Sermons


Today’s sermon, at least in draft.  I’m looking at excerpts from Psalm 37 (in verses 1-10):

 

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to preach on today.  I looked at the second half of the gospel and it made me think.  Most of Jesus’ parables seem, to me, to have Jesus saying outrageous things – like abandoning 99 sheep to find one lost sheep – as though they were normal, rational actions.  And certainly my response to who would serve someone working for you all day first is that, of course, I would.  Yet I suspect (without actually knowing) that, in this case, Jesus’ story actually reflects the norms of his (very stratified) society.  I looked at the first half of today’s gospel and thought:  wasn’t it C. S. Lewis who quoted this passage?  Didn’t he say that, of course, non of us take this literally?  And then he wondered (in it’s aftermath) if World War II might have been averted if only we Christians had been more faithful in our prayers.

Prayer.

Prayers.

I’ve always meant to preach on the Psalter.  We know, on one level, that it’s poetry (or, since it was likely meant to be sung in some fashion, song).  And, as poetry, it’s my impression at least, most people don’t seem to take the psalter very seriously.  But the Psalter is known, in tradition, as the prayer book of the Bible.  And in monastic tradition, it is the backbone of the daily offices.  The psalms are recited together in community, slowly, again and again, day after day.  Monastics talk about being slowly ground down and formed by this recitation of the psalms. (more…)

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Does Jesus live in you?

I found myself asking that question repeatedly during this past week.  How does Jesus presence show itself in my life?

That’s what it means to be a Christian, isn’t it?  That Jesus, somehow, takes life in our lives?

I use, in my personal prayer life, The Saint Helena Breviary.  A breviary is simply a book of offices, in this case Matins, Diurnum, Vespers and Compline (- in English that’s just Morning Prayer, Noon Day Prayer, Evening Prayer and End of Day Prayer).  The Order of St. Helena is named after the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, who is supposed to have found a remnant of the cross Jesus died on during excavations she oversaw in Jerusalem.

She built a shrine with two principal buildings where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands.  It consisted of a large basilica used for the Liturgy of the Word, and a circular church known as “The Resurrection” with its altar placed on the supposed site of Jesus’ tomb.  In the courtyard connecting these two buildings, to one side, you can see the Hill of Calvary.  The shrine was dedicated on September 14, 335.  Since then, September 14, yesterday, has been know as Holy Cross Day.

As you might imagine, Holy Cross Day is a big deal (more…)

So here’s what I intend, at this point, to preach on Sunday:

In a few minutes, after the sermon is over and the prayers of the people, we will get to the part of the service sometimes called the General Confession.  It’s intended for us, a a community, to confess our sins.  What have we, as a community, done that has hurt others and fallen short of what God would wish for us?  I suspect that seems an odd notion:  the idea that a community of people would confess their failures to God.  But, if you think about it, it’s probably no more odd that we have a book of “common” prayer which we use to pray together as a community.  Our general confession is part of our common prayer – the prayers we say together.

It’s assumed that we have a private prayer life, and that our own prayer life prepares us for our common prayer together.  Traditionally, in the Anglican Communion, that private prayer was often the Daily Office:  the daily work of reading scripture and praying that prepared us for Sunday morning.

In my experience, we in the Episcopal Church don’t do all that much with prayers of confession. (more…)

For what it’s worth, in my opinion, our reading from Luke’s gospel this morning is difficult.  It starts with a man asking Jesus for a legal ruling, and it ends with the story about the man who decided to build more storage to house a bumper crop.  Neither, on the face of it, would seem to be a bad thing.  But Jesus seems quite unsympathetic to both.  Why?

It’s not so much the case these days, but rabbis in Jesus’ day functioned, really, like judges.  They interpreted the law of Moses in legal disputes.  They also taught.  We translate the term “rabbi” as “teacher.”  But they not only taught the law, they issued judgements to settle disputes (like Moses did).  Back then, they really didn’t function the way Christian ministers do.  They really weren’t pastors, except in the sense that they settled legal disputes.  They might sort out problems between members of the community that way.

So it is not unreasonable that the man in the crowd asked Jesus, as a rabbi, to settle his legal dispute with his brother.  Presumably his older brother, since that’s where the power would have been.  It was not uncommon for some small portion of an estate to be shared with younger sons – sometimes even during the lifetime of the father (like in the story of the “prodigal” son) – even though the vast majority of the estate would go to the older brother.

Presumably the father had died, and the older brother wasn’t sharing.  The younger brother wanted a piece of the estate.  My first thought was that perhaps Jesus was reading his heart and finding it greedy.  But when I thought about it, he’s rejecting the whole idea that he should sit in judgement over other people – even though that was the accepted role of rabbis.  “… who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

I’m reminded that Jesus was not much of a rule-maker or lawgiver.  No, Jesus told stories to make his point.  And, at least in my mind, the point of his stories was usually about how to be in relationship with others.  And when I say others, I’m not just talking people.  I’m also talking God and creation in general.  That seems to be the case here.

Jesus introduces today’s story by telling his hearers:  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In his story, a rich man’s land produced an abundant crop.  And this rich man seemingly confused this abundance with the life of his soul.  He makes plans to build a bigger barn and store up his goods to provide for many years in which he can simply eat, drink and be merry.  He seems to equate this with the well-being of his soul.

God does not seem to cross his mind.  The well-being of other people does not seem to cross his mind.  The idea that he might have been entrusted with this abundance for some useful purpose does not seem to cross his mind.  For him, the good life seems to mean enjoying life, coasting through life, without having to do any kind of work.  He has ample stuff, now, to make this possible.

I want to be careful here.  Because Jesus’ incarnation, God taking flesh in the person of Jesus, means that for us what happens in this world must be taken seriously.  And also because when people do not have enough, they often suffer and die without ever having an opportunity to become what God meant them to be.  We are not a religion, in spite of God’s care for the birds and flowers of the field, which ignores or minimalises the needs of this world.

But maybe the point of the story is that we can equally fail to become what God means us to be because we have so much “stuff” that we are isolated from need (and end up focused on the “stuff” and not on our relationship with all that surrounds us).  Maybe it’s a question of where our focus is.  Are we focused on earthly stuff or on the things that bring true life?  And I think that’s our relationships.

The rich man in Jesus’ story is going to die that very night, before he can enjoy the stuff he’s making plans to use for years.  Where is his soul then?  What good will what he treasures do him after he’s dead?  It does us no good, Jesus says, to store up treasures for ourselves if we are not rich towards God.

What do our practices with regard to things (which we usually think we own, but which ultimately we may just be stewards for) say about our relationship with God and God’s plans?  God calls us to live lives oriented towards building up our relationships with God and our neighbor (and I would add the things of God’s creation).  Does the way we use the stuff of our lives contribute towards living this kind of a life.  Or is our stuff our treasure and our focus in living?  Where your treasure is, Jesus tells us only a few verses later, is where your heart will be.  Where is your heart?  With God?  Or with stuff?

And, of course, this doesn’t mean that Jesus has laid down the law and said that we must live in poverty or that we cannot be wealthy if we want to follow God.  But it does mean that Jesus is challenging us to think about what it means to follow God and how our relationship with our stuff effects how well we follow God.

Jesus doesn’t say you can’t have stuff.

Jesus invites you to think about how your relationship with your stuff effects your relationship with God.

And he quite clearly warns us that our relationship with stuff can seriously undermine our relationship with our God.

Our lives, our true lives in God, do not consist in the abundance of our possessions …

Ok.  Here’s my sermon (draft, at least) for Sunday:

I think it’s hard for us to feel and understand the full impact of what we’ve come to know as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan today.  Today, because of the role this story has played in our cultural history, the term “samaritan” is synonymous with being a do-gooder.  In Jesus’ day, it would have been more like being a voodoo witch doctor:  someone who might still bear some of the outward trappings of our religion, but who’s rites and practices were clearly perversions of the real meaning of our faith.  In fact, I’m feeling that I’m overstating the case against someone who practices voodoo.  But I’m pretty sure jews in Jesus’ day would have felt I was understating the case against Samaritans.  It was so bad that jews from Galilee had to travel in large groups to pass safely through Samaria.

Jesus, by the way, is in a very adversarial situation when he tells this story.  He’s being questioned by his enemies, who are looking for something they can use against him.  A debate between presidential candidates might be friendlier! (more…)

So here’s a draft of my sermon (presumably) for Yuba City this Sunday:

What are we to make of the story of the tower of babel – a sort of anti pentecost – as our first reading today on the day of Pentecost?  And really, what’s going on in this story?  Is our God a God who wants to hold people back from becoming all they can be?  Is our God a God who wants us to be unable to communicate and cooperate with each other?  Or is this really more of a description of the human condition? (more…)

So, once more, here is a draft of tomorrow’s sermon for Yuba City:

Easter 6 C

I’m going to throw you a curve this morning, and use the alternate gospel reading for this Sunday.  Not only that, as allowed by canon, I’m going to preach on a slightly longer text than is specified.  We are always allowed to expand the reading, and I’m doing it so that you hear the whole story.  Don’t worry, it’s not that long!

When the story starts, Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem, to attend a religious festival.  When he arrives, near the Sheep Gate, which may have been how he entered the city, he passes a pool of water, around which are gathered all kinds of invalids.

Why are they gathered there?  If you look at the copy of the gospel I passed out at the beginning of the service, you will see a bold footnote, number 1, just before verse 5.  — Did you notice that our reading had no verse 4?  What the footnote tells us is that the best and earliest sources did not have a verse 4.  But other sources had, wholly or in part, an explanation:  they were waiting for the stirring of the water, because when an angel stirred the water, the first one in would be healed.

One man had been waiting by the side of the pool, receiving charity from the faithful for his livelihood, for thirty-eight years.  I’m thinking he had become comfortable and complacent in his disability.  And I’m thinking Jesus thought so too.

Recognizing that the sick man had been there a long time, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

You would think the obvious answer to this question is, “Yes!  Yes!  Please God heal me.” (more…)

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