Sic Semper Tyrannis

December 24, 2016 1 comment

Audio recording of “Sic Semper Tryannis” recorded during worship. (15:16)
Christmas Eve
Texts: Isa 9.2-7; Titus 2.11-14; Lk 2.1-20

It’s a cute little story, isn’t it? A quaint, Christmas-card-esque scene of a momma and a daddy and a baby, snuggled into a warm, cozy stable with polite shepherds and lots of fuzzy animals. It’s so familiar to us; as I read it, how many could almost say it along with me? Because this is such a familiar story, it is hard for us to really hear it. If we are to come to this story with an open mind and receive what it has to tell us, we have to be able set aside all the sentimentality, all the time-honored tradition, all the familiarity. We have wade through all the sermons we have heard and look past all the nativity scenes and Christmas specials to look at the story again with fresh eyes, and not all of us want to do that.

We would prefer to have our candle-light service with the same, familiar Christmas story that we have known since our childhoods, worn smooth over the years that we have carried it with us in our hearts, taking it out once or twice a year to admire before tucking it safely back into its pocket.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds,” Gerard von Honthorst

If you are willing to be brave, to risk breaking open the snow-globe around this cherished nativity scene, tonight you will see this story in a new light. The story of Christmas that Luke shares with us tonight is not primarily a story about friendly beasts or beautiful angels or awed shepherds. It’s not even primarily a story about a family seeking shelter in a stable because there was no room at the inn. Luke’s story of Christmas is a political manifesto; it is a story of treason and sedition because it dares to suggest that God’s kingdom might just have a place outside of the sanctuary. Read more…

A Flesh-and-Blood Promise

December 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Advent 4, Year A
Texts: Isa 7.10-16; Rom 1.1-7; Mt 1.18-25

Time is a funny thing. It seems to speed up and slow down, it will drag intractably until you turn around and realize how much has passed. Because time is so funny, it can be hard for us to grasp it.

One of the things that highlights the slipperiness of time is the Beloit Mindset List. Every year since 1998, three Beloit College professors have put together a list of cultural touchstones that shape the lives of the year’s incoming college freshman class. Each year, this list shows in human terms what 18 years looks like. Here are some highlights from this year’s list. For the class of 2020:

  • There has always been a digital swap meet called eBay
  • West Nile has always been a virus found in the US
  • Tony and Carmela Soprano and the gang have always been part of American culture.
  • Books have always been read to you on audible.com.
  • John Elway and Wayne Gretzky have always been retired.
  • Michael J. Fox has always spoken publicly about having Parkinson’s disease.
  • The United States has always been at war.

It’s an interesting way to think about how long a time 18 years is, but the list and those 18 years become even more real when you put a face on them. Many of us here know Jessica Bigger. She was the lone high school graduate from our congregation this year, making her one of the freshman class on whom this list is focused. The list takes on new meaning when we put her name on it: The Sopranos have been around as long as Jessica Bigger. Jessica has never known Michael J. Fox without Parkinson’s disease. For Jessica, our country has always been at war.

Suddenly, we can look at a real person and see exactly how long some of these things have been around or have been happening, and our perspective shifts. When time is measurable in flesh and blood, it becomes more real. That is why God gives us the sign of Immanuel. Read more…

Repent, or Be Repented

December 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Advent 2, Year A
Texts: Isa 11.1-10; Rom 15.4-13; Matt 3.1-12

During Advent, we look ahead to the coming of Christ. This means we not only look ahead to Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth in the stable at Bethlehem, but we also look ahead to his return to earth to fully establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. This is the kingdom of which the gospels speak: The kingdom of God is like a pearl of such surpassing value that when the merchant finds it, he sells all that he has to buy it. The kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast that a woman might mix into a giant batch of dough so that it will leaven the whole loaf. The kingdom of God is like a sower that scatters seed—much is lost among the rocks and weeds, but what does grow yields a hundred-fold harvest.

The kingdom of God. The very phrase stirs the imagination. It is this kingdom that we long for in the midst of suffering and evil. Isaiah imagines God’s kingdom as an existence in which justice and peace reign, so that even predators lie down beside their prey, everyone eating straw* together. He sees children playing over the dens of poisonous snakes with no fear of being bitten because nothing will kill or destroy.

“The Peaceable Kingdom,” Edwards Hicks (1834)

He imagines this kingdom being ruled over by a perfectly righteous king, one who does not govern or judge by why he sees or hears, but by the wisdom and guidance of God. “The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,” Isaiah writes. We see the fulfillment of this hope in Jesus, which is why we await his return and spend this season of Advent intentionally focused on that waiting. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, God’s own self made flesh and living among us. We celebrate Christmas not because we love to give gifts and light up trees, but because we recognize that Christ is the incarnate love of God come down to earth to establish the peaceable kingdom for which we yearn, the kingdom in which the wolf and lamb lie down beside one another.

But is this really what we want? Read more…

What Happens Next?

November 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Feast of The Reign of Christ (Christ the King Sunday), Year C
Texts: Jer 23.1-6; Col 1.11-20; Lk 23.33-43

It has now been almost two weeks since Election Day. Undoubtedly, some of us in this room are pleased with the outcome, while others of us are disappointed. What I think we can all agree on is that Jesus was not on the ballot this year. Each time we gather to elect a president, his name is conspicuously absent from our list of choices, except perhaps for a few write-ins. It’s good for us to remember that neither candidate—neither the new president-elect nor his opponent—is Jesus; neither has the power to save or to destroy us. The outcome of this election took many by surprise on both sides of the political spectrum; for many, the shock has yet to wear off.

Unfortunately, something else that has not worn off—that has in fact become worse—is the wave of hateful incidents following the election. Across the country, there are stories of people being harassed, children chanting of “Build The Wall,” women having hijabs ripped from their heads, hateful graffiti and slurs, even some violence. Right here in Gig Harbor, in a grocery store parking lot, a boy was called by a hateful name because his skin is black. Regardless of which way we cast our votes—or didn’t cast our votes—we can all agree that these acts of malice and hatred are sickening and sad. It would appear that there are some sheep in the flock who are already taking after their new shepherd. Read more…

You Have Wings, Ducks

October 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Reformation Day
Texts: Jer 31.31-34; Rom 3.19-28; Jn 8.31-36

Every Sunday at the duck pond, the ducks all gather together at duck church. And every Sunday, the duck preacher ascends the pulpit and cries out, “Ducks! You have wings! You can fly, ducks! You can soar through the heavens and break the bonds of gravity. You have the ability to take wing and float through the air! Fly, ducks! Fly, for you have wings!” After the service, the ducks file past the duck preacher and tell him how inspired and uplifted they are by his words, and they all waddle home.

How silly, we might say, for those ducks who can fly to celebrate the great gift of their wings and to then waddle slowly home. However, I find myself wondering if the Church is not very much like those ducks. We come here today, and much as we do every week, we hear Christ speak these words to us: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free!” and we respond, “Yes Lord! I know the truth, and I am free. Thank you, Lord, for freeing me!” but do we then go home and continue living as if we were in captivity? Read more…

Evangelism, Persistence, and Justice

October 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Pentecost 22/Proper 24, Year C
Texts: Gen 32.22-31; 2 Tim 3.14-4.5; Lk 18.1-8

Last week Stephanie and I were at Flathead Lake with my folks. One day, we went to Kalispell for lunch and at the restaurant I went to the bathroom. Inside, on top of the urinal, I found a small gospel tract card, proclaiming: “The Romans Road to Salvation is available to you!” I couldn’t help myself, so I read it. After it clearly justified the need for salvation, according to Paul’s letter to the Romans, it concluded with a prayer that the reader could pray to assure his salvation.

There is a significant part of Christ’s Church that hears the command to “proclaim the gospel… whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” and seeks to fulfill that command by doing things like leaving tracts on top of urinals. Personally, I would qualify that as an “unfavorable time,” but I admire how they are taking the words to heart. There is also a significant part of Christ’s Church that is uncertain how to fulfill this command in a way that is sensitive and respectful towards our neighbors of other faiths, or of no faith. For us—and I count myself among this part of the Church—too often our response is a helpless shrug and a “live and let live” mentality. Too often we remain silent out of worry over offending others or our own uncertainty whether our own particular set of beliefs is “right” or any more accurate than anyone else’s to the point that. Read more…

Waiting for Instructions

September 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Pentecost 18/Proper 20, Year C
Texts: Amos 8.4-7; 1Tim 2.1-7; Lk 16.1-13

When Pr. Stephanie and I met, we were working as hospital chaplains. We worked with a woman named Lisa. Lisa loves the Bible and knows it well. She likes to call it her “operating manual.” I think of Lisa today because I would really like to ask her just what she thinks are the operating instructions we’re supposed to take from this parable.

This story is confusing! Is Jesus holding up the manager as a model of shrewdness and foresight to be imitated, or as a cautionary tale about what happens to those who are dishonest and untrustworthy? He squandered his master’s wealth and gets fired, but he seems to end up okay in the end having made some friends for himself by means of his master’s “dishonest wealth” who will take care of him. Jesus seems to indicate these friends may even welcome him into “the eternal homes,” but my question is: what’s the temperature in those homes? Read more…