God’s Unsung Miracles

Sermon for Sunday, November 11, 2018 || Proper 27B || 1 Kings 17:8-16

Today I’d like to talk to you about a special type of miracle that never gets any press. It’s not going to sound very miraculous when I say it, but perhaps by the end of this sermon, I’ll have convinced you. Here it is. Here’s the special type of miracle that never makes the news: There is always a little more inside us than we realize. That’s it. There is always a little more inside us than we realize. Doesn’t sound miraculous, does it? I promise you, it is.

Continue reading “God’s Unsung Miracles”

Beloved Community

Sermon for Sunday, September 30, 2018 || Proper 21B || Mark 9:38-50

(I was blessed to preach this day at my father’s retirement service. For the sermon preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic, please click here.)

Good morning. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to speak with you today as you say farewell to my mother and father. After nearly thirty years of active ordained ministry, my dad is “retiring” tomorrow.  I put that word in air quotes because if you know my dad, then you can’t imagine that particular verb ever describing him. For him, retirement won’t mean playing golf every day (which is good, because he’s not very good at it). For him, retirement will mean a refocusing of the life God has called him to live so that he might help others learn how to do the kind of work that you and he have been doing together these last three years. God called you and my parents together to participate in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation here in Middletown. As my parents depart this place, the mission of God remains, and you will have a new pastor with whom to share this mission. Continue reading “Beloved Community”

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”

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”

Heart Expansion

Sermon for Sunday, April 22, 2018 || Easter 4B || 1 John 3:16-24

I know it’s Easter season, but please permit me to begin this sermon quoting a piece of an epic poem about Christmas. Okay, here goes:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

My kids are on a Dr. Seuss kick right now, so when I read this morning’s lessons, the famous character of the Grinch immediately jumped to mind. In the entire canon of English literature, the Grinch is the best example of an anti-hero that I can come up with. Most stories are about a good guy, a protagonist, who overcomes some obstacle to achieve a goal. But in the Dr. Seuss classic, the main character is the bad guy, the antagonist, who thankfully is redeemed, in the end, by the selfless witness of his victims. I hope I didn’t spoil anything there. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published 61 years ago, so I think I’m in the clear.) Continue reading “Heart Expansion”

The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

Sermon for Thursday, March 29, 2018 || Maundy Thursday || John 13:1-17, 31b-35

I don’t normally ad-lib in sermons, but this one has quite a bit, so I would suggest watching the video instead of reading it.

(The Story)
Jesus’ hour has come. He knows he has come from God and is going to God, and he knows the Father has given all things into his hands. He is at table with his disciples, whom he will soon call friends. He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Rather than setting himself over his disciples as his position of Lord and teacher dictates, he takes the place of a servant and washes their feet.

(The Flu)
Ten years ago this month was the last time I got the flu. It was the Thursday before Palm Sunday. It was late in the evening, and I was sitting on the futon in my dorm room at seminary. I was doing what I always did in my free time, which was playing World of Warcraft on my computer. But something was wrong. I felt feverish and sluggish. My reaction time in the game was super slow, and I thought I might throw up on my keyboard. I closed the laptop and went to bed. I slept fitfully and awoke Friday morning with the flu. A full blown case: even blinking hurt. Continue reading “The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency”

They Could Not Take Your Pride

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. From 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, the song bears the title “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and easily slots into my Top 10 list of all-time favorite U2 songs. It’s one of those songs that I never skip when those first rifts from The Edge’s guitar bloom on my radio.

I love this song because it is about a profoundly misunderstood concept, but which U2 understands profoundly in their lyrics. The song is about martyrdom* and the reason someone would die in witness to a cause. For U2, there is only one reason that could ever lead someone down the martyr’s path, and that is Love. Continue reading “They Could Not Take Your Pride”

The Breastplate of Faith and Love

Sermon for Sunday, November 19, 2017 || Proper 28A || 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Before my kids were born, I played a lot of video games. My favorite kind of games were set in medieval fantasy realms where you fight monsters and dragons, all the while collecting treasure and renown. And new armor. In the last game I played seriously, I finished it wearing armor made of dragon scales. That was pretty cool. The armor in these games often have pretty cool names, too: The Gauntlets of Might, The Helmet of Insight, The Boots of Running and Jumping. You get the the idea.

I’ve always wondered if the designers of these games originally took a page out of the Apostle Paul’s book, because as near as I can tell, he invented this naming convention. He says in today’s lesson from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” And yet, while the Breastplate of Faith and Love has an awesome name, it’s not even made of metal, let alone dragon scales. It’s made of faith and love. How could it possibly turn aside the weapons of its bearer’s enemies? Perhaps this is armor of a fundamentally different type. Continue reading “The Breastplate of Faith and Love”

God is Love, and Love Wins

Sermon for Sunday, August 13, 2017 || In response to the Violence in Charlottesville, VA

You might be wondering why I didn’t shave today. I have enough grandmothers in this congregation that I assure you someone is wondering that. Well, at about quarter to six this morning, I scrapped my sermon. I had just finished revising it when I decided to check the news and learned what had happened yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia. If you were tuned out yesterday like I was, here’s the short version. A large group of white supremacists gathered on and near the campus of the University of Virginia to, according to them, protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Counter-protesters also gathered. There were verbal and physical clashes, culminating in a car plowing into a the latter group, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Later in the day, a police helicopter crashed, killing both officers aboard (though foul play was not suspected). Continue reading “God is Love, and Love Wins”

Reaching Into Eternity

Sermon for Sunday, March 13, 2016 || Lent 5C ||  John 12:1-11

reachingintoeternity

Imagine with me a letter written by Lazarus, the friend whom Jesus brought back to life after four days in the tomb.

To my dear sisters, Martha and Mary, by the hand of a trusted friend:

I have written and re-written this letter in my mind, and still any words I hope to scratch here will pale in comparison to the anguish I have in my heart for you. I love you both. My spirit wilts to contemplate putting you through grief yet again. You already passed from grief to joy, as I passed from death to life. But I fear we will reverse this cycle again before long.

Indeed, if you are reading this letter, then I have died once again: not from illness this time, but from malice. I am writing this to help you understand what has happened, and I’m sorry if my thoughts seem like fragments. Fragments are all I have right now. After dinner tonight, Jesus confirmed the fear that has been growing in my mind. His words shattered the innocence I wrapped myself in since coming out of the tomb.

He drew me aside after his confrontation with Judas. I could smell the perfume you anointed him with, Mary. I will remember that scent for the rest of my days. I will remember, too, his eyes set on mine, full of love and agitation. “Beloved,” he said, “I’m sorry.”

I didn’t know what to say. What did he have to apologize to me for?

“I’m sorry for what may be coming soon. I’m sorry that you may suffer on my account. I’m sorry I drew you into all this.”

He looked to be on the verge of tears. “Into what, Lord?” I asked.

“I brought you back from death, only to make you a target for death again. There are powers in Jerusalem who seek my life, and now they seek your life as well. These crowds that come to hear me—they also come to see you, to see with their own eyes proof of the words I speak. And now those who seek to kill me have added you to their list.”

I had sensed this—in the roving eyes of some in the crowd, in the growing sense of foreboding in my gut—but hearing it from Jesus’ own mouth made it real. I hadn’t named the fear I was feeling. I had feigned innocence, hoping that ignoring reality would change it. But Jesus’ words set reality in front of my eyes, and I could not turn away.

Will I die tomorrow? Will I be stoned in a public square or dispatched by an assassin’s blade? Will there be blood? Will it hurt? My sisters, I know you are reading this after I’m gone, so these thoughts must seem wild and misplaced in such a letter. But I beg you: keep reading, for I have not said all.

He kept his eyes on me as I took in his words. I didn’t know whether to run away or to weep on his shoulder. I felt faint. I looked around for something solid to lean on. The walls and chairs looked flimsy somehow. So I reached out and steadied myself on his arm. Finally, words came. “Why did you restore my life if I’m just going to be murdered weeks later?”

“Lazarus,” he said, “I wish I could spare you the prying eyes that have hounded you since that day. I wish I could spare you the pain that may be ahead of you. I cannot. But I can tell you this…”

Dear sisters, coming from any other person, what he said next would have rung pitifully hollow, but the light in Jesus’ eyes held the promise that his words are truth. “I came that you may have life,” he said, “and have it in abundance. This life that I give, beloved, is more than just your ability to move or think or breathe. This life includes those things, just as it includes pain and grief. But ever so much more, this life includes those wonderful gifts from God that reach into eternity: love and joy and grace and justice and peace. You are mine, and I have taught you how to love others as I love you. You are mine, and I make your joy complete. You are mine, and I offer the grace to strive for justice and peace everyday, no matter how many days are left to you.”

I was captivated. I looked him in the eye, and again that light of truth danced behind brimming tears that now began to trace silent streams down his face. “I shed tears now,” he said, “knowing that you may suffer for my sake. But I shed them also for the joy of knowing that such suffering cannot diminish the life I give you. Yes, you will die again. Do not let that keep you from living. And yes, you will live again after you die. Do not let that keep you from living now, either.”

His words washed over me, like clear water from a living spring. I drank them in, and they filled me. The life that he gives is more than life. The life that he gives is more than death. It does not begin when I die, nor did it begin when he brought me from the tomb. His life endures, for I am his whether I live or whether I die.

Dear sisters, while I pray to be spared from pain and suffering, I am not afraid of death. I am afraid that I do not have the strength to live as one who has this abundant life that reaches into eternity. I am afraid that I will live as though I were dead again.

But Jesus chose his words well the day he brought me back to life. Yes, he knew my fears even before I did. Do you remember what he said that day? I do, and those words are imprinted on me like the smell of tonight’s perfume. “Lazarus, come out.” He never spoke a word of resuscitation, never said, “I raise you from the dead.” He just commanded me to leave the tomb. And the gift of life came back to me in order to obey this command.

So until the day I pass through the gate of death again – and I sense it will be soon – Jesus’ command to stay out of the tomb still rules my life. This life he has given me – given each of us – reaches into eternity, so whatever ways we show forth his love now are burnished with the sheen of heaven. Whatever ways we show forth his love now will last long after we are gone, will ripple out to touch more lives than we can possibly imagine.

Mary, Martha: if you are reading this, I have died again. But know that my death will not stop the abundant life that Jesus revealed to me when I was still with you. Do not wait for death to begin your abundant, eternal life. It is yours now. Laugh and dance and sing and serve and love. And rejoice that Jesus continues to give you—and me—the gift of himself, the gift of abundant life that reaches into eternity.

With all the love in my heart,

Your Brother,

Lazarus