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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Grace-Full

Sermon for Sunday, July 4, 2021 || Proper 9B || 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

There’s an old standby in American culture that when a job interviewer asks you about your biggest weaknesses, you end up turning the question around so that you actually talk about your strengths. What are your biggest weaknesses? “Oh, I suppose sometimes I work too hard. Sometimes I’m just too welcoming of others’ feedback. Sometimes I care a bit too much.” Now, it is true that someone’s weakness can be their strength taken to an extreme. But I wonder if we all know this particular interviewing convention because revealing our actual weaknesses is something that our culture trains us simply not to do.

And so when we read Paul’s words from this morning’s lesson, they probably sound wrong to our ears: “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

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God’s Divine Math

Sermon for Sunday, June 20, 2021 || Proper 7B || 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

They say that when a couple has a second baby, their hearts expand to love the second just as much as the first. The love is not divided in half, so that the older child now only gets 50% (although from that child’s perspective it might feel that way). Somehow, using the exponential property of divine mathematics, love always expands to include every beloved. Leah and I did not have the opportunity to experience this second child expansion because our second was born about 30 seconds after our first. We got the double whammy, and, in the moment the nurses placed both babies in my arms for the first time, I could feel in my heart my ability to love expand. All of a sudden, I had all this extra love inside me and it started leaking down my cheeks. For those first few sleep-deprived days, I spent hours just staring into the tiny faces of the babies. They were the physical embodiment of my heart opening wider than I thought possible.

This is the moment in my life that I think of when I read our lesson today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. After speaking of all the hardships he has had to endure to remain in relationship with the churches he has founded, Paul says: “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return…open wide your hearts also.”

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P.O.V.

Sermon for Sunday, June 13, 2021 || Proper 6B || 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17

In the two years since my sabbatical, I’ve thought a lot about the concept of perspective. Whose stories have I added to my own to widen my perspective of the world? What sources do I trust to provide me with information to deepen my awareness? How often do I encounter points of view that differ from mine and allow them to challenge and expand me?

In two of our readings today, we see that part of the life of faith is the capacity to change our points of few. About Jesse’s eldest son, God says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And Paul speaks about being caught up in the life of Christ: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.”

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