Sermon Archive

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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.

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Proper 7 Year A: Job Description

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Romans 6:1b-14
Matthew 10:24-39

The prophet Jeremiah told the truth about the situation his nation was in, and he got in a lot of trouble for doing that. He was alternately persecuted and consulted by the religious and political leaders who knew he was telling the truth but dared not publicly agree with him. This morning we heard him complaining to God for putting him in this uncomfortable and dangerous situation.  Immediately before our reading, Pashur the priest had put Jeremiah in the stocks for the night for warning that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonian army, and immediately after our reading, King Zedekiah sends another priest (also named Pashur) to ask Jeremiah to pray to God to make the Babylonian army go away, because the king knew they would destroy Jerusalem.

Our gospel reading talks about Jesus putting his disciples in much the same situation as God put Jeremiah. He warns them that they will meet with danger and be persecuted for bringing the truth of Jesus to the world around them, but he also tells them not to worry about it, because God will carry them through to safety. We may never be in physical danger because of our allegiance to Jesus, but if we are doing it right, we will arouse the suspicions of the people around us who owe their allegiance to other things like money, or power, or reputation. We won’t blindly follow any party line, so we will be accused of being dangerous and stupid by those who do. But all of that is ok, because we have work to do bringing the joy, peace and healing of Jesus to the world around us. Our individual tasks as members of Christ’s body are important and necessary in order that all the other tasks of the other members around the world and throughout time can be fulfilled and fall into place.

Like Jesus and Jeremiah, we need to speak the truth, even when other don’t want to hear it. We need to speak the truth humbly, and then we need to live it as best we can. And the truth is: God is love, we are all infinitely loved, and we are to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God. May we not shrink from this task of loving. We might not do it very well or often, but Jesus slowly transforms us into his love every chance we give him. May this gathering be one of those opportunities to grow in Jesus.   AMEN

Lent V Year A: Remember Life

Lent V Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our scripture readings this morning point to the fact that life comes from God. Without God, there is no life. Of course, without God there is nothing at all, so there would also not be life. But in our daily lives, we so often live as if there were no God. We don’t always do that intentionally – usually, we just get so busy and frenzied that we forget about God, or we get so lazy and negligent that we don’t care about God. Sometimes, yes we do intentionally live as if there is no God – those times when we intentionally tell little lies or commit petty frauds to get what we want before someone else gets it.

In all those cases, when we finally come to our senses and realize that we have either intentionally or unintentionally forgotten God, we realize how dead we feel and how much we need God to be fully and truly alive. So, we as individuals and groups make helpful rules for ourselves to keep reminding us of God. Churches have membership rules, worship services, educational facilities, and special times (like Lent) to help us live more in the reality of God and therefore more fully. Individuals have scripture reading and prayer time to help them do the same thing, and the two (group and individual) should theoretically help each other and work together.

But we know that sometimes, even surrounded by reminders of God, we don’t always remember God and sometimes we even willfully forget God. Sometimes we just get tired of always remembering, and in so doing, we manufacture our own deaths. If that happens to us a lot, maybe that is a sign that we or our institutions are going about it the wrong way. Maybe we are using fear as a tool to help us remember God. If so, we should probably stop what we are doing and reconfigure our group and individual programs to take out the fear and replace it with love. Love won’t tire us out and make us want to forget God. And, if we are living in love and forget God anyway, no big deal – we will be doing life-giving things and so we will be living in God even if we do not realize it.

God takes our old bones and brings them to life. God brings us out of the grave. God give life and holiness to this beautiful flesh of ours. And if we are Christians, we go so far as to say that God has this beautiful flesh of ours, making it even more alive and holy in the person of Jesus. So, let us not forget to live in God. One of the best ways to remember is to come up here and eat with God at God’s table. We will all probably forget God sometime today, but that is ok – we will be doing this same thing tomorrow.   AMEN

Lent I Year A: All We Know

Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

The story that we heard this morning about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit has spawned a lot of theories and questions about human nature, such as original innocence, original sin, and the fall of man. It has also raised the question of what is meant by the “knowledge of good and evil”, and why God did not want them to have it. We assume that Paul is talking about this story in his letter to the Romans that we heard in our second reading, and although he does not cite the story specifically, that is probably a good assumption. Paul’s take on the story seen in the light of his relationship with Jesus has also spawned a lot of questions and theories, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith through the grace of God.

Tempers have flared, friendships have dissolved, churches have split, and violence has erupted because of differences of opinion concerning these theories. Yet we still don’t know all the answers to the questions posed by the story and Paul’s interpretation of it. Maybe we would do better if we just acted on what we do know. We know that we do bad things. We know that doing those bad things ruins our lives and the lives of others and sours our relationship with God and other people, as well as our relationship with ourselves. We also know that no matter how hard we try, we can not completely stop doing those bad things. We know that from our own experience. We can also learn a few things from other people’s experience transmitted to us through scripture, such as the fact that God loves us and made us good, that Jesus did not do those bad things that we are prone to do, and that ruined lives and soured relationships are healed by Jesus.

The difference between knowing that we hurt ourselves and other people and trusting that Jesus heals those hurts involves a leap of faith. Without taking that leap, we remain the same hurtful people. By taking the leap, we at least have a chance of changing – if what the gospels and subsequent Christian experience teaches is true.

I don’t know of many or any people who have really made that leap, but another leap we can make is that of trusting Jesus to count the desire to make the leap as good as making the leap itself. We can come up with all kinds of theories about exactly why we do what we do and exactly how Jesus fixes the mess, but it might be more productive to just admit our sin and let Jesus fix it. He invites us to do that. He stands at the door and knocks. All we have to do is let him in and eat with him. We have a table set here to allow us to do just that. How convenient.   AMEN

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

Proper 29 Year A (Christ The King): The Kingdom of What Is

Ezekiel 34:11-17
Ephesians I:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our scripture readings this morning are about our relationship to God and to each other, reminding us to let God be God, and let others be themselves. When we do those things, then we can truly be ourselves, because we stop spending so much time and energy trying to take care of God’s business and the business of the people around us, giving us time to work on becoming the best person we can be. By doing that, we will truly bless the world and the people around us, and truly bless ourselves.

The prophet Ezekiel, whom we read first this morning, is reminding us that God is the shepherd and judge of all, and we are not. We should all be thankful for that, because God is a much better shepherd and much more merciful judge than any of us could ever be. As Ezekiel puts it: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep … says the Lord God … I shall judge between sheep and sheep..,” Our job is to be sheep, not the shepherd. Of course, our job is to be the best sheep we can be, and to show others by example the best way to go, but we must never try to force them to go our way. Saying that is not a call to fatalism or not caring about others and the paths they follow; we can never just happily let people wander off onto ways that are dangerous (like sheep getting lost), but really the only way we can show people the best way is to go there ourselves and offer help to those who want to follow. We must also remember that just as there are many dangerous paths, there are also many good ones — the best path for us is not always the best one for others. As the song says: “We’re one, but we’re not the same.” (U2 — One)

In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus continues this idea of helping people along the way rather than forcing them to follow. He makes it clear that righteousness does not involve making people behave the way we think they should; righteousness involves offering help to people who need it. By offering help to people, we walk the path of righteousness, and others are free to follow. This is where the analogy of humans as sheep breaks down: humans are not dumb animals. We are free individuals made in the image of God and worthy of the utmost respect. Until we realize that fact and practice it as the guiding force in our relationships with others, we really can’t offer help to others, because truly helping people is in no way akin to throwing scraps to dogs. Our desire to help people must spring from the recognition that we are all equally unique children of God, that we all have something to offer others, and that others have equally valuable gifts to offer us. We are free to offer and accept gifts, but we can never judge their validity. God is the judge. In order to make a right decision, a judge must have all the information about the case, and God is the only one who ever really has all the information. For that we should be thankful, because as was stated before, God is a much more merciful judge than we could ever be,

Of course we can use our discernment and wisdom regarding the things that are offered to us, in order to decide if accepting them will be the best for our own growth. We should also use our wisdom and discernment regarding the paths that we see others following, so that we can warn them if they are heading toward danger. But we must always do those things with prayer and humility, making sure we are motivated by love, rather than by our own preferences, fears, and prejudices. Learning how to do this — how to make valid judgments to guide our actions and words rather than invalid judgments concerning the worth of others — takes a lot of prayer and honesty about ourselves, but it is work that is well worth the effort, because it helps to make the world a little better place.

There is a famous saying from Lord Acton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The idea was not original to him; William Pitt in 1770 said: “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” And before that Alphonse Lamartine said: “absolute power corrupts the best natures.” Of course the same idea was around long before these recorded instances, but they are all wrong – power does not corrupt us; we corrupt power. Things don’t corrupt people – we corrupt things. Power, like food, sex, and all the other good gifts from God are given to us to help us live good lives. Yet we sometimes (not always, maybe not most of the time) let those things ruin our lives and the lives of those around us. Only God has absolute power, and God is not corrupted by it .We should let God reign, not try to subvert God’s reign by assuming that we should judge others and make them follow the path we see fit. We should let God be God, let other people be themselves, and by doing so, let ourselves be ourselves.

We don’t do that because we are filthy pests crawling in the dust before the throne of a cruel God who rules according to arbitrary whims. We do it because our true dignity lies in the fact that we are children of God, and as heirs to the throne, we have a share in divine authority and power. So we must base all our actions on the integrity and legitimacy inherent in ourselves and everyone else as royal offspring. God rules by living with us, serving us, and showing us the right path by traveling it with us. The responsibility we have for each other should take the same form — leading by serving and acting, rather than by demanding and legislating.

Of course, we do have certain functions in society that put some in positions of authority over others – such as civil government, superiors in a monastic setting, and hierarchy in a work situation — and we should faithfully carry out our duties in those situations, whether it is to obey or to command or a little of both. Our world would soon fall to subhuman standards if those types of structures were not honored, and it will fall to subhuman standards if those who are given power choose to corrupt it. But as far as personal dignity and ultimate freedom go, we are all equals in the eyes of a God who also choose to partake of our equal status by living as one of us in Jesus. God is God, We are not. How lucky we are to be ourselves and no one else. May we be the best selves that we were created to be, and may we help others do the same.    AMEN

Proper 25 Year A: ABC

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
I Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

It sounds so simple: “Love God, Love you neighbor, Love yourself.” Then why don’t we do it, and why are there so many different religions, denominations, books, sermons, and other means of trying to do that simple thing? – Love. Maybe it is because it is not so simple after all, or maybe it is because we turn it from being something simple into something complex and difficult.

We think Love is difficult because Love involves others, and others freak us out. With The Other, we get scared, or infatuated, or obsessed or repulsed (that includes The Other that is ourself). But it is really only the hurting, fearful shell that we have built around our true selves that finds Love difficult. So in order to keep the greatest commandment, we need to either get rid of the shell, or heal it, or at least learn to work around it. That is the difficult part – once we do that, Love is easy, because it is the natural state of our true selves underneath the fearful hurting shell. And since we all have different shells around us (some would call it the ego, or false self, or the flesh, or fallen man, or sin), we all need different ways of breaking through it – hence all the different traditions and methods of Learning to Love God, neighbor, and ourselves. But we all do need to do something to break through the shell, and we need to not negatively judge others for choosing a different method. We need to stick with our method and persevere even with the knowledge and faith in the biggest truth that it is God alone who heals and saves us. God does that because God is Love, and since we are made in the image of God, so are we.

Once we let Love out of our shells, we start seeing that others are Love, and they are also made in the image of God – they are not scary or repulsive or objects to possess or be possessed by. They are beautiful, and so are we.   AMEN

Proper 12 Year A: Wisdom, Understanding, Trust

I Kings 3:5-12
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Solomon has wisdom and understanding, and the disciples understand what Jesus says – or so our first and third scripture readings just told us. But then we see how badly Solomon managed his own family and allowed idolatry to appear in his kingdom, and we see how much the disciples (including us) really so often don’t understand what Jesus is saying. Our middle scripture reading has Paul telling his Roman readers all about the joys of trusting God. He is right, of course. But we know how often we do not trust God – if ever.

There is nothing wrong with wisdom and understanding (in fact, they are good things), but they won’t help anyone unless they are used. Our scriptures are correct in pointing out that wisdom and understanding come from God: unless we live in the reality that God is the source of everything, we have no wisdom or understanding. But to be truly wise (to live in the reality that everything is about God, not about us) also involves trusting God as the source of everything (everything is about God, not about us). To be truly wise and understanding involves not only knowing that God is the source of all, but also living in God as the source of all.

The two really should go together: the more we understand the sovereignty and love of God, the more we can trust and rest and live in the sovereignty and love of God. The more we trust, rest, and live in the sovereignty and love of God, the more we will recognize it intellectually. Of course, we can never fully comprehend God, because God is infinite and we are not. But, we can grow more fully into our beautiful human nature, and the more we do that, we become not only more our individual unique selves, but we also become more like God (and so we can understand and trust a little bit more all the time).

There are many ways we can grow more in knowledge and trust of God: reading scripture, praying individually and corporately, being around others who are intentionally seeking to grow, giving to and serving other people, and coming to this table to be fed by God’s self. We don’t have to be immediately wise or trusting, and we will fail in those areas over and over (look at Solomon and all the disciples), but we can always grow. The people around us will also fail (even our most trusted role models will fail), so we ought to compassionately give them the same slack to grow that we would want them to give us. We all go up to the table together to get wisdom and understanding. We trust God to give it to us. And then we come back for more, because we all know how much we need it, and how much we need to trust in the only One who can give it.   AMEN

Proper 8 Year A: Proactive Humility

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Our scripture readings this morning talk about the inevitable fall that comes from self-exhaltation and the inevitable rise that comes from humility, or as Paul puts it: our sin leads to death, but God’s gift is eternal life. It is easier for us to see the truth in the first part of that statement because we have examples from history about downfalls caused by selfishness and self-centeredness and sin. It is harder for us to remember examples of humility leading to true exhaltation, because we tend to think of humility in a negative or weak way – as a way of letting people walk over us or as a way of giving up our needs because we don’t think we are worthy of having any sort of happy life. It shouldn’t be that way, because true humility requires strength and brings us a sense of our true self, rather than the common belief that humility is a sign of weakness and a source of self-negation. We are of infinite value, but that value is not of our own making; it is a gift from God. That is good to remember, because it means that our infinite worth can be taken away by nothing – it does not depend on our own opinion or the opinions of anyone else. It also means that others’ infinite worth does not depend on our opinions of them. It is not about us, it is always about God.

Maybe one of the reasons that we so often think of humility as leading to self-negation is because we have a false sense of where our legitimacy and integrity – our true selves – lie. We get caught up in the idea that our worth is based on what others think of us, and so we desperately try to look good in the eyes of others in order to boost our standing – we try to have the perfect family or the biggest business or the nicest stuff, or we try to look cool through sex or drug and alcohol misuse, or wearing the right clothes or hairstyle, or being good-looking. There is nothing wrong with having nice material things or with others having a high opinion of us, but that is not where our worth as a person lies. Our infinite worth comes solely from being a wonderful creation of God. The flip side of worrying about our existence being dependent on others’ opinions of us is just as dangerous – the false view of living only for ourself and our own pleasure, regardless of what anyone else thinks and regardless of how many people we hurt in the attempt to have our own way in every situation. That way is just as unstable as worrying about our standing in the eyes of others because we never know how long we can maintain our grip on things and control them the way we want.

God is the only true and stable reality, so anything not based on God will crumble, while those things based in God (with love as the true foundation, rather than fear of other people’s opinions or self-aggrandizement as false foundations) will flourish and bring joy and peace. By grounding our life in God, rather than in the need to impress people, we can live as our true selves and be happy, instead of living a fake life wasting time and energy building a false image. Living in God’s love rather than in fear of our own or other people’s opinions of us is true humility, but it doesn’t bring us down in a negative sense. It brings us down in a positive sense – rooting us in the sure foundation of love so that we can flourish, growing taller and stronger than we ever could by trying to ride the waves of self-centeredness. Basing our life in God rather than our own needy egos does not stifle our true selves. It allows our true selves to grow and flourish, unhindered by the constant need to worry about our social standing or our domination of others. The humility that comes from living in God’s love is not negative. It is positive – a proactive form of humility that says: “I am a wonderful, beautiful child of God, and so is everyone else, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks.” Once we live in that way of humility, we are free to allow ourselves and others to grow as the unique children of God that we all are without the worry of fitting into anyone else’s mold or trying to force others to fit our mold.

This goes against business as usual, and that is why Jesus describes it as a sword, setting families and everyone else against those who chose to follow his path of humility. It is new to us and so we are frightened by it and fight it, because it threatens our false sense of security based on our own abilities or projected image. It is not unpeaceful because God makes it that way, it is unpeaceful because we make it that way. We want ourselves and our loved ones to be happy and fulfilled, and since we are so used to looking for happiness and fulfillment by the unstable means of self centeredness, we balk when the people we care about abandon that road and look for their fulfillment in the security of God’s loving acceptance of them, regardless of their material wealth or societal status. We fear that they might not be happy, and we ourselves are afraid of following the path of humility because we are afraid that we will not be happy. The truth, however, is that the only way to happiness is by letting go of worrying about ourselves and instead trusting in God, because God is the only stable reality. God is the basis of all existence, and therefore only those things based in God really exist.

All of this is not to say that families and businesses and cultural aspirations are bad, or that having good material things and being popular are wrong, but we must choose to base those things in God and act with love, instead of being driven by the constant need to promote our own over-inflated sense of importance, or worrying about anyone else’s judgment of us. We are important, but our integrity and legitimacy are not based on anyone else’s perceived opinions of us or on our own ability to dominate the world around us. Our infinite worth lies solely in our stature as beautiful, unique creatures of God. That is a good thing, because our ability to dominate the world around us and to look good in the eyes of the people around us will constantly change, while our status as children of God will not. That is why we heard Jesus say in the gospel this morning: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” – it is not about us, it is all about God. That is why we heard Paul say in the Letter to the Romans this morning: “…present yourselves to God…” – it is not about us, it is all about God.

We are good and of infinite value, but we need to make sure we base our good and precious lives on the truth of God’s love, rather than on our own wavering emotions and desires. Only then we will be free to be our true, wonderful, beautiful selves because only then can we do what’s right instead of worrying about doing what looks good; only then can we love ourselves instead of worrying about getting more stuff to love; only then can we love others instead of worrying about how others make us feel. Only then can we be free to grow into the fullness of joy and peace that is our birthright as God’s children. God is love. If we live in love, we live in God, and our lives will have no end, because every moment will be an eternity of joy and fulfillment.   AMEN

Easter VII Year A: Staring Into The Sky

Acts 1:6-14
I Peter 4:12-14,5:6-11
John 17:1-11

One of the few things that Jesus told us to not do is to try to figure out when he was coming back. And so, one of the things that Christians have done most (at least in America back in the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st), is to try to figure out when he was coming back. It is a waste of time, and has always ended in embarrassment or worse.

One of the things that Jesus does want us to do is to be one as he and the Father are one. And so, one of the things that Christians have done most is to split apart from each other (at least organizationally). What is wrong with us?

Well, maybe we are not all that bad. There have been some notable mergings of Christian denominations in the past century: Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada, Church of South India, and the closer ties between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA. Nonvisible, unofficial church unity is not doing too bad in some spots: the guest ministry, Confraternity, and Oblate program here at St. Gregory’s are examples of that, as are the many “emerging church” activities around the world. But even with all that, those denominations just mentioned are constantly having members leave to form new churches in reaction to things going on in those denominations.

It is usually the case that denominations that tend toward openness to other denominations are much less prone to spend a lot of time trying to figure out when Jesus is coming back. Some might say that is because those denominations are wishy-washy in their beliefs about Jesus. I do not think that is the case. I think that more likely, it is because they are actually doing what the disciples did after Jesus physically left them: praying and waiting for power from the Holy Spirit.

Maybe we wait too much, or are timid to use the tremendous power of the Holy Spirit that has already been given us. We can use it for so many things other than figuring out when Jesus will come back – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead. We can all do it together, and when we do, we are united in a far deeper way than denominational record books can show.

All we have to do is stop staring into the sky, go home and pray, and then act in the power we have been given. We are one because Jesus is one.   AMEN