Season 3 of the Podcast for Nerdy Christians

In August 2019, Carrie Combs and I launched the Podcast for Nerdy Christians, and we’ve had a blast ever since sharing discussions at the intersection of our faith and our nerdiness. Sometimes we joke that we created the podcast so we could talk about all the nerdy things that we can’t fit into our sermons. Then again, I recently talked about Stranger Things in a sermon, to go along with my copious Star Wars references.

Continue reading “Season 3 of the Podcast for Nerdy Christians”

Three Kinds of Power (With a Lot of Help from Star Wars)

Sermon for Sunday, October 4, 2020 || Proper 22A || Philippians 3:4b-14

Today, I want to talk about power. Like the word ‘love,’ we use the word ‘power’ to mean several things, which makes any discussion about power challenging. I’m going to move through three understandings of power, and I hope you will stick with me because the third one is the one we are aiming for. Also, I’m going to use Star Wars to illustrate the three types of power. (I’ve only used one Star Wars reference this year, so I’m well within my limits.)

Continue reading “Three Kinds of Power (With a Lot of Help from Star Wars)”

Introducing the Podcast for Nerdy Christians

This week, my friend and colleague, Carrie Combs, and I launched our new podcast!

The Podcast for Nerdy Christians sits at the intersection of those two words. We love nerdy things like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and we love Jesus. The idea for the podcast came from the article I wrote last spring about grief in Avengers: Endgame. I realized that so much of my life runs through a pair of intertwining influences: nerd culture and following Jesus Christ. I asked Carrie to partner with me in this adventure because I knew her life exhibits the same pattern. I’m so glad she said, “Yes!”

We recorded the first three episodes before launching #1 in order to prove to ourselves that we liked what we were doing. And we do! This podcast is the perfect place to talk about all the nerdy stuff I can’t put into sermons because the references are too obscure or would take too much time to explain.

Continue reading “Introducing the Podcast for Nerdy Christians”

Sabbatical Notes, Week 5: Perspective

Ever since coming home from the Peace and Justice Pilgrimage to Alabama I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the concept of perspective. Whose stories have I added to my own to widen my perspective of the world? What sources do I trust to provide me with information to deepen my awareness? How often do I encounter points of view that differ from mine and allow them to challenge and expand me?

Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 5: Perspective”

Sabbatical Notes, Week 1: The Millennium Falcon

I spent the first week of my sabbatical in my basement building the largest set LEGO has ever released to the public. The 7,541 piece Millennium Falcon was a joy to build. The combination of intense focus needed to complete a set so complicated and the playfulness that comes with both LEGO and Star Wars (two of my favorite fandoms) helped me transition from my norm into the time of sabbatical. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 1: The Millennium Falcon”

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sermon for Sunday, July 15, 2018 || Proper 10B || Mark 6:24-39

The lesson Stacey just read from the Gospel is unique. It’s the only time in his fast-paced account that Mark ever diverges from Jesus’ storyline. This strange flashback to John the Baptist’s beheading is greatly abridged in the Gospel according to Matthew, and Luke and John give the story a pass entirely. Mark is the only Gospel writer who takes the time to detail for his audience what happened to Jesus’ predecessor and herald, John the Baptist.

The flashback centers around the character of King Herod, one of the true antagonists of the Gospel. Herod is the bad guy in this story. And Mark knows his craft as a writer. He knows a well-drawn antagonist helps reveal the good things about the protagonist. Often, facets of the main character remain in shadow until a skeptical or adversarial or malevolent character brings them to the light. Lex Luthor’s greed stands in contrast with Superman’s selflessness. Javert’s dogged pursuit of Jean Valjean over a crime of compassion stands in contrast with Valjean’s dogged pursuit of charity and redemption. Emperor Palpatine’s desire to consume Luke Skywalker’s power in the Force stands in contrast with Luke’s desire to set his father, Darth Vader, free from that same consumption. Continue reading “Good Guys and Bad Guys”

Always the Same, Yet Always New

Sermon for Sunday, March 4, 2018 || Lent 3B || John 2:13-22

One of the great joys of parenthood is getting to go back and watch movies with your children that you yourself loved as a child. We’ve done this a little bit with the twins, and there are many, many more to come as they get older. When you watch a children’s movie as an adult, you realize the filmmakers have an incredibly difficult job to do. They have to make a movie that appeals to children and that keeps parents from tearing their hair out while watching it. They do this by adding into their movies a layer of humor that sails right over kids’ heads and makes parents laugh out loud. And if not humor than deep meaning; and sometimes, in those rare movies, both humor and depth.

Disney’s Zootopia is a great example. Little kids love watching all the anthropomorphized animals walking around and talking to one another. Perhaps they might understand a little of the message of the movie, which celebrates stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and living in harmony in a diverse society. But there’s no way they’re going to get the joke about the mob boss Godfather character being a tiny rodent. Or the joke about sloths being employed by the DMV. Or any of a hundred other jokes that make Zootopia one of my favorite Disney movies. I watched it a few weeks ago without my kids.

Continue reading “Always the Same, Yet Always New”

Worst Enemies

Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017 || Easter 4A || John 10:1-10

There was a problem with the audio for this sermon, so unfortunately, it’s just text this week.

Whenever I watched The Empire Strikes Back as a kid, I would always fast forward through one particular scene because it terrified me. Luke Skywalker is training with Jedi Master Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah when Luke feels the cold presence of death emanating from a nearby cave. “That place is strong with the Dark Side of the Force,” says Yoda. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”

Luke enters the cave, lightsaber in hand. From the shadows appears Darth Vader. They duel for a few desperate seconds, and then Luke cuts off Vader’s helmeted head. The helmet comes to rest, and the black mask blows off, only to reveal Luke’s own face. As a child, this scene terrified me because Darth Vader was really scary, and the darkness of the cave and the tremulous musical score only added to my fear. As an adult, watching this scene still touches my heart with fear, but fear of a different kind: fear of the truth that Luke discovers in the cave and that I discover whenever I look within myself.

Like Luke, I am my own worst enemy. Continue reading “Worst Enemies”

On the Holy Spirit (With Help From Obi-Wan Kenobi)

Sermon for Sunday, May 15, 2016 || Pentecost C || Acts 2:1-21

OntheHolySpiritI can’t tell you the number of times I’ve started describing God’s presence while writing a sermon and then realized that I accidentally quoted Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars movie. It has happened at least a dozen times. So today, instead of accidentally quoting him, I’m just going to quote the dialogue delivered by the legendary Alec Guinness in 1977. He says this about the mysterious energy field that gives the Jedi their power: “The Force…surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Continue reading “On the Holy Spirit (With Help From Obi-Wan Kenobi)”

Four Layers of Peace

(Sermon for Sunday, April 15, 2012 || Easter 2B || John 20:19-31)

Last Tuesday, I received two rather large packages in the mail from my parents. Turns out they have been cleaning out closets in their house, and they decided for me that I would like to be in possession of all of the Star Wars memorabilia I collected when I was a kid. This includes about three-dozen action figures, none of which is old enough to really be worth anything and all of which are now taking up space in my closet, rather than my parents’. Many of them are still in their boxes (yeah, I was that kid), and I spent a while on Tuesday looking at them, trying to dredge up all the intricate details I used to know about the Star Wars universe. And I noticed on the back of every box an advertisement to purchase more action figure, which states: “The Force is with you in all the Star Wars figures and vehicles.”

Even if you don’t know much about Star Wars, I’m sure you’ve heard the most famous line of dialogue from the films. And if you’re an Episcopalian, I’m also sure that you have a kneejerk reaction to this line. Let’s try: “May the Force be with you.” (And also with you.) I like to think that George Lucas borrowed and tweaked that bit of dialogue from the Book of Common Prayer. We say something similar three times during an average Sunday service – at the beginning before the Collect (“The Lord be with you”), in the middle during the Peace (“The peace of the Lord be always with you”), and a few minutes later at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer (“The Lord be with you” again”).

Let’s focus on the middle one: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” (And also with you.) George Lucas might have borrowed his dialogue from us, but we borrowed ours from Jesus. Three times in this morning’s Gospel reading, the Risen Christ says to his disciples: “Peace be with you.” (They aren’t Episcopalians, so they aren’t trained to say, “And also with you,” back to him.) On one level, Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,” is just a greeting to the disciples. And he has to repeat this greeting after showing them his maimed hands and side because they don’t recognize him the first time around. But as the words of the Gospel according to John so often do, even something as simple as a greeting is loaded with layers of meaning.

So what is this “peace” that Jesus offers to the disciples when he appears to them on the evening of the first day of the week, the day he rose from the dead? The surface level is the greeting still heard today in Hebrew and Arabic speaking countries. “Shalom” and “Salaam” – one wonders how there can be so much conflict between and among peoples in these countries – countries like Syria, Israel, Iran – when their special words for greeting one another means “peace.”

On the level below the surface, Jesus’ word of peace to the disciples acknowledges their current situation. There they are, huddled together in the house: shutters drawn, candles doused, door locked for fear of the people who colluded to put Jesus to death. Would the disciples be next? Would the chief priests and the council be satisfied with the blood of the leader or would they pursue the followers too? How had the disciples gotten everything so wrong? How could they have followed someone so disposable, so utterly breakable as Jesus turned out to be?

And into their fear, their confusion, their uncertainty the Risen Christ comes and says, “Peace be with you.” He comes to them even though the door is barricaded. He comes to them even though three days earlier he had died an excruciating death on the cross. He comes to them even though they aren’t expecting him, even though they haven’t understood what he told them about who he is. And when Jesus gives them peace, their fear turns into joy.

But let’s not stop there: let’s go a level deeper. When the Risen Christ offers the disciples peace, he is offering them more than a greeting and an antidote for fear. He is offering them “the abiding presence of God.” This is how a member of our Wednesday Bible Study group described what “peace” means to her, and I adore this definition. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace is “the abiding presence of God.” Peace happens when we tune ourselves to God’s abiding presence. Peace happens when we resonate with God’s movement in our lives. Peace happens when we discover the inner serenity that God provides in the midst of the maelstrom of activity that marks our lives today.

We might naturally conclude that the peace, which the Risen Christ offers to the disciples and to us, would excuse us from the pain and suffering that life sometimes brings. But Jesus never promised us a reprieve from tragedy. Rather, he promised something so much greater. He promised to be with us always to the end of the ages. He promised to suffer with us, to cry with us, to break his heart open when our hearts break and pour his heart’s love on our wounds. There is no door we can pass through, which the abiding presence of God has not already entered. There is no depth or height that we can attain and not be where God already is. As the psalmist says in one of the most beautiful passages in the book of Psalms:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.

But all too often we forget that God’s presence abides, and we fail to look for God in situations where we conclude that God couldn’t possibly be. And yet how many of us have said at one time or another, “I just need a moment’s peace.” By our definition, when we say that, what we are really saying is, “I just need a moment to remind myself that I am in God’s abiding presence, a moment to drink in God’s love, a moment to be folded into the arms of grace. This is what “peace” is.

And yet there is another level deeper still. When the Risen Christ offers peace to the disciples, the peace comes with a mission: “Peace be with you,” says Jesus. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus, Jesus not only gives them the word of peace; he also breathes God’s abiding presence into them through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father has sent Jesus to bring peace, and now Jesus commissions the disciples and us to do the same. The peace, which Jesus offers, is not for us alone, but for us to share with this damaged, broken world.

In about five minutes, we’ll have a chance to practice bringing this peace. I will say, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” And you’ll respond: “And also with you.” Then we will greet one another with God’s peace. Just think how powerful an act this is. In these simple words – “Peace be with you” – we bring with us greetings from our Lord. We bring with us the joy that quells fear and uncertainty. And we bring with us the abiding presence of God and of the Risen Christ. Now just imagine: if we took this greeting we practice in church and carried the peace of the Lord into every handshake, every wave, every high five, every tilt of the head, every smile of recognition, every embrace, then we would change the world.