Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

2017 Easter Sermon

April 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father . . .

Christians all over the world gather today to celebrate and proclaim our oldest credal statement: Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen Indeed!

This Easter greeting is standard in the Eastern Orthodox churches and often accompanied by three kisses on the cheek. I started out Roman Catholic and as a kid in Chicago I don’t remember the Easter greeting. I remember Ash Wednesday, fasting in Lent, giving up something for Lent, and Easter baskets. That’s about all I remember about Easter from my childhood.

When I joined the Episcopal Church I had to learn the Easter Greeting. There was that awkward moment when a church lady said, “Christ is Risen!,” and then gave me that church lady look. Then she fed me my line, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!” and I repeated it back to her, and she looked at me like she was very disappointed in me.

It is hard to get the Easter message right. It is not just a period of ashes and fasting followed by an Easter Egg Hunt. It’s not just Palm Sunday followed by Easter Sunday and remembering the right words to say when someone challenges you with, “Christ is Risen!”

Another wrong move was made by a large food conglomerate last week in England. Now this is the United Kingdom and the home of the Church of England, the CofE, where we Anglicans started. Anyway, Tesco, which is a big company. It’s sort of like Walmart, Cosco, Hannaford, and Stewarts all in one company. They have all those kinds of stores. It was a week where Pepsi, Sean Spicer, and United Airlines had their troubles here in the US. But, over in the UK there was Tesco putting out an advertisement that said, “Great offers on beer and cider. Good Friday just got better.”

Good Friday just got better because Tesco has a sale on beer and cider. Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Good Friday! Tesco tried to apologize and say they didn’t mean to offend anybody.

Somebody wrote on Twitter, “like it or not the Easter is also a secular holiday as well as a religious one. Most are traveling to families rather than to church.”

So, I have described something of the situation we are in now. There are many people who only have a connection to Good Friday and Easter as secular holidays. There are people who have a connection to Easter through the traditions and customs of their own church, but they have no idea how to share the Easter story effectively with non-Christians. And I’ve run into a few people in the Episcopal Church who aren’t very helpful to Christians who come from other kinds of churches.

My Faith was deepened when I began to go to Holy Week services. I greatly recommend this. The three church services leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Easter Vigil. The services are really one connected service. The Deacon does not give a dismissal at the Thursday night service or the Good Friday service. We all leave in silence. All three services are called the Easter Triduum.

On Thursday night the emphasis is on the Foot-washing, the first Lord’s Supper, and the betrayal by Judas. On Thursday night Jesus gave the new commandment that the disciples should love each other. Jesus showed the kind of love he had in mind when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Late on Thursday night, and into Good Friday, Jesus was arrested and put on trial. The disciples abandoned Jesus. Then he was sent back and forth between King Herod and Pontius Pilate. Finally, He was crucified as a sacrificial scapegoat. On Good Friday we see how the powers of this world attempt to restore order by finding someone to blame.

I know that many Christians believe the whole point of Easter Sunday is that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. I believe that. I also believe that what happens tonight is extremely important. You won’t hear that part of the story in the Gospel until next Sunday, but I will give you a preview.

Jesus, still bearing his wounds visits the disciples and forgives them for abandoning him. This is also from John’s Gospel, chapter 20 and starting at verse 19, right after the Deacon finished a little while ago:

“19  . . . Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Now, to me this is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The community that formed around the crucified and risen Lord actually did what he said. They took care of each other. They shared their stuff. They did not make Jesus into a martyr and try to get revenge. They forgave each other. They forgave their enemies. They washed each others’ feet. They gathered in the Lord’s name and shared the Mystical Supper.

2000 years later we are here still doing this. We have our difficulties. It is a tough time for churches. But we come together each week trying to be kind to each other. Forgiving each other. We intend to seek the best for each other. We do not celebrate in other peoples’ misfortune. We comfort each other during the hard times, and we celebrate in victories. We belong to the Lord and he is teaching us through the Holy Spirit how to live the Gospel. To be the People with Good News. Amen

re: A question about repentance

April 8, 2017

I preached a sermon on Sunday, March 19, 2017 (Lent 3A), in which I offered an interpretation of St. Paul’s understanding of the “Wrath (of God)” (Romans 5:1-11), and the kind of forgiveness that Jesus promises us in the example of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

Later that day I received a question by email asking about the role of repentance. The person asking was taught that forgiveness follows repentance. This is the way most people think about God’s forgiveness. Basically, that it is a transaction. I’m not so sure.

I responded pretty much like the following and I have permission to publish it.

St. Paul recognizes the problem of human sin and self-deception (Rom 7:15), but he struggles to come up with a way to reconcile the consequences of sin (misery), God’s anger, and God’s mercy and love.

The Johannine texts (those books attributed to John the Apostle) seem to be a later stage in the development of a more nuanced understanding of the causes of hatred, scapegoating, and violence. For instance, in the case of the story of the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) we have a situation in which Jesus is handling what looks like a pastoral problem.

The woman seems to be held in general disrepute, and Jesus offers her living water. This living water will sustain and preserve her forever. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit directs people to live lives according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit affirms people in their status as beloved children of God. The Holy Spirit guides people toward honest self assessment. The Holy Spirit provides healing and upholds people in their faith in the Lord.

The living water is nourishing to the point of creating in us proper desires that are completely satisfying, and it open us up to the recognition of our deepest and worst sinful desires (without falling into despair or resorting to denial).

Repentance is crucial to moral and spiritual health. In the past it was generally assumed that a person only needed to do some basic self-reflection to arrive at what exactly is in need of repentance. With the knowledge we have now about unconscious motivation, I would suggest that experiences of God’s Grace and the promise of forgiveness tend to produce gratitude and repentance. This is more in line with the way Jesus deals with the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well.

My own experience in talking with people confirms this. Remorse (not true repentance – “a turning around,” but regret and self-loathing) is late in coming, and often provoked by the experience of unpleasant events or circumstances. This dynamic gives support to the false notion that God actively punishes people by bringing misfortune.

So, finally I come down on the side (mostly) of reminding people they are forgiven, and trusting true repentance will follow.

Sermon for Jennifer Duncan RIP

August 1, 2016

East Window DetailIn the Name of the Father . . .

Jennifer was fighting for her life for a good while, and the whole family has been on a war footing against the disease.

When I went over to the house on Thursday to plan today’s funeral, Jen’s mom said to me, “Please don’t say Jennifer lost the battle.”

And then Rick (Jen’s brother-in-law) walked me to my car, and we were talking about woodworking. We both were in the woodworking business at one time. I found myself boasting about what I had done, and who I worked for. I mean I was really bragging about all that I had accomplished as a woodworker. I am sorry about that Rick.

The truth is my business was an absolute failure from start to finish. But only a failure if you count the money. I loved to do the work, and I was really good at it. But, eventually I had to get out of it. And 20 years ago I went into another high paying line of work; the ministry.

We just do not have the right perspective to judge the value of things.

I can imagine when my mother was pregnant with me: I am warm, I’m being fed, I have my thumb to suck on. If there was a pregnancy committee in there I can hear them saying, “O boy, I think he’s getting ready to leave. He’s awful big. That’s too bad.” And I would’ve said, “Hey wait a minute! I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ve got everything I need right here.”

And then I get born. My mom is yelling, and I’m crying my eyes out. And that was just the beginning of my life!

Jesus actually said something like this to his disciples,
John 16:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
21 When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world.
22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (RSV)

“Human beings do not belong to one another. We are God’s children. We belong to Him. It is by sheer grace that we are together for a time—for a little while. We receive God’s gift of another person in our lives with thanksgiving. But we must realize that this person is a gift—we cannot hang on, or refuse to let go of one of God’s children when He calls.” (Martin Bell: The Way of the Wolf)

My wife, Marianne, says if you love life and love your people and love what you do in God’s creation you have won.

And Jennifer, with an absolute relentless stubbornness loved living, and loved her family and friends, and fought to have more and more life. She has won the battle and now she is on to a new adventure! Amen.

Sermon for Katie and Ryan Clapp Wedding on Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 25, 2016

I suppose some people are getting really tired of hearing me talk about being married for 45 years. On the 23rd of June Marianne and I will have completed 45 years. My reason for bringing this up again is not to brag, but to say something about marriage. When we got married I wasn’t much of a catch. I had dropped out of high school after the tenth grade. I was 18 and was working as a guard in the county prison. Marianne had finished high school and was working as a counselor in a crisis center for runaway teens. Neither one of us had any family to rely on. We were on our own and sort of stuck with each other. I bought this ring and a matching one for Marianne and the two of us went off to North Carolina and we got married.

The first 25 years were really tough. We always had money problems and I wasn’t a very patient person. We fought all the time. We went into counseling and eventually started going to church. By the time our 25th anniversary came around we could have a nice ceremony in an Episcopal Church to renew our vows with our children, grandchildren, and friends around us.

Over the years I have had a lot of opportunity to think about marriage. When I was eighteen I thought that if we felt strongly enough about each other and had some luck we would make it. Now I realize that luck has nothing to do with it. God was looking over us the whole time, and taking care of us. I had to come to appreciate the gift of marriage the hard way.

First of all, marriage is an institution. Marriage is something we enter into. We go in and live by the rules of marriage. We promise, in public, in front of witnesses, completely freely and without coercion, to start a new life living by the rules of the institution of marriage.  These rules are not arbitrary. The rules provide for a good life and the blessing of God. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to follow the rules. I wake up and say, “but today I don’t feel like it!” Sometimes you just have to decide to love her. Sometimes you just have to decide to love him.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that you have to just grit your teeth the whole time while you follow the rules of marriage. Many people think that religion (and marriage for that matter) was invented just to keep people from doing bad things.

(It is true that there is a part of the Christian tradition that embraces self-denial; fasting, vows of poverty, celibacy, etc.)

The Song of Soloman is a very short book in the OT: 117 verses. It is included in the Bible as a picture, in human terms, of the love that flows between God and His people.

Today’s text, however, (from chps. 2 & 8) is one of the readings appointed for use in our prayer book, for a celebration of a marriage. A recognition that the content is about a man and a woman.

The inclusion of The Song of Solomon in the Bible reminds us that it is simplistic to think that religion, especially Christian Faith, is only designed to make us behave like good boys and girls. (in theological terms this is called moral restraint.)

On the contrary, we believe that God made the world out of the pure joy that comes from making something – the act of creation.

And that God has given his creation the freedom to grow, develop, and change. And to take pleasure in doing these things.

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” Genesis 1:31, RSV.

God took pleasure in making the world, and he only wants the best for us.

Song of Solomon:

“1 The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

2 O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine,” Song of Solomon 1:1, 2, RSV.

“5 I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Song of Solomon 1:5, RSV.

I won’t read you chapter 7, where the man tells the woman everything he likes about her body.

OK, so you get the idea. This may be a picture of God’s love for His people, but is also a picture of human love.

In the reading for today: Chapter 2, the woman is resting and thinking about how much she loves her man, and suddenly he appears at the window and speaks – he says:

“10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Song of Solomon 2:10-13, RSV.

The man wants to get away with his woman and have a good time. It is springtime after all, and flowers are blooming and the birds are singing.

Katie and Ryan: May you have many times of recreation and refreshment.

But in Chapter 8, the woman asks the man to confront the other truth about love. It is a deadly serious business. People can get hurt. People can die.

The woman says:

“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Solomon 8:6, 7, RSV.

“6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;

The Good News Bible makes the translation:

“Close your heart to every heart but mine; hold no one in your arms but me.”

Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what – it means that you promise to give up other loves that could ruin this love. (Not just other women – but anything that will hurt this marriage bond).

Katie and Ryan: My prayer is that you will be content with what you have today. Jesus loves you today and the next day, and all days. Marriage means making a commitment, and that means making a decision to love no matter what. May you each grow in your desire to please your spouse, and may you learn to forgive, and may your union grow stronger and stronger through the years. Amen

Sermon for Bridget and David Trimmer Wedding on Saturday, June 27, 2015:

June 28, 2015

Bridget and David – you really look like basically good people. Young, attractive, friendly, and very nice.

And as I have gotten to know you, I know you are basically good people.

Marianne and I have been married (as of this past Tuesday) 44 years. Marriage has a way of making it difficult to hide yourself from yourself. Marriage is not for wimps. Marriage is for heroes. I used to think I was basically a good person. Marianne has helped me to be more honest with myself about what motivates me. This has been very good so that I can be better behaved.

But God calls us not only to be better behaved. God wants us to be holy.

St. Paul uses a particular word in some of his letters – in Greek it is “enduo”, which we translate as “put on,” but enduo is better understood as “sinking into a new garment,” I bought a new suit for a fundraising gala we had at the Franklin Plaza in February. It felt so good to put on clothes that actually fit me.

This is what Paul means when he says put on Christ, or in the third chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians at verse 10,

“put on the new nature . . .”

and in the 12th verse, which was read today

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience,”

and . . . wait for it, put on forgiveness.

Put them on! You will need them!

And in the 14th verse

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

This way of thinking is foreign to our usual way of thinking about things. We tend to value authenticity. We say that someone is really sincere, or he is very real. He’s the real deal. The genuine article. True to himself.

St. Paul also says we should put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk.” This is so strange sounding.

It’s not so easy to take off malice and put on kindness. It really isn’t quite like putting on a new shirt.

David wrote to me about 10 months ago to ask if they could get married here at St. Paul’s Church. They knew they wanted to be married here. People just somehow feel different in here.

Bridget was baptized here on April 5th, Easter Sunday, at the 5am Vigil Service. We all traveled (in the dark) in procession from the Martha House building, through the garden by a big fire we had out there, and around into the dark church. The Deacon chanted. I Baptized Bridget in the font at the West end. The sun came up, and then we shared Communion.

And now we are here again. Bridget and David are marrying each other. As it says in that great baptismal hymn, “A new creation comes to life and grows.”

They are taking off their old lives and putting on a new life.

St. Paul says we can do this because “the new nature is being renewed.” God’s Holy Spirit helps us to take on things that we didn’t think we could do. And that same Holy Spirit guides us to learn new skills, and take on new habits, that will help us become holy. Our new nature is being renewed.

My hope for you David and Bridget is that you will go from here being willing to learn, and eagerly help each other as much as you can.

My prayer is that God will bless you, and give you strength and endurance as you experience the adventure of being a new creation. Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost – May 24, 2015

May 25, 2015

Acts 2:1-21 This is that.

A little over fourteen years ago I came out of seminary from The General Theological Seminary (GTS) in Manhattan. Mark Richardson taught systematic theology and Tom Breidenthal taught moral theology. Mark Richardson is now dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, which is an Episcopal Church Seminary in Berkeley, CA. Tom Breidenthal is presently the Bishop of Southern Ohio, and one of the four nominees to become the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (the election of the next PB is next month in Utah)

It was a pretty unusual arrangement, because both Profs. Richardson and Breidenthal used the same systematic theology textbooks.

The three books were written by James W. McClendon, Jr. Ethics (1986
); Doctrine (1994); 
Witness (2000).

Jim McClendon started out as a Southern Baptist. Later, he was a theologian in the Anabaptist tradition. Anabaptists are Christians of the Radical Reformation. The descendants of the original Anabaptists include the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Both Catholics and Protestants persecuted Anabaptists!

McClendon taught for 46 years at various schools:
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, the University of San Francisco, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, Fuller Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Temple University, Goucher College, Saint Mary’s College of California, and Church Divinity School of the Pacific. His longest appointment was at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

McClendon helped found what came to be known as the narrative theology movement in the late 1960s.

So, I attended an Episcopal Church Seminary in the Anglo-Catholic tradition where both the systematic theology and the moral theology professors used the same textbooks written by a former Southern Baptist from Texas, who had converted as an adult into an Anabaptist.

When someone is a good teacher – he or she is a good teacher – it sort of doesn’t matter where he comes from. Southern Baptist, Mennonite, Catholic, who cares?

I could go on and on about James McClendon. His first major book was called Biography as Theology. He thought we all could profit by reading about the lives of people who lived out their faith. In Biography as Theology he presents the lives of Dag Hammarskjold, Martin Luther King, Jr, Clarence Jordan, and the composer Charles Ives.

In McClendon’s systematic theology books we read stories about people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The question always was: What motivated these lives, and how did they handle adversity?

The other thing McClendon did was turn us back to the biblical stories. The stories in the Bible had become embarrassing myths and fictional accounts for many theologians of the 20th century.

McClendon is well known for three words: “This is that.”

“This is that” comes from today’s first reading in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. McClendon was using the King James Bible. In our translation, and in most modern translations, this is rendered as “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.” It is the 16th verse of the 2nd chapter.

The KJV has “but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”

In the first chapter of Acts the text says there were about 120 people gathered together: The eleven faithful disciples, Matthias (who was Judas’ replacement), Jesus’ mother Mary, various women disciples, relatives and other disciples.

And then they have this tremendous experience together, which we hear about in church every year on this day. People began mocking them, and rumors were spread that the Christians were drunk. Peter stands up and says these people are not drunk! No, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” And then he proceeds to quote from the Prophet Joel.

People generally think that prophecy is prediction. Prophecy is often actually something completely different. The Prophets are really saying something about their own times, if only to reject the status quo.

It is certainly true (for instance) that when Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream” he was criticizing the society he was living in. But in another way, Dr. King is speaking to us now.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

And when that day comes, whether in Georgia, Mississippi, or Troy, NY the people will recognize what Dr. King said, and they will say, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!”

“This [NOW] is that [THEN]”

Jim McClendon’s insight about “this is that” is important because Christians are always confronted with skeptics who doubt the truth of our convictions. It is hard to prove that we know God in Jesus Christ. We don’t get drunk at our Sunday services, but maybe we are just delusional?

But, there are those times when we do see the Kingdom of God on earth:

– Homeless people grateful for our gifts of toilet paper and socks.
– Times like yesterday when a motley crew of various saints of the church came out to St. Paul’s to do yard work.
– I remember so vividly the night I was volunteering in a shelter, and a young Syrian homeless man with epilepsy came in – a man who did not have work papers, a man who couldn’t keep steady work because every week or so he would land in the hospital with grand mal seizures. Well, this young man came in one night caring for another old man, who was mentally disabled. The Syrian man helped him get some food, get him ready for bed, and tucked him in. I still don’t know why he cared for the other man. They weren’t related. It was just so kind.

And I wish I could have known then to stand up in the middle of that homeless shelter and say, “Some people will say this is sad. Here is a homeless man taking care of another homeless man? But I say this is that which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”

In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used this same text from Isaiah, chapter 40 in his “I have dream” speech, which just goes to show that Dr. King was using “this is that” himself when he prophesied in Washington, DC in 1963. He was not predicting a date when his dream would come true. He was telling a truth that was ignored.

May each one of us hear in Scripture those words that will open our eyes to the truth around us. May we recognize Beauty in the commonplace, Wisdom in the powerless, and see the Kingdom of God even here in Troy, NY. Amen.

Christmas Sermon 2014

December 25, 2014

Christmas Sermon 2014 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy, New York

[Gene Tobey sings “I wonder as I wander.” (All verses)]

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
 How Jesus the Savior did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I… I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
 And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
 A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, 
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing, He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King. (1.)

I wonder … I wonder what brought you to St. Paul’s this damp Christmas Eve …
If I wandered among you and asked you, I wonder if any of you would answer that you were here because of a baby … I can see that many of you are part of our regular St. Paul’s family, and no doubt you are here because St. Paul’s is your church and where else would you be on Christmas Eve?
Some of you might tell me that it is a long family tradition … others of you might say that you love the choir and the beautiful, stirring music. Some of you may well be here because St. Paul’s is such a beautiful church. A few of you may be here at the urging of family or friends and you want to be with them. Perhaps several of you “just wandered in” … to get warm, or out of curiosity.

My friends, for whatever the reason, I am glad you are here and I am happy to see you.

So it may surprise you that I am here to tell you that no matter what you may think … you are here because of a baby…

Our St Paul’s parishioners are here … because of a baby.
Those of you who believe you are here in observance of a long standing family tradition to be at St. Paul’s on Christmas eve … you came because of a baby . . .

Our faithful, talented choir members led by our exceptional organist and choir director, Brian Hoffman … are all here because of a baby … the glorious music they perform and the carols we sing are all about … a baby.
This magnificent church interior designed and executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany was built to the honor and glory of … a baby.

And all the rest of you who are here, willing or unwilling, curious or cold … yes, you got it … because of a little baby.

“Hush-a-bye, go to sleep little baby
There in the manger, safe beside your momma,
 Only the angels who watch over you as you are sleeping
 Know that you are here to change the world” (2.)

And I wonder … why God sent a tiny helpless infant to show us ‘poor ornery mortals’ how much he loves us and how he longs for us to love him back? Maybe it’s simply because it’s so easy to love a baby.

Actually I am convinced … that you are all here because somewhere deep inside there is an urge, a nudge, maybe a longing to approach that humble manger bed and whisper … “I love you too.”

[Gene sings first and last verse]
I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
 How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…

I wonder as I wander out under the sky. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
 A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, 
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing, He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

1. “I wonder as I wander” by John Jacob Niles
2. “The Secret of the Stars” From The Way Of The Wolf By Martin Bell.

Easter Sunday Sermon

April 7, 2010

Easter 2010 Sermon

There is a long-standing tradition of using a bible text for a sermon. I’m going to use six different texts for today’s sermon. Don’t worry, I promise we won’t be here all day.

This is my personal New Testament [hold up], and these are the verses that make the main points of the Bible.

1. (Romans 3:23)   I am a sinner no better than all the rest.

2. (Romans 6:23)   The wages of sin are death.

3. (John 14:6)   Jesus is the way.

4. (Romans 10:9)   If I confess on my lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in the Risen Christ, I will be saved.

5.  (2 Cor. 5:15)   Jesus died for all.

6. (Rev. 3:20)   The Risen Lord Jesus is standing at the door knocking. If I invite him in, he will come in and we will have dinner together.

In the church, the local church, this particular church – I often hear concerns that compete with the main message of the Bible. And then there is something else that may apply to this church more than some others – something I hear over and over:

“What a beautiful church!   Shame you don’t have a bigger congregation.”

“What a beautiful church!   It must cost a lot to maintain it.”

“What a beautiful church!   Do you mind if I walk my dog in the church yard?”

I am a sinner no better than all the rest.

I could die in my sins.

Jesus is the way.

Confessing and believing I am saved.

Jesus died for all.

The Risen Lord stands at the door knocking.

Last Thursday night we had a service here. It was the Maundy Thursday service. There were just a few people in the congregation, but we had a full choir. So, I stood right over there in the sanctuary and preached to the choir! I just about ignored the congregation, and I stood there and preached to the choir.

My message was this: God washes feet. I’m not sure what the choir heard, but that was my intended message. I said something about the nature of the Divine Love, and how it was a servant-like love. But my message was basically that God washes feet.

My father is Jewish. I wonder what my great-grandfather in Russia would have said about this. “God washes feet?” “Who knew?”  (I’m sorry. I don’t know what a real Russian Jew sounds like. I grew up in New York. Jews sound to me like Mel Brooks.)

If God washes feet, his clergy should wash feet. I think everybody should wash each other’s feet. If everybody washed everybody else’s feet the world would definitely be a better place. Instead of making and selling weapons and drugs we should wash feet.

The choir sang. The Deacon and I washed some feet; we shared Holy Communion; we stripped the altar; we turned the lights off and went home. It was a lovely service.

Before the service Betty and Carl came in. I was sitting over there at the side chapel. Betty came down the middle aisle with her husband Carl in tow, and they came over to me. Betty introduced herself first and then Carl. She said, “Carl just loves this church. He thinks this church is the most beautiful church in the world.” Carl was silent, and just nodded his head in agreement. Betty continued, “Carl just loves this church. He feels such a sense of peace when he is here. I was wondering if you do blessings?

She said, “I was just diagnosed with cancer today.”

So I took them over to the communion rail and anointed them and prayed for healing.

I ran into a guy I know at the coffee shop up the street. He said, “Pastor Mike, right?” I said, “That’s right, and you are Jeff. You’re an architect, right?” He said, “Yeah, that’s right. Good memory. Now, you’re the pastor of what church in Troy?” I said, “St. Paul’s Episcopal – down at the corner.” Jeff said, “What a beautiful church!    How many do you have there on Sunday?”

I went to visit a lady at a nursing home last week. She said, “I sure do miss St. Paul’s Church. What a beautiful church!    How much do you have in the endowment fund left?” I told her, and she said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

A mother emailed me two weeks ago. Her infant boy needs brain surgery on the 26th of April. The little guy has a serious condition where his skull isn’t making room for his growing brain. The mom said that the Episcopal church that she and her husband used to go to just lost their priest. The priest moved away to another part of the country. She wanted to know if I would baptize their baby. She had seen pictures of St. Paul’s. She said it looked like such a beautiful church!

Actually, I was a little worried about the politics and protocols involved. The other Episcopal church was in another deanery in the diocese. I’m the Dean of the Metropolitan Deanery.  I thought I better call the Dean of that Deanery, and also call the lay warden of the other church. I didn’t want to step on any toes. The Dean said, “Michael, whatever you want to do is fine. You do what you think is best. If you can arrange the baptism, that’s fine. If you need me to handle it I will. Just call me if you can’t fit it in your schedule. (Very gracious)

The warden of that church said, “It would be such a blessing and a comfort to the family if you could baptize that baby. We have been praying for them. Right now, we’re going week to week with substitute clergy. The family reached out to you and if you can be of help to them, please do so.” (This also was very kind and gracious.)

I’m a sinner no better than all the rest.

I could die in my sins.

Jesus is the way.

Confessing and believing I am saved.

Jesus died for all.

The Risen Lord stands at the door knocking.

Next Saturday, I am going over to that home (in a foreign land out in the far reaches of East Greenbush, NY) and I’m going to baptize that baby, and we’re going to have Holy Communion, and the Risen Lord will be standing knocking at the door, and we’re going to invite Him in to have dinner with us.

May we leave here this fine day keeping in mind what is important, and also what is less important.  Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon 2009

December 27, 2009

I love being here at St. Paul’s on Christmas Eve. And I am happy to be in the pulpit giving a Christmas message.

I am asked sometimes if it is hard to preach on Christmas Eve? And the answer is yes and no.

Yes, it is hard to find the right words, but preaching the Good News to lots of people is always a thrill!

Yes, it is hard to prepare words that will communicate the Gospel in a way that will invite people to come closer. I certainly wouldn’t want to drive anyone away.

My prayer is that people would want to come closer to God and to his Church. The Church is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Church has had failures, but I believe the Church at her best nurtures and trains people for a life of service and discipleship. The Church has rescued wretches and brought sanctity to sinners.

Now, something has been put on my heart this year about how the Church (and the ministers therein) effectively proclaim the Gospel.

We must never be deceptive – [even in our efforts to put our best foot forward , and I can’t think of more beautiful introduction to the Church than St. Paul’s Church in Troy on Christmas Eve. Speaking of putting one’s best foot forward! St. Paul’s is indeed a ‘well turned ankle.’] We must never be deceptive. The preacher may try not to be needlessly offensive, but he must not be deceptive.

Just before the Eucharist we held a short service of Lessons and Carols. It is modeled on the one at King’s College, England, which was first presented in 1918. King’s College uses nine lessons – we have three. I hope you enjoyed the Lessons and Carols, and the reading of “The night before Christmas.”

It was brought to my attention that the King’s College lesson from Genesis, chapter 3 – drops verse 16 out of the reading. The verse is simply skipped over as though it were not there.

“16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”” Genesis 3:16, RSV.

We included the verse in the Lessons & Carols tonight.

Now, the discerning (or picky) bulletin reader will no doubt notice that in the second lesson from the Eucharistic readings from Isaiah, chapter 9, the 5th verse has been dropped. Here is the distinction: Verse 5 in Chapter 9 of Isaiah says essentially the same thing verse 4 says – only more indelicately. I think it is all right on Christmas Eve to do that.

Verse 16 of Genesis 3 is another matter entirely. I do not want to needlessly offend any of you, but it is very important that I don’t try to trick you. And that is why we left the verse in the reading tonight.

There are many things in the Bible I do not understand – may God enlighten me – but Genesis 3:16 is not that hard.

In the beginning the man and the woman were made in the image of God. They were both given responsibility for the earth and to populate it. The destruction of the complementary relationship between the man and the woman can be described as a consequence of the Fall from Grace. The eyes of faith have seen this as a curse from God, just as our own children think being grounded is unfair punishment, even when it is a reasonable consequence of their behavior.

I think we can make the case that God intended (before sin entered human hearts) that men and women would have a relationship of shared responsibility. It is only after the Fall that men “rule over” women and that these relationships will be characterized by conflict. I don’t read this verse as suggesting this is God’s intention for human relationships.

I take the time to go over this to say that the Church commits a mistake when we make no intellectual demands on visitors or our own members. Or, if we give the impression that the biblical text says something it doesn’t say, or does not say something it does say.

The birth narratives about Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are stories I love to hear every year. They are important to the celebration of Christmas. We make a mistake if we try to debunk them as only mythologies. And we make another mistake if we overreact and try to defend every detail as historically accurate.

Please remember, the people who wrote the Gospels were close to the Apostles. And after the death and resurrection of Jesus they had time to reflect on what happened. That in order for these things to take place, God must have sent Jesus. And that God must have planned all this ahead of time. Part of the point of the nativity story is that Jesus didn’t just one day wake up and latch on to a really cool idea. No, all along, even before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a plan in place.

Jesus was sent into the world to rescue us. To give us back our ability to be, once again, the fulfillment of God’s original plan for creation. We had lost that capacity. Some say that if we all try hard enough we can do it on our own.

No, I think the men will still try to rule.

I get choked up thinking God loves us so much that, instead of starting over with something else – or sending someone down to force us to behave, or hitting the worst of us with lightening bolts to scare the rest of us – God came up with this plan.

No, God loves us so much he came down to be with us – to have a personal relationship. It is a revolution in the relationship between the creator and the creation. The first time, God said, “You are great, now be good.” and Adam said, “Right,” and went out and did wrong. And things went downhill from there.

We have been given the greatest gift in Jesus.

Jesus is right here with us tonight, and he wants a relationship with you.

“2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.(Isaiah 9:2,6, RSV)

Merry Christmas, and Amen.