Archives: Sermons

Cranmer: The Weedy Field with the Great Harvest

If you’re not aware of this already, let me give you some breaking news: Jesus is awesome.

I love this gospel text. It is a perfect illustration of his subversive wisdom, his undermining grace, his sneak attack on our complacencies and familiarities.

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he refuses to allow us to believe we have all the answers.

We’ll arrive at a new spiritual understanding and relish and celebrate and benefit from it.

But the minute it starts to contribute to our ego satisfaction, Jesus will rip the rug out from underneath us.

Last week we talked about the fact that however great of a spiritual teacher Jesus may be, to be honest he would make an abysmal farmer.

Thank God the family business was carpentry instead.

But we continue this week with another edition of Poor Agricultural Advice by Jesus Christ, in the form of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat.

First of all, who sows weeds? How does one even accomplish that?

Jesus attributes it to the Enemy or the Evil One, and I always have this image of the Devil standing in someone’s newly plowed field blowing the seeds off dandelions with unholy glee.

Then Jesus has the householder tell his servants not to weed the ground, because “in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”

That’s, um, not how it works.

Every first-grader cultivating his first garden plot in the backyard knows that weeding is an unpleasant but entirely necessary part of the process.

And when you pull out weeds, generally the plants you are trying to grow are not uprooted if you pay attention at all.

So if we conclude once again that Jesus is not giving literal horticultural advice, what does he mean? If we are to take this spiritually, where do we land? Continue reading

Jesus Is a Bad Farmer

This week we have the chance to explore the Parable of the Sower, which honestly might better be described as the Parable of the Bad Farmer.

Remember that Jesus taught in an agrarian society, and what might not jump out at us at first was immediately obvious to his original listeners.

Seeds were, and are today, very valuable.

Jesus tells us that the sower sows his seeds on the path, on the rocky ground, on the thorny ground, and finally on the good soil.

You honestly would have to be a pretty stupid farmer to cast 75% of your seed in places where you knew it wouldn’t grow.

And it was incredibly wasteful.

You know the term “seed money”? It’s exactly what it sounds like.

Purchasing seeds is the most important investment a farmer makes outside of buying the land in the first place.

Sowing seeds on the path, the rocky ground and the thorny ground would be like investing money 25% in rotary telephone manufacture, 25% in blacksmithing, 25% in time travel, and 25% in a respected investment fund.

It’s essentially throwing 75% of your money in places you know will never grow, and hoping for the best.

Once it becomes clear that Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is really Jesus’ Parable of the Sower Who Is Really Bad At His Job, we have to ask ourselves why he told it that way.

Is Jesus the bad farmer? Continue reading

The Adoration and Seduction of Your Soul

This is going to be a great, big, gooey, gushy, schmaltzy sermon, so just brace yourselves.

It is going to be embarrassingly emotional, uncomfortably intimate, and just all around hearts and flowers, so buckle up.

We are going to talk about God’s love today.

We are going to talk about the love of God in all of its extravagance and all of its irresponsible, reckless intensity.

I spend enough time in this pulpit talking about the challenges of life, our struggles to confront darkness both within ourselves and in the world.

Today I’m taking up the challenge Paul articulates in Ephesians: “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Do you wake up in the morning and know that your destiny and your purpose is to know that you are filled with all the fullness of God?

Are you reminded at least once an hour that God delights in you?

Do you understand that God has never been disappointed in you?

God may have mourned your choices, grieved your hurting of yourself and others, longed for you to turn toward God in faith and trust, but take this knowledge and write it on your heart: God has never been disappointed in you.

You are God’s favorite, God’s darling, the light of God’s life.

God gets up in the morning to see you, to know you, to work in your life and try one more day to seduce you a little closer.

I’m telling you that nothing, and I mean nothing, in your life is more important that knowing that God loves you.

It sounds so simplistic, but most of us live the majority of our lives with only theoretical knowledge of God’s love, not experiential knowledge.

And thus when we try to love others, from our own spouses, parents and children to our colleagues to starving and oppressed people around the world, we find that sooner or later, our love runs out.

Self-generated love is a limited resource.

We can only love others truly, fully, unconditionally when we let God love us truly, fully, unconditionally.

And “let” God love us is absolutely the right verb. Continue reading

Listen Hard in the Dark

In today’s scriptures we have a tragic story, an absolutely key synthesis of our entire faith, and some very hard sayings.

We begin with the story of Hagar being cast out into the wilderness, driven out by Sarah’s jealousy and Abraham’s cowardice, left to die with her son in the desert.

Then we have Paul in Romans giving the most succinct summation of death and resurrection as embodied by baptism in the entirety of the New Testament.

And finally, we have Jesus telling us he might potentially deny us before the Father in the heaven, that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that family conflict is 100% a part of following him.

How are we going to put all that together?

We must begin where we always begin—by putting ourselves into the story.

We can start by identifying where we want to turn away with disgust from what’s happening, and that’s with Sarah and Abraham.

It’s a godawful mess.

Sarah could not bear a child, so she told Abraham to “go in” to Hagar, which is Bible-speak for having sex, and Hagar got pregnant.

Hagar had no choice in this scenario, she was exploited twice over, first by being used as a sexual object by her master, and then as a brood mare to produce an heir.

Sarah quickly regretted her decision, but not out of human decency. She was jealous and bitter both of Abraham having sex with Hagar, and also of Hagar’s ability to conceive.

Sarah took it out on Hagar multiple times, until now she goes to the extreme and essentially condemns Hagar and baby Ishmael to death.

She tells Abraham to send them out into the desert, and to his eternal shame, he does.

It’s an ugly, ugly situation, and incidentally, that is one of the remarkable aspects of the Hebrew scriptures. The writers in no way shy away from telling the truth about what happened, no matter how repulsive it is.

These ancient writers are not afraid to attribute reprehensible moral conduct to the ultimate patriarch and matriarch of the nation, Abraham and Sarah.

This reflects a tradition that is able to be self-critical, that is able to see God at work even in human weakness and sin. That is one of the great gifts of Judaism to us, one of their daughter faiths, and to human religion at large.

A great clue as to what lies unredeemed in our own hearts is what causes a strong negative emotional reaction in us.

If you want to see where you’re in denial and where you need spiritual growth, simply pay attention to where you get defensive.

It’s a surefire way to see your shadow.

I think most of us would react against Sarah and Abraham’s actions in this story, and justly so.

But as soon as we say, “I would never do that!” we have to think again. Continue reading

Judas the Healer

Today we see Jesus sending out the apostles to spread their wings and try a little ministry on their own.

He “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”

That’s pretty important work, and pretty advanced work for a group of people who much of the time seem to not just have trouble understanding Jesus’ teaching, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to convey.

But Jesus, in a spectacular instance of the risk-taking behavior he so often displays, trusts them with significant power and authority.

And what drew my eye as I read it this time was the last name on the list. “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”

Judas.

Jesus sends Judas out with power over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and sickness.

Judas who will betray him, as Matthew takes pains to remind us.

It seems unwise at best to send out a man that Jesus must at least have an inkling or maybe even full knowledge of his tendency to judgmentalism (“This money should have been used for the poor!” in response to a generous woman’s loving anointing of Jesus feet in Matthew 26), greed (“He was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it,” according to John), and of course the betrayal itself, Jesus’ life for thirty pieces of silver.

What kind of person is this to entrust with divine power?

But Jesus does.

What do we make of this?

Well, first, let’s ask what happens. Are the disciples successful in what Jesus has asked them to do?

Matthew doesn’t tell us, but Luke quotes a group of disciples returning from being sent out to minister, writing that they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’”

It seems likely that if Judas had not been successful, one or more of the gospel writers would have certainly wanted to rub it in and gleefully point it out, so we’re left with the assumption that Judas completed the good works of casting out demons and liberating people from illness and possession.

We most often only think of “Judas the Betrayer,” but here, right in the text, we have “Judas the Missionary” and “Judas the Healer.” Fascinating! Continue reading

Loving Kids Creates Loving Kids

“Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens,” or so our Psalm for today says.

Sometimes that seems very true, especially when your five-year-old asks an endearingly insightful question about God.

Sometimes that seems less true, such as when the kids are having a screaming fight in the back seat of the car or a meltdown in the grocery aisle.

There’s less majesty in that moment and more a feeling of, “Having kids–whose idea was this?”

Do you think God ever asks the same question about us?

Creating humanity—having kids—whose idea was this?

It’s certainly possible.

God knows we’ve caused God enough heartache over the years that God could hardly be blamed for rethinking the decision to become a parent.

But what we observe from our scriptures today is that God wants for us what we want for our own children: a safe, happy, nurturing environment for us to grow up in and reach our full potential.

Today we have the story of creation in Genesis, and we observe the dedicated care and attention God puts into creating the world in which we will live.

Bear in mind that this is the Almighty God, who presumably could snap God’s fingers and poof! There are galaxies within galaxies.

But no—God takes time.

God takes six whole days, and of course we understand now that those six days were also millennia of stars and planets cooling and single celled organisms developing into more complex organisms, the long walk toward life of which we are the ultimate beneficiaries.

God does not rush the home that God is creating for us.

What else do we want for our own children as we create their environment? Continue reading

Less Fire, More Bubbles

Have you ever watched a toddler try to master blowing bubbles for the first time?

Entranced by the beautiful floating globes her parent has produced, she dips the wand in the bubble solution, brings it to her face, purses her lips…and blows an almighty explosion of air that achieves nothing but a spray of soap.

Pouty lips and even sometimes a frustrated chucking of the wand to the ground often follow.

She has learned that you have to blow hard to blow out the candle on top of the birthday cake. Why is it different when you blow bubbles?

Violent wind and gentle wind—both are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

But in the Church, especially on Pentecost, we have often erred on placing too much emphasis on the violent wind in the Book of Acts, sometimes forgetting entirely the tenderness and gentleness of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the Gospel of John.

Jesus does not impart the Holy Spirit to the disciples with the force of a hurricane.

It is as small and as simple as breathing out, a gentle, patient descent of the Holy Spirit, as gentle and patient as the breath necessary to blow bubbles.

We are often as astute as toddlers trying to blow bubbles in our approach to being in relationship to the Holy Spirit.

We’ve all had (or at least wished we’ve had) the loud, bright Holy Spirit experiences, the moments in worship and in life when God’s presence is forceful, awakening, invigorating, when we can practically feel the tongues of fire descending on our heads.

But the experiences of being breathed on by Jesus—those can pass us by entirely unless we’re deliberately developing the spiritual discipline of being on watch for them.

Perhaps the reason we only want to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts is because we only want to identify with the disciples in Acts. Continue reading

92% Foolishness and 8% Wisdom

Okay, folks, we’ve got some tough scriptures this week, so we’re going to have to go deep into a symbolic interpretation to find some application for our spiritual lives.

At least, that’s the way I feel. You may count Acts 1 and John 17 among your favorite scriptures in the Bible, in which case, please share with me what you take away from them.

Because for me, Jesus in John 17 is borderline incomprehensible, and I, much to my shame, feel myself glaze over about halfway through this passage.

And verses 6-14 of Acts 1 just strike me as this blend of the awkward and the supernatural, and I’m just really not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it.

But never let it be said that we shy from mining our scriptures to their depths, so let’s dig in.

Honestly, maybe it’s a blessing that we’re confused by this scene in Acts of Jesus ascending to heaven, because I think that actually really puts us right in the shoes of the disciples.

Think about how they must be feeling at this moment.

Jesus, in an earth shatteringly unexpected turn of events, arose from the dead forty days ago.

Six weeks is in no way long enough to adjust to reality breaking apart like that, and they’re probably still stumbling around in a daze.

Maybe they’ve just really started to accept that Jesus is back, that their beloved friend who died a torturous death is alive and with them again.

The guilt and pain and panic that consumed them on Good Friday have finally started to ebb away.

They’re tentatively starting to rely on having him with them again, alive and breathing, his heart beating and his eyes shining with gentle love.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, they see him lifted on a cloud to heaven.

Why is he leaving them? He just returned! How could he do this to them?

How could he do this to us? Continue reading

Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

What Is Martyrdom, Really?

The gospel that we read today will be most familiar to many of us as “the funeral text” because that is how we most often have heard it.

I would say that for close to 80% of the funerals I have done as a priest, the family has chosen this gospel for the service. There is clearly something deeply comforting in it.

It is often called for shorthand “the many mansions” text for the older language translation of Jesus saying, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.”

What we notice this week is that someone does die in our assigned texts. We have the martyrdom of Stephen in our lesson from Acts.

What if we considered this gospel as the reading for Stephen’s funeral?

How would that affect our understanding of it?

And how would it affect our memories of the loved ones we have buried with these words echoing through the worship space?

Stephen is important because he is the first person who really follows Jesus all the way to the end of the story.

He followed Jesus in life, and he ends up following Jesus into death, persecuted and killed by people who cannot bear the searing and life-changing truth of the gospel message.

For most of Christianity we have settled for worshipping Jesus rather than following him.

That is quite possibly because following Jesus can and does have rather dire consequences, as Stephen finds out.

Our other tendency is to glorify literal martyrs such as Stephen, and there certainly is much to admire in people who are able to give up their physical bodies to die for Christ.

But it can become an outsourcing of the necessary death that we must undergo in our own lives, before we physically die, if we truly wish to follow Jesus into resurrection.

What does it really mean to be a martyr?

And is it a calling we all share, or the province only of the rarefied saints like Stephen? Continue reading