Benny D. and Charlie T. kick off their podcast career on a light note: Hell. Enjoy.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
What is Power?
St. John's Episcopal Church, New Haven
Christ the King Sunday
I’m gonna come right out of the gate and ask you to put up with a little bit of foolishness with me. I’m going to share with you a lyric from the rapper, producer, fashion designer, and now 2020 presidential candidate, Kanye West. Now I know that many of you may be tempted to roll your eyes or glare, but the takeaway of this sermon (or if you’re a note taker what you’re going to want to write down) is stolen from the very end of his 2010 hit single POWER (all caps). And it goes like this, “Have you got the power to let power go?” Have you got the power to let power go?
Mmmm… Kanye not so ridiculous after all... This same idea is found in Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust masterpiece, “Schindler’s List.” If you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember there’s that powerful scene where Oskar Schindler is having a conversation with an SS officer. It’s Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes talking about the nature of power. The very drunk officer turns to Oskar and tells him that he’s on to him. That he knows why he never gets drunk. “That’s your control,” he says. “Control is power. That’s your power.” To this Oskar goes a step further. “True power, Amon, is when we have every justification to kill and we don’t. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for his life, he knows that he is going to die, and the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, the emperor lets him go… That’s power, Amon. That is power.”...
In today’s gospel lesson this kind of power is taken even further. In it we read about the crucifixion of Jesus. Yes, on Christ the King Sunday we read about the utter humiliation of our Lord. You might be tempted to think that this is further evidence that the assemblers of our lectionary were totally crazy, but you’d be wrong. For once you know the literary strategy of the synoptic gospels this ironic pairing should come as no surprise. For while all four gospels are trying to get you to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”, Matthew, Mark, and Luke do so in a very unlikely way.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Calvary - St. George's Church
When I was a kid I had friends who were huge Harry Potter fans. They’d talk about the books all the time. When a new one was announced they’d anticipate it for months. And on the midnight of its release they’d dress as their favorite characters and wait in line for hours all to get their hands on the first available copies. Even for a non-Potterite it was exciting: there was a palpable energy in the air. These kids were passionate, disciplined, alert.
Last Sunday was the release of the newest and (allegedly) final Harry Potter story. Once again, lines were long, costumes donned, and the books gone. It had been ten years since the release of book seven, but when the long hoped for day had finally come, fans had not been caught unprepared.
In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus calls for his disciples to be ready. Luke tells us to be alert in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We are to be like those on watch late into the night; like those who’ve been tipped off that someone is about to try and steal our stuff. But what do these similes even mean for you and me? It’s one thing to be expectant when you have a release date or know the day and time of the master’s return, but what about when you don’t? What about when you have no idea when he's coming? How can we honestly be expected to be alert and ready when he’s already taken two thousand years?
Sunday, July 24, 2016
"Cosmic Vending Machine?"
Calvary - St. George's Church
A couple years ago I played in a co-ed flag football tournament on the Gettysburg battlefield. Me and seminarians from all over the East Coast came together at Gettysburg Lutheran to compete in the ‘Luther Bowl.’ Over the course of that day, I caught the eye of cute seminarian from Princeton Theological Seminary. (Well, not really. It was the other way around, but whatever!) Having played her team in the championship game, I worked myself up to ask for her number. I knew that at the end of the tournament all of the teams would gather for drinks. This would be my chance. It’d be time to cash in. Time to deliver. Only, when it was time to come together the Princeton Seminary kids never showed up. They’d peaced out early. My opportunity stripped away.
But that did little to deter my younger self. Arriving back in Pittsburgh it was midterms week, but instead of studying I was on the internet trying to find the girl whose name I’d never asked for. My friend said it would be impossible. That only strengthened my resolve. And after hours and hours of stalking, I mean searching, I found her. (Don’t ask me how. I remember being ready to give up only moments earlier, but I had done the impossible.) I had to send her a message now. So I put something together. Tried to follow all the rules: be funny, brief, and direct-ish. And pressed send. And then waited. And waited. And waited... What was I expecting? This girl hadn’t even noticed me, and this was all so creepy.
But then, days later, lo and behold, a red notification box appeared at the top right of my Facebook window. It was a message. It was from her. My shameless persistence had paid off!
In this morning’s Gospel Lesson, we see another picture of shameless persistence. (Yes, that is my transition. Shameless, get it?) But, no really, in today’s reading, we see another instance of troublesome persistence. Jesus is inviting his disciples to petition God with boldness. The author of Luke is encouraging us to pray unrelentingly. Why? Because--as this text makes clear--God indeed responds to the prayers of his children.
Now, this is not the first time I’ve read this passage. It’s not even the first time I’ve preached on it. So I’ve known about it’s message for quite some time now. Nevertheless, I still don’t pray as often as I should. And never mind should. I still don't even pray as much as I’d like to.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
In Memoriam: John WM Neely
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Manhattan
“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men and women - to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us - with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”*
I was once told that it’s a pretty bad idea to say a sermon at a friend's or family member’s funeral, but when my grandmother died my family, being made up of lapsed Catholics, had nothing. There was going to be no service, no sermon, no eulogy; nothing. When I heard this, I said, ‘Well, okay... I’ll do this. It’s better for me to step in then for there to be nothing.’ It was a mess.** And I hope that today is not a mess, but it might be because John Neely was for me, like for so many of you, my friend, and contrary to death-denying "celebration of life" ceremonies, so in fashion today, you and I are here together to mourn the loss of our friend.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Genesis 11:1-9 & Acts 2:1-21
Calvary - St. George's Church
When I was a hospital chaplain I’d visit a lot of very lonely people. Many who I’d see had no other guests. Some of these patients would regularly apologize for talking without breaking the whole time I was with them. I’d often feel bad having to tell them it was time for me to see the next person.
At the end of one visitation, one woman suddenly interrupted her train of thought mid-sentence and told me, “I feel so lost, so cut off, so alone,” and then she apologized. I told her not to. Then she said something unexpected: ‘I'm not apologizing to you, I'm apologizing to myself. Hospice is horrific, to be sure, but what I've realized being here is that I've felt disconnected for decades; even when I was surrounded by family and friends. I’m sorry to myself for not noticing this when I was young. Sorry that I never did anything about it.’
And when I got home that night, I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling, and wondered if I didn't feel the same.
Why are we so alone? So unable to share with one another what moves us?
We see other people coming and going each in their own way, and it saddens us that we are so cut off from each other. That there are so many different worlds -- you in your house and me in my house, you with your thoughts and me with mine. We feel this is simply not the way life is meant to be: this separate life we all lead. And we know that with a single change we could have infinitely more joy and connection, if only we could open our hearts and talk with each other.
But then we experience the fact that we are mute. Our lips bound. Yes, we certainly talk with each other, we find words all right, but never the right words; never the words that would really do justice to what actually moves us; never the words that would really lead us out of our loneliness and into community.*
Sunday, March 13, 2016
In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ ministry begins with an overflow of an expensive wine. In today’s Gospel lesson, just days before his death, his ministry is confirmed with the outpouring of a costly perfume.
Now many of you are familiar with Jesus’s first miracle. Jesus and his mother Mary are at a wedding feast. A party designed to last a week. Only the wine runs out far too soon. While this may not be the biggest deal for us today (something we might at most roll our eyes at), in this honor-and-shame culture this is a great disgrace.
Jesus, seeing this, decides to act. And he makes a way where there is no way. And when he’s finished what was about to be shame is replaced with honor. For not only is there wine enough to spare, but the best wine has been saved for last.
Now John does not call this act a miracle. He calls it a sign. And he calls it a sign to get us to look beyond the event itself to what it points to. To the overflowing love and grace of God for people so prone to shaming themselves. People like me and you.