In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is our first Sunday of Lent, that season of the church year where we prepare for Easter through spiritual practices. The worship service is more austere and there is a great deal of language about sin, death, and repentance. You may have noticed this morning–practically just as we said “hello”–we confessed in words, stronger than usual, that we have “erred and strayed like lost sheep…. We have left undone those things which we out to have done, and we done those things which we ought not to have done…”
The word “sin” has disappeared from public life and popular culture. We don’t hear it much at all from our politicians any longer. It’s a word we hear less frequently in many churches these days maybe because the language of sin can sound old, outdated, or even medieval in our progressive age and out of step with our inherent goodness. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers Peter and Andrew. They were fishermen throwing a net into the sea. Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew dropped their net and followed him. Apparently there was no debate, no pondering of the decision. Their response was so immediate that one suspects that they had long wanted to be found. Have you ever played “Hide and Seek” with a kid? The kid runs away and hides. What is so fun about that? It’s all about being lost and then found. Kids get very upset if you play the game and then don’t go looking for them. They want to be found. Peter and Andrew wanted to be found. We want to be found. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Eli the old priest of the Jerusalem temple said to the young Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if God calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” According to the Bible, the word of God is something to learn how to hear. Eli the priest doesn’t tell Samuel what God is saying. He teaches Samuel how to hear that voice for himself. That is a priestly task. As much as people like me are often all too ready to tell others what God is saying, that ancient priest, coaches Samuel in how to hear the word of God for himself. It is a skill to be acquired.
In our day, there is a near constant call to become more assertive, more self-confident and, above all, to speak up and tell your story. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this really hard year of struggle, one of the things we have lost was baptisms. We have not done one since the onset of the pandemic. We did not know how we could do one safely. This has had the bad effect, though, of cutting us off from one of our primary sources of spiritual renewal. And after the week we have had with truly historic, anxiety provoking, political conflict in our national life and record number of infections and deaths from the pandemic, we so need to be renewed. Thank you baby Eleanor and her parents, Brittany and David, Godparents, David and Ashley, for making your Christian commitments this morning. We will make our own also to you. We will also at this time renew our own prior vows and commitments with you. In this week when so much is contested, when the truth is not always at hand, and when we can feel just so tired. I can’t think of a better thing we could be doing as a Christian community. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In a normal year, I find myself in late November and early December reminding people that it is Advent, the season of the heart’s preparation for the wonder of Christmas. It is not yet time for Christmas. This year, we all felt a special eagerness to fill the darkness with Christmas lights. People started as soon as possible. There was an early rush for Christmas trees. By the time many of us were looking for trees, most of them were already lit up in our neighbors homes. People, people everywhere, needed Christmas, as soon as possible this year. What the need is that Christmas touches is worth talking about. It’s something we may be able to see and understand that we haven’t been able to in better times.
To the best of our knowledge, Christians began formally celebrating Christmas in the early 300s. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the desert wilderness, wearing only a makeshift garment of camel’s hair, and eating nothing but bugs and honey, the great prophet John the Baptist called everyone to repent of their past and begin anew. Notice that he did not go up to Jerusalem to where the people were. He called them to come to him. They were to leave their homes and ordinary lives and journey to where John was in the desert and be baptized in the Jordan River. It is as if that travelling, that change in physical geography, would symbolize the spiritual change that was to happen within. The outward journey was the inward journey–down to the prophet, down to confession and repentance, forgiveness and renewal. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first of those coming days where we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s human birth at Christmas. Today is also the start of the next church year, you know that grand circle of time that begins in Advent leads to Christmas, and then moves on to Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost much like the months of the year. Looking at that circle, I can see asking why do this at all? We’ve all done this before. In fact, we do it every year. We know what is going to happen next. Is there anything new to learn?
American culture isn’t fond of thinking of time as a circle. We Americans are taught to think of time more like a horizontal line that travels ever forward. (Isn’t the timeline what you learned in school?). We are surprised over and over again when the old world reasserts itself and we find ourselves caught up in some very resistant ancient circle. One of the most frustrating and dispiriting things about this year’s global pandemic is that we don’t feel like we’re making progress in any number of things we care about. As powerful as we are, when it comes to ancient problems like pandemics, we can feel like we are out of our depth. Perhaps it would be better in such instances if we were familiar with spiritual technologies that we didn’t invent, but are older than our country because they were developed precisely for dealing with really hard, longstanding problems, problems that refuse to fall into the line. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We hear another one of Jesus’ parables today. We are told that the kingdom of God is like ten bridesmaids, half of them are wise and half of them are foolish. So the challenge to readers is to determine what it is that makes the wise bridesmaids wise so that we can be like them. The parable is set at the groom’s house. The maidens wait for the groom’s return from the bride’s house where he has gone to gather his bride and bring her to his home. They went out a short ways to escort the new couple in a festive torchlit procession back to their new home. The delay was likely about negotiating the details of the marriage contract and it could take a while. They have torches (or lamps) because they expected that it would stretch past sundown (but not until midnight). So they all get drowsy and fall asleep waiting. So far, the wise and the foolish are the same.
They are only different in one all important detail. The wise five had put in some extra effort into being prepared for the occasion and had brought with them oil to soak the top of the torch in so that it will burn well and long. The foolish did not and only thought about it when at midnight, there was a shout that the Groom was about to arrive. They soon realized that their torches were not going to burn long enough to escort the groom home, they then turn to the five wise women and demand, “Give us some your oil, our torches are going out!” The wise say, “No,” refuse to share, and hurry off to meet the wedding couple.
Now I don’t know about you, but to me it is puzzling why Jesus would applaud the women who refused to share. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count.” So says our reading from the book of Revelation. In our religious tradition, there are a few days a year we are expected to set aside whatever drama and worry we may have going on any particular day, in order to be happy together for something that we didn’t earn, but something that has been given us as a great gift. We remember and honor today, the faithful departed. All Saints Day causes us to remember the faithful dead, but more than that, it calls us to celebrate their lives.
What I like most about All Saints Day is that on this day the dead can still cast their vote in the holy democracy that is the church. Their aspirations and dreams and wisdom carry on and in no way are defeated by death, which–despite everything–does not win among us Christians. It is the day to remember those Christians who have gone before us, those who have touched our lives either when they were alive or dead. Continue reading
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are told in the gospel reading that a lawyer approached Jesus to ask him a question. Now lawyers were often well educated in matters concerning the Jewish law. He asked Jesus, of the commandments which one is the greatest of all? This was no easy question because the Jewish law is said to speak of some six hundred thirteen commandments. He asks Jesus out of all these commandments that we have been given, laws that we are told that we should keep, which one is the most important? Continue reading