By what sign do you do these things? How shall we recognize a true prophet?

Sermons and audio

SA 160 Jeremia op de puinhopen van JeruzalemJohn’s version of the cleansing of the temple has it take place in the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, not as part of the events of Holy Week. In John’s version, Jesus’ actions driving out the cattle and overturning the money changing tables doesn’t cause an angry response, but instead it raises questions.

By what sign do you do this? The people recognized that Jesus was acting in the traditional way of a prophet. But prophets needed to be authenticated, usually by a sign or a foretelling of an event. In this case, Jesus does both, but it is not until after the events of Holy Week and Easter, years later that the sign is recognized and understood.

So how do we tell when someone speaks a true prophetic word to us today?

How do we save ourselves? By caring for the people around us.

Sermons and audio

Mighty OzmandiusIn Mark’s Gospel this week we hear Jesus remonstrate Peter when Peter misunderstands what true life is about. Peter imagines that the Messiah’s appearance will usher in a new world that is a better version of the present one, with the true King taking rule from the powerful and the rich. But Jesus has come to recreate the world and transform all relationships.

It is in caring for others that we find the best version of ourselves.

And the angels waited upon him…

Sermons and audio

Desert landscape MkUtjIThe Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Lent is traditionally the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This year the lesson is taken from Mark’s’ Gospel and has his version of the story. As you might expect, Mark’s version makes its points in a sharp staccato rhythm. Each word means something and evokes an image of something extraordinary taking place.

In particular this version presents Jesus as the new Adam, remaking our story as God is re-creating the meaning of the Garden in the wilderness. Here the wilderness has safety and consolation. It is the garden of Galilee that brings danger and challenge.

The Lent that never ended is about to begin again.

Current Affairs / Religion / Sermons and audio

C1954CAE 2673 4F3E B8B1 4EBBEAA82F1FIn this past year, it seems we’ve had the longest Lent ever. And now we stand ready to start Lent again before it feels like the previous one is over. But this Lent is different. It brings with it a promise that we can walk with Jesus and participate in hastening the redemption of our community.

In Rhode Island the government is choosing a different strategy to vaccinate the population. Other states are working to get as many people vaccinated as possible and that means that people with the means to get access to the vaccine are going first. Here in Rhode Island the hardest hit communities and groups are getting priority. And that means that we are targeting rather than broadcasting, which is why we lag the rest of the country in vaccinations per capita, and why many of us do not know when we’ll be able to get back to something more normal – when our Lent will end.

And yet, our Lent is ephemeral. The Lent suffered by the most impacted communities in Rhode Island is essentially permanent. If they are given priority, not only is it justice for them, it is likely to be for the common good in the end.

Some of us are asked to deny ourselves so that others can be saved. Seems like the most appropriate Lenten discipline I’ve ever been invited to take on.

“Everyone is seeking you” – How should we respond to God’s action in our lives?

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Woman stands in praise before a beautiful night sky rmMqykGgCWhen we have an encounter with God, what do we do next? This week’s Gospel reading illustrates two different responses, that of Simon Peter’s mother in law and that of the people of the community and reminds us that Jesus’ purpose is often different from our desires. 

Learning to cooperate with God’s will is the most important work of discipleship.

Casting out the powers that rebel against God

Sermons and audio

Christus_heilt_einen_Besessenen.jpgIn this weeks’ Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching the people when he is interrupted by a person with a spirit opposed to God; an unclean spirit. Jesus casts out the spirit, the demon, simply by ordering it to leave. He doesn’t invoke the angels, he doesn’t use the name of another person, he simply speaks and the spirit obeys him.

How can we understand this in a modern era? Is there something here for us to hear and recognize? And is it possible that such things can still be done by the Body of Christ in the world today?

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Epiphany

Sermons and audio

Artist s impression of Assyrian palaces from The Monuments of Nineveh by Sir Austen Henry Layard 1853This week we hear the second half of the story of Jonah – when he hears God’s call to go to Ninevah and call the people there to repentance. Jonah resisted God at first because the Ninevites were his enemies and Jonah wanted them to perish, not to repent and be saved.

It’s an extraordinary story. And it reminds us that God expects us to stay in relationship with others, even our enemies, so that they can hear a call to repentance and be restored. Because even our enemies are dear to God, even when they’re wrong. God wants reconciliation so profoundly that God is ultimately willing to suffer and die to accomplish it, even with the people who rejected God in the person of Jesus.

 

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany: When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Sermons and audio

We hear the story of the call of Samuel again and again in church. But we rarely discuss the judgment on Eli and his family that is explicit in that call. This story from scripture is one of many stories where God lifts up someone to role, and when that person turns aside from God’s path, God turns aside from that person and lifts up another to take their place.

It’s a reminder for all of us who lead in the Church. It’s a reminder for all of us who say we are speaking God’s words. And it’s a reminder for us as a nation and in this moment, that it is possible to forsake God’s ways. It is a call to always be seeking the right thing, and when we don’t do that, to turn back and repent of the wrong.

Jesus tells us to bear good fruit. And Paul reminds us what that fruit looks like, and what it doesn’t look like.

If your life and your behavior does not bring joy, love, peace, then you are not following God’s will. Turn aside from that path, or stop digging in deeper, and follow a path that bears the right fruit.

(It’s a long sermon this week. Sorry. Lots to say.)

A new version of the Lost Cause begins to emerge

Current Affairs / Religion

David Blight, author of the magisterial biography of Fredrick Douglass, explains how we may be seeing the unfolding of a new cultural/political movement in this moment:

David Blight: How Trumpism May Endure – The New York Times:

The important Lost Causes in history have all been at heart compelling stories about noble defeats that were, with time, forged into political movements of renewal: the French after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the profound need for national revanche; Germany after the Great War and its “stab in the back” theory that led over the 1920s to the rise of the nationalism and racism of the Nazis; and the white South after our Civil War. All Lost Causes find their lifeblood in lies, big and small, lies born of beliefs in search of a history that can be forged into a story and mobilize masses of people to act politically, violently, and in the name of ideology.

The story demands a religious loyalty. It must be protected, reinforced, practiced in ritual and infused with symbols. What is the Trumpian claim of a stolen election but an elaborate fiction that fights to make the reality and truth of the unbelievers irrelevant. Some myths are benign as cultural markers; but others are rooted in big lies so strong as engines of resentment that they can fill parade grounds and endless political rallies, or motivate the storming of the U.S. Capitol in a quixotic attempt to overthrow an election.

There was another piece, by David French in the Dispatch, yesterday arguing that it is only the religious sphere that is going to be able to properly respond to the eternal misappropriation of religious imagery by cultural forces intent on war and destruction.

Philip Jenkins detailed in his book “The Great and Holy War: How World One became a Religious Crusade” the failures of the leadership of the Church hierarchy (both on the Continent and in America, including to a large degree the Anglican and Episcopal bishops). It was that failure that allowed the German Lost Cause story to poison a nation and led to unimaginable death and destruction in World War Two.

God grant that we not make this mistake again.

Do go and read all of Blight’s essay. And if you lead a church, read Jenkin’s book.

The Great Theophany

Current Affairs / Sermons and audio

2021 storming of the United States Capitol DSC09417 2 50814530472This week, the first week of the Season of Epiphany, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism and hear how, when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordon, he was fully revealed as God’s beloved Son. It is not just the full revelation of his identity to the world, but it is the revelation of God as it’s one of the only accounts in which all three persons of the Trinity are present and manifest to Creation simultaneously.

We keep this celebration at the end of a week which has seen a riot of insurrection at the United States Capital in Washington DC on the actual date of the Feast of the Epiphany. The people attacking the Capital Building didn’t just bring weapons and tools of violence, they carried religious symbols as well, particularly flags with the name of Jesus and Crosses. It’s the conflation of the cross and violence, made manifest many times in American History that I find so troubling – because it tells a lie about who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian.