Long, Dark Hallways – Sermon, 8/13/17

As someone who has lived with a clinical diagnosis of depression for many years, I have many years of people trying to cheer me up.  These people are usually motivated by good factors, particularly not wanting to see me break down into tears for no apparent reason.
As someone who has lived with a clinical diagnosis of depression for many years and as someone who lives and breathes church stuff, I have many years of people trying to cheer me up with God-related sayings.  Among my favorites is when people assure me that God never gives us more than we can handle.  When I’m feeling particularly rotten, I wish that God didn’t think I can handle so much.

Glow Worms – Sermon, 8/6/17

I might be dating myself a bit here but does anyone remember “Glow Worms?”  They were a silly toy around in the early 1980s.  Not quite an imaginative name for a toy, Glow Worms were, well, worms that glowed.  Plastic worms, of course, or I would not have touched them.  They were kind of cute, actually.  I looked for my old Glow Worm so I could show her off but it is still hidden somewhere among my childhood belongings.
The reason they were called “Glow” worms is because they would glow into the night if exposed to light during the day.  They were sort of a cheap substitute for a nightlight – no electricity required.  Just plastic with a photo-reactive covering.  In addition to just being plain cute, one of the reasons I loved my Glow Worm is because it would glow for a really long time into the night. 
The Glow Worm would sit on my nightstand and, although I still had an electric nightlight, the Glow Worm still emitted enough light to comfort me in the middle of the night.  I remember waking up from bad dreams and holding on to the Glow Worm as it glowed in my hand. 
We hear about two sorts of Glow Worms in today’s readings – first Moses and then Jesus.  Okay, so Moses and Jesus are not plastic worms, per se, but you get the idea.  Let’s look first at Moses.  By the beginning of this morning’s reading from Exodus, Moses has spent a long time on Mount Sinai in God’s presence.  While up there, Moses receives commandments from God and enjoys basking in the glory of God’s presence on earth.

Why Grow? – Sermon, 7/30/17

In speaking with some colleagues this week, I heard about the shortage of mustard seeds that seems to come around this time every few years.  It’s probably because every conceivable preacher is buying containers of mustard seeds as sermon illustrations.  Jesus’ image of the mustard seed is very popular.  Some people even wear mustard seed necklaces, symbolizing their faith’s potential to grow.
It’s true that mustard seeds are incredibly small but I’m not sure that Jesus is only emphasizing the size of the mustard seed in the first of today’s images of the kingdom of heaven.  Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel contains a long list of images of God’s kingdom – all using touchstones that would be familiar to his original audience.  They would know about flour, hidden treasure, pearls, and fishing.

No Weeding Allowed – Sermon, 7/23/17

Much to my mother’s chagrin, and probably annoyance, I had very strict rules as a kid about weeds when gardening.  The most important rule of all about weeds is as follows: don’t kill them.  Every few years, my parents would try to plant a garden in our backyard but I was little to no help.  I would complain whenever it was time to weed the garden – and not just because it was too hot or too humid.  I would get really upset when it was time to weed because I didn’t think it was right to kill the little plants.

Just as We Are – Sermon, 7/16/17

Last week during the 10 AM Mass, we sang one of the great hymns of in all of Christian music: Just as I am.  I know not everyone here might be familiar with church hymns – my faithful 8:00 friends – so I wanted to read one of the verses.  Don’t worry – I’m not going to sing at you.
“Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come.  I come.”  It’s a beautiful hymn that calls to mind the first verse of today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The hymn speaks of a God who accepts each of us for who we are, a God who is so eager for relationship with each of us as individuals that God is willing to send Jesus into our crazy, sinful, honestly messed-up world for each of our salvation.

Fickle Folks – Sermon, 7/9/17

Last Sunday’s word was “stoshus” – a Jamaican patois word meaning “hoity-toity.”  Today’s word of the day is “fickle.”  Admittedly, fickle is not as fun as stoshus but fickle is a good word in its own right.  Fickle is a word used to describe someone who is deceitful and cunning.  I think of fickle people as being shifty, hard-to-pin down, and hard-to-please sort of people.
We hear about some seriously fickle folks in Matthew’s Gospel today.  Jesus says, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’”  Remember that when John the Baptist originally shows up in the Gospel story, he is judged as pretty strange and rather unusual.  Honestly, the whole eating-wild-locusts-thing and wearing a hair shirt probably doesn’t help much in improving John the Baptist’s social standing.  Because John the Baptist didn’t eat much or drink much, people accuse him of being possessed by a demon.  They figured, how else could someone survive fasting so long? 
Certainly, some people accept John the Baptist’s message and call to repentance.  In some ways, the ministry of John the Baptist is successful because he paved the way for Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist fulfilled many prophecies from the Old Testament.  He baptized Jesus – one of the events that kicks off Jesus’ public ministry. 
Overall, though, John the Baptist is largely rejected.  Unfortunately, we know how the story of John the Baptist ends.  The “head on a silver platter” thing is not a cheerful ending to John the Baptist’s story.  He is eventually executed for his strangeness and the fearless ways he challenges the unjust power structures in the world around him.

Anti-Stoshus – Sermon, 7/2/17

My mother-in-law, Ann-Marie’s mom, is from Jamaica.  She has lived in this country for about 40 years but words from her native country occasionally come sneaking out.  English is the official language of Jamaica but there is also a second, slightly secret language in Jamaica: patois.  There are lots of fun words I have learned in the nearly 13 years I have known Ann-Marie.
For example, in patois, a ghost is known as a duppy.  A mushroom is called “jumby umbrella” in patois.  One of the patois words that came to mind this week while I was writing today’s message is “stoshus.”  My mother-in-law loves using the word “stoshus.”  Loosely, “stoshus” translates to “hoity-toity.”  A stoshus person puts on airs and pretends to be more important that she is in reality.  A stoshus person is, at some level, fake and inauthentic.

Complicated Savior – Sermon, 6/25/17

In a moment of pure desperation this week while trying to write today’s sermon, I came to the following, desperate conclusion: the laws of mathematics don’t want me to write a sermon.  After all, at least 75% of the readings assigned for today contain bad news.  I’m the sort of preacher who likes sharing messages of peace and love.  I’m the sort of preacher who believes in a peace-loving, peace-making Jesus.  I’m the sort of preacher who wants to proclaim the coming of a peace-able kingdom.
What in the world am I supposed to do on days like today?  When at least 75% of the readings seem to proclaim anything but a peace-able kingdom?  The laws of mathematics have conspired against the possibility of preaching a peaceful sermon. 
In today’s first reading, we hear the terrible and terribly sad story of Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment from Abraham’s camp.  For seemingly no other reason than to appease the jealous Sarah, Hagar is kicked out of her home and away from everything familiar.  Off Hagar goes with her son, Ishmael, and they are forced to wander in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.  Hagar seems to give up on God who seems to have withdrawn the divine favor promised to first-born sons. 
Ishmael comes close to death in this story – so close that his mother says she cannot bear to look on his death so she leaves him under a bush.  God DOES intervene, of course, and promises a life of favor for Abraham’s first-born son.  We give thanks for God’s intervention, of course, but couldn’t God have intervened a little earlier?  Maybe make Hagar and Ishmael suffer a little less? 
This story, both before and after God’s intervention, remains part of our spiritual legacy and part of the Biblical record.  A mother’s anguish.  A near certainty of a child’s death.  This is not exactly the coming peace-able kingdom that I like to preach about.

Iraneus of Lyons – Priestly Pondering, 6/25/17

When we gather for Mass on Wednesday at 12 noon this week, we will remember the life and legacy of Iraneus of Lyons, France.  Iraneus narrowly escaped martyrdom at the end of the second century.  His escape allowed him to become a faithful clergyperson, bishop, and theologian.  For his work in defining beliefs as either orthodox or heretical, Iraneus is recognized as a father of the church.  Iraneus was deeply rooted in his study of scripture and his familiarity with the Bible informed his life as a Christian.  What are the sources of our faith?  How we do prayerfully discern which of our beliefs are in line with God’s hopes for the world?

Dangerous Business – Sermon, 6/18/17

One of the best movies in the world – at least in my opinion – is “The Fellowship of the Ring,” part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I admit to watching this movie probably close to 100 times – a pretty depressing number because the movie is about three hours long.  There is just something comforting and familiar about “The Fellowship of the Ring.”  I don’t know if it’s because I have always felt a little bit like a Hobbit with a Hobbit’s love of growing things.  Or maybe it’s because I really resonate with the character Sam.
Officially named Samwise Gamgee, Sam is a combination bodyguard, gardener, and best friend to the main character, Frodo.  Without giving anything away, it is fair to say that Sam becomes quite a heroic character.  At the beginning of the first movie, though, Sam is timid to say the least.  As Sam and Frodo begin their long journey together, Sam expresses his anxiety that he is going to be farther away from home than he has ever been.