Archives: Year C

You Are the Voice of God (Don’t Panic!)

Because we know the story of Pentecost so well, it is all too easy to dismiss it. The tongues of fire descend on the apostles and they begin to proclaim the gospel in all the different languages of the multi-national and multi-ethnic group gathered in the city.

If we stop and think for a moment, however, we might question and wonder that this is the way in which the Holy Spirit chose to manifest.

Presumably the Holy Spirit could have come and empowered the disciples to do anything.

They could have been empowered to heal people or feed people, to do the same types of miracles that Jesus did.

But instead they were empowered to speak, not just speak, but communicate. What do you make of that?

Well, it says something about the nature of the work the disciples are called to do to birth the church. It must be primarily a task of communication, both speaking and teaching.

Deeds of power are useless without the words that explain them, that tell who is responsible for them and what they mean.

That’s why we have a sermon on Sunday morning.

The Eucharist is incredibly important, but if we didn’t have the opportunity to listen and speak and reflect on Scripture and the Eucharist and what they mean in our lives, we wouldn’t get very far in our Christian walk.

And the disciples wouldn’t have gotten very far in building the church if they did not have the ability to communicate the nature of the gospel.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a breaking down of the barriers to communication that exist in our lives.

This has important implications for us in two ways. Continue reading

Talk Is Cheap, Jump Out of the Boat

Today we read the breakfast on the beach, a surprisingly earthy and physical text for John to give us.

One way of describing the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, vs. John, the strange, outlier mystical gospel is that the synoptics tell us what Jesus did, and John tells us what Jesus means.

This text is rich with symbolism and meaning, so let’s explore it a bit.

First, we look at the numbers in the story.

The disciples, perhaps a bit overwhelmed with the recent events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, return to what they know best: fishing.

But remember what fishing symbolizes in the gospels: evangelism.

“Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of people,” Jesus says.

And so the disciples fish all night, but they catch nothing.  Without Jesus, their labors are in vain.

And then, in the morning, Jesus comes to them.

He tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and suddenly it is near to breaking with the weight of the fish.

And John tells us exactly how many of them there were: 153.

153 was thought in those days to be the total number of species of fish that existed in the world, and Jesus had helped the disciples catch every single one of them.

This is meant to remind us that on our own, our evangelism efforts are fruitless, but with Jesus, we can touch the soul of every single person that we meet, by trusting in him and following his commandments.

153 is the first important number in this gospel, and 3 is the second important number. Continue reading

Hunger to Honesty to Love

Today is Refreshment Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Since ancient times, Christians have recognized their frailty and realized they might not be able to maintain their strict Lenten disciplines all the way through the long, cold days of Lent waiting for Easter.

So rather than giving up halfway through and chucking the whole thing, they created Refreshment Sunday, a sort of pit-stop at the beginning of the last long climb toward Holy Week.

Today, you have the full sanction and blessing of the Church to take a day off from your Lenten discipline.

As is wont to happen with church traditions, Refreshment Sunday has had many auxiliary traditions grow up alongside it over the years.

Its original name was Laetare Sunday, from the Latin for “O be joyful.”

This was not an exhortation to the people to be joyful, the medieval Catholic Church was not that generous.

It was rather named for the introit used at the mass on the fourth Sunday of Lent, from Isaiah 66. It begins “O be joyful, Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her.”

All the monks and priests knew the introit and calling it Laetare Sunday was a sort of shorthand nickname for the fourth Sunday of Lent.

As time went on, “this same Sunday was known in England as Mothering Sunday. It was a day when servants and apprentices were allowed to take a day off and go home to visit their mothers. That tradition later became linked to parochial life as people made pilgrimage to the church of their youth, their “Mother Church.””

Not quite the same as Mother’s Day in the U.S., but probably part of its origins.

There is also a Refreshment Sunday in the other penitential season of the Church year, Advent. You may recognize it as the Sunday when some churches burn a pink candle in their Advent wreaths instead of a blue or purple one.

That comes from the other name for Refreshment Sunday which is Rose Sunday. It actually comes from medieval times when the Pope would send a golden rose to European monarchs as a reminder of to whom they owed their ultimate loyalty—although at times it was not clear whether that loyalty was supposed to be to God or to the Pope himself!

But Rose Sunday also came to be celebrated in a way I devoutly wish I had the liturgical budget to facilitate: with the priest wearing rose pink vestments.

In the old lectionary, the Gospel lesson for Refreshment Sunday was the story of the loaves and fishes. It’s very strange to realize that “there was a time when the lectionary known to most churches of the West did not include the Parable of the Prodigal Son at all, even though it is surely one of the best known of Jesus’ parables.”

It wasn’t until the Revised Common Lectionary was compiled in 1992 that the Prodigal Son had a slot to be proclaimed in church on Sunday mornings.

The Prodigal Son certainly finds himself in need of refreshment by the time he finds himself so hungry he’s eating food meant for pigs.

Refreshment is a very kind word for what is actually a very deep and visceral need.

And it’s a need that we all have within us.

There comes a time in our lives when we realize, like the younger son, that we are living badly.

Or rather, there should come a time in our lives that we realize that, but many of us don’t. Continue reading

Lord, Make Me a Pharisee

Imagine yourself as a major fan of the Indiana Hoosier basketball team.

For most of you, that will not be a stretch.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as a ticket taker at Assembly Hall.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as a graduate assistant in the equipment department.

Now, go bigger. Imagine yourself as an assistant coach to the Indiana Hoosier basketball team.

You are sitting on the bench next to Head Coach Tom Crean during every game. You are strategizing and encouraging and celebrating as Williams and Ferrell and Hartman dominate from the paint to the perimeter every night.

You are extremely invested in IU basketball.

Your life revolves around setting them up to go deep in the NCAA tournament.

This could be your year! You could go all the way to the National Championship!

Now imagine, in your role as Assistant Coach, it’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and you and your fellow coaches draw up all the plays and plans and strategies for your run through the tournament.

This is the set-up for the end of your entire breakout season, the season that has recaptured the glory of famed Hoosier Basketball, the season that has awakened Kansas fans like me to the fact that the road to the Final Four once again runs through Bloomington.

There is very tight security around your preparation for the Big Ten Tournament. Players and coaches alike know how important it is to not spill any secrets to the media or even family and friends.

Preparation in a monster conference like the Big Ten requires a military-style discipline and cohesion.

Now here comes the crazy part.

You arrive in Indianapolis for the tournament. Most of the teams stay in a one of a few hotels near the arena.

You hear that the Head Coach of Purdue basketball, Matt Painter, is going to be at such-and-such restaurant for dinner the night before the opening game.

Matt Painter and Purdue represent potentially a major threat to the end of IU’s season this year, not to mention being IU’s most hated long-term rival.

And then you, the assistant coach of the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team, sit down at Matt Painter’s table and hand him IU’s entire tournament playbook.

He recognizes you and opens the book with disbelief as you start to take him through it, explaining to this enemy coach every single part of your team’s tournament strategy. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, all of it.

You’ve just betrayed the organization that has commanded your every shred of loyalty probably for your whole life, and alerted that organization’s enemy to your exact plans to defeat it.

WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?! Continue reading

Are We Anglican?

On January 15, 2016, the Anglican Primates gathered in Canterbury and by a majority vote comprehensively sanctioned the Episcopal Church because of our actions in 2015 approving same-sex marriage.

They said in their statement: “Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage… Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us… given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

That’s pretty heavy duty stuff.

We’ve been told to sit out and stay at home for three years due to our stance for love and justice.

It’s painful to think that we’ve been separated from the Communion that birthed us, with whom we’ve been in fellowship these hundreds of years.

It hurts to think that Thomas Cranmer’s church no longer considers us worthy of being at the table of the Councils of the Church with them.

This has been building since Bishop Gene Robinson, our first openly gay bishop, was consecrated in 2003, but having weathered the storms of controversy for the last thirteen years without breaking up, I for one never thought they’d actually kick us out.

And they didn’t. We’re not exactly kicked out.

But we’re definitely not really in either. Continue reading

An Episcopalian Attempts to Become a Respectable Protestant (by Memorizing Scripture)

I decided the week before Christmas to memorize an entire portion of scripture, because I am insane.

It wasn’t a totally random idea, although it was a little crazy to take on in the midst of all the Christmas preparations for church and last minute gift buying.

This was a 3-sermon week, after all, so why not make it more difficult?

I’m part of a Facebook group called the Young Clergy Women Project, and we talk shop and exchange tips and ideas about ministry together.

Well, a group of women were discussing how they had in the past or this year were planning to memorize the birth narrative, the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20, so they could deliver it without holding a book in church on Christmas Eve, truly from their hearts.

I thought it was a delightful idea, and I thought, “Have fun, ladies! Not a chance in heck I’m doing something like that!” and went on with my day. Continue reading

Christmas is a Choice

Christmas is not an event.

Christmas is not a holiday.

Christmas is not a church service.

Christmas is not a set of familiar carols or decorations of red and green or a jolly man in a red suit with eight tiny reindeer.

Christmas is not an occasion or a party or a festival. It is not a piece of history or time off work or a gathering with family.

All of these things are connected to Christmas, but fundamentally, Christmas is not an event.

Christmas is a choice.

Christmas is a choice that we make every year, and that we must make over and over again every day of the year.

Choice and lack of choice place us in one of two positions: one of vulnerability and one of power and control.

When we don’t have a choice about something, we are vulnerable to that circumstance. We can’t defend ourselves from that reality.

That situation acts upon us and we simply have to make the best of it.

It’s not a very fun place to be sometimes.

When we have a choice about our situation, we have power and control.

We can influence our surroundings and how they affect us.

So you’ll be glad to hear that Christmas is a choice that we have, that we can make.

Christmas cannot simply happen to us without our consent.

We have to say yes to a very specific decision, which I will explain in a bit. But again, first let’s talk about lack of choices and the vulnerable position that creates. Continue reading

Gospel Tornado Siren

In our Gospel today, Jesus is speaking of very real threats to his followers.

They are walking in the temple and admiring how beautiful it is, adorned with rich stones and ornamentations, and he has to bring them abruptly back to Earth with a wake-up call.  While you are thinking about how beautiful these material things are, Jesus says, dangers are creeping up on you all around.

Jesus warns his followers of three types of danger.

The first is being led away by false teachers and false Messiahs.

The second is great external calamities like wars, earthquakes and famines.

And the third is losing faith because of betrayal by friends.

His original disciples were in danger of all these things happening to them literally.

How blessed we are that we as twenty-first century Americans are not in danger of famine or being put on trial and condemned to death for our faith.

Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are not so lucky. Continue reading

Can You Lose Control?

Most of the time when Jesus is arguing with someone in the gospels, it’s the Pharisees. But this time, he is confronted by a group that we only see once in the Gospel of Luke: the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a group in the upper social and economic strata of Jewish society who jockeyed for power with the Pharisees. They are known in our story today for what they don’t believe: that there is such a thing as resurrection.

It’s a cold and strange life to contemplate, living with the idea that our souls are as finite as our bodies.

The positive part of it for the Sadducees is that it makes them emphasize that what we do on Earth really matters because it is our only chance to make things right. There is no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by for the Sadducees. You have to take responsibility for your life and your society now because there is no afterlife.

But it’s clear that at least this particular group of Sadducees in this particular moment are not exactly focused on “living your best life now.”

They are concerned only with tripping Jesus up on orthodox Torah interpretation so they can humiliate him and threaten his power and his standing with the people. And so they create this bizarre hypothetical scenario in which a childless woman has to marry a series of seven brothers as each of them dies without leaving an heir.

They think they’re so smart with their tricky question. Continue reading

Hailstorm and Hernia Protection

There is something magical about the Feast of All Saints. It’s mystical and serene and joyful and reflective.

But unfortunately I’m going to have to cut through the clouds of mental incense here for a minute and talk about…wait for it…doctrine.


Doctrine is frankly the last thing I want to talk about at the worst of times, much less on such a beautiful, mysterious day as All Saints Day.

But mystery is the key here. We want to have informed mystery. We want to have mystery because that is the nature of an ineffable God and an afterlife beyond our imaginings.

We do not want to have mystery simply because we are ignorant and have not done our homework.

If we’re going to celebrate All Saints Day, we need to talk about what saints are and why they get their own day all at once. Continue reading