A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A bibliophile is a lover of books. And I am a lover of books. So, when there’s a subject I’m particularly interested in, I tend to collect books about it. So, as you might imagine, I have a lot of books about faith, religion, so forth.

This has been true since I was a teenager. But lately I’ve begun to collect old prayerbooks, and I brought a few of them today. This one is a Book of Common Prayer. It’s got a nice little clasp here to keep it shut. It’s from 1835, so, almost 200 years ago. That’s hard to imagine.

It’s quite a bit different from the prayerbook that we used there in the pew, but there are a lot of similarities. You would recognize it. It begins with tables of feasts days and readings. And the very first prayers in it are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which have been the mainstays of Anglican worship since the 1500s.

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A sermon for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

+ In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A man is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He’s attacked by robbers who beat him and leave him half dead. The respectable members of society walk right on by. Then someone who’s considered an enemy, really disliked and resented, stops and helps this man, and binds his wounds, and takes him to an inn and pays the innkeeper to take care of him.

It’s one of the shortest, most straightforward stories in Scripture. I think it certainly is one of the most transparent parables. It’s one of the most familiar and best loved passages in the Bible. I’ve heard people say that it was this story that really brought them to conversion because they felt that they could love a guy who taught this as a way of life, that they could follow this as a way to live. This is, I think, one of the most important stories in the New Testament, in terms of helping us to understand how we should live.

When I was in seminary, I took a course in Christian ethics, which is a way of saying how we should live our lives. The basic textbook for the course was called Go and Do Likewise. That was the title. Not that we should do exactly the same thing because our circumstances are different, but by reflecting on stories like this, we can understand what our faith says to us about how we should live our lives.

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A sermon for the third Sunday after Pentecost

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s gospel is really an important turning point in the gospel according to St. Luke. Up until now, Jesus has mostly been in Galilee, which is where he was from, his home area. He’s been teaching and healing, but the pace is picking up a little bit in the story. Just before this, he twice tells his disciples that he’s going to be betrayed. He’s going to suffer and die. They don’t seem to get it, but he knows what’s coming. He knows it’s time to head to Jerusalem, and he knows what’s going to happen there. That phrase, he set his face to go to Jerusalem, is so resolute. There’s no turning back now.

So the first thing he has to do to get from Galilee to Jerusalem, and to do that you have to go through Samaria. And as you probably know, the Samaritans and the Jews were once all one family, and they broke apart. And they didn’t always get along, which is why, the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that someone that they ordinarily wouldn’t have thought too much of is shown to be a good person.

But I digress.

So they are going to go through Samaria, unfriendly territory. He sends a mission ahead to say, “Jesus is coming. Will you receive us?” And they’re turned away. We don’t know why exactly. Jesus was obviously expecting hospitality. It could have been because their destination was Jerusalem, because the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshiped on another mountain. We don’t why they were turned away, but James and John are disturbed by this. They suggest calling down fire to destroy the village. Jesus says no, and they go on. And the end of the gospel is three examples of the kind of single-minded commitment that is going to be required of people who follow Jesus.

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A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

I was at Doylestown Hospital not long ago for some routine tests, nothing serious, and they have something in the waiting area that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It was a short story dispenser. So you push a button and it spits out something that looks like a shopping receipt, and it has a very short story printed on it.

So the story was OK, but I saved it because I love what it says down at the bottom of the paper. It says, “The power of stories—like healing—can change the world.”

That’s exactly what we Christians believe about story-telling and about healing. We believe in the power of stories. The Gospels themselves are mostly a collection of stories about Jesus, what he did and what he said. And they show us Jesus himself often preached by telling stories.

And so much of what he did was about healing. It was the kind of healing that transformed the lives of individuals, and his healing is still changing the world.

So right in line with that, in today’s Gospel we hear a story about a healing.

Jesus is in Jerusalem for a religious festival, and he goes to a place where people who were in need of healing would gather. It was a pool of water it was said that an angel would visit from time to time and stir the water. And when they saw the water moving like that, the first ones into the water would be healed.

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A sermon for the fourth Sunday of Easter

The fourth Sunday of the Easter season has a nickname. It’s sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel is always taken from John chapter 10, the passage where Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and the other readings also talk about sheep and shepherds.

Good Shepherd Sunday was a very big deal at Good Shepherd Church, where I used to be the priest, and and I came to realize—if I didn’t already know it—just how powerfully people relate to this image of Jesus.

Our hearts just resonate with the image of a God who walks with us, and cares for us. Who will keep us safe and make sure our needs are met.

That’s why the 23rd psalm is probably the most popular and best known of all the psalms.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”

It’s a popular choice for funerals. And that’s what really hit me as I reflected on these readings last week, while I was already immersed in preparing for Horace’s funeral: Our readings today look a lot like a list of readings for a funeral.

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Funeral sermon for Horace Preston Schmidt, Jr.

Today is the day when we lay dear Horace to rest.

We mourn—but also we celebrate, as we give thanks for the life he lived.

We grieve—but also we remember that the faith Horace professed affirms that the death of our mortal body is not the end of life, but a passage to new life, life forever in God. Life is not ended but changed.

I appreciate Linda’s tribute to Horace, her recollections. I’m still a bit of a newcomer, although I first met Horace a number of years ago. He was a friend to many but for me, at least, he wasn’t that easy to get to know. He was in some ways a quiet man, and I was still getting to know him.

But what came through to me very clearly as he neared the end of his life was love. Horace was a man who loved, and who was loved.

He loved his family. I’m not going to try to name every family member as a newcomer for fear that I’ll leave out somebody somewhere down the line, but you know who you are, and you know that he loved you.

He did love Betsy with all his heart. He did so love his grandchildren. Sons and their wives, sisters. He was a family person.

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A sermon for Easter Sunday

You might have noticed that I didn’t read from the usual Gospel book this morning. The book I’m holding is called the St. John Bible, and it is a modern Bible that comes in seven volumes. This is the Gospels. It’s entirely done in hand-written calligraphy. This of course is a printed copy. But it’s done in handwritten calligraphy and illuminated with beautiful paintings.

The scene that was chosen to illustrate this entire section of the Gospel of John is a painting of this encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Lord. I think the choice of that scene suggests how important that moment of encounter was. How important Mary Magdalene’s experience on the first Easter morning was.

When she went to her friends and said,  “I have seen the Lord,” it was the first proclamation of the Resurrection. It was a moment of joy after so much sorrow. And it was a clear message of hope and encouragement for all of us, even today.

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A sermon for Maundy Thursday

Tonight we remember the night before Jesus died. The Last Supper, that final meal the disciples and their teacher shared with one another. After all the time they’d been together, all the places they’d been, all of the adventures they’d had together, things were coming to a close. I’m not sure they realized this but Jesus certainly did, and it was the last time they would be together in this way.

Everything would change after Friday, after Easter Sunday, after the Resurrection. While they’re still, Jesus delivers a long discourse. He’s basically trying to tell them everything he thinks they need to know, and it’s his last chance to do this. They haven’t been so good at understanding so far, so there’s a real sense of urgency to making sure that they understand his message.

Of course, this is the night when Jesus took bread and wine, blessed, it, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Do this in memory of me.” That was the first Eucharist, and we followers of Jesus, have been doing it ever since. And we’ve been trying to understand it ever since, because it is a mystery. I visited a museum in Santa Fe, a folk art museum, where they had a little piece that really caught my eye. It was a tableau by a Portuguese artist called The Last Supper. Little hand-painted ceramic figures, all seated around the table. Jesus has the cup raised, he’s looking up to heaven, and the 12 apostles are around him, and their expressions are all over the place.

Some of them are looking very devout. Some of them are totally distracted—they’re having a little side conversation of their own. And some of them look totally befuddled. Like, what?

We still see all of those reactions in church at one time or another, and I think if we’re honest, probably each one of us has had all of those reactions at one time or another.

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A sermon for Palm Sunday

That is a hard story to listen to, and not just because it’s long.

It’s about the tremendous self-giving love of Jesus Christ, of course. And the courage of some of those who followed him. But what comes through in this story again and again is human brokenness. Jealousy and cowardice. Betrayal. The corruption of power.

It shows how easily a mob can be swayed, and it shows just how dangerous that can be.

And in a way it seems appropriate that we had different people read the story in parts this morning, not just to break things up a little, but as a reminder that we need to pay attention to the role each of us plays in the Christian story as it continues. Because our faith is an ongoing story, and our participation isn’t just welcome—it’s required. And there’s no reason to think that’s ever going to be easy.

I keep a folder of articles and clippings that catch my attention, including a short item from a Florida newspaper about a church that commissioned new processional crosses.[i]

Now this church already had some ceremonial crosses and they were beautiful, but the problem was that they were heavy and the church members were finding them too hard to carry. So they commissioned a set of new crosses made by a woodworker who was the husband of a church member. And everyone was pleased with how well they turned out.

The headline on the story was, “Lighter crosses are easier for Lake church members to bear.”[ii]

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A sermon for the third Sunday of Lent

We call Lent a season of repentance, and that might sound a little grim, but I think you could also call it a season of celebration of second chances, because it’s never too late to begin again, to ask ourselves what it is God really wants from us, and to recommit to the lifelong task of becoming the people that we were created to be.

There was a woman I knew, the mother of a college friend, and she was probably in her 50s when I first met her. She was smart and she was feisty, but I had no idea what her life had been really like. I saw her as a suburban wife, mother, and grandmother. But I had no idea.

I had no idea that she had risked her life during World War II to save Jewish children from the Nazis in Amsterdam, which is where she was from. I had no idea that she’d spent months in a Nazi prison. I had no idea that the woman I knew as a suburban wife and mother had shot a policeman dead on the spot in order to save a Jewish family that she was harboring at that time. I’ll tell you her story in more detail in a minute, but first I want to take a look at today’s Gospel.

It begins with this difficult passage about Pilate mingling the blood of Galileans with their sacrifice, and people being killed in a building collapse. And frankly we have no idea really what the bigger picture of those events was. There’s no other record of those things happening, but we see that Jesus is talking with his disciples about current events, basically.

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