The Meaning in Stories

Sermon for Sunday, June 14, 2020 || Proper 6A || Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

Today, I’d like to share a few stories and talk about how we use them to make meaning. The lessons and meanings of our own stories, our communal stories, and our biblical stories dwell inside us, and we can use what we learn from these stories to make sense of the story we currently find ourselves in. Today, I’m going to tell two and a half stories: first a personal one, then a biblical one. The half story at the end is the story of now, which isn’t finished being written yet.

First, the personal story. Twelve years ago today, I knelt in front of the bishop of West Virginia. He and a dozen or so priests laid their hands on my head, back, and shoulders. And they prayed for God to make me a priest in God’s church. The day of my ordination was a blur, but I remember the next day much more, the day I celebrated Holy Communion for the first time. I was so nervous on the day of my first Eucharist as a priest. I was convinced I was going to knock over the chalice because I had to make specific gestures while clothed beneath a baggy piece of outerwear. 

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Be My Witnesses

Sermon for Sunday, May 24, 2020 || Easter 7A || Acts 1:6-14

Early on a Wednesday morning last June, I stood in line at a checkpoint leading to the Western Wall below the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem. Turning around, I watched the sun rise over the Mount of Olives, turning the distant tower of the Church of the Ascension into a dark silhouette against the thin clouds. And for a brief moment, my heart rose with the sun, and I was transported back to that spot 2,000 years ago. I watched with the disciples as Jesus was taken up into heaven. I gazed up at the sky and felt his final words settle in my gut: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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Transactions and Relationships

Sermon for Sunday, February 16, 2020 || Epiphany 6A || Deuteronomy 30:15-20

This sermon is about the love of God, but it’s going to take me a few minutes to get there. First I need to talk about chores. When I was young, I had certain chores that I did because my parents paid me to do them and other chores I did simply because I was a member of the family and members of the family do the dishes when it’s their turn. Do the dishes, pick up after yourself, clean your room, wash your laundry – these chores came with no financial incentive. These chores lived within the relational currency of my family. I did them because to be a member of my family meant I had to do my part. But mowing the lawn – they paid me to do that. There is no way I would have mowed the lawn without the promise of gas money when I was done. 

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New Year’s Intentions

Sermon for Sunday, January 5, 2020 || Christmas 2

A few years ago, I read something my sister Melinda wrote on her website at the beginning of a new year. Melinda is something of a mystic: a writer and yoga teacher, who spends her days working at the YMCA to make sure as many kids as possible can benefit from the Y’s programs. Now, I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, so I was glad to see she had put a different spin on the concept. As she looks at the horizon of a new year, Melinda discerns not a resolution, but an intention. Here’s what she wrote two years ago:

“In years past, I’ve written about and set an intention rather than a resolution. In yoga we call this a sankalpa – a word or small phrase in the present tense that represents where we want to go or what we want to cultivate.” She continues: “I hadn’t planned on designating a new sankulpa for this year either, but as I was lying down for a little rest the world community sprung to my awareness… I don’t know what community is asking of me, but I do know enough to let it be, and open to what this energy wants to create through me.”

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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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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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On the Basis of Love

Sermon for Sunday, September 8, 2019 || Proper 18C || Philemon 1-21

I guarantee you that the Apostle Paul has no idea he was writing scripture. This fact lends a certain authenticity to his words because he was never trying to add to the Bible. Rather, his letters flow from his close relationships with people all over the Mediterranean, people he has met while planting house churches. Today, we heard most of Paul’s shortest surviving letter, his letter to Philemon. We know Paul isn’t aware this letter will become Holy Scripture because his words are so personal, so timely. “One more thing,” he says (after the verses we read this morning), “Prepare a guest room for me.” That’s like me emailing an old college buddy and seeing if I can crash on his couch for a few days. Such a normal, everyday request gives this short letter a down-to-earth quality, a glimpse into Paul’s extraordinary (and yet still very human) life.

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Thoughts and Prayers

Sermon for Sunday, August 11, 2019 || Proper 14C || Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

It is so good to be standing here behind this lectern again. I haven’t preached a sermon since Easter Sunday, so I hope I remember how to do it. I have so many things I want to share with you from my time on sabbatical. Many I will share during the adult forum hour throughout the upcoming school year. Some things will surely influence my sermons. But today is not the day to begin that sharing. A week ago two more mass shootings, both perhaps spurred by the scourge of white nationalist terrorism, devastated the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The events were still breaking at the time of last week’s Sunday services, so there was no time to formulate more than just an anguished response – a prayer of lamentation: “How many more, O Lord?”

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The House of the Lord

Sermon for Sunday, March 17, 2019 || Lent 2C || PSALM 27; LUKE 13:31-35

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” These words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are the only adequate ones I can find to say this morning in the wake of the white supremacist terrorist attack on two Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. After writing that sentence yesterday morning, I stared at my computer screen for a long, long time because I had no adequate words of my own to add. All I have left are the inadequate ones, written through the fog of my own tears.

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Eye on the Sparrow

Sermon for Sunday, March 3, 2019 || Last Epiphany C || Exodus 34:29-35

There are people in our lives who so fully embrace the love of God that we can’t help but feel closer to God when we’re around them. They live and breathe the Way of Love so fully that half a smile or a touch on the shoulder or a quick word is more than enough for you to reorient yourself on that Way of Love as well. God has blessed me with relationships with a few such people over the years, and I’ve noticed they all have one thing in common – one thing that makes their connection to God’s love even more special. They have no idea just how amazing their connection is. If you compliment them for their incredible generosity of spirit or their welcoming manner, they will wave away the comment as undeserved. Or they will shine the compliment back on you because they have no desire to stand in the limelight.

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