A Particular Vision of Reality

Sermon for Sunday, November 21, 2021 || Reign of Christ B || John 18:33-37

Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Next week we begin again with the season of Advent. But first, we pause for a Sunday and celebrate the reign of Christ. This reign is the reality that God’s loving blueprint for all creation is sovereign, is the foundation and framework upon which everything is built. Comprehending such an expansive understanding of the reign of Christ is precisely why we celebrate it today. The trouble is, ever since this feast day was created in the early 20th century, we’ve celebrated a cramped, constricted vision of Christ’s reign. For most of the history of this holy day, people have called it “Christ the King” Sunday. I did too for the first several years of my priesthood. But at some point, I switched my language from Christ’s “kingship” to Christ’s “reign,” and that’s when the more expansive understanding of Christ’s role exploded in my heart and mind. I’d like to take you through that switch this morning.

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Necessary Gifts

Sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2021 || All Saints B || John 11:32-44

I’m going to start today’s sermon with the end of it. Here it is. Are you ready? Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. Got that? I’ll say it again: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. This is a statement of faith that I think comes with quite a bit of evidence in the Gospel, especially in the passage I just read, the raising of Lazarus. I’m talking about commands and gifts this morning because in a few minutes, we are going to reaffirm our Baptismal promises. I’ll get back to Baptism in a bit, but first, here’s the evidence for that statement of faith: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out.

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First of All

Sermon for Sunday, October 31, 2021 || Proper 26B || Mark 12:28-34

You all know that one of my favorite things to do in sermons is to look at the way Jesus responds to questions people ask him. More often than not, Jesus ignores the question and answers the one he wished were asked, usually a much deeper question than was originally posed. But not today. In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus directly answers the question the scribe asks him: “Which commandment is first of all?”

Jesus responds by paraphrasing the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

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Second Chances

Sermon for Sunday, October 24, 2021 || Proper 25B || Mark 10:46-52

The Gospel passage I just read is one of my favorites. I know I say that a lot, but it’s always true. I guess I have a lot of favorite passages. I have a special connection to the story of Bartimaeus, as this passage was the subject of my first big paper in my New Testament class in seminary, circa December 2005. I wrote all about the actions that Bartimaeus does, and the paper became the basis for the first sermon I preached on this story back in 2012. Then in 2015, I took the ideas in that sermon and preached from Bartimaeus’s perspective. Then in 2018, I took the conclusion of my thoughts as Bartimaeus a step further and preached about his request to Jesus: “Let me see again” (with “again” being the operative word).

So it seems that every three years, I have added something new to my sermon about Bartimaeus. It’s like when the original Star Wars trilogy came out in 1977, 1980, and 1983. Every three years, we encounter Bartimaeus again; each time, he says to Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” And again, we get the opportunity to talk about mercy. Mercy is all about second chances. Mercy is all about “again.”

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The Key to Curiosity

Sermon for Sunday, October 17, 2021 || Proper 24B || Job 38:1-7

Before I matured into adulthood in my early thirties, there was a trio of words I don’t think I ever said. I said them individually in other contexts, of course, but never in a certain order. Those words were, “I don’t know.” I think I never said these words in this particular order for a couple reasons. First, I was young and stupid and thought I knew everything. And second, my entire identity was wrapped up in being the person who knew the answer. Over my 19 years of school, I cultivated that identity. I wanted it. I needed it. I relished whenever my classmates’ eyes swiveled in my direction. To say, “I don’t know,” would have stabbed me in the very core of who I thought I was.

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Astonishing Words About Wealth

Sermon for Sunday, October 10, 2021 || Proper 23B || Mark 10:17-31

Jesus tells his disciples a lot of astonishing things in the Gospel. He tells them to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He tells them to pluck their own eye out if it causes them to sin. He tells them that he will be killed and then rise again on the third day. Pretty much every time Jesus opens his mouth, he says something astonishing.

But only one time in the entire Gospel does the narrator tell us the disciples are astonished after hearing Jesus say something.* One time across all four accounts of the Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Once! And that one time the disciples are astonished by Jesus’ words comes in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s easy to miss because, for some reason, our English translation renders the word as “perplexed,” but it’s better translated as “astonished,” or “amazed,” or even “startled.” What did Jesus say to so startle his disciples?

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The Anonymous Scholarly Paper of an Early Follower of Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, October 3, 2021 || Proper 22B || Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Our readings today are pretty intense. We  started with Job, an ancient morality tale that begins with an imaginative, and pretty distressing, exchange between God and Satan. But I’m not going to talk about that today. We read Jesus’ teaching about divorce and fidelity in the Gospel according to Mark. I’m also not going to talk about that today, but if you’re curious, I did preach about this Gospel lesson six years ago, and you can find it here on my website.

And finally, we have a few pieces from the Letter to the Hebrews, which, for my money, is the most complicated writing in the entire New Testament. This is what I’m going to talk about today. We’ll be hearing snippets of Hebrews for the next six weeks, and I know this writing is hard enough to understand after reading it a dozen times. Hearing it read aloud once just won’t cut it if we want to encounter the Letter to the Hebrews in any way beyond just letting its words sail over our heads. So today I’d like to set the Letter to the Hebrews in context and then dive into one of the elements in our confusing reading from this morning.

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Be-Loved

Sermon for Sunday, September 26, 2021 || Proper 21B || Mark 9:38-50

I’m a lot like Harry Potter. Not magically, unfortunately. And I’m taller than him. And I’m not British, also unfortunate. But, but, but in one very important way, Harry Potter and I are the same. We both had to learn to accept the help of a loving community. If I look for a through line across the seven Harry Potter novels it is this. Harry tries to do everything alone because he doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He truly loves his friends. But his love for them keeps him from letting them be full members of the mission to take down Voldemort. Only when Harry finally lets his friends share fully in his mission do they stand a chance of succeeding. His love for them changes from a protective kind of love to a partnership kind of love. And they are all stronger when they work together.

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Seeds of Peace

Sermon for Sunday, September 19, 2021 || Proper 20B || James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

This is a sermon about peace. To start, I’d like us all to take as deep a breath through your nose as your mask will allow. Then, on your exhale, slowly and quietly speak the word “peace.” First, the opening consonant, a simple “puh” sound, what linguists call a ‘voiceless bilabial plosive’ – ‘puh.’ Next a long ‘E’ sound, which we can spend much of our breath on. Then finish off the breath with the sibilant ‘S’ sound, a chorus of sizzling. All together now. Deep breath in. Peace.

On that exhale, we breathed peace into the world, along with our carbon dioxide. Now the trees and grass outside will take that CO2 and transform it into energy and water, their own breaths of peace in a world torn by violence (see note below). The trees and grass send their roots deep, holding the soil to the ground and preventing erosion. And those plants outside all came – a month ago or a hundred years ago – from seeds. Seeds planted in the ground with the hope of sprouting. Our breaths of peace, our embrace of a life of peace, are also seeds. They are seeds planted in the soil of our souls and in the heart of our communities – local, national, and global.

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High Noon (updated)

Sermon for Sunday, September 12, 2021 || Proper 19A || Mark 8:27-38

I’m sure we’ve all watched this scene unfold in a film, a Western, perhaps starring John Wayne or Gary Cooper. The sheriff checks the rounds in his six-shooter, puts on his Stetson and shiny, star-shaped badge, and walks bowlegged out of his tin-roofed station. His spurs clink as he walks, and his boots kick up the dust of the main street running through town. At the same time, the batwing doors of the saloon swing outward, and the gun-slinging outlaw swaggers down the steps into the street. The outlaw wears a red bandanna and dark leather chaps and keeps his Colt .45 slung low on his hip, the better to draw quickly. They face each other at high noon out on the street. They are alone, though the whole town is watching from windows and roofs. A tumbleweed skitters across the road between them. There are no shadows. And the sheriff says, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

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