A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Doylestown, PA.

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

When I retired from the parish in Hilltown earlier this year, I had to consolidate my office at the church and my office at home; and that meant bringing home all my books and trying to find room for them.

It actually was a good thing. The church is in Hilltown, I live in New Hope, and whatever book I needed, it was always in the other place. So, in some ways I was glad to bring those books together. But I was a little bit surprised at how many of them there actually were. And not only that, but how many books I had about prayer—books of prayers, books about how to pray. Some were from seminary, some I had acquired in my time in parish ministry, some I’d owned as far back as my own school days.

I’ve spent a lifetime learning to pray, and I’m still learning how to pray. And the titles of the books, as I looked at them, putting them on the shelves, they reflect a hunger for God and a sense of incompleteness. Those are the things that I think have always drawn me to prayer, and the sheer number of books I have on the subject reflects my fear that I’m still not very good at it.

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Connection

At first I saw this as a contrast between life and death, but in fact the green leaf is dying. Separated from the tree, it can’t live. Our own lives are about connection, too. Without it, we can’t thrive.

Selective vision

Sometimes we see what we want to see and miss what we should be noticing. The guy in the black leather coat pushing a shopping card on a July morning? He’s real. The church reflected in the windows on the side of the building? Not real, any of it. (The mural, commissioned by Sunoco and designed by Susan Maxman & Partners and artist Michael Webb, depicts St. James Episcopal Church, which stood at the site of the present-day gas station in 1870.)⁣

Worth waiting

This is a story about life in the city: about its power to surprise, and to delight, and sometimes to disappoint; about its capacity to unite perfect strangers around mystery. It’s a story about simple pleasure in the good things of this world.

Which is to say that it’s a story about life itself, full stop.

There’s a man with a food truck who sets up near the apartment every working day at lunch time. There’s no sign on the truck, no clue to what he serves, though the truck does carry its own garden of green plants including herbs in pots, and there’s always a charcoal fire going in the grill.

And when he’s open, there’s always a line. At the height of the lunch hour the line snakes around the building: 10 or 15 people standing in the sun even on the hottest, most humid days of a Philadelphia summer (and you know that’s hot and humid). All waiting patiently, because he prepares each meal individually.

And the word on the street, so to speak, is that his food is really, really good.

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A sermon for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at the Christ Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal in Germantown, PA.

You love lying more than speaking the truth …
You love all words that hurt …
Oh, that God would demolish you utterly … 

These angry words from Psalm 52 are aimed at people in authority who will do anything to advance themselves, without regard for who else they might hurt in the process. The psalm refers to a power struggle that took place in Israel 3,000 years ago, but the feelings it expresses are timeless.

We need to know that backstory to make sense of the psalm, and it’s somewhat complicated, but here goes: 

Psalm 52 is written in the voice of David, the charming young shepherd boy who became the second king of ancient Israel. He’s one of King Saul’s favorites until Saul begins to feel threatened by his growing popularity and plots to kill him. Then David has to go into hiding to save himself, but he’s betrayed by a man named Doeg who wants to make himself look good in Saul’s eyes, and the betrayal is followed by the brutal slaughter of innocent men, women and children.

So the story is about a king who’s obsessed with protecting his own power, and a rising young leader who becomes the target of the king’s anger when the king feels threatened.

It isn’t a pretty story. It describes some ugly aspects of human nature. And sadly, 3,000 years later, it would seem that human nature really hasn’t changed all that much. 

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A sermon for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Doylestown, PA

The parables of Jesus are simple stories, but they can be perplexing. Like the one about that wedding feast, for example, where the king sends his servants out to the streets to bring everyone they can find back to the party, and then he has one of those last-minute guests tossed out again because the guy isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Well, so what did he expect?

But the parable we heard today isn’t like that. The message of today’s Gospel is clear: love of God and love of neighbor are connected, and love of neighbor can’t be just a feeling but has to be supported with action. 

And who exactly is my neighbor? Well, the category of those we’re meant to love turns out to be much bigger and more inclusive than we might ever have imagined. 

The story itself isn’t hard to understand. The message is simple and straightforward. The only thing that’s difficult about this one is actually doing it.

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Summer work

I’m feeling a bit like this, much busier all around this summer than I expected to be, but the calendar’s more or less blank after Sept. 1. Time then to hibernate?

Refrigerator letters

It’s been a long time since I walked into my kitchen and found that someone had put colored magnetic letters all over the refrigerator door. The photo is from yesterday. The watercolor is from the ’80s, one of two surviving CDK watercolors. I have no idea how I did it. And I have no idea why we thought it was a good idea to have appliances that color.

A sermon for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Doylestown, PA.

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

There’s a wonderful sign posted at the exit to the parking lot at a church where I attend a meeting every month, and the sign says, “You are now entering the mission field.” 

It doesn’t say, Goodbye, thanks for coming, have a nice week. It says, more or less, “Get ready, because you’re going out now to the place where the real work of Christian discipleship happens.” 

It’s not the only church that has a sign like that, but it’s the only one I see regularly. And every time I do, I’m reminded that nowhere in the gospel does Jesus tell his people to make a church by putting up a pretty building and posting a sign outside that says, “All are welcome.” 

In the Gospel, he sends them out. He sends them out into the mission field, out to do the same work that’s he himself has been doing. He sends them out as his representatives to bring his presence into the world. Out to be with the people they encounter. Out to heal all of those who are suffering, and out to proclaim the presence of God at work in the world. 

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