Breath of God

ERH Sermon photo 04 28 2019

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

On the Other Side of the Grave

ERH Sermon photo 05 05 2019

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.

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The Light of Grace

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I heard a story this week that has been haunting me ever since. It wasn’t the contours of the story itself, or the characters in it, but what I wonder the story might reveal about how we humans tend to be when left to our own devices, and by extension, how it is that God through his revelation in Jesus Christ calls us to live as his transformed creation.

So it’s the story of a girl in the punk rock scene in Richmond, Virginia. I didn’t even know there was still punk rock, and I surely didn’t know there were enough people in Richmond who into punk rock, or what’s sometimes also called “Hardcore” music, in order to form a group or a scene, a subculture. But! Surprise, there are. Here’s what happened. Continue reading

Praise and Thanksgiving

Each Sunday we sing together and say together that we offer God praise and thanksgiving. As celebrant one of us prays it out loud, too, on behalf of everybody gathered. I want to sit awhile this morning with the ideas of praise and thanksgiving, and you’ve probably noticed over the last almost two years that I’ve been with you all that I don’t say  “thanks-GIVING” — like the holiday — but I always say “THANKS-giving,” which sounds a little awkward to our ears, but it emphasizes what we’re offering, what we’re “giving,” rather than the action of “giving” itself. We are giving “thanks” — we are offering praise, we are stating our gratitude out loud, lifting up our voices in compliments and truth-telling words of honor.

Sometimes this feels like another thing to check off the list, another sticker to put in the Religious Righteousness Achievement Booklet that we all keep at home in our desk drawers — or at least the list that we might imagine is in some cosmic storehouse in the sky. Offer our praise — check. Give our thanks — check. Wear our Sunday best and make it into the pew on time — check, check.

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