Veterans of Love

From my sermon for Pentecost 24, Veterans Day:

There come moments in our lives, often without warning, moments of challenge and demand, when something is required of you. What is required now is the gift of your whole self, your faith, your hope and your devotion – and in some tangible, observable way you let your life go out for the sake of something larger, something sacred, something loved.

Full audio

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Give Your Life Away And Be Utterly Alive

From my sermon for Pentecost 19:

I’m not sure if any of the four men who died in Benghazi identified themselves as Christians, but their example reminds us that authentic religion — and I’m thinking here of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — are not merely systems of belief, but are more profoundly, unique ways of life. They have everything to do with how one actually expresses their unique life and motivated abilities in the world. Faith is not simply something you have, it is something you do, and more deeply, it is something you are.

This truth surfaces for the disciples of Jesus in our Gospel reading today. Some scholars say this story, coming right at the center of Mark’s Gospel, is the pivotal incident in the life of Jesus, the most critical, defining text in the New Testament. Is that an overstatement?  Let’s take a closer look.

Audio here.

Bread of Heaven, Bread of Love

From my sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost:

What is the food our soul craves, the bread that Jesus offers?  What is the part of us that is hungriest and most in need of feeding?  We could ponder that question for some time, but at the core of it, I want to say, is the reality and experience of human and divine love. Real soul food is to know that we are loved without measure and without limit.  That we have always been loved and always will be.  Jesus came to reveal the true compassionate and loving nature of God, and he willingly gives his life to reveal that love conquers everything.

Fundamentally, this is what I’ve preached for my entire ordained ministry, it’s my underlying message. That God is a God of love – that we are loved not for who we should be, but for who we genuinely are.  The good news lies in believing this. Our emotional and spiritual health lies in believing this!  St. Paul said that human life is transient but faith, hope, and love, remain, and the greatest of these is love. This is the bread of the soul, the bread of life, to know we are loved and wanted and from that deep place, to bear the love of Christ to others.

Sigmund Freud mocked this idea of unconditional love – he argued that many people are not worthy of love.  Well, that’s to state the obvious of course.  I certainly enounter people who are difficult to love and accept. It would be dishonest to say otherwise.  Part of that difficulty is that we find it very difficult to disengage love from merit.  The religious leaders found it difficult, for their response to Jesus offering bread from heaven was to say,  “Do we not know his father and mother?” “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” “How can he claim to have come down from heaven?”  I love Jesus’ response “Stop complaining.”  How easy it is for us to complain and transfer our anger and brokenness on to others.  We feel that in order to be loved we must deserve to be loved, we must be worthy, and mostly we feel that we are not worthy and so we focus on the unworthiness of other people.

Thomas Merton once wrote: “God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers and sisters and dare to advance in the love that has redeemed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all, at the preposterous ideas of ‘unworthiness.’” 

We’re all guilty of missing the mark but we are all received like the prodigal with open arms if we’d only place ourselves into them.  And in just a few moments we will be invited to do just that.  There is a moment of divine grace ahead of us found in the miracle of the Eucharist that can make all the difference in our living.

Full sermon here.

“The Sound Of Our Own Breathing” – A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

In my sermon for Pentecost Sunday I recounted a story about taking an introductory course in the Hebrew language in my first year of seminary.

We spent a good deal of time reflecting on the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in the Book of Exodus.  You remember that this was the moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God what God’s true name is. God was gracious enough to answer, and the name God gave is recorded in the original Hebrew as the four letters, Y-H-W-H, which most scholars agree originate from verb form meaning, “I am that I am.”  The name appears over 6000 times in the Bible.

Over time we’ve arbitrarily added two vowels, an “a” and an “e” in there to get YaHWeH because we are a people who like to use vowels. But  rabbinical scholars often note that the letters Y-H-W-H represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants, suggesting that ultimately God’s name may be simply unpronounceable in the terms we might like it to be. In Hebrew the four consonants Y-H-W-H are pronounced this way: “Yohd, Hah, Vey, Hah.” 

The author and innovative communicator Rob Bell suggests that the aspirated consonants of the Hebrew name for God raise provocative questions for our imaginations:

 “What if the name of God is the sound of our breathing, and what if another way of thinking about the gift of the Holy Spirit is as God breathing life, beauty, and purpose into our ordinary lives so that we might be given courage and inspiration to share in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation in the world?

That question offered a helpful way for me to enter the season of Pentecost this year and it seemed to resonate with a lot of folks gathered last Sunday as well.

The audio of my sermon can be found here.

There Is No Back-Up Plan

Pat Robertson of the “700 Club” fame, made some remarks about the Episcopal Church this week that deeply irritated me.  It gave fuel to my sermon for the Sunday after the Ascension:

We are part of a church that does not ask its members to agree on matters of politics or theology or biblical interpretation, but rather we allow the grace of God to unite us at the altar of Christ in full appreciation of our differences and the God given invitation to everyone to share in God’s mission of reconciliation and healing of the world. Everyone is welcome at God’s table.  This is God’s gift to us and our gift to the world.

So we have a message for the Pat Robertsons of the world, and it is simply this:  The mission is God’s and not yours.  We choose unity in mission rather than disunity over perplexing social issues. Our mission is nothing less than the work of loving God, loving others, and pursuing reconciliation and healing for the world God has made.

Full sermon audio here.

Everything We Need To Know

From my Easter Sermon yesterday:

Mark’s ending, with the women running in amazement and holy fear, seems so odd that later Christian tradition felt compelled to supply additional endings to make it more appealing, perhaps with what they thought readers were really waiting for.

As it is, there is no indisputable evidence of the resurrection. There is no account of how the word got out to the male disciples, let alone the whole wide world, because it says the women remained silent. And unlike the other Gospel narratives of the resurrection, there is no account of an appearance of the risen Jesus.  We’re left wanting a lot more information, more facts to help us make sense of what’s happened.  Can’t we have St. John ‘s lovely story of the garden tomb where Jesus appears and says, “Mary,” and she responds, “Rabboni,” and then runs in joy and wonder to tell the disciples?”  That seems like a good ending.

But I want to say that Mark’s unusual ending has grown on me over the years, so much so that I think that our understanding of the resurrection would be impoverished without it.  Could it be that Mark’s account, just these short eight verses, gives us everything we need to know about the resurrection of Jesus?  Not everything we want to know, of course. Because we would sure like some more empirical details to help shore up our sometimes tentative faith.  No, Mark does not give us everything we want to know about Jesus’ resurrection, but I want to say that he gives us everything we need to know, and that might be the most powerful way to end the resurrection story after all.

Listen to the sermon here.

Why Jerusalem?

From my Invitation to Holy Week at Church of the Holy Comforter this morning:

Why did Jesus go to Jerusalem?

The God Jesus came to Jerusalem to reveal was a God of steadfast love, a God of compassion and mercy, a God of justice and peace, a God whose fierce love has the power to heal and reconcile our wounded hearts and our wounded world.

I think Jesus knew that love and decided to live out that fearless, fierce love, holding nothing back.  He came to Jerusalem because Jerusalem is where God’s love needed to be as well as in quiet Galilee.  I think he knew exactly what he was doing, knew the risks, and knew that he well might die. It was the strongest, bravest decision he ever made.

I have always been compelled by the power of Jesus’ decision to go to Jerusalem and what it says to us as we attempt to be his faithful followers today.  Where is our Jerusalem?  And where are we being stretched, to risk, and to go where we have never been before, for the sake of God’s fierce, just, and transforming love?  These are questions we might hold in our hearts  as we keep company with Jesus over the next seven days.

Leave me a comment on how you might answer those questions.

Full sermon here.

Written On The Heart

From my sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

We read Jeremiah’s consoling words that promise a “New Covenant.”  Prior to this, Jeremiah has outlined the people’s disobedience to the Covenant made with them when the Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  They have violated the Ten Commandments of Sinai.  The wealthy and powerful have established policies abused the poor.  They have fostered an increasing dependency on weapons of war rather than pursuing strategies for peace.  Judgment has arrived with the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of those who were its most privileged residents.

Now they are about to be taken into exile in Babylon.  But after those days, in the not too distant future, God will establish a new relationship with his people and their sins will be forgiven.  God promises to stay with his creation no matter what. The difference is that this time, God will not write the covenant on tablets of stone, but will implant it in their hearts and minds, an internalized covenant, so that they will know and love God on the grounds of their own personal experience and stewardship of life.  God will, in the words of our Psalm today “create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within them.”

Now on this fifth Sunday in Lent we can see the horizon of Holy Week before us, and we will see just how far God is willing to go to stay in relationship with his creation, with the world that he loves.  On the hard wood of the cross, we will once again witness the mystery of an unending love that fires the universe we live in, a redemptive love that has the power to transform the human heart and make all things new.  And brothers and sisters, how desperately our world needs to see and know that love today.

Listen to the Sermon here.  How would you describe the difference between a Law externally written and one written on the heart?  What do you think about practicing justice, kindness, and humility in response to recent violent events in our country?

I Will Remember

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent.

 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).

The opening theme of this story is that the creation has refused to be the creation God has hoped for. God has called the world into being to be in partnership with him.  He wills unity, harmony, and goodness in his creation.  In the first chapter of Genesis we see God pronouncing a benediction on each stage of  the unfolding creation: “It is good.  It is very good.”  But just four chapters later, instead of a benediction we now read, “I will blot out.”  This story provides a way for the authors of Genesis to reflect on this fundamental fracture in the relationship between God and God’s creation.

We are not to read it as literal history, but more as a parable of God’s persistence in relating to his creation, and perhaps it is a parable that reveals a God who also learns and grows with his creation, so much so that God makes a covenant to stay in relationship with all created things no matter what and that this steadfast love creates the possibility for real change in our lives and in our future.

Full sermon here.

Personal Authority That Causes Growth

From my sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

I suspect that most of us have a difficult time relating to the kind of biblical story we have in Mark’s Gospel this morning about an exorcism of an “unclean spirit” from a man in the synagogue and Capernaum. I have come to believe that people in the 1st century understood as do people in the 21st century, that sometimes we are caught up in forces that are not genuinely us. The road to healing lies in our relationship to Christ and to one another.

Sermon can be found here.