Dona Nobis Pacem

Sermon for Sunday, December 10, 2017 || Advent 2A || Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

The second semester of my sophomore year of college, the choir of Sewanee performed in concert an extraordinary piece of music that I bet most of you have never heard of. The Dona Nobis Pacem by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is a work for choir, soloists, and orchestra in a similar vein as something like Handel’s Messiah but with a more eclectic text. The words of the Dona Nobis Pacem come from the Bible, a political speech, the church service, and the poetry of nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman. Written in 1936 as fascism was on the rise in Europe, Vaughan Williams work acknowledges the horror and heartbreak of war even as it cries out for peace. Dona nobis pacem: give us peace.

Now, the choirmaster at Sewanee, Dr. Robert Delcamp, programmed the music for the entire school year the summer beforehand. So he could never have known what would happen the same week we sang our song of peace. It was the spring of 2003: Shock and Awe, the bombing of Baghdad, the beginning of the Iraq War. And here we were, a little choir at a little college, tucked away on a mountaintop in Tennessee, singing our plaintive cry for peace while the drums of war sounded both within the music and out in the world. Continue reading “Dona Nobis Pacem”

Awareness and Thanksgiving

Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017 || Advent 1B || 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Today I’d like to talk about the correlation between awareness and thanksgiving. The theme of awareness comes from the Gospel lesson, and the theme of thanksgiving comes from the reading from Paul. Taken together, we can see a deeper truth as to how giving thanks helps keep us aware, as Jesus urges. This sermon began percolating when I was getting ready for the service on Thanksgiving Day, so a few of you heard parts of it that day. But before I get to the correlation between awareness and thanksgiving, I want to tell you about the bedtime ritual at home.

It goes something like this. Right after dinner, at 6:30 in the evening, we take the twins upstairs and brush teeth. Then we have bath time until 6:45. Then jammies and stories. And then we say our “gratefuls.” What are you grateful for today? As you might expect, the children’s answers run the gamut from the silly to the profound, but what you might not expect is that every night they turn the question back around on me. If I don’t answer, they will let me know it. “Daddy, what are you grateful for?” Continue reading “Awareness and Thanksgiving”

The Widow’s Note

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017 || Reign of Christ, Year A || Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

About two months ago, I got a call from one of the nearby care facilities. An elderly man, whom I had never met, was actively dying, and the staff member on the phone asked if I could come over and pray with him. Now I wish my first thought was, “Yes, of course, I’d be honored.” To be honest, it was one of those days. I was on the run from here to there doing a million things, none of them very attentively because there was so much to do. So my second thought was, “I’ll go if I can squeeze in another visit.” After all, the man wasn’t one of my parishioners, not one of my flock.

Thankfully, a third thought bubbled up from my gut, from that place within that you listen to because you’re pretty sure the thought originated from someone other than yourself. The third thought was a simple imperative: “Go.” I got in my car and drove to the care center. The staff directed me to the room where I found the unconscious man and his wife sitting vigil next to him. Their adult children were on the way, but she wasn’t sure they would make it on time. She and I chatted for awhile about their life together, the blessing of his long years, the pain in seeing him move towards death. Continue reading “The Widow’s Note”

Gratefuls

Homily for Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017

The bedtime ritual at home goes like this. At 6:30 in the evening, we take the twins upstairs and brush teeth. Then we have bath time until 6:45. Then jammies and stories. And then we say our “gratefuls.” What are you grateful for today? As you might expect, the children’s answers run the gamut from the silly to the profound, but what you might not expect is that every night they turn the question back around on me. If I don’t answer, they will let me know it. “Daddy, what are you grateful for?”

Some days, something springs readily to my lips. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with you, I’ll tell them. Or I’m grateful for getting to perform a baptism or for the yummy dinner mommy made. Other days, I open my mouth to speak and no words come out. My day flashes through my mind, and I realize I don’t remember my day well enough to find within it something I’m grateful for. So I mumble something incoherent which satisfies the kids, and then I sing the good night songs and put them to bed, each with three kisses and an extra kiss. Continue reading “Gratefuls”

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”