Category Archives: Life in a parish

Sermon: The Transfiguration of our Lord

Below is a copy and recording of my sermon from The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6, 2017), preached at St. Luke’s East Greenwich.  You can find the lessons here. As always your comments and reflections are welcome. 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration,
one of my favorite feasts in the life of the Church.

This feast we celebrate today is so important to me because it is all about two things that are the core of my faith and my personhood – identity and integrity.

On this the feast of the Transfiguration something is revealed to us about the identity and integrity of Jesus, and of ourselves. And I truly believe that if we open ourselves fully to what is celebrated on this day,
we might just find not only God,
but ourselves transfigured.

transfigiconToday’s Gospel passage finds us on the mountain.
Just as in real estate, location is everything in Scripture.
Mountaintops are known, and symbolic of, places where God is revealed.

So when we hear: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray,” that is a clue to us that something incredibly important is about to happen.
God is about to reveal God’s self in some miraculous way.

In this Gospel passage, in this mountaintop moment, God is making sure that the core of the disciples – Peter and John and James – have no doubt about the fullness of Jesus’ identity. In the verses leading up to todays’ passage from Luke, there are a series of stories and events that attempt to communicate to the disciples the divine nature of Jesus. Time and time again the disciples just do not get it. They keep trying to force Jesus into their idea of who the messiah should be and how the messiah should act.

As an aside, it needs to be noted that throughout Luke’s Gospel, the female disciples absolutely get it, but the gender division of Luke’s narrative is another sermon for another time.

As we approach this mountain top encounter there are three key elements that speak to the identity and integrity of Jesus.

First, Jesus takes these three disciples up the mountain to pray.

Now this might be an obvious statement,
but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway;
for Jesus prayer is incredibly important.

Repeatedly throughout Luke’s narrative we witness how Jesus is empowered by prayer.
Through prayer Jesus opens himself to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Through prayer Jesus chooses the apostles.
Through prayer Jesus is able to maintain his integrity through abuse.
Through prayer Jesus is strengthened to confront the oppressive structures of the empire.
And it is through prayer
that the disciples would be able to do all these things and more, if they could simply get out of their own way and truly accept the presence of God in their lives.

At this point in the Gospel, the disciples do not have this prayer thing down. It will be another two chapters until they ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Even though they still have not received their formal training in prayer, God still uses the empowering nature of prayer to be a time when the disciples – and all of us – are able to come into proximity with the Divine.

It is in the setting of prayer that the true identity of Jesus is revealed.

 The second key element of this transfiguration event is the appearance of two prophets.

In this prayerful moment, when Jesus is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white he does not appear alone. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is an indicator that the mission of God, in the person of Jesus, is a continuation of the work that God had already begun in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

This makes clear that the Jewish identity of the disciples, and what later generations will call Christian identity, do connect. This is a sign that for us as Christians, that the words spoken through the prophets have been realized in the person of Jesus.   That is why of all the prophets, it is Moses and Elijah who appear.

Moses is the reminder of the past.
Moses was the person empowered by God, to lead God’s chosen people out of bondage and slavery into freedom.
Elijah, in Jewish thought, in connected to the end times.
Elijah is the one who will one day turn people’s hearts back to the covenant.
Jesus’ transfiguration is placed between those who represent the beginning and the end. The conversation the three of them have makes clear the fullness of Jesus’ mission: that Jesus is ended to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission.

Just a few verses beyond today’s Gospel passage, Luke will tell the reader that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus will begin that long journey to the cross.

Thus by standing next to Moses it is made clear to us that that just as Moses was the one who led the people Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, Jesus will be the one to lead all of humanity out of the bondage and slavery of sin.

And by standing next to Elijah, the one who will bring people back to the covenant that God made with the ancestors, Jesus will be the one to usher us back to the very presences of God in the end of time.

Now if all that was not enough for this revelation of the glory of God, there is one final moment that makes Jesus’ divine nature explicitly clear:

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

For the second time we read God claiming Jesus as God’s Son.

Several chapters earlier, at Jesus’ Baptism, we read that God speaks from heaven and says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

But now
here
during the Transfiguration of our Lord,
God once again speaks, and this time, tells us that Jesus is God’s Beloved.
And God does not just speak to the disciples confirming Jesus’ identity,
God commands the disciples – and each one of us – to Listen to Jesus!

No longer can there be any doubt.
This teacher, this rabbi they have been following is the divine Son of God.
This teacher will not only lead us out of temporal slavery,
but he will break down the door of hell
redeem every soul for all of eternity
and usher us into that heavenly city – the New Jerusalem.

In this moment, we receive a vision to carry with us down the mountain.

In the Transfiguration, we get a glimpse of the unimaginable reality of God’s grace, glory, and love for all of humanity.

But what happens when the appearance and revelation of God – ends?
What happens when we come off the mountain?

When Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down the mountain they met a man whose only son was possessed by a demon.
The man says to Jesus, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
Jesus chastises those around him,
rebukes the demon,
and the boy is healed.
As soon as Peter, John, and James come off the mountain they find transfiguration in every day life.

That healing encounter is where identity and integrity meet in the realities of the Transfiguration.

On the mountaintop Jesus’ identity is revealed. Once they are down in the valley the disciples witness the fullness of Jesus’ integrity. They see the honest and true reality that the mission of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to restore all of the created order to the way God intended creation to be from the very beginning:
Good
In the imagine of God
Whole
Redeemed

By witnessing the intersection of Jesus’ identity and integrity we are forced to see Jesus differently – to understand Jesus differently.

This teacher the disciples have been following around is not going to be some great and powerful military leader –
releasing the people of God from oppression through violence and destruction.

This transfigured Christ is going to humbly heal humanity and redeem us all
through suffering
anguish
and humiliation.

While we glimpse the glory of God in the transfiguration moment on the mountaintop, we will not fully see the glory of God until we stand at the foot of the Cross.

And if we are going to understand Jesus in this new way, we must also understand our relationship with Jesus and our call as disciples in new ways.

We are called to remove from ourselves all the darkness the world has placed upon us, so that our light might shine forth. We are no longer are to understand our ministries and callings through our own desires, but instead take on the meekness and humility of Christ.

We must, through prayer, open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered to truly and completely listen to the commands of Jesus.

Now there is one more piece about coming down from the mountain that allows us to fully take on this new reality of our discipleship.

Think back for a moment to our Old Testament lesson from Exodus.

After coming down from Mount Sinaimoses
After having an incredibly intimate encounter with God,
that according to other parts of scripture should have killed Moses
Moses’s face was shining.
After encountering the holy, Moses was visibly changed.

Now I could preach two more sermons just on this passage from Exodus, I’m not going to, but I could.

However there is one thing I do not want to miss today.

This transformation was so startling that Moses started wearing a veil to not scare those in his community. But every time Moses went and spoke to God, Moses would remove his veil.

That for us is the final key to understanding our identity and integrity as followers of Jesus.

We may from time to time, find ourselves placing veils over our faces to not scare those around us, to not cause trouble, or for any other reason.

But when we come to this place,
When we come to hear the word of God
When we come to see God face to face
When we come to hold God in the palms of our hands in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
We no longer have any reason to fear or hide our faces.
We can remove every mask,
every veil,
We can remove absolutely everything that we put up to hide the light that shines from our faces.

If we are to truly be disciples then we must live into the fullness of our identity with all integrity in front of God, and one another.

On this feast of the Transfiguration may we give thanks for the divine revelation of God on all the mountaintops past, present, and yet to come.
May we come to know something more of the identity and integrity of God.
But most importantly may God reveal to us something of our own identity and integrity that we too might be transfigured.

AMEN.

 

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Sermon: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

This past Sunday (16 July) I preached my first sermon at my curacy parish, St. Luke’s East Greenwich.  We are using track two, and for the summer, the preacher gets to choose if we use the Old Testament Lesson or the New Testament Epistle.  For this week, I chose to go with the passage from Isaiah.  The lesson from Isaiah and the rest of the scriptural texts for the week can be found here.  For this sermon I decided to go back to preaching without a manuscript or notes.  It has been a while since I’ve done this on a Sunday, and I think it turned out pretty well (a few spots I wasn’t totally happy with, but that’s the way it goes with this sort of thing).   

So here it is, the video of my first sermon as Curate of St. Luke’s.  Take a look and let me know what you think.  As always comments welcome. 

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Getting My Prayer Book Dirty

IMG_1275One of the joys of being a newly ordained curate, is that everything is new.  Today was one of those days I got to do something really new; not just something new at St. Luke’s.

For the first time I led a committal service at a cemetery.  I had never met the family before.  They are not parishioners of my parish.  This was one of those times that the local funeral home called looking for help, and I was tagged to jump in.

The night before the committal I was feeling pretty laid back about it.  I even scoffed when a friend, and clergy colleague, referred to my big day, thinking it was really no big deal: “It’s a page and a half, how big a deal could it be.” I’m glad he warned me otherwise.  I’m thankful I was wrong.

I took my friend’s words to heart, and spent a period of time prior to the committal in prayer at home – the benefit of the cemetery being down the hill from my house.  I felt calm, relaxed, and ready for whatever I was about to walk into.  I arrived at the cemetery, and was greeted but the funeral director.  An amazing and delightful woman whom I had met very briefly just a few days before.  Her calming and warm presence, with just the right amount of humor, was exactly what I needed to calm the butterflies in my stomach.

As I got in her car to drive to through the cemetery to the place of burial our conversation came to an end, and I began to pray.  I could see the cremains and American flag resting on the backseat of her car.  We arrived.  She insisted on helping me out of the car, which I was thankful for as cassock, surplice, and tippet were a lot to manage. How embarrassing it would have been if I tripped on my vestments getting out of the car – I mean, no one wants to be that curate.

We walked up the little hill to the family plot.  For the first time I was able to see the whole family gathered.  His daughter and his step-children.  His grandchildren.  His brother.  His name was already on the tombstone, shared with his wife who died five years ago.  As the service men their to conduct military honors (without the guns) marched into place, I could feel the Spirit swirling amongst us.  We were indeed standing on holy ground.

Trying not to be drowned out by the noise of the highway, or the birds singing away, I began the anthem, “Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me; I will never turn away anyone who believes in me . . .”  My focus was at an all time high.  I was struck by the power of those words.  I mustered the pastoral strength and authority bestowed upon me in an attempt to not let my voice shake: To be calm and steady in my words.

I reach out and grabbed a handful of earth.  I poured it, in the shape of a cross, on the cremains.  “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Stewart . . .”  I was holding holy ground, I was pouring holy ground, my hand was covered in holy ground.

As I turned the page in my prayer book I watched as the earth fall from my hands onto the page and roll into the center of the book.  It was the first time I’ve gotten my prayer book dirty.

After we finished the prayers for the committal, taps was played, the flag was presented, I spent time with the family.  First the step-son, then the daughter, then the brother.  People always say you remember your first.  I will never forgot Stewart’s brother.  He came up to me, “Thank you so much Father for being here.  I am his brother,” and with tears in his eyes and a cracking voice he continued, “I am going to be okay.”  Before I could say a word he walked away.

After sometime standing in the family plot, Stewart’s family made their way to the cars.  The funeral director and I stayed behind.

When everything was finished my new friend, the funeral director, drove me back to the car handed me a couple of envelopes and drove away.  I took off my vestments, got into the car, and noticed that there was still earth on my hands.  I opened my prayer book to page 501 and took a moment to take it all in.  To gaze upon the earth on my hand and in my prayer book.  I began to wonder about how many more times I will get my prayer book dirty in cemeteries like this.  I began to wonder about all the names I will place into the prayers.  I began to wonder about all the holy ground I will stand upon.

As I drove away I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for the opportunity to be in that place with those people on this day filled with joy and sadness – as the step-son described it.  Gratitude for the vocation God has laid upon me that allows me to serve the world in this particular way.

I am sure I will having plenty of opportunities to get my prayer book dirty over these next fifty year (God willing), but I will always remember – and give thanks for – this first time I got my prayer book dirty.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord; And let light perpetual shine upon him. 
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

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Drive Fast and Take Chances: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7A)

Below is the sermon I preached yesterday (25 June 2017) at The Church of the Redeemer.  It was a powerful day at the Redeemer as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone, and it was also my last Sunday at the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here, we used track 2.  You can listen to the recording over on the parish website, or click on the link below.  

DRIVE FAST AND TAKE CHANCES

drive-fast-and-take-chances-2One of my favorite memories of my late Aunt Kim was the way she used to send us forth from her house after a visit. Now, some people might be inclined to say “Be safe,” “drive carefully,” or “call me when you get home,” but not Kim. As we descended the steps from their front porch, she would stand with my uncle and cousins waving goodbye. And just as we were about to enter the car she would yell, “drive fast and take chances.”

I have always found great joy an amusement in this saying. But over the last two months, I have begun to think a bit differently about it. It seems to me this is more than just a quirky dismissal from my godmother, but rather a charge for discipleship.

Drive fast is not about recklessness, it is about urgency. It is about knowing that you have to get to your destination with a sense of intense determination. It is a call to move with haste and not delay from the journey that has been set before you.

 Take chances, then, is not about getting ourselves into foolish situations, it is about letting go of fear so that you can make bold proclamations in word and deed. It is about standing up for truth and justice. It is a willingness to be counter-cultural for the sake of what is meet and right.

As I look at our lessons today – at Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew

As I think about the historic occasion we celebrate in our parish life – the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone.

As I think about my final Sunday here with all of you.

I cannot help but think that at the center of it all is that phrase:
Drive fast and take chances.

 In the book of Jeremiah, we encounter a prophet in the midst of turmoil: a prophet who is lamenting his prophetic mission. God has placed upon Jeremiah the task of proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that their city will be destroyed. Jeremiah expresses deep grief and anger for this call, and that is exactly what we hear this morning.

Now these words from Jeremiah are not the words of some mental breakdown, or existential crisis.   These are words of his tradition. They are an expression that finds its place rooted in the psalms. Jeremiah has been influenced by the tradition, he has been immersed in it, and therefore cries out in that familiar language.  So he offers his lament.

You can almost feel Jeremiah’s anguish at the beginning of today’s lesson:

O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.

Lord you have lured me in, it is as if Jeremiah is saying.  There is something almost seductive in the way the Lord calls Jeremiah.

And because of that call, Jeremiah has become the laughing stock of his community.  Proclaiming that message, proclaiming that the great city of Jerusalem will be destroyed is certainly not winning Jeremiah any popularity contests.  But Jeremiah has no choice. He does not take on the mantle of prophet because it seems like a glamorous way of life. He does it because he cannot not prophesy.

If Jeremiah refuses to speak then a burning fire is kindled inside of him – a fire so hot that he cannot hold it – a fire so hot that it will incinerate all his bones.

And because of this in the midst of his anger and grief, in the midst of his pain and anguish, he cannot help but trust in God. Jeremiah trusts that God will indeed protect him, protect him like a dread warrior, and therefore has no choice but to worship God and go on prophesying. For Jeremiah there is great urgency and intensity in his prophetic witness.

What if we allowed ourselves to channel that same prophetic intensity?

What if we allowed ourselves to be so overcome by the word God has placed on our hearts, by the vocations that God has laid before us that if we did not act upon them, if we do not proclaim them, then an intense fire would be kindled in each of us – a fire so intense that we could not bear to keep it in?

What would Hope Street look like if we lived with that same prophetic intensity as Jeremiah?

If despite any anger or grief, any pain or anguish we went on glorifying God?
Singing to the Lord
Praising the Lord
Proclaiming the words that have been revealed to us.
Living fully into our identity. 

But what is this word . . . what is this identity that God has laid upon us.

The Word is Jesus.

The identity is:
Disciple
Christian
The Baptized

Paul in his letter to the Romans is unequivocal about what that identity means:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Being the Baptized means living in a completely new way. Baptism is not just some rite of passage, or familial obligation. When we are baptized our very being changes – we are united with Christ in a particular and intimate way.  When we are lifted out of the waters of baptism we share in the death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are empowered with a new identity and if we fully embrace that identity it will have implications for every aspect of our lives.

As baptized people we are called to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. That means it is our responsibility to teach, to preach, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. It is our responsibility to build relationships in our community through such ventures as the East Side Community Alliance. It is our responsibility to support the work of Camp Street Ministry. It is our responsibility to continue working to break down the systematic oppression of racism that plagues our neighborhood.

Being the baptized is a great responsibility. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to take risks: to make bold proclamations in word and deed. For Jesus is clear, that we will do greater things if we truly believe.

Baptism places before us a road of discipleship that ultimately leads to the cross.   But through the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness of God we can trust that God will protect and care for us. We can trust that this life is not a burden, but a journey to the most glorious way of living imaginable.

So be not afraid.
Let go of the anger and grief, the pain and anguish for we are alive in Christ.

But let’s be real. There is plenty to fear on the Christian journey.

Once again this week we hear some pretty startling words from Jesus:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Despite what we might think at first glance, Jesus is not against family. But Jesus is making a profoundly clear statement as to where our loyalty should lie.

We are to love God above all else.
We are to serve God about all else.
We are to follow God above all else
.
And sometimes that is going to lead to conflict. Sometimes that is going to mean we will have to reject expectations from our families and friends.  It is not an uncommon story to hear family ties and ties of friendship being strained and broken because one person answered the call to follow Jesus.

In the midst of this warning, Jesus also offers words of comfort.  Jesus knows exactly what he is asking us to do.  Those who sacrifice for the sake of Christ will ultimately be rewarded – those who lose their life will find it. Those who give everything up to answer the call of Jesus will find the path to glorious and abundant life.

By virtue of our relationship with God we are the beloved of God and thus will be cared for by God: So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Knowing the risks. Knowing the cost. Jesus still asks us to follow. Jesus still invites us to claim our identity as disciples, as Christians, as the Baptized.

It is that invitation that allows us to proclaim with boldness, to shout from the housetops that which was whispered to us, to declare in the light that which was spoken in the dark.

It is that invitation that allows us to drive fast and take chances.

And that my friends, is exactly what the Church of the Redeemer has been doing for the last 100 years.cornerstone

100 years ago, the people of the Redeemer understood the urgency of the being followers of Jesus. They listened to the call from their Bishop. They prayed together. And they decided to get up and go. To leave the place they had known and come to a new neighborhood. 100 years ago the people of the Redeemer proclaimed with boldness that they were not afraid to take risks for the sake of spreading the Gospel.  And ever sense then, this community has been striving to fulfill that call – to live fully into the identity as disciples of Jesus.

It was with a sense of determination that this place – was set apart to be a temple of the Most High God. To be a place that would continually offer prayers and praise to the Most Holy Name of God. From the very beginning of the Church of the Redeemer at 655 Hope Street that life of prayer has been carried out with integrity and dedication to our Anglican tradition and heritage.

This is a place that has been profoundly blessed by the grace of God. This place has been filled with the Holy Spirit in ways that surpass almost every other that I have experienced. But most importantly this is a place – this is a community – that is unabashed in sharing that grace with those whom we have been called to serve.

This place has been a refuge for the broken and hurting. This place has been a haven for those society places at the margins. In this place there is truly a place at the table for each and every person who dares to enter the doors. That is the legacy that was built upon the cornerstone 100 years ago.

Today as we mark this important anniversary we have the responsibility to continue to build upon the foundation, which previous generations have laid. We must continue this legacy for the next 100 years, and we do that by laying new foundations. Foundations that further embed this community within the fabric of our wider neighborhood.
Foundations laid at Camp Street.
Foundations laid at the East Side Community Alliance.
Foundations laid with the emerging choir program.
Foundations that will serve as a tangible witness to the reconciling love of God that has inspired this community for the last century.

As members of the Baptized gathered here on Hope Street a great trust and responsibility has been laid upon us. So act with urgency to proclaim with boldness the love of God in your words and deeds. Let go of fear so that you might be able to take risks to spread the Gospel and follow Jesus on the road of discipleship.

Dear friends of the Church of the Redeemer. It has been my joy and privilege to be among you for these last few years. You have enriched and blessed my life in ways you will never know. So today I say to you that quirky dismissal my godmother said to me: drive fast and take chance.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sermon: Maundy Thursday

Below is my sermon from Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listened to below.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

footwashing

 

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.   

(Collect for Maundy Thursday, BCP 221)

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Sermon: Spy Wednesday

Below is my sermon from Spy Wednesday (Wednesday in Holy Week), preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below.  For this sermon, unlike most of the sermons I’ve preached lately, I went back to my practice of no manuscript and no notes.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

spyWednesday

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Sermon: The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Below is my sermon from the First Sunday in Lent, preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below, or over on the parish website.  For this sermon, unlike most of the sermons I’ve preached lately, I went back to my practice of no manuscript and no notes.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

IMG_0455

“Father Forgive”                                                                                                                                          Photo taken on 13 March 2017

 

 

 

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Sermon: The First Sunday in Lent

Below is my sermon from the First Sunday in Lent, preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below, or over on the parish website.  The manuscript is also included below.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

This being the First Sunday in Lent, it seems a fitting time to make my confession to all of you. I love binge-watching TV: sitting for hours, zoning out the rest of the world, getting immersed in a show, and savoring those moments of escape from reality.

At the moment one of my favorite shows to binge-watch is the Fox comedy series Lucifer. lucifer_s2_1536x2048

In the show, Lucifer, the original fallen angel, has become dissatisfied with life in Hell so he retires to Los Angeles where he becomes a famous nightclub owner. Eventually Lucifer teams up with a female detective and becomes a consultant for the LA Police Department. Throughout the show, Lucifer has this mysterious way of finding out peoples deepest, darkest secrets.

He leans in closely.
Stares them directly in the eyes, and in his smoothest voice he asks;
“What do you desire?”

While this motif is frequently used in the show to get criminals to confess their crimes, or informants to give up information, I find it to be a deeply theological question. In fact, the question, “What do you desire?” is the primary question we wrestle with in our lessons today.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.” This opening verse to the third chapter of Genesis introduces us to a new character – the serpent. The serpent is a wild animal, not a demon or the devil, who can speak to humans, and has understanding of divine things. The serpent bridges the boundaries between animals, humans, and God and effectively elicits the desire to break the boundary between human and God. In the exchange between the serpent and Eve we witness the unfolding of the human desire to be like God. The serpent, through this conversation, intentionally manipulates this desire and offers humanity an invitation to question the commands of God.

The serpent encourages Eve, “no you will not die if you eat this fruit, you will see.”
You will be able to stand in God’s place and determine what is good and evil.
You will be able to make decisions that, until this point, have been left for God alone to make.
You will be able to make decisions based on your desires.

When Adam and Eve give in to their desires to have their eyes opened, to gain more knowledge, to have power like that of God’s, there is a break in the relationship with God and humanity. The innate desire of humanity to desire God above all else becomes obscured by temptation. In this way, both the serpent and God are right in their declarations of consequences from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Indeed the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, but that new vision leads to sin, their expulsion from paradise, and ultimately it leads to death. From the very beginning of creation we see the human capacity to give way to temptation and choose something other than God.

This struggle is one for all of humanity: from that moment in the garden until this very day. No one escapes the dangers of wrestling with temptation. Not even Jesus.

This morning’s Gospel passage focuses on Jesus facing the very same temptations that all of humanity struggles with. It focuses on Jesus encountering Satan in the wilderness. But who exactly is this Satan character Jesus encounters?

Commentators have noted that Satan in this passage, is the same as the Hebrew Satan found in other parts of scripture particularly in the opening chapters of Job. This is actually a very important distinction. The Satan we encounter in Job, the Satan we encounter here in Matthew, is not the same Satan that has captured our contemporary culture’s imagination. It is not the character with horns, a pointed tail, and a pitchfork. It is not the mythical beast associated with the Book of Revelation that torments and tortures sinner for all eternity.

It is Haśśatan.
The Accuser.

Haśśatan, translated the Satan, is an agent of God. In the Book of Job we learn that the job of Haśśatan is to test humanity on God’s behalf – to see who will stay faithful to God and who will fall to temptation. If the Satan that Jesus encounters in the wilderness is in fact this same Satan we encounter in Job that means Jesus is being tested to see if he will truly stay faithful to God or become trapped by the weight of temptation. This testing is an important aspect of where this story falls in Matthew’s narrative.

This morning’s passage is the final part of a section in Matthew sometimes referred to as The Commissioning of the Messiah:

First, the coming of the Messiah has ben heralded by John the Baptist.
Second, Jesus has been Baptized and proclaimed the Beloved of God.
Now, before Jesus begins his public ministry he must be tested.
Can Jesus stay faithful to his call – to his identity – as the Divine Son of God?
Can Jesus be tempted in every way as we are – sharing fully in what it means to be human – and not sin?

Prior to the completion of his commissioning, Jesus shows us exactly how we are to respond to temptation. Jesus shows us that as children of God – as beloved of God – as baptized persons it is our job to stay faithful to the call God has given each and everyone of us.

In the first temptation, after Jesus has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, Satan tempts Jesus with food, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to becomes loaves of bread.”
Jesus refuses.
In this response Jesus faithfully remembers that he is totally dependent upon God.

In the second temptation, Jesus is transported to the top of the mountain where Satan tempts him to test God – to see if God will really protect him. Satan even quotes scripture to try to trap Jesus.
Again Jesus refuses.
Jesus’ answer points to the reality that honoring God excludes every kind of manipulation, including putting God to the test.

In the final temptation, Jesus is yet again taken to the top of a very high mountain and is offered the power to rule over the entire world in exchange for worshiping Satan.
One final time, Jesus refuses.
In this Jesus’ commissioning is complete. Jesus has proven his undivided loyalty to God.

The very same things that Jesus is tempted by tempt us as well: food, protection, power. But beyond each of these individual categories the underlying temptation is to treat God as less than God. To take on power that belongs to God alone. To make ourselves like God. To have our eyes opened that we might decide what is good and evil based on our own personal desires.

Jesus’ witness through these temptations offers us the perfect image of our humanity. Jesus shows us what is possible if we only trust in God with the fullness and entirety of our beings.

This is the struggle we are forced to wrestle with in this Lenten season. Our Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives – the places where we choose to see through the lens of our desires instead of choosing to see through the eyes of God – that we might come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. It is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all. Lent is the most brutally realistic liturgical season of the year – it is a time when we tell truth about ourselves, our brokenness, our mortality, and nevertheless trust in God’s redemptive love. This is exactly what Paul is trying to draw our attention to.

In this section of Romans, Paul gives a powerful reflection of the magnitude of sin and death, and on the even greater abundance of God’s grace in Christ. Paul writes, “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” It does not matter how many times we choose to be like Adam, God’s saving grace through Jesus redeems us all. Through the saving act of love on the cross, God takes all of our sinfulness, all of our brokenness, even our morality and transforms them into righteous and everlasting life with God. Paul is reminding us that through the abundance of God’s grace we have the ability to no longer choose ourselves but to live as servants of God and inheritors of eternal life.

This is the completion of the journey that began with Adam and Eve eating a piece of fruit. From the moment of that initial division between God and humanity, God has desired for us to return to our full and right relationship with God. It is a return that is made possible in the person of Jesus, but will not be completed until the Kingdom of God has been fully realized, until we enter the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem; until we return to the garden.

As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage again, we ask God to strength us that we might not fall into sin nor be overcome by adversity. We ask God to transform our desires so that they might be God’s desires. We ask God to be with us in our prayers and in our fasts that we might experience once again the grace and joy of seeing the face of God. May our journey never end, may our hearts never be satisfied, until we are fully restored in God’s image.

Amen.

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Sermon: Thomas Bray

Below is a recording of the sermon I gave at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer on Wednesday 2/15/17 – The Commemoration of Thomas Bray.  The lessons for the evening were Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 102:15-22; and Luke 10:1-9.

thomasbray

 

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Sermon: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Below is my sermon from the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, preached at St Mark’s Warwick.  The lessons can be found here.  A recording of the sermon along with the manuscript can be found below.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

 

temple

20th century Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple is often quoted for saying, “the Church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not its members.”

In this sentence, Temple has articulated a deep and profound reality of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. From the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry to this moment in 2017 this is the abiding truth of the Church. As the catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Now I’ll admit, these two phrases sound a bit like lofty ideals put forward by academics, bishops, and church councils, which is exactly what they are, but at the heart of these words are the very words of Jesus.

Today we hear from Matthew’s Gospel. We continue along this five-week journey through that most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount. The journey began last week as we heard those familiar words of the Beatitudes, and continues this week as we hear Jesus announce our identity – we hear Jesus tell us what it means to follow him – we hear Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth . . .You are the light of the world.”

These words are familiar. They have inspired the hearts and minds of artist, poets, and musicians for centuries. They have seeped into the cultural imagination of our world, and friends they can even be found on bumper stickers.

I wonder if I am the only one who started singing to myself, “hide it under a bushel NO, I’m gonna let it shine” as the words, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket,” were proclaimed from the Gospel.

We know these words, and that is where the danger lies.

The danger lies in the complacency of the familiar. The danger lies in becoming numb to just how powerful these words are. We must wake up and see the fullness of what Jesus is really calling us to this day.

So what does it mean to be salt?

The phrase, “the salt of the earth” has been normalized into our cultural vocabulary to mean really good, down to earth people. Because this phrase is so familiar we miss out on recognizing just how bizarre this would have sounded to those present with Jesus. Imagine instead if Jesus said, “You are the red hot chili peppers of the earth.”

You add zest. You add spice. You enliven. You shake up and unsettle the world.

This is what the disciples are called to do.

The way they are to engage the world should have profound consequences for the behavior of humanity. But in order to do this they must stay vigilant. That is why Jesus warns about salt that has lost its saltiness.   The danger for the disciples is that they might lose that capacity, by forgetting that they are to disorder the status quo by valuing those who are dispossessed, by caring for those who suffer loss, by seeking to do justice, showing mercy, having integrity, being peacemakers, and courageously standing for what they believe. Jesus is clear; disciples who do not engage in such practices that humanize life and restore the dignity of humanity are bland, and fall into the trap of following the ways of this early kingdom instead of the ways of God.

Today we are called to be red hot chili peppers. Today we are called to be salt.

The second metaphor used to instruct the disciples in their newfound identity as followers of Jesus is light.

It is important to note here that the disciples themselves are not the light.

There is only one light. The light that shines in the darkness. The light that enlightens the nations. The light of the world is Jesus.

So when Jesus says to the disciples, “You are the light of the world,” Jesus is saying to them that you are to be windows through which the light of God passes through and shines on the world. The gathered community of the disciples are to be so transformed by the light of God which passes through them, that they become beacons that burst forth the image and reality of God’s justice, God’s mercy, and God’s love.

Today we are called to be windows. Today we are called to be light.

After Jesus finished his metaphors of salt and light, he interjects with a clarification about the connection between this new thing that he is doing and the tradition that has been handed down to them.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Jesus is being explicit here, that the law and the prophets stand until they have been accomplished – until the prophecies have been fulfilled. So these words from Jesus force us to connect what it means to be salt and light with the prophetic message we hear from Isaiah.

Today’s passage from Isaiah draws our attention to the true meaning of worship. Throughout the beginning of the passage, the prophet is calling out the people of Israel for making their worship about themselves. They say to God, “why do we fast but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” After pointing out the problems with the Israelites behavior the prophet goes on to say:

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Worship, when it is only about us, is not true worship. True worship is that which brings us closer to God and inspires us to go out into the world and live into the fullness of that relationship.

I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with worship and ritual as long as we are not participating in those things for their own sake or out of some sort of obligation. Worship is not the end, but a vehicle to something more.

Worship should push us, it should make us uncomfortable, it should trouble the complacency in our hearts for worship is the primary way we build a deeper and more honest relationship with God. From this place of discomfort we should be moved to go out and act – to go out and make real the fast the Lord has chosen.

So, when Jesus says not one letter of the law or prophets will be erased until they have been fulfilled, Jesus is saying the work of my disciples – the work of salt and light – is to loose the bonds of injustice; to let the oppressed go free; to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to shelter the homeless; to not cast anyone aside; to welcome all people into the community that is the followers of Jesus; and to not rest until the realms of justice, peace, freedom and love prevail.

Over the years as I have come to know this community; as I have heard stories from some of you, from Deacon Joyce, and from Mother Susan I have come to see just how many windows there are here at St. Mark’s. I have come to know just how well you allow the light of Christ to shine through you. Every month over one hundred people come to your doors to be fed, to share in fellowship, and to take food home with them from your Community Lunch. You knit prayer shawls. You’ve established a relationship with the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center. You do all this and so much more. Here at St. Mark’s you are working hard, as a gathered community of disciples of Jesus, to build the kingdom of God, which is already and not yet.

Today as we once again here the invitation of Jesus to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world we are invited to discern how we can live into this identity more fully. We have the opportunity to imagine how we can better live into the sentiments of Archbishop Temple that, “the Church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not its members.” In this historical moment it is our responsibility as disciples of Jesus to seek out the lost, the left behind, the broken, the stranger, the scared and welcome them to be among us. To care for them. To love as Jesus loves us.

In a world of increasing anxiety and fear it can be hard to have the courage to keep doing these things.

It can be hard to continue in the righteousness of Jesus.

It can be hard to not be overwhelmed by it all.

In those moments we can turn to the words of the psalmist, who reminds us that the righteous have no reason to fear.

In those moments we can turn to our worshipping communities and pray together.

In those moments, we take all that holds us back and place that into the arms of the loving, life-giving, and liberating God.

Once we are set free from that burden, we can continue on with our work of being salt and light – we can continue on with our work of being the Church.

AMEN.

 

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