Archives: Proper 10

Anxiety Procrastination: Ending Up With Your Head on a Platter

This is not a pulpit sermon, this is a blog post, which means I can be irresponsibly personal and say whatever I want.

And that is good, because I really have something on my heart right now.

It’s something small and insignificant in the scope of the issues facing society, but I know you understand how a small, niggling worry can undermine your outlook until it colors your whole world.

So let me go ahead and admit up front: this piece is not some great theological treatise and you may not take anything away from it that deepens your own spiritual journey.

This is just me telling you that I’m stuck.

Here’s the deal: I thought I had written a whole book, but it turns out I’ve only written half a book, and now I’m not sure I can finish it.

It’s called The Darker Blessings: Finding God in Doubt and Depression, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far on it.

So is my editor—he says all the writing I’ve submitted to him is really solid.

His feedback said that I’ve really delved into the darkness and mined it for its treasures. The problem is that there’s not enough light, and I have to admit he’s right.

The basic structure of the book is to explore what we would normally call “dark” emotions or experiences, like anger, fear, or regret, and explore how each of them was a way to God for someone in the Bible.

So I talk about Mary of Bethany’s journey with grief, for example, and Nicodemus’ experience of uncertainty, and Pilate’s relationship with fear.

And with each of these chapters, I tell a bit of my own story.

The problem for the reader, my editor says, is that while they can see clearly how depression and darkness created the crucible for my spiritual journey and held me underwater for my entire young adulthood, they can’t see how I came to the other side of it.

The reader doesn’t magically understand how blessed and fulfilled I am now. I have to tell how I got from there to here, from suicidal to (most days) really happy.

I think there are a couple of things going on here.

First of all, I very much did not want to write a book with a happy ending all tied up in a bow.

Real life is not like that, and real life with God is especially not like that. 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 Good Samaritan: Admitting We’ve Been Beaten Up and Left in a Ditch

I will bet heavily that most of us in this room are used to casting ourselves one of two roles when we hear this story in our gospel today.

On the days when we’re feeling righteous and proud of our open-mindedness and generosity, we cast ourselves as the Good Samaritan. We think of some good deed we’ve done, especially if it’s for a stranger or for someone we don’t particularly like, and feel great.

On the days when we’re a little more in touch with our human frailty, we cast ourselves as the priest or the Levite, realizing how often we exclude others, how often we let convenience and self-interest trump service, and vow to search out opportunities to help people generously in the future.

But what about the man who was set upon by robbers and beaten and left in the ditch by the side of the road?

That’s not a position we ever want to picture ourselves in.

But what if that is part of Jesus’ point?

Besides the obvious lesson of helping our enemies, what if Jesus is asking us to admit our own vulnerability?

What if God is the Samaritan and we are the beat up person in the ditch? Continue reading

What I Have in Common with Herod and What Herod Has in Common with Jesus

I want you all to just gather yourselves for a minute.

Settle down comfortably in your pew, and then put on your seatbelt. Because today I’m going to do something I don’t often do.

Today’s sermon is a pulpit-thumper.

I am going to pound my fist and rant and rail about sin and depravity and moral rectitude.

Who’s that sneaking out the back already? I haven’t even started yet!

It’s funny because Episcopal priests are not traditionally fire and brimstone preachers, but the reality is we do have to take time to talk about sin, because it is a destructive force in our lives.

It is profoundly destructive to us, and as we see in our gospel lesson today, profoundly destructive to others.

I don’t think you need me to spend a lot of time outlining Herod’s sins and weaknesses, they are all too obviously on display.

In this one short episode, we get to know a man who is ruled by his love of power, his lust, his lack of respect for God’s law (having married his brother’s wife), his fear of what others think of him, and his rash and impulsive decision making.

But what interests me most about Herod in this story is his relationship with John the Baptist.

It can be interpreted in a number of ways, but where I want us to take it this morning is through the lens of John the Baptist as Herod’s conscience.

This is often the role of the prophet for an entire society, reminding us of uncomfortable truths and how far we have strayed from what God asks of us, but I want us to take it to a very personal and individual level with Herod and John.

The reason I want to do that is that we get a surprising amount of detail about their relationship.

And it is a relationship. Theirs is not an impersonal governmental encounter in which they never meet face to face, all actions coming through paperwork and rubber stamps.

John and Herod know each other. Continue reading

I’d Rather Be Esau

Sibling rivalry.

What a familiar story that is.

With four sisters to choose from, I had plenty of sisters with whom to compete as a child.

We all had our distinct roles in the family.

My older sister Maggie was the rebel.

I was the goody two-shoes.

My little sister Merideth was the consummate middle child, and the twins, Ginny and Kitty, lived in a secret twin society of their own.

Over the years there were many alliances and counter-alliances, trade negotiations for toys, peace talks over games, and so on.

Jacob and Esau had clearly defined roles as well.

The scripture says that “Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.”

Genesis makes no bones of the fact that there were distinct favorites as well: “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

In a patriarchal society, a father’s approval was everything, and like any young boy Jacob would have longed for his father’s attention and favor.

But it was not to be. Continue reading

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