Go

Contact Us

  • Phone: (111) 222-3333
  • Email:
  • Mailing Address: 2707 Congress Street Ste. #2G San Diego, CA 92110

 

 

Sermons for Year C in 2016

    Nov 20, 2016

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year C (2016)

    Summary:

    The text for all sermons preached by Fr. Rob Donehue at St. Anne's in Year C of 2016, beginning with his first Sunday as a deacon and ending with his first Sunday as a priest.

    Detail:

     

    Sermon for Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29, Year C 

    (Christ the King)
    Nov. 20, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 
    First Sunday as a priest

    Jeremiah 23:1-6            Colossians 1:11-20          Luke 23: 33-43

    We begin where we hope to end. 

    Today is a series of firsts. Today marks a first in the life of the diocese, and it marks a first in the life of this congregation. I hope it’s not too self-serving or out of place for me to point it out, but my ordination to the priesthood yesterday was something of a milestone. I am the first person to have gone through seminary and be ordained in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina since the unfortunate split in 2012. I’m the first priest that our new bishop, Skip, has ordained since he became the chief servant of our diocese. I’m the first person that St. Anne’s has supported through the ordination process, and I am the first priest that St. Anne’s has called to serve in a full-time capacity. So, as I said, this Sunday marks quite a few firsts!

    But it also marks a few lasts. This Sunday is the last Sunday after Pentecost, and it marks the end of the church year. Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent, and in the way the church observes the calendar, our new year begins with the First Sunday of Advent and ends with the last Sunday after Pentecost. I find it kind of funny that my first Sunday as your priest should also be the last Sunday of the church year. It kind of gives a new meaning to “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” So, in a way, we’re beginning at the end. But that’s really as it should be. 

    Because the other last that I want to draw our attention to comes from the Gospel reading this morning. All through the season after Pentecost, we’ve been hearing lessons mainly about Jesus’ teachings. We’ve heard parables and teachings about compassion and forgiveness; about the dangers of greed and pride; about the need to pray always; and about the mystery of resurrection. But on this last Sunday of the church year, we don’t get a parable or straightforward teaching. Instead, we’re taken… to… the cross, where the crucified Jesus is being mocked and derided as a rather pathetic king. And it is in this scene that Jesus speaks some of the last words of his earthly ministry. 

    It is these last words that I want us to focus on … because they are, for us, both a good starting point for our life together, and the goal towards which we should always strive.   

    The words Jesus speaks from the cross are, simply put, astounding. Here we have a man who has been betrayed by a friend and abandoned by his followers. He’s been condemned to die by a foreign government and his sentence is being carried out by soldiers whom, we are told, are adding insult to injury. But Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And even at the last, he offers a message of reconciliation and hope to a condemned criminal.   

    Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Hope. We begin where we hope to end. 

    Just last week, I had the opportunity to help take some thanksgiving food bags from CAP to Jamestown Baptist Church. And while we were unloading the bags, it struck me that, to an unsympathetic eye, what we were doing might look a little absurd.  There we were: a disaffected Roman Catholic, an Anglican layman, and an Episcopal clergyman, taking food bags to a Baptist Church. Sounds like a bad joke, right? Divided over interpretation of scripture and understanding of tradition, the only thing that can bring us together is an act of service to those whom most would say are the least “deserving” in society. I can just hear a critical voice saying, “Y’all can’t agree on anything! If the only thing that brings you together is giving away food to welfare queens, you’ll never make it!”

    But that’s the example we have before us this morning: a crucified Jew, offering a message of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope to a crucified criminal. That’s the kind of savior and king that we are striving to serve.  

    And I don’t think that it’s a mistake that the last Sunday of the church year should powerfully remind us that our goal and mission as the church should always bring us back to the cross. If the message of the cross is not our focus, we might get caught up in the notion that our success as a church depends on something other than faithfulness even in the face of total loss; that our success as a church depends more on average Sunday attendance and less on the hard work of loving our neighbor; that our success as a church depends more on doing things right instead of doing things faithfully.  

    If the message of the cross is not our focus, we might lose sight of the fact that we are called to proclaim hope even in the face of despair - and even in a world which seems increasingly sunk in despair. 

    So we begin where we hope to end.   

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I hope that my ministry with you here at St. Anne’s will be fruitful and “successful” in all the conventional ways that we understand success. I am excited and filled with joy that I get to be your priest and share with you in the building up of this church. And…today marks a great beginning in our life together. All of that is good and right and worthy of celebration. 

    But I am glad that we have the reminder this morning that we are called to follow in the footsteps of the Jesus who, by worldly standards, was a failure. I am glad that we have the reminder this morning that we are called to follow in the footsteps of the Jesus who, even at the last, was able to speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation. I am glad that we have the reminder this morning that we are called to follow in the footsteps of the Jesus who offered a place in heaven to one who never would have expected it. I am glad that we have the reminder of cross this morning because if it is the focus of our life together, then I know we cannot fail.  

    And so we begin where we hope to end. 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, Year C
    Nov. 13, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 

    Malachi 4: 1-2a                2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13                  Luke 21: 5-19

     

    There has been a good deal of hand wringing recently over the result of the election this past Tuesday. There are a lot of folks who are upset over the outcome and who have adopted a doom and gloom attitude towards the future. Some even have resorted to violence. Lest anyone think I’ll be getting too political, I will point out that, had the decision gone the other way, there would still be people saying that it was a disaster. Yet that would not change the words I want to share with you all this morning. 

    The Gospel lesson we just heard talks about a time of severe distress and disaster. Now, just to make it perfectly clear, what Jesus is talking about in this morning’s Gospel is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70, following the so-called “Jewish revolt.” The Roman response to that revolt was a crushing military campaign which culminated in the demolition of the temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem. It’s true, many see the words of this morning’s Gospel lesson as referring to the “end times,” but a close reading of the text shows quite clearly that Jesus is speaking prophetically about the fall of Jerusalem. So if anyone wants to take the Gospel as a checklist for the imminent approach of the “end times” in our own day, I think it’s safe to say that they’ve misread the lesson.

    All that being said, I do think that Jesus’ words speak very clearly to what a number of people in this country - some in this congregation - may be feeling right now. In speaking about the destruction of the temple, a doom and gloom scenario that would have been unthinkable to his audience, what Jesus is essentially saying is, “Do not put your trust in the structures of this world. Eventually, they all crumble.” Even though there may be much to admire about what has been built, it doesn't take a genius to point out that if you lean your ladder against the wrong wall, it doesn't matter how high you climb. 

    Jesus also says that no matter how bad things may get, we should not give in to despair. Even if we are faced with wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues and signs from heaven, we should not be terrified. Instead, we are called not to be anxious and to persevere in faith. 

    Since Wednesday morning, I’ve heard a number of people ask, “What do we do? What do we do?” And while I do not wish to dismiss or ignore the genuine fears and concerns being expressed by those asking that question, the answer, for those of us who believe in Jesus, is that we already have our marching orders. We’ve had them for about two thousand years. They were as true on Tuesday morning as they were on Wednesday morning, and they will be true for as long as the world endures.

    Love God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick. Welcome the stranger. Give voice to the voiceless. Encourage one another. Proclaim the good news. If you remember, two Sundays ago, we renewed our baptismal vows, promising to continue in the apostles fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. None of that has changed.

     We know what we’re called to do! And even if the structures of the world stand in opposition to our being faithful, we know that in time, those structures will fall.

    So that leads us to the question: “What kind of church do we want to build? What kind of church are we building?”

    I’m not talking about buildings - although I am quite partial to gothic… I’m talking instead about the kind of church and community we should build if we want to be faithful to Jesus. And I think there are some pretty apparent do’s and don’t’s. 

     If you want to build a church with walls that are designed to keep people out, then you cannot build up the church of Jesus Christ. If you want to build a church where only the worthy are allowed to participate, then you cannot build up the church of Jesus Christ. If you want to build a church where certain voices are silenced or ignored, then you cannot build up the church of Jesus Christ. If you want to build a church where sinners have no need of repentance, then you cannot build up the church of Jesus Christ. If you want to build a church where the language of fear and hatred is more powerful than the language of hope and love, and that’s the kind of church we end up building, then yes, I will say it with confidence. Not one stone will be left on top of another. And thanks be to God: all will be thrown down. 

    But, if we want to build a church where the outcast find refuge, and the persecuted find safety, then we need not ever worry about the church being overthrown. If we want to build a church where the stranger is welcomed, where the hungry are fed, and where the sick are cared for, then we need not ever worry about the church being overthrown. If we want to build a church where sinners are forgiven and brought back into right relationship with God, where we can rejoice in the knowledge that God loves us just as we are, then we can rest assured that such a church will not ever be overthrown. It doesn’t mean things won’t be hard. It doesn’t relieve us from the responsibilities of striving for peace and justice. And it doesn’t save us from the inevitable persecutions that will follow when we stand up to those in power. 

    But it does give us the unassailable hope that, if we persevere, we will eventually see the day when the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. 

    God save us. 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, Year C
    Nov. 6, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 

    Job 19: 23-27a         2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17         Luke 20: 27-38

     

    Who were the Sadducees? Church nerd alert! 

    Josephus is 1st century (most info we have on Sadducees comes from Josephus. A little bit from the dead sea scrolls. And then the NT.)

    The Sadducees were in the upper social and economic echelon of society. They oversaw many formal affairs of the state.

    - Administered the state domestically

    - Regulated relations with the Romans

    - Mediated domestic grievances.

     - Maintained the temple. 

    They were elites in charge of status quo, cooperating with the Roman occupation.

    So much for their role in society. Now, to their beliefs…

    Joke about the Sadducees. They didn't believe in the resurrection; that's why they were sad, you see...

    According to Josephus, the Sadducees believed that:

    There is no fate.

    God does not commit evil.

    Man has free will; “man has the free choice of good or evil.”

    The soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife.

    There are no rewards or penalties after death.

    The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection of the dead, but believed in the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol for those who had died. Sheol was pretty much non-being. As in, this life is it and once you're dead, you’re dead. 

    So to their argument. Their argument is cynical. It’s setting up a situation based on premises they find absurd. Kind of like pointing out how astrology tables are off by a month as a way of poking fun at people who believe in astrology.  

    Lest we think the Sadducees were being tricksy, however, I will say that theirs was a legitimate way of constructing an argument. If you have a universal, then it has to apply to particular cases. And the Sadducees present a particular case in order to call into question a general teaching. It’s a perfectly good technique. It is also worth noting that the way they present their case is by using a parable based on scriptural principal. It was a technique with which Jesus was familiar. For example, have a look at Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. 

    Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  

    He starts with a story about a particular situation and then draws out the universal implication called for in scripture (“God does not rejoice in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his ways and repent” Ezek. 18:23). 

    So Jesus and the Sadducees were operating on the same playing field of argument from parables. Only Jesus’ response in this case upends the Sadducees’ argument and throws it back at them with the force of foundational scripture behind it. In his response, Jesus says that the Sadducees are approaching the question of resurrection from the wrong angle. The framework of marriage, Jesus says, just does not apply in the resurrection. The resurrection operates on a different scale of universal truth. And the scriptural example he gives to back up his claim comes from the occasion when God reveals God’s self to none other than Moses. That’s the bit in the gospel when Jesus says, “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

    What Jesus is saying is that God is not dropping names as a matter of verifying pedigree. No. It’s WAY more than that. In that story where God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Jesus is saying that when those founders are named (and to that list I would add Sarah and Rebekah and Leah), it means that they are alive. So in one fell swoop, Jesus not only undercuts the Sadducees argument; he also makes a claim based on an incredibly important passage of scripture that those who have died are not dust and bones but are alive, right now, with God. 

    And what Jesus says begs the question about resurrection.

    How does God bring about resurrection? How does resurrection fit in with our experience of time? Are we present at the resurrection the moment we die, or do we all have to wait for the final moment? What does a resurrected body look like? is it just a physically resuscitated corpse? Or is it something more? Christians have pondered the question of what does resurrection mean for centuries. Some of the questions that have come up: Will we have hair? Will we have toenails? What about knees? 

    Illustration of St. Augustine on lions eating Christians, and question of how does God get all the bits back together? All he can say is what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians about us being raised with “spiritual bodies.” “But what this spiritual body shall be and how great its grace, I fear it were but rash to pronounce, seeing that we have as yet no experience of it.” He then goes on to speak about the resurrection being a source of hope and joy in this life as well as in the life to come. So to get back to Jesus’ point, the resurrection is not just “pie in the sky in the by and by.” it’s RIGHT now, too. 

    Yes for us, the question is what will we be when the resurrection happens? What will a “resurrected me” look like? But it’s also: what do we hope to be in this life? In both cases, it’s almost impossible to give a specific answer. It’s a mystery, but we CAN say that we believe God is able to do some pretty amazing stuff…even if we can’t see how that works in our lives right now. 

    God really can and often DOES more than we can ask or imagine. I’ve already heard stories from many of you about how God has acted in your own lives in ways that give you hope. Hope, even in some of the worst situations imaginable. So I think that with most of us, the idea of resurrection is not totally foreign. And that’s a good thing.  

    Because it’s the central tenet of our faith. We believe in a God can bring something out of nothing. Look at the Story of Job, of which we heard the dramatic climax this morning. It is a story of total loss - loss on a tragic scale that boggles the mind. But at the end, Job is left with not only with the hope that at the last he will see God face to face but also with the confidence that God can and does give meaning to his life right now. 

    The good news about the resurrection is that we have hope in a world where we might not get a satisfactory answer about why things happened the way they did, but where we will stand face to face with the living God, where all of our weakness and fragility will come into contact with God. And be transformed! 

    I know this is all pretty heady stuff, so I want to leave you this morning with a more practical way of thinking about resurrection. In the gospel lesson, Jesus talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being alive. That might not make immediate sense to us, but next time you pray, try picking out three people who have died but whose lives have had a major effect on your understanding of God. And address God using their names - The God of Doug, God of Louise, and God of Reid. And when you use those names - whoever they may be - the God of Tanya, the God of Mike, the God of David - remember that God is “God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” That may not go far in helping us understand exactly what resurrection IS, but I do think that it may help us give glory to God for the simple fact that God holds us all - however mysteriously - in life. 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, Year C
    Oct. 23rd, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 

    Sirach 35: 12-17 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18 Luke 18: 9-14

     

    {As an official representative of the church, I want to begin by assuring everyone here that all is well and that the world is NOT coming to an end. For those who keep track, it may seem like the final sign has appeared, but I assure you: In spite of the fact that the Cubs are in the world series, the world is not coming to an end!}

    Before we begin looking at the message of Gospel lesson from this morning, I want to draw our attention to on of the key players in the parable: the Pharisee. And the point I want to make is that the Pharisee is not necessarily the bad guy because he’s a Pharisee. The word “Pharisee” has become far too poisoned for us. Too often that word gets associated with hypocrisy and double dealing, to the end that being “pharisaical” or “being a pharisee” is automatically assumed to be a bad thing. So we may be tempted to think that the force of Jesus’ parable was its pointing out how hypocritical the first century religious system was. But that’s not the force of Jesus’ parable. The force of the story comes from the assumption that the Pharisee is supposed to be the a good guy. Jesus’ hearers would have been working on the assumption that the Pharisee is the one who is supposed to know better. At the least the Pharisee was the kind of person religious folk should be trying to imitate. And the tax collector is supposed to be the less than admirable character. To give a modern comparison of characters, try a lovable local parish priest…And a bouncer at Little Darlings. So there’s the force of the parable for us. It’s not Jesus telling a story about religious hypocrisy where people expected to see it. It’s Jesus telling a story about a topsy-turvy world of religious behavior that would have been kind of a surprise.

    I think the power of the parable also comes through because the prayer of the Pharisee is so familiar. How easy it is to pray like the Pharisee! And I don’t just mean the self-superior kind of prayer that the Pharisee prays in the parable, though that is a temptation. No, I mean how easy it is to bring comparison into our prayer lives! 

    Story about Br. Abraham and Jerry Springer 

    And that’s where I think most of us run into trouble. We compare ourselves to others. And whenever we begin to do that - whenever our own spirituality becomes less about where we are with God and more about comparing ourselves to where we think other people are with God - then we will quickly find ourselves getting stuck and feeling like we’re not making any real progress. 

      In fact, so damaging is this habit of spiritual comparison that the earliest Christian monks and nuns spoke regularly about comparison almost as if it were akin to demonic possession. The root problem with comparison is that it is almost always based on fantasy. I cannot know fully what your relationship with God is. So if I’m to make a spiritual comparison between myself and you, I have to imagine or fantasize either that you’re much better off than me OR that you’re worse off than me, neither of which I can know for certain. 

    And if I wind up judging my relationship with God on such unrealistic assumptions, then my relationship with God winds up being a matter of mere speculation and not genuine engagement.  The further problem with fantasizing or engaging in such flights of fancy is that it can take us away from an appreciation of how God meets us where we are and helps us to grow more fully into what we are meant to be. If we’re constantly focused on where we should be or where we once were, we’ll never be able to grow into an appreciation for where we are and how that is precisely where God meets us. 

    In any case, I don’t want to belabor the point about spiritual comparison, but I do think it’s worth drawing major attention to the difficulty that spiritual comparison can get us into if we aren’t on guard against it. And, as I said earlier, it’s very easy to begin praying like the Pharisee, particularly when we’re doing those things which we ought to be doing. Because if you notice, the Pharisee is saying he’s thankful that he does not steal, commit adultery, or engage in morally questionable financial behavior. And he’s proud of his fasting and tithing. All of those things I just mentioned are what we’re supposed to be doing. We're supposed to fast and give and live righteously. ALL of that is good and admirable and worth striving for.  

    We’re just not supposed to be jerks about it. Where the Pharisee messes up is in his attitude towards the tax collector - and others. I don’t think the Pharisee would be wrong for thanking God for the blessings of this life or for the ability to fulfill his religious duties. Where he goes wrong is in comparing himself to others and pitting his own righteousness against his perception of the unrighteousness of others. Because the Pharisee’s attitude eliminates the possibility of empathy or any real relationship with the tax collector. 

    And that brings us to an observation about stewardship - tis the season, after all! Hopefully by now, most of our regular members will have received in the mail some forms asking about their interests at St. Anne’s and how they would like to dedicate their resources of time, talent, and treasure to the work that this church does. If not, please come speak to me or one of the vestry members! In filling out those forms, the hope I have is that it’s a spiritual exercise for each and every person who fills one out. What I mean when I say that is that I hope those forms are not thought of negatively, as in “Oh, here comes the church again, asking for money!” Rather I hope that just in the process of thinking about how we allocate our resources, we more deeply appreciate what it is that we in the church is trying to do. And only from there can we and do we respond accordingly.  

    To put it in the blunt terms of the parable, if you are a member of the church, and you give what you can and participate BUT you aren't interested in deepening your relationship with God and with others, then the church doesn’t need your money. If we come to church just so that we can compare ourselves to others, then all our giving and fasting and praying doesn’t amount to a hill of beans because there hasn’t been a real impact on our lives. And if you want to look at it in terms of bang for your buck, if you’re giving to the church but you’re no different than you were when you first started coming, then I’d say that you might be putting your money somewhere better. Maybe donate to the Jerry Springer show. 

      The point of all this faith business is holiness. And the word “holiness” comes from the word and the idea for “wholeness” - look it up! So what we’re striving for here at St. Anne’s, unless I’m mistaken, is holiness and wholeness; a sense of the connectedness of all things. Of our lives with God, of our lives with each other, of our lives with the lives of complete strangers who may look nothing like us and whose experiences differ radically from ours. We’re striving for that, I hope, because we believe that holiness and wholeness are things worth striving for. 

    So as you sit down and think about filling out those time-talent-and treasure pledge cards, I invite you to remember that the goal of all this stewardship business is holiness. Not a budget, not expansion of programs, not fancier worship - maybe better preaching! But no. Those are not the goal even if such things spring from our attention to stewardship. The whole purpose of our lives together is holiness. And if we can remember that one simple truth, then there really is no limit to what we can achieve together. 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Year C
    October 16, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 
     

    2 Timothy 3: 14 - 4: 5 Luke 18: 1-8

    We will share stories about the storm over the next few weeks and months. And in those stories, I hope we will find grace. I hope we will share with each other some stories about  small acts of kindness that will remind us that when the cards are down, the good will of strangers is something we can count on. And that our human connectedness is much stronger than petty self-interests. 

     I’ll share a small example about what I mean here - right after the storm, I noticed some neighbors going to inspect a house where a tree had fallen on the roof. The owner of the house had evacuated, so there was no one home, but the neighbors wanted to make sure nothing else was wrong. The tree which had fallen had been uprooted, and there was a large hole in the ground where the roots had been. The neighbors began looking at the hole, and then I noticed that there was a flurry of activity which ended up with a group of people standing at the edge of the yard digging into the ground. They were turning off the main water line because when the tree had fallen, it had broken the main line to the house, and water was gushing into the yard. In the days to come, I hope that you all will share such stories with one another, if for no other reason than to remind us that there is still good in the world.

    But to slightly change gears and turn our attention to the readings for today, the gospel lesson kind of reminded me about something Davis and I experienced right before the storm. A number of friends and family - all very well meaning - asked us about our evacuation plans and told us that we would be wise to head inland. I don’t mean to say we were pestered into evacuating because no one was terribly insistent, but the several calls for us to get out ended up helping us make the decision to leave. And, ultimately, I am glad we chose to leave because it meant, in part, that we heeded the advice of those who cared for us. And it reminded me of the parable because it didn’t take much asking for us to leave. So how much less asking does it take for God to hear our prayers! 

    Jesus’ parable is about the necessity of perseverance in prayer, but it’s an odd parable. Usually, Jesus’ parables were told to make a point about how God is. But this is one of those odd parables that is meant to convey the exact opposite of how God is. God is not like the unjust judge. God is not indifferent. God does not need to be pestered into responding, and our prayer to God, at least ideally, is not really about us changing God’s mind. When we pray, God does not begrudge us in our prayer; in our asking. God’s position is that we need only ask. Repeatedly if we must, but God isn’t even bothered if we “pester.” I’m convinced that even if we pray, ‘God give me patience…right now!” but we say it every day, eventually, we will become more patient! God is gentle with us, even if are impatient. Which brings up an observation about this time of year. 

    It’s time to be a bit more gentle with one another. Particularly following the storm, when people are on edge. Storms are stressful. Because we are thrown into a situation not of our own making where we have no control at all over whether a tree might crush where we live or rising water may wash away our belongings. And in the aftermath of a major storm, we find that comfortable routines have been upset and we have to find a way to return to a new “normal.” And that is stressful. That can cause us to lose patience. So we need to be gentle with one another. 

    But the need to be gentle with one another goes beyond the storm. 

    I’ve noticed over the years that, particularly at this time of year, many of us can be on edge. Universities are in the middle of mid-terms. Students are facing the first major test of their acquired knowledge. Professors and teachers are busy trying to grade tests and papers. So there’s a good deal of angst and busyness going on in the halls of learning. But it’s more than just life in academia. The season is shifting, daylight is diminishing, and it’s almost like there’s this palpable sense change in the air. And often our response to change is to become restless and impatient. I have seen countless instances of minor aggression and impatience just in the past few days. 

    Standing in line behind three people, and a man walked in, took an incredulous look at the line and said, in a much more colorful way than I report, “Is this the line?! Aw, forget it! I’d be crazy to wait that long - y’all have at it!”

    I don’t think that’s how we want to be. The point I take from this morning’s readings is that we need to be gentle with one another. The Letter to Timothy speaks about perseverance and patience. “Convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.” If we are convinced of the justice of our calling - if we are convinced that the good news of Jesus Christ is worth telling and retelling and putting into practice in our own lives, there’s never a time to let up. Or become complacent about it. Neither is there a time to become impatient with others or ourselves when we feel that we or others are not making the progress we think should be made. The Letter to Timothy speaks of taking the long view and not losing heart. And that’s a good reminder at this time of year when things are changing. Instead of being overcome with restlessness and impatience, we are reminded to take the long view and not to lose heart.    

    The best way to take the long view, particularly when we’re feeling restless, is to lean into those practices that are the backbone of our lives of faith. Meet with one another in a spirit of charity. Show kindness to everyone whenever we are able, no matter the situation. Be more intentional about listening to each other and really hearing what the other is saying. And, of course, to pray. 

    There’s a great prayer that a lot of us are familiar with that I think is a good prayer for those times - maybe especially right now - when we’re feeling stressed out or overburdened with the cares of the world and are more tempted to lash out or express our frustrations in unhealthy ways. It’s a simple prayer - and really short, so it’s easy to remember!

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

    Courage to change the things I can,

    And wisdom to know the difference.

    Serenity, courage, and wisdom. Those might seem tall orders to ask from God, but if those are things that you’d like to have more of, then just ask for them. Every day if you have to. Because I am convinced that God hears our prayers and does grant what we ask. 

    Again, it’s great to be back together with you all. I am filled with joy to see each and every one of your faces. One of my prayers following the storm was that we would all soon be back together in this place to sing a song of thanksgiving, and here we are. And for that, I say, thanks be to God!  

    ___

     

    Sermon for Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, Year C
    Oct. 2, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)
     

    Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4          2 Timothy 1: 1-14                 Luke 17: 5-10 

     

    This is one of those Sundays when I wish the Gospel reading were a little bit longer. Much of what we read in scripture depends on the context in which it was spoken. What comes before and what comes after can deepen our understanding of what is being said. And this morning’s Gospel lesson is one of those cases where knowing what comes immediately before gives us a better understanding of the entirety of what Jesus is talking about. 

    Taken on its own; taken out of context; taken just as a sliver of teaching, what Jesus says about having faith the size of a mustard seed might leave us feeling like we’ll never measure up or that having faith is really about preforming mighty and wonderful acts. But that is not the point of what Jesus is saying AT ALL. If we go back just a few verses, Jesus is talking about the necessity of forgiveness. He says to his apostles, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” When Jesus says, “You must forgive” - its unambiguous - he’s saying that forgiveness a duty. And the apostles’ response to this teaching about forgiveness is [the opening line of the Gospel lesson for today] “Increase our faith!” 

      The apostles say, “Increase our faith” because they recognize the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching about the necessity of forgiveness. They recognize that forgiveness takes faith - faith that we are not the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong; faith that the person we forgive is worthy of our ongoing care and concern. Where they miscalculate is in thinking that they need a tremendous amount of faith in order to fulfill their duty to forgive. That’s why they say, “Increase our faith!” 

    For most of us, the business of forgiveness is hard. For most of us, it may seem like forgiveness - and especially the kind of forgiveness that Jesus is talking about - is a monumental task that is outside the scope of normal human interaction and that we often don’t have the faith to make it work. But Jesus makes the point that having even the tiniest amount of faith empowers us to do things that defy normal human experience. What Jesus says about the mulberry tree is hyperbole. It’s an exaggeration designed to drive home Jesus’ point about the role faith plays in our ability to forgive. And I think that essentially what he’s getting at is that we don’t need to have a tremendous amount of faith to be able to forgive. Sometimes merely wanting to want to want to have the faith to forgive is enough to be getting on with. According to Jesus’ response, even a small amount of faith can allow us to move mountains. How much less, then, do we need to forgive our neighbor - which is our duty?

      And this consideration brings us to the parable about the servant doing only what is required. If we heard that part of the Gospel lesson and all we took away from it was the idea that we are worthless servants, then I think we’ve missed the point. The parable isn't about God being a harsh taskmaster who rules over a bunch of worthless lackeys. The parable is about our own attitude towards God and how we view our relationship with God. And our relationship with God is not transactional. That is to say, my relationship with God is not a simple matter of being rewarded for doing good and punished for doing bad. If such were the case, then most of us would be left feeling pretty rotten because we know that we’ve done some pretty rotten things. At least, I know I’ve done some pretty rotten things. 

      But the reverse is true as well. Even if we’re always going about doing good works, that doesn't mean that we’re earning God’s favor. If that were the case, the door would be left wide open for smug self-righteousness. But neither is the case. God’s love for us does not depend on what we’ve done or on what we’ve left undone. God’s love imposes no conditions. It’s a free gift. And when we recognize that it is a free gift, then the only posture is awed acceptance; acceptance that God’s love can not be any more or any less than the overwhelming reality of what it is.  

    And I think that’s where most of us get caught up. I think that for most of us, when we are struck with the realization of how absolute God’s love for us is, the visceral reaction is to say “I didn't earn this. I don’t deserve this. I’m not worthy.” Think about the first line to the hymn Amazing Grace. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” There’s a sense of unworthiness in the face of God’s love. And I think a posture of “I’m unworthy” is entirely appropriate as long as we don’t get stuck dwelling on our own unworthiness but instead focus on the love of God - that Amazing Grace - which says to us “You are worthy.” 

      And here’s where the forgiveness piece comes back into play - for those of you who were wondering if I’d get back to it, here you go! If we are able to appreciate God’s love for us, even though we are aware of our own unworthiness, then the burden of that awareness is the duty to hold that space open for everyone; to believe that everyone is loved by God with the same love that has so transformed our lives. We can’t say we are a special case or that we are the exception to the rule. We cannot say, “So and so is outside the scope of God’s love.” The burden of being loved by God is the realization that God loves. So we must forgive. Seven times a day if necessary. 

    I think about the reaction of the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2006 when ten girls were killed in a mass shooting. Or the reaction of the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston when Dylan Roof killed nine worshipers. How did those communities respond? They responded with forgiveness and grace. And while that may have come as a surprise to many, it did not strike me as unbelievable. It struck me as Christian. That’s not to negate the real struggle those communities went through to get to a point where they could say they forgive. Nor is it to negate the need for confronting sin and naming it for what it is. But I’m pretty sure that if pressed, those communities would still say that they don’t deserve special recognition for their response. Nor would they say they did anything above and beyond. I think they would say that they just responded in the way that their understanding of the gospel required them to respond.   

    Those are extreme examples, but the point applies to any situation in which we might find ourselves faced with the question of whether or not to forgive. Our duty as Christians, whether it be a joy or a burden, is to believe that God’s forgiveness is extended to all. We may think that it takes more faith than we can muster to practice this kind of forgiveness, but if we’re willing to have faith that God loves us, if we’ve experienced that love and have felt its power wash over us, then it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to believe that God’s love can reach to others as well. Small though it may seem, that’s the kind of faith we need more of in this world. That’s the kind of good news we need more of in this world. And - thanks be to God - we here are given the duty to proclaim that message to the world! 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, Year C
    Sept. 25, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Amos 6: 1a, 4-7              1 Timothy 6: 6-19            Luke 16: 19-31 

     

    “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”

    It has been another rough week. Another week of tragedy and loss of life. Another week of violence and of growing mistrust.  Of course, I am speaking about Tulsa and Charlotte, but I am also speaking about Aleppo. And Burlington. And doubtless many other places and instances of sin wreaking havoc on an already sin-sick world. I do not intend to comment on who is in the right and who is in the wrong in any particular situation. Rather I want to get us to think about the chasm that seems to be growing in the world and which, if we are not careful, even we here might help to deepen. 

    The chasm I’m talking about is the chasm between “them” and “us.” In the parable we just heard from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes a conversation between Abraham, who is in heaven, and a rich man who is in Sheol or Hades. In response to the rich man’s pleading, Abraham says, “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” Now I know I might be reading too much into the text, but it does not say how that chasm came to be - or, to be more specific, who created the chasm - or breach - in the first place. But I think that the parable itself provides us with a clue.   

      The clue has to do with the rich man’s attitude towards Lazarus. He ignored him. To the rich man, Lazarus was not worthy of much consideration - if he knew Lazarus at all, he knew him as that filthy beggar who sits outside. Outside his gate - outside his scope of concern. And why on earth would he pay attention to a lazy poor man who doesn’t even have the common decency to keep dogs from licking his sores? Note also how the rich man’s attitude doesn’t change even when he finds himself in torment. He tells Abraham to send Lazarus on an errand. To the rich man, Lazarus is still just an inferior who should - for some reason - do him a favor. Quite apart from the whole heaven and hades imagery, there’s a chasm - a breach - between them. And I wonder…who fixed the chasm?      

      I do not think it a stretch to say that we here are pretty comfortable. For the most part, we don’t have to worry too much about where our next meal is coming from or if we’ll have safe drinking water or if we’ll be racially profiled - or worse - or if we’ll have a bomb dropped on our house. I say “for the most part” because there are those of us for whom such concerns are very real. But if we think that the concerns of others are just that - the concerns of others - then we are helping to create a chasm. If we think of African Americans only as “them”; if we think of police officers only as “them”; if we think of Syrian refugees only as “them” and  that we don't need to listen to “their” concerns, then we are doing nothing more than helping to widen the breach and deepen the chasm between some fictional “them” and an imagined “us.”   

      Yes, it is true: there is an awful lot of finger pointing going on from many different groups of late and an awful lot of what seems to be nothing more than talking across a chasm. And every time we point a finger or have a finger pointed at us, we may feel that the burden is too great; the breach is too wide; and that there is little chance that we can do anything to help bring about reconciliation between “them” and “us.” But I think we can. And I think we are called to.  

    I have a good friend, Ricardo, who used to walk to school every morning. And shortly after the political push to remove the confederate battle flag from the SC statehouse began, he told me that he started noticing that a pickup truck with a confederate battle flag flying out of the back would drive down the same road he walked on to get to school. For about a week, every morning when he walked, the truck would pass by with the flag flying out the back. And it would honk when it passed him by. Being a black man in a predominantly white neighborhood, he did his best to ignore it. And he was content to write off the driver of the truck as a bigot whom he should avoid. Then one day, he stopped, smiled, and waved at the truck. And for the next week or so, every time he saw the truck, he would stop, smile, and wave. Then one day, Ricardo was standing in line at a restaurant, and the truck driver - a white man named Randy - came in and got in line behind him. Ricardo tells me that Randy appeared somewhat embarrassed, but Ricardo struck up a conversation with him. And they wound up having lunch together and talking about the symbolism of the confederate battle flag and what it meant to Ricardo as an African American. To be fair, no minds were radically changed because of that chance meeting, but Ricardo told me that the next time Randy’s truck passed him by, there was no flag flying out of the back. A small victory, perhaps, and maybe not the happiest of all outcomes, but it still shows the results of what can happen if we can get away from the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them.”    

       Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the rich man presents us with a blunt story about the cost of indifference towards others, and it leaves us with the disturbing image of an uncrossable chasm. For all intents and purposes, I think it fair to say that the parable is a warning for us. But there is another way of presenting the underlying message of the parable that evokes hope and promise, and it is hope and promise that I want to leave you with today. The words are those of the prophet Isaiah, and the words are as true today as when they were first written:           

    If you remove the yoke from among you,

       the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 

    if you offer your food to the hungry

       and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

    then your light shall rise in the darkness

       and your gloom be like the noonday. 

    The Lord will guide you continually,

       and satisfy your needs in parched places,

       and make your bones strong;

    and you shall be like a watered garden,

       like a spring of water,

       whose waters never fail. 

    Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

       you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

    you shall be called the repairer of the breach.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year C
    September 18, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 
     

    Amos 8: 4-7 1 Timothy 2: 1-7 Luke 16: 1-13 

    This past Friday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at Coastal Carolina University. The speaker was Dr. Cornel West. For those who don’t know who Cornel West is, he is a philosopher, academic, social activist, and author whose main focus is the role of race, gender, and class in American society. He came to CCU on the occasion of the founding of the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies, and he gave one of the best academic lectures I’ve ever heard. Being the son of a Baptist pastor, Dr. West’s lecture had something of the feel of a rollicking Baptist sermon, and much of what he had to say was steeped in the traditional language of Christian spirituality. At one point during his talk, he made an observation that I think gets to the very heart of the Gospel lesson we just heard.  

    I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that any pursuit of truth that does not acknowledge suffering is not the pursuit of truth. 

      Now, I know that may seem a far cry from the parable about dishonest managers acting shrewdly, but the theme of the parable has very much to do with suffering and hardship and how people react when faced with the harsh reality of physical need. The details of the parable are pretty straightforward. There’s a manager who has been accused of shady dealing, and he’s going to lose his job. He has no hope of getting another job, so he’s staring at the prospect of complete poverty. His reaction is to double down on shady dealing and cheat his boss out of what is owed. And his rationale is that it’s the only way he’ll be able to survive once he’s been fired.  

    The people with whom he then deals owe a mind-boggling amount of produce to his boss: the functional equivalent of 900 gallons of olive oil and about 39,000 pounds of wheat. By the standards of 1st century agriculture, that would have been next to impossible for any one farmer to produce. So we’re probably meant to understand that the dishonest manager was helping out people who were in debt so deep that they could never hope to repay it. What we’re getting then, is a show of solidarity on the part of the dishonest manager with those who are living in a state of perpetual servitude with no hope of upward economic mobility.   

    The editorial comment we get at the end of the parable is that we should make friends for ourselves by means of mammon (or dishonest wealth) so that when it is gone, they may welcome us into the eternal homes.” And it begs the question: Who should we make friends with by means of dishonest wealth? If we go with the theme that runs throughout Luke’s Gospel, then the answer is clear: the poor, the disenfranchised, the suffering; those living under such harsh circumstances that they cannot even imagine the kinds of worldly comforts that you and I enjoy because of our possession of mammon. Those are the kind of friends we ought to be making with our mammon because, to borrow a familiar phrase, it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. 

      I hope that it’s fair to say that all of us here want to know God. I hope that it’s fair to say that in some small way, our desire for truth is what makes us gather together Sunday by Sunday. And if that’s fair to say, then I also hope that our pursuit of truth - our pursuit of the knowledge of God - is framed by the acknowledgment both that there is real suffering in the world, and that we can use our means to do something about it. And I’m not just talking about cutting a check to a local charity. That is one way of helping. But I’m talking about simple things like visiting with someone who is lonely. Praying every day for those in need. Taking the time to write a card or letter to someone who is sick. Sitting down and having a conversation with someone whose story of disenfranchisement or suffering might make us uncomfortable. 

      That’s the kind of behavior displayed by those who are serious about their pursuit of truth because any pursuit of truth that does not acknowledge suffering is not the pursuit of truth.   

      There’s also a valuable lesson about God we can learn by acknowledging suffering in our pursuit of truth. The lesson has to do with what our own reaction is when faced with our own suffering or the suffering of our loved ones. Much like the dishonest manager of the parable, when it comes down to brass tacks, we’ll do anything to ensure the best possible outcome.  

      The hospital has a waiting list for that surgery? Who do I know who can bump me up that list? My cousin is getting evicted? What strings can I pull to make sure that doesn’t happen? My friend might lose his job because he was late for work? Can’t we make an exception for him this one time?

    That’s what we do in the face of suffering: anything. Anything within our power that might work. And we can be quite clever with it. We can at times even be dishonest about it. We wheel and we deal, and we use our influence to call in favors, and we go out of our way to do what we can because the need is real and exceptions should be made - and to heck with the rules!  

      And that is how God’s grace works.  Grace breaks the rules. Grace steps into seemingly hopeless situations and makes an exception. Grace says, “You owe 100 jugs of oil? To heck with the rules. Make it 50.” Grace says, “You’ve lost control of your life and alienated everyone close to you?  To heck with the rules. You’re still worthy of love.” Grace…says… “You think there’s an unbridgeable gap between humans and God? To heck with the rules. Mary just gave birth to Jesus!”

    Odd, isn't it, how suffering and grace seem to go hand in hand… 

    But that’s the kind of God we believe in. That’s the kind of God that our pursuit of truth will lead us to. And, using all the means at our disposal, that’s the kind of God we should strive to imitate. 

    ___

     

    Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, Year C September 11, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Exodus 32: 7-14       1 Timothy 1: 12-17        Luke 15: 1-10

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve had occasion to speak to you all about the cost of discipleship and the weight of what it means to follow Jesus. And this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke provides us with a powerful image of what our lives might look like if we strive to imitate our Lord. If you take a look at the front of this morning’s bulletin, you’ll notice that there’s an image of Jesus with a sheep draped across his shoulders. I’d like you to keep that image in front of you as I speak. My hope is that the connection between that image and the story I’m about to share will resonate with everyone and remind us all that sainthood is not just a worn-out concept from a bygone age but rather it is something that women and men of our own time are capable of practicing.

    I’d like to tell you the story of Welles Remy Crowther, also known as “the man in the red bandana.” Those of you who follow the news will know that President Obama recently paid tribute to Crowther at the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. So if you are familiar with Crowther’s story then you’ll know that he lost his life, fifteen years ago today.

    Crowther was born in 1977 in Nyack, NY. He had a close relationship with his father, who was a volunteer firefighter. One morning as his father was getting dressed for church, Crowther noticed that his father wrapped a comb in a red bandana and put it in his pocket, and the image stuck with him. When Crowther was 6, his father gave him his own red bandana, and from that day forward, Crowther always carried a red bandana with him. It became for Crowther a symbol of the bond between father and son. He kept one with him no matter where he was or what he was doing. He wore it under his sports uniforms during high school, and he had one with him when he became a junior member of the Empire Hook and Ladder Company at the age of 16. When he graduated from college, he took a job as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, but his friends and family say that his true aspiration was to be a public servant; perhaps a firefighter like his father.

    At 9:03 on the morning of September 11, 2001, Crowther was in his office in the South Tower - the second tower to be hit. He made his way down the only operable stairwell and came out on the 78th floor, where he found a group of survivors, most of whom were badly injured. Crowther proceeded to lead a group of survivors to the stairwell, carrying one badly injured woman on his back, draping her arms over his shoulders. He led the group down 15 flights of stairs until the air cleared. Then he put down the woman he was carrying and directed the group to keep going down, saying only, “I’m going back.” Tying his red bandana across his face to protect him from the smoke, he made his way back to the 78th floor, where he found another group of survivors. He shepherded that group down the stairs as well, but when they reached the ground level, Crowther did not follow them out to safety. Instead, he went back into the building, still carrying his red bandana.

    According to eyewitnesses, Crowther was last seen going back up the stairs with a group of firefighters. His body was found on March 19th, 2002, alongside several emergency workers and firefighters. One of the survivors whom Crowther helped that day is a woman named Judy Wein, and this is what she had to say about Crowther’s actions that morning: “If he hadn’t come back, I wouldn’t have made it. People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal to do what he did.” “People can live 100 years and not have the compassion...to do what he did.”

    I share that story with you not because I just want to revisit the tragedy of Sept. 11th, 2001 but because I think it is a striking real demonstration of both the power and the cost of love. It was love that made Crowther’s father give him a red bandana. It was love that made Crowther carry that red bandana with him wherever he went. It was love that made him put a red bandana in his pocket that fateful morning. So in some small way, it was love that equipped him to keep going back to help others. I do not think it a stretch to say that Crowther’s actions that morning were Christ-like. We know that our Lord said, “Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” When Jesus said that, he wasn’t just talking about himself. He was talking about those who would follow him and also do what he did. And for the survivors who only made it out because of Crowther’s sacrificial actions, it is not a stretch to say the he saved them.

    Now, I hope that none of us here will ever find ourselves in a similar situation. I hope that none of us will ever be asked to pay the ultimate price in service to others. But I also hope that what we do as a church is equipping us all with the kind of love that gives us the power to do the extraordinary. And we need not think that doing the extraordinary only means performing hugely heroic acts. Jesus tells us that even giving a cup of cool water to a child is a perfect example of extraordinary love in action. And we are all capable of that kind of love. At least, I hope that’s what all of us here are striving towards.

    If you’ll take a look again at the image on the front of the bulletin, I’d like to draw your attention to a detail that you might not have noticed at first. If you look at Christ’s hands, you’ll see that the wounds are there. Christ is not depicted as unblemished in carrying the sheep on his shoulders. But rather the wounds of the cross are visible as he carries the lost sheep. It’s hard to imagine trying to carry someone with wounds like that, but I don’t think the iconographer made a mistake in depicting Jesus as a wounded shepherd. The wounds just further illustrate the kind of love that our God has for us. The wounds just further illustrate the kind of love that we, too, can have for each other. If we strive to be true imitators of Jesus, then we, too, will have the kind of love that gives us the power to bear another’s burdens; even though we are wounded.

    For many, the wounds of Sept. 11th are still very real - both physically and mentally. There are probably some here who lost a friend or a family member that morning. Those wounds can never be erased. But through the power of God’s love, those wounds need not be marks of weakness or disgrace. If we strive to love as Jesus loved, then even the scars that we bear will tell a story over which the angels in heaven will rejoice.

    I don’t know if Welles Crowther was injured when the plane hit the south tower or if he hurt himself at any point when he was helping others to safety. But I imagine that for him, as well as for the countless other emergency workers who went into the towers that morning, at some point they all felt the wounds of love - the thought, the knowledge, that they would not make it out alive. But in spite of it, they kept going. They kept shepherding. And that’s the kind of love for which we should strive, and over which, we should rejoice.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year C September 4, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina) 

    Deuternonomy 30: 15-20        Philemon 1-21          Luke 14: 25-33

     

    If you got a sense of deja vu when you heard the Gospel lesson this morning, you are not alone. Just a few weeks ago, we heard a reading from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus talked about bringing division and setting family members against one another. And here we are this week with Jesus talking about “hating” one’s family members. So I won’t blame you if you have the sense that we’ve heard this lesson already. In fact, when I first took a look at the readings for this Sunday, I had to double check that I was on the right Sunday. It sort of reminds me that every once in a while, the assigned readings for a given week can present challenges just because of how they relate to previous readings.

    But it isn’t just the compilers of the Sunday lessons who seem to be throwing us a curve ball. It’s Luke’s Gospel itself. The way Luke has it, Jesus talks about bringing division at the end chapter 12. It’s only a chapter and a half later that we get the reading that we heard this morning about “hating” members of one’s own family. So even in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ seeming negativity towards family ties comes like a one-two punch.

    The first thing I’d like to note is that one way to translate the word “hate” is to use the phrase “turn away from.” At least that’s one possibility for the English translation of a Greek word conveying the Semitic concept that we’re told Jesus used. I know that’s boring linguistic stuff, but sometimes language translation can make a big difference in how we understand what we read. And the word “hate” has such a violent connotation in today’s world that I think we might be tempted to think that Jesus was talking about having a violent hatred for one’s own family members when really the idea is that we should value our relationship with God over even our family ties and be willing to “turn away from” even our family if serving the gospel calls for it.

    If I haven’t lost you with that little footnote on translation, the key to understanding why we seem to be getting the same message twice has to do with who Jesus is talking to in Luke’s Gospel. In chapter 12, Jesus is talking privately with his disciples, but in the reading we have this morning, Jesus is addressing the large crowd that is following him. So we’ve gone from sort of a private lesson to a more public pronouncement. Luke makes the point time and again that Jesus attracted large crowds, so we are meant to understand that Jesus was a figure whose ministry began with a small group of disciples but then quickly developed into a popular movement. And popular movements tend to develop their own momentum that may have little to do with their original purpose.

    Let’s just say for the sake of argument that there’s a church that begins to do a decent job of understanding what it means to follow Jesus. And for whatever reason, that church begins to grow. And it grows to the point where it’s attracting large crowds of really energetic people on any given Sunday. And then the leaders of that church begin to worry about maintaining their church’s popularity. So compromises are made around the church’s mission and message, and in time, folks start saying, “We’re doing great! Folks are excited about how well we’re doing! But we can’t talk about there being a real cost to following Jesus anymore! People would leave in droves!”

    Jesus’ message to the crowds this morning is the same message I think he’d give to this hypothetical church. It’s the message he gives to each of us privately, but we’re meant to understand that it extends to the church as a whole: “There is a cost to discipleship, and it’s steep. It’s good to be energetic and excited, but have a good think about what it means to be a disciple. Count the cost, and remember that if you want to be a disciple, you’re expected to be in it for the long haul.”

    If you’re still thinking that we’ve heard this message before, you’re right. We have. Luke is just driving the point home by extending the message to the general public. But on this telling, Jesus uses one of my favorite parables. It’s the one about calculating the cost of a building before laying the foundation. I like it so much because there are a couple of famous actual example of this parable playing out in real life. There’s a monument in Edinburgh dedicated to the Sottish sailors and soldiers who died during the Napoleonic wars. It’s modeled on the Parthenon, but when it was begun in 1826, it wasn’t properly funded, so work on it stopped, and it has been left unfinished ever since. Nowadays it is viewed as a sort of permanent tongue-in-cheek testimony to bad planning,

    But there is another unfinished building that puts a more positive spin on calculating cost. It’s the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Huge amounts of money were raised for its construction - JP Morgan was one of its principal financiers, and FDR helped lead an early capital campaign - but it currently sits unfinished and is likely to remain unfinished for a long, long time. It’s not that funding ever dried up. It’s that the leaders of the church decided that their resources would be better spent in the surrounding community of Harlem. So they made the decision to focus the majority of their resources on helping the poor rather than finishing the building. For architecture lovers like me who want to see the finished structure, St. John the Divine is a frustrating example of a work in progress, but it’s a perfect example of calculating the cost of discipleship and making the right decision.

    And that’s the crux of the matter for us this morning. At some point in our lives, as individuals and as a church, we are all called to make a decision about what it will mean for us to follow Jesus. At some point, we all have to calculate the cost of what it means for us to be disciples. And ultimately, it means giving up our possessions. I know the line “none of you can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” makes most of us squirm around and think that the church is only after our money.

    But that’s an unfortunate attitude that arose mainly because of the successful institutionalization of the church. The real impact of that saying should probably make us even more uncomfortable. Because Jesus isn’t talking just about liquid assets. He’s talking about a willingness to “turn away from” anything and everything that hinders us from being servants of the gospel. Whether it be money, or property, or friends, or family, or even our own lives. If we think about it, one of those things is ours to possess anyway. But still, we are called to make a decision about what we will do with those “possessions” in relation to the Kingdom of God. If our decision is to “turn away from” what we possess in order to be more faithful disciples of Jesus, then we have the sure and certain promise that nothing we have given up will ever be fully lost.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, Year C
    August 28th, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Sirach 10: 12-18        Hebrews 13: 1-8; 15-16        Luke 14: 1, 7-14

    If you came here this morning expecting to hear something fresh and original from the scripture lessons or from the pulpit, I’m afraid you might be somewhat disappointed. The lessons we have for this morning speak with a pretty clear theme about pride and hospitality, and the point is one I’m sure folks have heard before. Pride and selfishness are bad. Pride and selfishness get us into trouble. It’s far better to be generous and hospitable.

    But before you tune out, I’d like to make the observation that sometimes it’s ok not to be original. In what we heard from the Gospel, Jesus himself is not being original - either in what he says or how he says it. He's recapping divine commands that had been around for a long time before ever he came preaching and teaching. His observations and advice about how to behave at a dinner party are nothing new. It’s in the wisdom tradition, it’s in the psalms, it’s in the prophets, and it’s in the Law. “Don’t be haughty, be kind to strangers, practice hospitality.” Jesus isn’t presenting radical advice to either the guests or the host of the dinner - his audience was well versed in the traditions of Israel, so they would have known that Jesus was appealing to the authority of that tradition when he spoke.

    And if you noticed, his speech concludes with a pithy saying: “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” That kind of saying is what’s known as a proverb, and it’s straight out of the wisdom tradition in Judaism. In fact, the advice of taking the lowest place at a banquet was lifted out of the book of Proverbs - almost word for word (25: 6-7 - check it out!). So Jesus is really not being original. He’s speaking in the familiar form of a proverb to lend traditional scriptural weight to the point he wants to make.

    We do this all the time. A less weighty example is if you want to get a group of Episcopalians to quiet down and pay attention. You can clap or whistle or ring a bell, but if you want to get a group of Episcopalians to quiet down and pay attention, all you have to do is say, “The Lord be with you,” and almost immediately, you’ll get the response, “And also with you,” and everyone will be paying attention. What’s going on there is that the call to attention has a familiar liturgical weight behind it. And that’s what makes it so effective...even though it’s unoriginal.

    Jesus was doing kind of the same thing by speaking in the way he did. The reason I think he was being so “unoriginal” is that he was speaking to an unoriginal problem. Pride and selfishness are nothing new. Self- promotion and status seeking are nothing new. Quid-pro- quo social relationships are nothing new. So Jesus was addressing an unoriginal problem by using the full weight of the tradition that speaks out so strongly against pride and selfishness.

    But lest we think that Jesus being unoriginal is a bad thing, let’s stop and take a closer look at what’s at stake. If our prime motivation is pride and selfishness, then anything that challenges our attitude of “me first!” is treated as a threat that needs to be neutralized. Normally, when our pride is challenged, we respond by dismissing others. The thought process goes something like this: “I know that I’m the best driver who ever graced the road, so whenever someone cuts me off in traffic, I know that guy is just a colossal jerk who should have his license revoked.” And the other driver is dismissed out of hand. I’m guessing we’ve all had similar thoughts - the issue, as I’ve said, is unoriginal - but from dismissing others, it’s only a small step to violent anger.

    And I’m not just talking about road rage. I’m talking about any situation in which we dismiss others out of pride and selfishness. Because if you’re willing to dismiss others, then you’re willing to ignore their humanity. And if those others should speak up about how they don’t want to be dismissed or have their humanity ignored...well...that’s when tear gas and rubber bullets tend to enter the equation.

    If you don’t like the way that selfish pride can play out over time, then the solution is to practice the kind of deference and hospitality Jesus is talking about; unoriginal though it is. For one, it’s a lot harder to dismiss someone when you’ve had them over for dinner. But it’s also harder - almost impossible, I’d say - to dismiss someone when their presence causes you to change.

    Jesus uses four examples of whom to invite to dinner - the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. In each case, if you invite them to a dinner party, you’re going to have to make accommodations for them. You’re going to have to think about how you can make them feel welcome and comfortable in your home. And if you’re genuine in your concern to make them feel welcome, then you are going to be changed. It’s more than just not being able to dismiss them out of hand - it’s that your whole perspective is going to shift and you’re going to view them as having immeasurable worth. This is the unoriginal idea behind divine hospitality: it’s the idea that if we genuinely welcome an other, we ourselves will be changed by it.

    The caveat, of course, is that our hospitality has to be genuine. It’s not simply a matter of saying, “We welcome everyone” and then expecting the pieces to fall into place. “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is a great slogan. But, to pick up on a theme, it’s unoriginal. You see it everywhere. “All are welcome.” I can’t think of a single church where there isn’t at least a pretended effort to welcome “everyone.” But in most churches, that “welcome” is immediately qualified. “You’re welcome here...as long as you look like us. You’re welcome here...as long as your bank statement looks like ours. You're welcome here...as long as you don’t try to get us to change anything. We’ll welcome you so that God can change your life, but God forbid your presence here should get us to change anything about ourselves.” Friends, this attitude is more prevalent in churches than I think we care to realize. Perhaps especially in churches. And it’s perhaps the greatest barrier that exists between us and the kingdom of God.

    The antidote - the unoriginal antidote - to the problem of pride, selfishness, and half-hearted hospitality is to offer genuine welcome to those who at first glance can do nothing for us in return. If we do make room for such others, then our lives will change. And we have our Lord’s promise that we will one day find that the reward for our hospitality is the transformation of our lives into something more beautiful than we can begin to comprehend.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, Year C
    August 14, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Jeremiah 23: 23-29        Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2        Luke 12: 49-56

    There are no two ways about it. The gospel reading we just heard is one of those “hard sayings” of Jesus. It’s one of those gospel lessons where we might find ourselves thinking, “Where’s the good news in that?! All this talk from Jesus about NOT bringing peace but fire and division and strife between family members...where’s the Jesus who talks about an easy yoke and a light burden? Where’s the Jesus who says ‘Peace be with you.’ Where’s THAT Jesus?”

    Yes, this is not an easy gospel lesson. It has prompted some people to think that taking up the sword in the name of Jesus is not just acceptable but expected. It has prompted some to think that the Christian life should always be characterized by strife and contention and that we ought always to be looking for things to stand against. I remember once coming across someone who was handing out little pamphlets, and the title of one of the pamphlets was, “Have you made an enemy for Jesus lately?” And the point was that Christians should actively be trying to make enemies. The proof text in the pamphlet was the very lesson we just heard. So we’re left with the question of what to do with it.

    If this lesson is an authentic saying of Jesus - and I believe it is - then we have to make some sense of what it might mean for us. And there are a number of ways of going about explaining what this text means. One way is to say that when the gospel was written, being a Christian was much less acceptable in polite society, so Luke included the saying because it would help the earliest Christians make sense of the persecution that they faced. But now that Christianity is so “normal,” we don’t need to worry too much about our faith causing a huge stir. That’s one way explaining the text and getting around the idea that being a follower of Jesus will put us at odds with other people.

    Another approach is to say that Jesus was only talking about his own immediate circumstances and that the division he was referring to was only applicable until he had accomplished what he set out to accomplish. So as soon as he had been crucified and been raised from the dead, he had done what he set out to do. The argument there is that, after the resurrection, Jesus’ constant greeting to his followers was “Peace be with you.” So much for fire and division and strife - the message of the resurrected Christ is PEACE. And I like that - I like the idea that God’s response to human violence is not to retaliate but to transform the violence of the cross into a message of peace and reconciliation.

    But that’s only half of the story, and if it’s the only half of the story that we care about, then we do run the danger of cheapening God’s grace. If we try to ignore the fact that living out the gospel message can and sometimes does put us at odds with others, then we’re only getting half the story, and we’re overlooking the obvious truth that there is a cost to discipleship.

    I have a number of friends and family members who are or have been in the military. And we sometimes talk about the perception of military service versus the reality of it. And I remember having a conversation with a Marine friend of mine, who happens to be a recruitment officer, when we passed by a billboard advertising the Marines. I’m sure you’ve all seen billboard ads for the Marines - the picture that shows a marine, looking cut and sharp in full dress uniform. Well my friend and I passed one of these billboards, and he just started to laugh to himself, and I asked him what was funny, and he said, “Those ads only show about half a percent of the reality. What would be better would be to show a marine after a few weeks on Paris Island covered in sand and sweat. That’s closer to what they’re getting into.” I asked him if he thought it was false advertising, and he said, “No. When we recruit folks, we make it clear up front that it’s tough. Yeah, you get a nice uniform, but the uniform costs more than the material.” His point was that there is a cost. Military discipline - military disciple- ship - comes at a cost.

    And I really think that the gospel lesson for today is as simple as that. Jesus is making the point that there is a cost to being a follower. He’s up front about it. No false advertising from Jesus! Yes, the hope is that following Jesus won’t divide families, but the reality is that it sometimes does. Sometimes mom and dad are not going to be happy when their son or daughter says they want to spend a year working as a missionary in Sudan. Sometimes a sister or brother thinks its madness to pluck up one’s whole family and go off to seminary - I’ve seen that one play out. That’s the cost of discipleship.

    It’s not that we’re called to find ways to be contrary because we follow Jesus. No. It’s simply that when we follow Jesus, we’re going to run into conflict. Yes, the gospel of Jesus is about peace, and our job as followers of Jesus is to preach peace. Absolutely. But the reality is that if you want to stand for peace, you’re going to run into folks who WON’T. If you want to care about the poor, you’re going to run into folks who WON’T. If you want to stand up for the dignity of every human being, you’re going to run into folks who WON’T. That’s the cost of following Jesus. Sometimes we are going to find ourselves at odds with others because of what we believe our master wants us to do. And that’s ok. If there weren't a cost, then following Jesus wouldn’t mean much. If there weren’t Paris Island, then the dress parade wouldn’t mean much.

    The good news from this morning’s gospel lesson is that Christian discipline - Christian discipleship - does cost something. And the cost has meaning; meaning that’s broader than any conflict we might find ourselves in. Even if we find ourselves at odds with those closest to us, our hope is that all will be reconciled in the Kingdom of Heaven. And the whole of our discipline as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, is to work toward that reconciliation. Strife may come because folks think we put too much stock in Jesus, or we are too indiscriminate about who we allow in church, or we have too high an expectation for our fellow believers, or what have you. Strife may come. But that’s ok. Because we know that at the end, it’s not the conflicts that will matter; but the peace that we spend our lives working towards.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Transfiguration, Year C
    August 7, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    I’d like to have a little fun with y’all this morning. I want you to imagine that the entirety of Luke’s Gospel is being presented like a news broadcast. It begins with a story about angels visiting a young woman named Mary, a trip to Bethlehem, and a miraculous birth. The story then proceeds to describe Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan and how Jesus went on to preach and teach throughout the region of Galilee. There are reports of healings, Jesus eating with sinners, and a special segment about the poor and the meek being blessed. And then... “We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special report: Jesus has gone up a mountain and started glowing. Eyewitness accounts are coming through, and what we’re hearing is that Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Jesus, and Jesus was... the word the witnesses are using is “Transfigured.” We will continue to follow this story and let you know what it means, so please stay tuned.”

    This episode from the gospel story, in Luke’s account, comes almost out of the blue. Jesus has been preaching and teaching and operating, really, as you might expect any 1st century itinerant preacher to operate, but then there’s this blip. There’s this story about Jesus going up a mountain and there being this dazzling supernatural vision. And it kind of interrupts the flow of the narrative. Gospel scholars have identified the story of the Transfiguration as a kind of departure point in Luke’s Gospel because, as soon as it is over, Jesus begins his journey towards Jerusalem...and the cross...and death. So, in essence, the Transfiguration marks the point at which Luke begins to explain that Jesus’ identity as the Son of God means that he will be betrayed, suffer, and die. So in spite of the majestic change of appearance, the reality is that this glorious vision of Jesus is meant to prepare the reader - us - for the hard road of what comes next.

    Here’s where I want to tell you all a little story. It dates from about the 6th century, and it’s from a collection of sayings from the desert monastics.

    In the story, Abba Lot goes to see Abba Joseph and says to him, 'Abba as far as I can, I say
    my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.’

    The point of the story is that our vocation as Christians isn’t simply to follow Jesus and do good things because doing good things is good. It’s that following Jesus gives us the power to become like Jesus as he really is. There’s a fancy Greek term for this belief, and it’s called “theosis.” The idea of theosis is that we, too, can and will become like Jesus in his glory; we too can and will be transfigured. The idea of theosis was first popularized by the second century theologian, Irenaeus of Lyon, and he summed it up by saying, “God became human so that we might become God.” God became human so that we might become God.

    If the idea of theosis strikes you as a little “high church,” well...it is. It’s a bold claim. But it’s no bolder than the claim that we make about Jesus being the Son of God. Because when we say that Jesus is the Son of God, what we are saying is that when God - the source and ground of everything that exists - chose to reveal God’s self to us, God did so in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not that Jesus was a great teacher, though he was. It’s not that Jesus was a really good person, though he was. It’s that Jesus is the very revelation of God’s self to us, in human form. The Transfiguration was a moment when a few of Jesus’ followers got a glimpse of Jesus’ true divine nature, but it was also a moment when a few of Jesus’ followers got a glimpse of human nature as it is meant to be.

    The caveat, of course, is that Jesus’ Transfiguration is meant to show us that we cannot rest upon the mountain top and bask in God’s glory; we have to go back down the mountain and follow Jesus to Jerusalem. But the Transfiguration gives us hope. It gives us hope that there is a deeper meaning, a deeper reality at work in our lives. No matter what we go through. All the pain, all the suffering, all the loss, all the death that we experience in our lives will somehow, through the power of God, be transfigured.

    How ELSE could a man suffering with ALS say that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth? How else could a nun minister to people on death row and comfort them with the promise that both they and their victims will one day be reconciled in God’s kingdom? How else could a community rebuild a church destroyed by bombs and claim that the destruction gave them a way to promote peace? How else - if not because there is the belief that disease and ugliness and destruction will somehow be transfigured.

    But it’s more than just hope in the face of darkness. It’s hope even in the face of the good things that we do when we’re trying to live as followers of Jesus. We can say our daily prayers, we can fast a little and meditate and try to live in peace with everyone and go to church on Sundays and tell people about our faith and do everything that a good Christian should do but still have a sense of longing - still have a sense that there’s more. Because there is. We, too, can become all flame.

    As I said, we Christians make a bold claim. We make the claim that Jesus is not just a moral exemplar and teacher, but the one who has shown us our truest selves: human, transfigured, and beautiful beyond description. It’s that vision that gives us the hope that we too will one day stand with Moses and Elijah and Jesus and hear a voice from heaven say to each of us, “This is my beloved child, my chosen.”

    ___

     

    Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year C 
    July 31, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23    Colossians 3: 1-11     Luke 12: 13-21

    I hope that the news won’t come as a disappointment to anyone here, but every now and then, I like to listen to radio preachers. In my travels, especially through the south, I have heard a wide variety of radio preachers, some good - some bad - and I have discovered that the more rural the area, the more preachers there tend to be. And, usually, the more remote the area, the more entertaining the preaching gets; again, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. A number of years ago, I was driving somewhere near Franklin, NC, and I came across a station where the preacher was preaching on the very same gospel text that we had this morning. And this fellow was really getting into it, talking about being rich toward God. And then, in a theological shift which almost made me turn off the road, the preacher made the rather astonishing claim that in Jesus’ parable, the fault of the rich man was not that he wanted to build barns but that he wanted to relax. Instead, the preacher claimed, the rich barn builder - and by extension, you and me - should never relax but always be striving to build bigger and better barns. The preacher then conveniently gave the address and phone number for his radio ministry and encouraged listeners to send in a check because that’s what would make them rich toward God.

    I share that story not to belittle that radio preacher but to point out how easy it is to misinterpret the parable that we just heard. If you’ve been going to church long enough, then you will more than likely have heard a message that goes something like this: “Jesus says that we should not be concerned about our possessions. So, in order to take the scripture seriously, you should turn over more of your possessions to the church so that the church can make better use of them that you would on your own.” Or maybe you’ve heard a more direct version, which says: “You owe God, and the church is here, like a heavenly IRS, to remind you to pay up.”

    Now, don’t get me wrong - I am not trying to undermine the idea of stewardship and the need for the church to fund its ministries. The work we’re able to do as the church is very much tied to where we put our financial resources (money!). That’s just the reality. But the gospel lesson for this morning is only secondarily about where we put our money.

    The point of Jesus’ parable about the rich barn-builder is first and foremost about greed. And greed is an attitude of the heart. More often than not, we associate greed with money, but the real issue with greed - and it’s the issue I think Jesus is pointing to - has to do with power.

    JP Morgan (all about the money), Sigmund Freud (all about the ego), and Josef Stalin (all about power)?

    If you recall Jesus’ warning, he says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” To possess something means to have control over it. To have power over it. So, really, greed is about control.

    In Jesus’ parable, the rich man is in complete control of the situation. He’s got plenty of crops, he’s got plans for new barns to store them in, and he convinces himself that all will be well as long as he retains control of his possessions. [At the end of the parable God comes along and says, “No, actually, you’re not in control.”]

    Greed is about more than just crops and barns though. The desire to be in control extends to pretty much every aspect of our lives. In most of our relationships, problems crop up when one person tries to control another. The conversation normally goes, “You’re not seeing something the way I see it, so you need to change and I’m going to make you change.” You seasoned married couples out there can testify to how well that sort of attitude works! The desire to control another person is a form of greed - and it leads to all kinds of ugliness.

    Just the other day, a friend of mine told me a story about standing in line at a restaurant and having his mother walk up and stand next to him. The person behind them in line then pitched a fit and rather rudely said that my friend’s mother should go to the back of the line. It was greed in action! It’s not that that person was worried about getting enough cheeseburgers - it’s that they felt like they weren’t in control of the situation, and their desire to be in control outweighed any sense of courtesy. Now, was that person a BAD person? No, at least I hope not. But on that occasion, greed got the better of them. Greed got the better of them because it’s really easy to fall victim to greed. Most of us, I dare say, want to feel like we’re in control.

    That’s why Jesus’ warning is so direct: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!” Be on guard when you feel like you need to be in control. Be aware of what happens when all you care about is having power over someone or something. Because usually what happens isn’t good. The letter to the Colossians draws attention to what happens when it lists all of those vices. If you remember the list - anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language - all of them have to do with control.

    What is anger? A reaction of frustration over not being in control of a situation. What is wrath? Wanting to enforce your will violently on someone or something else. What is malice?

    Actively undermining someone else so that you might get control over them. Slander? Secretly undermining someone so that you might have control over them.
    Abusive language? Well, if you can abuse someone or something, you can convince yourself have power over it. You can create the illusion of control. And, usually, control is an illusion.

    Hence the powerful warning from Jesus and the exhortation to “put to death whatever in you is earthly.” Because if we’re laboring under the illusion that we can be in complete control - of things and of people - then we might also be laboring under the illusion that we can control God. Yes, human greed can extend even into heaven - you remember the tower of Babel story?

    The good news is, obviously, we can’t control God. Thinking we might is about as useful as thinking that we can control the tide. Or the sunrise. Or the reliability of our internet access ... The really good news is that we don’t have to be in control to get what we need. God is good, and God provides us with what we need. It’s only when we try to be in control that we find God’s providence is lacking.

    I haven’t heard that radio preacher since my visit to Franklin all those years ago. I don’t know whether he’s still on the air or whether he has moved on to greener pastures. I don’t know whether experience has taught him about how to interpret scripture more....accurately. But one thing I do know - and I’ll leave you with this - no matter where he is or what he’s doing, God’s love is going behind him and before him to provide him with what he needs.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, Year C 
    July 24, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Genesis 18: 20-32         Colossians 2: 6-15         Luke 11: 1-13

    As I was preparing this Sunday’s sermon, I told myself that I wanted to do a little experiment and see how people’s faces changed the second that they recognized what was going on in the gospel - to see whether a look of familiar delight came across anyone’s face when they noticed the words of the Lord’s prayer. Unfortunately, my job of reading the gospel makes that kind of hard because is’t not easy to take note of people’s facial expressions while one is busy reading! So all I can do is hope that my hypothesis was correct and that most everyone here got a sort of “Yeah! I know this one!” reaction when they heard the Lord’s prayer being read.

    Of course, Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is quite a bit shorter than the one from Matthew’s Gospel which we are more familiar with, but the prayer is still pretty much the same. For those who may be interested, there is some scholarly...discussion...around the differences between Matthew and Luke’s version of the prayer how those differences might point to varying liturgical developments in early Christian communities, but that’s for church nerds. The main thing for us this morning is - it’s the Lord’s prayer! It’s the one that, you know, folks know!

    I’d be willing to bet that most everyone here who was brought up in a Christian environment learned the Lord’s prayer before they learned anything else about church. I know that the Lord’s prayer was one of the first prayers I committed to memory - though I couldn’t tell you how young I was when I was first able to say it from memory. For a good many of us, the Lord’s prayer is just that ingrained - it’s etched on our hearts, if you will.

    To illustrate what I mean, I want you to think about a time when you were at your wits end and felt like you needed to pray but you couldn't think of your own words so you fell back on the Lord’s prayer. A former dean of Winchester Cathedral once told the story of what happened to him following a stroke. The physical side effects of the stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. But he said that the worst thing about the stroke was that it took away his ability to pray. Especially when he was in hospital, he couldn't find words, couldn’t even get in the mind-set to pray. As his recovery progressed, the inability to pray persisted. After a year, he said the only prayer he could manage was the Lord’s prayer - and usually it was just a matter of repeating it without really being “prayerful.” But it ended up being enough. He found that just repeating that prayer several times a day gave him what he needed.

    You know, it’s funny - in Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer, all we get is 38 words. Thirty eight little words that are the bulk and substance of what we are supposed to say to God when we pray. That’s not even a third of a tweet! But from those few words - from that short prayer, we are told that Jesus goes on to make the point that God will answer - and does answer our prayer.

    Now, I want to be very clear here that Jesus is not talking about God granting our desires, as if God were a heavenly Santa Claus, doling out gifts and solving all of our problems - and all we have to do is ask. No. Viewing God in that way is a sure-fire recipe for disappointment because, as we all know, children die of cancer; parents get alzheimers; best friends commit suicide; the list goes on. There are all sorts of circumstances in which we

    could easily say, “God isn't answering my prayer, so why should I keep praying to him?” I’ve been there; I’ve felt that; I’ve said those same words, and I have to be continually reminded that prayer to God isn’t transactional. It’s not a matter of “God will prevent me from getting in a car accident today if I ask in just the right manner.” The point that Jesus is making when he talks about the persistent neighbor and fish and eggs is that when we pray, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Now, if you’re asking God to cure your husband’s cancer, hearing that all you get is the Holy Spirit probably sounds like a poor consolation. But if you’re willing to entertain the notion that the Holy Spirit is the power of God which connects us with what is most real, then the gift of the Holy Spirit is the ability to be fully present to reality as reality is. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the ability to be in relationship with reality - in all of its complexity - in all of its beauty, in all of its ugliness, in all of its changes, in all of its uncertainty.

    Faith in God isn't about escaping from reality or having some sort of tool which makes life easier. Faith in God is about being in relationship and being able to love.
    One of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed was a husband telling me about his wife who had just died of cancer. He told me about how he had prayed and prayed and prayed for her to get better and how he had been angry with God for not hearing his prayer. But as his wife’s condition got worse and the reality sank in that she was going to die, he said that he began to realize how much he loved her. And how much she loved him. And he said that that was the greatest gift he had ever received. In spite of the ugliness of what had happened to his wife - in spite of the agony of losing her - he told me that he was thankful for what he had been given.

    That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we receive when we pray. It’s not a matter of us asking for a result and getting what we want. It’s us asking - and in the simple fact of our asking, being in relationship with the living God. The result of that relationship, if we want to think about it in terms of “results,” is that we are able to have confidence that God is present with us no matter what the situation is; be it joyful, or sad, or extraordinary, or mundane. God is present to us in every aspect of our lives.

    I invite you to keep this simple truth in mind whenever you say the Lord’s prayer. Even if you’re only able to say the words and aren't feeling particularly prayerful. Just keep praying. Keep praying using those few words that have been etched on your heart. Because the gift we receive from prayer isn’t about getting results. It’s about being in relationship with a God who gives us the gift of his very self.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, Year C 
    July 17, 2016 (Attack in Nice and attempted coup in Turkey) 
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Genesis 18:1-10a         Colossians 1: 15-28        Luke 10: 38-42

    When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of radio. My father worked in the newspaper and radio business, so the radio was usually on in the mornings as we ate breakfast. I don’t think I was aware of it, but by about the age of 10, I knew pretty much every station identification jingle and could easily identify a dj’s or announcer’s voice within seconds. At some point in grade school, I started making short little recordings of myself mimicking radio shows – oh, I had it all from silly commercials to serious news stories to editorial commentary on how much I hated school. I quickly learned that the more voices I could imitate, the more variety I could have, so I began purposefully listening to different accents in order to imitate them. My favorite by far was the British accent – my family can probably tell some embarrassing stories about how I reacted to being exposed to Monty Python for the first time! But I really did start paying attention to different accents so that I could do a better job at imitating them.

    In this morning’s gospel, we have the episode of Martha and Mary. This story is a fairly well-known story from scripture, and it is often used as a sort of proof for how the contemplative life should be valued over the active life. Now, I’m going to say from the outset that I think such an interpretation is an oversimplification of the issue, but I do think the story makes a good point about the importance of balance in the Christian life.

    If you remember from last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ instruction at the end of that parable was “Go and do likewise.” That’s good advice. The world would be a much better place if we all got out there and helped those in need. But this week, it seems that we’re hearing the message that the better thing to do is sit and listen. Well, which one is it? The answer, I think, in typical Anglican fashion, is “both.”

    Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he’s saying – Luke’s gospel never tells us why she’s sitting there listening. But there’s a pretty simple answer that anyone who has ever been a serious student will easily identify. We listen to teachers and mentors because we want to know what they know. We want to become like the teacher, possessing the wisdom that the teacher possesses. We want, in other words, to imitate. So, we sit and listen – in order that we might better imitate the teacher.

    When Mary was listening to Jesus, I imagine that she was doing so because she wanted to be better at imitating. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example of the kind of thing Jesus was saying to her, so if she was rapt in attention to what Jesus was saying, I think it’s because she wanted to learn how she could more effectively “Go and do likewise.” Martha gets the short end of the stick in the story because she’s portrayed as running around, doing things without any appreciation for what Jesus was all about.

    Yes, Jesus was a special guest and Martha was doing a good thing by showing hospitality, but put it in the context of our own lives - if Jesus is nothing more than a special guest, then we’re kind of missing out. Can you IMAGINE a church where all folks did was get together to polish silver, set out the altar hangings, mark the books, make sure the seats were arranged in good order – all because Jesus is considered an honored guest - but where folks never got around to actually hearing the word and worshiping God? That sort of church wouldn’t last very long, I don’t think.

    But we know there’s more. There is a better part. We can listen to Jesus. We can imitate Jesus. We can learn more effectively how to “Go and do likewise.” It’s not a matter of action VERSUS contemplation in the Christian life – it’s a matter of our actions being informed by our desire to imitate Jesus.

    Our job as followers of Jesus is to become more like Jesus – to become better imitators of Jesus. And that requires getting to know Jesus. Listening to him, learning from him. We get to know Jesus in a variety of ways. First, and perhaps easiest, is by reading and hearing scripture. Getting to know the stories and reflecting on what they mean in our own lives. We should not be afraid of picking up the Bible and being delighted and challenged by what we read there. Another way is by receiving the Eucharist together. When we receive the bread and wine - The Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ - the effect is that we become intimately connected with the real presence of Jesus in our lives. And it’s hard not to learn from that!

    Another way is through our own prayer life. That’s a simple matter of staying in touch – there’s not a relationship out there that doesn’t benefit from good communication, and the same can be said of our relationship with God. Prayer is how we keep that communication line open. Another way of getting to know Jesus better is by looking for him in the lives of others. That’s probably the hardest way because you know humans are humans, but if we’re serious about this church stuff, then we have to appreciate that the way we view each other has an effect on our relationship with God. So the more we’re able to see Christ in one another, the closer we will get to understanding who Jesus is; who God is.

    And – yes - we are supposed to “go and do likewise.” Never losing the need to listen and learn but always looking for ways to put into practice the things we have heard and learned so that the good news of God’s kingdom might be better known.

    We live in a world in which it seems the most common form of imitation takes the shape of violence. This past week, it was Nice, and then Turkey – and countless other untold tragedies across this country and the world. Who knows what or where it might be this week. Listening for what will happen next has become almost a distracting task. And it is certainly easy to get caught up in the anger and frustration that comes when we hear such bad news.

    But there is a better way. There is a better part. There is something better to imitate. We have a teacher from whom we can learn lessons of mercy, and reconciliation, and peace. We have a God who wants us to go and teach others those same lessons. We have each other for support and encouragement when the task seems all too daunting. That is the better part.

    That is the better part – and, as our Lord promises, it will not be taken away from us.

    ___

     

    Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, Year C 
    July 10, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)

    Deuteronomy 30: 9-14         Colossians 1: 1-14        Luke 10: 25-37

    You will not often hear me criticizing how we do things in church. But every once in a while, I think that what we say right before hearing the gospel lesson should be different. I say, “The holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to...” And the response is “Praise to you Lord Christ.” And we give our assent even before we hear a word of what is said. I think sometimes a better thing to say might be, “Caveat auditor! Let the listener beware!” Because the gospel isn’t always easy to swallow. Today is a perfect example. Please: don’t let the familiarity and the red-letter sheen of this story of the Good Samaritan fool you. This parable should stick in our craw. Especially with what’s going on in our country right now.

    If you’re like me, you woke up on Friday morning and heard the news that the cycle of fear, hatred and violence has taken yet another deadly turn. More lives lost. More confusion and despair let loose in the world. More reason to think we should just stay at home and lock our doors and keep to ourselves because the powers of evil just cannot be stopped. And then you came to church and you heard what Jesus has to say.

    “Caveat auditor! Let the listener beware!” Because the parable does not offer us much in the way of comfort. We know the story as “the Parable of the Good Samaritan,” but I think it might better be called, “the Parable of the Foolish Samaritan.” Just to give a quick re-cap, there’s a man who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Two religious figures (and for that, please read “a priest and a deacon”) pass by on the other side, but a Samaritan stops to help. Now, in the story, Jesus doesn’t say what the motives of the religious figures are, but if you don’t mind reading into the text a bit, then you might say that the religious guys passed by because they recognized the danger of the situation and didn’t want to end up being robbed and beaten themselves. If you live in a world where people get robbed and beaten or shot and left for dead, then the smart thing to do is not put yourself in situations where that might happen. That’s just common sense.

    But the Samaritan acts the fool. He gets involved. He takes a risk – not knowing whether the robbers are just around the corner, lying in wait to rob him and leave him for dead too. And Jesus’ point is that we’re supposed to go and do likewise.

    “Let the listener beware!” Let the listener beware - because Jesus is asking us to get involved without any idea of what we might be getting ourselves into. To take our modern context, if we stand up for racial justice, then we might find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of acknowledging our own privilege and hearing terrifying stories about what it means to be black in 21st century America. If we want to advocate against police brutality, then we might find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of listening to police officers talk about how they constantly wrestle with fear and anxiety. In other words, if we get involved, we might find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of taking part in a conversation that will move us to compassion.

    And compassion means we really get involved. In our translation, the word we get is “pity,” but a more accurate translation is compassion – suffering along with. A literal translation would be “a wrenching of the guts,” implying that you feel in your own body the pain of another. Jesus says it was compassion that motivated the Samaritan to step in. And there, perhaps, is the biggest warning of all. If we’re willing to have compassion, then we will find ourselves getting personally involved and taking risks that common sense says we shouldn’t. The Samaritan didn’t just stand at a distance, make a few phone calls, and cut a check – as good and helpful as that is. No he got his hands dirty because he was moved with compassion.

    I don’t have any template for how exactly each person here should respond to the tragic events of the past few days, nor do I know exactly how each person should get involved to bring about change. But I’m willing to have those conversations, so if you feel so moved, please come let’s talk after the service, and we’ll try to figure something out. I just hope you won’t mind my saying that I don’t really think that there is a fool-proof way of getting involved. Thank God for that – else we’d never get involved. Because getting involved is kind of foolish. The same kind of foolishness that the parable of the Samaritan is about. Most of the time, the best we can do is make awkward gestures of good will and hope that they work out.

    But I will say this – we should aim at having compassion. We should strive to be the kind of people whose guts are wrenched whenever we see injustice; whose hearts are broken whenever we are faced with the destructive reality of violence; whose bodies are put into action whenever we become aware that the sufferings of others are going unnoticed. We should strive to be the kind of people who do not sit idly by while the forces of evil are at work. We should heed the words of Jesus to go and do likewise. No matter what the risk. Yes, “Caveat auditor! Let the listener beware!”

    But also “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

    Because that’s the only way things are ever going to begin to change.

    A few weeks ago, I stood here and said that we need to preach the gospel – and live the gospel - as if something is at stake. A friend of mine once said that most preachers have one basic message, and that it usually takes about a year for people to figure out what that message is. Well, we’re only about two weeks in, and y’all have probably already figured out what I’m going to keep saying. And that’s ok. Cause this stuff matters. It matters in our private lives, in our families, in our churches, and it matters in the wider world.

    It’s true: We may wind up looking like fools for putting our faith into practice as if something depended on it. But, even after hearing the caveat, I know I’d rather live in a world where our bodies are moved by foolishness and compassion than in a world where bodies keep piling up because no one cares to turn aside. God save us.

    {An alternative form of the Good Samaritan in a world where the gospel of Jesus doesn’t matter:

    A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he decided that the road was dangerous and it would be best if he kept to himself, so he passed by. Later on, another traveler was walking along the road. And he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. And everyone who saw it passed by. And no one did anything. And the pile of bodies continued to grow.}

    ___

     

    Sermon for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year C
    July 3, 2016
    St. Anne’s, Conway (Lackey Chapel at Coastal Carolina)
    First Sunday at St. Anne’s 

    Isaiah 66: 10-14        Galatians 6: 1-16        Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

      It’s actually quite fitting that, with all the excitement of getting started here, there’s sort of a theme of rejoicing in today’s readings. That first line from the reading from Isaiah sets the tone: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all that love her.” If y’all remember the situation of when this part of Isaiah was written, you’ll recall that Israel has been sent into exile in Babylon, so when Isaiah says “rejoice with Jerusalem,” there’s an implied promise of restoration and a hope of return. And that rejoicing is supposed to happen even in the midst of exile and mourning. In some sense, then, Isaiah is making the point that the true identity of God’s people is to be a people who rejoice.

      I was talking with a friend of mine a few days ago about current events, and he made the observation that he’s reluctant to celebrate the 4th of July because, with all the bad things that have been happening lately, there seems to be little room for celebration. In some sense, I had to agree, but in a very real way, I think that we need to be more intentional about making room for rejoicing and celebration. Otherwise, all we’d be left with would be despair and a sense of powerlessness in the face of evil. 

      A good example of the kind of rejoicing I’m talking about is what we did about a week ago to remember the victims of the shootings in Orlando and Charleston. If you were here for that service, then I hope you won’t think I’m wrong in saying that in spite of the sadness of the occasion, we were still able to come together with a deep sense of joy. And I can think of no better way to respond to evil than to foster joy. Ultimately, joy is the power we all have over evil.

      Jesus makes this point about joy in the gospel lesson from this morning. He had sent out the disciples to preach the good news, and they come back with stories about how demons submitted to them. And Jesus responds by saying, “do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In other words, the power that the disciples have over evil is not to be measured in a sort of tit-for-tat competition with demons. No. Jesus is saying that there really is no competition. The power that the disciples have over evil is that their identity – our identity - is rooted and grounded in the unshakeable love of God. And that’s something to rejoice in. No matter where we are or what the situation is.   

      I recently got back from attending a campus ministry leadership conference in Baltimore. One of the keynote speakers at that conference was a priest named Stephanie Spellers. She spoke on the subject of evangelism, and she told a story about how she felt a call to ordained ministry. It happened when she was at a dance club in New York City. Turns out the dance club was in a converted church, an irony which was not lost on her at the time. As she tells the story, she had gone out to the club with some friends after a frustrating day at work, and as she was dancing, she took note of the lyrics to the song that was playing at the time. The song kept repeating, “And my spirit will fly and sing.” And even though she had gone out simply to relieve some of her frustration, she began to get this overwhelming sense of God’s presence. And she just started beaming. Her friends took note of her expression and asked what was going on, and her response was, “God is here. God is here!” And that’s where her call began. It’s also where her understanding of evangelism began, and I think she is on to something.  

      We are all called to spread the good news – it’s not a task for special “evangelists” who are experts in getting the word out. And it’s not about us having special possession of a set of beliefs that make us better than anyone else. We are all called to bear witness to the kingdom of God. And it can be as simple as taking note of those times and places where we recognize God’s presence and naming them. Celebrating them. Rejoicing in them. 

      There’s a kind of strange contagiousness to celebration and joy. It makes other people wonder what’s going on, and usually, if we give others the space to share in our joy, they’ll do so. A perfect example of this can be seen in restaurants where someone is celebrating a birthday. When the wait staff comes out to sing “Happy Birthday,” most of the time folks at surrounding tables will clap and share a bit in the celebration. Sharing our faith can be as simple as that. Evangelism can be as simple as that. Recognizing the presence of God and rejoicing in it. 

      At the end of the service today, the last thing I’ll say will be an exhortation to rejoice. I look at that exhortation as the real end of my sermon, so if anyone asks, y’all can say that I preached for 45 minutes! But there’s a good reason why that dismissal says what it says. It means that our time together here is extended beyond these walls and that our job when we leave is to take joy into the world. I think it will be ok if we take our purses, bags, and sandals, too. And I’m pretty sure that Jesus won’t be upset if we greet people on the road. 

      Again, I want to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to serve with you here at St. Anne’s. It has already been a joy, and as we move forward, my prayer is that we will continually find new ways to rejoice together. And I have every confidence that we will - because our names are written in heaven. 

    Back to Top