A Wide Open Heart

Sermon for Sunday, June 24, 2018 || Proper 7B || 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

When I was a brand new priest, one of the biggest mistakes I made was comparing my vocation to other “professional” occupations. I made this mistake because I went to the same number of years of graduate school as a lawyer, and mine was a helping profession like a doctor. Your pastor is right up there with your surgeon or your litigator, I reasoned, and here are my credentials. It took a couple of years for me to learn this was a really foolish approach to pastoring. A mentor of mine pointed out the error in my thinking like this. He said, “People only go to surgeons when they need surgery or to lawyers when they’re in trouble. Don’t you want to walk with people every step of the way?” Continue reading “A Wide Open Heart”

Where God Is, A Brief History

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”

God’s Abiding Presence

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 5B || John 15:1-18

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. Before the age of twelve I had lived in eight different houses in five states. When we arrived in Alabama right after Christmas in 1994, my parents promised my sister and me that we wouldn’t move again until I finished high school seven years on. I smiled and nodded, but the whole time I was thinking, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.”

I simply had no frame of reference for remaining in one place more than three years, which was my previous best. I wasn’t great at making friends because my experience told me I would be leaving them soon, so what was the point. I had to adapt to numerous new cultures and speaking patterns. Notably, when I moved to Alabama I had to amend every statement with the words “sir” or “ma’am.” If I had said either in my prior home of Rhode Island, adults would have thought I was sassing them. It was very confusing. Continue reading “God’s Abiding Presence”

Heart Expansion

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 4B || 1 John 3:16-24

I know it’s Easter season, but please permit me to begin this sermon quoting a piece of an epic poem about Christmas. Okay, here goes:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

My kids are on a Dr. Seuss kick right now, so when I read this morning’s lessons, the famous character of the Grinch immediately jumped to mind. In the entire canon of English literature, the Grinch is the best example of an anti-hero that I can come up with. Most stories are about a good guy, a protagonist, who overcomes some obstacle to achieve a goal. But in the Dr. Seuss classic, the main character is the bad guy, the antagonist, who thankfully is redeemed, in the end, by the selfless witness of his victims. I hope I didn’t spoil anything there. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published 61 years ago, so I think I’m in the clear.) Continue reading “Heart Expansion”

I Am. I Am Not.

Sermon for Friday, March 30, 2018 || Good Friday || Passion According to John

Way back in Chapter Four of the Gospel According to John, we hear Jesus use a particular phrase for the first time. The phrase is special for it links Jesus’ identity to the divine identity of God. This one little phrase is just two words long, with only three letters among them. The phrase is “I Am.” In Chapter Four, Jesus says these special words to the Samaritan woman at the well. They’ve had a long talk about living water and where to worship, and their conversation ends with Jesus revealing to her his divine identity, saying,  “I Am.”

These two little words reveal his divine identity because of their link to a famous passage in the book of Exodus, in which Moses meets God in the burning bush. God gives Moses the mission to free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To gain some credibility, Moses asks to know God’s name. “I Am Who I Am,” says God. Jesus echoes this name many, many times in the Gospel of John, beginning first with the Samaritan woman. Continue reading “I Am. I Am Not.”

Magnetic Atonement

Sermon for Sunday, March 25, 2018 || Palm/Passion B || Mark’s Passion

The mystery of just what the crucifixion of Jesus Christ accomplished is too grand for any single metaphor to capture. And that’s what theories of the crucifixion are. Every one is a metaphor, a description of something using the terminology of something else. From the earliest years after the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers sought to make sense of the event, but every explanation fell short of the whole truth. So they kept adding new metaphors to the mix. Taken together, we see a clearer picture of the length and breadth of God’s love and grace displayed in the Passion of Jesus Christ. Yet the entire picture eludes us, and will always do so.

St. Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly.” But that shouldn’t stop us from looking. And so, fully aware that this is one of myriad metaphors for what is happening on the cross, I’d like to you talk about what I call “Magnetic Atonement.” There are plenty of other names for this idea, but the “magnet” is my metaphor of choice today. Continue reading “Magnetic Atonement”

The Giver

Sermon for Sunday, March 11, 2018 || Lent 4B || John 3:14-21

God has blessed Leah and me in the past few months with the opportunity to participate in the Financial Peace University class here at St. Mark’s. The nine-week course is part lesson and part support group as singles and couples gather to examine and change their financial practices. We only have two classes left, and I can’t begin to explain how much the class has changed my outlook on money and on my family’s future.

But I must confess to a fairly large dose of hubris going into the course. I knew the developer of the class, financial guru Dave Ramsey, purported to use “biblical principles” to guide his thinking about money. I assumed such principles would consist of half-baked theology used to prove his points, or else his principles would rise out of the muck of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” which is anathema to true Christianity. Boy, was I wrong. Continue reading “The Giver”

Turning Points

Sermon for Sunday, February 25, 2018 || Lent 2B || Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

History is full of turning points – those moments when one event or one decision alters the fabric of the future. The turning points we remember happened on the world’s stage: the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, which contributed to the United States entering World War I; or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which did the same 26 years later; or more happily, the moon landing on a summer night in July 1969, which spurred the scientific dreams of a generation.

In my 35 years, I have witnessed some world changing turning points. I was six years old when the Berlin Wall fell, too young to appreciate what its destruction symbolized, but old enough to remember just the same. On a Tuesday morning in September of my freshman year of college, I was waiting for an appointment in the admissions office when I heard a tinny voice on the radio announce that a horrible accident had happened at the World Trade Center. This was before the second plane, before we grasped the horrible reality of terrorism. Today’s teenagers do not remember this event, just as I do not remember, say, the Kennedy assassination or the fall of Saigon.

Continue reading “Turning Points”

Planting a Seed

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Twenty-five years ago today, I trudged up the marble steps, past the stone lions, and into the cold church next door to my house. I think I was in fourth grade at the time. That day I got to miss the bus because that day was special. That day was Ash Wednesday.

I stepped into the nave of the church. The coughs and groans of the overworked heaters echoed off the vaulted ceiling. The church hovered in the stillness of pre-dawn, awaiting the riot of color that would dance down the chancel steps when the early morning sun reached the stained glass behind the altar. I looked around in the dim light. The nave was empty. No one had come to the early morning service. Continue reading “Planting a Seed”

Positive Presence

Sermon for Sunday, January 21, 2018 || Epiphany 3B || Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20

Each day, a thousand different choices confront us. Most are easy to navigate, and we do so without much thought. We might not even think of these as choices because we’ve made the correct choice so often that the incorrect one fades away. What do you do when you approach a stop sign? You stop, right? But there’s a hidden choice here. You could stop. You could choose to blow through the stop sign without even slowing down. Or you could perform the infamous rolling stop that got me caught twice by traffic cops when I was sixteen. Continue reading “Positive Presence”