I have bad news: the Kingdom of God is not like Burger King.
Really, this is Good News, we might even say it’s the Good News, but just like the questioners in John’s Gospel this morning, I wonder if we often expect that the Kingdom of God, that the way of Jesus, that the call of the Cross, will be somewhat more familiar than it is, that the habits we’re called to take up would fit a bit more seamlessly into our lives as is, that the modes of thinking and talking and relating that God often inhabits himself would be a bit more accessible, comfortable, more common sensical to our current proclivities and desires.
“Tell us plainly,” they say, “are you the Christ?” Remember, these are not strangers off the street, they are not pagans who have never heard a word of Scripture in their lives, they are not even worshippers of some other religion, used to sacred words but not familiar with the proclamations of the God Yahweh. These are people who have heard the words of the God of the burning bush and of the great prophets since they could understand language, and probably even before that; the voice of God ought to be one of the most familiar to their ears, one of the most identifiable to their minds and hearts, and yet as they are faced with the very Son of God, the man who proclaims, “the Father and I are one,” they eye him suspiciously — even more than that, the verse after our Gospel lesson ends today, their response to his saying that he’s one with God, is to pick stones up to kill him. No joke. Continue reading
A sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent. Isaiah 43:16-21
When I get thirsty, I walk over to the cabinet and grab a glass from my line of clean dishes, I meander to the closest of several sinks in my house or in the office, I flick the knob with my wrist, and “ahh,” my thirst is quenched.
Even a hundred years ago, on my great-grandmother’s farmstead in Minnesota, the very most she’d need to do — even in April — was pull on boots and coat, grab a bucket, and trudge across the yard to the water pump, work the handle a few times with vigor, and then enjoy fresh water from the depths of the earth.
The ingenuity of our forebears, the clever and brilliant inventors of our past, have brought unimaginable convenience and immediacy to our lives. Even in our dry season, hoses still spout water for home gardeners, we don’t get concerned that our rivers might leave us without a way to feed our plants, let alone to quench our own thirst. And so, this word from Isaiah, beautiful and evocative though it may be, suffers the risk of remaining in our ears and in our minds, not moving all the way into our hearts and our bodies, because with roads spanning our massive country — even our ponderous state — there’s no real need for a “way in the wilderness,” or for “rivers in the desert.” Except for fleeting, dramatic circumstances (perhaps!), most of us has never needed “water in the wilderness,” or been dependent on some divine being to be given drink to quench our thirst. Continue reading
A sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent; Luke 13:31-35.
There’s a joke you’ve probably heard: a group of Episcopalians get together and decide to study the Bible. They approach their vicar and say, “Vicar! We want to study the Bible! What should we study? Where do we start?” The vicar, astonished and delighted at his apparent brilliance in shepherding this flock, says, “Ah, yes. How about the psalms? Read them for a few weeks, and come and tell me what you have learned, bring me your questions.” So they go off and crack open their Bibles in the very middle, finding the psalms, and they read them. A few weeks later, they come back to the vicar and say, “Vicar! This is a scandal! The Bible has copied the Book of Common Prayer!”
That’s not something that would happen in this congregation, coming as many of us do from traditions that started us off on the milk of Scripture, and grew us up into the prayers of this book (…of Common Prayer). Even if you’ve been Episcopalian your whole life, I’ve always found that this congregation takes Scripture with particular seriousness, for which I’m so grateful — I learn so much sitting around Bible study tables with you.
And so, it won’t have been lost on you that Jesus’ quotation this morning isn’t only a reference to those beloved psalms, number 118 to be precise (though I had to look up which number it was), but also part of the liturgy that we recite every single time we pray together for God to send his Holy Spirit to fill up the bread and wine with his very presence, that when we put it in our bodies, his presence would be strengthened in us, giving us energy, courage, discernment, and kindness to live as vessels of his love in the world. Continue reading
A Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent.
“The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”
I will never forget the week that I realized I was living under the thumb of depression. I can’t remember what possessed me to pick up the book, “Darkness is my Only Companion,” by a fellow Episcopal priest, Kathryn Greene-McCreight, but I remember where I was the week I read it, and how it felt to realize that the heaviness I carried wasn’t unique or undiagnosable or foreign. Continue reading
Easter Sermon; John 20:1-18
Charles, my two-year-old son, has just learned a new phrase: “Good as new!”
It comes from a cartoon he watches where the medic, a penguin, will declare the various sea creatures that he treats to be, “good as new!” as soon as the penguin affixes a bandage or ointment to the affected spot. Charles, in true toddler form, applies this maxim liberally: Goldfish crackers on the floor? Just sweep them up — good as new! (Then he’ll swipe one out of the dustpan and pop it in his mouth for good measure!) Crayon marks on the wall? Surely a wipe will make them: good as new! Tender herbs ripped out of pots, with dirt all around? Let’s just stuff them back in — good as new!
While my Midwestern heart deeply resonates with this sentiment, that just a bit of glue or elbow grease can erase any defect, a piece of me wonders how to teach my child — as I myself am still trying to learn and accept! — that the biggest, most important things in life aren’t ever “good as new” again in the same way, but that when something else rises in its place, it can be different and new in its own way, and deeper, though perhaps heavier, for it. Continue reading
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter; John 20:19-31
In springtime, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater hosts its annual season of Call the Midwife. It’s been going the last few weeks, and if you don’t know the show, it’s about a company of midwives and Anglican nuns in a poor part of London in the 1950s and ‘60s, in every single episode, there’s a moment when a mother has just delivered her baby, and the midwives and momma are waiting for a baby’s first cry. There’s the anxious eye-darting, the building tension.
Perhaps you’ve even had your own “Call the Midwife” moment, waiting for your own baby’s cry. Or in the reverse, perhaps you’ve been sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one, wondering if that heave of breath you just heard would be the last one.
I was sitting next to his bed the morning my grandpa Chuck died; I’d gotten to the hospice house early, as the sun was rising, and we sat alone in his room, him lying quietly on the bed, me to one side, with a view out the window over his his body. His breath was irregular by then, with long pauses between exhale and inhale. More than once, I thought I’d witnessed his last breath. I remember musing how much like a baby he looked, bald head, smooth skin stretched over his back-tilted face, eyelashes resting gently on his cheeks.
I’d never met my great-grandmother Marian, his momma, but I felt a kinship with her in that moment, as she must have spent time, too, watching him sleep, listening eagerly for each breath. Continue reading
A sermon on John 21; Third Sunday of Easter
Haven’t we been here before? Is it just me who has some deja-vu? There’s a fire, there’re lots of questions aimed at Peter, he seems to be getting defensive as the line of conversation continues — this just happened, didn’t it?
Yes, there are significant similarities with the scene outside the courts the night before Jesus’s crucifixion, it’s a generally-accepted interpretation that these parallel narratives have a relationship to each other, and that’s what I’m curious about this morning. What does it mean to link these two events, what do we learn about how God works — what do we learn about his character — through this scene on the beach in early morning?
If,perchance, you weren’t at a Good Friday service a few weeks back, just like I missed them, here’s the story we’re working with. In chapter 18 of John (vs. 15-18; 25-27), as night wears on, Peter stands with servants and officers gathered outside by — you guessed it — a charcoal fire. He’s asked three times, once by each of three different people, “you’re one of that man’s disciples, aren’t you?” “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Each of the three times, Peter quickly and easily says, “oh no, that wasn’t me.” Now Jesus had told him that this would happen, that Peter would deny Jesus, and that it would happen before dawn came, “before the rooster crowed” (John 13:38). Understandably, Peter wrankled at this prophecy when Jesus gave it at the Last Supper table, just a few hours before these events unfolded.