A sermon for the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

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

An interesting thing I’ve noticed in the conversations I’ve had with all kinds of people about their spiritual life is that hardly anybody thinks they’re really good at prayer. A lot of people will tell me they struggle with prayer, they don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how often to do it, or just that they really intend to pray and they find that they don’t.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who said to me, “If there’s one thing I’m really, really good at, it’s prayer.” And that’s kind of bad news, because the Scriptures make it really clear that prayer is an essential part of discipleship. We see this especially in the gospel of Luke, which we’ve been reading this year.

We see Jesus himself at prayer multiple times. (Actually, since I wrote a paper about this in seminary, I can tell you that it’s eight times.) Always at times when something momentous is about to happen. The gospel tells us that he goes away by himself and prays in silence. We don’t know the words. We can imagine that some of it was just listening. We can imagine that some of it was active dialogue with his father, and one of those times when he comes back from prayer, his disciples say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” which should be our constant prayer, and he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. We heard that gospel back in July.

Last week,, we heard the story of the persistent woman and the bad judge. The persistent woman cried out for justice so persistently that the judge finally said, “Oh heck, I’m going to give her what she wants just so she’ll go away.” I don’t know, I hope that’s not God’s attitude towards us, but the message is that persistence and that crying out for justice.

So today’s lesson is about humility in prayer. We have the famous story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s a parable that was told, according to the gospel, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”

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A sermon for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, with baptism

The first parish I served after I was ordained was a fairly new parish with a new church building. And they had a high-tech baptismal font. It was made of stone, and it was always filled with water. And there was a basin of water at the top, and the water would flow out of the basin into a pool at ground level. And there was a pump that would bring it back up to the top—that’s the hi-tech part. And the pump was turned on whenever people were in church. And so for the whole time it was on you would hear the sound of running water, to remind us of the waters of baptism. And of course, the kids loved it. Of course.

So sometimes I would see young families by the font after the service. And the parents would sit with their kids and tell them the story of how they were baptized in that very place. And of course, the kids would want to touch the water. And we let them. They would splash in the pool at the bottom; they would put their hands out and let the water run through their hands. I’m not sure how much they could understanding about what their parents were telling them about baptism, though I hope that as they got older and heard the story again and again they understood more and more.

But touching the water made it real for them.

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A sermon for the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

There was a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day,
and at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.

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

Our Gospel this morning is another one of Luke’s stories about reversals. It’s about a man of privilege and wealth who ends up in Hades, and a poor man named Lazarus who is forsaken in life but in death is carried away by angels to a place of comfort.

And the first thing we need to be clear about with this story is that it’s not supposed to be a literal description of heaven and hell. It’s a parable, one of those dramatic little stories that Jesus liked to tell which contain some deep truth, even if these never actually happened.

So a parable is more like a poem than a newspaper article. Parables are subtle. The words really are clues to the meaning rather than clear statements of fact.They’re meant to be thought-provoking. A short parable like this one can contain multiple truths. And as simple as these stories might appear to be, they’re actually as complex as life itself.

So today’s parable has two main characters. The poor man is named Lazarus, and the rich man has no name. And this rich man wears fine clothes and eats so well that we might even imagine that those fine clothes have grown a little tight on him over the years.

And at his gate—close by cut off from all this luxury—lies the poor man named Lazarus. He’s hungry. He’s covered with sores. He’s locked out of all the good things that are going on in the rich man’s house, and his companions are the dogs who come and lick his sores.

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A sermon for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
+ In the name of God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When my son—who just turned 40—was little, we used to call the space between me and my husband when we sat down next to each other “the bunny hole.” And our little bunny would crawl into his bunny hole and let himself be loved there.

And we got the name from this book, The Runaway Bunny, which you might be familiar with if you have kids. It’s by Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote Goodnight Moon, and Clement Hurd, who also illustrated that one. And the plot is pretty simple. A little bunny says he’s going to leave home in one way or another, and the mother says she’ll come after him wherever he goes.

“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away,’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.’” And then he imagines a whole bunch of scenarios. “’If you run after me,’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.’ ‘If you become a fish in a trout stream,’ said his mother, ‘I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.’” And of course she’s got a carrot at the end of the line.

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A sermon for the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

So here we haveJesus again talking about that upside-down and backwards world he calls the kingdom of God. In this vision, the people who are rich and powerful are going to lose it all, and the poor and marginalized will rise up and take their place. The sick will be healed. The hungry will be fed.

This is Jesus’ vision of the world as it should be. And it’s a thread that runs all the way through the gospel of Luke in particular. Everything is going to be turned around backwards.

And today he’s talking about dinner parties and feasts where the lowliest people in society are welcome guests, and the people who thought they should get the best seats at the table find themselves sent down to a less important place.

And I’ve actually had that experience.

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A sermon for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

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

Not long ago I finished reading through a box of my father’s letter’s home from the Army during World War II. My sisters found these letters and also a war journal that he kept when they cleared out the house where I grew up. And together they’re like a little time capsule. You get a first-hand glimpse into a different time in history.

My father’s handwriting was rather distinctive and it looks exactly the same as ever in these documents, but he’s not the man I knew when I was growing up. He sounds so young. He uses words like “swell” and he says he almost cried when he read that the family cat had died. And he’s thrilled when his family sends him a couple of bucks, or—better yet—a box of food that he can share with his buddies.

He was just a kid. He was 19 years old and he had just finished his first year of college when he got that long white envelope with a letter from the President of the United States—his draft notice, in other words—and off he went to war.

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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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