Both/And Reality

Sermon for Sunday, November 27, 2016 || Advent 1A || Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14

At the end of this sermon, remind me to tell you why “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” is a funny thing to say. I’ll get to that in a few minutes, but first I want to tell you about my parents’ Nativity scene.

During the season of Advent when I was growing up, my family placed a beautiful Nativity scene on the shelf above the TV. The wooden stable had a bark and moss covered roof, above which we suspended angels on fishing line. Inside the stable, a bearded Joseph leaned on a staff and a kneeling Mary pondered things in her heart, while a donkey and a cow looked on. Outside the stable, a pair of shepherds, a woman balancing a jug of water, and assorted townsfolk queued up like bridesmaids and groomsmen in a wedding photo. Each character was transfixed by something going on at the center of the stable, something that was obviously important if the painted expressions on their faces could be believed. The trouble was that nothing was going on at the center of the stable. An unassuming manger stood in between Mary and Joseph, who stared lovingly down into the empty box.

Continue reading “Both/And Reality”

The Words on Jesus’ Lips

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016 || Christ the King C || Luke 23:33-46

I was at the Annual Convention for the Episcopal Church in CT this Sunday, so a pair of dedicated parishioners delivered these words for me. Thanks, John and Craig.

Today, on this final Sunday of the church’s year, we celebrate the “kingship” of Christ or (put another way) the “reign of Christ.” The eternal “reign of Christ” stretches out from Christ the King and supplants the lesser things that attempt to reign in this world and in our lives. When we turn our attention away from these lesser (yet louder) things – power, money, fame, and the like – we can see and participate in the greater (yet quieter) reality of Christ’s reign.

The territory over which Christ reigns encompasses the whole of Creation, and yet we tend to cede our personal territory to the lesser things that seek to rule because it seems like the normal and acceptable thing to do. But there’s the rub: Jesus never did the normal or the acceptable thing, so, of course, his reign subverts the expectations of the world. Continue reading “The Words on Jesus’ Lips”

Better Angels

Sermon for Sunday, November 6, 2016 || All Saints C || Luke 6:20-31

What are the two things your grandparents told you never to talk about? Politics and religion. Well, today I’m going to break that rule. Don’t worry: I’m not going to talk about specific partisan issues or endorse candidates. Rather, I’m going to speak to a common misunderstanding about the intersection of politics and religion in America; then I’m going to talk about Jesus, who was a pretty polarizing political figure in his own right; and then we’ll finish up with some stirring words from Abraham Lincoln. Continue reading “Better Angels”

Responsibility (From the Eyes of Zacchaeus)

Sermon for Sunday, October 30, 2016 || Proper 26C || Luke 19:1-10

It being Halloween tomorrow, I thought I might dress up in costume today – at least in my sermon. So imagine with me the memories of Zacchaeus the tax collector, as he reflects on the fateful day when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house in Jericho.

They were empty words when I spoke them. I admit that. I had absolutely no plan to follow through with my grand gesture after Jesus left town. I guess I was pretty unscrupulous back then, wasn’t I? Everyone was grumbling about Jesus talking to me, so I made use of the attention. “Look,” I said. “Half of my possessions I will give to the poor.”

I remember looking around at the crowd; not even that stunning display of philanthropy mollified them, so I compounded my worthless pledge. “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” That received much more approval. Maybe the crowds thought I was apologizing for my lack of scruples, for my admittedly, shall we say, creative approach to tax-collecting. But I stuck that little word, that little two-letter word “if” in the middle of the pledge. That teeny-tiny word – “if” – that was my bread and butter back then. There’s quite of lot of room to maneuver, to wiggle, when you use the word “if.” Continue reading “Responsibility (From the Eyes of Zacchaeus)”

Finishing the Race

Sermon for Sunday, October 23, 2016 || Proper 25C || 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Jeremy is my best friend from college. We co-hosted a radio show together that had exactly zero listeners. (This was quite liberating, by the way.) We spent hours in the quad just tossing a Frisbee back and forth. He’s a great guy, who now has a beautiful wife and daughter. Now he’s an endocrinologist in Georgia, but when we were at Sewanee together, mostly I sang in the choir and he ran. He was a member of the cross country team, so he ran a lot. Like everyday.

I’ve never understood the appeal of running as an end in itself; for me, running has always been a necessary evil, a part of training for soccer. But Jeremy loved it. He was always a good runner, but never truly elite. When he ran marathons, he never started in the front of the pack with the elite runners. He just wanted to finish the race in a time that he set for himself, a personal goal. Continue reading “Finishing the Race”

Fueling our Hope

Sermon for Sunday, October 16, 2016 || Proper 24C || Luke 18:1-18

Today’s Gospel lesson begins like this: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

This is strange: rarely, if ever, does the Gospel writer tip his hand while introducing a parable. Jesus seems to enjoy speaking in parables for the simple fact that parables make his audience dig deep into his words and find meaning for their lives by searching for meaning in his stories. But I think we should let the Gospel writer Luke slide just this once. He has our best interest in mind, after all. Luke doesn’t want us to miss the meaning of this story because living out this parable makes our lives fundamentally better. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” To pray always and not to lose heart. In other words, the story is about having the stamina and fortitude to pray persistently and to hope all the time. Continue reading “Fueling our Hope”

Naaman Syndrome

Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 || Proper 23C || 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

*Plays the opening riff to the Beatles’ “Blackbird”*

Does anyone know what this song is? (Hopefully someone will.) That’s right. “Blackbird” by the Beatles. I’m having something of a Beatles kick in my sermons recently. Not only is it “Blackbird” by the Beatles; it is also the very first song I ever tried to learn on the guitar.

It was the day after Christmas my senior year of high school. I had used my Christmas gift money to buy an incredibly cheap acoustic guitar from the local shop. My friends in musical theatre class all knew how to play guitar, and it seemed like a really good way to impress girls.

So I thought to myself, “What was in impressive song I could learn on the guitar?” And, of course, “Blackbird” came to mind. The trouble is, “Blackbird” is not an easy song to play. Your left hand has to move away from the precious comfort zone near the neck of the guitar where most chords are played and venture into the hazardous territory closer to the body of the instrument. Your right hand has to pluck the correct strings at the correct times, in concert with the movement of your left hand hand. Continue reading “Naaman Syndrome”

Acts of Faith

Sermon for Sunday, October 2, 2016 || Proper 22C || Luke 17:5-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Read literally, this passage could have saved the church several thousand dollars this summer. It’s true! After all, we had to have several trees removed from our property, and getting that done safely and expertly was expensive. But Jesus seems to say that a faithful person could just tell a tree to be uprooted and hurled into the Mystic River. I must confess to the members of the vestry and finance committee in attendance that I didn’t try this tactic before we engaged the tree-removal service. I apologize.

Then again, I would not have been my own first choice within this parish as the person of faith to go talking the trees out of the ground. I don’t have nearly as much faith as some sitting in this room.

And right there, with that thought, I fall into the same trap that catches the apostles at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. I fall into the trap of thinking faith has something to do with quantity. “Increase our faith,” they say. “Increase our faith.” Give us more. We don’t have enough yet. Continue reading “Acts of Faith”

Great Chasms

Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2016 || Proper 21C || Luke 16:19-31

This past summer marked the 10th anniversary of a fateful decision in my life. I had just started my hospital chaplaincy in Dallas and the two-year long relationship I expected to fill my free time had evaporated mere days before. So I picked up the game. Several of my friends played World of Warcraft, and they encouraged me to give this immersive online fantasy game a try. I did. And I got immersed. I got addicted. And I became detached. Continue reading “Great Chasms”

Can’t Buy Me Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 18, 2016 || Proper 20C || Luke 16:1-13

There was a group of fabulous philosophers active in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, their names spread quickly throughout the world, and their words continue to influence people to this day. One of their early well-known treatises speaks the same message as Jesus’ words this morning. They write:

Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.

These lines of the Beatles #1 hit bring the song to a very different conclusion than you might expect from hearing the beginning. The first two verses say, in part: “I’ll buy you a diamond ring… I’ll get you anything… I’ll give you all I’ve got to give if you say you’ll love me too.” Continue reading “Can’t Buy Me Love”