Sermons

Second Sunday after Epiphany, John 1:43-51
January 17, 2021

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

During the process for electing a new synodical bishop in Metro New York Synod in 2019, I recall a quip from one of our conference deans during a conversation about we needed in a new bishop. She said, and her words stick with me to this day, “God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.”

Those are reassuring words to me in these days of ministry during the pandemic, especially beginning a new call here with you at Resurrection Church when we are not even meeting in person.

Frankly, there are days when I do not feel equipped to undertake this kind of ministry. Who knew that I would in essence become something of a “TV preacher”? Who knew that so much of ministry would take place via computer technologies? None of us were trained in seminary to do this kind of ministry.

And all of this is happening during a time of unprecedented crises in our nation when we would benefit greatly from being together in person, face to face, to craft our responses to these crises.

While I may not feel equipped for this work in this season, I do have a call from the church to this mission field, a call extended by you as a congregation in keeping with the wider church which is an embodiment of God’s external call to me to lead and to serve.

“God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.” In fits and starts, I am in the process of being equipped for this work, for such a time as this.

Baptism of Our Lord, Mark 1:4-11
January 10, 2021

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me the one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

As we begin a new year, it is fitting perhaps that we have as our first reading for today the first verses of the Bible which commence with the very familiar words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

But then listen again to the first half of verse 2, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Sometimes I wonder if we’ve gotten to that point again in our sad, sorry world.

Formless void and darkness. It feels that way sometimes when I read, hear and see the news. What a list. A variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious seems to be sweeping the globe. The roll out of vaccinations is going much slower than anticipated and needed. Institutions and organizations reveal their incapacity to deal meaningfully with our crises. I sometimes refer to our current circumstances as a world as the age of the great unraveling when so many institutions and traditions and norms and alliances are breaking apart. Formless void and darkness indeed.

Moreover, since we have the first part of the creation story as a first reading, it’s natural to be drawn to contemplate the condition of our whole earth, our ecosystem itself, the loving object of God’s creation in the beginning.

Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3, 2021
John 1:1-18

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

    6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, ao that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

    10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

    14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Lurking constantly in our conscious and unconscious minds, often deep in the human psyche, is the fear of scarcity, and the question, “Will there be enough?”

This question has haunted our species, surely, since our hunting, gathering days. Perhaps most often in human history the concern has been having enough food.

Scarcity is indeed a reality. In fact, our current abundance of material and other comforts is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of human history has been marked more by minimal availability of food and other kinds of insecurity.

Even amidst abundance, people go hungry. In this time of pandemic-induced food insecurity, witness the long, long lines now at food banks throughout the country, people who are going hungry because of lost jobs and diminished wealth due to the effects of the pandemic.

But the pernicious thing is that the fear of scarcity nags and gnaws at the psyches even of those, like most of us engaging this sermon, who have plenty.

First Sunday of Christmas, December 27, 2020
Luke 2:22-40

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

    25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

    29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
        according to your word;
    30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
        31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
        and for glory to your people Israel.”
    33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

    36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

    39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Todays’ gospel reading reveals, first of all, the devotion of Mary and Joseph to their Judaism and its practices, in this case, in bringing the child Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification and to offer a customary sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in dedicating their first-born son to God.

But this story also features the devotion of Simeon and Anna in waiting and watching for the coming of the Messiah.

Church tradition has focused mostly on Simeon and his song, the nunc dimittis, which is a centerpiece of daily prayer at night – “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” (ELW, p. 324)

But it’s also crucial to focus on what else Simeon says, words more penetrating and perhaps foreboding than his song of rejoicing. Simeon in Luke adds this in speaking to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

That’s a heavy message for parents to hear, especially at Jesus’ very young age when people tend to focus on the innocence of babies and their being protected from the dangers of the world. Simeon’s words here are perhaps the first prediction, or at least suggestion, of Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, in Luke’s gospel.

Moreover, Simeon suggests in Luke that this child, this Jesus who is light for revelation to the nations, and glory for Israel, will also stir some pots and trouble some waters in his living, and teaching and ministry. There will be opposition to him, the sword of pain will pierce mother Mary’s soul, and something about this Jesus will pierce through our self-deceptions to reveal our often-sinful inner thoughts.

Which is to say that Jesus will be a truth teller, and telling the truth will lead to trouble, as it often does, perhaps especially in the outing of people’s deeper, typically sinful and sinister motivations.

Nativity of our Lord, December 24-25, 2020

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14a) That’s one of the most compelling phrases in the Christian Bible, in a sentence summing up a crucial feature of the Christian message, that the Word that is God became human in Jesus of Nazareth.

This good news is central to what we celebrate on Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus who was born to Mary, God’s Word made flesh even as a baby.

But words become flesh all the time. Think of some of the phrases employed to describe people and their conditions and dispositions: “they are a stiff-necked people;” “some are hard-headed;” “others are hard-hearted;” still others may be pains in the you-know-what.”

Yes, these are metaphors, but it is also true that we carry in various regions of our bodies, in our flesh, meanings, memories, experiences, in short, words. Butterflies in the stomach, or worse, upset stomachs and ulcers, are signs of the stress and anxiety we carry, words and stories of worry we carry as symptoms in bodily regions.

We may well carry in the pits of our stomachs the voids, the literal pains of grief at having lost loved ones. Those loved ones have names, which, of course, are words. Words that make sentences and stories describe many of the physical pains we carry. Some call it psychosomatic, conditions hard, if not impossible sometimes, to diagnose. But the pains are real, as are the experiences we hold in our bodies and the stories we tell about them.

Our very bodily postures, being hunched over, for example, can reveal the burdens we carry and help tell the story of our struggles. Facial expressions speak volumes. Our eyes can reveal to some significant extant what’s going on in our hearts and minds, eyes being windows into the souls as some say.

Our bodies and our physical symptoms often tell the story of human failure to keep God’s will, God’s law. Our symptoms, when they are the result of cruel things that people do to each other, communicate the ill effects of sin in our lives and the realities of our finitude and mortality. It can feel like a lot of bad news in our flesh.

So yes, words become flesh all the time. The miracle of Christmas is not that a word became flesh in symptoms that we carry. No, Christmas is all about which Word becomes flesh, namely, the Word that is Godself in Jesus of Nazareth.

This Word lived and lives among us. The biblical Greek translated as “lives” in the prologue to John’s Gospel has to do with a booth, a tent, a tabernacle, but it’s used as a verb in John. That is to say, the Word of God tabernacled or tabernacles with us, or pitched a tent with us to accompany us on our life’s journeys.

And with this wonderful Word of good news, we receive the gifts of other words made flesh in the person, in the body, the visage of Jesus who is for us the face of the living God, the creator of all things.

These words of additional good news that Jesus carries in his flesh? Other words that are reported in the first chapter of John, the final reading for today:

  • Life
  • True light
  • Power that we might become children of God
  • Glory
  • Grace
  • Truth

These are good words, divine words which also live among us, dwell with us, made flesh in the church which is the body of Christ. Yes, the divine Word still is made flesh among us, still tabernacles with us, pitching the tent to join us on our journeys in the often-frail, imperfect, but nonetheless sacred realities of our life together in the church.

In the Christian life, Jesus’ words of good news find the words of bad news which we carry in our bodies and supersede them to tell a different story, even in our flesh.

In rigorous engagement with the scriptures, sacred words and stories find the deep places in our bodies for our healing, for our salvation, for the relief of what ails us. That’s why beloved biblical stories like the ones we hear at Christmas continue to speak with relevance and power even a couple thousand years after they were first written.

In the sacramental life of the church, in the gift of the Eucharist, that great gift of Christmas that, alas, we are not receiving this year, we literally incorporate the Word of good news into ourselves, eating and drinking the Word so that it may find us in our deepest places of need to begin to make us whole.

Moreover, Words of good news are made flesh in the holy conversations among God’s people, as we tabernacle together in the life of our congregation, giving words of grace and forgiveness to each other along the way.

Mary carried in her body the divine Word of Christ for nine months to give birth to this Word in and for the sake of the world. Mary is the model par excellence of Christian discipleship. Which is to say that we as current day disciples are also called to carry in our bodies divine words of grace for the sake of the world, to birth good news with others in our walk of faith and ministries in daily life, in our words and in our deeds.

In such ways via the presence of God’s people in the world, the gift of Christmas, of God’s Word made flesh, keeps on giving today even in our very troubled times.

Good Christian friends, rejoice therefore. For this is all good news indeed, on Christmas and every day. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020
Luke 1:26-38

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his dominion there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel brought the news that Mary would mysteriously become pregnant by the Holy Spirit to give birth to a most holy child indeed.

The chronology here is out of step on this Fourth Sunday of Advent as we approach the Christmas birth anniversary in just a few days. The other festival commemorating the Annunciation happens on March 25, nine months before Christmas, in keeping with the nine months of typical human pregnancy before giving birth.

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020
John 1:6-8, 19-28

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

    19This is the testimony given by John when the Judeans sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20John confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23John said,

    “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

    ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

    24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

There are many compelling verses among the readings appointed for today, passages full of en-Spirited energies. But the one that draws most of my attention is this, when John the Baptizer responds to the queries of the Pharisees about his identity and what he was up to: “Among you stands one whom you do not know…”

John said this of Jesus, “the one who [was] coming after [him]; the thong of whose sandal [he] was not worthy to untie.” (cf. John 1:26-27)

The religious leaders who were sent to John to interrogate him about who he was were not at the time curious about Jesus. They wanted to know if John was the Messiah. And if not the Messiah, then a return of Elijah. And if not Elijah, then one of the other prophets.

John answered no to all of the above. Then the religious leaders asked with perhaps some exasperation: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John’s response was to quote the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

That says a lot, but it’s still not a very direct or straightforward answer which no doubt only added to the frustration of the leaders who needed to know.

There’s a lot of mystery, vagueness and uncertainty in the atmosphere of the reading for today from John’s Gospel.

There was a lot of mystery and uncertainty in the religious milieu of John’s and Jesus’ day and decades later when John’s Gospel and the other Gospels were written. In Jesus’ day, there were various religious movements in Jewish territory occupied by the Roman Empire. By the time John’s Gospel was written, the temple had been destroyed altering the nature of Judaism and Christianity was beginning to emerge. All of this change made for social and religious turmoil and uncertainty.

There’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty today all around us amidst the changes and chances of life in the twenty-first century. We live this everyday in one way or another. And reports of change and turmoil fill headlines in the 24 hour news cycles.

In uncertain times, it is human nature to seek after certainty. Enquiring minds want to know. We want to be in control. Knowing and understanding helps this sense of feeling in control.

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020
Mark 1:1-8

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

    “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way;
    3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
        ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make straight the paths of the Lord,’ ”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I want to share with you how I am drawn to receive the power of the holy scriptures and how they find their way into the deep places of our lives for our healing.

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Mark 13:24-37

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 24“In those days, after that suffering,

   the sun will be darkened,

         and the moon will not give its light,

   25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

         and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Almighty God grant us a quiet night and peace at the last.” That’s how Compline, or Night Prayer, begins. Compline is the last prayer office of the day in the monastery before monks return to their cells for sleep. Night Prayer begins the period of Great Silence, when no talk is undertaken until silence is broken the next morning.

This opening statement of Night Prayer asks for a good night’s rest. But it also points to the end of life, our death. Each day in the monastery spiritually is a mini life cycle when retiring for bed is a symbol of our own death.

Another version of the opening sentence of Night Prayer is more abrupt: “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

The remembrance of our mortality is a healthy feature of the Christian spiritual life, especially when such acknowledgment deepens our faith and trust in almighty God. Night Prayer is not just for monks – we can pray it, too, and there is an order for Night Prayer in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Likewise, we all, not just monks, need reminders of our mortality to be spiritually healthy.

Christ the King, November 22, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 31“When the Son-of-Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the dominion prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and the devil’s angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is the culminating day in the church year, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, when we are invited to contemplate the nature of Christ’s reign and rule.

So it is that the gospel reading appointed for today is the parable of the judgment of the nations, where the Son of Man in glory separates, as it were, the sheep from the goats, rewarding some and sending the others to punishment. In wonderful ways, appointing this parable for Christ the King turns upside down our expectations concerning kingship, monarchial rule.

In short, the message becomes clear that Christ’s throne as ruler is not in some gilded palace. No, Christ’s throne is down and dirty among the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, the prisoners – in short, among the least of those who are members of the Son of Man’s family.

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