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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Below is my sermon from the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 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.
Today’s Gospel passage represents a pivotal moment in our lectionary cycle.
For the last few weeks our Scripture passages have been focusing our attention on answering the question “Who is Jesus?” As we approached, prepared for, and celebrated the incarnation – the birth of the Messiah, the Word becoming flesh, we have been building a foundation that rests on the answer to this question: For everything in our lives of faith stems from our understanding of who Jesus is.
Last week this revelatory process reached an important milestone. As we read from John’s Gospel, as we heard the proclamation of John the Baptist, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” we witnessed Jesus beginning to establish his community. Last week we heard John’s version of what we hear today from Matthew. We heard Jesus calling out and inviting Andrew and Peter to “come and see.” We were reminded of the invitation to discernment, the invitation to deeper relationship with this Jesus we have come to know.
Next week, we will read from Matthew just a few verses beyond what we have heard today. Next week the question will no longer be, “who is Jesus,” but “whatis Jesus doing?” We will encounter Jesus living into his earthly ministry as we hear the words of that most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount.
But where does that leave us today?
Today’s passage from Matthew sits between last week and next. It sits between coming to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, and what Jesus is doing.
I wonder if while you listened to the Gospel proclaimed this morning you found yourself doing a double take? I wonder if you found yourself thinking, “didn’t I just hear this?” If this or any similar thought crossed your mind, fear not, your ears were not deceiving you. This morning’s passage from Matthew begins by quoting Isaiah, in fact is it the very passage from Isaiah that we also read this morning. By quoting Isaiah, Matthew is making a clear statement of who he understands Jesus to be.
This passage is one of Isaiah’s beautiful and poetic Messianic prophecies. The Israelites are living in a time of war, and the Assyrians have annexed their communities. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali have been taken and transformed into Assyrian provinces. All of the anxieties and fears of war are being felt by the people of God.
In this prophecy Isaiah is making clear that this is not God’s will for God’s people. God’s purpose is to turn humiliation into liberation. In the midst of war, Isaiah sings a song of liberation into the darkness; a song of the God who lifts the burdensome yoke under which the people are trapped by raising up a ruler who will drive out the oppressors, unify Israel, and initiate a time of “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” (9:7).
What Matthew is doing here, in quoting Isaiah, is one of the most important motifs in Matthew. Fourteen times throughout this Gospel we hear, “so what has been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.” Fourteen times Matthew quotes from the prophet as a means of showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of these long expected prophecies. In doing so Matthew makes the claim that Jesus is the new Moses, that Jesus is beginning a new and expanded covenant between God and God’s people that is available for all people.
So in this moment, by quoting this passage from Isaiah, Matthew is boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the one who has come to lift this burdensome yoke from God’s people.
With this understanding of Jesus as the great liberator established, the passage shifts and Jesus begins his earthly ministry. He goes “throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” But, before Jesus goes off, he calls four people to join him in this kingdom building work.
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, two fishermen going about their daily lives. He called out to them saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The two men did not ask any questions. They stopped what they were doing, dropped their nets, and followed Jesus. As they continued to walk along that Galilean beach they came across more fishermen – James, John, and their father Zebedee. Jesus calls out to James and John. They too stop what they are doing, and immediately begin to follow Jesus. The invitation Jesus offers to Andrew, Peter, James and John, is not an invitation to discernment – it is an invitation to discipleship.
The call of these four men is not filled with a lot of flourishes or detail. In many ways it has been stripped down to the essentials.
Jesus sees them.
Jesus calls them.
There is immediacy to what they are doing. They do not sit around, form a committee, or begin to debate the details of their job descriptions. They just get up and go.
Take a moment to imagine what that scene must have been like.
Imagine how profound that encounter must have been for them to leave everything behind to follow that perfect stranger.
Imagine being aware of something so wonderful in the midst of the ordinariness of life.
Somewhere within their being, these men had a desire – a longing – to being part of this new reality of God. I wonder if when St. Augustine wrote, “our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” if he had these men in mind. I wonder if their immediate, unhesitating response to Jesus is the result of this innate desire to be in relationship with God. What else could be the reason behind their great risk?
In immediately following Jesus, these four left everything they knew behind. They have done what many would deem absolute foolishness. They have left their communities to be part of a new reality. They have left their families to enter into a new relationship with God. They gave up their livelihood so that they might have the bread of life. These disciples chose the road that the world labels as failure and death, and discovered that it is the way of victory and eternal life. They did all of that in one instantaneous decision.
When Jesus invites them using the words, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus is inviting them to share in the very work that Jesus is doing. No longer will they cast their nets for fish, they will now cast the inclusive message of God as far and wide as possible. They will share this message with whomever they encounter with the hopes that they too will join in this work of following and fishing.
By putting together this understanding of Jesus, based in Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, and Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, Matthew is making the connection that ultimately what these disciples – and all disciples – will do is take up the mantle of Jesus. They will – we will – be the ones to preach; to teach; to heal; to restore; to be beacons of light in the midst of darkness; to remove the burdensome yoke from the people of God. When Andrew, Peter, James, and John accept Jesus’ invitation to fish for people, they become our models for discipleship. After all, the same Peter who is called today is the one who proclaims Jesus as the Messiah and Lord – he is the one who will restore people to health and wholeness through the power of Jesus’ name – it is through him that Jesus builds his Church.
Just as Jesus invites these four to become his disciples, we have been issued the same invitation. And like them, we are called to respond in the same way: immediately and without hesitation. While we may not be called to leave everything and everyone we know behind, we are called to reorder our lives and our world. We are called to participate in the work of building the kingdom of God today so that it might be “on earth as it is in heaven.” We are called to take risks in the name of following Jesus. This is not easy.
There is a deep and real cost to discipleship.
Andrew, Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples came to know this cost. As the second verse of our closing hymn almost hauntingly says, “contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them too.” They will walk with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and come to see the cruciform reality of the love of God.
The risks of discipleship are real. The demands are many. But if we choose to follow, to allow our actions and motivations to be moved by the restlessness of our hearts as they search for God, we too will come to know the fullness of this loving, life giving, and liberating God. For as we follow what Jesus does, we come to know fully who Jesus is.
Below is my sermon from Christmas Day 2016 preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer. The lessons can be found here. Given the importance of this day, I decided to go with a manuscript instead of a cartoon. So below, is a recording of the sermon as well as the manuscript.
The south porch
I absolutely love the Book of Isaiah. I find its poetry and prose have permeated my very being. The expansiveness of this book has the ability to speak to all my places of darkness and my places of light – to my joy and my sadness. But even more, this book has the ability to speak to the complexity of human emotions. For in the passages that speak to the darkness, glimmers of light break through. And, in passages of joy the backdrop of despair can be seen, if only we look closely enough. Today’s passage is no different.
It is hard to miss the sheer exuberance of this passage from Isaiah:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The prophet is proclaiming that peace is coming. God is being faithful to God’s promises, and will restore God’s people. The victory of God is about to be made known before the eyes of all the nations. It seems the prophet can barely contain his excitement. While there is great joy in this passage, it is set in the midst of despair.
You see the prophet is speaking to an Israelite audience living at the end of the Babylonian exile. This is a nation that has witnessed and lived with the stories of the destruction of that great city Jerusalem. The peace that the prophet announces, the peace we hear of this morning, is the announcement that God is about to restore the people of Israel to their own country – they are about to go home. Knowing all this, the prophet cries out:
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem. The city that has crumbled under foreign occupation can now rejoice. God is returning, the city will be restored, and the community will be made whole. So the prophet calls on this people standing in the midst of rubble, amidst broken dreams, disappointment, and shattered lives to break forth together – as a community – with song of praise to God. For God has come to set them free. For God has come to set us free.
The Gospel passage appointed for Christmas Day is radically different than the passage we heard last night on Christmas Eve. This passage is stripped away of all the images we have come to associate with Christmas. John’s prologue says nothing about crèches and shepherds; there is no babe wrapped in bands of cloth; there is no Angel announcing good news or the heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God.” This morning all distractions have been erased. This morning, John tells us that Jesus is Word and Light. John tells us that there is darkness and that the Word will be rejected by some – the Word will be rejected by his own people. We have come to believe and know, that this Word comes in the midst of our darkness and light, in the midst of our pain and joy. To be among us. To be one of us. So this morning, we come together into the presence of our Lord and Savior bringing all the particulars of our lives – our hurt, our pain, our joy, our gladness, our hopes and dreams, and our love. And we do so trusting that God takes on all of these things: God participates fully in the drama of humanity that we might be made new – that we might be set free. So “break forth together into singing you ruins of Jerusalem,” for the Word has been made flesh.
In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning there was God and the Word together – creating, forming, molding the entirety of creation into being. In the beginning there is God’s love toward the world that God creates, and God’s plan for that creation. In the beginning there is an image of humanity that dwells in the realms of justice, peace, freedom, and love. From the very beginning, all of creation is imbued with the Logos, with the Word and Wisdom of God.
But this is not the beginning. We do not live in a realm of justice, peace, freedom, and love. If your newspapers, twitter feeds, and Facebook home pages are anything like mine they are filled with anxiety and fear. They are filled with the demands of this world, as opposed to the demands of God. It is as if a shadow has been cast over the beauty of creation: over the wonders of justice, peace, freedom, and love. It is as if the world has forgotten that the Word became flesh. For once the Word became flesh, once that glimmer of light shone in the world, darkness met its match: For there is no darkness that is strong enough to quench even the smallest amount of light.
Because each and everyone of us is created in the likeness of God, because each and everyone of us is a beloved child of God, we have, from the beginning of our creation, been infused with the Word, the Truth, the Light, the Wisdom of God. No matter how dark the world and our lives seem, no matter how much we struggle to get into the “Christmas spirit,” we contain within our beings the ability to proclaim Jesus is born in this world. We contain deep within our souls the light, which casts out all darkness.
There are times when faith requires us to act before we can fully feel or understand that which we are called to do. It seems to me, the celebration of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord, is one of our chief responsibilities as followers of Jesus, and thus this proclamation is required of us even when we do not fully feel it or understand it. But that is the true gift of the Incarnation.
God comes among us to share in the fullness our lives, God comes to share our stories, to join our lives with God’s that we might be strengthened and sustained to carry out God’s work in the world. That we might, as much as our feeble selves can handle, participate in the building of the Kingdom of God – that we might bear the light and truth of the Incarnation in our lives; and pass along the light of Christ to the deepest and darkest corners of the world.
For those of us repeatedly alienated through a thousand little comments or rendered invisible by society; for those of us weighed down by financial burdens, by unjust economic and political structures; for those of us who experience anxiety and fear at the realities of our civil discourse; for those of us who have been and continue to be beaten down mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, God sees and names and touches us. In the midst of all this the incarnation is God’s Word to us that our bodies, our lives, our souls, were made to be free to love. God becomes us so that we can become like God – so that we might love one another, be with one another, that our lives might mirror and participate in the community that is God’s life.
God comes among us to set us free from all that holds us captive. When the Word becomes flesh, when the Word dwells among us, we get a glimpse of the true reality of God. This is what the Incarnation is about; this is what Christmas is about. Christmas has happened, Christmas is happening, Christmas will continue to happen until God’s victory is completed on earth – until all people are set free and dwell in the Kingdom of God. Until that day when the realms of justice, peace, freedom, and love prevail.
This morning, I want to leave you with the words of liturgical scholar Nathan Mitchell. Mitchell captures the heart of what it is we endeavor to do this day, and every day as a community that has pledged itself to be in relationship with the incarnate and living God. He writes:
What the parish celebrates during this season is not primarily a birthday, but the beginning of a decisive new phase in the tempestuous history of God’s hunger for human companions. The social concerns of the season are thus rooted in Jesus’ proclamation of God’s reign: the renunciation of patterns that oppress others (holding, climbing, commanding) and the formation of a new human community that voluntarily embraces those renunciations. It is an adult Christ that the community encounters during the Advent and Christmas cycles of Sundays and feasts: a Risen Lord who invites sinful people to become church. Christmas does not ask us to pretend we were back in Bethlehem, kneeling before a crib; it asks us to recognize that the wood of the crib became the wood of the cross.
As we, yet again, glory in the miracle of the Incarnation let us remember that our hope and joy in this new beginning is set towards the glories of the Risen Lord. The one who makes God’s victory known. The one who came, the one who comes, the one who will always come to set us free. Therefore, let us break forth together into singing for the Word was made flesh.