I Contain Multitudes

Sermon for Sunday, February 13, 2022 || Epiphany 6C || Luke 6:17-26

There is a very silly scene in the very silly movie Life of Brian by Monty Python. Actually, the movie is fairly deep, but you have to dig through the silliness to find its depth. The movie follows Brian, a person unfortunate enough to have been born in the stable next to Jesus. In the silly scene near the beginning of the film, the camera pans away from Jesus speaking his famous Beatitudes; you know, blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, etc. The camera pans away from Jesus and settles on a group of people way at the back of the crowd, who are struggling to hear Jesus.

“What was that?” one man says.

“I think it was, ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers,’” another replies.

“What’s so special about the cheesemakers?” a third asks.

The first man responds, “Well, obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”

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Our Great “Why”

Sermon for Sunday, January 30, 2022 || Epiphany 4C || 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I spend a good amount of time every January attending to the operational and organizational side of the church as we develop a budget, analyze various metrics, review staff roles, and seek out new vestry members. I wouldn’t consider any of these activities to be in wheelhouse, so I find I have to attend to them in a very focused way.

This can cause a particular problem. I call it the January Problem. The January Problem is this: I can focus so carefully on the “what” and “who” and “how much” that it’s easy to lose focus on the “why.” So today, I’d like to extricate myself from the January Problem and focus on the “why” by talking about two interrelated concepts: love and mission.

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The Meditation of My Heart

Sermon for Sunday, January 23, 2022 || Epiphany 3C || Psalm 19

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Many preachers begin each of their sermons with this verse from today’s psalm. I can hear my father’s voice in my head praying these words time and again as I grew up. He always pluralized the second half, saying, “The meditation of all our hearts.”

I’d like to talk about meditation today and invite you all into the practice that I began when I was on my sabbatical in 2019. I honestly cannot say where I’d be in the midst of all the anxieties and pressures and hardships and sorrows of the last two years without this practice of meditation.

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You are Mine, My Love, My Joy

Sermon for Sunday, January 9, 2022 || Epiphany 1C || Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Every year on the Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. The Gospel writer Luke skips the moment of the baptism, preferring instead to focus on what happens next. Jesus comes up out of the water, towels off his hair, and puts on his clothes. And then he starts praying. I’ve read this passage a hundred times and I’ve never noticed that Jesus is praying when we get to the part of the story Luke wants to tell. In my imagination, I see Jesus kneeling by himself on the riverbank, eyes closed, hands held palms up in his lap like a little bowl. His posture is that of someone who has just sat down in church and spends a quiet moment with God before the collective worship begins. 

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The Lord is Near

Sermon for Sunday, December 13, 2021 || Advent 3C || Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Today’s lesson from Philippians begins with one of the most beloved verses of scripture: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” There’s a good chance your grandma had this embroidered on a throw pillow. Or, maybe you are a grandmother, and you do have this verse embroidered on a throw pillow. I am definitely going to mention this beloved verse during this sermon, but mostly we need to tackle a few words that come up a verse later. How we encounter these few words can completely change the way we read this passage and, indeed, our walks with God.

Those few words are these: “The Lord is near.” Now, I’m going to say them again in just a moment, but first I want you to settle yourself. Take a deep breath. Get ready to listen to your body. Here we go:

“The Lord is near.”

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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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