Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany of the Lord

Epiphany, Sermon

Jesus-Healing-iconIsaiah 40:21-311 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

Vocation is a tricky thing. As a college professor, I am an advisor for a handful of first-year students. It is rewarding for me to gently steer my students toward careers that will be fulfilling. Generally, we want to help them think critically and self-reflectively about their intended major, and their future careers. Most of the time this requires a willingness on their part to explore, to be open minded, to be up for new experiences. So often students choose the major they do because someone in their life – ahem, parents – have told them which career path will be the most marketable, have the most earning potential, the surest bet for a comfortable and stable career.

But sometimes, I’ll get a student who has a calling, who feels pulled toward something bigger than themselves, their family, or even the expectations that have been placed on them by whomever. And, as many of you know, the kind of vocation that this student will pursue does not have a high earning potential, or even a clear career path. The one called to this vocation follows this calling not for any material comfort or reward that it will bring them. Rather, they follow their calling, much as I have and I’m sure many of you have, because of the intrinsic satisfaction it brings, or at least it should bring. Typically, these students see a need, and they know that attending to that need will be far more gratifying than anything else that they could do.

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Good News: a sermon for the first Sunday after Christmas 2017

Christmas, Sermon

In Wes Anderson’s 2001 film, the Royal Tenenbaum’s, the title character, Royal Tenenbaum, played by Gene Hackman, is a quick witted, narcissistic, and failed lawyer. Broke and recently ejected from the hotel in which he had lived for decades, Royal cons his estranged family into believing that he is dying of cancer, in the hopes that they’ll let him move back in to the family house. When they discover the fraud, they kick him out again. Standing next to the cab, he exclaims to his son, “I feel like a different person, I really do.”  Confused and a little exasperated, his son replies, “Dad, you were never dying.” Royal enthusiastically exclaims, “but I’m gonna live!”

imgonnalive

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a textbook case of a false gospel. Royal deceives his family, and once they are on to him, he tries to deceive them a second time with good news.

Christ the King

Christ the King, Sermon

Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

This Sunday is the last of the Church year. In some Church calendars it is called Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday we begin the new church year with Advent, a season that for a long time now the Church has recognized as a time of preparation.

For what are we preparing, you may ask? I spoke with my kids about this briefly yesterday. After we joked about preparing for gifts, for Santa, for good food, for time off school, one of them eventually asked, why do we need to prepare for Jesus’ birth. It happened already. Aren’t we just remembering?

Aren’t we just remembering?

Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28)

Sermon

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry

You may hear, in this poem by the poet and scholar Wendell Berry, the resonance of Christ’s words in the sermon on the Mount, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Jesus well understood the fear and despair that seem endemic to human life. We have created a collective life for ourselves, a culture that rewards those who worry, those for whom the anxiety of survival and success leads them to live guarded lives, what Berry calls taxing lives of forethought.

20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Sermon

 

Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Why do we worship the things that we worship? Why do we develop the attachments that we do?

This week, as I thought about today’s Gospel reading, I found myself wondering “why does Jesus invoke the name of God and the name of Caesar in the same breath?”

The Pharisees inquire: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

As we just heard, Jesus answers their question by asking for a coin. Now the coin that they handed Jesus was a denarius, a roman coin made of silver, about the size of a dime. The denarius was the most common coin of the Roman Empire’s currency. As Jesus indicates, the denarius has the face of Caesar Augustus on it, and is imprinted with words that declare Caesar’s divinity. The coin probably said, “Tiberius Caesar, the son of the divine Augustus, the Augustus.” Tiberius was the Caesar, the emperor at the time, and was the stepson of Octavian, the first to be called Augustus, a name that itself conferred divinity. On the back, the coin declares Caesar “pontifex maximus,” the greatest High Priest, the one who connects us to the Gods. 

Proper 16, 2017

Sermon

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Earlier this month, I was in Boston for a conference, and while there, I had the opportunity to preach. My sermon that Sunday was on the Transfiguration, a story that is about how unsettling God’s glory can be, and about St. Peter’s sometimes humorous tendency to put his foot in his mouth. What I like so much about that story, is the fact that Peter’s life can be a powerful exemplar for us all. Peter’s mind is renewed, and this gives us hope that our mind’s can undergo the same transformation.
As we read today, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, or the Christ in some translations. And then, in the next chapter, on the side of that mountain, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is tested, affirmed, and strengthened. That renewal is necessary to be able to see Jesus for who he really is, the Christ, the Son in whom the Father is well pleased, the Son that we are supposed to listen to.

Seeing Jesus as he really is, for who he really is. That sounds like a tall order. Hundreds of thousands of pages were expended on this task in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Children and adults alike have inquired about this Christ whom they have never met in person. Will the real Jesus please stand up?

But as St. Paul tells us, there is more at stake in the question of who Jesus is than just knowing that strange and wonderful miracle worker from Palestinian who lived two millennia ago. Knowing Jesus, Paul says, renews our mind.

In a remarkably compact passage, Paul tells the Romans that their bodies and lives should be presented to God as living sacrifices, that they should offer themselves up for transformation. Not just any transformation, but one that will make it possible for them to discern God’s will. I don’t know which is a taller order, knowing the real Jesus or knowing God’s will!
But Paul doesn’t just tell the Romans that they should be so transformed, he in fact tells them how this transformation will happen, and it’s both awe inspiring and humbling, and perhaps humiliating to some. The thought that we all have spiritual gifts is wonderful, and should give us confidence in the Church, the confidence that through the Church God can work in the world.
But there’s more: neither you, nor I, nor anyone else has all the gifts. Unlike Pokemon, I can’t catch ‘em all. Instead, the Spirit has given me some gifts, and has given different gifts to others. What this means is that I have to rely on others for their gifts, and that they have to rely on me. Together, we make a body, and as bodies go, one member is only one part of a whole body, and yet that “just one part” is also crucial to the health and vitality of the whole body.

What is your part in this body? How do you know what your gift is? You might even be wondering whether you have a spiritual gift.

Looking back at Peter’s exchange with Jesus, we see that it’s only after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ that he begins to see who he himself is, who he is becoming. And Peter has already traveled with Jesus for many miles. Jesus exclaims that what Simon peter, the son of Jonah, has just said, what he knows, doesn’t come from “flesh and blood.” Rather, it comes directly from the Father in Heaven. And it’s because of Peter’s confession that Peter is now moving toward a different vocation, a different set of habits, a different mind. Of course, he doesn’t get it right immediately. But Peter is on the way to offering himself up as a living sacrifice, his act of spiritual worship. In other words, Peter’s change, Peter’s gift doesn’t come from Peter. It comes from God.
Jesus being the Christ makes Peter the Rock. It isn’t Peter’s confidence in himself that makes him the Rock. Rather, it is faith in Christ that will be the foundation of Christ’s new community. It is faith in Christ—and not ourselves, our ideologies, our actions—that is the foundation of the Church today.

Confessing that Jesus is the Christ isn’t just about knowing Jesus, although that’s an incredibly important part of it. Rather, As Jesus tells Peter in today’s reading, knowing who Jesus is changes how we see ourselves. Jesus being the Christ, the only son of God, offers us the chance to change, to become renewed in our minds together, and to offer ourselves up as holy and living sacrifices.