Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Must Care--7B 2018

Scripture here (Track 2)


Baptism comes first.

Of all of the rites of passage in the Book of Common Prayer, baptism comes first.  

It precedes the Holy Eucharist. It is set apart from those rites known as “pastoral offices”.

It comes first.

It is the entry point into the community and a way of life that surpasses the way of the world.

One of two principal sacraments in the church—the other being Holy Eucharist—baptism stands at the center of what it means to be a Christian. The requirement for baptism in our tradition is, quite simple, ask.

All that is required to be baptized is a request—because the church assumes that if the request has been made, then the Spirit is at work. There is scriptural precedence for this as we consider the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by the apostle Philip in the book of Acts. The eunuch, curious about the meaning of a passage of Isaiah, had been told the good news of Jesus by Philip and, upon hearing the good news, the eunuch exclaims, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?.”

Baptism is considered sufficient in and of itself for full membership into what we call the Body of Christ—and the liturgy itself is considered complete with a simple sprinkling of water and the stated, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, no other words or actions are required. The tradition of the church is clear that baptism happens once, we cannot be unbaptized, and we can never be separated from the body into which we’ve been baptized. The person who is baptized is part of us, no matter what, no matter where, no matter.

This does not mean that baptism does not ask anything of us, nor does it mean that we are not accountable to each other. Because, to be part of means to be accountable to, to be part of means to participate in something that is beyond ourselves, to be part of means that we live no longer for ourselves alone but for each other.

We live no longer for ourselves alone…we live for our families, our communities, our neighbors. We live, indeed, for ALL of God’s children. All of God’s created people regardless of who they are or where they come from.

This is why the baptismal covenant is so adamant in its affirmation of our collective unity.


Unity is central to God’s vision for creation--as the psalmist writes,

God gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Gathered. Gathered together. And so, today, we say the creed that unites us to Christians around the world and throughout our history as a church. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to live as Christians within the context of a faith community. Together, we accept the truth that we will fall short and set our intention to make things right. Together, we proclaim the good news of God in Christ through our words and actions, words and actions informed by the teaching that Christ is present in all people and that in service to others we serve Christ.

Together. Who would have thought that this principal teaching, as it emerges out of scripture, our tradition and our reason, would ever prove to be so radical a statement within the political context of our country. Our tradition as we’ve inherited from the beginning of the church, from the beginning of creation, is adamant…

We belong together, our family the Church belongs together. The human family, we belong together.

Gathered together, from all directions, the people of the earth…

Which is why the prayer book offers us this prayer for the human family,

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, we have been arrogant and hateful—transform us.

Lord, we have built walls--destroy them.

Lord, we have been separated by hate—unite us in love.

Lord, we have forgotten that our principal calling is in service to your throne—open our hearts.

Open our hearts so that we may remember that your call to unity in love supplants any human authority’s call to division in fear.

Who would have thought that reaffirming our baptism would be an act of resistance!

An act of resistance to those forces of evil that sow division and fear in a world that God created and declared, at its heart and in its form, good.

The baptismal liturgy includes an examination, a series of questions that must be answered in the affirmative as we set our hopes on Christ and renounce evil in this world…evil being defined, in this context, as that which “corrupts and destroys the creatures of God”. In other words, God declared all of creation “good”—and evil is that which would subvert that creation by dehumanizing God’s people, or harming the earth that God has made.

In this, evil is that which seeks to destroy what God has created—which tries to break apart that which God has brought together, which seeks to instill fear where there should be faith in the goodness of God’s creation.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too far to find examples of evil at work in the world.


In the face of the despair that threatens to overwhelm us, I cry out with the disciples…“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

Do you not care?

Do you not care that your children, your friends, your neighbors are perishing?

Yes, yes, he does care. In this moment, when the sea overwhelms, Jesus demonstrates his command over creation--but also his capacity for mercy.

Jesus’ mercy is a manifestation of his power. Where others would demonstrate their powers through destruction, he demonstrates his in compassion. It is up to us, as members of the body of Christ, to respond with the same kind of compassion to those who cry out to us in their fear. It is up to us to show that we do care about those caught in the storms of hatred, indifference, and despair.

In just a few moments we will reaffirm our baptisms and as we do so, I bid each of us to consider how we are called to persevere in resisting evil and to remember that our obedience is not to any human authority that would divide us but rather, to the God who would unite us.  Amen.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Short note on "missing" sermons

Hi all,

I generally post my sermons from my Sunday morning preaching here on my blog. Not all sermons are posted--some include extemporaneous portions (or children's books) that don't translate well to the "read only" format. My apologies for any gaps or omissions...

Sermons by guest preachers are usually posted directly on the St. Clement's website.

Peace and blessings during this Twin Cities Pride weekend!


4B, 2018

Scripture here


Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

For a very brief period of time, I lived in a Hassidic Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland. Sunday until sunset on Friday it was a neighborhood like any other. But, then, come sunset on the Sabbath, things would change.

There was no mowing of the lawn. Cars were parked and no one drove from sunset to sunset. No shopping. No washing. No gardening. No work.

You couldn’t get the best bagels in town on Saturday morning—the bagel shop was closed. The closest grocery, it was closed too.

No pushing buttons, no flipping was an absolute pause dictated by the Torah and maintained by the Hassidic community who offered each other mutual support in the observance.

It was the Sabbath. It was a day of rest when an entire community would step back and step away from the workaday lives of the rest of us and insist upon rest.  

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine in this world of ours? This world, in which people have to fight for sick days. This world in which women who’ve given birth are not given paid leave to recover. This world in which 24/7 access to whatever we want is taken for granted. The city that never sleeps has become the world that never rests…and while some are materially wealthier for it, I would argue that we are all the poorer. 

Renowned theologian, Walter Bruggerman writes, “Sabbath…is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

Wow. He doesn’t hold back here. And, convicted, I find myself struck by how much of my own time is spent in production and consumption and the pursuit of private well-being…

24/7 Production, consumption and pursuit of private well-being…these cannot be understood to be anything but counter to the Sabbath mandate.

“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”

God has commanded that we rest. And, not only are we to rest, we are not to do anything that causes another creature to work on our behalf! This is a radical notion because lived out, it means radically adjusting how we live. It would mean giving up a number of activities and pursuits that we take for granted--shopping, getting take out, cleaning, doing yard work, getting the paper or mail delivered, or even turning on electronics! Can you imagine?  

It would be so much work to not work! To rearrange our entire lives so that we could set aside a period of time for rest. True 24-hour Sabbath observance seems impossible outside of the strict confines of an entire community that observes the Sabbath. And, yet, that doesn’t get around the fact that we are mandated by our religious tradition to do so.

So, what do we do with this? How do we move from a place of shame, and should, when we talk about Sabbath rest to a place of actual devotion?

Because, while I don’t expect that we take on the strict observance of the Hassidic community, I do expect that we, as Christians, consider that our God has commanded us to set aside time for rest.

Which brings me to today’s Gospel…

“One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath”

The Sabbath was made for us…for the hungry and the hurting, for healing and repairing.

I once had the privilege of serving alongside an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish physician. I met Danny when I worked as a hospital chaplain and, after sharing in some particularly awful death bed moments, we became comfortable asking each other questions about how we understood our work through the lens of our religious traditions. One late Friday afternoon I encountered him in the hallway—after wishing him “Shabbat shalom”, Sabbath peace, I asked him, “so you’re on call in house tonight, what about the Shabbat?” 

He paused and said that it would be better if he did not have to work on the Shabbat but that it wasn’t fair to the other interns if he never had to work weekends. He added that even tho’ it was work, and it was Shabbat, saving lives and providing care were more important than the mandate not to work—Jewish law is clear on this, “we violate Shabbat to save any human life; that's the Halacha, that's the practice, that's what we do.”

This is what it means to have a Sabbath that was made for us. The true Sabbath is an affirmation of life—it is a time set aside so that the broken might be made whole, that the tired might rest, that the hungry might be satisfied. The true Sabbath offers us a re-set—the opportunity to make choices that give, rather than take, life. In this, Sabbath rest can entail any activity that allows for the healing and restoration of God’s creation.

And, when this is our Sabbath, we are making it clear that production and consumption don’t define our lives, God does. A true Sabbath allows for healing, a true Sabbath is one that feeds the hungry.

A true Sabbath, defies the powers of this world who see us only as commodities to be expended, and affirm our true value as beloved children of God. A value that is not confined to us alone, but to all of God’s children who are valued not for what they can produce but, for who they are as God’s creation.

In this, the Sabbath that is made for us, is one of restoration. It is one of rest, of healing, of repair, and of reconciliation.

So, what does that look like for each of us? That I cannot say—for the answer is an individual as each and every one of you. But, as we sit here on the edge of summer, I want to encourage each and every one of us to find moments of Sabbath—moments in which we remember who we are as beloved children of God and then to take that knowledge out into the world and living a life in which we prioritize those things which are life giving for the world.


Trinity Sunday 2018

Scripture here


More Holy Mystery

Trinity Sunday is an excellent opportunity to succumb to the temptation to quote Douglas Adam’s seminal work, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”

All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty da*n complicated in the first place.

Happy feast of the Holy Trinity everyone!

Now, that covered, I’m going to take us back to Good Friday…

On Good Friday, in the midst of the Passion, I always find myself partuicularly moved by the actions of Joseph of Arimathea,

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the religious authorities, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

What may seem like an insignificant moment between the pivotal moments of death and resurrection is actually a powerful testimony to God’s ability to transform us. Because, in this moment, we see an act of redemption in which those who were afraid to be seen with Jesus become those who step forward, publically, to claim his body.   

Joseph of Arimathea who had kept his love of Jesus a secret and Nicodemus who had first come to Jesus by night (ashamed to be seen seeking the son of Man), these are the ones who use their power to make the request.  They use financial privilege to purchase the spices for anointing.  They take the risk of loving him to the end.  And, the power of the cross as an instrument of crucifixion and emblem of all that destroys becomes a symbol of hope. 

And, so, as I read today’s Gospel, I was moved once again...because in spite of Nicodemus’ lack of understanding...the seeds of love are planted.

And thus the wonderment of it.  Nicodemus’ who has been told about earthly things, and not believed, gains insight into heavenly things which he does not yet comprehend.  Nicodemus, who came for wisdom under the cover of darkness, steps into the light of love as one born of the Spirit.  
Whether he understood or not, is not the question, rather the question is one of love. 

And, it is from this perspective—that of love--that I want to engage the question of the Trinity.

The Trinity is notoriously challenging to explain, partially because it so much of what we know of it feels beyond words. And, yet, being people of the Word…we turn to the created world we know to explore and explain the source of that creation.

Water in three forms, liquid, ice, vapor. The clover with its three leaves joined at the center.  The sun, the sunlight and the warmth.

Yet, each of these falls short—in fact, each of these metaphors has a corresponding heresy assigned it! It seems, that the only expression of the Trinity that doesn’t violate some tenant of our faith is that the Trinity is fundamentally a mystery beyond human reason. 

The Holy Trinity, One God—beyond human reason, but I would counter that it is not beyond our understanding.

Akin to the scientist who knows that there is more, far more, to this world than we can understand in this moment—we as theologians are given the opportunity to embrace the beautiful truth that we can believe something that we do not understand and understand something we do not know. 

Theologian Martin Buber, states “the world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings” (I-Thou)

In short, what we cannot comprehend we can embrace--and in encounter we can know what we can never understand. 

So, back to heresies, and my consideration of what I believe to be the fundamental flaw of each of the symbols offered--clover, sun, water--how do we have a relationship with any of these as objects in a way which allows us to have a relationship with the Trinity?  The most famous depiction of the Trinity, by Russian iconographer Andrei Rubev depicts the three person seated at a table.  When you look at the icon, you begin to realize that as the observer, you complete the table.  The observer sits at the fourth side. 

We are in relationship with the Trinity, indeed, we are part of the Trinity.  And the Trinity itself is a relationship between three aspects of love--moving, indwelling, each in each—perichoresis is the word for what is quite simply a God engaged in an elaborate dance.  It’s literally meaning is to dance around in the same essence of…an elaborate choreography. 

The arm extends.

It is grasped by another.

Turn, dip, lift.

Pause. Breathe.

We are a part of the dance. The God become man, the wind and the fire, and us.

And us, and Christ in us. Through Christ’s humanity we become a part of the Trinity. Part of the dance from which comes a new creation.

Which brings us back to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night, becomes Nicodemus who stands in the light of day as witness and friend. He may never have understood what it was to be born from above. But, that’s not important. What’s important is the love that was made manifest in his believing.

The same kind of love we are called to share as we abide in the midst of the Holy and undivided Trinity. A love that brings us to the foot of the cross where we witness to the broken, the forsaken, and the wounded.

The cross, where we witness with our hearts what our brains can’t make sense of.

Nicodemus yearned for knowledge, for facts, for proof and definitive—so do we.  But, what we get instead, is the opportunity to witness to the incomprehensible and abiding presence of the God who first loved us.  

And, so today, on this Feast of the Holy Trinity let us boldly declare that we do not have to understand but we must love. We must love, because this complicated universe of ours desperately needs us to witness to the love of the God who first loved us.