We have a pair of baptisms today, so I’d like to take the sermon time to do a quick session of Christianity 101: An Introduction to Baptism. It’s fitting to do this on a day when we will participate in these two baptisms and when we’ve just read about Jesus’ own baptism by John in the River Jordan.
So what’s really going on in baptism? The traditional understanding tells us that baptism serves as the initiatory rite of the church and marks the cleansing of our sins. Both of these definitions are accurate (let me be clear), but I think if we stop there we will be prone to misunderstanding. We need to dig a little deeper. Here’s one thing to remember about baptism: the sacrament of baptism affirms and celebrates a state of being that already exists. The action of baptizing doesn’t create anything new; rather, the sacrament marks our participation in something God is already doing.
Sermon for Sunday, May 15, 2022 || Easter 5A || Acts 11:1-18
I need to warn you right off the bat that I’ve preached this sermon before. Not these exact words (I wrote these words earlier this week). But this sermon, and the ideas behind it, I have preached on multiple occasions over my fourteen years of priesthood. I’ve preached this sermon so many times because I think it is so easy to miss the second (maybe third) most important moment in the entire New Testament. Well, maybe fourth most important. Whatever, it’s in the Top 5.
You might be flipping through your program looking for what I’m talking about right now. After all, it’s just a random Sunday in the middle of the season of Easter. What could we have possibly read this morning that is important enough to make the Top 5 moments of the New Testament? Would you believe I’m talking about the end of the First Lesson from Acts Chapter 11? Now you’re looking at your program and trying to remember what ____ read. Wasn’t it about Peter eating things he didn’t think he was supposed to eat?And there was a sheet acting like a picnic blanket or something?
This article first appeared in the Pentecost 2018 issue of The Lion’s Tale, the seasonal magazine of my church, St. Mark’s in Mystic, CT.
This article starts way back. I mean waaaay back – over three thousand years ago, when two people left their home city and journeyed off into the wilderness. Their names were Abram and Sarai (soon to be Abraham and Sarah), and we read their story in the book of Genesis. The reason I need to start so far back is that Abram and Sarai discovered something that no one else in their land had discovered. They realized (a) there was only one true God and (b) God was already present wherever they went.
These were revolutionary ideas in their day. Most people in their neck of the woods assumed that each mountain and each river and each city had their own gods. Those gods stayed put: they were tied to particular places. Then Abram and Sarai ventured into the wilderness to find a new home, and they found God out in the wilderness. They set up altars to worship God wherever they found God, and soon the desert was littered with their shrines. God was everywhere! How amazing! Continue reading “Where God Is, A Brief History”→
Sermon for Sunday, February 4, 2018 || Epiphany 5B || Mark 1:29-39
There’s a certain line in this morning’s Gospel lesson, and I can’t decide whether it is hyperbole or not. “That evening, at sundown,” Mark tells us, “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” The whole city. Archaeologists tell us the city of Capernaum had a population of about fifteen hundred in Jesus’ day, so imagine a group larger than the student body of Fitch High School crowding around one house on a quiet side street near the sea. “The whole city was gathered around the door.”
Now you might be wondering why I’m harping on about this rather innocuous verse, and I’ll admit it has stuck in my craw this week. To be honest, reading about this whole city gathering around Jesus made me sad and wistful. Imagining this great throng trying to get near this wonderful source of healing made me long for a return to another time in the history of our little piece of the world.
Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 || The Feast of St. Mark (transferred) || Mark 1:1-15
After services today, we are kicking off our celebration of the 150th anniversary of St. Mark’s Church here in Mystic, Connecticut. While the church’s roots go back to the creation of a Sunday School in 1859, the traditionally accepted date for the founding of St. Mark’s jumps forward to Christmas Eve 1867 and the first service here at the Pearl Street location. Our history tells us that a wooden causeway had to be constructed that December night so members could navigate the tidal pools swirling on the lawn outside.
Of course, our church is more than this building with its simple, bright, lovely interior and occasional problems with flooding; indeed, a church is technically a gathering of people, not a location. We don’t go to church. We are church: we are a community of people gathered for mutual support, to praise and worship God, to deepen our commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and to partner with God in mission in our neighborhood.Continue reading “Mark and the Movement”→
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”→
Digital Disciple will be on the physical bookstore shelf and the virtual website shelf on May 1. You can pre-order it here. Here’s the second part of a three part preview that can also be found on my Facebook page and on Episcopal Cafe.com.
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As I view the intersections between connection and isolation, Tech culture and following Jesus, you should know that I make my observations from the perspective of a member of the first generation that has never known a world without the Internet. I’m a Millennial, one of the vanguard of the generation whose first members were born in 1982. As one of the eldest of the Millennials, I remember artifacts such as Prodigy and CompuServe, which lost the evolutionary battle to AOL. I remember when Napster was new and innovative and not at all threatening to the music industry. I remember when e-mail caught the attention of spellcheck.
But I don’t remember a time before http and www were more than just letters. I don’t remember my father owning a computer without a port for a phone cord. Ask younger members of the generation, and they won’t even realize that computers came with phone ports rather than Ethernet ones. My first cell phone was for emergencies only because it had a paltry fifteen minutes a month. (Don’t tell my dad, but most of my emergencies were of the pizza-ordering variety.) Younger Millennials have had cell phones since they were in elementary school. But from the eldest of us who remember the cretaceous period of dial-up to the youngest who were born with Bluetooth implants, we Millennials are dependent on the Tech, on all the gadgets and machines and Series of Tubes that connect us one to another and each to the world.
Of course, Millennials aren’t the only ones affected by the rise of the Internet and associated Tech. GenXers, Boomers, and computer-savvy older people like my grandmother feel the strong current of the Internet pulling them online just as much. As a Millennial, I have felt this current pulling me since I could reach the keyboard. As a follower of Christ, I feel God moving in both my virtual and my real lives. Knowing that these dual influences are neither mutually exclusive nor entirely compatible gives rise to a series of questions.
How do the Tech’s simultaneous forces of connection and isolation affect our walks with Christ? How does living in a virtual world influence living in both the physical and the spiritual ones? How do we maintain the body of Christ when the physical bodies we see and touch in church expand to include the virtual bodies we inhabit online? What place does prayer have in our instantaneous, Tech-driven world? Where do we keep our knowledge of God when our preferred method of storing information has shifted to the external? How do we resist isolation while remaining plugged into the Series of Tubes?
Now, I can speak only from my own experience. But I know that we humans are ineffective at arriving at the truth on our own, so I hope and pray that you will interact with my experience to delve more deeply into the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Each of us has a call from God, each a ministry. Within each of the questions above, we find this fundamental one: How do we continue in the tradition of the personal nature of the ministry of Jesus in lives that are increasingly siphoned off into remote, disembodied, virtual space? I invite you to explore this question with me.
But first, you might be wondering why you should take what I say seriously. Who am I to write this book? Well, I claim neither special revelation from the Almighty nor a mandate from my generation. I’m just another disciple of Jesus Christ who has a few words to share with you. I endeavor to follow Christ wherever he leads me, but increasingly I find myself walking along the data streams and fiber-optic paths of the virtual world. Is it possible that Jesus might find me and I might find him on those virtual paths? Is it possible that God can use the Tech to create better followers of Jesus Christ? I am convinced that the answer is a resounding yes, but a yes stamped with a necessary warning label. Our Tech-driven world is changing rapidly, and we are changing with it. Unlike the great cloud of Christian witnesses that has preceded us, we’re not simply earthbound, pavement-pounding disciples of Jesus Christ. The Tech has added a new dimension to our lives; we are physical, emotional, spiritual, and now virtual people. But I believe that God continues to move through every facet of our existence, and that makes us new kinds of followers. We are digital disciples.
Americans are rarely a self-reflective people. We have eyes only for result and effect, caring little for process and cause. We seek to assign blame, caring little for our own culpability. We repeat the mistakes of the past, caring little for the lessons those mistakes teach. Never look back. Never let ‘em see you bleed. Never stop to think or the world will pass you by.
Living in this results-driven world is, at the same time, both exceedingly difficult and quite easy. It’s difficult because true joy, the fuel for any fruitful life, is a scarce commodity. Joy happens during not after, and in a results-oriented society, the during is dismissed as superfluous. But this dismissal is why the results-driven life is also quite easy. You crop half of life away. The journey becomes unimportant: only the destination matters. How easy would a test be if you only had to score a 50% to pass?
Self-reflection makes life hard, but it also allows us to recognize that joy abounds, poised to infuse our lives with meaning. Because we are such poor practitioners of self-reflection and because our culture tells us not to take time for such a revealingly honest enterprise, we need a swift kick in the trousers to boot us from the grasping current of the results-driven half-life.
In the Church, this swift-kick-in-the-trousers is called the season of Lent. “Lent” is an old translation of the Latin word quadragesima, which simply means “forty days.” Forty days is a significant period of time in the Bible: Noah, Moses, and Elijah all had forty days of something –flooding, fasting, sitting around with God on the mountaintop. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, during which Satan tempted him. Begun this year on February 25 (on the fast the church names “Ash Wednesday”) Lent continues until the day before Easter. Historically, the season of Lent was the period of time that people used to prepare for baptism, which took place at the Great Vigil of Easter on Easter Eve.
During these forty days that bring us to Easter, we examine our lives and discern how attuned to God’s movement we are. We pray for God to create in us clean hearts and renew right spirits within us, as Psalm 51 says. We rededicate ourselves to following Christ and wonder how last year’s dedication faded away. We slow down and turn our thoughts inward. How have my actions and inactions contributed to the brokenness in the world? To what have I enslaved myself? Where is my joy and freedom? Do I really want to follow Christ?
When we enter this period of self-reflection, when we honestly answer questions such as these, it often becomes apparent just how skin deep and results-oriented we’ve become. The season of Lent helps us see the error in statements such as “It’s only cheating if you get caught” and “The ends justify the means.” Living a full life – not a half-life of results only – means valuing the moral fortitude that counters wanton opportunism and caring about how things are accomplished, not just that they are. Observing Lent means taking a hard look at ourselves and borrowing enough strength from God to be capable of seeing those festering things that we usually ignore. Then we borrow enough faith from God to know that God will help us change and will reawaken within us those faculties of hope and love that have long lay dormant.
I invite you to turn your gaze inward during this season of Lent and discover the true joy that comes from a full life lived in the love of God.