Astonishing Words About Wealth

Sermon for Sunday, October 10, 2021 || Proper 23B || Mark 10:17-31

Jesus tells his disciples a lot of astonishing things in the Gospel. He tells them to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He tells them to pluck their own eye out if it causes them to sin. He tells them that he will be killed and then rise again on the third day. Pretty much every time Jesus opens his mouth, he says something astonishing.

But only one time in the entire Gospel does the narrator tell us the disciples are astonished after hearing Jesus say something.* One time across all four accounts of the Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Once! And that one time the disciples are astonished by Jesus’ words comes in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s easy to miss because, for some reason, our English translation renders the word as “perplexed,” but it’s better translated as “astonished,” or “amazed,” or even “startled.” What did Jesus say to so startle his disciples?

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Seeds of Peace

Sermon for Sunday, September 19, 2021 || Proper 20B || James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

This is a sermon about peace. To start, I’d like us all to take as deep a breath through your nose as your mask will allow. Then, on your exhale, slowly and quietly speak the word “peace.” First, the opening consonant, a simple “puh” sound, what linguists call a ‘voiceless bilabial plosive’ – ‘puh.’ Next a long ‘E’ sound, which we can spend much of our breath on. Then finish off the breath with the sibilant ‘S’ sound, a chorus of sizzling. All together now. Deep breath in. Peace.

On that exhale, we breathed peace into the world, along with our carbon dioxide. Now the trees and grass outside will take that CO2 and transform it into energy and water, their own breaths of peace in a world torn by violence (see note below). The trees and grass send their roots deep, holding the soil to the ground and preventing erosion. And those plants outside all came – a month ago or a hundred years ago – from seeds. Seeds planted in the ground with the hope of sprouting. Our breaths of peace, our embrace of a life of peace, are also seeds. They are seeds planted in the soil of our souls and in the heart of our communities – local, national, and global.

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High Noon (updated)

Sermon for Sunday, September 12, 2021 || Proper 19A || Mark 8:27-38

I’m sure we’ve all watched this scene unfold in a film, a Western, perhaps starring John Wayne or Gary Cooper. The sheriff checks the rounds in his six-shooter, puts on his Stetson and shiny, star-shaped badge, and walks bowlegged out of his tin-roofed station. His spurs clink as he walks, and his boots kick up the dust of the main street running through town. At the same time, the batwing doors of the saloon swing outward, and the gun-slinging outlaw swaggers down the steps into the street. The outlaw wears a red bandanna and dark leather chaps and keeps his Colt .45 slung low on his hip, the better to draw quickly. They face each other at high noon out on the street. They are alone, though the whole town is watching from windows and roofs. A tumbleweed skitters across the road between them. There are no shadows. And the sheriff says, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

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Emmett Till

We had a guest preacher at St. Mark’s yesterday, so no sermon from me this week. Instead, I’d like to share a poem I wrote recently. It was the day after the verdict was handed down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, and I was feeling the same ambivalence so many were feeling: a sense of vindication that the court found George Floyd’s death to be murder paired with a sense of dogged endurance because accountability is only a small piece of justice.

That day I began reading Imani Perry’s beautiful, tender, honest, and wrenching letter to her sons in her book Breathe. Early in the book, Perry speaks of Emmett Till’s mother:

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Other Sheep

Sermon for Sunday, April 25, 2021 || Easter 4B || John 10:11-18

On Monday morning last week, the buds on the maple tree in front of my house appeared. They weren’t there last Sunday, and then – BOOM – there they were in all their potential glory. I knew they were coming in the vague sense that it was spring and that’s what happens to trees. But I hadn’t spared much thought as to when. And then, suddenly, there they were: skeletal sticks one day, green buds the next, like a quick costume change between scenes of a play.

At least that’s what I saw from my perspective. What about the tree’s perspective? What would we see if we imagined our way into that majestic maple? We would feel the slow return of warmth and sunlight that would get the sap moving again after the near dormant days of winter. We would explore deeper with our roots, seeking nutrients and water. We would spend weeks gathering and converting energy to power all the tiny interactions within our complex body to send forth those little green buds. Over the course of one night, the buds would slowly unfurl from the ends of their little flagpoles.

What looks to me like a spontaneous greening, the maple spent all winter preparing for. What looks to me sudden and surprising was for the maple slow and deliberate. What a difference our perspective makes.

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What We Will Be

Sermon for Sunday, April 18, 2021 || Easter 3B || Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7

One of the challenges of growing as human beings is expecting perfection when we try something new simply because we are pretty good at something else. I thought I could pick up the violin because I’m a fairly good guitarist. Not so much. We humans do not like doing things we are bad at because our egos get in the way. The older we get, the more solidified becomes the subset of activities that we think we are good enough to engage in. Does that resonate with you? I can still play soccer because I’ve been playing it since I was a kid. But don’t expect me to pick up lacrosse any time soon. I don’t want to feel foolish when the ball stubbornly fails to stay in the little net for the hundredth time.

All right. So why am I talking about this? The innocuous music and sports examples are one thing. But we need to grow in so many ways so we don’t become static and stagnant – ways that we naturally resist because growth takes energy and focus. We need to keep growing in kindness and compassion so we outgrow selfishness and callousness. We need to keep growing in the desire to be of service to others while also understanding our own healthy boundaries and limits. We need to keep growing in all facets of our identity – as spouses, family members, friends, neighbors, citizens, and followers of Jesus.

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Prophecy

Sermon for Sunday, January 24, 2021 || Epiphany 4B || Deuteronomy 18:15-20

This is a sermon about prophecy, but first I want you to put a question in your mind because I’m going to ask it again at the end, and I don’t want you to be caught off guard. Here’s the question. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better?

Got it in your mind? Good. Because that question is the essence of prophecy. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better? We’ll get back to that question in a few minutes. For now, let’s talk about Moses and prophecy. 

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One Step Behind Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, January 10, 2021 || Epiphany 1B || Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

I was in the middle of exercising late Wednesday afternoon when I received panicked texts from a friend and from my mother at the same time. Do you see what’s going on at the Capitol right now? We are very shaken. Are you all okay? I immediately switched over from YouTube to live coverage on CBS and left it on until well past sundown, unable to tear my eyes away from the ugly spectacle. In one way, the events of Wednesday were shocking: after all, a hostile force has not breached the Capitol since the War of 1812. But in all other ways, Wednesday was the natural outcome of years of lies, incitement, manipulation, demagoguery, and (most pertinent for this sermon) heresy. That’s not a word I use very often, but it is important, especially in tumultuous times like these, to use the right words for things. I’ve been thinking and praying for three days about how to address the events of Wednesday in this sermon, and the only way I can wrap my head around them after so little time is to begin with the heresy on display this week and then counter it with Gospel.

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My LEGO Jesus

The people at the churches where I have served as a pastor know how much I love LEGO. New sets were always my favorite birthday and Christmas presents growing up (still are), and I still have about 99% of my childhood LEGO bricks from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, LEGO minifigures all had yellow heads and hands. They all had the same two black dots for eyes and small smile. The first minifigures debuted in 1978, and variable facial expressions appeared first in 1989, and….

Yikes. I had to stop myself from going on a long ramble about the history of LEGO minifigures. Here’s a great infographic from LEGO which tells it way better than I can.

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1,142 Thank Yous

Sermon for Sunday, November 8, 2020 || Proper 27A || Matthew 25:1-13

I spent Election Day saying “thank you” to people, and it completely changed me. Going into November 3rd, I was a ball of raw nerves and tension and indigestion and fear. And while much of my tension remains, I found myself breathing a little easier despite the lack of immediate electoral clarity. I was even able to manage a four-hour chunk of sleep on Election Night. I had been praying for the election – for safety, especially, and for the process to run its course smoothly. I had been praying for those who are most vulnerable in our society, whose lives change more dramatically than mine does depending on who is in power. I had been praying for myself, for sleep, for peace, for patience. And still I was a ball of tension going into last Tuesday.

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