The art of compassion: An Easter sermon

There’s a traditional Japanese art form called kintsugi which is used to repair broken pottery. The kintsugi master uses lacquer to reattach the pieces of a broken bowl or teacup, then pours gold to fill in the spaces.

The result is considered to be even more precious and beautiful than the unbroken original. But it will never be the same again. The outline of the pieces will always be visible. You’ll always be able to see that it was broken.

At Easter we celebrate the mending of the whole world, the repair of our own brokenness. This is the essence of our faith: That by his resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over evil forever. Life has conquered death. Our God is making all things new.

I believe this with all my heart. I do.

And yet when I think of our world as it is today, I also struggle to understand.  It’s hard, sometimes, to believe that what we’re witnessing is God’s New Creation, because we live in a world which by all appearances is still broken. Each day’s headlines bring new evidence of that fact.

So maybe you could say we’re being mended kintsugi style. Our broken parts can still be seen, but they’re being patched together with gold so it is beautiful in its own way.

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A sermon for Good Friday 2021

Who is Jesus to you?

Our diocese had an online Bible study this Lent, led by Civil Rights activist Ruby Sales. “Who is Jesus to you?” is a question she asked over and over again as we worked our way through the Gospel readings for the season.

“Who do you say that I am?” That’s the same question Jesus once asked Peter, and Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”[1] Of course he was right, but each one of us ought to be able to answer that question in our own words.

Of course he was a teacher, a friend. He was Mary’s son. He was a man who set an example through his own life of how to lead a life of principal.

Churchgoers might think of the formulas we use in church: Son of God, Redeemer. We say that he died “for us.”

But the Jesus we see tonight is a suffering man. A man condemned to a horrible death in an unjust trial because powerful men wanted him out of the way. And they were willing to sell their souls to accomplish that.

In every generation we have come to understand this story through the lens of our own times. It’s not that Jesus’ basic identity changes, but to live as people of faith we have to be able to say what Jesus means to us in our lives. In our world.

We have to keep asking ourselves that question: Who do you say Jesus is?

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A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

All the people who are mentioned in today’s Gospel are religious pilgrims. Jesus, Philip, Andrew, and even those Greeks They’re all pilgrims who have traveled to the holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover there.

Jesus and his companions have been on the road for a while now. Most recently, they’ve been out in the wild hill country near Jerusalem, hiding from those religious authorities who are increasingly determined to have him killed.

We don’t know exactly where the people that are called Greeks in the story came from. The word Greeks here simply means that they aren’t Jews, but they’ve turned away from pagan religion to embrace Judaism. And they too have come to Jerusalem for the festival.

That is what it means to be a pilgrim, at least in the way we usually think of it. It means leaving home to travel to a holy place, seeking a spiritual experience.

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A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

I wonder: what would you say if someone were to ask you later today what church was about this morning? And let’s say it was someone who wasn’t a regular churchgoer, and you really wanted that person to understand what you find meaningful in this great story that we tell.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t start with that strange story in our first reading about the healing power of a bronze snake lifted up on a pole. That one sounds a little pagan to me, so that might be kind of awkward.

I think I’d probably go with the safe choice, which is said to be the most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “God so loved the world.” That’s the one that you see on t-shirts. You see John 3:16 on signs in the end zone at football games. For some reason. I really don’t get the connection with football, but be that as it may.

BibleGateway, which is a website and an app, confirmed that once again in the year 2020, “God so loved the world” – when we so needed that love – was the most popular Bible verse again. And love itself is the most popular keyword search.

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A sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

Well, I don’t have any pictures to go with this week’s sermon.

I changed my virtual background last time, from a picture of the altar in church to an image of the desert where Jesus went to face his personal demons.

Today’s Gospel is the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, driving out the animals and the money changers he found there. It’s a scene that’s been painted by a lot of artists; El Greco is perhaps the most famous of those. But today, instead of looking at someone else’s picture, I’d like us to paint our own picture, each one of us, our own mental image of this scene.

I’ve been reading a novel by a writer named David Bradley and I came across a line yesterday that said, “If you cannot imagine, you will never know the truth.” And I think that’s true. So let’s imagine this scene in the temple. What do you see in your mind, in your own mental image, when you picture this scene?

It’s right before Passover and people are going up to Jerusalem to get ready to celebrate God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The animals in this scene would be offered in sacrifice as a ritual of purification, to get ready for that celebration. So although they’re quite different from our customs, maybe you could say these preparations were a little bit like Lent for us, our time of preparation for Easter.

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A sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

Well, first of all, I’m going to tell you that I’m not actually sitting in front of the altar at the Church of the Ascension this morning. Some of you have probably figured that out. Through the miracle of Zoom, you see me sitting in front of a picture of your church, but I’m really still at home in New Hope. And I’m going to change my background just while we talk about Jesus in the desert so we can see exactly what the desert between Jerusalem and the Jordan River looks like.

This is where Jesus went in today’s gospel. So what do you think of when you hear the word desert, when you hear that Jesus went out to the desert? You might think of rolling sand dunes stretching to the horizon, but this desert actually is not like that. It’s not a sweeping landscape of dunes. It’s not sandy, it’s actually rocky and hilly.

There are wild animals here, as the gospel mentions, but there also are flowing streams down at the bottom of those canyons. And sometimes there are flowers. So there are unexpected blessings, even in the desert. Jesus was in this desert for 40 days after his baptism and before he began his ministry in Galilee. It was a place where he could get away from the distractions of daily living and focus. And that’s exactly what Lent should be for us. It’s a time to take a good look at who we really are, to look at who we really want to be.

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I do believe that all social transformation has to begin with the conversion of our own hearts. Sometimes it’s called metanoia, turning away from one way of living–turning away from what is killing our souls–and turning toward what is lifegiving. And racism is killing us. It hurts all of us, though I want to be very clear that it doesn’ t hurt all in the same way or to the same degree.

A week or so ago I was on a Zoom gathering with a group of white people who were sharing recollections of their earliest awareness of race. Some were taught that race is something polite people don’t mention. Others were brought up in blatantly racist environments. I remember my own grandmother as an outspoken racist, but my parents taught me that the words she used and the attitudes she expressed were wrong.

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Someone mentioned this quote in Meeting for Worship a week ago. I looked it up and it’s stayed with me ever since. I was supposed to be on pilgrimage in Assisi right after Easter, going on from there to travel in northern Italy. We would have flown home from Milan at the end of last week. Of course the pandemic destroyed all those carefully laid plans. I haven’t heard much about Assisi in the news but Bergamo and Milan, two places we were planning to visit, were shut down and have suffered terribly. My heart has been with the people of those places in a special way.

They say, though, that pilgrimage begins not with your first physical step but rather with the intention to go, and so indeed I am on pilgrimage now, if not the one I had in mind. It’s turning out to be an unexpected and rather unwelcome journey, and yet it has included some good moments. I hesitate to celebrate those moments, gifts of time with myself and my family, while others have lost and are losing so much. And yet I must, because this is the way my feet have walked, the path my footprints have made. Whether or not I chose it, this is my life. One lesson we’ve all been learning – again – is that we’re not in control even of our own lives.

The truth is, I have lost so much. I hesitate to mention that, too, when others have lost so much more. But I’ve lost the freedom to move freely in life. I’ve lost time in my life, months and perhaps years that won’t come again. I’ve lost the freedom to be and do what I want in that time. I may yet lose my health, my life. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that, but those other losses I do grieve. I know only that this pilgrimage is taking me where I didn’t want to go, and I don’t know where it will lead before it’s over. By walking the path is made.

What does resurrection look like now?

What does Resurrection look like now? Join the Easter challenge of posting a picture that shows hope in action. The goal is to flood social media with these positive images.

The whole world needs to hear the Easter message of hope right now, our joyful proclamation of faith that in the end love will triumph and goodness will prevail. And all the little resurrections we witness in our own lives are a participation in that promise.

So what does resurrection look like for you now? A spring flower bursting into bloom? The face of a newborn? A mother’s embrace? Courageous healthcare workers and first responders doing their daily work? The hand of a caregiver reaching out to comfort someone who is ill?

Get creative – share an image of hope as you experience it in your own life. Take a photo with a camera or your cell phone, or a picture of a written message of hope. If you’re an artist working in another medium, take a picture of that. Copy and paste this explanation and add a sentence or two, if you like, explaining what it means to you.

** Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20-18)

A sermon for the last Sunday after the Epiphany

So what are the things you’re most afraid of in life? And how do you find the strength to carry on despite those fears?

On one level, today’s Gospel about Jesus on the mountaintop—glowing with light, his face shining like the sun, it says—is a Gospel that’s densely packed with theological references. You could write a seminary paper on this, you could write a seminary thesis on just this passage. It’s about who Jesus is, his identity of the son of God. It points to the past and it also points ahead to his future.

But on another level, it’s really a very human story about fear and reassurance.

So at first, the three disciples up on the mountain, they’re filled with an appropriate degree of awe and reverence. Peter wants to memorialize the moment by building three tents. They seem to accept Jesus shining with blinding light as if that were not so far out of the ordinary. Talking with Moses and Elijah.

But then suddenly, they’re overshadowed by this bright cloud and they hear the voice of God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him.” And at this point they’re absolutely overwhelmed by fear. They’re so frightened they’re probably beyond trembling. They fall to the ground and we see that faith doesn’t automatically insulate us from fear. That’s why we hear that phrase, do not be afraid, so often in the Gospels. But faith does give us the strength to go on despite our fears.

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