The Found Sheep

Sermon for Sunday, September 15, 2019 || Proper 19C || Luke 15:1-10

This is a sermon about being lost and being found. Every time I read and re-read the Gospel lesson for today this past week, my heart kept drawing me to the same words: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” My heart just bursts with joy at those last four words: “Until he finds it.” These four words speak to the tenacious, undeterred nature of the shepherd who keeps looking and keeps looking until he finds the lost sheep.

Have you ever been lost? Of course you have. The question today is, have you ever been found? Let me leave that question hanging here in the air and share with you a quick story from the file labeled “Stupid Things Adam Did as a Child.”

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On the Basis of Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 8, 2019 || Proper 18C || Philemon 1-21

I guarantee you that the Apostle Paul has no idea he was writing scripture. This fact lends a certain authenticity to his words because he was never trying to add to the Bible. Rather, his letters flow from his close relationships with people all over the Mediterranean, people he has met while planting house churches. Today, we heard most of Paul’s shortest surviving letter, his letter to Philemon. We know Paul isn’t aware this letter will become Holy Scripture because his words are so personal, so timely. “One more thing,” he says (after the verses we read this morning), “Prepare a guest room for me.” That’s like me emailing an old college buddy and seeing if I can crash on his couch for a few days. Such a normal, everyday request gives this short letter a down-to-earth quality, a glimpse into Paul’s extraordinary (and yet still very human) life.

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Three Stories of Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, September 1, 2019 || Proper 17C || Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

In her last sermon with us Pastor Stacey Kohl reminded us that stories are powerful things. Sharing stories helps us make meaning, pass on tradition, teach lessons, deepen relationships, learn from one another’s experience, and grow closer to God. Today, I’d like to share with you three stories, all sparked by a single verse from today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” I’d like to share with you a story about Jesus Christ yesterday, a story about Jesus Christ today, and a story about Jesus Christ forever. Each of these stories is about Jesus and about me, and if I do my job right, each will also be about you.

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Red Yarn

Sermon for Sunday, August 25, 2019 || Proper 16C || Luke 13:10-17

When I was a freshman in high school, I had back problems. I grew an entire foot during the first two years of high school, from five feet to six feet. And it hurt. A lot. The bones in my legs grew faster than my ligaments could stretch. This caused my hamstrings to tighten, and the extra taut ligaments connected to my lower vertebrae caused my lower back to be thrown out of alignment. The growing pains were bad, but the worst part was that I couldn’t run. And since I couldn’t run, I couldn’t play soccer. (I did musical theatre instead…and it was awesome, but that’s beside the point.)

When I read the story of the woman with the crippled back, the memory of my back pain tingles and reminds me to stretch those hamstrings that are still really tight to this day. My back issues only lasted a year during a major growth spurt. I can’t begin to comprehend the debilitating nature of this woman’s eighteen years of back problems. I mean, we need our backs, right? Without the use of our backs, the rest of our bodies fall out of commission pretty quickly. 

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Cloud of Witnesses

Sermon for Sunday, August 18, 2019 || Proper 15C || Hebrews 11:29–12:2

One of the great honors of my profession as an ordained pastor is the opportunity to preside at funerals. As a matter of fact, we had one here yesterday for longtime parishioner Bill Everett. Some funerals carry the weight of incredible sorrow; others buzz with palpable celebration. Most hold both sorrow and celebration in tandem, as the two are not enemies but rather both are sincere expressions of love. As I prepare for a funeral, and especially as I write the homily, I find my thoughts drawn to the eternal nature of the love of God, which God made tangible and so very present in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Thoughts and Prayers

Sermon for Sunday, August 11, 2019 || Proper 14C || Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

It is so good to be standing here behind this lectern again. I haven’t preached a sermon since Easter Sunday, so I hope I remember how to do it. I have so many things I want to share with you from my time on sabbatical. Many I will share during the adult forum hour throughout the upcoming school year. Some things will surely influence my sermons. But today is not the day to begin that sharing. A week ago two more mass shootings, both perhaps spurred by the scourge of white nationalist terrorism, devastated the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The events were still breaking at the time of last week’s Sunday services, so there was no time to formulate more than just an anguished response – a prayer of lamentation: “How many more, O Lord?”

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Both Miner and the Vein of Gold

Sermon for Sunday, April 21, 2019 || Easter Day C || JOHN 20:1-18

Here we are at long last: Easter Sunday, a long wait this year, two-thirds of the way through the month of April. But it could have been longer. April 25th is the latest Easter can be, but that hasn’t happened since 1943 and won’t happen again until 2038, which coincidentally is the year I’ll be eligible to retire. Unlike most holidays, which are fixed on a particular date or day of the month, the date of Easter (and the Jewish Passover) springs from something much grander – the motion of celestial bodies. We start with the vernal equinox, the day in March when the earth is tilted just so in relation to the sun to make day and night the same exact length. Then we find the next full moon, and the Sunday following is this day of Resurrection.

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Goodness

Sermon for Sunday, April 14, 2019 || Palm/Passion Sunday C || LUKE 19:28-40

“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Jesus says these words to some Pharisees, who want him to corral his exuberant disciples. If we lived anywhere else in the world besides New England, I would be tempted to take these words of Jesus merely as metaphor, as a turn of phrase intended to illustrate the remarkable nature of the event taking place. But if you’ve ever walked a New England beach then you’ve heard the sound of the stones singing – small stones that used to be boulders and aren’t yet sand. The stones sing with a quavering voice, a thousand violins playing the same note but each with unique rhythm and tempo. As the waves flow out, the stone symphony plays the chords of creation, joining the great company of the myriad instruments in God’s terrestrial orchestra.

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One Gospel

Sermon for Sunday, April 7, 2019 || Lent 5C || JOHN 12:1-8

Today’s sermon is a full on teaching sermon. I’m going to talk to you today about the books of the New Testament that we call the Gospel. I’ll begin with a trick question. How many Gospels are there? (Don’t answer that because you’re going to want to say “four.”) If you listened carefully to how I introduced the Gospel reading a minute ago, you heard a hint at the correct answer. “The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.”

There is only one Gospel, and that’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel, by the way, means “good news.” The numerical confusion stems from the fact that this one Gospel reaches us by way of four different perspectives (or “accounts”), which we name Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That’s why I said “according to John” a minute ago. The “according to” is a really important preposition because it reminds us which perspective on Jesus’ Gospel we are working with in the moment.

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Imperfect Vessels

Sermon for Sunday, March 31, 2019 || Lent 4C || LUKE 15:1-3, 11-32

Today I’d like to talk about humility. And we’ll start at the low point of the story I just read. The younger son has squandered all his resources, and a famine has driven him to hire himself out in such a way that simply perpetuates his destitution. In the parable, Jesus places the son there in the mud among the pigs, longing to eat their slop. And in this moment of distress and clarity, Jesus tells us, the younger son “came to himself.” In other words, there in the mud, the son received the gift of humility, which allowed him to view his situation with new eyes and new possibilities.

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