A day of wrath? Or the dawning of a re-made Cosmos?

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Glowing wooden crossFor some the Day of the Lord will be a day of wrath and judgement. For the poor and the outcast, the Day of the Lord is a promise that justice will be done.

On this First Sunday in Advent, we hear the words of hope that God will come fully revealed and will live among us forever. The nations will be healed and the promises fully kept.

We long for that day. This year in particular, we long for that dawn.

To say Jesus is Lord is to pledge an allegiance to one King and to reject another

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MC 03292016 animals Black face sheep 9The earliest creedal statement of the Christian Church is thought to be “Jesus is Lord.” We see it now on bumper stickers or in lights in churches. It has become part of the background imagery of American popular religion. But when the Church began to proclaim it, it was a costly statement that rejected the armies of Caesar and lifted up a crucified man in his place.

That a cursed and crucified man, rejected by the crowd, could be the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is a reminder that earthly success doesn’t correlate at all to God’s favor. It’s often the other way around…

As we celebrate Jesus’ kingship this weekend, let us remember what it implies about our lives today.

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

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Graphicstock back light silhouette of a man standing on a hill overlooking filtered vintage future power achievement concept B6d55RJ5kZPaul’s Letter to the Church in Thessalonica is likely the first of his surviving letters, and as such, is the earliest Christian writing known. He writes to a group of believers that are struggling to understand their experience as members of the congregation are dying – something that was not expected given the teaching of the Apostles that Christ had overcome death.

Paul encourages them to encourage one another. By so doing, they will not lose heart, or hope and will wait patiently for Christ’s return and the revelation of what it means in their time.

We are facing a difficult moment too. I think we need to take Paul’s advice to the church of his time into our hearts in our time. We need to keep our hope that this moment will pass too.

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

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IMG 0894In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about wise and foolish maidens and a wedding banquet. In the parable the wise ones prepare for the eventuality that the wedding banquet will be late in starting. The foolish ones don’t – and when it does start late, they are not able to enter.

We are in a moment today when we are asked to prepare for what is expected to be a challenging winter. And yet there are people who are trying to act as if everything will be okay, or that we can ignore the necessary preparations because in the end God will make everything okay.

But that’s not how it works, and that’s not the wise thing to do.

(I apologize about the audio quality in this video. I have a new microphone and something is clearly wonky. I’m working on getting it sorted, but after four tries today I gave up and used the best recording. I hope you’ll understand.)

Love is the way to a more perfect union

Current Affairs / Sermons and audio

Is there something for the Church to say to the Nation in this moment? The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Michael Curry preached a stem-winder of a sermon that does a pretty great job of answering that question.

In the second part of the sermon he says:

We don’t think of it this way very often but love for each other is a value on which our democracy depends.  On the Great Seal of the United States, above the bald eagle are banners on which the Latin words, e pluribus unum are written. Those words, e pluribus unum, literally mean, “one out of many.” One nation from many diverse people.

But do you know where those words come from? They come from the writings of Cicero who lived during the time of the Roman Republic. Cicero said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.” Cicero who gave us those words said that love for each other is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Jesus of Nazareth taught us that. Moses taught us that. America listen to Cicero, Jesus, Moses. Love is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Love is the way to be America for real.

As we enter the final days of this election season, I can’t think of a better mantra for us as citizens. Love is the way. Love makes the many into one.

Sermon for All Saints Day 2020

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Crosses carved in the wall Mk7ZddOdThe Cross transforms the suffering in our lives and allows the experience and the associated pain to transform us into a new creature fit for a new creation.

The lives of the Saints show us how this happens and demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit to allow them, and us, to overcome the momentary afflictions and become radiant beings of light.

The 21st Sunday after Pentecost: There’s no single way to holiness.

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IMG 0017When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment in the Law, he quotes from two different places in Hebrew Scripture. He refuses to simply weigh one part of the Law, as more important than another, saying for instance that the moral demands of the law are greater than the ceremonial aspects. In doing so he makes two paths to God equivalent.

I don’t know that we’ve yet to fully grasp the implications of that teaching.

Comprehension rather than Division

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Pexels belle co 1000444The 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is filled with attempts to trap Jesus into saying something that would create a crisis for him. This week there’s an attempt to create division between him and the Imperial forces. There will be attempts in the coming weeks to create division between him and various branches of the religious community. There will be an attempt to make him either reveal his mission or to risk rejection by the crowds.

In all of these attempts, Jesus refuses to trapped by an arbitrary binary construct. Rather than being “forked” (a chess term) he expands the options and finds a third way.

Perhaps, as we approach a moment of possible political crisis, we too can look for a way to escape traps that are set for us, and find a way to remain a community even as we make a choice that will bring winners and losers.

The Atlantic: Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic

Current Affairs

Surgical masks MJN6CpTO

Two social scientists describe how their work on Cognitive Dissonance explains the irresponsible public health behaviors that many humans are exhibiting in this pandemic. After a description of research into the behavior, and a frank admission that this is the way our brains work, they go on to explain how they understand what’s happening.

(I’ll add that they do not mention, but that I suspect, that there are people who know this human mechanism and are exploiting it for personal power and gain.) 

The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic – The Atlantic:

Because of the intense polarization in our country, a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions of the coronavirus as political choices rather than medical ones. In the absence of a unifying narrative and competent national leadership, Americans have to choose whom to believe as they make decisions about how to live: the scientists and the public-health experts, whose advice will necessarily change as they learn more about the virus, treatment, and risks? Or President Donald Trump and his acolytes, who suggest that masks and social distancing are unnecessary or “optional”?

The cognition I want to go back to work or I want to go to my favorite bar to hang out with my friends is dissonant with any information that suggests these actions might be dangerous—if not to individuals themselves, then to others with whom they interact.

How to resolve this dissonance? People could avoid the crowds, parties, and bars and wear a mask. Or they could jump back into their former ways. But to preserve their belief that they are smart and competent and would never do anything foolish to risk their lives, they will need some self-justifications: Claim that masks impair their breathing, deny that the pandemic is serious, or protest that their “freedom” to do what they want is paramount. “You’re removing our freedoms and stomping on our constitutional rights by these Communist-dictatorship orders,” a woman at a Palm Beach County commissioners’ hearing said. “Masks are literally killing people,” said another. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, referring to masks and any other government interventions, said, “More freedom, not more government, is the answer.” Vice President Mike Pence added his own justification for encouraging people to gather in unsafe crowds for a Trump rally: “The right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Do follow the link above. The authors go on to discuss ways that leaders have pushed back against the dissonance mechanism.

Part of the reason that it’s so hard for people to walk away from the harmful rationalizations they create is the “sunk cost fallacy”. At some point people figure they’ve already sunk so much of their time or social capital into a set of irrational beliefs that they are unable to walk away without incurring pain. It’s the fear of the pain of rethinking their position (Gk: Metanoia, Eng: Repent) that seems to trap them in their wrong direction (sin).

Perhaps faith leaders have something to say in all this.

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

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DM 03242016 0289When the people in the wilderness lose patience and just want things to be normal again, they turn from God who expects moral behavior and create a God who extracts wealth to bring prosperity. And when God threatens to let them suffer the consequences of their choice, Moses pleads with God to remember the promises made to Abraham and his descendants who all chose, ultimately to do the moral things that God taught them would bring prosperity and peace.

A single person, pursuing the common good, seeking a moral universe can change the history of an entire nation.