A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about the time when he will no longer be physically on Earth, and he says he’ll send the Advocate, the comforter, in his place. He’ll send the Holy Spirit to teach, and guide, and comfort, and strengthen his people on Earth.

And there’s one phrase that really jumped out at me: “I will not leave you orphaned.” Not just I will not leave you alone, but I will not leave you orphaned, as if he were a parent to us.

And that reminded me of some of the writing of Julian of Norwich, whose feast day actually was last week. Do you know anything about Julian of Norwich, anybody? No? Okay, great. So I won’t be telling you something you already know.

Julian of Norwich was a woman who lived in the 14th century, and she lived in the city of Norwich, which at that time was the second-largest city in England after London. It’s about a hundred miles northeast of London, not quite as far as the North Sea. It had a cathedral, and it had many churches—fifty-some churches—and 35 or so of those churches had something that was called an anchorite.

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A sermon for Easter Sunday

The sun is just up on the first day of the week, and two women are going out to visit the place where their friend Jesus was buried a few days earlier.

These women were among the faithful little group who stayed and watched him die, while others scattered in fear. They saw him buried. They waited through the long, sad sabbath that followed, and now they’re going back alone to visit the place where they laid his body.

Then all of a sudden the ground where they walk is shaken by an earthquake. We know this story too well to be surprised. But can you imagine?

Next an angel appears from heaven, rolls back the huge stone that sealed the tomb, and sits down on it. The light that shines from him is blinding. The men assigned by the Romans to guard the tomb are literally paralyzed with fear.

But the angel tells them not to be afraid, and sends them off to spread the news that Jesus has been raised. He’s alive, and he’ll meet them all back in Galilee.

I used to wonder about that. Why did they have to go back to Galilee? Why couldn’t he meet them there in Jerusalem?

But Galilee was home. It’s the place where they first met Jesus, where they ate and laughed and prayed with him, and listened to him teach.

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A sermon for Maundy Thursday

If you follow all of the news from the Diocese of Pennsylvania, you’ll know that last week, a group from the diocese including our bishop returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where they visited many of the sites that are associated with the life of Christ. So I saw lots of social media postings of pictures of them. They put their feet in the waters of the Galilee. They went to the Jordan River, where they renewed their baptismal promises. They followed in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary, and they went to Emmaus, where the grieving disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, except finally in the breaking of the bread.

They actually were following in a tradition that is many, many centuries old. Pilgrims have been going to the Holy Land since the fourth century, when the bishop of Jerusalem began to create opportunities for them to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples in that last week before Easter. And that actually is the origin of our observance of Holy Week. The pilgrims went and participated in this, and when they came back and described what had happened, people back at home began to recreate those observances.

So that’s what we’re doing. We’re imitating those fourth-century pilgrims, starting with our palm procession on Palm, and it’s meant to be a pilgrimage. It’s meant to be a pilgrimage in place. A lot of you know that I’m about to leave on pilgrimage myself a week from Monday. I’m goingto Assisi on pilgrimage. So I’ve spent the season of Lent reflecting on what it means to be a pilgrim. It’s not just a trip. It’s not just tourism. It’s a special kind of a journey, and it requires you to really concentrate on living in the moment, to pay attention to everything that’s happening right now. To let go of the things that you usually worry about, let go of worry about travel arrangements.

And then to focus on being in the moment, to open your heart to the special grace of pilgrimage. And I think that’s what we need to do. As we walk on a sort of virtual pilgrimage through Holy Week, we need to open our hearts and pay attention to what’s happening at each moment in our observances. So tonight we imagine ourselves there around the table with Jesus the night before he died.

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A few words on Palm Sunday

I want to suggest a few things to listen for in today’s reading of the Passion Gospel, and when it’s over, we’ll sit in silence for a short while to let it all sink in. Because this is a hard story to hear.

And the thing to remember through all the brutality and betrayal we’re going to hear about is that this is a story, first of all, about self-giving love. The love of God. A love that’s almost unimaginable in its overwhelming generosity.

But it is also a story about human weakness. It’s about betrayal, injustice, political intrigue, fear, jealousy, abuse of power, bitter bitter regret, pain, 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 a heartbreaking story, but in the end, we know that love overcomes all those terrible things. And there are also some shining moments of bravery and faith and loyalty and tenderness, showing us who we can be, with God’s grace.

Because it’s such a familiar story I think it can be hard to hear it with fresh ears, so I’d like to suggest that we listen especially today for what it tells us about the nature of God. The loving, giving nature of God.

In his letter to the church at Phillipi, Paul tells us about the self-emptying love of Jesus. And Jesus gives himself again and again. He gives his friends bread and wine, the gift of himself—even Judas receives it.

He gives them the promise that he’ll never desert them.

He gives himself to that kiss from Judas, and he gives himself freely to the crowd that comes armed with clubs and swords to capture him. He gives himself to his accusers, in the sense that he never contradicts their charges against him. He doesn’t struggle when he’s led away. He gives himself to the cross.

He gives himself for us. For love. He gives himself for love.

Preached at St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Bristol, PA.

A sermon for the third Sunday of Lent

So Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of the three feasts when Jews were supposed to come to the temple. Jesus and his people, you’ll remember, were in Galilee. Galilee is separated from Jerusalem by Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. They were descended from common ancestors—Jacob, for example—but somewhere along the line they had split and their worship was different. And they despised each other.

Jesus is traveling back home to Galilee in this story after the Passover. John’s Gospel says that he had to go through Samaria. Now, he could have gone around, but Samaria was the direct route. And I cannot overemphasize how difficult, how hard this travel was. This was mountainous country, mountains and valleys, bandits and wild beasts. There were dangers along the way. That’s what happened in the story of the Good Samaritan. One of the bandits got him. Despite these challenges, the experts who have read the texts closely tell us that they were able to travel about 20 miles a day by foot, which to me is astounding.

But you can imagine that by the time Jesus gets to this well in the heat of the day, he’s got to be pretty tired. Sychar is about 40 miles from Jerusalem, so they’ve presumably been on the road for two days already. He’s resting in the heat of the day while his people go off to get food. This Samaritan woman comes alone to the well. He asks her for a drink. She’s quite surprised that he’s speaking to her for two reasons: First of all, Jews and Samaritans don’t generally talk to each other, and a man would not talk to a woman alone in a situation like that.

But Jesus says, “Give me a drink,” and they begin this long conversation which is really quite profound. He tells her about living water. She doesn’t totally get that. Which is not surprising, but it’s not like last week’s Gospel, the story of Nicodemus, where he seems sort of baffled the whole time.

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Funeral sermon for Jackie Keller

One day a few years ago, long before anyone could have imagined the specific circumstances that would bring us to this day, Jackie sat down to plan her own funeral. She laid out the hymns she wanted us to sing, and she chose the passages she wanted us to hear from the Old and New Testaments.

Whenever someone takes the trouble to do this—whenever someone has enough courage and faith to face and accept the limits of their own life on earth—it’s an incredible gift to the loved ones they leave behind.

Because it means there will be one less thing they need to worry about in this time when the loss is fresh, and when there are so many other details that have to be arranged and attended to. It’s an act of faith, and a true act of kindness.

And what I realized when I sat down myself to the task of writing a sermon for Jackie’s funeral is that it’s also a gift to the one who will preach. When I started to look over the hymns and readings Jackie had selected, I saw that she basically had outlined this funeral sermon herself.

She knew what message she wanted proclaimed on this day. She knew where she wanted the people who love her to find comfort and reassurance to ease their crushing grief.

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A sermon for Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

These words we say during the imposition of ashes. They’re a reminder of mortality. The remind us that we’re all going to die. And every year when it comes time to face writing an Ash Wednesday sermon, I come up against that reminder, and I don’t want to face it.

I think of the times when I said those words to a mother whose child had died, or people who were dying, and asked myself if they really needed to be reminded about death. And I’m asking myself the same question as I stand here in front of you this evening. Does this community really need to be reminded of death? We know about it. We’ve seen it up close. There are too many beloveds who were here with us last Ash Wednesday, who are gone now.

Do we really needed to be reminded?

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A sermon for the feast of Absalom Jones

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

Today is the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, but our bishop has asked us to celebrate the observance of Blessed Absalom Jones. His day on our church calendar is actually tomorrow. You probably know that he is the first person of African descent to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. That was an 1802, it was right here in our Diocese of Philadelphia, so we especially lift him up. I think there’s a little bit of team spirit in that.

He was born in the 1740s on a plantation in Delaware, enslaved. As a boy, he was put to work in the house where he had the opportunity to earn some tips. So he had a little money. He bought three books. He bought a primer, he bought a spelling book and he bought a Bible, and he learned to read, which in some ways changed the course of his life. But he was enslaved, so he wasn’t in control of his own life at that point.

And his owner died and the plantation was sold. His mother and his siblings were sent somewhere else. He never saw his mother again. This is when he was a teenager. He was taken to Philadelphia where the son, who now was his owner, had a store, and because he could read and write and do math, he was put to work as a clerk at the store, where again, he had some opportunities to make a little extra money by doing extra jobs and so on.

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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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Funeral sermon for Ron Bergey

We are people of Resurrection hope.

In the passage that Ron’s family chose for the Gospel today, Jesus declares that “all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

We Christians believe that death is part of life, but not the end of life. That what we mark today is not the end of Ron’s life, but his passage into new life, life forever in God.

We hold these things to be true, and yet we’re realists, too. Having faith and hope doesn’t wipe away the immense grief we feel as we gather to give thanks for the life of Ron Bergey.

God made us for love, and when someone you love passes on, it hurts. It really hurts.

Still, we hope that as time passes this sense of enduring love—God’s love, of course, but also Ron’s love, because our love for each other is a participation in God’s love—we hope that love may be something we can hold onto.

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