Sermon for Sunday, April 16, 2023 || Easter 2A || John 20:19-31
The year was 2003. It was a drab, wet December day in Charleston, West Virginia. I was at my parents’ house for Christmas break during my junior year of college. We went to the movies and saw The Return of the King, the third and final film in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’ve been a huge Tolkien fan since I was a kid, and I loved the movies. I was nervous going into the third one, hoping fervently that the filmmakers wouldn’t mess it up. They didn’t, and I wound up crying so hard for the last half hour of the movie that I gave myself a migraine headache.
The thing about this movie, and the biggest thing that critics disliked about it – despite it winning all eleven academy awards it was nominated for – is that the movie ends about six times. Over the last twenty minutes or so, the movie keeps ending! It closes the story on this region and this set of characters, then on that region and that set of characters. Again and again, it ends, until, finally, Samwise Gamgee walks home to his front door, picks up his little daughter and says, “Well, I’m back,” which is exactly how the book ends too.
Continue reading “The Two Endings of John” →
Sermon for Sunday, October 2, 2022 || Proper 22C || Luke 17:5-10
“Increase our faith!” That’s what the disciples say to Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. They are worried that they won’t have enough faith to do what he has commanded in the bit right before our reading today, namely forgive someone seven times. The disciples don’t think they have enough faith to do something like that, so they say: “Increase our faith!”
But Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned with how much faith they have. He reaches for the smallest item available, a tiny mustard seed, and says, If you had this tiny amount of faith you could do amazing things. By using such an exaggeratedly small thing, Jesus says that the amount of faith doesn’t matter. Thinking of faith as a unit of measure makes no sense. I wouldn’t say, “Last year I had 25 faith, but this year I have 27.” Faith isn’t a statistic.
Continue reading “Mustard Seed Faith” →
Sermon for Sunday, August 14, 2022 || Proper 15C || Luke 12:49-56
There’s an old saying in church that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” We see this throughout the gospel when Jesus cares for and lifts up those on the margins of his society while at the same time denouncing the excesses and abuses of those in power. Jesus comforts and challenges in equal measure, depending on the needs and station of his subject.
Continue reading “Comforting Words / Challenging Words” →
Sermon for Sunday, May 1, 2022 || Easter 3C || John 21:1-19
I can only imagine the maelstrom of thoughts roiling in Simon Peter’s head in the weeks following Jesus’ resurrection. At the last supper, he promised Jesus: “I will lay down my life for you.” He was willing to draw blood when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden. He followed Jesus all the way to the gate of the high priest’s house. And then everything fell apart. People began recognizing him and he felt afraid and in his fear he did something he never dreamed he would do, not even in his worst nightmare.
Continue reading “Peter and Jesus” →
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.
Continue reading “Our Great “Why”” →
Sermon for Sunday, June 6, 2021 || Proper 5B || Mark 3:20-35
At the end of the Gospel story I just read, Jesus broadens his family to include everyone who does God’s will. His relatives either think he is in danger or think he has gone mad, so they come to collect him. But Jesus won’t go with them. Instead of hewing to his blood relatives, Jesus looks out at the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Whoever does the will of God. Jesus expands his family to include everyone who does the will of God. When I read that this week, I found it extremely unhelpful. I found it unhelpful for two reasons that have nothing to do with the reality of God’s will, but with our all-too-fallible human use of God’s will as a concept. Let’s talk about God’s will this morning. We’ll start with the two reasons I find it unhelpful, and then we’ll take a stab at how we might conceive of God’s will as a way to enliven our walks with Jesus.
Continue reading “Word. Love. Dream.” →
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians says something in today’s second lesson that makes my heart sing: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
This is one of those verses that makes me take a deep breath after reading it, a cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit who is so vibrantly present in those words. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…”
Today I want to talk about being saved. And I have to start, as I have before, down in the Deep South.
Continue reading “Being Saved” →
There has always been a tension on Ash Wednesday between the chosen biblical readings and the liturgical action of receiving ashes. In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, which Ann shared earlier, we read that God isn’t all that impressed with fasts that include lying in sackcloth and ashes but do not include working to dismantle injustice. In the Gospel lesson I just read, Jesus lambasts the “hypocrites” who disfigure their faces while they are fasting in order that others might see and applaud them. The incongruity between these two lessons and the action we normally take next has always seemed strange to me – and I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve often fielded questions about it from parishioners.
Continue reading “The Fast That I Choose” →
Sermon for Sunday, December 20, 2020 || Advent 4B || Luke 1:26-38
Last year, my children got really into singing Christmas carols. We had the Pentatonix Christmas albums on repeat pretty much all of Advent. The Pentatonix are a high energy a cappella group, and their version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” opens one of their albums. It’s a really catchy track and it gets stuck in your head. It got stuck in my then five-year-old son’s head a lot. And he would walk around the house singing it. But he didn’t have all the words just right. He sang the first few lines correctly; you know, “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king.’” But then he would sing, “Peace on earth and mercy wild.”
Continue reading “Mercy Wild” →
Sermon for Sunday, December 13, 2020 || Advent 3B || John 1:6-8, 19-28
Did you know that you have been sent by God? It’s true. We don’t often think about this reality because our lives stumble down winding roads on their way to various intermediate destinations that we might not even be aware of when we arrive at them. That last sentence was itself a circuitous adventure. But I really mean this. Each one of us, God has sent. Here. Now. This is not an ego thing. This is not someone claiming to be “God’s Gift” because he thinks he is “all that and a bag of chips,” as we used to say. No. This is the Gospel truth. God has sent each of us for a purpose that is written on our hearts, just waiting for our passion to speak it to the world.
Continue reading “Sent by God (or Bible Hero Syndrome)” →