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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Sabbatical Notes, Week 12: The End

Yesterday was my final day of sabbatical time: twelve long weeks set apart from (at least some of) my normal rhythms. I spent a good chunk of it in my basement. The parts I didn’t spend in my basement I spent in Alabama, North Carolina, and Israel-Palestine. I also visited my spiritual director three times, and her insights were (as always) helpful, inspired, compassionate, and kind.

I went into this sabbatical time with four written goals and one unwritten goal. The unwritten one was not to be so bound to my four written goals that I didn’t move where the Holy Spirit was leading me. The four written goals were:

  1. Integrate through personal writing much of the reading I’ve done about racism and white supremacy.
  2. Prepare myself for pilgrimage to the Holy Land and make the most out of that opportunity.
  3. Rest, rejuvenate, and step back to see the proverbial forest instead of the trees.
  4. Begin habituating a spiritual practice of silence and Christian meditation into my daily life.

Because of the unwritten goal, I am striving not to quantify “how well” I achieved the four written ones. Rather, here are a few observations about each one. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 12: The End”

Sabbatical Notes, Week 11: Silence

As my sabbatical time draws to a close, I want to share with you the last of the four movements that I hoped to address during these three months. As a refresher, these items have been

  1. Internal work confronting the seed of white supremacy within me;
  2. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land;
  3. Rest and rejuvenation;
  4. And silence.
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Sabbatical Notes, Week 10: A Remembrance

Last Sunday, June 23, 2019, my paternal grandmother Dorothy died. She had spent two weeks in the loving and tender care of Hospice following a massive stroke. She was 93-years-old, which was, truth be told, a bit on the young side for her long-lived family. I was in the Holy Land during most of her time in Hospice, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, a FaceTime call put me in the room with her from halfway across the world. My father said that she visibly brightened when she heard my voice, though by that point she could not talk. She could barely squeeze a hand. I lit a candle for her in the “upper room” in the Old City, a peaceful place that beckoned prayer. The tears I shed for her watered the dusty ground of Jerusalem. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 10: A Remembrance”

Sabbatical Notes, Week 9: Pictures of Pilgrimage

Week Nine of Sabbatical notes finds me really, really jet-lagged. Like can’t form full sentences jet-lagged. So instead of writing a piece for this week, I put together a slideshow of some of my pictures from the nine-day pilgrimage, accompanied by some rambling voiceover. Enjoy!

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Sabbatical Notes, Week 8: The Kokh Tomb

The events of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land are still too near for me to write about with any kind of perspective, so today I thought I’d offer you a short example of the recontextualization of Jesus’ story that I have learned from walking the land where Jesus walked. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 8: The Kokh Tomb”