A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

As I have loved you. That really is the kicker in this commandment to love, which at first glance sounds rather pleasant, because who doesn’t want to love and be loved? But to love as Jesus loved—to lay down one’s life for one’s friends—that’s something else again.

You don’t often hear of someone giving up their life for their friends, although of course it does sometimes happen. This past week when I was reflecting on that line from the Gospel I found myself thinking about story of Jonathan Daniels and Ruby Sales.

I think I mentioned in one of my Holy Week sermons that Ruby Sales had led a Bible study for the diocese this Lent on Zoom back. She’s a middle-aged woman now, and I couldn’t help wondering what you would do with your life if you knew that someone else had given up his own so that you might live.

Which is an interesting question—right?—because that is exactly what we say we believe about ourselves.

Anyway, Jonathan Daniels[i] and Ruby Sales. You might have heard their story, since the Episcopal Church does remember Daniels each year on August 14 in our calendar of commemorations.

He was a native of Keene, New Hampshire, valedictorian for the Class of 1961 at Virginia Military Academy, and a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he felt called in 1965 to go South and get involved in the civil rights movement.

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A sermon for the fifth Sunday of Easter

First of all, I want to warn you up front: I’m going to invite you to share some sermon-related thoughts of your own this morning via the comments box on Facebook. This will be voluntary, of course, but if you think you might want to play along at home, have your keyboard ready.

I’ll even give you a rough idea now of what I’m going to ask. In general, it’s about what we’ve learned over the past 13 months about continuing as a community when we can’t be together in person.

What have we learned about that? What lessons has this pandemic taught us?

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles along those lines lately, as the vaccines roll out and as things begin to ease up a little. Articles about what we’ve learned. What have we learned about what really matters in life? What do we appreciate more now than we did before?

I saw a blurb last week for an article about things that people started doing during the pandemic that they want to keep doing when it’s over. It mentioned three things in particular: cooking at home, telecommuting, and wearing soft pants.

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Old friends

I call these two trees the old friends. They were growing in my back yard, side by side at the edge of a pond, when I moved here more than 40 years ago. I don’t know enough about trees to guess how old they were by then. They stand side by side, together enduring whatever weather comes, shedding their leaves each fall and growing new ones in the spring.

Although they’re different species, from some perspectives the two appear to be one tree. Sometimes I think of them as a family, the pair of smaller trees on either side their offspring.

We’ve asked our tree guy if we should be concerned about the health of the darker one standing slightly to the front, but he says no, it’s fine. I hope he’s right because it grows at an angle, leaning toward our house, but the tree guy says the roots are strong.

We moved several times when I was a kid, and I never felt rooted the way other people seemed to be in any of the places I’ve lived. Even now. There’s some sadness for me in that. Other times, though, I’ve just felt glad that I’m not stuck in one place. At least in theory.

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Moonrise

Full moon rising

I’m really pleased that two of my photos including this one are included in the Pace Center for Photography’s current show, Odyssey, which opened online today. Go to this page – https://www.pacenterforphotography.org/odyssey-2021…/ – and scroll down to see them both. Of course you should really go to A and look at the whole thing if you have time. I’ve just started to browse through it and it’s fabulous!

A sermon for the third Sunday of Easter

I’m going to say something that would no doubt shock some of my church friends if they heard it, but I feel like Easter is over.

At my house, it was just the two of us this year. We didn’t dye eggs, we didn’t have much candy, we had no ham or lamb leftovers. So at home, we’re done, we’re finished, Easter is over.

But here in church, the season of Easter continues until Pentecost, until the end of May. And just in case I forgot about that, I got an email last week from Episcopal Church headquarters with the subject line “Easter joy continues.” Well, I opened it in great anticipation, but it did not turn out to be a spiritual greeting, it was just a reminder that I still have time to contribute to the church’s annual appeal. So we have all kinds of ways of celebrating the things that matter in church—in church, where it is still Easter.

And in fact we’re really just getting started in telling the Easter story. This morning’s Gospel was still about that very first day, the day of the Resurrection. It comes from the last chapter of Luke, Chapter 24, which really focuses on just that one day, as the disciples struggle to understand what is going on here.

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A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter

If the Gospel were drama, you could think of the story that we heard this morning as a play in two short acts, both taking place on the same very simple set, the room where Jesus and his disciples gathered the night before Jesus died.

The first act takes place on the evening of the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. And the second takes place exactly one week later, when Jesus returns and shows Thomas his wounds. It might seem like a very bare-bones story, but there’s a lot going on here.

And one question in particular stood out for me as I thought about it over the past week in this year of Our Lord 2021:

Why did the resurrected body of Jesus still bear the wounds of his crucifixion?

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The art of compassion: An Easter sermon

There’s a traditional Japanese art form called kintsugi which is used to repair broken pottery. The kintsugi master uses lacquer to reattach the pieces of a broken bowl or teacup, then pours gold to fill in the spaces.

The result is considered to be even more precious and beautiful than the unbroken original. But it will never be the same again. The outline of the pieces will always be visible. You’ll always be able to see that it was broken.

At Easter we celebrate the mending of the whole world, the repair of our own brokenness. This is the essence of our faith: That by his resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over evil forever. Life has conquered death. Our God is making all things new.

I believe this with all my heart. I do.

And yet when I think of our world as it is today, I also struggle to understand.  It’s hard, sometimes, to believe that what we’re witnessing is God’s New Creation, because we live in a world which by all appearances is still broken. Each day’s headlines bring new evidence of that fact.

So maybe you could say we’re being mended kintsugi style. Our broken parts can still be seen, but they’re being patched together with gold so it is beautiful in its own way.

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A sermon for Good Friday 2021

Who is Jesus to you?

Our diocese had an online Bible study this Lent, led by Civil Rights activist Ruby Sales. “Who is Jesus to you?” is a question she asked over and over again as we worked our way through the Gospel readings for the season.

“Who do you say that I am?” That’s the same question Jesus once asked Peter, and Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”[1] Of course he was right, but each one of us ought to be able to answer that question in our own words.

Of course he was a teacher, a friend. He was Mary’s son. He was a man who set an example through his own life of how to lead a life of principal.

Churchgoers might think of the formulas we use in church: Son of God, Redeemer. We say that he died “for us.”

But the Jesus we see tonight is a suffering man. A man condemned to a horrible death in an unjust trial because powerful men wanted him out of the way. And they were willing to sell their souls to accomplish that.

In every generation we have come to understand this story through the lens of our own times. It’s not that Jesus’ basic identity changes, but to live as people of faith we have to be able to say what Jesus means to us in our lives. In our world.

We have to keep asking ourselves that question: Who do you say Jesus is?

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Made new

Ghost train #1, Lambertville: coupling

My thoughts both personal and professional are deeply immersed in Holy Week at this point, and when I walked past this abandoned train which has become a canvas for creative graffiti writers, what came to mind was this from the Book of Common Prayer Good Friday service: “… let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new … “There is just so much we need to raise up and make new, with God’s help (not necessarily including abandoned railroad cars, but beauty is important, too).

A sermon for Palm Sunday 2021

Because we want to let today’s service really focus on the Passion Gospel, instead of having a sermon right after the Gospel we’ll observe a minute or so of silence before we move onto the prayers, to let the story sink and perhaps to recover a little from the heartbreak of it. And I want to warn you about that now, so don’t think we’re having technical problems when we pause and you don’t hear anything. And again, in order to keep the focus during the servce on the Gospel itself, I’m going offer a short reflection here before we begin the service. I want to just mention a few things to listen for.

The Gospel we’re about to hear is a story of human weakness and self-giving love. It’s about betrayal, injustice, political intrigue, lost hope, fear, jealousy, abuse of power, bitter bitter regret, pain, loneliness, and finally, death. It shows how a mob can be swayed by angry voices, and it shows just how dangerous that can be.

It’s really a terrible story, a heartbreaking story, but like most stories about human nature, it also has some shining moments of faith and bravery and loyalty and tenderness.

So, a very basic outline: It begins with the cheering crowd that greets Jesus as he arrives in Jerusalem, but some people feel threatened by his popularity and they’re plotting to have him killed. He’s betrayed by one of his closest firneds, and the rest of his friends are so frightened they run for their lives. His trial is a travesty of justice. He’s condemned and mocked by soldiers. He suffers horribly. He dies a brutal and shameful death, and he’s buried in someone else’s tomb.

Because it’s such a familiar story for many of us, I think it can be hard to hear it with fresh ears, so I’d like to suggest just a couple of things to listen for.

The first is what it tells us about the nature of God. How it shows us that selfless, self-giving love, the kind of love that isn’t always sweet and easy. It’s tough love. It’s hard love. And we, too, are called to give ourselves following this example.

Another thing it shows us is about friendship and loyalty. When Jesus asks his friends to stay with him they fall asleep in the garden. They run when he’s arrested. One is in such a hurry he leaves his clothes behind. In the courtyard that night, Peter denies him. Jesus knows our human sorrow and pain and he is with us in it no matter what’s going on in our lives. And we, too, are called to stay with him in this story, and to stay with everyone who is in any kind of pain, just to be there with them.

And finally Jesus stands agains the powers that be. The Empire has no use for him. His own religious leaders fail him utterly, because his teachings contradict their values. Because they’re jealous, as I said, of his popularity. But we, too, are called to stand by the values he taught, even when it means going against the prevailing culture, no matter what. And we, too, are called to stand up against the powers that be in our own society when they impose injustice on those who are powerless to defend themselves.

Today’s Gospel ends with the stone rolled to close the entry to the tomb, but even as Jesus dies, we hear the centurion say, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

That is our faith, and the source of all our hope.

Preached for Church of the Ascension in Parkesburg PA.