A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me
.[1]

My mother had a little collection of things she used to say from time to time when I was growing up: Life isn’t fair, for example. I don’t care who started it. If you’re bored, go read a book.

And she would say, I suppose we all have our crosses to bear.

Sometimes she meant that one sarcastically, as in, You kids are being really annoying today. More often she was taking about those burdens in life that we didn’t ask for and we can’t change, so we just have to put up with them, no matter how difficult they are.

It might sound similar, but I don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.

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Sermon prep: Take up your cross

Sermon prep: Pondering what it means to take up your cross and follow, I stumble across this quote, which was included in a letter I sent to Sunday School teachers a few years ago:

… if faith only heals and energizes, then it is merely a crutch to use at will, not a way of life. But the Christian faith, as a prophetic religion, is either a way of life or a parody of itself. Put starkly and with echoes of the Epistle of James, an idle faith is no Christian faith at all.

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The beauty, the frailty of life

 Sitting at the lab early this morning, waiting to have blood drawn, a patient more than a chaplain, I’m approached by an older woman who veers in my direction on her way to the door. “Are you Episcopal?” she says. This is a first; never have I been so precisely identified by a stranger. Usually if anything I’m taken for a Roman Catholic nun, which is fine with me, though I’ve never seen one in a dog collar. I tell her I am, and she reaches toward me, and asks me to pray for her. The warmth of her hand; the pain in her eyes. Her name is Lillian.
 
A minute later, still feeling that warmth, I’m informed that my collar is hanging half off; in my early departure, I’d failed to connect the back button. Which actually is an improvement over all the times I forget to put it on at all, and have to go back.

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Open our eyes

When we traveled down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we were amazed by the flowering trees we saw everywhere. They were extravagantly gorgeous, and we were sure we’d never seen that kind of tree anywhere before. We took pictures just so we’d be able to reassure ourselves later that they really were as strikingly beautiful as we remembered. And then we came home. This is a picture of the third house down the street from me. Same kind of tree. I had never noticed.

Generous Creator, open our eyes to the beauty all around us, and especially to the deep beauty of our sisters and brothers.

Remind us – as Krista Tippett says in the video* titled “Reconnecting with Compassion,” which we watched at church yesterday, – that compassion can open our hearts to “a willingness to see beauty in the other, not just what it is about them that might need helping.” As she continues, “in that light, for the religious, compassion also brings us into the territory of mystery — encouraging us not just to see beauty, but perhaps also to look for the face of God in the moment of suffering, in the face of a stranger, in the face of the vibrant religious other.”


View the video “Reconnecting with Compassion” here.

A sermon for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

This morning’s first reading, from Isaiah, comes out of the time when the exile to Babylon had ended and the exiles were returning to Jerusalem.

Their city was in ruins. They faced tremendous challenges. Coming home again didn’t solve everything by a long shot.

In addition to the enormous task of rebuilding the city, they had to rebuild their culture, too. Their community had been fractured. They had to rethink their identity, refocus on what it meant to be a Jew.

One big question they faced was how to deal with foreigners who had mixed with – and married into – their society. And in the Hebrew Scriptures, we find several different answers.

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Letter from the past

Every so often I go to look something up in the Old Testament textbook I used in college, which happens to be an earlier version of the book we used in seminary some years later. It’s a delightful time capsule containing the syllabus and review questions for the course, minutes of the Educational Policy Committee, and this letter from my dad, which I always open and read. He was a contributing editor at Time magazine. The enclosure from the government was a tax refund – the checks have been cashed but the IRS envelope is still there. Much as I love the convenience of email, it will be sad when there are no more letters like this to cherish so many years later.

Silent prayer on Wednesday morning

Every Wednesday morning, we gather at Good Shepherd for Holy Eucharist and healing prayer, including prayers for the healing of the world and of our own souls. A few of us come early to sit in silence for 20 minutes, and I open that silence with a short prayer. This morning I’ll be reading the collect from last Sunday, a prayer that stays with us through the week as part of the Daily Office:

“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

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Morning prayer at the retreat house

Waiting in silence for breakfast. Spending some time “away from the world,” I haven’t consumed as much news or social media as per usual, and that has made the few photos I did see of torches in the night and hand-to-hand combat in the streets all the more shocking. I’m holding two things in prayer this morning. First, while we can say that this ugliness hurts us all, and that’s true, my heart is breaking for those directly targeted, for whom this comes on top of the racist acts and thoughts, subtle or not, they encounter every day. O, my sisters and brothers! Also, I’m looking into my own heart and asking myself what things I do (or fail to do) that contribute to the racism that still pervades our world. I want to be better than that.

God’s peace

Entrance to the peace garden, Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center

 

True peace doesn’t begin with being right. It doesn’t happen because out of that certainty, we work so hard that our side wins. True peace must rather come out of healing. It begins with our understanding that we ourselves must be healed. Only when the healing of our own hearts has begun are we able to reach out to bring healing to others. Our hope should not be that the right side will win, but rather that all will be healed. Another word for this healing is reconciliation:

“God … reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18)

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