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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Word. Love. Dream.

Sermon for Sunday, June 6, 2021 || Proper 5B || Mark 3:20-35

At the end of the Gospel story I just read, Jesus broadens his family to include everyone who does God’s will. His relatives either think he is in danger or think he has gone mad, so they come to collect him. But Jesus won’t go with them. Instead of hewing to his blood relatives, Jesus looks out at the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Whoever does the will of God. Jesus expands his family to include everyone who does the will of God. When I read that this week, I found it extremely unhelpful. I found it unhelpful for two reasons that have nothing to do with the reality of God’s will, but with our all-too-fallible human use of God’s will as a concept. Let’s talk about God’s will this morning. We’ll start with the two reasons I find it unhelpful, and then we’ll take a stab at how we might conceive of God’s will as a way to enliven our walks with Jesus.

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Staying in Touch

Sermon for Sunday, May 23, 2021 || Pentecost B || Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit inspiring the first disciples of Jesus to spread his message of love and reconciliation to people of all nations. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit happened for the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ascension. In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his followers that when he is no longer physically present among them, he will send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. Today, on the day of Pentecost, we celebrate this sending of the Spirit. And we believe that the Holy Spirit did not just descend on those first disciples, but fills each of us with the creative imagination of God.

I can think of no better feast day of the church to share Holy Communion for the first time since March 8, 2020. Every celebration of Holy Communion is a miniature Pentecost because we believe that the Holy Spirit descends upon the gifts of bread and wine, filling them with the presence of Christ and making them his Body and Blood. Later in this service, we will pray: “Gracious God…send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant.”

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Being Saved

Sermon for Sunday, March 14, 2021 || Lent 4B || Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians says something in today’s second lesson that makes my heart sing: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

This is one of those verses that makes me take a deep breath after reading it, a cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit who is so vibrantly present in those words. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…”

Today I want to talk about being saved. And I have to start, as I have before, down in the Deep South.

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The Rainbow

Sermon for Sunday, February 21, 2021 || Lent 1B || Genesis 9:8-17

There’s nothing quite like a rainbow to make us stop what we’re doing and look up at the sky. A few years ago, a rainbow appeared off to the east of St. Mark’s, and from my perspective, it caught the cross of the church directly in the path of its spectrum of colors. The first thing I did was take about a hundred pictures. But then I remembered that day on our honeymoon – right around ten years ago today – when Leah and I left our cameras in the room, went out on our safari, and just took in God’s glorious creation with our own eyes. So I put my camera down and gazed at the rainbow hovering over the steeple of the church. And I thanked God for the sign of the rainbow, an ancient symbol of God’s identity as a keeper of promises.

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The Fast That I Choose

Sermon for Wednesday, February 17, 2021 || Ash Wednesday || Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

There has always been a tension on Ash Wednesday between the chosen biblical readings and the liturgical action of receiving ashes. In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, which Ann shared earlier, we read that God isn’t all that impressed with fasts that include lying in sackcloth and ashes but do not include working to dismantle injustice. In the Gospel lesson I just read, Jesus lambasts the “hypocrites” who disfigure their faces while they are fasting in order that others might see and applaud them. The incongruity between these two lessons and the action we normally take next has always seemed strange to me – and I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve often fielded questions about it from parishioners.

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The Loving Gaze of God

Sermon for Sunday, February 14, 2021 || Last Epiphany B || Mark 9:2-9

Christianity has many symbols, the cross being chief among them – a device of death and domination that Jesus transformed into a symbol of life and reconciliation. There are plenty of other symbols too, and many of them are animals: the lamb, the fish, the dove. And, perhaps most beautifully, the butterfly. Like the cross, the butterfly is also a symbol of transformation. The butterfly undergoes metamorphosis as it changes from the caterpillar, through the chrysalis, and emerges in its luminous form with wings like an artist’s palette.

The word metamorphosis pops up in the Gospel reading we just listened to. You didn’t hear it because Julia read the lesson in English, but I swear it’s there. “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.” And he was metamorphosed before them. In its humblest connotation, this word simply means “change.” And he was changed before them. But the intent is that the change is a revelation of who Jesus truly is. The metamorphosis that Jesus undergoes on the mountaintop reveals the dazzling, luminous person that God sees when God gazes upon God’s son.

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Grasshoppers

Sermon for Sunday, February 7, 2021 || Epiphany 5B || Isaiah 40:21-31

This morning we read my absolute favorite passage from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, and I can’t let it slip by without preaching on it. This passage touches on a common element of the spiritual life that I don’t think gets enough press because people don’t particularly enjoy sharing their doubts. See if this sounds familiar.

You’re pumping gas or flossing your teeth or washing your hair or doing any sort of mundane activity. The numbers tick by on the gas pump, and your mind wanders. And for some reason, you have a sudden and unbidden attack of existential doubt. Has that ever happened to you? One minute you’re thinking about your grocery list, and the next your heart drops into your stomach, and you shake your head a little and you narrow your eyes and you look up at the sky and you say, “Why do you care about me, Lord?” 

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