The Cliffhanger

Sermon for Sunday, April 4, 2021 || Easter Sunday B || Mark 16:1-8

That’s it then. That’s the end of the Gospel: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a cliffhanger to me, like the end of part one of a two-part television episode. My favorite TV show of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation ended four of its seven seasons on cliffhangers to entice the viewer back in the fall. (That’s how television used to work, by the way.) The most memorable was the end of Season Three when Captain Picard was captured by the Borg, and the season ends when the Enterprise crew has developed a new weapon to take out the Borg cube and Commander Riker says, “Fire,” and then the picture goes dark and the words “To be continued…” flash across the screen. I had to wait all summer to see what happened when the Enterprise fired the weapon from the modified deflector dish! And I was seven-years-old. Waiting was not my strong suit.

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Field Trip to Jerusalem

Sermon for Sunday, March 28, 2021 || Palm/Passion Sunday B || Mark 14-15

We have arrived at our second Holy Week of the pandemic, with people participating in this service from home instead of the pews of this church building. At this time last year, we were all holding our collective breath and waiting for the surge of COVID-19 cases that the experts said was sure to come. It hit a few weeks later and then more surges followed until the baseline of cases was orders of magnitude greater than that first surge. Thankfully, over 3 million doses of vaccine are being administered each day right now. Thankfully, there is a new beginning in sight. But for today, and for a little while longer, we remain put.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how Noah and his family remained in the ark for just over a year. We are at that exact mark now, a mark we could not fathom on Palm Sunday last year. I spoke about the spiritual posture of lamentation and how necessary it is in times like these. But I had no idea just how much cause for lament was before us. And here we come, once again, to the reading of the Passion Gospel, in which lamentation collides with hope as we remember Jesus dying on the cross. And as we try not to forget the promise he made to his friends about what would happen three days later.

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We Wish to See Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, March 21, 2021 || Lent 5B || John 12:20-33

“We wish to see Jesus.” So say a group of Greeks to Jesus’ disciples, a request that touches off the events of the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. We wish to see Jesus. Who among us has not said some version of these words. “If only I could see Jesus, then everything would make sense!” Jesus seems to anticipate such a desire because after the resurrection he says to his disciples, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Indeed, Jesus blesses us with belief in him and his life-giving Way, even though we have never seen him – at least not in his first century flesh. When we adjust our eyes and our vocabulary so they resonate with our faith, we begin to see Jesus everywhere we look. “We wish to see Jesus,” say the Greeks in today’s reading. I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon seeing Jesus – seeing Jesus in the grand narrative of the Gospel of John that leads up to this moment. As we go through the story, notice how seeing Jesus in the Gospel helps us see Jesus in our lives.

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Being Saved

Sermon for Sunday, March 14, 2021 || Lent 4B || Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians says something in today’s second lesson that makes my heart sing: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

This is one of those verses that makes me take a deep breath after reading it, a cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit who is so vibrantly present in those words. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…”

Today I want to talk about being saved. And I have to start, as I have before, down in the Deep South.

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The Temple of His Body

Sermon for Sunday, March 7, 2021 || Lent 3B || John 2:13-22

Today marks the one year anniversary of closing the building of St. Mark’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two days before the Third Sunday in Lent last year, the vestry met in an emergency capacity and made the heart-wrenching decision to close the church building for two weeks. At the time, the two-week closure was designed to help public health officials get a handle on where the virus was so they could begin tracking it. But two weeks became four, then a season, and now we mark a year. I went back and found the letter I sent to the parish about closing. It is clear in the letter that I had no conception that our building closure would last as long as it has. I could only comprehend two weeks at a time. I nursed a hope that we would be together by Easter. In March 2020 I would never have been able to conceive that we would still be apart the following Easter. But our building closure will last at least that long and most likely longer.

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The Cross of Compassion

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.

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The Rainbow

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.

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The Fast That I Choose

Sermon for Wednesday, February 17, 2021 || Ash Wednesday || Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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.

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The Loving Gaze of God

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.

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Grasshoppers

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?” 

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