Sunday, March 12, 2017

My sermon for Lent II

I preached today on the story of the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15:
Let’s take a closer look at the faithful posture of this foreign woman. The text says that she “came out” of the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, suggesting that she has journeyed to find Jesus. Mark’s Gospel explicitly clarifies that her daughter remained at home. If you can picture the scene: she is alone amidst a gaggle of foreign men. Probably she is dusty and bedraggled from travel, a Gentile dog crying out for aid from a man she identifies in explicitly Jewish terms: “O Lord, thou Son of David!” No wonder the disciples find her a bit pathetic. 
Yet her vulnerability does not stop her for a moment, driven as she is by love for her daughter and drawn by faith to Jesus. She is clearly a desperate woman. Pathetic and desperate: not the sorts of adjectives we would be inclined to apply to ourselves. To the contrary, we are competent. Educated. Refined in our judgment, discriminating in our tastes. All of this is good. None of it is bad—unless it prevents us from seeing that, like the Canaanite woman, we too desperately need Jesus. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23b, NRSV). If our wealth, our stability, and our competence prevent us from seeing our need for Jesus—then in that case it is bad. It is damnably bad. If self-satisfaction and complacency are your illness, let this Lent be your medicine.
Read the whole sermon here.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sermon for Advent I

[I preached my third sermon back in November. The full text is below.]

“Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”


Growing up, my family’s church calendar included precisely two dates: Christmas and Easter. Let me be clear: we were distinctly not two-Sundays-a-year Christians. The love of Jesus constituted the beating heart of our family. My day-to-day life was drenched in Scripture. My love for Jesus and for the Bible came from them. But as a nondenominational evangelical, I did not even know such a thing as a church calendar existed. By the time Sean introduced me to the Anglican Church, I was relatively more aware of the church calendar. I knew Advent as a season of joyful anticipation: pre-Christmas, if you will. So you can perhaps understand my confusion and surprise when I started to pay attention to the collects and appointed readings for the season of Advent. They are fierce, even fearsome! And some of my Roman and Anglo-Catholic friends referred to Advent as a penitential season akin to Lent, which left me utterly mystified. So what is Advent, exactly? Is it the same as Lent? Is it Pseudo-Lent? Is it pre-Christmas? That’s a question I have been asking each Advent in recent years. This sermon functions as my provisional attempt to begin to work out some of those questions, guided by our collect, epistle, and gospel.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon for Trinity XIV

I preached my second sermon a week ago. The text was Galatians 5:16-24:

“I SAY then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witch-craft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” 

My introduction:
There has never been a person in all human history to whom the truths of Scripture do not apply, and there never will be such a person. The life story of each person, as Fr. Glenn reminds us, will eventually be enfolded into the life story of the Word made Flesh, Jesus. The Scriptures speak to each of our lives. Because of this great truth, I have sometimes tended to read Scripture as though it were a private message composed directly and immediately to me. When I do that, the question I ask at every moment of every verse is, “What is this text saying to me?” Now, that is a crucial question to ask, but if it’s the first and only question I ask, I am liable to end up with some muddled theology.  
Today’s epistle is a prime example. If we read it as though it were written directly to us—if we fail to take into account the context of the letter and the specific recipients of St. Paul’s advice—we will come away with a deeply distorted picture of the Christian life, a skewed vision of what it means to be in Christ here and now.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

-Tao Te Ching
(Verse 9; cited in Novak's The World's Wisdom, p. 153)

Monday, June 27, 2016

The close of Fr. Glenn's sermon on the calming of the storm in John 6:
Finally, it is a lovely and warm image of Jesus’ most intimate and faithful Apostles nesting in the bosom of the storm tossed ship as he comes to their rescue. And that is certainly the truth. But there was a snake nesting in the infant Church. Fatal and deadly unbelief was not limited to the Rulers of Jerusalem and the good country people of Galilee, but in that bobbing and careening craft that held the whole future of the world in its bosom cowered the traitor, Judas Iscariot, hanging on for dear life. 
Read the whole thing. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Praise him who fathers-forth

Here's Fr. Glenn's conclusion to his sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday:

Everything that matters depends on this: Jesus Christ is God and this God became a real human being. He has always been God and he always will be God but has not always been a human being. He became a human being at a specific time in a specific place just like all of us: he had a Mother. He received his humanity, body and all, from Mary. He is of Mary’s flesh. As sure as you are the flesh of your mother, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became the flesh his Mother, thus the Church’s august title for Mary is Theotokos: “Mother of God.” Furthermore God’s human flesh, his human nature, is now part and parcel of God’s interior life and it always will be. He will never cease to be a human being. In Genesis we have the narrative of man made in the image of God while in life of Jesus Christ we have the narrative of God made in the image of man. In the story of God’s life made flesh we see not only the uncreated glory of the only begotten Son, but we also see the created glory of his creature man uplifted as God had always intended. What we think is a dappled worm meant to slug its life through dirt, God means to be dazzling white butterfly fit to handle heavenly things. Glory be to God! Praise him who fathers-forth, praise him “whose beauty is past change.” Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I love the beautiful interplay with Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Pied Beauty":

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sermon for Lent III

I preached my first sermon this past Sunday. The text was "kingdom divided" text from Luke 11.

An excerpt:
As today’s Gospel teaches us—and the whole of the biblical narrative seems to shout—experience does not automatically lead to faith and faithful living. Seeing miracles is not enough. Even receiving miracles is not enough. 
In our Gospel reading, Jesus goes on to tell a story about an unclean spirit departing from a man, only to return later with “seven other spirits more wicked than himself.” Now, remember the setting and the scene. Presumably the man freed from his demon is standing right there amidst the crowd, and I have to think the message came through loud and clear to him: having a demon cast out of you does not necessarily put you—or keep you—in a state of grace.
You can read the whole thing over at our church blog.

(You can also, by the way, read Sean's excellent sermon for Lent II from last week)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

More grounds for hope in historical unpredictability

Today I read two sweeping narratives (one by Justo González, the other by Bishop John H. R. Moorman) of church history. I had to write a brief response as part of a class on Medieval and Reformation church history, which I thought I'd post here. Alfred the Great figured prominently in both narratives. The theme of my response resonates heavily with a theme I've thought about quite a bit over the last year--call it hope in historical unpredictability.

And there was death on the Emperor
And night upon the Pope;
And Alfred, hiding in deep grass,
Hardened his heart with hope. 
-G.K. Chesterton, 'The Ballad of the White Horse'
As I read through the tumultuous history of the Church from the 5th to the 12th centuries, I was struck by the ups and downs and radical reversals throughout the period. So many unexpected challenges arose, oftentimes just when things seemed to be settling down into a beautiful Christian ideal—the Vikings sweeping through Britain, wealth corrupting the Cluniacs, Islam overwhelming the core of ancient Christianity.

Of course that's discouraging from a Christian perspective. Yet I found myself oddly encouraged by what seemed like the sheer contingency of Christian history, the sense that everything so easily could have been radically different. For me, this historical grounding offers a great sense of hope and confidence.

So many today speak as though the Church were entering a period of unprecedented decline. That's true in the sense that every historical development is unique and unrepeatable. But the Church has weathered greater crises than what we now face, and those who speak of the past as though it were a wonderful period of consistent and universal Christian faith are misguided and misguiding.

As I see it, there are two common responses when faced with the messy complexity of the Church's history. One is to reject the messiness of reality in favor of a comforting fantasy—that the Church has been a solid, stable, monolithic, and unchanging presence from Jesus to Pope Francis. The other is the more postmodern choice: since the Church is historically contingent, the current state of things must be totally arbitrary. Both are lazy options, and both work from an unexamined premise—namely, that a Church reflecting the messiness of historical life cannot also be the true body of Christ.

The reality that things could be different should not drive us to delusion or despair but instead should spur us to gratitude and determination—gratitude for the goodness of our liturgy and common prayer as precious, fragile, and by no means inevitable gifts; determination to preserve the best and mend the worst in each of our churches.

Of course, victory is in the sovereign hands of God, who will accomplish his purposes, and who is ultimately responsible for the survival and health of our Church. As T.S. Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Epiphany II

Fr. Glenn's sermon this past Sunday was beautiful. Here's the conclusion.
We know Jesus’ parable about the sower going forth to sow the Word of God, and we know that when the seed fell upon good ground, an open heart, it brought forth more fruit than anybody including his disciples could have ever imagined. But we also know — most importantly of all — that for the seed that is sown to burst into life, it must first die and be buried. And we know that because Jesus said so in the very week he would give his life up for the life of the whole world, and the Apostle John recorded it for us in the 12th chapter of his Gospel: 
“And there were certain Greeks (note these are Gentile converts) among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” -John 12:20-25 
In less than 48 hours from that moment, Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Jesus is the Seed of Abraham, and Jesus’ glory is his death, and his garden tomb is the ground from which he rose, and his rising has brought forth the fruit of everlasting life just as we will sing on Easter Sunday morning: 
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.Christ is risen from the dead,and become the first fruits of them that slept.For since by man came death,by man came also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die,even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"Let us make the human"

I've been largely absent from the blog lately because I am now a Postulant in the Anglican Province of America, and to that end I started work this semester on an M.A. in Religion. That's on top of my full-time teaching job. Below is a brief oral presentation I gave answering the question, "How are human beings different from other members of the 'animal kingdom'?" It seems to fit with the blog, so I am posting it here.

Human persons are the crown and culmination of God's good creation. We are God-breathed bearers of God's image, created by God to steward and cultivate the world in community with other persons. So we have a place of incredible honor and dignity—but also of great responsibility.

As a starting place and grounding for an understanding of human beings, you can't do better than the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. Try not to get caught up in the differences between the passages—there are some tensions in the two accounts if you come at it from the standpoint of contemporary historical or scientific practice. But those questions probably would have been meaningless or pointless to the Bible's ancient audience. Instead, try to see these as complementary accounts from different perspectives.

Genesis 1 provides a cosmic picture, a survey of the universe from the eye of God. The six days of creation are sprinkled with complementary opposites—evening and morning, day and night, heavens and earth, sea and land, sun and moon. Finally, God says, “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness” (in the translation of one Hebrew scholar). “And God created the human in his image / in the image of God He created him / male and female He created them.” Thus the man and woman form the final, culminating complementary opposite.

In contrast with this cosmic picture, the second chapter of Genesis has a more earthy tone, what with its focus on naming critters and tilling the earth. The earthy tone is matched by its earthly, human perspective. Here we find the male human formed first: “The Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life...” Afterwards God fashions vegetation to sustain and occupy him, and then God creates all the animals and so forth. Finally God creates “a woman.”

So what do these two accounts tell us about human beings?