christ, we recognize God’s kingdom as the ever-present reality undergirding all of Creation (that’s the “already”) while we also recognize the continual need to partner with God to make that reality even more present across our broken world (that’s the “not yet”).

Today is also the day where the Greater New London Clergy Association, a group of several dozen pastors, priests, and rabbis from the region, (we all) decided to preach on the same topic – the housing crisis in Southeastern Connecticut. So I thought to myself: how am I going to talk about the housing crisis and about the Reign of Christ in the same sermon? And the answer hit me very quickly. The biggest obstacle to solving the housing crisis is also something that runs absolutely counter to the Reign of Christ.

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Pretenders

Sermon for Sunday, November 13, 2022 || Proper 28C || Luke 21:5-19

You all know that one of my favorite Bible study exercises is reconstructing the questions Jesus wishes he would have been asked. So often in the Gospel, Jesus does not answer questions directly. People ask him questions, and frequently, his answers don’t line up with what they ask. This pattern happens often enough in the Gospel that I’d bet it was a hallmark of Jesus’ conversational style. And let me be clear, Jesus doesn’t dodge questions or spin them towards talking points like a politician. Rather, Jesus answers the deeper questions he hopes people would ask.

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