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.

Continue reading “The Cliffhanger”

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.

Continue reading “Field Trip to Jerusalem”

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.

Continue reading “We Wish to See Jesus”

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.

Continue reading “Being Saved”

The Cross of Compassion

Sermon for Sunday, February 28, 2021 || Lent 2B || Mark 8:31-38

In less than a year, COVID-19 has killed 500,000 Americans. We passed that grim and horrifying milestone last week. Half a million Americans are being grieved by millions more. Half a million. I can barely conceive of that many people. It’s as if you went to Atlanta, Georgia and the entire city was suddenly empty. I almost didn’t write this sermon because I could not imagine what I could say in the face of such a statistic – a statistic tied to the very real lives and deaths of friends, families, neighbors, and strangers across this country.

But then I read today’s Gospel lesson in light of this grim reality. And this commonly read passage hit me in a new way, a way I had never seen before, a way that sheds light on how we might hold the reality of devastating loss as we also push forward to a different future than any of us expected.

Continue reading “The Cross of Compassion”

Follow Me

Sermon for Sunday, January 24, 2021 || Epiphany 3B || Mark 1:14-20

I wrote two sermons this week. The first I wrote on Tuesday during my normal sermon writing time, and it was an excruciating few hours in which I never found the flow that normally comes when I’m writing. I wasn’t in tune at all, and the words came out all wrong, and I couldn’t find an ending, which is a sure sign that I never found the thread I was looking for. I finished this unwieldy collection of paragraphs, shrugged, and said to myself that I would clean it up on Saturday. Perhaps it was salvageable. 

But I’ll never know because on Wednesday, I listened to the young poet, Amanda Gorman, speak at the presidential inauguration, and she lifted my heart and soul with her poetry. If you haven’t listened to her poem. “The Hill We Climb,” I encourage you to do so later today. Find it on YouTube, and let her words lift you too. I listened to Amanda Gorman’s words, and her flow pulled me back into resonance with my own flow. And I knew I needed to write another sermon. This second sermon began forming in my mind even as I listened to her speak. The invitation Jesus extends to his first disciples sang in my heart, this invitation to “follow me.”

Continue reading “Follow Me”

I Saw You

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.

Continue reading “I Saw You”

One Step Behind Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, January 10, 2021 || Epiphany 1B || Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

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.

Continue reading “One Step Behind Jesus”

The Garden and the Wasteland (updated)

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.

Continue reading “The Garden and the Wasteland (updated)”

My LEGO Jesus

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.

Continue reading “My LEGO Jesus”