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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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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