Beyond Fear

Sermon for Sunday, December 22, 2019 || Advent 4A || Matthew 1:18-25

At the end of this sermon, I’m going to talk about the movie Frozen II. But first let’s talk about fear. Whenever an angel of the Lord appears in Holy Scripture, the angel always begins the message for the same four words: “Do not be afraid.” Today’s Gospel lesson is no exception. Mary’s fiancé Joseph has resolved to “dismiss her quietly” because of her pregnancy, but he takes one more night to sleep on the decision. During that night, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. My question is: Why would Joseph be afraid to do this? I can think of many reasons for Joseph’s fear, and I want to talk about three of them this morning. We’ll dispense with the first two quickly because the third is where I really want us to focus.

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New Reality

Sermon for Sunday, December 15, 2019 || Advent 3A || Matthew 11:2-11

You’re going to get sick of me saying this, but it has fascinated me for years, so I will say it again. Jesus almost never answers the questions people ask him. I know I started my sermon a few weeks ago with this same thought, but it’s so important for understanding how Jesus related to people in the Gospel. Jesus responds to questions, but he rarely answers them. When we take the time to compare his response to the thing the questioner was looking for, we see more clearly the path Jesus invites us to walk.

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Change Your Hearts and Lives

Sermon for Sunday, December 8, 2019 || Advent 2A || Matthew 3:1-12

About ten minutes into The Princess Bride, we meet Vizzini, Fezzek, and Inigo. The three brigands kidnap Princess Buttercup and set sail across the sea to another country, where the giant Fezzek scales the imposing Cliffs of Insanity with the other three strapped to him. All the while, the Man in Black has been chasing them, but Vizzini dismisses their pursuer, saying it would be “inconceivable” that anyone would have known they kidnapped the princess in the first place. And yet the Man in Black starts climbing the cliffs after them. “Inconceivable” says Vizzini again. Vizzini cuts the rope, and the Man in Black hangs onto the rocks: “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!” The Spanish blademaster Inigo Montoya looks at Vizzini and says one of the more quotable lines in a film full of quotable lines: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line from one of my all-time favorite movies always comes to mind when I read today’s Gospel lesson because John the Baptist uses a word, a very special word, and I do not think it means what our society thinks it means.

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I Will Give You Words

Sermon for Sunday, November 17, 2019 || Proper 28C || Luke 21:5-19

Imagine with me the words of the Apostle Peter, spoken to his young cellmate on the eve of Peter’s death in the city of Rome around the year 64 A.D.

I heard about the great fire that swept through Rome, and I knew immediately that the authorities would blame us Christians. That’s why I came here – to support the community I knew would face persecution. And now here I am, arrested for arson – this is my fourth arrest, by the way – and I wasn’t even here at the time of the blaze. But facts don’t matter to those in power. Only keeping their power matters to them. 

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Engage, Expand, Reach Deeper

Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2019 || Proper 27C || Luke 20:27-38

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again. Jesus rarely, if ever, answers the questions people ask him in the Gospel. Instead, he answers the questions he wishes they had asked. Today’s Gospel lesson is a case in point.

Jesus does not answer the Sadducees question because their question is disingenuous. They ask him a question designed to expose what they think is the absurdity of the resurrection. However, since they don’t believe in the resurrection, they really have no standing to ask a question about it. They are simply trying to get Jesus to trip into a bad sound bite. They have focus-group-tested a stumper, and they deploy it to make Jesus look bad.

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Play Your Game, Not Theirs

Sermon for Sunday, November 3, 2019 || All Saints’ Sunday || Luke 6:20-31

The only person you can change is yourself. 

Recently, I began a practice of silent meditation every morning. For twenty minutes, I sit cross-legged on the center cushion of my couch, and I breathe the prayer-word “Maranatha,” which means “Come, Lord Jesus.” I decided to build this practice into my spiritual life because I felt myself changing for the worse. The culture of immediacy had captured me with its constant need for updating feeds. The tough subjects I was (and am) tackling in my person study didn’t have a space to go inside me because I was too cluttered with other, incompatible ideas. I talked about God so much that I had forgotten simply to dwell with God. 

And most perniciously, with the rising tide of negativity, hate, indignity, and disrespect in our society, I could feel these evil chemicals starting to build up in my system. In silence, God and I can purge them together, and I can feel the treatment beginning to gain ground on the disease.

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Thank You, God

Sermon for Sunday, October 13, 2019 || Proper 23C || Luke 17:11-19

This summer, I went to the place where that Gospel story happened. We were heading back to Jerusalem from Galilee, and we stopped in the West Bank town of Burqin, just like Jesus did – except he wasn’t riding an air-conditioned tour bus. We walked up a hill to a church that commemorates the healing of the ten lepers. Preserved there are the ancient underground caverns – holes, really – were people with skin conditions were set apart from the rest of society. I climbed down into one, and I can’t imagine being there for more than a few minutes.

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Walk in Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 29, 2019 || Proper 21C || Luke 16:19-31

This sermon is about walking in love. But before I go there, I need to talk about Jesus the radical. Jesus shares a lot of radical stories in the Gospel. We might not realize how radical they are because they appear in the Bible. And the Bible over time has become such an established collection of writings that we don’t necessarily expect them to be radical. We hear the same stories over and over again, so their shocking nature is dulled both by repetition and the long march of history.

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Introducing the Podcast for Nerdy Christians

This week, my friend and colleague, Carrie Combs, and I launched our new podcast!

The Podcast for Nerdy Christians sits at the intersection of those two words. We love nerdy things like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and we love Jesus. The idea for the podcast came from the article I wrote last spring about grief in Avengers: Endgame. I realized that so much of my life runs through a pair of intertwining influences: nerd culture and following Jesus Christ. I asked Carrie to partner with me in this adventure because I knew her life exhibits the same pattern. I’m so glad she said, “Yes!”

We recorded the first three episodes before launching #1 in order to prove to ourselves that we liked what we were doing. And we do! This podcast is the perfect place to talk about all the nerdy stuff I can’t put into sermons because the references are too obscure or would take too much time to explain.

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The Found Sheep

Sermon for Sunday, September 15, 2019 || Proper 19C || Luke 15:1-10

This is a sermon about being lost and being found. Every time I read and re-read the Gospel lesson for today this past week, my heart kept drawing me to the same words: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” My heart just bursts with joy at those last four words: “Until he finds it.” These four words speak to the tenacious, undeterred nature of the shepherd who keeps looking and keeps looking until he finds the lost sheep.

Have you ever been lost? Of course you have. The question today is, have you ever been found? Let me leave that question hanging here in the air and share with you a quick story from the file labeled “Stupid Things Adam Did as a Child.”

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