Are we using the Church to meet our needs? For own ends?

Sermons and audio

Mary Magdalen anointing Christ s feet f 15v CroppedThis week’s Gospel tells the story of the extravagant act of adoration by Mary toward Jesus. She anoints his feet with something like $30,000 worth of perfumed oil. Judas sees it and objects that the money could have been better spent on the meeting the needs of the poor. The author of the Gospel tells us that Judas’ objection wasn’t made out of concern for the poor but because he wanted the money that was spent on the oil for himself. In that he was like anyone who has ever stuck their hand into the money box at a church social or a Little League concession stand.

The point is that Judas wanted a relationship with Jesus that met his needs, not because he was thankful that Jesus had given him so much. And in that, well, Judas is like a lot of people we meet in the world who are interested in what the Church can or will do for them, and less interested in a relationship of gratitude and love for God.

It’s a hard thing to hear because, truthfully, we are all sort of mixture of both Mary and of Judas. Sometimes even on the same day.

The Church is called to extravagant acts of reconciliation

Sermons and audio

Prodigal Son CHS cathedral; BY FRANZMAYERSTAINEDGLASS - OWN WORK, CC BY-SA 4.0,This Sunday’s Gospel is one of the most familiar parables in the canon of scripture. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son, an arresting story that Jesus told to the shock and surprise of the people who originally heard it. It’s filled with shocking and scandalous behavior on the part of all three of the main characters: the Father, the Older Son and the Prodigal Son. When it is heard in the culture in which it was originally told, people are still astonished and dismayed the humiliating actions of all three characters, but particularly that of the father.

We’ve lost the shock at the story over the years, and in so doing may have misplaced at least one of the meanings. (This being a parable tells us that there’s more than one meaning. Perhaps there are many meanings.) In this sermon I explore the implications of the parable for the life of the modern Church, particularly in this cultural and historical moment.

Cathedral Lent Book Study canceled for Wed. March 23rd

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Friends, I for having to say this, but I’m not able to lead the book study this evening. I didn’t catch a conflict on my calendar. I’m leading our Diocesan Council meeting at the same time as we’re supposed to be discussing the book tonight.

I am sorry for the late notice. I’m just back from the meeting in Texas and because I was focused on the meeting details, I didn’t look ahead on my calendar till I got in late yesterday afternoon. I was hoping we might be able to meet tomorrow night, but there’s a presentation for the Center For Reconciliation at the same time and I’m previously committed to that.

I’ll try to cover the questions you’ve already sent me when we meet next week, and we can talk then about how to cover the material we’ll miss if you so desire.

We seek straightforward connection between actions and consequences. Turns out it’s complicated.

Sermons and audio

Parable of the Fig Tree Lent 3CI’m not able to post a sermon this week. I’m at the House of Bishop’s meeting and I don’t have access to the resources I need to be able to film a sermon and then post something. But I’m delighted that one of my favorite preachers/writers, The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns, a colleague of mine from when I served in Bethlehem PA, has posted a wonderful sermon on this weekend’s texts. I’ve posted his writings many times before and bless him for coming to our rescue this weekend.

The Gospel reading describes Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between human sinfulness and suffering. Spoiler alert; it’s complicated. Humans want to see meaning and connection in our experience. It’s hardwired into our language loving, story seeking brains. And that’s a wonderful gift for us as we learn language or express ourselves in metaphor. But it can trip us up when we seek a connection between two things that might not be connected. (Scientists struggle with this frequently.)

Here’s a bit from Andrew’s sermon “Bad News Travels Fast”:

Some Christians like to have God be the one behind every circumstance and every event…the cosmic manager (or puppeteer, some will sneer). Others understand God as the one who makes the clock, winds it, and walks away. That’s because we humans are binary. We like things to be either one or zero. Yankees or Red Sox. Ford or Chevy. One way or the other. Our brains cannot wrap themselves around too much contradiction. 

But instead of living in an either/or, one or zero world, I believe we live in a universe of concurrent realities. This ought not to surprise us. After all, we know Jesus to be fully human and fully God. Christians know that God is Trinity of three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– who contain the fullness of the one God without diluting the personhood of the three. When we say the creed or close a collect, we acknowledge in shorthand that the nature of God is a unity of concurrent realities. 

And it is true in nature, too. Physics tells us that concurrent realities are part and parcel of the
created order: light is at once a wave and a particle. Today we live in a world that at once makes use of Newtonian and quantum mechanics—Newton shows us how to launch and keep things in orbit, drive your car, or play ping pong, while quantum theory helps us scan our groceries and makes our GPS and cell phones work.

And just as concurrent realities live in the physical world and in the person of God, they are part and parcel of the mystery of living. 

Do take a moment to follow the first link above and read the texts appointed for this third Sunday in Lent. And then read Andrew’s sermon. And then give yourself time to reflect. There’s a lot to unpack in what he’s written. You might start by reflecting on ways you’ve sought correlation between your own actions and your experiences. Maybe what you think is true isn’t as true as you’ve imagined. (And that’s likely true in good ways and in hard ways.)

And then join me in this prayer:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God bless you this week.

Jesus, our Mother

Sermons and audio

Prayer Vigil for UkraineOthers often describe Jesus in his day as the Lamb of God. In the Gospel passage read this week in church, he describes himself not as a lamb who will be slain, but as a Mother Hen who wishes to save the ones who reject him.

The image is both familiar and foreign to us because while we know about hens and chicks, few of us have enough familiarity with foxes and hens to get at Jesus’ meaning here. But the people of his time understood him – as do people today in parts of the world where they raise chickens out of doors.

Jesus is our Savior. He came to shield us, to save us. We often neglect that when we talk about him, seeking to uncover the hidden historical contexts or plumb the deeper meaning of his words. But that role, the role of the savior, is the key to unlocking so much of the Gospel. And it is a call to us who seek to imitate him, to find ways we can save others.

The Ruler of this World; the Father of Lies

Sermons and audio

Sunlit rocks on a barren landscape SBI 300962984The traditional reading for the first Sunday in Lent is the account of how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the Ruler of this World. He can overcome the tests by living out the truth of Scripture and rejecting the lies.

Every year, in a different context, we hear this story, and some aspect of it becomes new and startling. This year, as we watch the Invasion of Ukraine by their Russian neighbors, I’m struck by the words of the Devil in the second temptation as he claims that all the power and authority of the kingdoms and the nations of the World are his. He can bestow them upon whom he chooses. All Jesus has to do is turn aside and worship this ruler, and they will all be his.

But Jesus, embodying the story of God’s Chosen people, remembers their history and can turn aside the temptation. And, truthfully, when you look at all of the temptations, Jesus can turn them aside by remembering the whole story of his people; the Children of Abraham, who were enslaved and oppressed and freed by God.

There’s much more to this, of course, and in the sermon below, I speak about other aspects, the core teaching in this moment in history is that God had and still has the power to save.

Ash Wednesday 2022

Current Affairs / Religion

A single rose rises from a pile of ashes SBI 301099382World history swirls about us as we begin Lent today. I have the sense that what has been happening over the past few years, particularly over the past week, will define the world that the next generation of leaders will manage. We are watching the atrocities in the Ukraine with horror. We are facing the accelerating rate of Climate Change, And the pandemic, though waning, is still part of our lives. It is easy enough to despair.

And yet, we are people of hope. We believe in the victory of life over death. We believe in a God who has come to save us all. We long for the full revelation of the new Creation that the prophets longed for, knowing that Jesus’ resurrection began its coming into the World.

In the context of our deep concern about today and our unshakeable hope for tomorrow, this Lent is like all other Lenten seasons and somehow different. I feel a purposefulness about my Lenten observance today, and a profound desire for Easter. I imagine that it’s the same for many if not all of you too.

Every year we call on people to keep a Holy Lent. This year I encourage you to keep a purpose in mind for your Lenten days. For me, that purpose is to pray for peace and end to war and oppression in all the World.

These next forty days of spiritual fast and discipline will, for me, be done with an intention of prayers for peace and an end to violence. I invite you to join me in that intention, offering up your Lenten pilgrimage to that particular prayer. I’m sure your clergy and lay leaders can help you with resources for season.

Lord Jesus, let your love vanquish all that challenge your reign as the Prince of Peace. Let war end in our time. Let us find our unity in you and in service to your Creation. Remake our hearts in Lent this year so that we may be a sign to others that life and joy will triumph over despair. In your name we pray.

Amen.

What Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem

Sermons and audio

Snow drops bloomingAs we observe the Last Sunday in this year’s Season of Epiphany, we are doing so as the Pandemic transitions to an Endemic, at least in most of the United States, and as Eastern Europe erupts into war. As is so often the case, each time we hear a familiar story from Scripture, the context in which we placed when encountering it serves to unlock new insights into the text and points to deeper meanings we didn’t recognize previously.

Jesus is standing on the mountain top, often thought to be the same place in which the rebellious angels stood as they came down from Heaven. The account follows soon after Jesus’ words about how he was going to contend with the evil powers of the world and that the gates of Hell could not impede what he intended. On the mountaintop, as Jesus, revealed in glory, speaks with Moses and Elijah, they speak of what he was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem; the defeat of Death itself and restoration of the original purpose of Creation.

Jesus came so that we could have life; even in the midst of war and plague. I’ve always known and believed that, but now, as we are faced with tension and fear all around, his words and his actions give me hope that I didn’t understand how much I needed. Perhaps that’s the same for you as well.

Be merciful as God is merciful. This is the way to the blessing.

Sermons and audio

IMG 1024As I post this, we stand on the brink of war in Europe. We seem to have arrived at the end of the Post-Cold War era and entering a new phase of global politics. I do not know what the future shall bring. But this I do know. There is one way to end the powerful preying on the poor, one way to end the endless cycles of war and violence. Jesus tells us the Way, Tolstoy wrote about it, Ghandi demonstrated it’s power and Dr. King showed us that it works in face of irrational hatred.

If we would be blessed, we need to bless the ones who curse us. We need to turn the other cheek. We need to choose the path of non-violence. This isn’t a theoretical teaching. Jesus and the first disciples overcame the greatest Empire of their age, Ghandi did in his day too. It is often hard to believe that this is the way to the blessing, but again and again it has been the only path.