Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kindness in the Name of the King

RCL, Year A, Proper 29.1

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Watch on YouTube


Good Morning. It’s good to see all of you. Today is a very special day. For the past 5½ months we have been in the Season after Pentecost. And each week we would begin our service with, “Welcome to St. John’s on this, the 7th Sunday after Pente-cost.” Or “Welcome on this, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost,” Or last week’s, “Welcome on this the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.” Well, it has finally arrived, to-day is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday of the Church year. This means that next Sunday is the start of a brand new year, the beginning of Advent, when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, his second coming and his first coming, in that order.

But today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. And it is on this day that we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which is why we are wearing our celebratory white vestments. The official name of this feast day is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. It may surprise you to know that this is a fairly new feast as Church feasts go. It did not originate in the Middle Ages, nor did it originate in the 15th or 16th centuries. Instead, it was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pious XI in an at-tempt to thwart the expansion of secularism, which Pope Pious attributed to the fact that the world was increasingly denying the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. In his encyclical Quas Primas, Pope Pious writes, the 
manifold evils in the world [are] due to the fact that the majority of men [have] thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these [have] no place either in private affairs or in politics: and… as long as individuals and states [refuse] to submit to the rule of our Sav-ior, there [will] be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
In other words, there can be no genuine peace in a world that continues to live as though its Lord and Savior did not exist or have authority. And so, on this day, we remember, we celebrate, and we proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is King,… not just our King, but the King,… the Lord of all creation, the Lord of everything that exists. 

And so today, all of our readings point to the fact that God has made Jesus of Nazareth “King of kings and Lord of lords” (REV 19:16), by giving him “all authority in heaven and on earth (MATT 28:19).”  So in Ezekiel, the prophet anticipates the day when God will rescue his people and set over them a shepherd, the Son of David, who will feed them with justice. Then, in Ephesians, Paul writes of the power that God has made available through Christ, who sits at God’s “right hand in the heav-enly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (EPH 1:20–21 ).

In all of these passages, I hope you are getting a glimpse of the picture being presented, namely, that Jesus’ authority encompasses all spheres of existence. His authority is not just heavenly, but earthly as well. He is not only Lord over the church, but Lord over society and the state. His authority is not just moral, reli-gious, or spiritual, it is also political, economic, and social. He is Lord in private matters, and king in public matters. Consequently, all human beings owe their alle-giance to Jesus. 


The comprehensive nature of Jesus’ authority is also highlighted in today’s gospel reading. This passage is often called the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, but it’s not actually a parable. Instead, it is an account of the final judgment, the only such account in all of Scripture. It’s a remarkable scene. Jesus returns at the end of the age in all his kingly glory. He sits on his throne, and all the nations of the world are gathered before him. And he begins to separate the people, making distinctions between the sheep and the goats. King Jesus bases his judgments on whether a person served and cared for him when he was in need. But both the sheep and the goats are confused, for neither group ever remembers seeing Jesus hungry or thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, or in prison. But Jesus responds, “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” (25:40).


Now, there’s a question we must ask. Who are “the least of these” of which Jesus speaks, “the least of these” whom Jesus describes as his own brothers and sisters. One interpretation is that “the least of these” refers to the poor, the down-trodden, and the oppressed of humanity in general. If so, then Jesus is showing us that salvation consists in seeing and serving Jesus in everyone we meet, especially the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned. This is a common interpretation, and one that finds support in Matthew’s gospel, but there is another interpretation that also finds support.


Elsewhere in Matthew, when Jesus makes reference to the least or to the little ones, it is always in reference to his disciples. Likewise in Matthew, when Jesus re-fers to “his brothers and sisters,” he is not referring to human beings in general, but to his disciples in particular. And so, when Jesus is separating the sheep and the goats in the final judgment, his judgments are based upon how the nations of the world treated his followers. 

You see, before today’s passage, Jesus had told his disciples that, when he was gone, they would be sent as his emissaries to proclaim the gospel to all the nations (24:14). However, the world they would be witnessing to would be hostile. Jesus said, “they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name” (24:9). In other words, as the disci-ples carried out their vocation as evangelists and missionaries to the nations, they would experience hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, sickness, and imprisonment. Yet, those who welcomed Jesus’ disciples, and extended hospitality to them, they would be numbered among the sheep. They would be acknowledged as belonging to God’s flock. They would receive the same reward that the followers of Jesus had received, eternal life. 

All of this fits with what Jesus told his disciples earlier in the gospel when he sent them on their first missionary tour: 
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testi-mony to them and the [nations]…. and you will be hated by all be-cause of my name….
[But] Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward (MATT 10:40–42).
And so, at the end of history, when Jesus returns and the peoples of the world are gathered before their king, they will be judged by how they have treated Jesus’ followers. 

Why is this? Because when Jesus left, he put his followers in charge of the king-dom. In his first coming, Jesus established the kingdom of God through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. But then Jesus went away, and he entrusted the kingdom and its expansion to his followers. That’s what he had been training them for.


This is all reminiscent of last week’s Parable of the Talents. Do you remember the story? A man goes on a journey, but before he leaves, he calls his slaves together and entrusts his property to them. He does not give them all the same responsibil-ity. To one he entrusts five talents, to another two talents, and to another just one talent. In short, each slave is given a level of responsibility that matches their gifts and abilities. Then, when the master returns, he settles accounts with his slaves, he finds out what they have done with what they were given. 

This parable is about Jesus leaving his followers in charge of the kingdom. Jesus has gone away, and he has entrusted the gospel to us. We have been recruited, and we have been commissioned. We have been called and equipped to take the gospel into all the world. And the world is wherever we are. The world might be on some distant, foreign shore. Yet, more often than not, the world is to be found in our normal, everyday lives. The world is in our own neighborhoods, in our own fami-lies, at our places of work. Those are the places we have been called to proclaim the gospel by word and by deed, with our words and our actions. 

And how we go about doing this matters, because according to today’s gospel reading, the peoples of the world will be judged on the basis of how they respond to the followers of Jesus,… to us. Honestly, I am not sure how much I like that idea. That seems like too much responsibility. I would prefer to believe that there is no final judgment. I would prefer to believe that in the end everybody gets saved and that it has nothing to do with me. I just want to live a normal life, free of such concerns… to bury my talent in the ground and hand it back to Jesus when he re-turns. 
But alas, Jesus doesn’t allow us that luxury. It’s not an option. Why? Because he loves the world too much. People are broken, and they need to know how much God loves them. People are enslaved to forces beyond their control, and they need to be set free. People are in need of a loving Lord and Savior, and so they need someone to show them Jesus. Not simply so that they will go to heaven someday, but so that they can experience the eternal kind of life in the here and now.


We are called to know Christ and make Christ known. But where do we begin? In my studies at Kansas School for Ministry, we read a book called, The Conspiracy of Kindness. In this book, the author, Steve Sjogren, describes what he calls kindness evangelism, which he defines as “demonstrating God’s love… by offering to do some humble act of service… in Christ’s name… with no strings attached.”

Let me give you some examples of these humble acts of service in Christ’s name:
  • Buying newspapers and giving them away on a busy street corner.
  • Handing out free water at a 5K run.
  • Wrapping Christmas presents for free at a store
  • Going door to door and offering to do yard work for free
  • Conducting Free car wash where no donations are accepted 
  • Going to stores in a mall and offering to clean their toilets for free
And when people ask (and they will ask), who are you and why are you doing this, the typical response goes something like this, “We are just trying to show God’s love in a practical way.” This is important. This is what distinguishes kindness evangelism from random acts of kindness. Our humble acts of service are in the name of Jesus, and it is important that this is made known. For if we don't follow our actions with words, the people we are seeking to serve “will only know that we are nice people, not that God loves them.” 

On the video I have include some stories of the powerful effects
these humble acts of service in Jesus’ name have had.

Perhaps this is the place to begin. And perhaps there is no better way to honor Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings, than to engage in such humble acts of kindness which are so reflective of the life that he himself led.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Delivered on Sunday, November 23rd, a.d. 2014
at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Choose This Day... and Every Day

Sunday, November 9, A.D. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 27, Track 1
Download as a PDF
Watch on YouTube

To Stay or to Go?

Today, I would like to do something a little bit different. Instead of a sermon per se, I would like to offer a witness, a personal testimony.
     I grew up on a small family farm outside Woodward, Oklahoma, the last of six kids. My family was a church-going family. Each and every Sunday, the eight of us piled into the station wagon, and we went to the early service at St. John’s Episcopal Church. But we didn’t stop there. We went out for breakfast, and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church, where we attended Sunday School and our second worship service of the morning.
     I am not exactly sure how long we followed this routine. But at some point, my Dad, rather wisely in my opinion, decided that it would be better for us kids, if we only attended one service on Sunday… not one church, mind you, but one service. So we started worshipping at the Episcopal church and Sunday schooling at the Methodist church. Or we might reverse the order, if we attended the second service at St. John’s. So, I guess you could call me a cradle Episcopalian with a twist. Years later, I used to joke that this was exactly how John Wesley would have wanted it—Anglican worship and Methodist formation. After all, Wesley—who was the founder of the Methodist movement—was an Anglican priest until the day he died.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

How to End a Sermon: A Small Suggestion

A few days ago, Esther (our five-year-old) very proudly came up to me and said that she had a suggestion about how I could end a sermon.
Jesus heals us and brings us back to this world.
It's a good ending. Now I just need a sermon to prefix to it.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Political Theology

I just came across this site last week: It has a lot of things going on with it, but it looks like each week they asks somebody to post political/theological reflections on the upcoming lectionary readings. I don't think they do each reading, each week. I think they ask somebody to submit something, and that person picks one of the readings to comment upon.
     So last week, the post was "The Politics of Exalting the Humble—Matthew 23:1-12" and the previous week was "The Politics of Being Replaced—Deuteronomy 34:1-12" (which has some tie ins with election season) If you just want to see these posts, choose The Politics of Scripture under the Departments pulldown. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck (Part 2)

I just came across this three-part series of posts from Beyond the Box (, entitled "Perfect Love Casts Out Fear." In these posts you can listen to an interview with Richard Beck on his blogposts "The Slavery of Death," which served as the foundation of what eventually became a book by that same name.

“The Slavery of Death” @
   • Part 1:  The Sting of Death Is Sin
   • Part 2:  The Denial of Death
   • Part 3:  Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck (Part 1)

I have been reading a recent book by Richard Beck, The Slavery of Death. Beck is a Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. I came across is blog Experimental Theology about a year and a half ago, and I have found it very stimulating and useful. The following description does not do the book justice, but I have decided that if I took the time to write a post that did the book justice, then there might never be a post (owing to the fact that the book has a lot to commend it and I'm too much of a perfectionist. And so, this will simply have to be good enough).
     As a committed Christian, writer, and evolutionary psychologist, in The Slavery of Death, Beck blends Eastern Orthodox theology, modern psychology, the theologies of William Stringfellow and Walter Wink, and the interpretation of biblical texts to explore Hebrews 2:14-15.
"Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, [Jesus our Great High Priest] himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death."
     Beck argues that our society as a whole operates out of a basic and a neurotic fear of death. And this neurotic fear of death gets manifested by individuals, groups, companies, and churches. We are unable to love fully because we are held captive to the fear of death. Because we live in this fear of death, we generally focus our time and energies on survival and self-preservation. This focus inhibits us from looking to the interests of others, let alone to loving them in self-sacrificial ways. What we see then is that fear is the opposite of love, yet according to 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. So in The Slavery of Death, Beck offers an integrated biblical, theological, and psychological perspective as to how the Gospel addresses this systemic problem and how we as individuals and as churches can begin to address this fear and begin to love.

Prelude: “The Sting of Death"

Part I:  The Last Enemy”

Chapter 1:  Ancestral Sin
Chapter 2:  Christus Victor

Part II:  Held in Slavery by Their Fear of Death”

Chapter 3:  The Denial of Death
Chapter 4:  The Principalities and Powers

Part III:  “There is No Fear in Love”

Chapter 5:  An Eccentric Identity
Chapter 6:  The Sign of the Cross

Interlude:  Timor Mortis

Chapter 7:  Practicing Resurrection
Chapter 8:  The Freedom of God

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Name That Commandment

What's the best way to love God with all that we are,
all that we have, and all that we ever hope to be?

Sunday, October 26, A.D. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 25, Track 1

Download Sermon as a PDF
Watch on YouTube HERE


Name That Tune

Two weeks ago, I began my sermon on Moses and the Golden Calf by talking about the game show, To Tell the Truth. This past week, I went back to the same well. And so, I shall begin today’s sermon by talking about another game show I remember watching as a kid, called The $100,000 Name That Tune. Does anybody remember it?
     Name That Tune was a syndicated game show that aired during the latter half of the 1970s. Each week, two contestants from the studio audience would be chosen to compete against one another in a series of challenges, where they had to name the title of songs. The challenge I remember most was called Bid-a-Note. During this segment of the show, the host, Tom Kennedy, would read a clue about a song, and the two contestants would take turns bidding against one another for the chance to identify the title of the song.
One contestant might begin, “I can name that tune in 6 notes.”
And the other might say, “I can name that tune in 5 notes.”
“I can name that tune in 3 notes.”
“Okay then. It’s yours. Name that tune.”
At that point, the first three notes of the song would be played on a piano, and the winning bidder would try to Name That Tune.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Makers of Gods

What happens when human beings become fearful and forgetful?

Sunday, October 12, a.d. 2014
RCL • Year A • Proper 23 • Track 1

Download Sermon as a PDF
Watch on Youtube HERE

Delivered on Sunday, October 12th, a.d. 2014
at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Generous Justice — Giving People What They Need, Not What They Deserve

Sunday, September 21, A.D. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 20, Track 1

Injustice at The Tournament of Roses

When I was a kid, my Mom absolutely loved watching the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses parade on television. We watched it every year. I wasn’t as excited about it as Mom was. I got a bit more excited about it when we finally got a color TV. After all, as a kid, it isn’t particularly interesting to watch a bunch of floats go by on television decorated with flowers of various shades of gray. I became much more excited about the Rose Bowl parade when Rebekah and I moved to Pasadena, California where I pursued my masters a Fuller Theological Seminary. We lived on campus, and our apartment happened to be just two blocks away from the parade route. 
     It was either our first or second year in Pasadena, either 1997 or 1998, when we walked down to watch the parade. Now there is something you need to understand about the Rose Bowl parade. Something like a million people line up along the 6-mile parade route to watch the parade. And thousands, if not tens of thousands, camp out on the streets and sidewalks on New Year’s Eve so as to get a good spot. We arrived about an hour early, and the sidewalks were already crowded. We were on a sidewalk down one of the crossing streets, and so we were about a 100 to 150 feet away from one of the intersections of the parade. As the time neared for the first floats to pass our intersection, more and more people joined us on the sidewalk and in the gutters of the street. The police would come down the street every few minutes, and tell the people to move back and clear the streets. Some moved, but most didn’t. Instead of moving back, they would simply cram into the crowd on the sidewalk.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Crumbs of Faith — Coming Before the Lord with all Boldness and Humility

Sunday, August 17, a.d. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 15, Track 1

Nanaw and Sniffles

Good morning. When I was a kid, I remember listening to stories about my great grandma Nanaw, whom I never met. Nanaw was my mother’s paternal grandmother, and I never heard a nice story about her. In fact, this past week, I contacted a family member about Nanaw. And this person, who shall remain anonymous, wrote in an email:
“It’s not nice to speak of the dead in a negative way, but Nanaw was one mean old woman. Straight as a stick in her corset and blue hair, she drove like she was the only person on the road.” 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

God is Good and Loving and... Out to Do Us Good

What are you suppose to do when you believe with all of your heart
that God is good and loving and... out to get you.

Sunday, July 27th, a.d. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 12, Track 2
Genesis 25:19–34
Psalm 119:105–112
Romans 8:1–11
Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23

God is Good, and Loving, and Out to Get Me!

Good Morning. I am really glad to be here, worshipping with all of you today. This past week, as I was making preparations to be here. I was in contact with Mtr. Laurie. And she mentioned that she has been preaching on the theme, “Be Fabulous for the Kingdom.” As I thought about the theme, I was really drawn to today’s reading from Romans, and I thought: It’s really hard to be fabulous for the kingdom when you think that God is out to get you.

Be Careful What You Pray For

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I got one of those nasty colds that settles in your eyes. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of cold where your vision is blurred, and you keep blinking your eyes, hoping they’ll clear up but to no avail. I was miserable, and I remember praying, “Dear God, can you please take away this eye cold. You can give me a regular cold instead, but please, O please, just clear up my eyes.” Well, you can probably guess what happened. Within in a few days time, I was sneezing and coughing AND blinking. I now had a cold in my chest AND in my eyes.
This all happened right before Christmas. I know this because I remember going to church for midnight mass. I was an acolyte, and I was vesting in the sacristy, and I told my priest about my prayer and what had become of it. Fr. John just laughed and said, “Yeah, you’ve got to be careful about what you pray for.” That confirmed my suspicions. I was convinced. God was good and loving… and out to get me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Set Free — Set Free from Judgment, Set Free for Life

What would a life without judgment be like?
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

RCL •  Year A • Proper 10 • Track 1 • July 13th, a.d. 2014
Genesis 25:19–34 • Psalm 119:105–112 • Romans 8:1–11 • Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23

Sermon available on YouTube by clicking HERE.
and as a PDF by clicking HERE.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

Earlier this week I was talking to Rebekah, and she asked me, “What are you going to be preaching on this Sunday?” I said, “Well, I think I am going to focus on Romans 8 and what it means to ‘live according to the Spirit.’” And she said, “Oh, I would love to know how to do that.” And I said, “So would I… So would I.”
So what does it mean to live according to the Spirit, to walk according to the Spirit, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit?

The Exercise Bike
Let me begin with a story that I hope relates. On Monday, we sold my exercise bike on Craig’s list. We were asking $25, but we received $26, because the man who bought the bike paid us with 13 two-dollar bills. Well, that’s not really relevant to the story, it’s just a bit interesting. Anyway, on Monday, we sold my exercise bike which ended a brief, uneventful chapter in my life.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

God Provides: The Faith of Abraham and the Faithfulness of God

You Did What?

RCL •  Year A • Proper 8 • Track 1 • June 29th, a.d. 2014
Genesis 22:1–14 • Psalm 13 • Romans 6:12–23 • Matthew 10:40–42

Sermon available on YouTube COMING SOON.
and as a PDF by clicking HERE.

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

The Sermon

You did what?
You have got to be kidding?
I can’t believe you would do such a thing.
Are you insane? Have you completely lost your mind?
Why would you even think of doing such a thing?
Because God told you to?
Are you kidding me?
You are insane!

This is how I imagine Sarah to have responded when Abraham and Isaac returned home from their little camping trip, and Isaac just happened to let slip that Dad nearly sacrificed him as a whole burnt offering. Because you know that Sarah had absolutely no idea, not even the faintest hint of an idea, as to what her husband and God were up to. Had she known, there would have been no camping trip, no father-and-son weekend on Mt. Moriah, or anywhere else for that matter. And Abraham would have spent a night or two on the couch for even contemplating such a stupid idea. As it is, I think Abraham probably spent many a night on the couch after the Moriah incident. He may have even spent the rest of their married lives on the couch. That would explain why they never had any other children.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jesus Is Lord!: Pledging All of Our Allegiance to Jesus

Jesus said, “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore...”

RCL • Year A • Trinity Sunday • June 15th, a.d. 2004
Genesis 1:1–2:4a • Psalm 8 • 2 Corinthians 13:11–13 • Matthew 28:16–20

Sermon available on YouTube COMING SOONER/LATER
and as a PDF by clicking HERE

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us. 
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

Worshipping Jesus — Extraordinary

It happened on Easter morning. In the wee dawn hours, Mary Magdalene and another Mary make their way to the tomb where the body of their crucified Lord had been placed two days before. But when they arrive, they find the tomb empty. An angel tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and as they are heading back to share this extraordinary news with the other disciples, Jesus suddenly appears and greets them. Immediately, the two Marys fall down and worship him. Jesus then tells them, “Don’t be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Today’s gospel reading presents the rest of the story.
     The scene opens on a mountain in Galilee where the remaining eleven disciples have assembled in anticipation of seeing Jesus again. When Jesus joins them on the mountain, some doubt that it is really him. Others, however, worship him just as the two Marys had done earlier. This is extraordinary. You might expect such behavior from the ancient Greeks and Romans, with all of their gods and goddesses, with all their divine heroes and Caesars, but not monotheistic Jews. Jews don’t worship human beings, even extraordinary human beings, because worship is reserved for God alone. Nevertheless, they worship Jesus with no sense that they have abandoned their monotheistic faith. Clearly, they have come to understand that Jesus, though clearly a human being, belongs to the unique identity of the one true God. He is not just the Messiah, the anointed son of David; he is, in fact, the Son of living God.

All Authority — Extraordinary

Equally extraordinary are the words that Jesus speaks. Listen to all of the alls. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” (28:18). All authority, all nations, all commandments.
     What a massive, sweeping, all-encompassing claim. Jesus doesn’t just possess some authority; he possesses all authority, without remainder. Moreover, this authority is not just heavenly authority, it is earthly authority as well. In other words, Jesus’ authority encompasses all spheres of human life, not only the spiritual, but the political, the economic, and the social spheres as well.
     Yet, we live in a world that has learned to separate the church from the state, the religious from the secular, faith from knowledge. Consequently, Jesus is only granted influence over a part of life, not the whole of it. He is relegated to the realm of personal opinion and private devotion, and barred from the public square.
     For example, notice that when Jesus appears in Time magazine, he appears in the religion section, not the section on world affairs. That’s where Jesus supposedly belongs in our increasingly global and pluralistic world. Jesus belongs in the religion textbooks, next to the other great leaders of the world’s religions, alongside the likes of Moses and Mohammad, Buddha and Confucius. Our world is comfortable with that sort of Jesus; that sort of Jesus is safe. Unfortunately, more and more Christians have also become increasingly comfortable with that sort of Jesus.
     But that is not the Jesus we meet in today’s gospel, the Jesus that claims all authority in heaven and on earth. Nor is it the Jesus early Christians proclaimed. When the first Christians traveled throughout the Roman Empire enduring much hardship, they were not proclaiming a new religion or a new private spiritual experience. Had this been all that they were up to, they might have been belittled, but they would never have been persecuted. After all the Greco-Roman world was a consumer of religions and spiritualities, and they had room for more. Instead, the early Christians were proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of all. And you know what that means. If Jesus is Lord, then Zeus isn’t. If Jesus is Lord, then Isis isn’t. And if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar isn’t. In short, if Jesus is Lord, then all other lords—be they religious, ideological, or political—are not. If Jesus is Lord, then we owe our whole allegiance to him.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meeting God in This Place

Homily delivered at the celebration of 
the 120th ANNIVERSARY OF St. John's episcopal Church 
in Woodward, Oklahoma

a. d. 2014, Saturday, May 31, 5:00 p.m. • Evensong
Psalm 46 • 1 Kings 8:54–62 • Hebrews 10:19–25

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

Stories and Memories of God in this Place

Good evening. It is so great to be here with all of you to worship together and to celebrate this special occasion. It’s been nearly 45 years since I was baptized in this wonderful place by this wonderful man, Fr. Jones. Little did I know then, that I would one day preach from this pulpit. Granted, I was five weeks old at the time, so I didn’t know much of anything, but you get the point.
     It’s been nearly 33 years since I was confirmed in this place. I don’t have any memories of the service itself, but I still use the Book of Common Prayer that I received that day. I also have a picture from that day. It was taken out on the front steps. It shows a very skinny eleven-year-old boy, with a big grin on his face, despite the fact that he is sandwiched, or should I say squashed, between two giant men, Bishop Gerald McAllister and Fr. John Coil.
     If memory serves, I was six years old, when I received my first communion at this very railing. This took place after a grueling interview with Fr. Jones. Okay, it wasn’t particularly grueling. We sat here in these pews, and Fr. Jones asked me questions about God. I don’t recall the exact questions, but I do remember telling him that my sister Elise would tuck me in at night and tell me Bible stories.
When I was ten, I announced to my mother that, when I grew up, I was going to become an Episcopal priest. Apparently, I am nearly grown up because next week, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained as a priest in Topeka.
     I have lots of memories of St. John’s. It was, in fact, one of my favorite places to be growing up. I remember playing bingo in fellowship hall, and the white elephant gifts that were used as prizes. I remember the Saturday work days, where the whole parish came together, and we kids worked side by side with the adults. And I remember how it made me feel, that I was not just a kid, but a full member of the parish.
I remember the midnight Masses, struggling to stay awake, struggling not to fall over on my face as I sat up here on these shallow benches. I remember the Easter Vigils, hearing the great story of Scripture being told by candlelight. And I especially remember the magical moment when the lights came on and strings were pulled and these glorious banners descended from the ceiling.
     Well, I could go on and on with my memories of this place. And I know that, given the chance, each of you could go on and on as well. After all, St. John’s has been here for one hundred and twenty years. So there are hundreds and thousands, even hundreds of thousands of such stories and memories tied to this place. Stories of how God has drawn close to us in this place; memories of how we have drawn close to God through the people of this place.

The Dedication of the Temple

That, I think, is Solomon’s vision for the Temple in Jerusalem. In our reading from First Kings, all of Israel has gathered together to celebrate and dedicate the newly-constructed Temple. King Solomon stands before the altar, and he lifts up his voice to thank, to bless, and to plead with God. He prays that this House, which he has built, might be the place where God meets his people in peace, the place where sacrifices can be offered, sins forgiven, and prayers heard. And surprisingly, Solomon makes these requests, not only on behalf of the people of Israel, but on behalf of all peoples everywhere. For Solomon, envisions this House of God being a house of prayer for all nations.
     In his wisdom, Solomon recognizes that this earthly dwelling could never contain the one true and living God, for not even heaven nor even the highest heaven can contain God. And yet, God could still be encountered there. As it was with the Temple in Jerusalem, so it has been and so it is with St. John’s Episcopal Church in Woodward. St. John’s cannot contain God, no single church or church tradition can. Nevertheless, God can still be met here,… in the water,… in the bread and the wine,… in the prayers,… and in the people drawn together for worship.
     And most of all, God meets us here in Jesus—the eternal and living Word of God, the Risen Christ—who continues to make himself known to us in all of these things.
Thanks be to God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another Advocate: Getting Ready for the Holy Spirit

How do we participate with the Holy Spirit in our transformation?

RCL • Year A • The Sixth Sunday of Easter • May 25th, 2014
Acts 17:22–31 • Psalm 66:7–18 • 1 Peter 3:13–22 • John 14:15–21

Sermon available on YouTube COMING SOONER/LATER
and as a PDF by clicking HERE

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us. 
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire.  Amen.

It’s the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and I have finally gotten our Christ is Risen response in the bulletin. So if you will turn to the beginning of the announcements, let us proclaim together the good news of Easter. 

Χριστός Ανέστη!   Αληθώς Ανέστη! (3 times)
Christos aneste!  Alethos aneste!

What was Jesus Doing for Those Forty Days?

Jesus was arrested on a Thursday night, executed on Friday afternoon, and resurrected early on Sunday morning. And then, for the next forty days, he appeared to his followers. And that’s where we are today. We are still in that forty-day period between Easter morning and the Ascension, when the resurrected Jesus is taken up into heaven and his resurrection appearances cease. Today is day thirty-six of Easter, which means that this coming Thursday is day forty, and we will celebrate Jesus ascending into heaven and being seated at the right hand of God.
     So what exactly was Jesus doing during those forty days between his Resurrection and his Ascension. According to Acts, Jesus was “presenting himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs” (1:3). In other words, Jesus was offering evidence to counter the rumors that his body had been stolen from the tomb. His resurrection appearances were also proof that he was not a ghost, not a disembodied spirit, but that he had, in fact, been raised from the dead, flesh and blood, body and all.
     Jesus also spent those forty days talking about the kingdom of God and preparing his disciples for his final departure. And that’s what he is doing in today’s gospel as well. Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is a continuation of last week’s gospel lesson. It takes place during Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Last week, Jesus told his disciples that he was going away, that he was returning to his Father’s house in order to prepare a place for them. One day he would come back and get them so that they might be with him and his Father forever. But in the meantime, they needed to carry on. Instead of being overcome by loneliness, despair, and fear, they were to put their trust in God and also in Jesus. They were to continue the work that Jesus had begun. And, if they did this, if they stepped out in faith, they would find themselves performing the same works that Jesus did. They would proclaim the gospel; they would welcome sinners; they would cast out demons and heal the sick. In fact, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me… will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
     But how is that possible? How could Jesus’ followers do greater works than the Son of God—than he who walked on water and turned water into wine, he who fed thousands with just a few loaves and fish, he who laid down his life for the sins of the whole world. And more to the point, what does Jesus mean when he says that his disciples would do greater works than he did precisely because he is going away?
     That doesn’t make any sense.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Resurrection 101: The Resurrection of Jesus in its First-Century Context

What do we mean when we proclaim, “Christ is risen!”

RCL • Year A • The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22–32 • Psalm 16 • 1 Peter 1:3–9 • John 20:19–31

Sermon available on YouTube COMING SOONER/LATER
and as a PDF by clicking HERE

The Sermon

Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!
Let’s try that again.
I will say, “Christ is risen!” 
and you will say, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!
Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!

Now, if you were here on Easter Sunday, you probably know what’s coming next.
I will say, “Christos aneste!” and you will say, “Alethos aneste!”
And in good liturgical fashion, we will do this three times in a row.

Christos aneste! Alethos aneste!
Christos aneste! Alethos aneste!
Christos aneste! Alethos aneste!

Okay, you can be seated now. You earned it.

Now I don’t know if you happen to notice, but our first reading this morning did not come from the Old Testament, but from the Acts of the Apostles. And so it will be for the entire Easter Season. Today’s reading from Acts takes place on the fiftieth day following the Resurrection. Peter stands up and addresses a large crowd of Jews who have traveled to Jerusalem, from all around the Roman Empire, to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Weeks, also known as, Pentecost. And in his speech, Peter proclaims the central truth of the Christian faith: God raised Jesus from the dead. God raised Jesus from the dead.  
     It is no exaggeration to say that, had Jesus not risen from the dead, there would be no Christianity. In fact, without the Resurrection, I doubt that we would even known the name of Jesus. For without the Resurrection, Jesus would have been just one among the thousands of Jews who were put down by Rome and whose names have been lost to history. Without the Resurrection, there would be no gospels, because gospels aren’t written for false prophets, failed revolutionaries, and messianic pretenders. Moreover, without the Resurrection, there would be no forgiveness of sins, no defeat of death, no hope for the future. For as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians,
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:17–19).[1]
So again, Jesus’ resurrection is the central conviction of the Christian faith, it is the foundation of the Christian claim to truth. It is worth asking, then: What do we mean by resurrection? What do we mean when we say that God raised Jesus from the dead? What are we saying when we proclaim, “Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”?