Listen to My Voice

Sermon for Sunday, May 8, 2022 || Easter 4C || John 12:22-30

Two weeks ago in our Gospel reading, we heard Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Last week Jesus told Simon Peter (and by extension, us the readers) “Follow me.” And today, we hear him say something else from earlier in the Gospel. He has just talked all about being the Good Shepherd, who calls the sheep by name, who brings the sheep out of the sheepfold, who lays down his life for the sheep. And then he says this. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice.”

The trouble for people reading or hearing the Gospel way back then is the same trouble we have today. None of them and none of us have ever audibly heard Jesus say anything. And yet, we follow. We believe. We listen. The question we’re going to ponder together for the next few minutes is “How.” How do we listen to Jesus’ voice? How do we listen to someone who lived nineteen centuries ago and who inhabited the other side of the world and who spoke a language that no longer exists?

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Unlearn What You Have Learned

Sermon for Sunday, April 3, 2022 || Lent 5C || Philippians 3:4b-14

Last week we talked about beginning again. I want to stay with that theme this week and talk about a fundamental piece of beginning again. This fundamental piece is the action of “unlearning.” Sometimes we learn something wrong (or at least incompletely), and we operate under that wrongness so long that it seems right due only to longevity. When we recognize this, the mature step is to unlearn what we have learned, and this means beginning again.

When I was writing this sermon, I accidentally quoted Yoda in what I just said, so I figure I might as well just present the whole scene from The Empire Strikes Back to set up this sermon. (I haven’t used any Star Wars references yet this year!) Luke Skywalker is deep in his training with Master Yoda on the planet of Dagobah. Luke is doing a handstand while levitating rocks, but then R2-D2 whistles a warning, and Luke loses his concentration. Artoo was warning him that his X-Wing starfighter is sinking completely into the swamp.

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I Contain Multitudes

Sermon for Sunday, February 13, 2022 || Epiphany 6C || Luke 6:17-26

There is a very silly scene in the very silly movie Life of Brian by Monty Python. Actually, the movie is fairly deep, but you have to dig through the silliness to find its depth. The movie follows Brian, a person unfortunate enough to have been born in the stable next to Jesus. In the silly scene near the beginning of the film, the camera pans away from Jesus speaking his famous Beatitudes; you know, blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, etc. The camera pans away from Jesus and settles on a group of people way at the back of the crowd, who are struggling to hear Jesus.

“What was that?” one man says.

“I think it was, ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers,’” another replies.

“What’s so special about the cheesemakers?” a third asks.

The first man responds, “Well, obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”

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Our Great “Why”

Sermon for Sunday, January 30, 2022 || Epiphany 4C || 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I spend a good amount of time every January attending to the operational and organizational side of the church as we develop a budget, analyze various metrics, review staff roles, and seek out new vestry members. I wouldn’t consider any of these activities to be in wheelhouse, so I find I have to attend to them in a very focused way.

This can cause a particular problem. I call it the January Problem. The January Problem is this: I can focus so carefully on the “what” and “who” and “how much” that it’s easy to lose focus on the “why.” So today, I’d like to extricate myself from the January Problem and focus on the “why” by talking about two interrelated concepts: love and mission.

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For the Common Good (with a lot of help from Dr. King)

Sermon for Sunday, January 16, 2022 || Epiphany 2C || 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

One of my favorite songs was released the year after I was born. The song comes from U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire and bears the title “Pride (In the Name of Love).” In one of the verses, Bono sings:

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.

U2 continues with the chorus: “In the name of love / What more in the name of love.” They repeat these words over and over again, astonished and overwhelmed by the lengths to which love calls us to go.

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God’s Divine Math

Sermon for Sunday, June 20, 2021 || Proper 7B || 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

They say that when a couple has a second baby, their hearts expand to love the second just as much as the first. The love is not divided in half, so that the older child now only gets 50% (although from that child’s perspective it might feel that way). Somehow, using the exponential property of divine mathematics, love always expands to include every beloved. Leah and I did not have the opportunity to experience this second child expansion because our second was born about 30 seconds after our first. We got the double whammy, and, in the moment the nurses placed both babies in my arms for the first time, I could feel in my heart my ability to love expand. All of a sudden, I had all this extra love inside me and it started leaking down my cheeks. For those first few sleep-deprived days, I spent hours just staring into the tiny faces of the babies. They were the physical embodiment of my heart opening wider than I thought possible.

This is the moment in my life that I think of when I read our lesson today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. After speaking of all the hardships he has had to endure to remain in relationship with the churches he has founded, Paul says: “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return…open wide your hearts also.”

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Prophecy

Sermon for Sunday, January 24, 2021 || Epiphany 4B || Deuteronomy 18:15-20

This is a sermon about prophecy, but first I want you to put a question in your mind because I’m going to ask it again at the end, and I don’t want you to be caught off guard. Here’s the question. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better?

Got it in your mind? Good. Because that question is the essence of prophecy. How are you challenging the world of today in order to make the future better? We’ll get back to that question in a few minutes. For now, let’s talk about Moses and prophecy. 

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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.”

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The Upside Down

Sermon for Sunday, November 1, 2020 || All Saints A || Matthew 5:1-12

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.

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Get Behind Me, Satan

Sermon for Sunday, August 30, 2020 || Proper 17A || Matthew 16:21-28

“Get behind me, Satan.” I’ve always wondered how Jesus said these words. Peter has just named Jesus the Messiah. And Jesus has just said what will happen if he continues his mission on its current trajectory. He will undergo great suffering and be killed! (He mentions rising again on the third day, but Peter doesn’t key in on that part.) Peter says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” That’s when Jesus says these famous words: “Get behind me, Satan.”

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