Archives: Year C

Jesus’ Mom Embarrasses Him At a Party

Today in our gospel reading we celebrate Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana.

I’ve always wondered how our beloved Protestant brethren who believe in the virtue of teetotaling deal with this text. Moderation with alcohol is indeed a virtue, and alcohol can be so destructive at times that many good clergy have preached that it’s a sin to touch it.

But Episcopalians like wine at the altar and wine at the dinner table, so luckily it’s one of Jesus’ miracles that I can openly celebrate.

This Gospel text has everything I love about good Bible stories—complex character interactions, people making non sequiturs, important Bible personalities doing things that make you work to understand them.

Why does Mary care that they’re out of wine?

Did she tell Jesus hoping he would run to the corner store and pick some more up?

Why does Jesus speak to his mother in a way that seems uncomfortably rude to our modern ears? Was he embarrassed that she expected him to solve the problem?

This is great stuff, thick and juicy with conflict and possibility.

Continue reading

Forty Ways to Be Baptized, Forty Ways to Die

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the first Sunday after the Epiphany.

And the first thing I have to tell you is that I can take very little credit for the ideas in this sermon.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the retreat conference of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, and the presenter was The Reverend Alan Storey.

Alan Storey is a Methodist pastor from South Africa.

His father is Peter Storey, the famous anti-apartheid faith leader who began his pastoral career as Nelson Mandela’s chaplain during Mandela’s 27-year prison term.

On our trip to South Africa, we had the opportunity to meet and spend time in conversation with both Peter Storey and his son Alan, and it was immediately obvious that Alan had inherited a double share of his father’s prophetic spirit.

So of course I was excited to see and spend time with Alan again at that retreat, but I wasn’t expecting to be presented with remarkable new theological ideas that galvanized my imagination. That retreat has continued to significantly influence my thinking and my prayer life.

One of the ideas that Alan expanded on was a rethinking of the nature of baptism, and those are the ideas I want to share with you now.

Baptism is our entry into the church, it is how we become members of the Body of Christ.

And so Alan began by asking us: this community that we join at baptism, what is it?

What is the purpose of the church?

To answer that question, we have to ask what problem the church is trying to solve.

If we go back to the Garden of Eden, we see Eve in conversation with the serpent, and the serpent introduces the voice that will forevermore drive our grasping after power and things and control.

That is the voice that says, “You are not enough.”

Our sin is driven by the falsehood: “You are not enough.”

We hear that voice and we do anything to hush it up, to somehow augment our faltering self-image so we can drown out the words: “You are not enough.”

And so we sin. That is what that voice forces us to.

And we have talked about this before here at St. Francis: sin is an addiction.

We are addicted to a way of life that kills us, kills our planet, kills our future.

We as Western Christians cannot seem to do anything that is systemically constructive to end the poverty and suffering that plagues the rest of the world.

And so our addiction traps us and everyone around the world in a planet and a society hurtling toward death.

So what is the purpose of church? Continue reading

And Every Stone Shall Cry

Merry Christmas!

The rest of the world may be moving on to the New Year, but we Christians are still deep in the season of Christmas. 12 days is really not long enough to celebrate Christmas, but we’ll make do.

So in most of our Christmas worship, we want to sing the most obvious hymns possible.

It’s not Christmas if we don’t sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World.”

These are gorgeous hymns, rich with meaning, and layered in our hearts with year after year of beautiful memories.

When we sing them, we sort of turn our minds off. Our hearts rise up and shine through our voices, and we experience full, unmediated grace through the words and notes we know so well.

That aspect of Christmas worship—the words and songs that flow off our tongues so easily and joyfully—is so important.

But we also need something else in our Christmas worship.

We need something to make us think. Continue reading

Who Counts At Christmas?

We begin the story of Christmas with a sentence from scripture that’s not quite true.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Well, almost all the world.

Everyone who had some kind of position in society, even a working class one, like Mary and Joseph, went to be registered.

Anyone who could conceivably pay taxes was on the Emperor’s list, and had to report in and be accounted for.

It was sort of the first century equivalent of Big Brother/Big Data.

You’re not getting anywhere in America without a social security card, and you couldn’t get anywhere in first century Palestine without being on the Emperor’s list.

If you were taxable, you would be counted.

“All went to their own towns to be registered,” Luke says.

Well, again, not quite all.

Luke himself tells us that in the next paragraph: “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

The shepherds did not return to their hometown to be registered. They were on the very bottom rung of society.

They couldn’t pay taxes, and had fallen so far between the cracks of the Roman Empire that they weren’t even expected to.

They were nobodies.

When it came time for the registration, to show up and present your name and your papers to the government, no one looked for them.

They quite literally didn’t count.

Continue reading

God The Unrequited Lover

What are you like when you’re in love?

Have you ever been in love? Especially that first flush of new love?

Everything is beautiful all around you.

You can’t stop thinking about that special someone.

Everything reminds you of him or her.

When you’re with that person, time seems to stop. You can’t imagine how you lived before you met him or her.

You know what else you do when you’re in love?

You sing.

You sing all the time.

You sing in the shower, you sing while you’re driving, you sing while you’re cooking.

You sing about your loved one, you sing to your loved one, every love song on the radio is about you and your relationship.

That’s usually how you learn someone is in love in a musical or an opera, too. They burst into radiant song and you know—they have fallen, and they have fallen hard.

But what happens when your love is not returned?

Have you ever experienced unrequited love?

Oh, it hurts.

Whenever you’re in a room with that person, no matter how crowded, you’re constantly aware of where he or she is.

You replay every conversation you’ve ever had, straining it for deeper meaning than is really there.

If you’re technologically minded, you might do a bit of light Facebook stalking, hoping that they’re happy and in love with someone, no matter how sad you are that you’re not that person. Continue reading

John the Baptist Commits a Major Party Foul

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.

What does that mean?

Gaudete is the Latin word meaning “rejoice,” and the origin of this name for the third Sunday of Advent comes from the beginning of our reading from Philippians today: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

In the old Latin mass, the introit used this text, so the first words the priest said were, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.”

Hence the name Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday of rejoicing.

Advent is actually a penitential season like Lent, something many people don’t realize.

That’s why when I dismiss you at the end of the service, I don’t say “Alleluia, alleluia.” We just say, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” and you respond, “Thanks be to God,” just like in Lent, because it’s a penitential season.

Just like how in Lent we use the time to prepare for Easter and reflect on things like our mortality and sin, we do the same in Advent to prepare for Christmas.

Thinking about how much we need Jesus helps us get ready to welcome and greet him. Continue reading

Do You Need to Be Silenced?

We have been told so many times that Christmas is God’s gift to us that I think we sometimes relax into a problematic complacency.

Christmas and the coming of the Christ Child absolutely is a free and unmerited gift to us—God gives Godself to us in the Incarnation with no strings attached.

But what we forget is that if we choose to participate in this process, we will be changed.

Advent is actually all about change.

The valleys are being lifted up and the hills are being made low.

Our entire internal landscape is being rearranged—or it should be, if we have not gotten too deaf and numb to God’s presence in our lives.

This time of year it’s easy to bounce between frantic, consumer-driven gaiety and frightened depression at the state of the world and its violence.

But somewhere in the middle of the swirling commotion is a still point, where the chaos that comes from God and not from the world can reach our hearts and gently, lovingly, slowly turn us inside out. Continue reading

Jesus Says “Keep Your Chin Up”

Happy New Year!

That’s right, today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year, and Jesus starts us off with a bang. We’re going to have to find the Good News within these texts, because honestly on the surface they seem like bad news.

“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” Jesus says. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Goodness. That’s dramatic. And pretty scary.

Apocalypse always seems like bad news to those of us who have power and wealth.

But remember, apocalypse, the total upending of the universe’s order, seems like Good News to the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

For them, God coming in and blowing up everything and starting over with justice and mercy sounds brilliant.

Apocalypse is only bad news to those of us who think we have something to lose.

But there’s one verse that jumped out at me that definitely is Good News, even for those of us who are at the top of the pyramid and can’t always identify with Jesus’ audience. And that verse is this: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Stand up and raise your heads.

Or as your mom might have said to you when you were a kid, “Hold your head up and your shoulders back, you weren’t born under a rock.”

Or, when she saw you were feeling down, “Keep your chin up.”

This is an interesting instruction from Jesus, one of the only ones I know of in the gospels where he gives us a commandment for our physical posture. Continue reading

A Week Late to the Resurrection: Wounded, Stubborn, Alive

Today, the first Sunday after Easter, is traditionally known as Low Sunday.

That’s a tremendously unflattering nickname for us as the Church.

Last week we presented the triumph of the church year.

We announced to the world the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Jesus died and rose again to new life for love of us.

And the result is that the next Sunday is the lowest attendance of the whole church year, all the way across Christendom.

Ouch.

Was it something we said?

It may well have been. Continue reading

Christ Belatedly Crowned King in 1925, Sources Say

I have been misinformed.

That’s nothing new, I get confused and mixed-up and proceed on the basis of faulty assumptions all the time, but it doesn’t often happen to me liturgically.

Most of the time I know what’s going on in terms of worship and liturgy, it is what I get paid for, after all, but I had the wrong end of the stick on this one.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year.

I have always thought of Christ the King Sunday as an archaic feast.

It seems ancient, or at least medieval–old, anyway–to take an entire Sunday to talk about Christ as our Almighty King.

It would make sense that it comes from a time when most people who were Christians were in fact functioning in a system of government in which they were subjects of an actual, earthly king of some sort.

It makes sense that people who lived under a monarchy might need a reminder that there is a higher, more powerful king who trumps their current earthly king or queen, particularly if that earthly king or queen was oppressive or stupid or both.

But lo and behold, the Feast of Christ the King was not celebrated in the year 325 or 825 or 1125 or 1525.

The first time the church celebrated the Feast of Christ the King was 1925.

There’s still a lot of colonialism going on in 1925, but many, many Christians are living in democracies or locally governed tribal societies or even underground in communist regimes—fewer and fewer people had a king anymore.

So why celebrate Christ the King?

It turns out that the feast of Christ the King was declared by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an anti-nationalist, anti-secularist statement.

Now, consider what was happening in Europe in 1925.

Fascism and totalitarianism were on the rise. Continue reading