A sermon for the third Sunday after the Epiphany

Every Sunday we come to church and we listen to a short passage from the Gospel and reflect on it a bit. We listen to one of the stories about the life of Jesus. We hear how he preached and taught, how he cured every sickness and disease, as it says in today’s Gospel, how he lifted up people who were on the margins of that society. He fed people—he was able to feed thousands of people miraculously with food that should have fed just a few.

And this is a good thing, because these stories are really the backbone of who we are. We are the people of Jesus, the followers of Jesus in the 21st century.

So it’s a good thing, but there is one problem with this approach, which I think is, hearing these stories in isolation, hearing them one by one, apart from the big picture, you lose a sense of how everything is connected. You lose a sense of the bigger story that they are smjustall parts of. The problem is that you can misunderstand what’s really being said in the story, and I think today’s Gospel is a perfect example of that.

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A sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

So Christmas is over. The Wise Men have found the Christ Child. The season of Epiphany has begun. Jesus has been baptized. And now it’s time to think about the Eagles.

Yes, those Eagles—the green Eagles.

Big game today if you’re an Eagles fan. Which I’m not really, to be honest–but I do like to see the local teams win.

Philadelphia sports fans? They’re a breed apart, aren’t they? I mean, where else would you find a team mascot like the Flyers’ Gritty, with his wild orange hair, and so much attitude. He’s a little grungy, he’s loyal to the team, but he’s not exactly welcoming to the Flyers’ opponents.

And I’ve never seen anything like the wave of red that swept the city back in October when the Phillies made it to the World Series. Pretty much everyone was wearing something red, and there were plenty of team jerseys with the names and numbers of individual players—especially Bryce Harper.

And that, oddly enough, brings me to the subject of today’s Gospel.

The story takes place on the banks of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist has been preaching a message of repentance and renewal, and baptizing people who were ready to commit to it.

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A sermon for Christmas

First of all, I want to welcome everyone here this evening. To our guests and family members, welcome to you. Those of you who have not been here for a long time, welcome back. For those of you who might never have been here before, welcome to you. And to all of those dear faces I see every Sunday when I’m here, welcome to you, too, and thank you for welcoming me into this community.

It’s so good to be with all of you for our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ. So here we are, and what a surprise it was that we started with, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Was anyone expecting that?

Just kidding, of course. I cannot think of a Christmas service I’ve attended since I was a child that didn’t begin with” O Come, All Ye Faithful” and end with “Joy to the World.” And we have to sing “Angels We Have Heard on High” somewhere near the beginning, right? So we can get all those glor-or-or-orias in. And somewhere near the end, the church gets very silent and we sing “Silent Night,” and then Joy to the World, and we’re out of here.

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A sermon for the third Sunday of Advent

Bringing a child into the world is an act of hope.

You hope for so many things. Of course you hope the delivery won’t be too difficult. You hope the child will be healthy. You hope you’ll be up to the task of parenting teenagers. But this morning I’m thinking of something bigger than that.

You wonder who they’ll turn out to be. And you hope your child will grow up to be a good person in a world where goodness isn’t something you can take for granted. You she’ll find love—find someone to love, someone who will love her. You hope she’ll have a long and happy life.

We invest so much hope in our children.

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A sermon for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

There was a movie that came out in 1993 called Schindler’s List. Maybe some of you saw it. I saw it back when it first came out in the theater, so it’s been quite a long time. But there’s one scene in particular that stands out for me. The movie’s about a German factory owner named Oskar Schindler, who saves the lives of many of his Jewish workers during the course of the war. And this scene that I remember so clearly is the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Kraków.

Schindler is on a horse on a hill looking down over the city, and he’s watching all of this unfold before him. And it’s a horrific scene. There’s chaos in the streets. The Nazi soldiers are rounding up the people. They’re pushing them, they’re shoving them into line, marching them down the street, tossing their belongings on the ground. You hear cries and screams. You hear sporadic gunfire in the background, and then at one point, one of the soldiers shoots a couple of people at point-blank range, and you see them drop to the ground.

And Schindler is watching all this. And you can tell he’s both horrified and also sort of fascinated. He can’t turn away from it. Almost all of the movie is in black and white but there’s this haunting violin theme playing over all of this. If you saw the movie, you might still be able to hum it. It’s both inexpressibly sad and also in a way sort of joyful. It’s a very interesting melody.

Anyway, so this is all unfolding in black and white, and this is the part I remember so vividly: There’s a little girl and she’s wearing a red coat, and she sort of appears out of nowhere, and she’s almost invisible to everyone in that scene. They’re marching one way, she slips behind them and goes the other way. She slips through people, she almost seem to slip between the legs of the Nazi soldiers. She just keeps going against the flow. She finds a building that’s open. She goes up to an apartment and she hides under a bed. And Schindler has seen her. He’s noticed.

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A sermon for the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed in the conversations I’ve had with all kinds of people about their spiritual life is that hardly anybody thinks they’re really good at prayer. A lot of people will tell me they struggle with prayer, they don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how often to do it, or just that they really intend to pray and they find that they don’t.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who said to me, “If there’s one thing I’m really, really good at, it’s prayer.” And that’s kind of bad news, because the Scriptures make it really clear that prayer is an essential part of discipleship. We see this especially in the gospel of Luke, which we’ve been reading this year.

We see Jesus himself at prayer multiple times. (Actually, since I wrote a paper about this in seminary, I can tell you that it’s eight times.) Always at times when something momentous is about to happen. The gospel tells us that he goes away by himself and prays in silence. We don’t know the words. We can imagine that some of it was just listening. We can imagine that some of it was active dialogue with his father, and one of those times when he comes back from prayer, his disciples say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” which should be our constant prayer, and he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. We heard that gospel back in July.

Last week,, we heard the story of the persistent woman and the bad judge. The persistent woman cried out for justice so persistently that the judge finally said, “Oh heck, I’m going to give her what she wants just so she’ll go away.” I don’t know, I hope that’s not God’s attitude towards us, but the message is that persistence and that crying out for justice.

So today’s lesson is about humility in prayer. We have the famous story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s a parable that was told, according to the gospel, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”

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A sermon for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, with baptism

The first parish I served after I was ordained was a fairly new parish with a new church building. And they had a high-tech baptismal font. It was made of stone, and it was always filled with water. And there was a basin of water at the top, and the water would flow out of the basin into a pool at ground level. And there was a pump that would bring it back up to the top—that’s the hi-tech part. And the pump was turned on whenever people were in church. And so for the whole time it was on you would hear the sound of running water, to remind us of the waters of baptism. And of course, the kids loved it. Of course.

So sometimes I would see young families by the font after the service. And the parents would sit with their kids and tell them the story of how they were baptized in that very place. And of course, the kids would want to touch the water. And we let them. They would splash in the pool at the bottom; they would put their hands out and let the water run through their hands. I’m not sure how much they could understanding about what their parents were telling them about baptism, though I hope that as they got older and heard the story again and again they understood more and more.

But touching the water made it real for them.

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A sermon for the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

There was a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day,
and at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.

+ In the name of God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel this morning is another one of Luke’s stories about reversals. It’s about a man of privilege and wealth who ends up in Hades, and a poor man named Lazarus who is forsaken in life but in death is carried away by angels to a place of comfort.

And the first thing we need to be clear about with this story is that it’s not supposed to be a literal description of heaven and hell. It’s a parable, one of those dramatic little stories that Jesus liked to tell which contain some deep truth, even if these never actually happened.

So a parable is more like a poem than a newspaper article. Parables are subtle. The words really are clues to the meaning rather than clear statements of fact.They’re meant to be thought-provoking. A short parable like this one can contain multiple truths. And as simple as these stories might appear to be, they’re actually as complex as life itself.

So today’s parable has two main characters. The poor man is named Lazarus, and the rich man has no name. And this rich man wears fine clothes and eats so well that we might even imagine that those fine clothes have grown a little tight on him over the years.

And at his gate—close by cut off from all this luxury—lies the poor man named Lazarus. He’s hungry. He’s covered with sores. He’s locked out of all the good things that are going on in the rich man’s house, and his companions are the dogs who come and lick his sores.

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A sermon for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
+ In the name of God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When my son—who just turned 40—was little, we used to call the space between me and my husband when we sat down next to each other “the bunny hole.” And our little bunny would crawl into his bunny hole and let himself be loved there.

And we got the name from this book, The Runaway Bunny, which you might be familiar with if you have kids. It’s by Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote Goodnight Moon, and Clement Hurd, who also illustrated that one. And the plot is pretty simple. A little bunny says he’s going to leave home in one way or another, and the mother says she’ll come after him wherever he goes.

“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away,’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.’” And then he imagines a whole bunch of scenarios. “’If you run after me,’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.’ ‘If you become a fish in a trout stream,’ said his mother, ‘I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.’” And of course she’s got a carrot at the end of the line.

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A sermon for the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

So here we haveJesus again talking about that upside-down and backwards world he calls the kingdom of God. In this vision, the people who are rich and powerful are going to lose it all, and the poor and marginalized will rise up and take their place. The sick will be healed. The hungry will be fed.

This is Jesus’ vision of the world as it should be. And it’s a thread that runs all the way through the gospel of Luke in particular. Everything is going to be turned around backwards.

And today he’s talking about dinner parties and feasts where the lowliest people in society are welcome guests, and the people who thought they should get the best seats at the table find themselves sent down to a less important place.

And I’ve actually had that experience.

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