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”

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”

The Moment of Encounter, part 1: The Burning Bush

Sermon for Sunday, September 3, 2017 || Proper 17A || Exodus 3:1-15

I wonder what would have happened if Moses had ignored the burning bush. Would he have simply led his sheep down from the mountain and lived out the rest of his days in placid comfort in his father-in-law’s house? Or would God have thought up another way to catch his attention? Our faith tells me the latter is more plausible: God would have shown up again in another manner, and perhaps then Moses would be ready for the encounter. And if not then, a third time. And a fourth. And so on. Continue reading “The Moment of Encounter, part 1: The Burning Bush”

The Path of Totality

Sermon for Sunday, August 27, 2017 || Proper 16A || Romans 12:1-9

Unfortunately, New England did not fall along the “path of totality” during the eclipse last Monday. I had friends in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kansas who posted their excitement and wonder on Facebook, along with some grainy cell phone shots of the moon getting in the sun’s way. In 2024, we’ll be much closer to the “path of totality” during the next eclipse, which will cut a swath from Texas to northern Maine, and we’ll get a better taste of what our lucky friends got to experience last week.

The eclipse may have come and gone, but the phrase “path of totality” has really stuck in my mind. It’s a fabulous, weighty term, and does an equally good job of explaining the kind of life God invites us to live as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to follow the path of totality, a life given over fully to God. Of course, most of us don’t exist along this path of totality too often: most of the time, we live in Connecticut, which only received about a two-thirds eclipse on Monday. Continue reading “The Path of Totality”

Directing Creativity: The Story of Joseph

Sunday, August 20, 2017 || Proper 15A || Genesis 37-47

In honor of holding a Godly Play storyteller training here at St. Mark’s this weekend, I’d like to take today’s sermon to tell you a story. It is an old, old story, one which we heard the end of just a few minutes ago. We heard the beginning of the story last Sunday, and then we skipped the long roller coaster ride in the middle. It is the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. The story of Joseph teaches one thing above all. It teaches that God’s directing creativity can work through any earthly situation, good ones and bad ones, joyful ones and painful ones. Continue reading “Directing Creativity: The Story of Joseph”

God is Love, and Love Wins

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017 || In response to the Violence in Charlottesville, VA

You might be wondering why I didn’t shave today. I have enough grandmothers in this congregation that I assure you someone is wondering that. Well, at about quarter to six this morning, I scrapped my sermon. I had just finished revising it when I decided to check the news and learned what had happened yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia. If you were tuned out yesterday like I was, here’s the short version. A large group of white supremacists gathered on and near the campus of the University of Virginia to, according to them, protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters also gathered. There were verbal and physical clashes, culminating in a car plowing into a the latter group, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Later in the day, a police helicopter crashed, killing both officers aboard (though foul play was not suspected). Continue reading “God is Love, and Love Wins”

Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)

Sermon for Sunday, July 16, 2017

I began this two-part sermon last week talking about our partnership with God in Christ; how Jesus’ invitation to “take his yoke” upon us is an invitation to plow the field with him, walking alongside each other. If you’re anything like me, you find this invitation easier to accept during terrible and tumultuous times, and you lay aside the yoke during the mundane dailiness of life. I closed last week’s sermon asking these questions: How much more meaningful would our lives be if we invited God to be present in those mundane times: to be part of the washing up and the lawn mowing and the daily commute? To be part of studying for a test and eating dinner and jogging? How much more often would we notice God already at work in the world around us if we invited God to be at work in the world within us?

This noticing happens when we pay attention. And when we pay attention we discover God is already at work in our lives whether or not we sent the invitation. I’d like to take the rest of this sermon to introduce you to a spiritual practice I have been using for the past eleven years in order to remain attentive. It is called the Ignatian Examen, a daily introspective prayer of awareness derived from the work and witness of 16th century Saint Ignatius Loyola. Continue reading “Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)”