A sermon for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

It’s profound, and relevant. And it’s funny.

So here goes: 

Jonah was a good man. His behavior was proper, and his political beliefs were always correct. He knew all of God’s commands contained in Holy Scripture, and he was careful to observe every single one of them. 

He never plowed with an ox and a donkey yoked together, and he would never wear a cotton/polyester blend shirt—not to mention a garment made of wool and linen woven together. (And note: If you don’t recognize the reference, go look up Deuteronomy 22. The objection to mixing things that are different is a thread that runs through Deuteronomy, which is full of commands we honor but don’t follow any more. So if anyone proof-texts Deuteronomy at you, think carefully about whether it’s one of those.)

So Jonah was a moral man who held the right position on every issue. Take climate change, for example: he had studied that story about Noah and the flood, and he saw that it was obvious that something had to be done.

Yes, Jonah loved God, and he was sure that God loved him especially because he was so good. 

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A sermon for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

So here’s a little bit of Bible trivia for you. Maybe you know it already, but the Gospel we just heard contains two out of three times that the word church is mentioned in all the Gospels. 

In Greek, it’s ekklesia. We translate it as church. It means the gathered community, like us right here. This section of Matthew that we’re reading through is a collection of teachings of Jesus about how the ekklesia should operate, how the church should operate. 

So today it’s about bringing an errant brother or sister back into community. Jesus gives us a three-point plan for dealing with conflict: 

Number one, take that person aside and talk with them. If that doesn’t work, number two, include two members of the community in your conversation. If that still doesn’t work, include the whole community in your conversation. 

Andf that doesn’t work, treat the person who has harmed you as if they were not a member of the community. But that’s the extreme. The hope is for reconciliation. There’s an emphasis there on forgiveness.

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A sermon for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 51:1-6Psalm 138Romans 12:1-8Matthew 16:13-20

Pentecost 13 – Year A

August 27, 2023

The Rev. Catherine D. Kerr 

I think it’s really hard for us to appreciate the kind of courage and determination it took to be a follower of Jesus in the earliest years of the Church. As far as we know, John was the only one of the apostles to die a natural death. The rest were all martyred in Jerusalem and in the far-flung places where they had traveled to spread the Gospel on long missionary journeys.

Tradition says that Peter and Paul were both martyred on the same day, in Rome, possibly in the year 64.

I’ve been thinking about Peter and Paul—those two towering figures of the early Church—as I our readings for today over the past week: the Gospel where Peter proclaims Jesus the Messiah, and Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.

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A sermon for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost

So there goes Jesus again telling funny little stories about weeds and seeds and farming. He was a country boy and so were his people, and they would have understood what he was talking about. Up to a point, at least. Because parables by their very nature are always a challenging. They raise more questions than they answer. And that’s why the disciples had to ask Jesus to explain the meaning of this story when they got him alone again in the house.

And maybe they still had questions again after that explanation. I know I have some questions.

Is this really a story about weeds and roots, or is it about human flourishing? And the weakness that makes us vulnerable to temptation, because there are still evil powers in the world? And about the way we’re all connected—whether we like it or not? 

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A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Well, this is quite a Gospel we have this morning. We have children wailing in the marketplace. We have Jesus described as a party boy, “a glutten and a drunkard.” And we have have God hiding truth from the wise and intelligent, and revealing it to infants. 

So I’ll be honest, when I sat down earlier this week to think about what this all means, I found myself wondering: what does this mean!? It’s actually mostly about how people didn’t get John and Jesus. That’s what the little parable about the children is about, and the stuff that follows. But it’s not as straightforward as some Gospel readings, and I found myself doing something that I very rarely do, which is going back to my files and looking to see if I ever had anything good to say about this Gospel. 

And what I found is that—you know we have this three-year cycle of readings, so these particular readings come up every three years—and in the time I’ve been preaching I’ve only preached on this particular set of readings twice. And the first time was in the summer of 2011. It was a sermon I preached here in this church, and I thought, well, that’d be fun, to read it and see if anybody who was here then remembered it. But that didn’t seem right. And in the other sermon, I completely chickened out and I preached on the Epistle, on Romans, on Paul talking about doing the thing I don’t want to do.

But this year I really wanted to wrestle with this Gospel, and my eye was really drawn to that last part, as I suppose it is most of the times we read this particular Gospel: I will give you rest. You know, that’s so appealing. 

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A sermon for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Early on in my seminary days, I met a man whose wife was very ill—and in fact she was dying, although he was having a hard time accepting that—and he was asking me what I think are some of the hardest questions that we will ever face as people of faith. 

Questions about why God allows good people to suffer. 

We say we believe in a loving God who wants good things for us, and yet life isn’t easy. And again and again in our lives we encounter real pain. 

So how are we supposed to hold the tensions between those two realities?

What are we supposed to do with all the emotions we feel when we’re hurting. When we see pain and injustice in the world. And maybe most especially when we see people we love who are suffering.

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A sermon for the sixth Sunday of Easter

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about the time when he will no longer be physically on Earth, and he says he’ll send the Advocate, the comforter, in his place. He’ll send the Holy Spirit to teach, and guide, and comfort, and strengthen his people on Earth.

And there’s one phrase that really jumped out at me: “I will not leave you orphaned.” Not just I will not leave you alone, but I will not leave you orphaned, as if he were a parent to us.

And that reminded me of some of the writing of Julian of Norwich, whose feast day actually was last week. Do you know anything about Julian of Norwich, anybody? No? Okay, great. So I won’t be telling you something you already know.

Julian of Norwich was a woman who lived in the 14th century, and she lived in the city of Norwich, which at that time was the second-largest city in England after London. It’s about a hundred miles northeast of London, not quite as far as the North Sea. It had a cathedral, and it had many churches—fifty-some churches—and 35 or so of those churches had something that was called an anchorite.

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A sermon for Easter Sunday

The sun is just up on the first day of the week, and two women are going out to visit the place where their friend Jesus was buried a few days earlier.

These women were among the faithful little group who stayed and watched him die, while others scattered in fear. They saw him buried. They waited through the long, sad sabbath that followed, and now they’re going back alone to visit the place where they laid his body.

Then all of a sudden the ground where they walk is shaken by an earthquake. We know this story too well to be surprised. But can you imagine?

Next an angel appears from heaven, rolls back the huge stone that sealed the tomb, and sits down on it. The light that shines from him is blinding. The men assigned by the Romans to guard the tomb are literally paralyzed with fear.

But the angel tells them not to be afraid, and sends them off to spread the news that Jesus has been raised. He’s alive, and he’ll meet them all back in Galilee.

I used to wonder about that. Why did they have to go back to Galilee? Why couldn’t he meet them there in Jerusalem?

But Galilee was home. It’s the place where they first met Jesus, where they ate and laughed and prayed with him, and listened to him teach.

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A sermon for Maundy Thursday

If you follow all of the news from the Diocese of Pennsylvania, you’ll know that last week, a group from the diocese including our bishop returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where they visited many of the sites that are associated with the life of Christ. So I saw lots of social media postings of pictures of them. They put their feet in the waters of the Galilee. They went to the Jordan River, where they renewed their baptismal promises. They followed in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary, and they went to Emmaus, where the grieving disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, except finally in the breaking of the bread.

They actually were following in a tradition that is many, many centuries old. Pilgrims have been going to the Holy Land since the fourth century, when the bishop of Jerusalem began to create opportunities for them to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples in that last week before Easter. And that actually is the origin of our observance of Holy Week. The pilgrims went and participated in this, and when they came back and described what had happened, people back at home began to recreate those observances.

So that’s what we’re doing. We’re imitating those fourth-century pilgrims, starting with our palm procession on Palm, and it’s meant to be a pilgrimage. It’s meant to be a pilgrimage in place. A lot of you know that I’m about to leave on pilgrimage myself a week from Monday. I’m goingto Assisi on pilgrimage. So I’ve spent the season of Lent reflecting on what it means to be a pilgrim. It’s not just a trip. It’s not just tourism. It’s a special kind of a journey, and it requires you to really concentrate on living in the moment, to pay attention to everything that’s happening right now. To let go of the things that you usually worry about, let go of worry about travel arrangements.

And then to focus on being in the moment, to open your heart to the special grace of pilgrimage. And I think that’s what we need to do. As we walk on a sort of virtual pilgrimage through Holy Week, we need to open our hearts and pay attention to what’s happening at each moment in our observances. So tonight we imagine ourselves there around the table with Jesus the night before he died.

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A few words on Palm Sunday

I want to suggest a few things to listen for in today’s reading of the Passion Gospel, and when it’s over, we’ll sit in silence for a short while to let it all sink in. Because this is a hard story to hear.

And the thing to remember through all the brutality and betrayal we’re going to hear about is that this is a story, first of all, about self-giving love. The love of God. A love that’s almost unimaginable in its overwhelming generosity.

But it is also a story about human weakness. It’s about betrayal, injustice, political intrigue, fear, jealousy, abuse of power, bitter bitter regret, pain, and finally, death. It shows how a mob can be swayed by angry voices, and it shows just how dangerous that can be.

It’s a heartbreaking story, but in the end, we know that love overcomes all those terrible things. And there are also some shining moments of bravery and faith and loyalty and tenderness, showing us who we can be, with God’s grace.

Because it’s such a familiar story I think it can be hard to hear it with fresh ears, so I’d like to suggest that we listen especially today for what it tells us about the nature of God. The loving, giving nature of God.

In his letter to the church at Phillipi, Paul tells us about the self-emptying love of Jesus. And Jesus gives himself again and again. He gives his friends bread and wine, the gift of himself—even Judas receives it.

He gives them the promise that he’ll never desert them.

He gives himself to that kiss from Judas, and he gives himself freely to the crowd that comes armed with clubs and swords to capture him. He gives himself to his accusers, in the sense that he never contradicts their charges against him. He doesn’t struggle when he’s led away. He gives himself to the cross.

He gives himself for us. For love. He gives himself for love.

Preached at St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Bristol, PA.