Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Lovers' Quarrel (Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent) Malachi 1

(3rd c. North African theologian Origen of Alexandria)

Malachi 1 (Beginning of our sermon series on Malachi)
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.
But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’
‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau.’

‘A son honors his father… If then I am a father, where is the honor due me’ says the Lord of hosts to you who despise my name.’
You say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
‘By offering polluted food on my altar,’

‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me.
‘You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering.’”

What an exchange in our Old Testament reading. Did you notice the back and forth, the proximity, the intimacy? God and his people are having a conversation. They’re like a married couple arguing. People who don’t love each other don’t talk like this. People who don’t care for each other don’t have this conversation.

I recently read a Modern Love column in the New York Times about a tell for the end of a marriage. “The verbal sparrings were actually signs of hope for our relationship,” wrote the author of the piece, “but once the conflicts ceased, I knew it was over.” “You have tough conversations with those whom you love,” she commented. “You pull away from those you don’t.”

People who don’t love each other do not have this conversation.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

An Over-the-Top Promise (Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost) John 6:35-51

John 6:35-51 (Part of our 'I Am' statement sermon series) 
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan 

Upon accepting his party’s nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention, Vice President George H. W. Bush gave an address with an iconic line, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” This pledge not to tax the American people further had been a consistent part of his platform, but its prominent use in this speech, with those words, cemented it in the public consciousness. The impact of the promise was considerable, and many Bush supporters believed it helped him win the election.

As many of you remember, this line would also prove to be his undoing. Compromise had to be reached; taxes had to be raised. First Pat Buchanan in the primaries, and then Bill Clinton in the 1992 general election, relentlessly cited this line to question Bush’s trustworthiness. For George H. W. the dream of a two-term presidency died with a broken promise.

Now, of course, it's not just Republican presidential candidates who fail to remain true to their word. According to one popular fact checking website, Barack Obama has broken over a hundred campaign promises. He just never opened any with 'read my lips.' So whether the presidential candidate is Republican or Democrat, you and I are all too familiar with far-fetched campaign promises. 

Last week, we heard Jesus give an over-the-top promise. If you remember, he told the Samaritan woman at the well, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This Sunday, instead of being like most of our politicians and backing down from his promise once elected, Jesus only ups the ante: "Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" he says, and "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

'Take Up Your Cross' (Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost) Mark 8:27-38

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 8:27-38

9.13.15 (Sunday of a Baptism)
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

What does Jesus mean when he tells us to "take up our cross?"

Over the millennia, this phrase has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Mostly in good, helpful ways, but, on occasion, it’s been used to for ill.

I’m going to begin with two popular misinterpretations of this phrase, before taking a stab at what Jesus is really getting at.

So, two things he doesn't mean.

First, when he says ‘take up your cross’, Jesus does not mean: submit to oppression. Women and people of color, in particular, who have suffered abuse, have often had Jesus’s words used to keep them suffering... Does your husband mistreat you? Does your slaveowner beat you? Put up with it, so the false interpretation goes, for this is your cross to bear…

Too often ‘take up your cross’ is taken to mean, tell those who are suffering injustice to suffer it a little more. This is not what Jesus was talking about.

The second misinterpretation of this phrase is the way we often use it in everyday conversation. Sorry everybody, but ‘my cross to bear' is not a difficult spouse or a nagging in-law... Unfortunately, it isn’t even something as awful as crushing student loans.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rooted in Trust (Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost) Ephesians 6:10-20

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 6:10-20
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”

If anyone has ‘been strong in the Lord,' it’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When nearly every German minister capitulated to the horrible desires and decrees of the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer remained steadfast. 

His dissent began early. Two days after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, with storm troopers already on the streets, the 27 year old German pastor gave a dangerous radio address proclaiming resistance to the Fuhrer and support for German Jews.

The rest of his life, until he was executed in a concentration camp in 1945, was one of resistance against the ‘rulers and authorities; the cosmic powers of this present darkness.’

Bonhoeffer was so rooted in confidence and trust in his Lord that his very real fear and anxiety were simply swallowed up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Way of Force (Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

On Idolizing My Hero (Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

When I was in middle school my church hired a new youth director. John was young, outgoing, and we all thought he was super cool.

John was also really smart. He made me want to be smart, too. To read books so that I actually knew what he was talking about.

Most important of all, John took a particular interest in me. He took me out to lunch, to Rita’s water ice, for coffee before I even liked it.

I tried to hide my admiration for John. I tried to keep it cool. He was the older brother that I never had. An older friend who not only didn’t make fun of me, but thought I were cool and worth talking to. He made getting involved with God seem alright.

A few years later, after I had gone away for college, my mother told me that John had had a great fall. She told me that he left his wife and newborn daughter to run away with a girl whom I later found out was not much older than I was at the time.

I was shocked. At first I accused my mom of not getting the facts right. Then when I found out that his wife hadn’t left him, I continued to blame her anyway. (Sorry, ladies. Typical misogyny.) But after this short lived denial, of justifying John’s behavior, of making excuses for him, I came to. John had done a terrible, terrible thing. Everything he’d been for me was undone. He was no hero after all.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Second Passover (Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost) John 6:1-24

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:1-24
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

Have any of you ever celebrated Passover?

Have any of you ever been to a seder?

Growing up in a Jewish family on my mother’s side, I went to seders almost every year. At these feasts we would celebrate the liberation of the people of God from their bondage in Egypt. The freedom of slaves from their oppressors; victims from their victimizers.

The point of Passover is to bring to remembrance the Exodus story, where God called on Moses to confront the Pharaoh--the ruler of Egypt--and tell him to let God’s people go. Only the Pharaoh likes being in control and he likes his slaves, so he refuses. In response, God brings judgment on Egypt, and he does so in the form of plagues.

The reason why the season is called Passover has to do with the tenth and final plague, where God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh that if you continue to hold my people in bondage I will strike down all of your firstborn. Pharaoh, stubborn to the end, again refuses. Instead of choosing liberation, he chooses the way oppression, and therefore, of judgment and death.

At this, Moses returns to the people of God--his people--and tells them to feast. He tells them to take a lamb, sacrifice and eat it, and to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses. With this the angel will know to pass over the house not taking the first born. The next day with this great and terrible judgment inflicted on all of Egypt, the Pharaoh, finally, let Moses and his people go...

I’ve always enjoyed the seder feasts that I’ve been to. They are joyous occasions filled with the stories of a great people. But a few seders ago I began to think about the story from the perspective of the Egyptians. Not from the perspective of the Pharaoh, the rulers of Egypt, or the taskmasters who subjugated the people of God, but from the perspective of the ordinary Egyptians who were just going about their ordinary lives. The ones who were minding their own business. The ones who might not have given a second thought about the people of God. Or, if they had, must have thought that having the Hebrews as slaves was just the ordinary way of things; the way things had to be.

But the scary thing about this story is that the text makes clear that these people--the ordinary, everyday, barely aware--were under judgment, too. These people were viewed as complicit in the oppression of the people of God. And this threw me through a bit of a loop. It made me wonder if I might unknowingly be an oppressor of the people of God. It made me wonder if I might be complicit in the victimization of the lowly. As an American with plenty, it made me worry that I, like the everyday Egyptians of old, might be on the wrong side of the fence. So I began to think about this story in a whole new way, and wondered what this passage might mean for me and the ones that I love?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Don't Go. (Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter) John 17:6-19

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
John 17:6-19
May 17th, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan

(I ad-libbed quite a bit more for this sermon than I usually do. I think it worked well live. I tried to transcribe some of the parts I ad-libbed. It may not work as well on paper so: wham)

Not too long ago there was a story in the papers about a mother in England who left her three very young children by themselves so that her and her new Australian boyfriend, whom she met online, could go off on a three-week island get-away. You gotta do what you gotta do for love these days, I guess. But, in all seriousness, it is hard to believe that a mother could do such a thing. Leave her three, four, and five year-olds completely alone for weeks. We might wonder what she thought she would find when she got home.

As it turns out, the children were found days later, not by their father--who was also nowhere to be found--but by his parents. When the mother returned from her romantic getaway, the police were waiting for her and she was convicted of willful abandonment.

Suppose this mother had had loving parents who were only too glad to look after the children while she was away. That may have made all the difference. She could have entrusted her little ones to them, safe in the knowledge that they would care for them. We might imagine a mother in that situation giving her parents detailed instructions as to how each child should be looked after, not because she didn’t trust her parents to look after them but because she did. (H/T Tom Wright, John for Everyone Part 2)

In this morning’s Gospel reading from John there is a lot going on, but one thing that is clear is that Jesus is going away. He’s not off on a three-week island getaway with Mary Magdalene. No, He’s headed to the Cross to do the work he came to do: to liberate us from the powers that enslave us and to take away the sins of the world, before returning to his Father. Jesus is not abandoning his disciples. He is not leaving them as orphans. He is entrusting his own to his father, his father whom he knows will care for them every bit as much as he has himself. Jesus prays to his father for his own because they need protection. Because they are at risk.

But what is the risk? What might the disciples need protection from? Well, according to John they need protection from the ’evil one,’ the personification of evil. The one John earlier described as “the ruler of this world.”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Peace be with You (Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter) John 20:19-31

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church

Today is the second Sunday of Easter. While you wouldn’t know it because the peeps and the chocolate bunnies are all now on the clearance rack, the Easter season has only just begun. There are forty-two more days to feast and celebrate... and, of course, brew beer. (Our first brewing club gathering was on this day.)

This morning’s Gospel reading gives us even more reason to celebrate, though, at first, it doesn’t appear that way. At the beginning of our reading the disciples are anything but rejoicing. We find them huddled back in the upper room hiding with the doors locked. The text says that they were hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” The doors are bolted shut because they are afraid that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them.

Now a word must be said about what John means he writes that “they were hiding for fear of the Jews.” Remember, John is a Jew. The disciples are Jews. Jesus is a Jew. So the disciples are not afraid of Jews in general like those warm and lovely people who meet at The Brotherhood Synagogue just across the street, instead they are afraid of the religious elite of Israel who opposed, oppressed, and killed an innocent man--their Master. The disciples are hiding behind locked doors for the same reason that Peter denied Jesus so vehemently on Good Friday, they are absolutely terrified that they will receive the same fate.

But there is also another important reason why they might be afraid. Do you remember what happened in last Sunday’s Gospel reading? Think back with me for second to the last thing that happened. And if you weren’t here, have no fear, I’ll just tell you. Mary Magdalene, after having left the empty tomb and the person she originally thought was the gardener, goes to the disciples and tells them “I have seen the Lord.” Now the text does not give us their reaction. Neither are we told the disciples response to John, who despite all that he knows about the finality of death, is convinced--having seen the unwrapped linen in the tomb--that Jesus is alive. So we don’t know if the disciples believe Mary and John. What we do know from the beginning of this morning’s reading is that they are most definitely not celebrating and rejoicing. And not just because they’re afraid that Jesus’s fate might also await them. For the disciples have another thing to fear entirely...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I Don't Want to Hurt Other People Any More (Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Epiphany) Mark 9:2-9

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Epiphany
Mark 9:2-9
February 15, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church

About 10 years ago, someone hurt me so badly that I thought I would never recover. I had experienced a terrible betrayal. I couldn’t believe that someone I trusted so much was capable of doing what what this person did. I felt like a victim and I was bitter.

A few years ago, the event long behind me, the scars fully healed, my indignation less dramatic, the same thing happened. There was hurt, there was betrayal, and there was a victim. Only this time the shoe was on the other foot. This time I was the one doing the hurting. This time I betrayed someone close to me. And it took me until it was all over to realize that I had done the very thing that I had so vehemently decried only a few years earlier. It was a moment of epiphany; a haunting that stopped me in my tracks. I felt awful and I never wanted to hurt someone like that ever again.  

Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany. In three dayson Ash Wednesdaythe season of Lent begins. On this the final Sunday before Lent, the church celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus. Today, I’m here to tell you why the message of the transfiguration is good news for victimizers who are tired of hurting people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Irony of Ironies (Sermon for the First Sunday of Epiphany--The Baptism of Our Lord) Mark 1:4-11

Sermon for the First Sunday of Epiphany--The Baptism of Our Lord: Irony of Ironies
Mark 1:4-11
January 11, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church

Everyone has heard about the horrific events that occurred in Paris earlier this week.  A group of radicals attempted to silence a voice that they despised. Irony of ironies, that voice is now louder than ever...

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Epiphany. Christmas celebrated the coming of the God-man Jesus, Epiphany celebrates the manifestation or showing forth of the glory of God in Jesus. On Tuesday, many of us took part in the Feast of the Epiphany.  We witnessed the showing forth of the glory of God to the wise men from the East; to outsiders, to people who do not belong. Today is the Baptism of our Lord Sunday. This morning we’ll witness the showing forth of the glory of God in the baptism of his Son.

Or will we? Yes, you’ve heard right, the first Sunday of the Epiphany season is about the manifestation of the glory of Jesus in his baptism, but, ironically enough, the Gospel lesson for today does anything but show forth his glory. In fact, if anything it conceals it.   

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany Matthew 2:1-12

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church

Collect of the Day: Feast of the Epiphany
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

How many of you have felt like an outsider at one point or another?
How many of you feel like outsiders even now?

My best friend growing up was my next door neighbor. We’ll call him Ernie. Ernie parent’s were from Ghana. Ernie and I had different color skin.  

One day we both went to the baseball card shop in the shopping plaza near our town home community. Between the two of us we had fourteen dollars. We were determined to spend all of itl that day at that store. After parting ways to look around the place for our favorite cards, the man who had been behind the counter when we arrived left his station and hovered over Ernie the entire time that we were there. When we left I asked Ernie if he had noticed the man watching him and what he made of it. Ernie replied, “Ben, they always stare at me in stores.”