star rise | Luke 9:28-36

The second letter of Peter tells us the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain before Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 4.25.24 PMchosen witnesses is a moment you need to remember. You do well, this ancient letter advises, to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

And so today, on the feast thereof, we remember how Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, John, and James; how his clothes turned white; how he spoke with Moses and Elijah, and how when Peter suggested making three booths, a cloud overshadowed the witnesses and a voice said, This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.

Though we remember the Transfiguration on Sunday every year just before Lent, its actual feast day falls always on August 6th, which means it hardly ever falls on a Sunday. This lends a kind of once-in-a-blue-moon backdrop to a story that already has cosmic force. Another starry addition to our Gospel today is the coming solar eclipse on August 21, when the shadow of the moon will roll across fourteen states. They’re calling it the Totality Path, and I’m pretty sure most everyone preaching on the Transfiguration today will find room to mention it.   Read more

Yeast | Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Sometimes you have to choose among the readings. Jacob and the Girls? Or Jesus and the FullSizeRender-2Parables? That’s easy. But today you have to choose among the parables, too. The Leaven or the Mustard Seed? And what about the merchant, the field, and the net?

Years ago, teaching Sunday School, I had one student show up for class. Only one: a seven year old girl named Mariah. She was an only child at home, too; and being the only child who came that day, she seemed even only-er.

The story for that day was the Parable of the Leaven, and I was prepared to tell it with the words of Godly Play, a children’s curriculum. So rather than begin the way Matthew begins, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like yeast or leaven, I began this way, The kingdom of heaven is like a woman. And then looking at the little girl before me, I said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a girl. A girl who took three measures of flour and mixed it altogether, and then added leaven. It all puffed up. It rose and puffed up and grew.

As often happens when you first hear a story, Mariah heard the parable as a story about her. A happy story about making bread. Wonder bread. And later when we ate puffy bread together, she asked me, Is this communion bread? And I answered, Let’s just say it’s the bread you and I share, so it must be communion. Read more

beyond | Genesis 23:10-19a, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Just when you want to preach a sweet sermon about the joys of vacation bible schoolScreen Shot 2017-07-23 at 2.20.14 PM.png, Jesus shows up and says, Well now, the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.                            I don’t remember those words as a child. I remember church marquees telling folks to go to church else the devil would get you, but I don’t remember a single person telling me much at all about the furnace of fire.

I grew up Episcopalian. And since I’m still Episcopalian, I’d much rather aim us toward our first lesson today: the story of Jacob dreaming about angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth. At least there the angels of God arrive in a dream instead of hurled at you like threats from the mouth of Jesus.

So, let’s turn our back on the furnace of hell for a bit and cling to the hope of climbing Jacob’s ladder. In the rational worldview of our day and time, that ladder has become more metaphor than anything. It’s a pretty safe bet, isn’t it, to think it has no more reach than your own step ladder?

Maybe God—or rather, keeping things rational, maybe some part of Jacob — is only telling Jacob, Hey now, quit your worrying. Yeah you stole your brother’s birthright, and yeah you’re on the run now, all alone out on the road, but you’ve got what it takes to win big in the end. So believe in yourself. That’s what really matters.

Trouble is Jacob sees the ladder while he’s sleeping. Both eyes closed. He’s resting on the earth with his head pillowed by a stone, and when you sleep it isn’t usually the rational mind that speaks to you. Nor is it usually your own rationalizing point of view asserting itself. When you sleep, you lose your usual defenses. It’s as if other eyes are watching after you and sending news to you from a Great Beyond. Read more

sower | Matthew 13:1-9, 18-33

Jesus went out to the sea, and landed in a boat. It wasn’t where he was aiming to go. Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 7.44.35 PMMatthew suggests he was aiming for the shore. Instead he lands in a boat surrounded by a crowd. And from the perch of a boat, he says, A sower went out to sow. It has the ring of an old bar joke, like saying a man walked into a bar. Hear those words and you know something’s going to happen. Something unexpected. One version tells it this way: a rabbi, a minister, and a priest walk into a bar, and the barman says, Is this a joke?

I’m guessing when Jesus said, A sower went out to sow, the crowd responded, Is this a parable?

Most of you have walked into a bar, and likely few of you have gone outside to sow seed like the sower in this parable. We’re dealing with a broadcast sower. No Dixie cups with carefully planted seedlings. Here, whole handfuls of seed are slung into air. Here, you have to walk the ground you sow. Read more

copacetic | Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

It’s a gift to be simple it’s a gift to be free.Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 9.53.44 AM And oh to be simple and free! till by turning and turning, we come round right. This hymn makes faith sounds like dancing, doesn’t it? It’s a good hymn to sing on a Sunday when Jesus might seem to be saying, Get up and dance with me.

In our neck of the woods, dance is something mostly done outside the church. King David may have danced before the Ark, but by and large we keep our dancing away from holy places.

And here’s an old story you may have heard before: back in in the 1940s, the Episcopal Church of the Nativity decided to host occasional dances for soldiers stationed over at Ft. Rucker. At that time Nativity was a small wooden structure on Main Street facing The First Baptist Church on the other side of Main, the biggest church in town, red brick stories high with Corinthian columns. When word of the dances got out, the pastor of First Baptist decided to cross the street and pay a visit to his Episcopal colleague, one pastor to another.

Reverend, he said, y’all can’t be hosting these dances. One of our girls is liable to end up in trouble.

To which the priest said, What do you mean by trouble?

And clearing his throat, the pastor prompted, Well you know, in the family way.

Oh, the priest said, You Baptists must dance differently than we do.

It’s easy to laugh at that story. I always have. I confess there’s something not right about that, though – not fitting, not good. What strikes me as misstep is how determined that story is to find us laughing at people who worship on the other side of the street. I’m guessing Baptists tell jokes on us, too. There’s something so human about making fun of each other. Makes a mockery of the Gospel, but hey, ain’t it fun? Read more

twilight | Proper 8, Year A

Come Tuesday many of us will spend time in the dark staring up at sudden bursts of light IMG_1716overhead. Fireworks that find the dogs running for cover. I’m guessing they’d rather we didn’t celebrate Independence Day. It doesn’t fit their idea of what’s meet and right so to do. Like the ram in our first reading today, the only hope for the dogs is running away.

Oddly enough, in 1776, not everyone felt the same way about the American Revolution. “Anglican” clergy, for one, had sworn allegiance to the English crown in their ordination rites. They’d made a holy vow. Only 28 percent of them were patriots, willing to break that vow. The rest were British loyalists or neutral.

Both sides were full of righteous men with opposing ideas of what was meet and right so to do. When the war ended, the mixed bag of remaining colonial clergy began the difficult work of establishing a revolutionary church for a revolutionary nation. Their plans for the first American Book of Common Prayer removed allegiance to the Crown. That was the easy part. The hard part was deciding how best to commemorate Independence Day.

Patriotic clergy proposed a collect for the day. Naturally, former loyalists dreaded its inclusion. The issue was resolved when the patriots decided to withdraw it for the time being. [1]  It was a gesture of hospitality made toward their loyalist brothers. You could say they landed on the side of welcome, the same welcome Jesus lifts up in our gospel today: the hope of welcome before all else, the hope of welcoming Christ in other people.

As it turns out, the Collect for Independence Day didn’t make our prayer book until 1928. I plan to read it today just after the prayers of the people. I’m pretty sure it’s a prayer we welcome.

Today Jesus bids us welcome pretty much everyone, and suggests that in welcoming a righteous person we welcome him. Leaning into his welcoming project, I’d like to explore not the work of patriots doing their best to welcome loyalists, but the more ancient project of welcoming Father Abraham.

It’s not an easy project, at least not today it isn’t. But welcome isn’t supposed to be easy, else Jesus wouldn’t have mentioned it, would he? He’d have taken it for a no-brainer. So l ask you today to welcome Father Abraham caught in the act of binding his son Isaac as a sacrificial offering to God. He’s a righteous man doing what he thinks is meet and right so to do. And yet, and yet, you have to wonder about that. Read more

green with it | Genesis 21:8-21, Matthew 10:24-39

I didn’t come to bring peace, Jesus says, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 4.34.18 PM
father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.  
It’s an old story. As our readings from Genesis tell us, families are often divided from within. And God is often in the middle of it. Last Sunday found us remembering how Sarah laughed when she learned in her old age she would soon give birth to a son. And today we remember how much she loved him: her boy Isaac. And how hard it was for her to reckon with the reality that Abraham already had a son by Hagar.

For a moment, Sarah delights in the blessing of Isaac, but then she wakes up to Hagar’s delight in her son Ishmael, and suddenly turns away from her own blessings to stalk the blessings of Hagar. This happens in the middle of a feast she hardly notices; in the middle of an abundance she fails to trust.

Zeroing in on that other boy, a child not hers to mind or tend, Sarah tells Abraham, It’s not right for that boy to inherit along with my son. In that fatal moment, you can hear the happy rhythm of her heart turning hard, beating, “My son, my son, my son, a-lone, not hers, not hers, nev-er.” How soon her laughter – her joy in her own life – is undone, offended by the chance blessings of Hagar. Read more

yes | Genesis 18:1-5, Matthew 9:35-10:8

Our collect this morning lifts up the household of the one holy catholic and apostolic img_0889.jpgChurch. And does so this year on Father’s Day. Traditionally, a father was understood to be the primary householder of a family, the one whose job it was to sustain and secure the household. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, though, things began to change when fathers left the fields for the factory or the office, over time sharing the role of householder with women.

Like the house itself, households often stand in need of reconstruction or repair. Historically, they always have. It beats demolition.

Recently, I heard a radio segment about property development in Atlanta, a discussion about how the city is losing its architectural heritage to demolition. For decades now, whole streets of houses have been leveled for new development. Apparently, when property developers assess the value of property today, they don’t look initially at what’s already there. Instead they look at where the land is, whether it’s worth more at ground zero absent the sagging structure of an old house. Read more

Complications | Trinity Sunday, Year A

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

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: It’s how you know to sit down, tumblr_m33nyub1y11qbljvvo1_400-144FA97539C7D3AC47Aisn’t it? A cue preachers often give to say, It’s time to sit down and listen to me. But what if one Sunday, some of you refuse to sit still for it? What if some of you decide to walk out? Or what if God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would rather have you stand up and dance all together but each in your own way? What if the Trinity is after something more complicated than everybody doing the same thing on a Sunday morning?

Three in One: One in Three. It’s no easy doctrine to explain. Makes me want to sit down, too. But, giving it a go, I notice how in the Book of Genesis, God creates all that is and has being. And how in Matthew’s Gospel, God the Son redeems his disciples from any and all despair when he says, Remember, I am with you always. And how in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, an invisible Spirit visibly sustains a particular community. I notice all this because I went looking for it yesterday.

Our readings illustrate how the Three Persons in One God each have their own distinct way of being God for you. This tells you God is complicated. God loves being complicated. Imagine the skin of Creation. Each of you wears it a little differently, yet each of you is made in the image of God. The same is true of each and every person, and will be forever. We are one in Christ, and in Christ we are different. That’s complicated. Read more

Street angels | Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14

All through the great fifty days of Easter, you’ve been hearing stories from the Acts of the Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 3.04.13 PMApostles. It’s what you do in Eastertide. You tune in to stories of how the Church began, as told by Luke. Today, on the feast of the Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples that time is not theirs to discern, and suggests they pay no attention to when things will happen in God’s good time. And then he’s gone: up, up, and away, leaving the disciples to stare after him in slack-jawed wonder. Which explains why the angels scold them for looking up. Men of Galilee, they ask, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? And go on to say, This Jesus, who’s been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.

Angels are the messengers of God. And while these two wear the usual white robes, Luke doesn’t call them angels. Instead he calls them men. They’re like street angels, the sort who meet us where the rubber meets the road. And that’s because Luke wants you to look for the message of God on the ground where you live. He isn’t focused on the second coming or apocalyptic endings.

His gospel was written around the time early believers began to accept that Jesus wasn’t coming again anytime soon, around the time believers miraculously began to discern an earthy vocation for the Church. In the meantime between our Lord’s ascension and his coming again, Luke sees what me might call the opportunity of a lifetime. He wants people to quit looking up and away, and start looking up and around. To his way of seeing, Jesus ascended to a kingdom that mysteriously unfolds in the midst of us every day. It’s there all around us: the goodness of God. Read more