Deep Breaths with Palestrina

Sermon for Sunday, March 22, 2020 || Lent 4A || Psalm 23; John 9:1-41

I usually listen to really upbeat music when I’m writing my sermons, often the Piano Guys, who do instrumental mash-ups of pop and classical music. Their driving rhythms mixed with familiar melodies propel me forward as I write. I’m sure I bop my head along, my fingers click-clacking across the keyboard in time with the percussion. When I sat down to write this sermon, I put on the Piano Guys like normal. But about thirty seconds into the first song, I had to switch to something else.

Because today is not normal. Today is about as far from normal as I can remember since the days following September 11, 2001. As I thought and prayed my way into today’s sermon, I noticed just how un-calm I was. I had not slept well in several nights. I had pain in my jaw, always a sign of stress. I had a thick knot of anxiety in my chest. I looked beyond the anxiety and felt a roiling mix of other emotions, which I’ll get into in a moment. Realizing my state on un-calm, I changed the music. I selected a setting of the mass in Latin by the Renaissance composer Palestrina, who never fails to help me take deep breaths.

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Everything I Have Ever Done

Sermon for Sunday, March 15, 2020 || Lent 3A || John 4:5-42

The Samaritan woman leaves her water jar behind, rushes back to the city, and says to anyone who will listen, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” That’s a pretty astounding statement given the conversation she has just had with Jesus by the well. Many biblical scholars chalk it up to her excitement – the exaggeration is forgivable because of the encounter she just had with the Messiah. Others say that, given her station, she needs to exaggerate in order to be taken seriously. I think both of those ideas miss the point of the story entirely because they start from the premise that the woman is not being a reliable witness, is not simply telling the truth.

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New Questions

Sermon for Sunday, March 8, 2020 || Lent 2A || John 3:1-17

We humans have a tendency to fall into patterns. Sometimes these patterns are life-giving, like eating healthy and exercising. Too often, our patterns are destructive, especially on a societal level: we do the same things over and over and wonder why we achieve the same results – results that do not promote justice and dignity for all. Now, our loving God invites us into the fullness of life, which will not happen until such fullness is available to all people and all creation. But when we keep arriving at the same set of answers that do not lead to fullness of life for all, we need to start asking different questions.

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To Serve and Preserve

Sermon for Sunday, March 1, 2020 || Lent 1A || Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

In our three-year cycle through the Bible, today is the only day we hear one of the most ignored, yet most important, verses of the Hebrew Bible. The verse begins our reading from Genesis today, and really, it’s only there to set up the story of the serpent’s temptation. But I want to focus on this verse today because, when we begin to own the mission that this verse asks of us, we will also – finally – begin to grasp our place in the order of Creation.

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Face Paint

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020 || Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

My kids love to get their faces painted. Whenever we are at a fair or carnival, they will beeline to face painting booth and wait in line as long as they have to. One of the twins will get a Spiderman paint job and the other will look like a unicorn. Then they will spend the rest of the day so happy because of the art adorning their faces. At bedtime, the inevitable strife will ensue. 

“I need to wash the the paint of your faces.”
“No!”
“But it will smear all over your pillow.”
“I don’t care!”
“You’re not the one who does the laundry.”

I’m in charge, so the paint eventually comes off, but I always hate cleaning their faces because it’s like I’m taking their joy away. Those nights, they go to bed very sullen. The unicorn and Spiderman are no more.

Or are they? The paint might be gone, but the imaginations that asked for those particular designs remain. The children can still enter into those identities in their play whether they have their faces painted or not. But for that one shining day, the face paint illuminates on the outside the characters they are playing within.

The same is true today on Ash Wednesday.

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Transactions and Relationships

Sermon for Sunday, February 16, 2020 || Epiphany 6A || Deuteronomy 30:15-20

This sermon is about the love of God, but it’s going to take me a few minutes to get there. First I need to talk about chores. When I was young, I had certain chores that I did because my parents paid me to do them and other chores I did simply because I was a member of the family and members of the family do the dishes when it’s their turn. Do the dishes, pick up after yourself, clean your room, wash your laundry – these chores came with no financial incentive. These chores lived within the relational currency of my family. I did them because to be a member of my family meant I had to do my part. But mowing the lawn – they paid me to do that. There is no way I would have mowed the lawn without the promise of gas money when I was done. 

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Shine Through

Sermon for Sunday, February 9, 2020 || Epiphany 5A || Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the light of the world.” Just let that sink in for a moment. It’s an astounding claim that Jesus makes. “Let your light shine before others,” he says, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Let your light shine. We remember so many of the commandments Jesus gave us: Love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, love one another as I have loved you, go into all the world and preach the Gospel. And here is another commandment of Jesus hidden in the midst of the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. Let your light shine before others.

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Something of You in Each Other

Sermon for Sunday, February 2, 2020 || Feast of the Presentation || Luke 2:22-40

Just a warning. This sermon leans heavily on my combined training as a political scientist and an ordained priest. It’s pretty heady. That’s why I’m going to start by talking about my favorite TV show.

In a Season Six episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise race against time to complete a puzzle locked in the DNA of the various humanoid peoples of the galaxy. The Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians are also trying to complete the puzzle, thinking it will lead them to a new weapon of great power. But in the end, the four groups arrive on a planet after needing each other to solve the genetic puzzle, and they encounter a recording from the original humanoid people of the galaxy. The recording tells them that those ancient humanoids traveled the stars and found none like themselves, so they decided to seed the primordial oceans on many worlds with their own DNA as their legacy. The recording says, “It was our hope that you would have to come together in fellowship and companionship to hear this message, and if you can see and hear me our hope has been fulfilled.” With swelling music in the background, the recording concludes: “There is something of us in each of you, and so something of you in each other.”

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Old Life, New Life

Sermon for Sunday, January 26, 2020 || Epiphany 3A || Matthew 4:12-23

This past summer, I stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The pebbled beach crunched beneath my feet. The windswept waves gurgled in and out. The fresh air filled my lungs just like it did for those first disciples of Jesus, who knelt on the same shore two thousand years ago repairing their fishing nets. The sea felt holy, filled with the memory of fishing boats plying the waves, delivering Jesus the Christ to various destinations on the coast; filled too with the energy of those ancient calls, brought to the present to strengthen and renew my own call to follow Jesus.

Imagine yourselves on that shore. The Sea of Galilee, really a large lake, stretches out before you, its dark blue waters lightening with the dawn under a clear sky, where the last of the brightest stars is disappearing. The Golan Heights and other points of elevation rise on the far side of the sea, gold and green and hazy in the distance. The sun is just rising over the hills across the water, and you’re squatting on the ground with threads of twine between your fingers. You need to repair the net soon so you can get in the water during the best fishing. Simon and Andrew already pushed off and they’re…

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Where Are You Staying?

Sermon for Sunday, January 19, 2020 || Epiphany 2A || John 1:29-42

“What are you looking for?” These are the first five words Jesus speaks in the Gospel According to John. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples are following him – quite literally trailing him after John has revealed Jesus’ identity to them – and Jesus turns around to question them. “What are you looking for?”

Jesus speaks these words, and is so often the case in the Gospel, his question operates on multiple levels. The first layer speaks to the surface meaning. This layer is easy for Jesus’ listeners to access, and so they become drawn in. Then the second, deeper layer of meaning presents itself. Many of Jesus’ listeners resist this deeper level. But those who do listen for it, who do dive deeply, find rich, life-giving substance in Jesus’ words.

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