Sermon Archive

Featured

All of these sermons were delivered in the Abbey Church. To make it easier to find a certain topic or lectionary day, click one the blue tags below (Holidays, Sundays Year A, Sundays Year B, Sundays Year C). The sermons are posted in order of their calendar date, so not all in the same lectionary year are together – keep scrolling down, and you will find more from earlier calendar years.

preaching

Epiphany IV Year A: We’re Just The Gophers

Micah 6:1-8
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

The sermon from the prophet Micah we just heard in our first reading is about the danger of living selfishly and sinfully (the two are really the same thing) and then trying to smooth things over with God by doing “religious” stuff. It is good for us to hear that and to heed it. But there is another meaning to Micah’s sermon that would also be good for us to hear and to heed. That is: there is no need for us to do anything to make God like us, love us, and give us good things. There is no need of that because God already likes us, loves us, and gives us good things, and there is nothing we can do to make God stop doing those things. All we can really do is what Micah says: “…do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with our God.” Even then, we don’t do those things to win favor from God – we do them because we have already found favor with God.

So, we take this wonderful universe God has made and live in such a way as to share it with others. One of the most important things that can help us share it is to remember, realize, and live the fact that God did not make this wonderful universe for us – we are simply one small part of it. We are lucky here – we have more than we could ever need. So, we need to do what we can to help those people in our world who do not have everything they need. Sometimes they are lacking things because of natural causes, so we can respond to calls for help in crises. Most of the time, though, people lack what they need because others are acting as if God made the universe for them and are cheating the unfortunate people out of their share of things. There are many ways we can help solve those horrible problems, but unfortunately, they are usually the most difficult to correct. That is no reason to stop doing what we can to help.

But as important as it is to help people in need, it is equally important to remember that we are not the source of the things they need, we are merely a delivery service. We have been overly blessed, so we bring some of that blessing to others. In order to do that, we must always be receptive to God’s gifts and never forget that we have done nothing to deserve them. How much has God blessed us! We live in a place that gives us the opportunity to wake up early every morning to pray and then to come back throughout the day for more prayer. What a gift! It is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God. May we take that gift and allow it to form us into better deliverers of God’s good things to the people around us and the people far away who need them.   AMEN

No More, No Less: Thanksgiving Day Year C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Everything comes from God; nothing comes from us – that is the theme of today, and we are grateful for all that God has given. But from our narrowly human point of view, God is good at providing only raw materials; it is up to us to put in the work required to turn these raw materials into things which are (once again, only from our narrowly human point of view) useful. So we are thankful not only for the things God has given us, but also for the ability to work – for blessing us with memory, reason, skill, and most importantly: opposable thumbs. We must also remember to work not instead of God, but with and because of God.

There are a few things to help us work in gratitude and thankfulness. The first is to remember that we get the most satisfaction from our work when we do our best. We usually do that in terms of doing no less than our best, but we also need to be careful to not get caught up in the frenzied attempt to do more than our best. We have limits, and trying to go beyond them is as harmful as never trying to reach them. Work is our area of responsibility; results are God’s area of responsibility (and it is not our job to tell God what the results should be). We do our best and let God take care of the rest – that takes a huge burden off of our backs that we mistakenly took up in the first place.

We also need to work not with patience, but rather with constancy. The difference in the two words is subtle, but can have a big impact on our lives. Patience means we are merely waiting until things get better, so we work with a stiff upper lip and hope for the better. Constancy means we choose to do what we consider to be the right things no matter if things ever or never get better. Patience can lead to bitterness. Constancy is already infused with joy.

And we need to work out of love, not out of expectations for outcomes. One of my biggest prayers is that I hope to never see the fruit of my labors, and that we never see the fruit of the monastery’s labors (not that there will not be fruit, but that we will not see it), because when we see the fruit of our labors, we are tempted to work for results rather than out of love.

And so, the human race takes this wonderful planet that God has given us and makes wonderful things like donuts, spacecraft, and Olympic curling teams. I am thankful for all of those things. We at the monastery take this wonderful corner of the wonderful planet God has given us and we make guesthouses, meals, letters to prisoners, and calendars. Most importantly, we make prayers.   AMEN

Proper 23 Year C: Drama Queens Need Not Apply

II Kings 5:1-3,7-15c
II Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

The prophet Elijah is a lot more famous than his successor Elisha, but the stories about Elisha are a lot more interesting than Elijah’s, like the one we heard at our first reading today. The story has a large cast of characters: two kings, a general, a prophet, the general’s wife and her slave, and the prophet’s servants. On the surface, the story seems to be about God’s healing power, and it is. However, on further reading and pondering, two other lessons are seen in the story: 1 – that of the harmfulness and uselessness of overreacting, or blowing things out of proportion, or unnecessary drama at hearing or seeing unwanted news; 2 – of the usefulness of calmly hearing or witnessing the entire story and getting other people’s opinions before making a decision about what to do in reaction.

The characters in our story who prematurely overreacted are the king of Israel and Naaman (the Aramean army general). Their fits of drama could easily have started wars, as is alluded to in the text. The calmer people around them saved the day by assessing the entire situation and looking at all options for response. By following the advice of the calmer people around them, the general was healed, both kings scored diplomatic points, and God’s love for all people was made known.

We live in a world much like that in our story this morning with too much drama, and it hinders us from taking care of things that really need our attention, because we are too worn out by all the yelling and pouting (our own and others’). How much easier it would be just let other people talk sometimes and listen to their entire point without interrupting. We can then think about what was said and calmly respond with something that might bring about good for everyone. We can get our information from a variety of sources rather than solely from sources that merely soothe our consciences by simply restating opinions we already have. We do not have to agree with everyone, but we do need to know what they are saying without it being filtered through other people whose goal is to skew things to fit their agenda. Then we can calmly ponder and pray for guidance about what we should do to bring about good, rather than making things worse with our emotionally overwrought first reactions. We just might learn the truth that not everyone who thinks differently than us is stupid and evil, and they might actually have a good idea every once in a while, and we just might be wrong sometimes. We can make room for others when we reel in our own smug haloes.

Doing all this is not easy, but it is good for us and everyone else. We don’t always react to things well, and neither do the people around us – it is understandable, but still inexcusable. May we give each other the time and space to work on becoming better at accepting unwelcome news, and may we never give up working on it – God never gives up on us. And – slowly we will be healed and wars will be averted, like in our story this morning. It is not just another weird Bible story – it could actually happen.   AMEN

Good Enough For Him: Holy Name Year C

Exodus 34: 1-8
Phillipians 2: 9-13 or Romans 1: 1-7
Luke 2: 15-21

A preacher in Georgia once had this to say about Jesus: “He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was good enough for him.” (Barbara Brown Taylor — God In Pain). Human life is important to God. Individual humans are important to God. Human activities are important to God. In fact, all of those things are so important to God that God freely became an individual human and participated in all the common activities associated with that particular human — Jesus of Nazareth. Today we celebrate two of those common human activities: the naming of a child, and the circumcision of a child.

The naming of a child is usually an important decision for the parents. They come up with lists of names and then come up with new lists of names and then come up with other lists of names, until eventually they settle on a name or two or three to give the child. Our gospel story tells us that Mary and Joseph were spared all the work of choosing a name for their child, since an angel had already said that he was to be called Jesus. Where I grew up in Texas, Jesus was a common name, although most of the Hispanic boys in my school with that name usually went by a nickname like Chuy or Beto or Junior. It was only on the first day of school when the class roll was called that you heard their real names (usually mispronounced by the Anglo teacher as Geezus instead of Haysoos). The name Jesus is not all that uncommon up here in the midwest, either, although most of the time it is pronounced Joshua, which is simply the anglicized version of the real semitic form of Jesus. The name Jesus (in its semitic form) was not all that uncommon in Jesus’ time, either. There are several Jesuses in the Bible. Some English translations have them as Jesus, some as Joshua. In fact, the prisoner who was released instead of Jesus by Pilate was named Jesus Barabbas, which means Jesus Son of the Father.

A common human name was good enough for God.

The circumcision of a child — a male child — is also an important decision for the parents. Now days the matter to be decided is “should we or shouldn’t we”. Once again, Mary and Joseph were spared this decision because in their time and place, it was simply the thing to do. It was a common, although quite meaningful human activity, and it was good enough for God. The circumcision of Jesus also shows us that Jesus had all his human parts.

A common human body was good enough for God.

If we keep reading the gospel after the section we heard today, we hear a little about Jesus’ childhood and adolescence. Not many details are given, but twice in this chapter Luke mentions that Jesus kept growing. A common childhood and adolescence seem to have been good enough for God, also, and even though his later years were a little extraordinary, they were lived out in the ordinary society of the time and place. In fact, if we really believe it when we say that Jesus is fully God and fully human, we are saying that we believe that every human bodily function, every human urge and desire, and every human fear, joy, pleasure, and pain were experienced by God in Jesus. All of those things belonged to Jesus, and therefore they belong to God. Since whatever belongs to God is holy, then all of human life is holy — every bodily function, every urge and desire, and every fear, joy, pleasure, and pain. Because of the creation, we bear God’s image — because of the incarnation, God bears our image. We are doubly holy.

We are also doubly responsible for treating ourselves and each other as the holy beings that we are. We must take care of our holy human bodies, as well as our holy human spirits and souls. Our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits need proper care to function as best as they can. Our intellectual, sexual, social, and family lives must never be forgotten, abused, or neglected. Mistreatment or improper use of any parts of our lives degrades their holiness and lessens us and the entire human race. We don’t always seem all that holy to ourselves or to others, but that’s because although we are holy, we are human, and humans grow. Our holiness must grow, and in order to grow it must be fostered and cultivated with love. As the years and decades of cultivating our holiness roll by, we will seem ever so slightly more holy.

More importantly, as our holiness grows, we see the holiness in others more clearly. We begin to realize that our immature ideas of holiness might have been wrong, and we realize that even though others are different from us they are holy, nonetheless. However, even before we reach total maturity in Christ, we are obliged to treat every other person we meet as the doubly holy image of God that they are created to be, whether or not they are growing in that image, or are stagnant, or even actively trying to erase the image of God from their lives. That is not an easy task, treating everyone as the holy image of God. It is hard work, and we fail at it a lot of the time. We all need to work at it, every day and every hour. We can grow only with God’s help, but we still need to put that help to work, through prayer, meditation, honest self-examination, and other disciplines. Fortunately, we have an example of growth and holiness set before us in the particular, common human life of Jesus of Nazareth. As that preacher in Georgia said: “He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was good enough for him.”

May we all grow in our holy human lives, while encouraging and helping others to grow. May we see the holiness of God in every person we meet, and treat them accordingly. And may the doubly holy images of God that we are created to be grow ever brighter, spreading the love, peace, and joy of heaven to the entire world. AMEN

 

 

Advent IV Year C: Prenatal Care

Micah 5:2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

Our gospel story this morning is about two pregnant women (relatives) who greet each other. The women are affected by each other’s presence; they both say things that are now some of the most quoted verses from the Bible. The children in their wombs are also affected by each other’s presence (at least the one in Elizabeth’s womb is excited about the one in Mary’s womb), and they would have more influence on each other as they grew up: Jesus and John the Baptist.

The story is good for us to remember, because we are also influenced by what is inside the people around us, and what is inside us influences the people around us. Of course, we are not our thoughts and we are not our emotions – we can not take the credit or the blame for our psychological makeups. But we can foster some of our internal habits and dilute others. We need to choose wisely the ones we will foster and the ones we will dilute, and some will take a lot of work and effort to dilute and will always be with us as constant nagging sores, but that is no reason to give up working on them. Difficult and impossible are not the same. And we shouldn’t compare ourselves and our internal habits with anyone else – just because a person seems to have no problems on the outside does not mean he is not struggling on the inside.

It takes a lifetime of work to foster our helpful internal habits like compassion and love and dilute the harmful ones like greed and fear, but it is worth the effort, because doing so helps not only us, but also the people around us. Our thoughts influence our actions. Like anything else in life, our internal happenings will be a series of ups and downs. When we find ourselves in a period of being controlled by our harmful internal patterns like selfishness or judgmentalism, we simply need to acknowledge it and do what we can do to change it – no need to condemn ourselves – that is never productive. Then we can get on with the work of fostering our helpful patterns like joy and tolerance.

The women in our gospel story were both carrying children conceived by miraculous means, but once they were pregnant, they did have to take care of what was in their wombs so that the children could be born healthy. We also need to take care of our God-given helpful internal habits so that they can become stronger and so we can eventually bring them out as actions that help others – much as the children inside Elizabeth and Mary were brought forth from them to help the people around them. We can take care of our God-given internal habits such as kindness and cooperation by using the time honored classical disciplines of prayer, scripture reading, obedience, and constancy. Then, slowly but surely, we will actually start acting out those helpful habits and so become a blessing to ourselves and the people around us.

It wasn’t easy for Elizabeth and Mary, and it won’t be easy for us. But it is worth it. We will often fail, but that’s ok. We fall down, we get back up again. God is always there, picking us up and pouring grace into us. We just have to take his gifts and bring them out to the world around us.   AMEN

Proper 25 Year B: Sunshine Of Your Love

Mark 10:46-52

The healing of Bartimaeus the blind man that we heard in our gospel story this morning is not the most dramatic healing Jesus has done. Healing our own blindness is a much bigger job, because we are blind in a much deeper way than merely being unable to see with our eyes. Jesus brings light to our inner darkness, and that darkness is caused by our own sin.

We have lost our way because we have put up barriers between ourselves and God. We might not be notorious criminals or cruel monsters, but our own petty selfish deeds are just as effective at rejecting God as are bigger sins. If our constant thought is “me, me, me”, then we are not thinking “God, God, God”, or “others, others, others”, or “God, others, and me” (which is actually the best of the choices). All of that emphasis on ourselves turns us into little black holes, sucking everything into our own little circle and covering us in darkness. We cut ourselves off from God, and in so doing lose all stability, sense of direction, and ability to discern truth from falsehood.

Of course, we are not always in that state. We wax and wane in our relationship with God, who remains stable in his desire and love for us no matter our condition. In fact, God’s love and desire for us is so strong that God takes action to dispel the blindness that we bring on ourselves, and sometimes that action is much more dramatic than the healing of Bartimaeus. We might experience it as being humbled by another person’s comments or actions that finally make us admit our pettiness, or by witnessing an event that causes us to finally see our own selfishness, or by a time of prayer and scripture reading that brings to light our own darkness and the need for God’s help. Those instances are more common than the kind of healing that Bartimaeus got, but they are no less miraculous. They might seem easier than healing physical blindness, but God’s healing of our inner selves is actually a lot more miraculous than healing of our bodies.

But even after we do wake up to God’s light, we ought not to just keep staring at it, dazed and confused. We have a life to live in the sunshine of God’s love, and we need to grow to the point where we can share that light. We need to work to stop ourselves from once again putting up barriers between us and God – all those selfish little things that blinded us in the first place. Of course, we must not forget that even with the need for work on our part, the healing that we need comes only from God. Like the blind man in our gospel story, we need to stand by the side of the road and cry to Jesus for mercy, no matter how often the people around us discourage us from doing so, like they did to Bartimaeus. But then we need to take that mercy that God gives us and put it to use, being honest about the thoughts, words, and actions that hinder our relationship with God. We do those things, and they are no one’s fault but our own. They might be big or small, hidden or well known to others, but they are there all the same, keeping us blindly isolated in a dark shell of self-centeredness. May we always cry to God for mercy, asking for God’s strength to save us and bring us out of darkness in to light. May we never be discouraged when we fall back again into our pride and thoughtlessness (because we will fall back again and again), and may we never discourage others from crying out for mercy (like those people around Bartimaeus). We fall dawn, we get back up again, but God is always there offering sight and hope. God will have mercy, we just need to be humble enough to ask for it.   AMEN

Proper 21 Year B: Ebony And Ivory

Numbers11: 4-6,10-16,24-29
James 5: 13-20
Mark 9: 38-50

We sometimes forget the great, freeing truth of what we just heard Jesus say in our gospel story this morning: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”. He said it in response to John who told him a story about finding other people working in the name of Jesus who were not from their own group. Jesus makes it clear that he is quite alright with people doing good deeds in his name, no matter what group they are in. He also makes it quite clear that anyone doing bad deeds, even if that person is in his group of disciples (and therefore presumably doing it in his name), will be cursed.

So it seems that actions are the important things, and group membership is of secondary importance. We probably all know people who are either indifferent or even hostile to official Christianity and yet are some of the most Christ-like people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And we also probably know church members who are some of the cruelest people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of hell.

None of that is to say that beliefs are unimportant or that orthodoxy has no value. They do have value, but only if we allow the Holy Spirit to use those tools to form us into loving people. If, on the other hand, we use them to form ourselves into hateful people, we are working against Jesus and against ourselves.

And even within the church around the world and throughout history, we ought not to be so quick to judge other groups because of their styles of worship or government, or the education levels or social classes of their members. The body of Christ is big and diverse, and many different denominations are needed to help everyone fit in the Body. The church would be impoverished without the gift of the multiplicity of denominations. However, we can and often do take that gift and twist it into opportunities for rivalry and bitterness between denominations – and the smaller the differences between denominations, the more bitter the fighting. No wonder the Holy Spirit gets tired of it all and so often chooses to work through non-Christians.

But we can change that. We can see other groups working in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. We can see other groups doing good things whether or not they do them in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. It is so much easier than getting upset (and so much less ridiculous). Then, maybe the Holy Spirit will think we are ready to do good works and will use us. How much better to be filled with the Holy Spirit than with jealousy and pettiness. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about us.   AMEN

Before And After: Transfiguration 2015

Exodus 34: 29-35
II Peter 1: 13-21
Luke 9: 28-36

This morning’s Old Testament story of Moses’s face shining with glory after coming down from the mountain of God happens shortly after the incident of Aaron making the golden calf that was worshipped by the former slaves, causing Moses to smash the tablets of law that God gave him the first time they met on the mountain. This morning’s gospel story of Jesus shining with glory happens the day before his disciples fail to heal a boy of demon possession, a failure that Jesus attributes to their perverseness and lack of faith. So in these two stories, we have the glory of God shown both before and after major instances of human faithlessness.

Though not specifically stated in these scriptures, it could be inferred that the glory of God shining from Moses’s face was meant to reassure the people that even after their infidelity, God was still in their presence and was still guiding them. Similarly, it has often been assumed that the incident of Jesus’s transfiguration was meant to strengthen the disciples and prepare them for the crucifixion, even though they would be unfaithful many times before and after it.

So it is still with us. Like Aaron, we make our own gods out of the things we can accomplish, rather than trusting in the true God to guide us. And like the disciples, we often lack the faith to cast out the demons that hurt us and those around us. But even with all that faithlessness on our part, God still loves and cares for us, and gives us signs to strengthen us and reassure us of his presence in our lives. We may not see Moses or Jesus shining with glory, but we can, if we choose, see God’s glory in the wonderful universe around us. We can see God’s love and care for us in our family and friends, and even in strangers who treat us with kindness. Sometimes those signs are hard to see and understand, especially when it seems that the universe is being cruel to us, or when those around us abuse us or are lost to us.

That is why Jesus gives us another sign of God’s glorious presence in our lives. Every time we gather at the table up here, God shows his presence in our lives by feeding us with himself. We not only gather together with Jesus to share a meal with him, we partake of his being as he freely gives his body and blood to us. The very life of God is given to us, and since we gather together with others at the table, we are assured not only of God’s presence in our own lives, but also of God’s presence in the lives of all those who share in the meal. The meal we are about to consume at this table is not merely some kind of symbol of our life with Jesus (although it is that); it is a tangible conduit of his presence in us and in our world. We are what we eat, and as we partake of the life of Jesus, we grow ever more into his likeness as we take that likeness into our own small corner of the universe, bringing God’s shining glory to those who need it.

We will still be unfaithful many times before and after this meal, just like the people in our scripture readings. We might not be very good at seeing God’s glory shining on the faces of those who gather here with us, and they might not be able to see it in ours. But the more we know the glory is there, the more apt we are to see it and show it to others. We will fail many times at seeing and showing God’s glory, but that must not stop us from our slow growth in trying to do so. The glory is not our own, it is God’s, but it is freely given to us. May we take it with joy and assurance that, instead of the short glimpses that we catch now every once in a while, one day we will see it fully and forever. AMEN

 

Proper 12 Year B: More Than This

II Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

We have so much already, and God wants to give us more. The only thing stopping us from receiving all that God has for us is our own stubbornness in wanting something other than what God gives. God gives us the universe, but we want so much less.

Yes, the world is full people who have no food, no house, no clean water, no reliable compassionate government. The reason that is so is because somewhere down the line, someone or someones have not gratefully received what God has given them and have instead greedily and fearfully taken more than they needed, keeping it from other people who do need it. Natural disasters can happen, but most often human want and misery is caused by other humans.

That is completely unnecessary. There is no need for fear or greed. God gives us the universe. But, we want so much less, so we create misery in the world. We all do it to some extent – we are all caught in the web of sin and we all contribute to the web of sin.

But we can all do things to untangle the web of sin. Jesus, of course, has ultimately dissolved it, but right now we are still feeling its effects. We know we can all give to charity organizations and volunteer to help people and vote responsibly and recycle and waste less. But we can also be good to the people around us – cleaning up our messes and griping less about petty things and sharing work.

We can’t save the whole world all at once – that is God’s job and he has already done it – but we can make our little corner of the world better and we can make the entire world a little better with the help of others around the world. Like the gospel story, we can give our fish and bread and let God take care of the rest. We can let go of fear and greed and, as Paul says in our second reading this morning: “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

It is not easy. We are like the disciples in the boat – worried about life and even more worried when we see Jesus coming toward us because we know that he will ask us to do something that we think can’t possibly do us any good.

Of course, what he asks us is the only thing that can do us any good: fear not, share your bread and fishes, let God fill you.   AMEN