Watch for the dawning light that will end the night

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Sunrise over the waterAdvent is about watching and hoping. But for what?

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s spectacular! That belief, held stubbornly in spite of what seems to be going on around us right now, is the faith of the Church. 

We see a glimpse of that light at Christmas with all the joy and memory it brings, but the true light is fully revealed as Spring ends and the Summer begins. Which about when the fig tree would blossom.

Watch for the Fig tree’s blossom. It will blossom, even though the branches are barren right now. This barrenness is temporary. The light is truly coming into the world and Summer will burst forth.

You can go directly the sermon video here.

What does it look it look like to have power and authority if you’re a Christian leader?

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Jesus Christ from Hagia SophiaWhat does it mean to have power and authority over someone else if you are following Jesus? 

This is a huge question in the church. And one we are deeply uncomfortable answering. We give people power and authority but we don’t teach them, or have any real understanding of how they should hold and exercise it. And then we act surprised or even shocked when people to whom we give power and authority, with no training or even a working framework to understand what they have now, go off the rails and abuse their position. 

It happens way too often. I speak to you as someone who has had the duty to clean up the mess on a number of occasions.

Executive MBA programs teach that sort of thing, but they are working out of a different set of goals and assumptions. And they have, I imagine, a different expectation about what success looks like in their design.

If we don’t learn this in the daily life of the church, or in our seminary formation, where do we learn it?

I make a try at answering that question in the sermon this week.

You find a direct like to the sermon video here.

Who is Jesus in the parable of the talents? It’s not obvious to me.

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a kettle filled with gold coins in a hole in the groundThe parable of the talents, in Matthew’s Gospel, seems to be a blessing and endorsement of our modern economic life. Three slaves are given custody of various fortunes, some of them truly immense. They are told that eventually they will need to return what has been entrusted to them to their master when he returns. We’re told that their master is a hard man, seizing others property and taking the spoils of other people’s work.

When the master returns to settle accounts with his slaves (and the language is really that of slave, not servant) they present him with the fruits of their stewardship. Two of the slaves have used the fortunes to make new fortunes. One of the slaves simply does as instructed and keeps the money safe, but does nothing else with it. The master is incensed at that slave and turns him over to be tortured.

There are pretty standard ways to interpret this parable, and most of them have to do with our duty to return to God a good return on what God has graciously given us. And that’s probably why this parable is generally read during the yearly stewardship campaigns going on in most Episcopal parishes right now. But if you actually read the parable and take the details seriously, I’m not convinced that is how we’re supposed to make sense of what Jesus means to communicate.

In the sermon this week, I suggest some other ways of making sense of the parable, not as a commendation of investment savvy, but rather as an indictment of unjust economic systems. And I add that I think this parable is only sensible if it is seen through the lens of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of the person who tells it to us.

The direct link to the video is found here.

What can we do to prepare so that we’re ready if our neighbor needs us?

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Women carrying lit torches walking toward an open doorThe Gospel reading this week, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, is not one of my favorites. That’s probably just my problem, and should in no way reduce the seriousness of the message that Jesus communicates to us in it. Jesus is warning us, as he often does, that we should be prepared for him to come unexpectedly, even in the middle of the night, and to be ready to greet him when he does.

In this parable neighbors are divided in to two groups, one which has prepared and one which has not. The ones who prepared for an unexpected delay (or turn of events) are called “wise” and the ones who didn’t are called “foolish”. And if entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven depended on one passing a test or doing a good work, then this would all make sense to me. But the thing is, the Kingdom of Heaven is only available to us because of God’s gracious gift; not because we do something to deserve it. And if God is going to gracious like that to us, sinners though we are, why should we, the “wise”, be gracious to our neighbors who made a bad choice?

I explore this question in the sermon, making note that it might be asking too much of the text to fully contain all of the teaching about the mechanics of our salvation in a short parable about “being ready” for the Lord to return. But even given that, I want to invite you to grapple with the text rather than sit passively to receive a gift from it. The willingness to grapple with the text, to struggle with it, is often a sign of our willingness to enter into a relationship with it. An unwillingness to struggle with something can mean that we’re starting to worship it… and only God is worthy of that sort of worship. (And God seems to want us to grapple with God as well.)

You can find the direct link to the video here.

The Saints in the light of dawn and the fading light of day

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A sunrise and a sunset in the same skyWe celebrate The Feast of All Saints this weekend. (We actually celebrated in the middle of the past week, but like most preachers, I’ve transferred the readings and the observance of the Feast to this Sunday.) All Saints historically falls on the first day of new year according to oldest calendars we have from Northern Europe. It’s a hinge between the final harvest days and beginning of the bitter cold.

This two-fold aspect to the season and Feast, mirrors an important truth about the lives the great Saints of the Church. It’s easy to remember the great deeds that the Saints accomplished in their lifetimes and to celebrate what they accomplished. But if we just do that we miss half the story. If you get a chance to read the writings of the Saints, at least the ones that we have managed to preserve, you can also hear of the great sufferings they endured and struggles that they experienced – even in their own beliefs about who God is and what God wants from us in our lives.

It’s that two fold aspect of the lives of the Saints that I explore in the sermon, inspired by the two differing versions we have the appointed Gospel reading for this weekend.

(You can find a direct link to the sermon video here.)

We can draw closer to God by loving God OR we can draw closer to God by loving our neighbor. Which works for you?

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A small group of people in front of starry skyThis is the week of our Annual Diocesan Convention. It’s the 232nd one we’ve held in the Diocese of Rhode Island since our start. And as such most of my time this week has been taken up with preparing for that gathering and the business that is before us.

So I’m re-sharing the sermon from this week’s lectionary readings from 2020. I rather liked this sermon back then, and it’s worth a second hearing. Perhaps some of you have found these sermons since that time and this will be new to you. I hope you like it as well!

The key point here is to build off the wording that St. Matthew uniquely uses in his account of this encounter between Jesus and the leaders of people. We’re familiar with Jesus’ teaching, which builds off two separate verses found in different parts of the Torah. ““’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In Matthew, Jesus is making an equals sign between people who love and revere God and God’s light and love AND people who love and care for their neighbor and even strangers. Loving other humans with a wild abandoned love is the same as loving God. And vice versa.

What this can mean for us is part of what I explore in the sermon below.

(The direct link to the video is found here.)

In whose image are we made, and what does it matter?

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A coin with Caesar's image on it in a man's handThis week’s Gospel reading tells of a challenge that was posed to Jesus about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to the Caesar. It’s more than just a challenge, and it probably wasn’t an innocent question either. It’s a trap set so that either way that Jesus answers, he will become mired in controversy with the religious parties of society or be in danger of prison with the Imperial occupiers.

Jesus escapes the trap with what seems to be a clever response. But it has always seemed to me that when Jesus’ words are recorded, there’s always more going on than meets the eye. I think that’s the case here too. When you consider more carefully how Jesus answers the question, what he’s doing is giving a warning about the dangers of wealth, saying something about what God is up to in this moment and explaining a spiritual law that is still important today. (That’s a lot to unpack, but let’s give it a go shall we?)

I filmed this sermon a bit early this week, taking advantage of a nice day and avoiding a predicted Nor’easter this weekend. There was an issue with my regular camera, so the quality of the video is different, but the audio is better. I’ll keep working on getting things dialed in.

The direct link to the video sermon is here.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

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A man thrown into the streetAs a scientist, I have spent that part of my life believing that problems have answers, and hoping that such answers would be beautiful and elegant. A professor of mine once said to a class I took: “Physics is easy, if you ask the right question.” 

But there are problems and situations in real life that, unlike the idealized world of a physics problem, have no simple answer, or even any answer at all. Sometimes complexity is just irreducible.

This moment in the Holy Land, with the war and the tidal wave a violence erupting in that place is such an instance.There is no simple answer. There might be clarity in a moment, but that moment passes quickly and we are plunged into the memory of millenia of violence and retribution. 

Revenge, no matter how justified, is only going to make matters worse. 

What can we do? We can pray. I invite you to pray this prayer with me this weekend. It was written by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Primate of the Province of the Anglican Communion’s Province of the Middle East, The Most Reverend Hosam Elias Naoum.

O God of all justice and peace we cry out to you in the midst of the pain and trauma of violence and fear which prevails in the Holy Land.

Be with those who need you in these days of suffering; we pray for people of all faiths – Jews, Muslims and Christians and for all people of the land. 

While we pray to you, O Lord, for an end to violence and the establishment of peace, we also call for you to bring justice and equity to the peoples. Guide us into your kingdom where all people are treated with dignity and honour as your children for, to all of us, you are our Heavenly Father. 

In Jesus’ name we pray. 


The direct link to this week’s sermon is here.

Is there a way to escape the violence caused by our selfish natures?

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From this week’s sermon:

“Perhaps the message we need to hear is that overreaching and trying to amass fame or wealth can be an explosively dangerous thing to do.

Do you, do people, realize how similar an attempt to grab things or status for ourselves is to what the tenants of the vineyard were trying to do, whoever they really represent in the parable? An attempt to grab for ourselves means that we are, by virtue of that act, violating the 10th Commandment, and thereby setting ourselves up for a fall.”

You can view the video sermon directly at this link.

What does real repentance look like anyway?

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Men working in a fieldThe Pharisees probably expected the tax-collectors to repent and become their disciples, in essence to become just like the other Pharisees. But that didn’t happen. And so they wouldn’t believe that the “repentance” being claimed was 

What do you think repentance looks like? Do you expect a penitent life to look just like yours? Is that realistic?

In the sermon below I’ll try to answer that question – or at least try to explain what Scripture says a repentant life looks like. (And how we often judge wrongly when we see one.)

You can view the sermon directly here.