A sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017

The city of Assisi in Italy is built halfway up a low mountain in the region of Umbria, and when you approach it from a distance it’s strikingly beautiful. What you see is this long expanse of white buildings, and in the sunlight they have a pinkish glow. You have to go up the mountain to get to the city, and you can’t park or drive in the middle of it, and so when we visited last year, we parked at one end of the town and then walked down the main street to the other. The first place we stopped was the church that contains the font where St. Francis supposedly was baptized toward the end of the twelfth century. From there we went on to the place where they now have the San Damiano cross, that famous cross before which Francis was kneeling in prayer when God gave him the commission to rebuild the church. And finally, at the far end, we came to the Basilica of St. Francis, where Francis is buried. Now to get into the basilica, you have to go through a checkpoint that’s guarded by armed soldiers. And I couldn’t help wondering what Francis would think if he came back and found that he had been buried in such a grand place, and found it protected by armed soldiers. …

Live as if it mattered

“Coffee before talkie.”

Scarecrow wisdom. And pretty much how I start each day.

As I sat quietly with my coffee this morning, I happened across this advice to a student from one of the community partners working with the service program at the university where I used to be employed. It made such an impression on me that I wrote it down.

The student had just complained that the bad things in the world are so bad they seem hopeless. “There’s no way it’ll ever be fixed,” he said, “so what are we supposed to do about it, and what’s the use, anyway?”

And our community partner came right back at him: “Look, you use your brains and your hands and whatever you’ve got, you do whatever you can, but the important thing is that you get up every day and go out there and live your life as if it made a difference.”

Coffee before talkie. Live as if it mattered. Sometimes the truth is just that simple.

Love all God’s creation


Offered in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate today:

“Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day.”

~ from The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Why beauty

If I lift up innocence and wonder, don’t take it as a denial of all that is tragic in our world. If I let the horror be all I see, I might lose the resolve to resist it.

Billy Penn looking out over his city

Billy Penn City Hall American flag, Sonesta corporate logo

Billy Penn is a bruiser. He stands 37 feet tall and weighs 27 tons. The days when the brim of the hat was by handshake agreement the highest thing in the city ended 30 years ago, but this bronze simulacrum of Philadelphia’s founder still cuts an imposing figure, peeking out between buildings wherever you go in Center City. Earlier this year, he was washed and buffed from top to toe. Even the solid symbols of our ideals need to be spruced up a bit from time to time.
And the thing is, the City of Brotherly Love was always more of an ideal than a reality. Penn’s “holy experiment,” the colony of Pennsylvania, has always been a work in progress. It must be so because, as they say, we are only human. We put a cross atop our steeple, but it doesn’t mean the church is perfect. The only statement it makes is that this is our ideal, the standard we aim for and try to live ever closer to, knowing it must always be a little out of reach. To say out loud that we’ve fallen short is a actually mark of commitment to the process.

I love being part of these grand experiments. I love my country because of what it stands for. I love living in a place that was founded as an experiment in tolerance. We need to take care in what we lift up, and courageously, honestly commit to bringing these ideals to life

A sermon for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

What do you suppose would happen If Jesus showed up at the Senate Prayer Breakfast this week? In person. Would they let him in? Do you think they’d even recognize him?

If he showed up looking like this, I think probably they’d have no trouble recognizing him. This is actually a detail from a larger picture, and in it he’s wearing a long tunic, which is pure white and perfectly clean, even though it’s dragging on the ground by about four inches. He has nice light brown hair, and actually has blue eyes, but I think the dead giveaway is the halo.

But what if he showed up looking like this guy? This is a forensic reconstruction that was done a few years ago, and it’s supposed to show what a typical Gallilean of Jesus’ time would look like, so it might be pretty close to what he really did look like. His hair’s a little untidy, and like anyone from that part of the world, he has dark skin and brown eyes. I suspect that if he showed up at the Capitol, they’d want to check this guy out pretty carefully before they let him go anywhere.

And what if he showed up looking like this? This is just a young guy in a suit. And when I first saw this, I thought, no, that couldn’t be Jesus, he’s too young. But think about it: he never really got out of his early 30s. If he were here on Earth today, why wouldn’t he put on a suit and tie and look like one of us? That’s exactly what he did the first time, after all. And if he did, I think we’d have an awfully hard time recognizing him. The only way to tell who he really was would be by how he acted, and how he used his authority.

Today’s readings are all about actions and authority. First we heard Paul’s description of the self-giving love of Jesus, the paradoxical way he manifested his authority through a series of actions that looked more like giving up authority. And then we witness this encounter between Jesus and the chief priests and elders at the temple in Jerusalem, where they challenged Jesus to name the source of his authority.

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In exhortation

If I had to, I’d want the job of the one on the right.

Sermon illustration for the next time Romans 12:6-8 comes up and we have to explain what an exhorter looks like: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: … the exhorter, in exhortation.”

The golden hour


The golden hour: toward the end of the day, toward the end of the season. There is strange beauty even in the dying.

The Guest House
By Jelaluddin Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

A sermon for Recovery Sunday

We’re going to be talking about recovery, and grace, and hope today.

Everywhere that Jesus went, the crowds came after him. The sick and the suffering followed him. There was no other urgent care station for them. They couldn’t check into the family practice around the corner. In fact, whatever pain they were carrying, they really had very little hope of being healed, except through this healer who walked among them. And that’s why the crowds came after him. they brought their pains to Jesus, and he healed them.

Healing was at the very heart of his ministry, and when he sent his disciples out on mission, he gave them the most simple basic direction. he told them to go and proclaim the good news and heal.

Today we have so many miracles of modern medicine, we call them. We have resources to heal us in amazing ways, and yet as much as things change, some things remain the same. We carry a lot of pain. There is a lot of need for healing. We live with so many chronic illnesses. …