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.

A Sermon for Christmas Eve 2020

Sermons and audio

Heinrich Vogeler Verkündigung an die Hirten 1902In this hard year filled with loss, grief and separation, we still hear the songs of the angels as they proclaimed Christ’s birth to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. And those songs are a consolation right now. Life will conquer death, joy will conquer despair. Because Christ came, we shall live and have life abundantly.

Because our cousins the angels find such joy in our salvation, perhaps this year, we can be inspired by them and find strength to move forward in hope that the time of separation is coming to an end.

Merry Christmas!

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in 2020

Religion / Sermons and audio

Beautiful winter sunriseWe finally draw near to the threshold of the Feast of the Incarnation. But before we join Mary and Joseph beside the manager in Bethlehem, we need to take a moment to understand the miracle of Jesus’ birth, and what his two natures, human and divine, mean for us today.

And while we wonder about that, we can wonder too about how we can be like Mary. How can we make God incarnate for others?

He must increase, and I must decrease.

Sermons and audio

John the Baptist Pointing to ChristThe greatest human who ever lived (according to Jesus) came into the world to point to something beyond himself, something greater than himself. The Church when it is really being the Church does the same thing.

As we hear the story of the early ministry of John the Baptist, and as we turn the corner on this year’s Advent season, our time of waiting is coming to an end and the promised restoration is on the horizon. Christ is among us for those who have eyes and ears to see and hear. God grant us the grace to point others to Jesus in this moment.

 

A short service of Lessons and Carols from St. George’s School

Religion / Sermons and audio

Dtw9n EWkAU8W 2One of my favorite events each December is attending (and participating) in the Service of Lessons and Carols in the chapel at St. George’s School here in Rhode Island. My first one was soon after I was ordained the Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island and it’s become our family tradition each year since.

This year, with the school rightly limiting people’s access to the hilltop it wasn’t possible for people from the community to participate. The school chaplain very kindly invited me to record one of the readings and they’ve included it in the service which is presented this year on YouTube. The Head of School spoke to the board yesterday about how hard it has been to not celebrate the holidays in the school’s traditional way this year. Watching the video and not having the experience of a crowded chapel, filled with candles and redolent with poinsettia blooms, I agree. This isn’t the way any of us would have it – but there’s no good options and this is a way to keep the tradition alive.

On the plus side, it means that more people will have a chance to hear the music presented by the students and faculty and to see the chapel in all its candlelit beauty.

Perhaps you might set aside a little time this weekend and join in the tradition too.

Comfort, comfort ye my people! The Second Sunday of Advent

Sermons and audio

Hope writing on beach GyFKokKdThis week’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is taken from the opening of the second section of the sayings. Up to this point the book’s focus has been on the consequences that face the people of God as they turn away from caring for one another, caring for the Creation, and following God’s way for them. That first section ends with the death of King Hezekiah, a complicated figure who tried to find a way forward in a difficult moment of the people’s history. This second section is written to people in exile and defeat.

God is reminding them, and us, that God has acted to save the people, to restore them to the land, to fulfill the promises made to their ancestors. In the bleak moment when these words were first written, that memory and those promises must have seemed very distant.

In our day, when we face pandemic that is overwhelming our nation’s health care system, when we see signs of global climate change accelerating, it’s hard to hear these promises too. But they’re just as true now as they were then. God will act. There will be a return and a restoration. We have reason to hope even though others may despair.

And it’s the role of Church in our day to make that proclamation, to carry these good tidings to those who are losing heart.