Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sermon for Sunday, July 15, 2018 || Proper 10B || Mark 6:24-39

The lesson Stacey just read from the Gospel is unique. It’s the only time in his fast-paced account that Mark ever diverges from Jesus’ storyline. This strange flashback to John the Baptist’s beheading is greatly abridged in the Gospel according to Matthew, and Luke and John give the story a pass entirely. Mark is the only Gospel writer who takes the time to detail for his audience what happened to Jesus’ predecessor and herald, John the Baptist.

The flashback centers around the character of King Herod, one of the true antagonists of the Gospel. Herod is the bad guy in this story. And Mark knows his craft as a writer. He knows a well-drawn antagonist helps reveal the good things about the protagonist. Often, facets of the main character remain in shadow until a skeptical or adversarial or malevolent character brings them to the light. Lex Luthor’s greed stands in contrast with Superman’s selflessness. Javert’s dogged pursuit of Jean Valjean over a crime of compassion stands in contrast with Valjean’s dogged pursuit of charity and redemption. Emperor Palpatine’s desire to consume Luke Skywalker’s power in the Force stands in contrast with Luke’s desire to set his father, Darth Vader, free from that same consumption. Continue reading “Good Guys and Bad Guys”

The Airport Rule

Sermon for Sunday, July 8, 2018 || Proper 9B || Mark 6:1-13

When I was growing up, my parents instituted a family ordinance called “the airport rule.” The airport rule stated that whenever we were in a crowded place like an airport, we always had to be holding hands with another member of the family. Observing this safety measure meant we were less likely to get lost or (God forbid) snatched. All my parents had to do was call out, “Airport rule!” and Melinda and I immediately buddied up with them.

When I became a parent myself, I finally understood the genius of the airport rule. It wasn’t just about safety, though that was a big part of it. The airport rule also made our travel more efficient because, once buddied up, we had to walk at the parent’s pace instead of the child’s. And there was one more sneaky element of the airport rule that I would never have dreamt of when I was a kid. I’m certain my parents called out for the airport rule just because they liked holding our hands. There’s simply nothing like reaching down and finding those warm, little fingers to squeeze. Every time I hold my son’s or daughter’s hands, I can’t help but send up a prayer of thanks that God entrusted these two precious lives to Leah and me.*

Continue reading “The Airport Rule”

A Wide Open Heart

Sermon for Sunday, June 24, 2018 || Proper 7B || 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

When I was a brand new priest, one of the biggest mistakes I made was comparing my vocation to other “professional” occupations. I made this mistake because I went to the same number of years of graduate school as a lawyer, and mine was a helping profession like a doctor. Your pastor is right up there with your surgeon or your litigator, I reasoned, and here are my credentials. It took a couple of years for me to learn this was a really foolish approach to pastoring. A mentor of mine pointed out the error in my thinking like this. He said, “People only go to surgeons when they need surgery or to lawyers when they’re in trouble. Don’t you want to walk with people every step of the way?” Continue reading “A Wide Open Heart”

In Christ

Sermon for Sunday, June 17, 2018 || Proper 6B || 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

Having trouble uploading the video today, so I’ll get it up as soon as I can.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” These are today’s words from the Apostle Paul written to the people of Jesus’ Way found in the city of Corinth, Greece. Except that there’s a couple extra words inserted in the English translation. Paul doesn’t actually say, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” He’s far too excited to bother with appropriate sentence structure or correct usage of linking verbs. No, what Paul really says – and I have to read this with a lot of exuberance to get the right effect – what Paul really says is this: “So if anyone is in Christ – new creation!”

Paul cannot wait to tell us of this new life, this new way of being, this new creation that happens when we live “in Christ.” But my question is: what does that mean? What does it mean to live “in Christ?” Why is Paul so excited? Continue reading “In Christ”

Faith Behind Door #3

Sermon for Sunday, May 27, 2018 || Trinity Sunday B || John 3:1-17

About ten years ago, I was a newly-minted priest living in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. That part of West Virginia was much more farm and orchard country than coal country, and the Appalachian Mountains were a good hike west of my town. One Saturday afternoon, I got a hankering to experience some local custom, so I took myself out of my solitary townhouse and headed down to the county fair. It was fantastic – a perfect window into a particular aspect of Americana right down to the fried dough, the pig weighing, and the tractor pull.

As I wandered through one of the tents, a provocative sign caught my attention. It hung above a booth and read: “How sure are you of going to heaven? Are you 50% 75% 100% sure?” Now, I really had no desire to get into a theological sparring match with the man and woman at the booth, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to know how someone might arrive at a 75% surety of heaven. I mean, 75%? It’s an oddly specific percentage of certainty…

Continue reading “Faith Behind Door #3”

As I Have Loved You

Sermon for Sunday, May 6, 2018 || Easter 6B || John 15:9-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus says these words to his disciples during their last meal together. The next day he will walk to the cross, to his death, and so his words in the upper room take on the urgency of someone knowing they will probably be his last words. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

At first we might take issue with Jesus’ words: how can you command someone to love? It’s not like a drill sergeant shouting at his recruits to “drop and give me twenty.” That command can be followed pretty easily. You drop to the ground and do twenty push-ups. But the command to love? The reason it feels weird to us, the reason we might take issue, lies in the fact that we often think of love in terms of an emotion. This is love as “affection.” This is what we mean when we say we are “falling in love.”

Continue reading “As I Have Loved You”

God’s Abiding Presence

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 5B || John 15:1-18

My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. Before the age of twelve I had lived in eight different houses in five states. When we arrived in Alabama right after Christmas in 1994, my parents promised my sister and me that we wouldn’t move again until I finished high school seven years on. I smiled and nodded, but the whole time I was thinking, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.”

I simply had no frame of reference for remaining in one place more than three years, which was my previous best. I wasn’t great at making friends because my experience told me I would be leaving them soon, so what was the point. I had to adapt to numerous new cultures and speaking patterns. Notably, when I moved to Alabama I had to amend every statement with the words “sir” or “ma’am.” If I had said either in my prior home of Rhode Island, adults would have thought I was sassing them. It was very confusing. Continue reading “God’s Abiding Presence”

Radical Aliveness

Sermon for Sunday, April 15, 2018 || Easter 3B || LUKE 24:36b-48

There’s a great scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where a tank drives off a cliff with Indy aboard. Henry Jones, Marcus Brody, and Sallah race to the cliff’s edge and watch in horror as the tank tumbles to a stop below. In the meantime, Indiana Jones is clambering up a vine nearby. He staggers to his feet and comes up behind them. Sean Connery, who plays Indy’s father, does a fantastic double take and then grabs Harrison Ford in a frantic embrace. “I thought I lost you, boy,” he says, and the hug extends past the point you would expect this stern and professorial father to embrace his child.

I imagine a similar scene taking place in the upper room when the Risen Christ appears in the midst of his disciples. They think he’s a ghost, but he assures them he’s real: “Touch me and see!” Certainly, some of them grabbed him in the same frantic embrace that Indy and his father share. “I thought I lost you, Lord.” Others are still skeptical, so Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of them to prove he really does have internal organs, especially an esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Continue reading “Radical Aliveness”

The Intention of Peace

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31

“Peace” is one of my favorite words. It has a bit of onomatopoeia to it – you know, a word that sounds likes its meaning, like “buzz” or “hiss.” When I say the word “peace” I become more peaceful. I take a deep breath and exhale on the first sound of the word, and the sibilant at the end takes the rest of my breath. “Peace.”

I imagine Jesus doing this with his fearful disciples in the upper room. Of course, he wasn’t speaking the English word “peace,” but he does breathe on them. If they’re anything like me, then their anxiety would have stolen their breath from their lungs. But Jesus gives it back to them when he twice says, “Peace be with you.” And then a third time when Thomas rejoins the group: “Peace be with you.” Continue reading “The Intention of Peace”

I Am. I Am Not.

Sermon for Friday, March 30, 2018 || Good Friday || Passion According to John

Way back in Chapter Four of the Gospel According to John, we hear Jesus use a particular phrase for the first time. The phrase is special for it links Jesus’ identity to the divine identity of God. This one little phrase is just two words long, with only three letters among them. The phrase is “I Am.” In Chapter Four, Jesus says these special words to the Samaritan woman at the well. They’ve had a long talk about living water and where to worship, and their conversation ends with Jesus revealing to her his divine identity, saying,  “I Am.”

These two little words reveal his divine identity because of their link to a famous passage in the book of Exodus, in which Moses meets God in the burning bush. God gives Moses the mission to free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To gain some credibility, Moses asks to know God’s name. “I Am Who I Am,” says God. Jesus echoes this name many, many times in the Gospel of John, beginning first with the Samaritan woman. Continue reading “I Am. I Am Not.”