Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sermon: Pentecost 15A

An article, by American preacher Lillian Daniel has been circulating widely among religious professionals. In fact I think half my clergy friends on Facebook and Twitter provided a link to it because it speaks to a common frustration among church folks.

The article has the provocative title “Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.” In it she takes on those who create their own spirituality on their own terms. She scolds those whose heartfelt theological reflections lead people to the deeply profound and radical conclusions that they “find God in the sunset” or “during walks on the beach” or “while hiking in the mountains” as if we Christians never thought of finding God in nature before.

She waves a finger at them chiding them saying “Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself...”

I understand her frustration. As one who has...(whole thing here)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon: Pentecost 14A

I have trouble believing Paul in today’s second reading. Not because I think he’s dishonest, but because, given his circumstances, I can’t see why he can be in such a good mood. This letter EXUDES joyful praise of God, and offers encouragement to a struggling church that he just started. His worry wasn’t for himself. His worry was for this new church in Phillipi that was trying to keep afloat.

I have trouble believing Paul because it sounds like he’s trying to talk himself into not being afraid of being executed. He’s sitting in a Roman jail, chained to the wall, and what does he have to think about all day? He’s thinking about when his end will come, and what it will look like.

“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death...” he says.

That’s a bold statement. Especially from someone who could be taken away and executed at any moment. Some might say that he’s masking his fear with heroic religious language, trying to convince himself that the promise of new and everlasting life with Christ was not a mere fantasy, but a present reality waiting for him just on the other side of the jail cell door.

Others might say Paul is declaring his strong, confident faith in difficult circumstances, defiantly staring death in the face, proclaiming the mighty acts of God in a world opposed to God’s kingdom.

Maybe it’s a....(whole thing here)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sermon: Pentecost 13A

I’m not one who believes that God is pulling the strings of a puppet-like universe, but I have to wonder how this gospel popped up on the Sunday which happens to be the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. I don’t know if I should read anything inappropriate into the collision of events, as if God had manipulated the lectionary to tell us something about how to process our memory of that September morning.

There are many who believe that there is no divine collusion between this morning’s bible readings and this particular event. Many of the worship planning materials and sermon help websites suggest changing the gospel for this Sunday into something more palatable.

After all, how can we talk about forgiveness after such a terrible and horrific attack? How can we read this passage in light of the hostility, violence, and death that took place that morning? How we hear Jesus’ call to reconciliation with our enemies when our enemies are filled with so much fanatical hatred?

This text cannot speak to this moment, they say. There must be a more appropriate text to mark the day.

Preach about God’s comfort for the grieving. Preach about the need for community and human connection. You can even talk about the human longing for peace. But you cannot talk about forgiveness. Forgiveness opens up a wound that was calloused over. So, they say, find a better text.

But I can’t. This text...(whole thing here)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sermon: Pentecost 12A

Freedom is something we like to hear about and talk about. But it’s often not something we welcome. We spend more time drawing lines, building walls, putting parameters  around our ordered lives, than we welcome the responsibility of freedom.

It’s easier to know our place, to know what we can and cannot do, rather than trust that God is guiding our lives, working inside of us, transforming us from the inside out.

We’re afraid of freedom because we’re worried it might descend into chaos, rather than build us up, make us grow, and help us reach the potential that God has given us.

We often shun freedom, and stay mired in captivity. We stay stuck in our painful pasts rather than look to God’s future. Our depression and grief can feel like chains we can never break.

Our feelings of unworthiness or shame keep us from grabbing on to the freedom that God has for us. We don’t trust God’s freedom because we don’t trust ourselves. And tyranny is often more comfortable than freedom.

And as the people of Israel found out, freedom isn’t...(whole thing here)