A sermon for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

So why did you come to church this morning? What is it that you hoped to find here? What is it that you’re hungry for?

Maybe some of you didn’t have time for breakfast and you really are hungry, looking forward to the coffee hour. That usually gets me at about 10 of 11, even though I did eat breakfast. But probably, nearly everyone here—I would imagine—is hungry for something. There are some things missing in your life that you’re still yearning for.

For some of us it might be meaningful work, work that is good and work just to support ourselves. For some of us it might be a spiritual hunger for something more. For some of us it might be yearning for a greater sense of peace and security in these times that seem so uncertain and difficult. It might be as simple as good health. But nearly everybody is hungry for something.

So what is it that you’re hungry for?

A couple of weeks ago I was going somewhere south of here and I found myself in the new Whole Foods Market in Spring House. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. Even if you’ve been in a Whole Foods before, this is something else. This is the new world. I was looking for some tea, that’s what I was doing in there. The days of the long, straight grocery aisles are gone, so in order to find what you’re looking for you have to sort of turn this way and that to get through the store. And every time you turn a corner you come across some display of prepared food that looks just incredibly delicious. Artisanal pizza, and baked goods, and hot stuff and a salad bar, and desserts.

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A sermon for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost

When my kids were little, they attended a faith-based school. It was small. There was no lunch room. The food for snacks and lunch had to be packed at home every day and sent in a lunch box. Human nature being what it is, those lunch boxes sometimes got left at home, or in the car, or on the bus. Then you had a hungry kid and no place to buy food for them. Each of the teachers had a different way of dealing with this possibility, because it did happen.

The kindergarten teacher kept a bowl, and the child who had no lunch box had to take the bowl around to his or her classmates and accept what they wished to give out of their lunch. This happened once when it was Grandparents Day, so my mother was there. She was bothered by the fact that it was voluntary. She felt that no one should be allowed to get away with being selfish, that every child should be made to share some of their lunch. But we all know that acts of generosity are authentic only when they are undertaken of our own free will, so that’s how it went in this classroom. That day and all the days that it happened, the child who forgot the lunch box had enough to eat. Everybody had enough to eat. There was enough. I think of this as a miracle, actually, a human miracle.

Let me explain that. I had a seminary professor who gave us a definition of miracle as an unexpected event that brings us into the presence of God. I really like that. In the case of these kids, it’s unexpected that kids, that anybody, would share their lunch just because some other kid had no lunch. Presumably—although I remember what a challenge it was to pack those lunch boxes—presumably you’d put in there what your kid liked and would eat to get through the day.

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A sermon for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost

We usually think of time as linear, by which I mean that it goes forward in a straight line:, today, tomorrow, next month, next year. For some of us, life might consist of some zigs and zags, but we think of time as just always going forward.

But actually in our lives, there are also cycles, circles, and in some ways, as we’re moving forward, we’re also going through these cycles again and again. So we have the cycle of the seasons. We have that cycle that repeats every year, with new life springing forth in spring, maturing in summer, dying, or at least going into some kind of hibernation in the fall, and resting through the winter. And we begin again with the same cycle when the next spring comes.

In the church, in the liturgical calendar, we have a similar kind of cycle, beginning in Advent, and we go through that period of waiting with longing for God to enter the world incarnate in Jesus. We celebrate his birth. We go through Lent, and Easter, and now we’re in Pentecost. It’s a similar cycle, in some ways, to the seasons in nature, but its purpose is a little bit different. It’s educational, and it’s also meant to remind us that God’s time is eternal. That in some ways, the life of Christ is always happening. All of these things are happening constantly. God is always coming into the world. The resurrection is always happening.

So we also have a cycle in nature of day and night, of waking and sleeping. We go about our lives in the world, and at night, we go home, and if we’re lucky, we sleep. And science is teaching us that that sleep isn’t just a nothing happening time, that even though we’re unaware of it, really important things are happening. Our brains are actually reorganizing themselves. Our bodies are both resting and repairing things that need to be repaired. And hopefully, we wake up refreshed and begin a new day and begin the cycle over and over again.

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Witness

Sometimes my job is just to witness. Sitting in my office, dealing with details before the start of our weekly healing Eucharist, I overhear one soul telling another, “God loves you!” Not knowing this person, unaware of the deep need to hear just these words. Grace upon grace.

“I still live with my parents”

In some ways we all do, right?

I am the child of parents who taught me among so many other things to live my relationship with God by doing what I can to make the world a better place. I’m still working on that.

A sermon for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost

“I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter,” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately Herod sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.[1]

That’s the climax of our reading from Mark’s Gospel for today, the end of a long and detailed account of the execution of John the Baptist.

The word Gospelmeans good news—Mark gives us those words in his very first verse—but it surely is hard to find the good news in this story.

There’s no good to be found in the scheming of Herodias, who wants to get rid of John because his persistent criticism of her marriage to Herod is a political liability.

There’s not much good to be found in Herod himself, though he seems to have some regard for John.

But he doesn’t want to lose face in front of the rich and powerful of Galilee who have gathered to celebrate his birthday, and so without hesitation he sends an executioner with orders to return with John’s head on a serving platter, and his command is promptly accomplished.

That doesn’t seem like good news, not at all.

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Lived, loved, & laughed

What words would you choose for your tombstone? I was taking some pictures at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, and I noticed that there isn’t much room for inscriptions on these military tombstones. “Beloved husband, dad, granddad.” “Never forgotten.” “Forever loved.”

I decided the one on the lower right is really my favorite: “Lived, loved, & laughed.” John Gillis, I think you had the right idea.

A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

It’s no secret that I love my electronic devices. They say there’s an app for everything, and I think I have most of them. One of my favorites is a packing list app. You can make your packing list on anyone device you happen to be working on, and you can see it on all the others. You can sort everything according to category—my electronics list is rather long, though some others are short. And you can check each item off as you put it in the suitcase, so you can see what you have left to pack.

Over time I’ve developed a sort of template, a master list, so I don’t have to start from scratch every time. When it’s time to travel I just look at it and decide which things I need and which I don’t, and that’s my packing list.

Chris has a slightly different system. He’s actually in Cuba right now, traveling with the Bucks County Choral Society, singing in a couple of concerts and also touring around. Communications aren’t that great, even in this Internet world, but he’s sent a couple of emails to say that he’s having a wonderful time. But his system for packing is a little different. It involves a lot of wandering around the house on the day he’s leaving, saying, “I wonder what I’m forgetting to pack?” over and over again.

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Elusive

Fireflies. I tried for two evenings to get this photo, and I’m still not entirely satisfied.

At dusk they appear to be everywhere in our yard, but it turns out they’re everywhere except in the place where I point my camera, wherever that is. Meanwhile, the invisible mosquitoes really are everywhere; worse: they all seem to know exactly where I am.

Funny how some things can be found only where you’re not looking for them, while others manage to find you even when you don’t want to be found.

Funeral sermon for Kathy Strong

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across some old correspondence between me and John Strong, Kathy’s dad. John had asked me for a copy of a quotation I’d used in a sermon. It was from a book called When Breath Becomes Air, written by a brilliant young brain surgeon who was dying of cancer just as he was finally finishing his medical training.

I guess you could call it a cancer memoir, because it was about the last few years of this man’s life, but don’t get the wrong idea: it was much more about how he lived through that time than about his dying.

The part John asked for was this: “Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult—sometimes almost impossible—they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily of act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.”[i]

It wasn’t hard to understand why this resonated with John. It was a few months before Jane died—Kathy’s mom—and Kathy was fighting her own illness, and the daily, ongoing balance of life and love and pain and hope must have been very present for John.

It certainly was very much so for all of us in the Strongs’ parish family at Good Shepherd Church. And so it would continue to be right up to the day when Kathy finally lost her fight to live—at least to live in the mortal body that suffered so much these past few years—and we lost Kathy.

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