Change Your Hearts and Lives

Sermon for Sunday, December 8, 2019 || Advent 2A || Matthew 3:1-12

About ten minutes into The Princess Bride, we meet Vizzini, Fezzek, and Inigo. The three brigands kidnap Princess Buttercup and set sail across the sea to another country, where the giant Fezzek scales the imposing Cliffs of Insanity with the other three strapped to him. All the while, the Man in Black has been chasing them, but Vizzini dismisses their pursuer, saying it would be “inconceivable” that anyone would have known they kidnapped the princess in the first place. And yet the Man in Black starts climbing the cliffs after them. “Inconceivable” says Vizzini again. Vizzini cuts the rope, and the Man in Black hangs onto the rocks: “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!” The Spanish blademaster Inigo Montoya looks at Vizzini and says one of the more quotable lines in a film full of quotable lines: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line from one of my all-time favorite movies always comes to mind when I read today’s Gospel lesson because John the Baptist uses a word, a very special word, and I do not think it means what our society thinks it means.

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Four Images of Grief

I offered the following reflection on St. Mark’s All Souls Day services on November 2, 2019. I wrote most of it several years ago and have used pieces of it here and there, but I have not published the entire reflection until now.

During the next few minutes, I would like to share with you four images. I invite you to imagine these images as I describe them. Each one illustrates a facet of the impact of grief on our lives, something that grief does for us, something that grief is. Perhaps you will resonate with one or more of these images. Perhaps, the four that I describe will spur you to discern your own image for grief. I hope you will, because grief is an intensely personal thing, which makes it one of the hardest things to share. By trying to describe grief, we can give ourselves some language with which to talk about it, and thus find, in some small, yet meaningful ways, the ability to share it with others.

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I Will Give You Words

Sermon for Sunday, November 17, 2019 || Proper 28C || Luke 21:5-19

Imagine with me the words of the Apostle Peter, spoken to his young cellmate on the eve of Peter’s death in the city of Rome around the year 64 A.D.

I heard about the great fire that swept through Rome, and I knew immediately that the authorities would blame us Christians. That’s why I came here – to support the community I knew would face persecution. And now here I am, arrested for arson – this is my fourth arrest, by the way – and I wasn’t even here at the time of the blaze. But facts don’t matter to those in power. Only keeping their power matters to them. 

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Engage, Expand, Reach Deeper

Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2019 || Proper 27C || Luke 20:27-38

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again. Jesus rarely, if ever, answers the questions people ask him in the Gospel. Instead, he answers the questions he wishes they had asked. Today’s Gospel lesson is a case in point.

Jesus does not answer the Sadducees question because their question is disingenuous. They ask him a question designed to expose what they think is the absurdity of the resurrection. However, since they don’t believe in the resurrection, they really have no standing to ask a question about it. They are simply trying to get Jesus to trip into a bad sound bite. They have focus-group-tested a stumper, and they deploy it to make Jesus look bad.

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Play Your Game, Not Theirs

Sermon for Sunday, November 3, 2019 || All Saints’ Sunday || Luke 6:20-31

The only person you can change is yourself. 

Recently, I began a practice of silent meditation every morning. For twenty minutes, I sit cross-legged on the center cushion of my couch, and I breathe the prayer-word “Maranatha,” which means “Come, Lord Jesus.” I decided to build this practice into my spiritual life because I felt myself changing for the worse. The culture of immediacy had captured me with its constant need for updating feeds. The tough subjects I was (and am) tackling in my person study didn’t have a space to go inside me because I was too cluttered with other, incompatible ideas. I talked about God so much that I had forgotten simply to dwell with God. 

And most perniciously, with the rising tide of negativity, hate, indignity, and disrespect in our society, I could feel these evil chemicals starting to build up in my system. In silence, God and I can purge them together, and I can feel the treatment beginning to gain ground on the disease.

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God-Breathed

Sermon for Sunday, October 20, 2019 || Proper 24C || 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

We’re going to have a bit of a shorter sermon today* because the real sermon happened between the services with so many people coming together to feed our neighbors in New London County. So here’s a short teaching sermon about Holy Scripture, specifically about the very special word used to describe scripture in our reading from the Second Letter to Timothy.

The contents of the Bible rarely comment on themselves, and this morning we heard the most well-known commentary. The letter says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

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Thank You, God

Sermon for Sunday, October 13, 2019 || Proper 23C || Luke 17:11-19

This summer, I went to the place where that Gospel story happened. We were heading back to Jerusalem from Galilee, and we stopped in the West Bank town of Burqin, just like Jesus did – except he wasn’t riding an air-conditioned tour bus. We walked up a hill to a church that commemorates the healing of the ten lepers. Preserved there are the ancient underground caverns – holes, really – were people with skin conditions were set apart from the rest of society. I climbed down into one, and I can’t imagine being there for more than a few minutes.

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Laid Bare

Sermon for Sunday, October 6, 2019 || Proper 22C || Psalm 137

A few minutes ago we read perhaps the most horrific verse in the entire Bible. Did you notice it? The verse was at the end of the psalm. I’ll give you a second to go back and look. Here it is: 

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock!

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Walk in Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 29, 2019 || Proper 21C || Luke 16:19-31

This sermon is about walking in love. But before I go there, I need to talk about Jesus the radical. Jesus shares a lot of radical stories in the Gospel. We might not realize how radical they are because they appear in the Bible. And the Bible over time has become such an established collection of writings that we don’t necessarily expect them to be radical. We hear the same stories over and over again, so their shocking nature is dulled both by repetition and the long march of history.

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Twenty Bucks

Sermon for Sunday, September 22, 2019 || Proper 20C || Luke 16:1-13

In today’s Gospel lesson, the dishonest manager tries to buy his way into relationships with people who could benefit him once he’s dismissed from his master’s service. It’s a strange story, but as I reflect on it, I keep coming back to one fundamental question. What is money? And a second question derives from the first: how does our view of money influence our relationships? These are bigger questions than a ten-minute sermon can address, but I hope I can at least give you some food for thought. Before I get going, does anyone have a twenty dollar bill I can borrow?

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