This sermon is about emptying ourselves of all the junk inside us so there is more room for God to fill. And boy do I have a good example to start with. My family moved this week. We bought a house here in Mystic and moved out of the rectory. Our new house is quite a bit smaller than the rectory, so we needed to downsize in a hurry. Every Tuesday and Friday for the last few weeks, we have filled the garbage and recycling cans and watched the truck’s grabber arm scoop up all our accumulation. We’ve made several trips to Goodwill with books and toys and games and clothes. We’ve put pieces of furniture up on Facebook Marketplace. And still our new house is full.
How did we end up with so much stuff?! When I moved out of my dorm after grad school, I could fit everything I owned in my compact car. But I needed the 17-foot U-Haul for the move out of my townhouse in West Virginia, then the 20-foot U-Haul for the next move, then Leah and I needed the 26-foot U-Haul when we moved to Mystic. Then the kids were born, and our stuff, you know, **Explosion Noise**.
Sermon for Sunday, April 4, 2021 || Easter Sunday B || Mark 16:1-8
That’s it then. That’s the end of the Gospel: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a cliffhanger to me, like the end of part one of a two-part television episode. My favorite TV show of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation ended four of its seven seasons on cliffhangers to entice the viewer back in the fall. (That’s how television used to work, by the way.) The most memorable was the end of Season Three when Captain Picard was captured by the Borg, and the season ends when the Enterprise crew has developed a new weapon to take out the Borg cube and Commander Riker says, “Fire,” and then the picture goes dark and the words “To be continued…” flash across the screen. I had to wait all summer to see what happened when the Enterprise fired the weapon from the modified deflector dish! And I was seven-years-old. Waiting was not my strong suit.
“We wish to see Jesus.” So say a group of Greeks to Jesus’ disciples, a request that touches off the events of the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. We wish to see Jesus. Who among us has not said some version of these words. “If only I could see Jesus, then everything would make sense!” Jesus seems to anticipate such a desire because after the resurrection he says to his disciples, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Indeed, Jesus blesses us with belief in him and his life-giving Way, even though we have never seen him – at least not in his first century flesh. When we adjust our eyes and our vocabulary so they resonate with our faith, we begin to see Jesus everywhere we look. “We wish to see Jesus,” say the Greeks in today’s reading. I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon seeing Jesus – seeing Jesus in the grand narrative of the Gospel of John that leads up to this moment. As we go through the story, notice how seeing Jesus in the Gospel helps us see Jesus in our lives.
In her last sermon with us Pastor Stacey Kohl reminded us that stories are powerful things. Sharing stories helps us make meaning, pass on tradition, teach lessons, deepen relationships, learn from one another’s experience, and grow closer to God. Today, I’d like to share with you three stories, all sparked by a single verse from today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” I’d like to share with you a story about Jesus Christ yesterday, a story about Jesus Christ today, and a story about Jesus Christ forever. Each of these stories is about Jesus and about me, and if I do my job right, each will also be about you.
Sermon for Sunday, April 7, 2019 || Lent 5C || JOHN 12:1-8
Today’s sermon is a full on teaching sermon. I’m going to talk to you today about the books of the New Testament that we call the Gospel. I’ll begin with a trick question. How many Gospels are there? (Don’t answer that because you’re going to want to say “four.”) If you listened carefully to how I introduced the Gospel reading a minute ago, you heard a hint at the correct answer. “The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.”
There is only one Gospel, and that’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel, by the way, means “good news.” The numerical confusion stems from the fact that this one Gospel reaches us by way of four different perspectives (or “accounts”), which we name Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That’s why I said “according to John” a minute ago. The “according to” is a really important preposition because it reminds us which perspective on Jesus’ Gospel we are working with in the moment.
Sermon for Sunday, January 27, 2019 || Epiphany 3C || Luke 4:14-21
Stacey just read for you the entirety of Jesus’ first recorded sermon. If you spaced out for a second during the Gospel lesson, then you might have missed it. The sermon is really short – one sentence only: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s it. That’s Jesus’ first sermon. Short and sweet. You wouldn’t even have time to be distracted by your text messages or Twitter feed during that sermon. Back in my last church, the pulpit was a good ten feet in the air, so I could always see when people were checking their phones. Don’t worry – you’re safe here with me on the floor. Continue reading “Only the Present”→
Announcing “Advent with the Beginning of Luke,” a new daily devotional book for your Advent observance. Entries from December 1st through Christmas follow the first two chapters of the Gospel according to Luke – from the birth announcements of John and Jesus to the songs of Mary and Zechariah to the birth of Jesus, and culminating with the presentation in the temple. This Advent study will make a meaningful addition to your personal or group preparation for the feast of the Incarnation.Continue reading “Advent with the Beginning of Luke”→
Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 || The Feast of St. Mark (transferred) || Mark 1:1-15
After services today, we are kicking off our celebration of the 150th anniversary of St. Mark’s Church here in Mystic, Connecticut. While the church’s roots go back to the creation of a Sunday School in 1859, the traditionally accepted date for the founding of St. Mark’s jumps forward to Christmas Eve 1867 and the first service here at the Pearl Street location. Our history tells us that a wooden causeway had to be constructed that December night so members could navigate the tidal pools swirling on the lawn outside.
Of course, our church is more than this building with its simple, bright, lovely interior and occasional problems with flooding; indeed, a church is technically a gathering of people, not a location. We don’t go to church. We are church: we are a community of people gathered for mutual support, to praise and worship God, to deepen our commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and to partner with God in mission in our neighborhood.Continue reading “Mark and the Movement”→
Sermon for Sunday, November 6, 2016 || All Saints C || Luke 6:20-31
What are the two things your grandparents told you never to talk about? Politics and religion. Well, today I’m going to break that rule. Don’t worry: I’m not going to talk about specific partisan issues or endorse candidates. Rather, I’m going to speak to a common misunderstanding about the intersection of politics and religion in America; then I’m going to talk about Jesus, who was a pretty polarizing political figure in his own right; and then we’ll finish up with some stirring words from Abraham Lincoln.Continue reading “Better Angels”→
Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 || Easter C || Luke 24:1-12
Good morning, and welcome to St. Mark’s Church on this Feast of the Resurrection. You know, every Sunday is a Feast of the Resurrection, but today is special. Do you know why? Because today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox – and that makes today Easter. So if a late night talk show host ever jumps out of a cab and asks you how to calculate the date of Easter, now you know.
Today is also special because of the week we’ve just had here at St. Mark’s. We’ve walked with Jesus from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to the last supper with his friends to his agony in the garden, to his betrayal and arrest and trial, to his crucifixion, to his burial in the tomb. We’ve been through the darkness of Good Friday; we’ve been to the foot of the cross. Now the dawn breaks on Sunday morning, and once again we set off, walking this time with the women and their spiced ointments.
I doubt they slept much the last two nights, Mary Magdalene and the other women who rose early on the first day of the week to minister to their dead Lord. Every time they shut their eyes, I’m sure they saw the silhouette of Jesus’ cross in the distance, his limp body barely recognizable because of his torturous hours hanging there. No, I doubt these women slept much, though if they did finally fall into fitful slumber, it was because they cried themselves to sleep. When all you have left is your tears, you’d want to hoard them; but that’s when they flow all the more freely.
I’m sure the tears began again when they awoke early Sunday morning. New grief is like that. Each morning you wake and remember again that your loved one is gone, and again the pain stabs you anew, just as fresh as the first time. They bear the rawness of their grief by taking on a mission; after all, staying busy is one way to soften the blow. And so the women take up their burden of fragrant spices and trudge out into the darkness in order to arrive at the tomb at first light.
Out of deep troves of love and compassion, these brave women are ready to care for the body of their Lord and to prepare it for proper burial. It turns out Mary and her friends are making the happiest mistake in the history of mistakes. They are ready to wash and anoint a lifeless body, but what they find is no body at all. They find an empty tomb. For a horrible moment, their grief threatens to overwhelm them because the mission they were planning to perform – the one they had been clinging to since his death – is gone now, too. They didn’t think they could be more desolate, but they are wrong. For this horrible moment, the empty tomb magnifies their desolation.
But into this scene of despair and grief comes the sudden presence of two gleaming messengers. They enlighten the woman as to their happy mistake: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has arisen.”
The messengers continue talking, but the women have ears only for that last word: “Arisen!” For the first time since Friday, they remember Jesus’ words, and first one, then another, then another breaks out into a tentative smile. “Could it be true?” they ask each other.
“Yes, yes, yes it could.”
“Jesus never lied to us.”
“How could we forget his words?”
Then one repeats the messengers’ question: “Why are we looking for the living among the dead?”
This question echoes down through the centuries, and we find ourselves asking it when we read the beginning of the final chapter of Luke’s account of the Gospel. Why do you look for the living among the dead? How often in our day-to-day lives could we hear the gleaming messengers ask us this question? How often do we trudge down our own well-worn paths to life-defeating things hoping this time – maybe this time – something life-affirming will happen?
Perhaps you’ve had a string of boyfriends who were real losers. Your friends tell you so at every opportunity, but you’ve got a blind spot for the proverbial bad boy. They treat you with no respect. From time to time they’ve even called you a name that I can’t say during this sermon. And yet you meet another one and all the signs are there, but you dive in headfirst anyway. To you the gleaming messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Perhaps you’ve been sober for three months. Your sponsor hands you your chip and slaps you on the back. You’ve got a couple of other three-month chips in a drawer somewhere, but that’s not on your mind right now. On your way home from the meeting, you run into an old buddy from back in the day. The next morning, you stagger to the drawer and toss the newest chip in. Maybe you’ll get another one in a few months time, but for today your salvation is at the bottom of a bottle. To you, the messengers say, “Why do you look for living among the dead?”
Perhaps you work through your family vacation because you’ve got too many projects on your plate. Or you’ve given into the tiny fearful voice that says you’re too old or too sick or too broken to make a difference in someone else’s life. Or you spend every waking hour mindlessly surfing YouTube and Facebook and Instagram. Or…or…or… Every one of us has a few life-defeating paths that we have no trouble finding. To each of us, the messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”The Resurrection of Jesus Christ spurred this question all those centuries ago. The women made the happy mistake of looking for a dead messiah, when the Risen One was alive again. Our life-defeating paths lead to tombs, as well, but they are not empty, for our dead messiahs are there waiting to suck the life from us. But the tomb of the Risen Lord is empty, and a new, life-affirming path stretches from that tomb and reaches into eternity.
Today, on this first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, on this special Feast of the Resurrection, we see most clearly this new, life-affirming path stretching from our feet off to the sun-drenched horizon. As we walk it together and with our Risen Lord, we will pass by so many people going the opposite way down the life-defeating paths. This may be due to their own choices or because they are caught up in systems that will never produce anything but defeat; systems of poverty, injustice, racism, apathy.
But as we walk this life-affirming path, we have the opportunity to be apostles like those brave women, to show people the power of the Risen Christ in our lives, to hook arms with folks going the other way and help turn them around. We have the opportunity to be the gleaming messengers who ask one simple question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
And then we have the glorious opportunity to share the heart of the Good News. “He is not here, but has arisen.”
*I preached a version of this sermon at Easter in 2013. The old version had a lot of problems (mostly, it was two or three sermons smushed into one, which is a sign of lazy thinking and writing on my part). I think this rewrite fixes those things. Of course, in a few years time I might think the same thing about this version, too. And so it goes…