Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday in Lent

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

Julien and I watch a series called Lucifer.  The main character, Lucifer Morningstar has a way of looking deeply into a person’s eyes and asking them, “What is it that you truly desire?”  The subject replies with an unconsidered and deeply honest answer. The kind of answer we wouldn’t normally share with our closest friends, much less a very well-dressed stranger who shares a name with the Prince of Darkness.  And, yet, we all have those desires in us – to be loved just as we are, for fractured relationships to be repaired, to end violence in the world, for us and our loved ones to feel safe and secure, to know deep peace.

Did you know the word lucifer means light bearer?  Could the devil be a light-bearer, inasmuch as our answers to his wily questions shed light into the deepest parts of our souls?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Last Sunday after Epiphany

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

Epiphany.  It’s a sudden manifestation or realization of the essential nature of something.
Epiphany.  It’s an appearance of a divine being.
Epiphany.  It’s an intuitive grasp of reality through something simple and striking.
Epiphany.  It’s the season of the church year when we see the divinity of Jesus revealed in both simple and striking ways, unveiling the essential nature of God’s transforming and healing love for all people.
It’s hard to say where an epiphany begins.  Does it begin the moment we consciously realize something?  Or does it begin around us earlier, before we can name what is happening?  Or is an epiphany something we can only name later, as we look back on what has happened and tell the story of it?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

7th Sunday after Epiphany

Readings for Today.

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We are back with Jesus on the Plain, as we were last week.  One thing I’ve noticed about being in the middle of a crowd, when you’ll all on the same level, it’s hard to see much beyond the first couple of rows of faces in the crowd.  Jesus is face to face with a crowd of disciples who have come to be healed and to hear him teach. He is IN the crowd, in relationship with the people by sheer proximity. Seeing faces and body language and no perspective on how far the mass of people stretches, smelling food and other odors of humanity, hearing whimpers of babies and groans of aching old people, being touched by everyone who came for healing.  Knowing deep needs, fears and desires of humanity, Jesus has just offered a set of blessings and woes that exhort the gathered crowd to live with humility and generosity.

In this next section of the sermon, he talks in more specifics about how we live with our selves, and our motivations for how we relate to our co-human beings - particularly those we don’t like or who seem to stand against us or our values.  In a nutshell, he says, “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35a).

Sunday, February 17, 2019

6th Sunday after Epiphany

Today's Readings.

Listen to the Sermon.

I saw a great photo this past week.  Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, who is the bishop of Indianapolis, was preaching at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for the feast of Absalom Jones.  While it was amazing to see my friend preaching at the grandest cathedral in the United States, what was really fascinating was the pulpit from which she was preaching. It was one of those pulpits that sits way up high.  It must have 25 stairs up to it. She looked like she was suspended mid-air.

Maybe you’ve been in churches where the pulpit was set up high, or high and in the center front.  Many of our churches around here have pulpits that are on the floor or just slightly elevated. And many preachers, those who can, choose to preach among the people.

As a preacher, and as a listener, I am intrigued by the question of how or whether the location of the preacher changes what we hear.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Readings for Today.

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Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, isn’t that last week’s gospel story?”  You’re not wrong! Today’s gospel picks up with the last verse of last week’s gospel reading, and continues on with the story.

Last week we unpacked the opening line of Jesus’ sermon, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  

The crowd goes wild.  The people love him. They are amazed at his gracious, eloquent words.

They feel appreciated – the scripture is being fulfilled through them! Could this really be Joseph’s boy?  When did he learn to read? And how did he get so smart? He’s a great preacher!

We know those moments of communal pride, when one of our young adults comes home from college or their new adult life and shares something of their accomplishments.  It feels so good to see them becoming and living into their gifts and passions. We feel some ownership of their successes because, as parents and godparents and supportive adults, we helped raise them into who they are.

Jesus could have stopped there, with the adoration of the hometown crowd.  Instead, he delves deeper into Isaiah’s prophecy of a year of Jubilee when the blind find sight, the captives and the oppressed find release, and all of the poor of this world find consolation.  He names specific times in Hebrew history where God heals and saves the enemies of Israel. Jesus reminds his childhood neighbors that God’s love is for all the world, especially the poor.  

He implies that if the radical love of God is going to be realized, it will require change.  For the lowly to be raised up, the powerful will be brought lower. For the hungry to be fed, the rich will go away empty.  For the poor, the oppressed, the blind and the outcast to be considered whole human beings, the comfortable status quo will be upset.  When the people realize that he’s criticizing them, THAT’s when they get upset.

Jesus claims his role as a prophet in this moment. Prophets aren’t usually the heroes in the story.  Prophets, by definition, are truth-tellers. Because they speak for God, and not for themselves, they often speak plainly and without regard for how their message will be received.  They speak truths that we don’t want to hear. Prophets call us back to God when we have strayed away from God’s kingdom work. Prophets tell us in no uncertain terms the consequences of our actions if we do not repent and return to God.

We recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a modern prophet.  He eloquently shared a vision of the world where all people are regarded with dignity.  His life and words left such a mark on our national identity that we remember him, and the social movement that he represented with great respect and admiration.  

Dr. King shared a very personal dream with the world.  He articulated his dream in a way that people heard and internalized it as their own.  He also spoke some difficult truths about the prejudices deep within us that we would have to overcome in order to live that dream.  He spoke honestly of very real and difficult human feelings. Facing those feelings, so deeply rooted in our identity that we may not even know we have them, is unsettling and threatens our very sense of purpose.  And for naming those feelings, for speaking truth to power with love, he was killed.

The hometown crowd who turn on Jesus and try to run him off a cliff are threatened by the truth Jesus speaks.  They love the vision of God’s kingdom as a place of radical welcome. AND the changes, the upset in their lives, that are required to live into that vision are terrifying.  Jesus challenges their faithfulness, and their very identity as God’s own chosen people. And they get ANGRY!

This gospel may be difficult for us to hear as well.  Yes, we love to hear that Jesus is the light of the world, shining in the darkness, showing us the way to God, to Love.  Jesus brings a new and expansive understanding of justice - and freedom for all of us to live in love. We are baptized into that love, into that body of Christ, and take on Jesus’ ministry.  Like the synagogue crowd, those images are comforting. They reinforce how we know ourselves as God’s beloved, as God’s hands and heart in the world. AND, if we deeply consider what our commitment to living faithfully asks of us, what we might have to give up so that others may live more fully, we could get pretty angry too.

No one wants to hear it, but Jesus is saying that we’re not doing all we can do to be the best body of Christ we can.  That’s why the people who love and adore him most turn on him in rage.

It’s hard to take that next step toward faithfulness.  It’s hard to give up those little lies, or swearing, or our anger at people who think differently than we do.  We know we should. We know we will be living more faithfully, feel better about ourselves, if we do it. It’s a small step and yet it’s so difficult to make that change.  Besides, doesn’t God love us just the way we are?

Of course, God loves us as we are.  AND God loves us enough to want us to grow into even better versions of ourselves.   

That challenge to grow frightens us.  Anger rises in defense of our fear, and we lash out at the messenger.  We lash out at the prophet who speaks the truth to us in love. Shamed and angry that our ugly and unfaithful sides are exposed, we would force out the one who comes to save us from ourselves, to show us a new way of living.

So, what’s the alternative to fear and anger at Jesus’ call to radically change our lives, to treat our enemies with love, and to have compassion for every human being?

We can look to the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and find the answer, so simply, is love.  We’ve been reading from Corinthians for the past two weeks, about the gifts of the Spirit, and then about the parts of the body.  Paul is on his soapbox, lecturing the Corinthians about how no one is better than anyone else – everyone’s gifts are equally important to how the body works to fulfill the function of Jesus ministry.  In this finale, Paul gets to the reason for the body and gifts of the Spirit – Love. We are nothing if we are not living toward and into Jesus’ ministry of love for all people.

The call of Jeremiah answers another defense we like to offer:  ‘But how can I? I’m just simple little me. I can’t do great things for God.’  To which God says, ‘Baloney! I made you, and I have something in mind for you.’  God knows us better than we know ourselves. And even if our vision of ourselves is limited, God’s is not.

And isn’t that the best news of the day?  God knows us, God loves us, and God has something in mind for us.  

We could even look at our communal worship time with that lens.  God knows us - that’s the reassurance of the liturgy of the word, the first half of our worship service.  God loves us - as we know so well when we gather around God’s table. God has something in mind for us - and so we are sent into the world to use our gifts and build the kingdom.

My sisters and brothers, together, let us walk together in love, bravely exploring the future God has in mind for us individually and as God’s people here at St. Hilda St. Patrick.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

3rd Sunday after Epiphany - Annual Address

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

Dear People of God, my brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. Hilda St. Patrick,

I want to begin by saying that, four months into this interim time, I continue to be so very glad God called us to be in ministry together.  I love getting to know you, and seeing how God is at work in your lives and in this faithful community. Thank you for welcoming me and my family so easily and warmly.

Our gospel today finds Jesus back in his hometown of Nazareth.  He has begun his public ministry, and has already made a name for himself as a religious teacher.  Now, home in the synagogue where he grew up, he opens the scroll of Isaiah, and reads aloud some of Isaiah’s most provocative prophecies.  And then, after a pregnant pause, he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany 2019

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

Have you seen the big star that the downtown Seattle Macys puts on the building for the Christmas season?  I wonder if they would loan it out one of these years for Epiphany. If we put it up on the church, do you think wise people would come here seeking Jesus?