Apr 232018


Good Morning!  It’s good to be back!  Being here again reminds me of Yogi Bara’s words: it’s deja vue all over again!  A few weeks ago just after the Parkland shooting I gave a sermon about the urgency of our mandate to take action against guns and violence in our communities and schools.  One person came up to me later and said that she was troubled by the image of Jesus as a political person and that she was much more comfortable with Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  

After that conversation, I thought a lot about the image of the Good (kalos, model, ideal) Shepherd in my life (*) and I’ve realized a couple of things, first from the earliest time this image of Jesus along with his healing, dominated my picture of him. There was that stained glass window in the Methodist church where I grew up, Jesus with a lamb over his shoulders.  Church school.  The king of love my shepherd is. Sentimental, loving.  And something else, this image more closely corresponded to my needs, and my one on one personality. And the image of this Shepherd was always about ME! Just me!  But now, as I’ve thought about this Good Shepherd image in the Gospels, it strikes me that wherever Jesus is tending to the needs the lost and lonely, he’s also making a political judgement against those who should care for the poor but are not.  His actions were always political, counter-cultural!

Today’s Gospel makes this clear.  First, Jesus is the model shepherd because other shepherds, the hired hands, let’s say the religious leaders, have abandoned the flock, the poor.  They’ve enjoyed their own comforts, run away when there was danger. Ezekiel 34 (below).  Jesus way is a challenge to the establishment!

The second thing about shepherd is that he is the shepherd of a flock, not just individuals.  This is a rather painful realization for me.  “Jesus lover of my soul” No, it’s not about me alone, but about the flock; as a group the Shepherd is intimate with us, knows us, loves us, and as a flock we hear his voice.  In fact we probably can hear his voice at least in part (maybe only) because we know and listen to each other.  And there are other sheep who are a part of this flock, (Jesus’ way is inclusive) we are on a spiritual journey not just individually, but with each other, lots of others, some like us, many very unlike us, but we all know that one voice that makes us a universal community.

And finally, Jesus says the one thing that sets the shepherd apart is that he or she is willing to risk his life, to lay down his life for the sheep, intentionally, consciously, with unwavering compassion.  John is the only Gospel author who uses this phrase, and in our text today he uses it 5 times.  We know ultimately what it meant for Jesus: his resources, his hours and days, his compassion were given without counting the cost.  Danger and death did not hold him back because he had intimacy with his Father.  He chose to jump into the fray. This is what love looks like. It’s political, social, personal, inclusive all at once.

The first lines of John 1 describe out mandate today.  Read these lines at home, write a letter to yourself, what they mean for you, and be ready to “jump more deeply into the fray yourselves:  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we (too) ought to lay down our lives for one another.  How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?   Little children, let us then love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  Amen.  

Ezekiel 34 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.

Apr 102018


Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018 – The Second Sunday of Easter

Have you noticed a lot of honking and flapping overhead in these early spring days?  Half a dozen times this week I witnessed Canada geese in flight over head. Did you know that geese fly in a V formation because that way they can cover 70% more distance than if they flew alone?  And did you know that geese share the leadership of the V?  Whenever the lead goose gets tired, she or he rotates back in the V and another goose takes the point position.  And do you know what all that honking is about?  The honking is encouragement.  The geese in the back honk to encourage those up front to keep up their good work and good speed.  And did you know that when a goose in the formation gets sick or is injured and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out of formation with it and follow their wounded or sick friend down to the ground to help give it protection? They stay with the injured or sick one until the crisis resolves, and then they launch out again together, sometimes joining another V until they catch up with their original group.

          And so it is that our wild, honking, feathered friends hold up a mirror to us, members of the Body of Christ.  The Body of Christ which is the church- that great and sacred mystery into which we will soon be welcoming Garett and Finnegan, through the waters of baptism (at the 10:15 service).  The Body of Christ that, as described in our first reading from the Book of Acts, started out like a flock of wild geese, connected with bonds of care, affection, encouragement and support for every member.

          (8am: Though you won’t be present for the baptisms at 10:15, you are part of the community of faith into which little Garett and little Finnegan are being welcomed.)  As we welcome Finnegan and Garett, today we all share in the spiritual responsibility this community takes on in promising to help them grow into the full stature of Christ. And so this morning as we prepare for this work of holy hospitality and responsibility to those who will soon be the most newly minted Christians among us, I want to offer a prayerful supplication for them and for all of us in this part of the Body of Christ – this flying V we call St. Paul’s Church:

Lord Christ, we pray for Finnegan and Garett, who are soon to become members of your body the church.  May they come to know what so many of us have learned.   May they come to know that, as it is with geese in flight, our journey of faith – through the beauties of your creation, but also through the bent and broken parts of our world and our own selves- this journey is made easier when we share it with You.  And may they grow to marvel as they discover, the truth that we get where we are going faster when we travel on the trust of one another.  And may we as members of this parish be your witnesses to them.  Witnesses to the reality that though evil may seem to win, it never triumphs in the end.  And may it always be that they experience safety and strength, among your flock here gathered.

          And may it also be that they hear frequent, loud and raucous honking among us.  And may that glorious song ring in their ears as they grow, so that they become numbered among the daughters and sons of encouragement who are so desperately needed in our world.  And may we model for them patterns of partnership – partnership in which the hard jobs are shared, and heavy burdens never carried by just one of us.

          And may they grow into the confidence that they will never be left to walk the dark and fearful ways of life alone.  May your rod and your staff comfort them there.  And may they always trust that some from among our number will fall out and be with them in times of need; sharing faith when doubt arises; being your hands of healing for any wounds which might assault their body, mind or spirit; and in that final hour of their earthly  life – years hence -may members of Christ’s body be by their side to keep the vigil of death, as living reminders to them of the promise of your resurrection to eternal life breathed upon them in the gift of the Holy Spirit here today. 

          And may we do and be all of this, for them and with them, ever secure in the knowledge that you, Christ Jesus, are the wind beneath our wings. In your Most Holy Name we pray.  Amen+ 

Apr 102018


Sermon for Sunday, April 1, 2018 – Easter Day

          Each year as I go through the Triduum – these 3 great days of sacred observance, which we conclude with this joyous Easter worship, I get all caught up in what it must have been like to be with Jesus in those final days and hours of his earthbound life.  As we reenacted the last supper on Thursday night and washed each other’s feet – as Jesus did for his disciples- I was awash with a love that I imagine those first followers must have clung to as they were sucked into the vortex of the horrors of Jesus crucifixion.  Then in our Good Friday services when we sang “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb” I trembled a bit and wondered how much more those first ones must have shook with the trauma of everything they witnessed first-hand. 

          Their grief must have been searing.  I imagine that his presence in life had been so amazing, so nourishing, so refreshing –I imagine Jesus was like a cold drink of water when one is dying of thirst.  For three years they had basked in that presence – when he was taken, his absence must have been overwhelming.  I imagine they missed Jesus more than they had ever missed anyone else. And fear must have layered in with their grief.  If the authorities could come and take him and kill him, were any of them safe?  Disoriented and afraid they ran and they hid. Where was the God he had talked about – the loving Father he called Abba? 

          After 3 days of weeping bitterly in hiding I imagine they needed to do something.  In the early morning, when no one had yet stirred, when most were still in their beds, before humans or animals were roused up for the work of the day, three of the women stole away to the tomb.  The only shred of normalcy they had left was the ritual of anointing.  He had been wrenched away from them and they did not understand why, but at least they could do what was required, and let our tears mingle with the oils and the spices as they tenderly touched him one last time and made his body ready for permanent burial.

          But when they got to the tomb they froze – the stone was rolled back. I imagine them still as deer in the shadows of that early morning, listening for any sound any indication of danger, not moving a muscle, not daring to breath, ready to run for their lives if need be.  Finally one of them breaks the spell and moves into the open mouth of the tomb, the others following close behind.   Once their eyes adjust to the gloom they see that Jesus is not there.  Instead there is a young man they had never seen before.  They are about to bolt when they hear his voice – calm, gentle, sweet on the ear. 

          I wonder what they thought of is message – he is not here – he is risen as he said- he has gone ahead – back to Galilee – you will see him there – go tell the others.  Oh yes and he says one more thing – Do not be alarmed. I imagine that as this mysterious young man tried to comfort those women with his words images flashed into their minds of times when Jesus had in word and action told them the same – be not afraid. 

          But what else can they be?  If Jesus is alive through the power of God, then the whole march of history is reversed and the world as they have known it is turned upside down.  They had always believed that death is final – isn’t it?  Everything must die – that is the truth that humanity has lived with since the dawn of time. We all have our ways of dealing with it.  But if Jesus is risen, life has out maneuvered death, and God is on the loose and on the move. 

          I imagine that those woman ran from the tomb that morning, not afraid for their lives, but rather afraid of life, which had risen up and challenged all their expectations and assumptions.  I imagine they caught sight of the world according to God with all its new possibilities and I bet it scared them more than anything they had seen before.  I imagine that they knew that radical change was coming their way, and like most of us they were scared by change.

          So if the last word of this Easter Gospel according to Mark is the word AFRAID, what happened?  How did the word get out?  I imagine that as they ran into the uncertainty of their future, those first followers of Jesus kept hearing Jesus calling them. I imagine this because I know this to be true for myself.  And I know from knowing a good number of you that you have experienced this too.  We hear Jesus call us – sometimes through the lyric of a song on the radio, sometimes through a passage of scripture that comes alive for us in a new way, sometime in the off handed comment of a friend, sometimes in the exquisite beauty of music or the natural world – we hear Jesus and we come in here and we talk with one another – just as those women must have done all those years ago.  We talk as we are serving meals at Among Friends, or knitting prayer shawls, or preparing the altar for worship.  We talk with each other as we are balancing the finances of figuring out how to repair the roof.  We talk with each other as we attend Church School or study a book together.  And there are so many other ways I don’t have time to name here this morning.  Suffice it to say that here in the church as we work together and talk together, we test our experiences with each other, and we are nourished by the holy meal Jesus urged us to share in remembrance of him and we begin to hear him together.  We experience him alive and moving among us.  And we realize as those first followers must have, that there is no going back to the way life was before we heard him – only moving ahead with each other and him in a new way.  And the longer we are knit together in his mystical body – the more strongly we feel Christ is among us, guiding us, leading us into deeper connection with each other and God.  And as we pray and seek to strengthen those connections, Christ shows us how to serve the world in his spirit and in his name. That is the power of his presence among us.  Let us never forget that and always trust that he is with us!

          All those years ago in the half light of that empty tomb the tender voice of an angel bid the women to gather the others and to meet Jesus in Galilee where he was going ahead of them.  In Gospel of Mark there is no Bethlehem- chapter 1 of Mark begins with Jesus as an adult being baptized by his cousin John.  He begins his ministry in Galilee the home region of many of his closest followers. So this reference to Galilee is an invitations to those first followers and to us to go back to the beginning and to consider the whole gospel again, so we will understand what the empty tomb can mean.

If we go back to Galilee, back to the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and read it all again, and if we listen carefully to what Jesus is saying and doing we see that by the standards of our current world, his ways and teachings are radical.  In the Gospel Jesus preaches that real power comes when we serve each other and to care for the least, the last and the lost.  He tells us and shows us that it is only through that path of self spending care for others that we will find abundant life.  And he is not just talking about charity work – as important as that is – he is preaching radical realignment of societal priorities!

          Interestingly, studies show that most adult Americans report that compassion is a core value for them.  Theologically that lines up with our Judeo-Christian vision of the image of God dwelling at the center of every human being – at our core we are love and compassion, just as God is love and compassion.  But that does not line up with how we operate much of the time in groups.  Collectively our behavior indicates that we are often more driven by our fears and greed than by our core value of compassion.  

          In this moment, in this spot in the history of humanity, on this morning when we celebrate resurrection let us seriously consider this disconnect between our core values and the way we act together. What if before making significant choices and decisions we consciously stepped outside of the fear and self interest that so often drive us?  What if we demanded the same of our leaders and then committed ourselves to supporting them in doing so?  What if this moment is the perfect opportunity to meet the risen Christ back in our Galilee – back at the place we started – here in church, back in the core of our identity as compassionate creatures?  What if we followed the divine source of all compassion on a new road?  What if we were partners with God in building a world where loving concern for all is our highest societal value and priority?  What if?

I can’t imagine a grander collaboration with the Resurrected One whom we profess to follow – can you? Our resurrected Lord is out there ahead of us – do you hear him calling?  What will you do?  How will you embody resurrection in this world?

Alleluia Christ is risen!  Amen+


Apr 102018


Sermon for March 30, 2018 – Good Friday

Let us pray: We praise you O Christ and we adore you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.   Amen

The events we hear about each year on Good Friday are difficult to hear. For some of us, the events starting with Jesus’s arrest and ending with his crucifixion and death can become overwhelming, can cause such spiritual pain that we can sink into the abyss, especially after the rich but sometimes difficult season of Lent –– and for others of us, a different reaction can happen: the depth of the pain is blocked, skimmed over, and we move straight to Easter in our mind. And depending which of the Gospels is proclaimed, the events as portrayed in them can affect us in different ways because they are written from different perspectives.  In the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is depicted as a victim, often referred to as the suffering servant. Today/night we see John’s Jesus, the non-wavering Jesus, the Jesus who does not falter, who stays strong.

From the perspective of this Gospel, we see the political and the religious powers of the day come together in a type of unholy alliance, if you will. Chief Priests, soldiers, police, and some of the Pharisees all swirl around each other: Jews and Romans alike, with their own fears and their own baggage and agendas. They pass power and control back and forth among them — all culminating in confusion and chaos, that as we know, will lead to Jesus’s crucifixion. It can seem as if no one is really in control.

But if we look more closely we see in John’s Gospel, that Jesus is in control, right from the beginning when he directs the soldiers in his own arrest. Jesus remains in control when Peter loses control…when he crumbles.  And we know that Peter will — and he will do it spectacularly. And even though we know he is going to fall asleep, and that he is going to cut off the slave’s ear, and then he will deny Jesus the three times, we still, every time we hear the story, want to yell out at him, “No, don’t do it, you’ll be sorry”. And then he does it. And it is so easy to judge, to get angry or frustrated with him.  But you know, we really shouldn’t….because we all do it….we all deny Jesus through our sin.  We all have places where we lack the courage to stand fast. 

Pilate gives Jesus ample opportunity during his interrogation to stop the crucifixion — but Jesus doesn’t, he could easily have prevented his death – but he allows the events to unfold.  In fact, Pilot waffles repeatedly, going inside and outside between the crowd and Jesus……………….and Jesus stays in control of the examination, standing quietly, answering only when he chooses, while Pilot scurries in and out, trying to persuade the crowd to let Jesus go free…until he finally succumbs and hands Jesus over.

Jesus remains in control on the journey to Golgotha, carrying the cross alone, no women along the way wiping his brow, no Simon of Cyrene to remove the burden from his shoulders. He speaks calmly from the cross itself to those standing near the foot of the cross, giving direction for how his mother’s and the disciple he loves futures will occur – and with that direction the first Christian family is born through the love hanging from a cross.

Even at the hour of his death, Jesus remains in charge, not the soldiers who come to hasten his death. No one takes his life from him.  He gives it. He hands it over of his own free will. He stays in charge, determining when to lay his life down – saying, “It is Finished”. We see Jesus at his greatest hour through the Johannine perspective. Jesus dies and Christianity is born.

Jesus’s death in John’s telling is often called his Glorification.  In this Gospel he is the king who reigns from the throne of the cross. And while the image of Jesus as King can cause discomfort for some of us, it is perhaps an apt metaphor to think about at the time of his death. John reminds us that the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed are not saved by a commitment to the authority of the world’s kings, the world’s rulers, but through the grace of the love of the kingdom of God.

Just as Jesus spent the last three years of his life teaching those around him how to live, through John’s perspective, Jesus teaches us how to die:  simply and with majesty. He continues to teach us, staying true to his mission — right through his death — that all of life is a preparation for our physical death and movement into the next realm of our journey in God’s eternity.

Bishop Barbara Harris often quotes the author Barbara Johnson, when she reminds us that: “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”  As part of our awareness that we live in a Good Friday world with all of its brokenness, we are urged by John’s Gospel to know that we can cling to Jesus’s teachings and to the meaning of Christ’s kingdom. I am reminded of the Lutheran New Testament scholar Guy Nave, who said, “On Good Friday, let us examine our own religious-political allegiances to make sure we are not claiming that we have “no king but the emperor.”.

So today, is a Good Friday, for Christ reigned triumphant on the cross, and through his resurrection he overcomes the finality of death. On that day so long ago, he stretched his arms out in love between heaven and Earth, in order to unite us once and for all, as People of God.

Today…………on this Good Friday, let us as present day beloved disciples of Christ,  gather as part of the Christian family. Today……on this Good Friday let us sit at the foot of the cross, grieve together and give thanks for the One who does not crumble.


In the name, and for the sake of, our crucified Lord.  Amen


Apr 102018


Sermon for Maundy Thursday, March 30, 2018

This night is so incredibly special.  It is a bit like the eye of a hurricane.  So much turmoil began to swirl as Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem.  Allegiances were made among those who wanted to silence Jesus and the crowds that followed him.  Plots were set in motion, but then in the midst of that, Jesus gathered his closest followers and observed the Passover meal with them.  This was a meal enshrined among the Jewish people since their ancient ancestors had been freed from slavery and oppression in the land of Egypt.  The ritual of this meal had been passed down and embellished through each generation.  It was a sacred remembrance of a past event that had powerful ongoing future significance for them.  And so Jesus chose it as the moment when he would deliver to his followers his last words and actions among them. 

          Looking at all four gospels under the cover of the Bible you see that though there are differences among them about this last supper of Jesus with his disciples, all four agree that he delivered to them words and actions about, self-giving love and humble service. In Matthew, Mark and Luke- and later through Paul in our second lesson from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11- we receive the actions and words of the Eucharist, in which Jesus becomes the new Passover lamb, mystically uniting himself with the bread and wine of the Passover meal.  He gives himself in this way to nourish those who follow him, just as he will give himself the next day to let God defeat death through him and open our way to eternal life.  These are powerful and potent words and actions, and in this night we will again repeat them.  They are for us a sacred remembrance of a past event that has powerful ongoing future significance for us.  And so we find ourselves in mystical congruence with our Jewish sisters and brothers who celebrate their Passover meal around this same time of year.  May God bring powerful healing to the world through this congruence!

          There are moments in Matthew, Mark and Luke when Jesus talks with his followers about their approach to power.  In each case he exhorts them “whoever would be great among you must become the servant of all.”  But it is only in John’s Gospel- in the passage from the 13th chapter that Jay proclaimed among us tonight- that Jesus radically inserts this teaching into the Passover meal by taking off his robe, girding his loins with a towel and kneeling down and washing the feet of his followers, one by one, as a humble servant would. 

          When he is done he dresses again and asks them “Do you know what I have done to you?”  The words are important here – we might rather expect him to ask, “Do you know what I have done for you?”  Yes, you have washed us, giving us an example of humble service.  Yes you have fed us with bread and wine that we are to raise high at altars over and over throughout time and across the globe as symbols of your love.  But if that is all we take away from his words and actions, we have missed something essential.  He did not ask if we know what he has done for us – he asked if we know what he has done to us. 

In this night what has he done to us? He has changed us.  Through his mystical presence in the bread and wine that we consume he has taken up residence within us.  And not just us as individuals – yes we have shared sweet communion with him– but even more importantly we who have eaten of one bread and drunk from one cup – we have communion with one another in him. He has fashioned us into a community – into a mystical body – using nothing more for tools than bread and the fruit of the vine. 

          And with water splashed over our feet – he has changed us!  He has changed us from people a bit embarrassed to show our feet to one another, a bit fumbly with the pitcher and the towel in to washers of feet.  He has changed us, because this is not to be a once a year event. This foot washing is to go on every day among us, and by us to others who aren’t even in the room tonight or who aren’t even part of the church.  This annual foot washing is like training for an athlete, or practice for a musician – it makes us ready to live out humble service through muscle memory in our lives.  It is a sort of code of conduct that can take on many forms among us, and is to be our approach to the world.  Not many of us were born with a desire to stoop and wash the feet of another.  But just like he gets inside us and changes us and binds us together in one body with bread and wine, so also, if we let him, he gets inside and rewires us to be willing and loving servants, literally washing the feet of others, so he can work that kind of action through us the other 364 days of the year.

          And here’s the amazing thing of it all to me – we don’t have to live up to any of it perfectly!  In fact if we are reaching for perfection, we are missing the point.  We are human beings- complex mixtures of glory and grime.  That is why we started this service off with the opportunity to confess our brokenness, our screw-ups, our sins – and to receive absolution.  He has changed us, but we are still fallible humans who will time and again need to confess and be forgiven.  And yet if we hang around with our Lord and this community of the church for very long, he will change us from the inside, until one day we will wake up and realize we are not the same.  We will wake up and realize that we have an easier time letting God lead, letting God shoulder our burdens with us, letting others serve us, letting ourselves serve others.  And then we will know that we are truly part of the beloved community which he started on this night all those years ago. 

Later this evening we will move out of the eye of the storm and tomorrow we will have to enter again the swirl of turmoil as we sit in the shadow of his cross and contemplate again the mysteries of that heartbreaking reality. But for now – in this night- let us say “Glory be to God” – say that with me – “Glory be to God” – yes my friends, “Glory be to God” for what Christ has done to us since we grabbed hold and became part of one another in him.

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+