First of All

Sermon for Sunday, October 31, 2021 || Proper 26B || Mark 12:28-34

You all know that one of my favorite things to do in sermons is to look at the way Jesus responds to questions people ask him. More often than not, Jesus ignores the question and answers the one he wished were asked, usually a much deeper question than was originally posed. But not today. In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus directly answers the question the scribe asks him: “Which commandment is first of all?”

Jesus responds by paraphrasing the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

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Second Chances

Sermon for Sunday, October 24, 2021 || Proper 25B || Mark 10:46-52

The Gospel passage I just read is one of my favorites. I know I say that a lot, but it’s always true. I guess I have a lot of favorite passages. I have a special connection to the story of Bartimaeus, as this passage was the subject of my first big paper in my New Testament class in seminary, circa December 2005. I wrote all about the actions that Bartimaeus does, and the paper became the basis for the first sermon I preached on this story back in 2012. Then in 2015, I took the ideas in that sermon and preached from Bartimaeus’s perspective. Then in 2018, I took the conclusion of my thoughts as Bartimaeus a step further and preached about his request to Jesus: “Let me see again” (with “again” being the operative word).

So it seems that every three years, I have added something new to my sermon about Bartimaeus. It’s like when the original Star Wars trilogy came out in 1977, 1980, and 1983. Every three years, we encounter Bartimaeus again; each time, he says to Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” And again, we get the opportunity to talk about mercy. Mercy is all about second chances. Mercy is all about “again.”

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The Key to Curiosity

Sermon for Sunday, October 17, 2021 || Proper 24B || Job 38:1-7

Before I matured into adulthood in my early thirties, there was a trio of words I don’t think I ever said. I said them individually in other contexts, of course, but never in a certain order. Those words were, “I don’t know.” I think I never said these words in this particular order for a couple reasons. First, I was young and stupid and thought I knew everything. And second, my entire identity was wrapped up in being the person who knew the answer. Over my 19 years of school, I cultivated that identity. I wanted it. I needed it. I relished whenever my classmates’ eyes swiveled in my direction. To say, “I don’t know,” would have stabbed me in the very core of who I thought I was.

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The Anonymous Scholarly Paper of an Early Follower of Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, October 3, 2021 || Proper 22B || Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Our readings today are pretty intense. We  started with Job, an ancient morality tale that begins with an imaginative, and pretty distressing, exchange between God and Satan. But I’m not going to talk about that today. We read Jesus’ teaching about divorce and fidelity in the Gospel according to Mark. I’m also not going to talk about that today, but if you’re curious, I did preach about this Gospel lesson six years ago, and you can find it here on my website.

And finally, we have a few pieces from the Letter to the Hebrews, which, for my money, is the most complicated writing in the entire New Testament. This is what I’m going to talk about today. We’ll be hearing snippets of Hebrews for the next six weeks, and I know this writing is hard enough to understand after reading it a dozen times. Hearing it read aloud once just won’t cut it if we want to encounter the Letter to the Hebrews in any way beyond just letting its words sail over our heads. So today I’d like to set the Letter to the Hebrews in context and then dive into one of the elements in our confusing reading from this morning.

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Be-Loved

Sermon for Sunday, September 26, 2021 || Proper 21B || Mark 9:38-50

I’m a lot like Harry Potter. Not magically, unfortunately. And I’m taller than him. And I’m not British, also unfortunate. But, but, but in one very important way, Harry Potter and I are the same. We both had to learn to accept the help of a loving community. If I look for a through line across the seven Harry Potter novels it is this. Harry tries to do everything alone because he doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He truly loves his friends. But his love for them keeps him from letting them be full members of the mission to take down Voldemort. Only when Harry finally lets his friends share fully in his mission do they stand a chance of succeeding. His love for them changes from a protective kind of love to a partnership kind of love. And they are all stronger when they work together.

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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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Water in the Desert

Sermon for Sunday, September 5, 2021 || Proper 18B || Holy Baptism

I don’t need to list for you the numerous ways the world is in turmoil right now. We are all aware, not just in our minds and hearts, but in our very bones. I bet you, too, feel the kind of bone-weariness I feel right now. It’s an exhaustion that exists on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are in the middle of the desert and our canteens ran out a while back and our legs are shaky and the vultures are circling. Everywhere is nothing but sand: coarse, rough, irritating sand.

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Intentions

Sermon for Sunday, August 29, 2021 || Proper 17B || Mark 7:1-23

Every morning when I wake up, I meditate silently for a time, and then I pray a three-part intention for the day. I pray, “Dear God, I set my intention this day: to be at peace with all creatures, including myself; to have compassion for myself and others; and to set my heart on Christ.”

I pray this intention every single morning to ask God to help me address the day from a posture of peace and compassion as I follow the way of Jesus. My day begins like this to give me a better chance of putting peaceful and compassionate energy out into the world. No matter how important or unimportant we think we are, no matter how big or small our platform, no matter if we interact with many or few, every single day we change the world by our presence in it. The question is, how are we changing the world? Are we making it a better place to live or a worse one? Are we moving the world towards loving connections that promote peace, justice, and equity? Or are we pulling the world towards petty tribalism, mistrust, and competition? Each day, we have a choice, and I pray my intention to help me choose to add to the energy of life giving relationships, following the footsteps of Jesus.

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The Armor of God

Sermon for Sunday, August 22, 2021 || Proper 16B || Ephesians 6:10-20

Today I want to talk about the armor of God, this evocative set of images the writer of the letter to the Ephesians uses in this morning’s second lesson. Now when I say the “armor of God,” you might be overcome by a negative visceral reaction. Many who grew up in fundamentalist churches will remember the armor of God being deployed as a strictly militant concept, one that went hand in hand with drilling Bible verses for use as ammunition in proselytizing encounters. In this worldview, the fundamentalist church is a last bastion in the spiritual warfare between an angry, vengeful God and the Enemy – Satan – who has bolstered his ranks with humans who don’t belong to that church. Back in high school in Alabama, I was the target of some of these encounters because I was practicing Christianity in ways that were not acceptable to the big conservative church nearby.

So I’m fully aware that the phrase “armor of God” is loaded with baggage. But that’s why I want to talk about it today. When I read Ephesians 6, I don’t see a passage about combat or warfare. I see a passage about vulnerability, about giving ourselves over to God, about trusting that God is present when we face moments in our lives that test our inherent goodness and our impulse to love.

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The Wishing Prayer

Sermon for Sunday, August 15, 2021 || Proper 15B || 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

I grew up in arguably the best decade for animated Disney movies of all time. They call it the Disney Renaissance, and it featured such classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin. I loved them all (except Little Mermaid, which scared the heck out of me), but I think at the time I loved Aladdin most. Robin Williams hits it out of the park as the genie in the lamp, and I guarantee you I can sing every line from his song “Friend Like Me.” The timeless story of Aladdin invites everyone who hears it to ponder what they would wish for if they stumbled across a magic lamp. In the Disney film, the genie gives Aladdin only three restrictions: you can’t wish for someone to fall in love with you, for someone to come back from the dead, or for more wishes.

Aladdin uses his wishes to become a prince, to not die of drowning, and *spoiler alert* to free the genie at the end of the movie. The selfless act of freeing the genie contrasts with the selfish act of the villain Jafar when he wishes to become the most powerful sorcerer ever (and ultimately a bound genie himself when the hero tricks him in order to save the day). Okay, now I’m just telling you all the plot of Aladdin. Sorry. The point is, what would you wish for if you stumbled across the genie’s lamp?

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