30 Minute Rap

No sermon this week, as the intern at St. Mark’s had the reins for First Sunday of Advent. So I thought I’d share something I wrote a few weeks ago at a youth revival/retreat weekend. After hearing a talk given by one of the teens, we had about half an hour to compose a rap in response. This is the text of the one I shared with the group.

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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.

Continue reading “Play Your Game, Not Theirs”

Laid Bare

Sermon for Sunday, October 6, 2019 || Proper 22C || Psalm 137

A few minutes ago we read perhaps the most horrific verse in the entire Bible. Did you notice it? The verse was at the end of the psalm. I’ll give you a second to go back and look. Here it is: 

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who pays you back
for what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock!

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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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Sabbatical Notes, Week 12: The End

Yesterday was my final day of sabbatical time: twelve long weeks set apart from (at least some of) my normal rhythms. I spent a good chunk of it in my basement. The parts I didn’t spend in my basement I spent in Alabama, North Carolina, and Israel-Palestine. I also visited my spiritual director three times, and her insights were (as always) helpful, inspired, compassionate, and kind.

I went into this sabbatical time with four written goals and one unwritten goal. The unwritten one was not to be so bound to my four written goals that I didn’t move where the Holy Spirit was leading me. The four written goals were:

  1. Integrate through personal writing much of the reading I’ve done about racism and white supremacy.
  2. Prepare myself for pilgrimage to the Holy Land and make the most out of that opportunity.
  3. Rest, rejuvenate, and step back to see the proverbial forest instead of the trees.
  4. Begin habituating a spiritual practice of silence and Christian meditation into my daily life.

Because of the unwritten goal, I am striving not to quantify “how well” I achieved the four written ones. Rather, here are a few observations about each one. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 12: The End”

Sabbatical Notes, Week 11: Silence

As my sabbatical time draws to a close, I want to share with you the last of the four movements that I hoped to address during these three months. As a refresher, these items have been

  1. Internal work confronting the seed of white supremacy within me;
  2. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land;
  3. Rest and rejuvenation;
  4. And silence.
Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 11: Silence”

Spiritual Topography

Sermon for Sunday, February 11, 2018 || Last Epiphany B || Mark 9:2-9

Our spiritual lives are topographically interesting. Two of the most enduring images of walking with God are the mountain and the valley, the high place and the low. You’ve heard of the proverbial “mountain top experience,” which can spark faith for the first time or renew the well-trodden paths of faith. And you’ve prayed the immortal words of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…thou art with me.” The mountain and the valley: these are the peaks of our spiritual lives and the troughs. Continue reading “Spiritual Topography”

Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)

Sermon for Sunday, July 16, 2017

I began this two-part sermon last week talking about our partnership with God in Christ; how Jesus’ invitation to “take his yoke” upon us is an invitation to plow the field with him, walking alongside each other. If you’re anything like me, you find this invitation easier to accept during terrible and tumultuous times, and you lay aside the yoke during the mundane dailiness of life. I closed last week’s sermon asking these questions: How much more meaningful would our lives be if we invited God to be present in those mundane times: to be part of the washing up and the lawn mowing and the daily commute? To be part of studying for a test and eating dinner and jogging? How much more often would we notice God already at work in the world around us if we invited God to be at work in the world within us?

This noticing happens when we pay attention. And when we pay attention we discover God is already at work in our lives whether or not we sent the invitation. I’d like to take the rest of this sermon to introduce you to a spiritual practice I have been using for the past eleven years in order to remain attentive. It is called the Ignatian Examen, a daily introspective prayer of awareness derived from the work and witness of 16th century Saint Ignatius Loyola. Continue reading “Take My Yoke Upon You: The Examen (part 2 of 2)”

Fueling our Hope

Sermon for Sunday, October 16, 2016 || Proper 24C || Luke 18:1-18

Today’s Gospel lesson begins like this: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

This is strange: rarely, if ever, does the Gospel writer tip his hand while introducing a parable. Jesus seems to enjoy speaking in parables for the simple fact that parables make his audience dig deep into his words and find meaning for their lives by searching for meaning in his stories. But I think we should let the Gospel writer Luke slide just this once. He has our best interest in mind, after all. Luke doesn’t want us to miss the meaning of this story because living out this parable makes our lives fundamentally better. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” To pray always and not to lose heart. In other words, the story is about having the stamina and fortitude to pray persistently and to hope all the time. Continue reading “Fueling our Hope”

The Long Prayer

Sermon for Sunday, November 8, 2015 || Proper 27B || Mark 12:38-44

thelongprayerI’ve been preparing recently for Confirmation class, which begins later today. We have four tenth and eleventh graders and their sponsors ready to begin a five-month journey through their faith: learning, discussing, sharing stories. The next time the bishop visits, these four will have the opportunity to make a mature profession of faith if they so desire, and I am really excited to get to walk with them these next several months. Because I’ve had Confirmation on my mind, I’ve been thinking and rethinking some of the “nuts and bolts” of the way we express our faith as Episcopalians. Every once in a while, I like to preach on these “nuts and bolts” because in my job I get asked the same dozen or so questions about our practice all the time, and exploring such questions can help us all deepen our engagement in worship and in mission.

One of these questions has to do with the second half of our Sunday service – Holy Communion in particular. “What is Holy Communion,” I am often asked, “and why do you say such a long prayer right before it?” The second half of this question hit me again this week when I read today’s Gospel lesson, in which Jesus takes the scribes to task for all sorts of things – a few of which struck a little close to home.

“Beware of the scribes,” says Jesus, “who like to walk around in long robes” (looks down at self wearing an alb and chasuble) “and to be greeted with respect in the market-places” (not many people have the definite article at the beginning of their title, but priests do – ‘the Reverend Adam Thomas’) “and to have the best seats in the synagogues” (I guarantee you my chair is more comfortable than yours – look at that cushion!) “and places of honor at banquets” (Okay, okay, finally something that’s not true – as long as I have a lefty seat at the corner of the table, I’m good). “They devour widows’ houses” (All right, moving further away, this is good) “and for the sake of appearance say long prayers” (gulps).

For the sake of appearance say long prayers. We say a lot of long prayers on Sunday morning, and one in particular is longer than all the others put together: the Eucharistic prayer. We haven’t gotten to it yet this morning, since it happens later in the service. You’ll know when we arrive at the Eucharistic prayer because I will be standing behind the altar when we start it. So Jesus indicts the scribes on six different issues, and by my count I’m guilty of three, innocent of two, and the final one is pending. For the sake of appearance, they say long prayers. I can’t dispute that the Eucharistic prayer is long – most graces before a meal don’t last five minutes. So to break even on these six charges, I have to prove that I don’t pray this prayer for “the sake of appearance.”

Before I start my defense, you need to know I’m not the only one implicated in this. You all are co-conspirators. At the beginning of the prayer you and I share a short dialogue, right? (The Lord be with you. And also with you. And so on…). In this dialogue, I ask your permission to pray on your behalf, and you grant it when you say, “It is right to give God thanks and praise.” So that’s the first thing to remember: even though I’m the one talking, we’re all praying this Eucharistic prayer together.

Now that you have joined the defendant’s side of this indictment with me, let’s explore this question: If not for appearance, why then do we pray such a long and involved prayer before receiving Communion? My answer is this: we are part of God’s story. We nurture our faith when we take time each week to locate ourselves in this great story. And when we locate ourselves in the story, we realize that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the story is still being told. And when we have this realization, we give thanks to God for our participation in God’s story through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Now I know that was a pretty dense answer, so let’s unpack it a little bit. First, we locate ourselves in the story by praying, “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself.” We fell away from you, but you gave us another chance by sending your Son. We and Us. Not They and Them. This story is about us. We don’t deserve mercy, but God doesn’t care one lick whether or not we deserve it. And that’s called grace.

With this grace emboldening us, we then fulfill Jesus’ request made at his last supper with his friends when he took bread and broke it. But notice that when I narrate the breaking of the bread, I don’t actually break it. Not yet. I break the bread later for the utilitarian purpose of sharing it. The reason I don’t break the bread when Jesus does is because I am not standing in for Jesus. And we are not reenacting the Last Supper. This is important, so listen up. We are not reenacting the Last Supper; we are participating in it. There has only been one Last Supper, and we were there. We are there each time we partake of Christ’s Body and Blood. We are there with everyone who has ever received the sacrament. We are there with the great cloud of witnesses that we invoke later in the prayer. We are there as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ. Thus, the broken bread makes us whole: one body in Christ made up of many members, each supporting the others in worship, love, and service.

That’s why we invite the Holy Spirit to fill the bread and wine with the presence of Christ: not simply to remember what Christ did, but to participate in what Christ is doing. The story is not over yet. The Bible might be finished, but the story continues – God’s story of making, redeeming, and sustaining this little Creation of God’s. When you come to the altar rail and put out your hands, you signal your fervent desire to participate in this great story. In the Eucharistic prayer, we tell the story together, and in the telling and in the sharing we take on our role as the characters in the current chapter. We are the people to whom Christ offers his Body and Blood in order that we might both feel closer to him and feel strengthened to serve. We are the people enlivened by this precious nourishment. We are the people with a story to tell.

And that’s why we give thanks. The Eucharistic prayer is a prayer of Great Thanksgiving: thanksgiving for God’s mercy and grace; thanksgiving for Christ’s sacrifice and sustenance; thanksgiving for the Holy Spirit’s presence and empowerment. We give thanks that we are a part of the story. And it is quite a story. I don’t know about you, but a five-minute praying of the story seems downright short when you realize all that it entails. But of course, we don’t tell the story just once a week for five minutes on a Sunday. We tell the story each day of our lives.

We don’t pray this long prayer just for the sake of appearance. We pray this long prayer to give thanks for our part in God’s great story. And then we receive Holy Communion to strengthen and nourish us to continue telling that story together.