another way | Matthew 2:1-12

And they left for their own country by another road.

A friend of mine made a wrong turn on her way to the beach one morning.  Feeling lost1546229_783691748313716_28938471_n and in a hurry, she pulled up alongside a roadside vegetable stand in search of directions. And there among the sweet corn and local tomatoes, she met a woman nursing an early morning cup of coffee.

“What’s the quickest way to Perdido?” my friend asked her.  And the woman smiled and said, “Oh, it don’t matter, honey. All the farms are square and the world is round. You’ll find your way.”

This week I’ve been wondering what sort of roadside wisdom assisted the Wise Men finding their way to Bethlehem. St. Matthew leaves a lot to the imagination in their story. Which may explain why Christian Tradition has had so much fun coloring outside the lines of what Matthew gives us.

If you’ll notice, the Wise Men do not have names in our gospel today. And yet we know who they are: they are Caspar, Balthazaar, and Melchior. They are three kings – a detail again not mentioned at all in the gospel – and they arrive from the east, though by way of tradition, we’re to know they’re from Asia, Africa, and Europe. In other words, wherever Jesus is, in short order here comes everybody. Read more

guardians |Christmas Day

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

 Those beautiful words from St. John’s Gospel name the Incarnation of God on earth. Screen Shot 2018-12-24 at 8.23.53 AM.pngThey are among the loveliest and most powerful words in the New Testament. Very often, though, churches at Christmas choose other words to tell the Story.  Christmas comes with choosing, whether to share the good news John’s way or Luke’s way.  Last night we told it St. Luke’s way, with the story of Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and landing beside the manger where Christ will rest.

Luke’s way is full of mud and muscle and struggle. John makes it all sound so easy. He knows it’s fundamentally God’s doing, and wants us to know that, too. So John  avoids the mud and muscle and struggle. But we know the Story.  So, as we hear John’s news of the Word becoming Flesh, we see again Joseph and Mary walking toward a reality they have no words for at all, a reality they can only really come to see in adoration.

Last night we sang, What child is this? I’m guessing in beginning, Joseph wondered, Whose child is this? But then love overcame his questions. We may want to tell him what we know. To say, “Joe, he’s the Son of God born of Mary.” But he’s also the earthly son of Joseph, an ordinary hopeful carpenter descended from the house of David, understandably wondering, What child is this? Is he anything like me? Will he know what it is to be ordinary? Read more

Did she know | Advent 4

My soul, magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.. . .  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

St. Luke is always full of songs, many of them intended for use in worship. It’s Luke who IMG_0079remembers the Ave Maria, an Angel saying Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, and Luke who records the Song of Zechariah, the Gloria (another word for the song the angels sang to shepherds in the field), and the Song of Simeon. No other evangelist can boast such a playlist, and annually in Advent he queues up the glorious Magnificat for Mary: My soul, she sings, magnifies the Lord.

As Luke would have it, Mary has voice. Somehow she has a say in the miracle that happens, most especially a say in whether it happens under her watch, within the body of her own life. She’s a great one for singing and a great one to sing about. Among my favorite Mary songs is Mary, Did You Know?

It goes like this: “Mary did you know, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again? The lame will leap, the tongue will speak the praises of the Lord. Oh Mary did you know?”

It’s a song made up of questions, few of them answerable, mostly raised to make us wonder about Mary. Just what exactly did she really know about the life she carried?  And what did she need to know in order to raise him? Read more

We’ll see | Advent 2 | Luke 3:1-6

And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas are full of strange characters. Santa Claus IMG_0910for one. And John the Baptist for another. It’s easy to imagine they have nothing to do with each other. To think Santa only hangs out at the North Pole waiting on Christmas to come. To think John only loiters around in the wilderness waiting on us to open our Bibles and hear him preach again. But the truth is these two inhabit the same ground in our lives, what we call the season of Advent: a season of preparing a way for Christ to be born in our hearts again.

And since this is so, I’m guessing the deeper invitation is to imagine Santa and John are working the same stretch of road, showing us how to live a Christmas life: a life of believing Love came down at Christmas to keep company with us. Read more

creator of the stars | Luke 21:25-36

Creator of the stars of night, your people’s everlasting light. O Christ, Redeemer of us all, we pray you hear us when we call.

That petition, from the hymn we just sang, is translated from an ancient Latin hymn 442px-Pale_Blue_Dotwritten in the ninth century. Originally, it was written to be sung in the evening, at the vesper hinge when day leans into night.

It’s very gloomy outside today, and our readings are a little gloomy too. [Near dark.] So, it must it be the first Sunday of Advent: a day when we approach the dark. And be forewarned: in our gospel, from the angle Jesus gives us, There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

In those words, you don’t hear the sweet hinge of ordinary sunlight leaning into ordinary starlight. Instead you hear the Son of Man arriving with a roar on clouds of glory to upend your world. Advent begins with this expansive cosmic faraway vision and aims you eventually toward the fragile intimacy of one holy family on the ground where you live. Read more

sinners | 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

We begin every Sunday pretty much the same way: with a prayer called the Collect of thescreen-shot-2017-02-19-at-4-01-02-pm Day. It’s a prayer said to collect us: to gather us in prayer around one needful gift from God to us – and in that prayer today, we call on the mercy of God, asking God to cleanse and defend us. It’d be nice to think mercy comes without fallout – can be a kind of Get Out of Jail Free Card. But tradition tells us it isn’t. Instead mercy comes to cleanse us and defend us by exposing the truth about us. And truth said in love hurts before it heals.

Today, returning to the Second Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan comes to King David to rebuke him for a terrible wrong he’s done to a man who depended on him. If you’ll recall, David took from Uriah his one true love: his wife Bathsheba, a deed announcing itself any day now with a child on the way. To solve that incoming problem, David sent Uriah into battle to die without sufficient protection. And today, in the wake of his sins, Bathsheba grieves the death of Uriah.

Up till now, this story spares no words for David having second thoughts. When we meet up with him today, he’s too full of his own power to know he’s done anything wrong. From the outside in, we know there must be a reckoning. And to that end, the prophet Nathan approaches David with a parable about a rich man who wants to meet his obligations: a nice person, ready to welcome the traveler on the road with a warm meal, but who does so without cost to himself. Rather than choose any lamb from among his own abundant flock, he sacrifices the one and only lamb held dear by someone else, a poor man without recourse or means of self-defense. Read more

cedar house | 2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Whatever is in your heart, go, do, for the Lord is with you.

Today, in our first lesson, we meet King David in a rare moment of peace. A peace he Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 2.01.40 PM
relishes and wants to hold onto. We’ve been tracking with his story for three Sundays now. And today in peace, David’s heart tells him he’d like to house the Ark of the Covenant, no longer in tent and tabernacle but in a temple, a temple made of cedar: the same stuff his house is made of, in order to house God’s presence here on earth. And we can understand what he’s up to, can’t we? We all like to hold onto God, to know right where he is, to imagine we’ve domesticated him to our liking.

When peace falls at home, one wants to hold onto it, as if God forbid your house ever shake with fear or grief or anger. It’s in your hearts and minds to want to house the mystery of life in a safe and stable place, as if you could store up the blessings of God in your own personal barn, as if you could just hold on to the peaceful moments when all feels right and well. And protect yourself from all the rest.

But God is a living God, a god we cannot tame, and once again today God has other ideas.

The prophet Nathan, making his first appearance in this story, tells David to go ahead and do what’s in his heart – go ahead and build a temple — but that very night God challenges that idea, saying something like this, “You know, I’ve never lived in a house. I’ve gone about in a tent and tabernacle all these years. Have I ever once asked you for a cedarwood house? And have I ever asked you to tell me how to live?” Read more

victory | 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might.

 It’s a rough day for the ladies in our lectionary. We’ve got one woman giving her Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 2.02.23 PM.pnghusband the What For in our first lesson, and another seeking the head of John the Baptist. According to songwriter Leonard Cohen, Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken alleluia. Cohen drew inspiration from the life of King David for his great anthem Alleluia. [1]  And as our first reading today reminds us, Love is not a victory march. The Way of the Cross comes with the same reminder. We’re here to sing our broken alleluias and put our trust not in our glory or our victory, but in the glorious victory of God.

It’s worth remembering: in the Christian tradition, Alleluia is a word said at the grave. A word said in the wake of loss. And the victory there is not our own.

We live in a time that needs the consolation of alleluias. And yet it’s not a consolation we come to standing up. It’s on our knees we welcome the consolation of broken things. Today, in the Book of Second Samuel, we arrive in a world of broken things to meet David dancing before the Ark. It’s a passionate moment: the triumphant king whirling before the Ark, risking his own dignity before God and everybody.

This story means to carry you in procession with David whirling his way home. The Battle King now yearns to come home to safety and security and peace. It’s what we all want at home. His effort to bring the Ark to Jerusalem carries with it the hope that God will bless forever and ever David’s own household and his reign. For now, he’s overcome his rivals. King Saul is dead. And what remains of Saul is his daughter Michal, who happens also to number among the wives of David. They haven’t seen each other for years. Her existence understandably complicates the hope of peace. Reconciliation is always complicated. Read more

shake off | Mark 6:1-13

If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.

Before I left on vacation, I’d planned to preach a series of sermons onphoto-102-e1381186898769.jpg King David. In case you missed it, we’ve been reading from the First and Second Books of Samuel from the first of June until now, and will continue to right up until mid August, a full eleven Sundays spending time with the prohet Samuel and King Saul and King David.

To refresh your memory, we began June 1st with the calling of the Samuel, and two Sundays later we met up with Samuel anointing David, just a boy, as the Lord’s chosen. The following Sunday, King Saul sent that same shepherd boy into battle against Goliath, as the story goes, a giant defeated by a child. We skipped over the Witch of Endor sending Saul into battle to face his deadly end but landed in his wake last Sunday to hear David mourning his death on his own way to the throne. And today we meet up with David in our first lesson: a thirty-year-old king, leaning into greater and greater, reigning from Jerusalem, now called the City of David.

In the words of Robert Alter, “The story of David is probably the greatest single narrative [from] antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. [It] provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power.” [1]

Human life warped by power is an old story.  No matter how strong or weak you are, the stories of Samuel and Saul and David ask you to examine what you’re up to in your own use of power. They are stories about what happens to us when we spend our lives pursuing power, making enemies, exploiting the helpless. While their temptations – the temptations of great men – may not be ours, we have our own way of making enemies and turning our backs on those who need us. All of this to say, while I planned to preach about David today, and will do in the coming weeks, today Jesus got in the way of my plans. And not for the first time. Somehow today’s gospel wove its way into the whole subject of power in an unexpected way. Read more