Pentecost 4 / Lectionary 12, Year B.
Text: Job 38.1-11; 2 Cor 6.1-13; Mk 4.35-41
This sermon was never given. As such, it is a bit rougher than most of my sermons that I post, as I usually edit them as I deliver them. This was the original sermon I intended to preach on Sunday, June 21, but in light of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I gave this sermon instead. Nevertheless, I felt that these words were important to share as they speak to the situation of the Church in our time, and offer its people some wisdom and hope in the midst of uncertainty.
This story of Jesus calming the storm is near and dear to many of us. It is a reminder that, whatever storms might arise in life, they are no match for the power of God manifest in Jesus Christ. Though the storms of life may rage, with Jesus in our boat, we will make it safely through.
This story comforts us by reminding us that the great power of God, who laid the foundations of the earth and commands the wind and the waves, is on our side. God loves and cares for us, and this is good news. Nevertheless, I’m not comfortable leaving the story at that. To only interpret the story in this way suggests that the immense power of God over creation is the same power God wields on our behalf when our jobs are stressful, when we are up late at night worrying about bills, and when we lose our car keys. I would love to say that I am convinced that even in these things, God is constantly at work to make our lives better; but I’m not convinced. In our world, people still get laid off, they still go bankrupt, they still can’t find their keys. Does that mean that God doesn’t love them, or that God has chosen for some unknown reason not to act? Read more…
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost 4 / Lectionary 12, Year B.
Text: Job 38.1-11; 2 Cor 6.1-13; Mk 4.35-41
I had a nice sermon prepared for Jesus calming the storm. I’ll still post it if you’re interested, because I think it was good. However, I can’t give that sermon today, not with what happened in South Carolina this week. We need to talk about Charleston not because it’s trending, not because it happened in a church, but because it’s clear that this is a problem we are not handling.
If you are familiar with the book of Job, you know it is a story about a righteous, God-fearing man who is very prosperous. He loses everything, and his three friends come to comfort him in his grief. They do this admirably—until they open their mouths. Most of the book is Job and his friends going back and forth, postulating why God has caused this terrible misfortune to come upon Job. The passage we hear today comes toward the end of the book when God shows up in person (so to speak) and scolds all four for presuming to have knowledge equal to God’s. Where were they when God laid the foundations of the earth? The point of the book is that no one can know why misfortune happens, or why God acts; only God knows.
But that isn’t true this week. We know exactly why the shooting in Charleston happened. This was not an act of God, but the act of a person poisoned by hatred. In the coming days and weeks, we will hear pundits and politicians and spokespeople and all manner of well-meaning citizens of this country reflect on this tragedy and give their interpretation of what the problem is and how to fix it. I will not be talking about any of the things they will be talking about, because as well-meaning as all those people will be, they will not be talking about the root of the problem. The real problem here is sin, and specifically our misunderstanding of it. Read more…
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost 2/Lectionary 10, Year B.
Text: Gen 3.8-15; 2 Cor 4.13-5.1; Mk 3.20-35
I love the book of Genesis for its humanity. You don’t have to believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first people created to see that they represent us all. In today’s story, we can see ourselves in them so clearly. When confronted with what they’ve done wrong, the first thing they do is point the finger. “Yes, I ate, but the woman, whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit.” Adam manages not only to blame his wife, but also God for his own disobedience. Eve, without anyone else to throw under the bus, blames the snake. Change the names of the characters and this could be a story running on CNN or Fox News right now rather than from a thousands-year-old religious text. This is what we do: when we are threatened, we look for someone to blame.
That’s why I love Genesis. It is a written record that for as much as we have grown and advanced over the course of human history, we are still fundamentally the same, and that sameness is why we still need God. What Adam and Eve both do in this story is called “scapegoating.” The idea comes from Leviticus; every year, the people of Israel would take a goat and ritually place upon it all their sins and disobediences, and drive it into the wilderness. As it wandered away, it would take all their guilt with it. The trouble with scapegoating is that it is exactly as effective as you think it would be. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, but in the end, the consequences are the same. The fruit has still been eaten, God’s commandment has still been broken, and paradise is still lost. Read more…
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost, Year B.
Text: Ac 2.1-21; Rom 8.22-27; Jn 15.26-27, 16.4b-15
Holidays are not celebrations of historical events. Thanksgiving is not just about Pilgrims landing in Massachusetts, but a time to remember what we are thankful for. Independence Day is not just a commemoration of our nation’s founding; it’s a celebration of our continued independence. It’s the same with the holidays of the Church: Christmas is not the birthday party for one baby born in a stable, but a celebration of God’s intimate presence with us. Easter is not about one man walking out of a tomb, but rather God’s continual promise of resurrection for us that is fulfilled in our own lives daily. Pentecost is not an observance of that one time the Holy Spirit made a bunch of guys speak in different languages; it is a celebration of her continued work in our own lives.
I say “her,” because even though the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female, that’s how she’s called in the Bible. The word used in scripture means “spirit,” but also “wind” or “breath;” in Greek, the word is is pneuma, (from where we get our word “pneumatic”) and it is gender neutral; it’s an “it.” But in Hebrew, the word is ruach, and it is feminine, a “her.” Stories of God show us that God relates with us intimately, and in English, calling God “it” doesn’t give us that sense of intimacy, so when I talk about the Holy Spirit, I say “she.”
I think this story of Pentecost testifies to two truths about our existence as the Church. The first is that, like those first disciples, we naturally tend to want to stay together in the house. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s where we’re comfortable; it’s what we know. The early Church gathered in houses to worship God, share Holy Communion and recount stories of Jesus. When Luke tells us that these people were together in a house, that’s what he wants us to imagine they were doing. It makes sense: this is the last place we saw Jesus, so to speak, so we keep coming back here—this is where his presence is strongest for us.
This candle—called the Paschal (or Easter) candle—represents the presence of Christ. On Easter Vigil, we lit it in anticipation of his resurrection from the grave, telling stories of God’s deliverance throughout history. It has remained lit during the season of Easter to signify Jesus’ resurrected presence among us. However, today we will extinguish it, acknowledging that he has ascended to heaven and is not physically with us anymore. It’s a sobering reminder of what we are missing. Read more…
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Easter 3, Year B.
Text: Ac 3.12-19; 1Jn 3.1-7; Lk 24.36-48
On a beautiful weekend such as this one, it is easy to experience the reality of Easter. In here, we proclaim Christ raised from the dead, and out there, we see new life sprouting from every branch, along every road, around every corner. God’s very creation demonstrates the reality of resurrection. What was once dead and brown is now green and springing to life. The sun shines with a warmth that makes us almost forget the chill of winter. Spring reminds us that resurrection is not just what happened to Jesus on Easter morning, it is God’s MO—a characteristic of God’s creation.
We sometimes take this resurrection for granted. The miracle of each new dawn or of the spark of new life in each bud and blossom is lost on us. We’ve come not only to expect it, but to depend on it. God’s world, constantly renewing itself, is what sustains us, provides us with clean water and nutritious food and oxygen. We read in scripture that God has given us the responsibility to tend and nurture this world of God’s, but rather than stewarding it in God’s name, we have begun to exploit it for our own gain.
In the lifespan of our world, human beings have been around for a relatively short time. When speaking in terms of millions or billions of years, our activities and our effects on the world around us barely register. Until now. The scientific community is beginning to recognize that we have entered a new geologic epoch—a new stage in the life of our planet. They are calling it the “anthropocene,” from the Greek word anthropos, which means “human being.” In essence, we have reached a point in the history of our planet where human activity is beginning to have significant, lasting effects on the planet itself. Our presence is measurably changing the climate, the composition of our oceans and our atmosphere, even the geologic formations of the crust as we build and mine and drill and dig. While politicians and corporate spokespersons cast aspersions on the science behind these events, the reality is that we have begun to affect the health of our world. Read more…
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Easter Morning, Year B.
Text: Mk 16.1-8
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” What a terrible ending for a story. Mark leaves us hanging here, wanting more. We want to see the risen Jesus. We want to see him reunited with his friends and hear him forgive Peter for his denials. We want to know that all the details are worked out and the loose ends tied up; but Mark gives us none of that. Instead, he leaves us with frightened women who say nothing to anyone about what they have seen.
This is such a terrible ending, in fact, that over the years, various people have tried to fix it. Look at Mark 16 in your bibles. You’ll find two other endings to this story, sometimes labeled “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.” They include those details we are left without: Jesus appearing to the disciples, sending them into the world to proclaim the good news, even giving them the power to perform miracles.
When Matthew and Luke and John later record their accounts of the resurrection, they, too, show Jesus appearing to the disciples and even eating with them; he forgives Peter, and sends his friends out to spread the good news. These are all much more satisfying endings than the on Mark provides. And yet, all the evidence suggests that what we read today is the original, authentic ending of Mark’s gospel: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It really is a terrible ending for a story; but that’s why it is so brilliant. The narrative stops, and we, the readers, are left wishing that somebody should say something. Mark uses this terrible ending to question us, to ask us if we think this story is worth sharing. When you read this ending to Mark’s gospel, if you are left thinking that there should be more, that somebody needs to be told, why is that? In other words, what difference has this story made for you? Read more…