Sermon for Sunday, January 17, 2021 || Epiphany 2B || John 1:43-51
Imagine with me the memories of the disciple Nathanael, thinking back to that fateful day when Philip invited him into Jesus’ circle.
This is a story about seeing. But first I need to tell you about my best friend Philip. Philip was always the one who was quick to believe. Every few months he would come to me way too excited about a new guru he had heard about or a get-rich-quick scheme or an investment opportunity. He always gave me the hard sell: You don’t know what you’re missing! How much money do you have! We can pool ours together and buy a full share! This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal! Well, Philip’s deals were more like once-in-a-fortnight deals, considering how often he fell for them.
I was in the middle of exercising late Wednesday afternoon when I received panicked texts from a friend and from my mother at the same time. Do you see what’s going on at the Capitol right now? We are very shaken.Are you all okay? I immediately switched over from YouTube to live coverage on CBS and left it on until well past sundown, unable to tear my eyes away from the ugly spectacle. In one way, the events of Wednesday were shocking: after all, a hostile force has not breached the Capitol since the War of 1812. But in all other ways, Wednesday was the natural outcome of years of lies, incitement, manipulation, demagoguery, and (most pertinent for this sermon) heresy. That’s not a word I use very often, but it is important, especially in tumultuous times like these, to use the right words for things. I’ve been thinking and praying for three days about how to address the events of Wednesday in this sermon, and the only way I can wrap my head around them after so little time is to begin with the heresy on display this week and then counter it with Gospel.
Sermon for Sunday, January 3, 2021 || Christmas 2 || Luke 2:41-52
They say that every therapist should be in therapy. Likewise, every priest should participate in spiritual direction. Without trained professionals helping us pastors notice God’s movement in our lives, one of two things happens. We either forget to rely on God, thus emptying ourselves of all nourishment even though a feast is perpetually spread before us. Or we decide we don’t need to rely on God, because we are doing just fine on our own (thank you very much!) and the same starvation results. We pastors are a rather thick bunch, usually quite stubborn when faced with the Almighty, because the Creator-of-All-That-Is rarely seems to fit the predictions of our seminary studies.
The people at the churches where I have served as a pastor know how much I love LEGO. New sets were always my favorite birthday and Christmas presents growing up (still are), and I still have about 99% of my childhood LEGO bricks from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, LEGO minifigures all had yellow heads and hands. They all had the same two black dots for eyes and small smile. The first minifigures debuted in 1978, and variable facial expressions appeared first in 1989, and….
Yikes. I had to stop myself from going on a long ramble about the history of LEGO minifigures. Here’s a great infographic from LEGO which tells it way better than I can.
There are many ways to describe the overarching narrative of the Bible, the connective tissue that weaves through the many and varied voices and genres that make up the library of our Holy Scriptures. One theme describes God’s love and grace restoring all of creation back to God. Another tells a family story and invites all who read it to share in that story. A third way of viewing the thrust of the biblical narrative is what I’d like to focus on today. This third way sees our holy texts speaking to an upside down world – speaking God’s yearning for justice and peace in order to empower people to partner with God to turn the upside down world right side up.
Today, I want to talk about power. Like the word ‘love,’ we use the word ‘power’ to mean several things, which makes any discussion about power challenging. I’m going to move through three understandings of power, and I hope you will stick with me because the third one is the one we are aiming for. Also, I’m going to use Star Wars to illustrate the three types of power. (I’ve only used one Star Wars reference this year, so I’m well within my limits.)
Sermon for Sunday, September 27, 2020 || Proper 21A || Matthew 21:23-32
There are a lot of contenders for most famous comedy routine of all time. There’s Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch or perhaps, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” There’s the cheeseburger skit from the early days of Saturday Night Live. There’s George Carlin’s seven words you can never say on TV (which are also words I won’t say in a sermon). But they all fall short of one comedy routine, the absolute pinnacle: the baseball routine of Abbott and Costello, commonly called “Who’s on first.” The Yankees have some players with very strange names, and as Abbott teaches the players to Costello, Costello gets increasingly confused and frustrated.
Abbott begins by telling him the infielders: “Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.”
At the end of this sermon, I’m going to talk about the prophetic voice of the movie Frozen II, but first let me talk about the church hymn board affixed to the wall to my left. This is the attractive wooden rack into which our altar guild slides in the numbers that correspond to particular songs in our hymnal. At the top of the rack, we display the particular Sunday of the church year. I haven’t touched the hymn board since the last time we used it. I’ve left it alone as a memento from our last in-person gathering. Right now the hymn board reads the “3rd Sunday in Lent.” Half a year ago.
I remember the anguished discussion the vestry had about closing the church building back in March. We had no idea how bad the pandemic would get, but the writing was on the wall. Thankfully, the vestry made the hard choice in that moment of uncertainty. Now, six months later, we are faced with the opposite hard choice: how and when to invite people back to in-person services as we balance our need for physical proximity with our collective goal of deterring the spread of the virus.
Today’s sermon is a meditation. In a minute, I’m going to invite you to find a relaxing sitting position, which will be easier on your couch than if you were here sitting on a hard pew. I decided to offer a meditation today because recently I’ve been feeling my jaw clenching more and more. Sleep isn’t restful. I’m on edge all the time. I’d wager you are responding to the abnormally high level of stress in our society in similar ways. A friend of mine has a newborn in the NICU whom he says is there because he has to “remember to breathe.” I think that goes for all of us right now.
So, in lieu of my regularly scheduled sermon, I’d like to lead us all through a meditation designed to bring our ultimate future into this present moment. This is a meditation about God’s presence and promise when death is an ever-present reality. I’m offering it because today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans includes a paragraph that we read as the third stanza of the opening anthem at the beginning of every Episcopal funeral. All four stanzas are quotations from scripture, and I’d like to meditate on them with you this morning. This might seem like a strange thing to do – focus on words spoken after someone has died. But these words are shared with those who remain, and I believe these scriptural truths actually help to bring us more fully alive.
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus says this amazing promise at the end of our Gospel reading this morning. We’ve heard this promise every week since we began worshiping together online at the start of the pandemic. At the end of the service of Morning Prayer, we say a prayer written in the early centuries of the Church by St. John Chrysostom:
“Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them…”
I am so thankful that our Gospel reading inspired John Chrysostom to write this prayer, especially in these days when we cannot be in close physical proximity with each other. The prayer reminds us of the singular truth that Christ connects us one to another. But “I am there among them” is a rather anemic translation. I “am in the midst of them” is better. The original language translates most directly to, “I am there in the middle of them.”