Sermon for Sunday, February 28, 2021 || Lent 2B || Mark 8:31-38
In less than a year, COVID-19 has killed 500,000 Americans. We passed that grim and horrifying milestone last week. Half a million Americans are being grieved by millions more. Half a million. I can barely conceive of that many people. It’s as if you went to Atlanta, Georgia and the entire city was suddenly empty. I almost didn’t write this sermon because I could not imagine what I could say in the face of such a statistic – a statistic tied to the very real lives and deaths of friends, families, neighbors, and strangers across this country.
But then I read today’s Gospel lesson in light of this grim reality. And this commonly read passage hit me in a new way, a way I had never seen before, a way that sheds light on how we might hold the reality of devastating loss as we also push forward to a different future than any of us expected.
Continue reading “The Cross of Compassion”
Sermon for Sunday, February 21, 2021 || Lent 1B || Genesis 9:8-17
There’s nothing quite like a rainbow to make us stop what we’re doing and look up at the sky. A few years ago, a rainbow appeared off to the east of St. Mark’s, and from my perspective, it caught the cross of the church directly in the path of its spectrum of colors. The first thing I did was take about a hundred pictures. But then I remembered that day on our honeymoon – right around ten years ago today – when Leah and I left our cameras in the room, went out on our safari, and just took in God’s glorious creation with our own eyes. So I put my camera down and gazed at the rainbow hovering over the steeple of the church. And I thanked God for the sign of the rainbow, an ancient symbol of God’s identity as a keeper of promises.
Continue reading “The Rainbow”
There has always been a tension on Ash Wednesday between the chosen biblical readings and the liturgical action of receiving ashes. In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, which Ann shared earlier, we read that God isn’t all that impressed with fasts that include lying in sackcloth and ashes but do not include working to dismantle injustice. In the Gospel lesson I just read, Jesus lambasts the “hypocrites” who disfigure their faces while they are fasting in order that others might see and applaud them. The incongruity between these two lessons and the action we normally take next has always seemed strange to me – and I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve often fielded questions about it from parishioners.
Continue reading “The Fast That I Choose”
Sermon for Sunday, February 14, 2021 || Last Epiphany B || Mark 9:2-9
Christianity has many symbols, the cross being chief among them – a device of death and domination that Jesus transformed into a symbol of life and reconciliation. There are plenty of other symbols too, and many of them are animals: the lamb, the fish, the dove. And, perhaps most beautifully, the butterfly. Like the cross, the butterfly is also a symbol of transformation. The butterfly undergoes metamorphosis as it changes from the caterpillar, through the chrysalis, and emerges in its luminous form with wings like an artist’s palette.
The word metamorphosis pops up in the Gospel reading we just listened to. You didn’t hear it because Julia read the lesson in English, but I swear it’s there. “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.” And he was metamorphosed before them. In its humblest connotation, this word simply means “change.” And he was changed before them. But the intent is that the change is a revelation of who Jesus truly is. The metamorphosis that Jesus undergoes on the mountaintop reveals the dazzling, luminous person that God sees when God gazes upon God’s son.
Continue reading “The Loving Gaze of God”
Sermon for Sunday, February 7, 2021 || Epiphany 5B || Isaiah 40:21-31
This morning we read my absolute favorite passage from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, and I can’t let it slip by without preaching on it. This passage touches on a common element of the spiritual life that I don’t think gets enough press because people don’t particularly enjoy sharing their doubts. See if this sounds familiar.
You’re pumping gas or flossing your teeth or washing your hair or doing any sort of mundane activity. The numbers tick by on the gas pump, and your mind wanders. And for some reason, you have a sudden and unbidden attack of existential doubt. Has that ever happened to you? One minute you’re thinking about your grocery list, and the next your heart drops into your stomach, and you shake your head a little and you narrow your eyes and you look up at the sky and you say, “Why do you care about me, Lord?”
Continue reading “Grasshoppers”
Sermon for Sunday, January 24, 2021 || Epiphany 4B || Deuteronomy 18:15-20
This is a sermon about prophecy, but first I want you to put a question in your mind because I’m going to ask it again at the end, and I don’t want you to be caught off guard. Here’s the question. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better?
Got it in your mind? Good. Because that question is the essence of prophecy. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better? We’ll get back to that question in a few minutes. For now, let’s talk about Moses and prophecy.
Continue reading “Prophecy”
Sermon for Sunday, January 24, 2021 || Epiphany 3B || Mark 1:14-20
I wrote two sermons this week. The first I wrote on Tuesday during my normal sermon writing time, and it was an excruciating few hours in which I never found the flow that normally comes when I’m writing. I wasn’t in tune at all, and the words came out all wrong, and I couldn’t find an ending, which is a sure sign that I never found the thread I was looking for. I finished this unwieldy collection of paragraphs, shrugged, and said to myself that I would clean it up on Saturday. Perhaps it was salvageable.
But I’ll never know because on Wednesday, I listened to the young poet, Amanda Gorman, speak at the presidential inauguration, and she lifted my heart and soul with her poetry. If you haven’t listened to her poem. “The Hill We Climb,” I encourage you to do so later today. Find it on YouTube, and let her words lift you too. I listened to Amanda Gorman’s words, and her flow pulled me back into resonance with my own flow. And I knew I needed to write another sermon. This second sermon began forming in my mind even as I listened to her speak. The invitation Jesus extends to his first disciples sang in my heart, this invitation to “follow me.”
Continue reading “Follow Me”
Sermon for Sunday, January 17, 2021 || Epiphany 2B || John 1:43-51
Imagine with me the memories of the disciple Nathanael, thinking back to that fateful day when Philip invited him into Jesus’ circle.
This is a story about seeing. But first I need to tell you about my best friend Philip. Philip was always the one who was quick to believe. Every few months he would come to me way too excited about a new guru he had heard about or a get-rich-quick scheme or an investment opportunity. He always gave me the hard sell: You don’t know what you’re missing! How much money do you have! We can pool ours together and buy a full share! This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal! Well, Philip’s deals were more like once-in-a-fortnight deals, considering how often he fell for them.
Continue reading “I Saw You”
Sermon for Sunday, January 10, 2021 || Epiphany 1B || Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
I was in the middle of exercising late Wednesday afternoon when I received panicked texts from a friend and from my mother at the same time. Do you see what’s going on at the Capitol right now? We are very shaken. Are you all okay? I immediately switched over from YouTube to live coverage on CBS and left it on until well past sundown, unable to tear my eyes away from the ugly spectacle. In one way, the events of Wednesday were shocking: after all, a hostile force has not breached the Capitol since the War of 1812. But in all other ways, Wednesday was the natural outcome of years of lies, incitement, manipulation, demagoguery, and (most pertinent for this sermon) heresy. That’s not a word I use very often, but it is important, especially in tumultuous times like these, to use the right words for things. I’ve been thinking and praying for three days about how to address the events of Wednesday in this sermon, and the only way I can wrap my head around them after so little time is to begin with the heresy on display this week and then counter it with Gospel.
Continue reading “One Step Behind Jesus”
Sermon for Sunday, January 3, 2021 || Christmas 2 || Luke 2:41-52
They say that every therapist should be in therapy. Likewise, every priest should participate in spiritual direction. Without trained professionals helping us pastors notice God’s movement in our lives, one of two things happens. We either forget to rely on God, thus emptying ourselves of all nourishment even though a feast is perpetually spread before us. Or we decide we don’t need to rely on God, because we are doing just fine on our own (thank you very much!) and the same starvation results. We pastors are a rather thick bunch, usually quite stubborn when faced with the Almighty, because the Creator-of-All-That-Is rarely seems to fit the predictions of our seminary studies.
Continue reading “The Garden and the Wasteland (updated)”