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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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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The Meditation of My Heart

Sermon for Sunday, January 23, 2022 || Epiphany 3C || Psalm 19

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Many preachers begin each of their sermons with this verse from today’s psalm. I can hear my father’s voice in my head praying these words time and again as I grew up. He always pluralized the second half, saying, “The meditation of all our hearts.”

I’d like to talk about meditation today and invite you all into the practice that I began when I was on my sabbatical in 2019. I honestly cannot say where I’d be in the midst of all the anxieties and pressures and hardships and sorrows of the last two years without this practice of meditation.

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Seeds of Peace

Sermon for Sunday, September 19, 2021 || Proper 20B || James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

This is a sermon about peace. To start, I’d like us all to take as deep a breath through your nose as your mask will allow. Then, on your exhale, slowly and quietly speak the word “peace.” First, the opening consonant, a simple “puh” sound, what linguists call a ‘voiceless bilabial plosive’ – ‘puh.’ Next a long ‘E’ sound, which we can spend much of our breath on. Then finish off the breath with the sibilant ‘S’ sound, a chorus of sizzling. All together now. Deep breath in. Peace.

On that exhale, we breathed peace into the world, along with our carbon dioxide. Now the trees and grass outside will take that CO2 and transform it into energy and water, their own breaths of peace in a world torn by violence (see note below). The trees and grass send their roots deep, holding the soil to the ground and preventing erosion. And those plants outside all came – a month ago or a hundred years ago – from seeds. Seeds planted in the ground with the hope of sprouting. Our breaths of peace, our embrace of a life of peace, are also seeds. They are seeds planted in the soil of our souls and in the heart of our communities – local, national, and global.

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Intentions

Sermon for Sunday, August 29, 2021 || Proper 17B || Mark 7:1-23

Every morning when I wake up, I meditate silently for a time, and then I pray a three-part intention for the day. I pray, “Dear God, I set my intention this day: to be at peace with all creatures, including myself; to have compassion for myself and others; and to set my heart on Christ.”

I pray this intention every single morning to ask God to help me address the day from a posture of peace and compassion as I follow the way of Jesus. My day begins like this to give me a better chance of putting peaceful and compassionate energy out into the world. No matter how important or unimportant we think we are, no matter how big or small our platform, no matter if we interact with many or few, every single day we change the world by our presence in it. The question is, how are we changing the world? Are we making it a better place to live or a worse one? Are we moving the world towards loving connections that promote peace, justice, and equity? Or are we pulling the world towards petty tribalism, mistrust, and competition? Each day, we have a choice, and I pray my intention to help me choose to add to the energy of life giving relationships, following the footsteps of Jesus.

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The Armor of God

Sermon for Sunday, August 22, 2021 || Proper 16B || Ephesians 6:10-20

Today I want to talk about the armor of God, this evocative set of images the writer of the letter to the Ephesians uses in this morning’s second lesson. Now when I say the “armor of God,” you might be overcome by a negative visceral reaction. Many who grew up in fundamentalist churches will remember the armor of God being deployed as a strictly militant concept, one that went hand in hand with drilling Bible verses for use as ammunition in proselytizing encounters. In this worldview, the fundamentalist church is a last bastion in the spiritual warfare between an angry, vengeful God and the Enemy – Satan – who has bolstered his ranks with humans who don’t belong to that church. Back in high school in Alabama, I was the target of some of these encounters because I was practicing Christianity in ways that were not acceptable to the big conservative church nearby.

So I’m fully aware that the phrase “armor of God” is loaded with baggage. But that’s why I want to talk about it today. When I read Ephesians 6, I don’t see a passage about combat or warfare. I see a passage about vulnerability, about giving ourselves over to God, about trusting that God is present when we face moments in our lives that test our inherent goodness and our impulse to love.

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Peace Be With You

Sermon for Sunday, April 11, 2021 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31

Today, I’d like to talk about peace. But first, a confession. I am a total, unabashed, and excitable nerd. Most of you know this about me. I know way too much about Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and several other properties that live in nerd space. My first book, which became Digital Disciple, originally had the working title “God’s Nerd.” I even co-host a podcast called The Podcast for Nerdy Christians. I say all this to prepare you for what I am about to say next. 

When I created the world of Sularil in which to set my first ever Dungeons and Dragons game, one of the things I really wanted to do was create a language native to the world. The very first new word I created for my Elvish language was the word, “Peace” – “Fyara” in Elvish. I wanted “Peace” to be the word of greeting for the elves in my world, and so the first person would say, “Fyara” (Peace) and the other person would respond, “Fyarana” (Deeper peace).

I did this because the elves in my world are peaceful people. I wanted the first and last word on their lips to be a word of peace. Indeed, this word is also the first word on the lips of the Risen Christ when he encounters the disciples locked in the room on the night of the resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he says (or in the Elvish translation of the Gospel, “Fyara”). Three times in today’s reading, he offers them peace. Jesus offers this greeting of peace to his fearful disciples, and like so much else in John’s Gospel, even something as simple as this greeting has layers of meaning.

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Disrupt/Comfort

Sermon for Sunday, May 31, 2020 || Pentecost A || Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus’ first followers to spread his loving, liberating, and life-giving message. If you were listening closely to the readings, you might have noticed we actually read two different versions of the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the first one from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit spirals into the house like a rushing wind from heaven and anoints the disciples with tongues like fire. In this story, we sense the glorious upheaval in the lives of the disciples as these elemental forces – wind, fire – disrupt and invigorate them to embrace their new ministry as Jesus’ witnesses.

In the second story from the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They lean in close as he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In this intimate story, Jesus delivers the Comforter, the enlivening companion the disciples need to be about their work.

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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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Breathing on Statues (updated)

Sermon for Sunday, April 19, 2020 || Easter 2A || John 20:19-31

Imagine with me the Apostle Peter, who is in Rome near the end of his life, talking to a friend about the day when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples in the locked house.

I wish I could tell you that seeing the empty tomb was enough. I went inside the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there and the cloth that had covered his face folded up in a corner. Thinking back now, surely grave robbers wouldn’t’ve folded his burial garments while stealing his body. But in the semi-darkness of that early morning, I wasn’t thinking rationally. I wasn’t thinking at all. I was numb on the outside. I couldn’t see the sliver of hope the empty tomb brought.

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