The early Church cast lots to choose a successor apostle. Would we?

Sermons and audio

IMG 1060What I find fascinating in this week’s reading from Acts is the way they decided to chose the next Apostle, and the faith that they displayed in so doing.

First, they began to prepare for the future. (Twelve was an important number, but it stopped being the defining number. Apostles were killed, or died. New Apostles emerged or were elected. The Way of Love began to spread.)

They believed that they had a future. They didn’t hunker down waiting for the end. They believed that they had a message to share, and they were willing to give their lives to spread that good news.

And they were willing to trust in God that whoever was chosen, God would supply whatever they lacked. 

That’s a sort of faith we don’t see often today.

This is my commandment, that you love one another

Sermons and audio

A heart shape made out of paint splatters H7qtiRbg0This week, a familiar Gospel reading is paired with the US observance of Mother’s Day. It’s a brilliant match, one that I wished happened more often as the secular occasion helps to illustrate more deeply the message that Jesus gives to his disciples the night of his betrayal and arrest.

Mother’s Day has a complicated history here in the US and I suppose that is paralleled by the complicated emotions that Mother’s Day brings up in many of us. But if we can keep our attention on the love that Jesus is commanding us to have and use our best experiences of our relationships with our mothers, or those who were like mothers to us, we can go deeper into both the holiday and the teaching.

Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you…?

Sermons and audio

CIMG0793Jesus describes himself as the True Vine in this week’s Gospel reading. And he says that if we abide in him, then we can ask whatever we want and we will receive it. And yet, for most of us (all of us?) that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Perhaps what we need to focus on is not our fear that somehow we are failing God and will be cut off. Perhaps what we need to focus on is learning to abide in Jesus, who is the vine, without whom we can not bear fruit – in other words – have our petitions granted. If we love what Jesus loves, then we shall ask what he would ask. And on the day when we do that, our request is granted because it is as if he asked the Creator for us, on our behalf.

 

Jesus the Model and Noble Shepherd

Sermons and audio

Good shepherd 02b closeSome Sundays of the liturgical year have names that relate to the lessons that are (or were) traditionally read that week. This Sunday which is just such an occasion, is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear Jesus describe himself as the Good Shepherd of the flock that he has come to call into being.

While there are many traditional ways of understanding this particular image, there might well be meaning that would resonate with the people of Jesus’ day and not with us. It’s striking to me that the early Church didn’t represent Jesus on the Cross at all. (That’s the primary way we present him now.) In the first centuries Jesus was often shown as a young man with a lamb on his shoulders.

This was clearly an important aspect of how the early Christians understood the Incarnation. To understand it, we should look back to the ways that Shepherds were used to describe other aspects of social life in those days. It turns out that the image is commonly applied to kings, pharaohs and emperors. 

It’s that observation that forms the core of this week’s sermon.

The wounds remain though the new life begins

Sermons and audio

Graphicstock rescue worker at destroyed forest as an effect of strong storm in high tatras slovakia SAen0X43 bBoth Luke’s and John’s Gospels include accounts of the resurrected Jesus appearing in the Upper Room to his disciples and showing them the wounds that his transformed body still carries. The wounds on the transformed person signify many things. Among others, they show us that this is the same person who suffered and died. And, they show us that this body is a new creation, which exists in a different way than the old body did. 

But the wounded risen One also helps us to understand that the pain we experience is not erased when the joy of Easter breaks upon us. The wounds remain though they and what they signify is transformed in the Creation.

What sins you bind, are bound. What sins you loose, are loosed.

Sermons and audio

Graphicstock still photo of wooden cross with jesus christ in church SRHSIj2qbIf you step back just a bit from the events of this week’s Gospel reading from the Fourth Gospel, and look at how it functions in the larger narrative, you can begin to see that the Temple and the Priesthood is being remade along with everything else on the First Day of the New Creation.

Rather than focusing on the experience of St.Thomas, let’s consider the meaning of Jesus’ words to the gathered community in the Upper Room on Easter Evening. We are being given a mission of reconciliation and empowered to by the Holy Spirit to be able to carry out that charge.

Has the Pandemic brought an end to our hyper-mobility?

Current Affairs / Religion

Susan McWilliams Barndt has a brief essay posted on the new site “Current” that talks about the implications of new sociological data showing that Americans are moving less and putting down deeper roots than they have in decades:

Rooting for the Future – Current:

Because we know that the more people move, the more they tend to be focused on their individual selves rather than on their communities, favor “duty-free” relationships, have less of a feeling of obligation to other people, and have a lower overall sense of wellbeing.

We also know that the more people move, the less they—as studies show—participate in the governance of our common life. People who move more, vote less. They know less about their elected representatives and have less political knowledge in general. They are less likely to join neighborhood associations and to volunteer at the local level.

[…]While I’ve linked to data that backs all this up, I’m not sure we need social science to know that it’s true. It jibes with common sense: The longer we stay in one place, the deeper our relationships are—both with the other people who live in that place and with the place itself. The more we see our future as linked to that of our neighborhood or our place, the more we have reason to care for our neighborhood, our place, and the other creatures who inhabit it.

Do go read the whole essay. It’s worth it.

From my perspective, there’s an old saying in congregational leadership circles, that if you want to change the culture of a congregation or a place, you need to stay there for decades, not a few years. A few years can be an effective ministry if you see yourself setting up your successor for success, but the really impactful work is generally a result of the sorts of long-term relationships built in a place over decades.

Everything in the essay linked above tracks with that experience of congregation life. And I think that means we clergy sorts need to be thinking about that as we discern a call to a community going forward.

Easter Day 2021

Sermons and audio

Graphicstock watercolor vector illustration hand drawn easter scene with cross jesus christ crucifixion Hd1IfaBzEach year, as we hear the story of Easter Day, there’s some detail or piece of the account that seems to stand out. This year, for me, it’s what Jesus says to Mary of Madgela, the First Apostle, when she encounters him in the garden at the first light of day.

Jesus is recasting his relationship to her, to the other apostles and to each of us in that moment before he ascends to his Father. We are now siblings of the risen Christ.

May this year’s Easter Season be a blessing to you and those around you. May God bless us all as this time of separation begins to draw to a close and a time of restoration and reconnection begins.

Palm Sunday 2021 – Hosanna!?

Sermons and audio

Giotto Scrovegni 26 Entry into Jerusalem2Most years we celebrate Palm Sunday beginning in the church yard, blessing the palms, carrying them singing and shouting Hosanna around the neighborhood and then into the church nave. It feels like we move from light into darkness as the full liturgy progresses and we hear the Passion narrative and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

This year many congregations are focussing on the Liturgy of the Palms because it keeps the worship out of doors in these waning days of the Pandemic. So it’s a good time to focus on the part of the Palm Sunday liturgy that is often forgotten by the time we preach in a typical service – just after the Passion narrative is read or sung.

Hosanna doesn’t mean what most of us think it means. And it carries a message that the Church as a whole might do well to shout in these difficult times.

BTW: During the filming of this sermon, I noticed that the sun movement changed me from standing in bright light to standing in a gloomy shadow. Rather than re-recording, I decided it wasn’t a bad symbol for the whole of Holy Week.