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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Two Hands

Sermon for Sunday, June 27, 2021 || Proper 8B || Mark 5:21-43

I’d like to talk this morning about hands, specifically about why I think God gave us two hands. But before I let you in on why I think God gave us two hands, I invite you to think back to a time when you remember holding someone’s hand. 

Perhaps, the hand you held was your child’s. When I was little, my parents would each hold one of my hands and do what we called, “1-2-3-whee!” (which is where you swing the kid by their arms as you’re walking). I absolutely love holding my children’s hands when we are walking, and they are finally tall enough where I don’t have to stoop to do it.

Perhaps, the hand you held was a parent’s hand as she lay dying. Your mother held your hand back…until she didn’t. You kept clinging even when the muscle tension left her fingers, and you can still feel her papery skin held in your hand all these years later. 

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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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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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Emmett Till

We had a guest preacher at St. Mark’s yesterday, so no sermon from me this week. Instead, I’d like to share a poem I wrote recently. It was the day after the verdict was handed down in the trial of Derek Chauvin, and I was feeling the same ambivalence so many were feeling: a sense of vindication that the court found George Floyd’s death to be murder paired with a sense of dogged endurance because accountability is only a small piece of justice.

That day I began reading Imani Perry’s beautiful, tender, honest, and wrenching letter to her sons in her book Breathe. Early in the book, Perry speaks of Emmett Till’s mother:

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The Cliffhanger

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.

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Field Trip to Jerusalem

Sermon for Sunday, March 28, 2021 || Palm/Passion Sunday B || Mark 14-15

We have arrived at our second Holy Week of the pandemic, with people participating in this service from home instead of the pews of this church building. At this time last year, we were all holding our collective breath and waiting for the surge of COVID-19 cases that the experts said was sure to come. It hit a few weeks later and then more surges followed until the baseline of cases was orders of magnitude greater than that first surge. Thankfully, over 3 million doses of vaccine are being administered each day right now. Thankfully, there is a new beginning in sight. But for today, and for a little while longer, we remain put.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how Noah and his family remained in the ark for just over a year. We are at that exact mark now, a mark we could not fathom on Palm Sunday last year. I spoke about the spiritual posture of lamentation and how necessary it is in times like these. But I had no idea just how much cause for lament was before us. And here we come, once again, to the reading of the Passion Gospel, in which lamentation collides with hope as we remember Jesus dying on the cross. And as we try not to forget the promise he made to his friends about what would happen three days later.

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We Wish to See Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, March 21, 2021 || Lent 5B || John 12:20-33

“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.

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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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