The Breastplate of Faith and Love

Sermon for Sunday, November 19, 2017 || Proper 28A || 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Before my kids were born, I played a lot of video games. My favorite kind of games were set in medieval fantasy realms where you fight monsters and dragons, all the while collecting treasure and renown. And new armor. In the last game I played seriously, I finished it wearing armor made of dragon scales. That was pretty cool. The armor in these games often have pretty cool names, too: The Gauntlets of Might, The Helmet of Insight, The Boots of Running and Jumping. You get the the idea.

I’ve always wondered if the designers of these games originally took a page out of the Apostle Paul’s book, because as near as I can tell, he invented this naming convention. He says in today’s lesson from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” And yet, while the Breastplate of Faith and Love has an awesome name, it’s not even made of metal, let alone dragon scales. It’s made of faith and love. How could it possibly turn aside the weapons of its bearer’s enemies? Perhaps this is armor of a fundamentally different type. Continue reading “The Breastplate of Faith and Love”

Bursting Bubbles

Sermon for Sunday, November 12, 2017 || Proper 27A

For people of my age and background, a certain horrific event in our country’s history shapes us. We’re too young to remember the Kennedy assassination or even the loss of the Challenger space shuttle. And yes, September 11, 2001 was a seminal event for us as it was for everyone. But that’s not the event that shaped people who, like me, were in high school in the late 1990s. The horrific event that shaped us happened on April 20, 1999 when a pair of students armed with assault weapons and explosives attacked their own high school in Columbine, Colorado.

You may or may not remember it, but if you grew up like me, I guarantee you do. That was the day we were confronted with the stark reality that nothing and nowhere is truly safe, that whatever bubbles we lived in could burst at any moment. And yet, what always happens after horrific events, happened after the Columbine massacre. I knew the bubble was there. I knew it could burst. But I still lived inside the bubble, content to exist adjacent to horror, knowing that my odds of personal victimhood were microscopically small. Continue reading “Bursting Bubbles”

The Wrong People

Sermon for Sunday, October 22, 2017 || Proper 25A || Matthew 22:15-22

Imagine with me the thoughts of a nameless Pharisee, one in the party that seek to trap Jesus with their questions during the time between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, while he’s teaching daily in the temple.

All week Jesus had been speaking out against us Pharisees. He did it subtle like, not taking it to us directly, but talking in riddles and stories. Stories about vineyards and tenants and weddings and guests, and at the end of them, we took umbrage because all the wrong people got rewarded in his stories. They were insidious, those stories; they rattled around in my head, making up pictures in an incomplete vision that competed with the one I had always been shown. I kept quiet around my brethren that week, lest I let slip the confession that Jesus fascinated me, despite – or maybe because of – his puzzling and radical rhetoric. Continue reading “The Wrong People”

Albums and Playlists

Sermon for Sunday, October 15, 2017 || Proper 23A || Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

People don’t listen to albums anymore. In the age of digital music and playlists and Pandora and Spotify, you can tailor your listening experience exactly the way you want to. Don’t like a particular song? Don’t download it, or at least uncheck it from the list being exported to your device. Now the observation that people don’t listen to albums anymore is not new; the music industry has been in flux since I was a teenager when the invention of the mp3 changed all the rules.

But such an observation struck me recently when I went to YouTube and watched the new tour of one of my favorite bands. U2’s seminal album The Joshua Tree is thirty years old this year, and at their concert, they played the entire album straight through from “Where the Streets Have No Name” all the way to “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Because I had consumed many of the tracks via U2’s “Best Of” albums, I had never heard The Joshua Tree as a unit. And I was stunned. I had never noticed the intense longing the album as a whole conveys. Taken singly, the songs are fine – some are even extraordinary – but as a whole, The Joshua Tree is an astounding, beautiful, and heartbreaking work of art. Continue reading “Albums and Playlists”

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.

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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”

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”