My backpack for the journey of life

Sermon prep: Friends, please help me out. This is my backpack for the journey of life, which I’m planning to use as a sermon illustration this Sunday when we bless backpacks for back to school. What do I need in there?
Examples: Bible, just because … Book of Common Prayer – not only because I need to pray, but because we need to pray together, and how else can we make sense of the good book except together. Food for the journey – might look a lot like communion bread. Sunscreen because you know you’re supposed to wear it. My camera because, well, this is me we’re talking about.
Etc. – what else would you add to my list?
* And by the way, this is actually the backpack that got me through the weekly commute from Bucks County to New York City for seminary. Unzip the expansion and you can fit a week’s laundry in there. Plus a laptop. Plus some books (not the Hymnal 1982 Accompaniment Edition, though). But you’d better be strong, oh lordy, you’d better be strong.

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

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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Give us a heart

I read this at the start of our shared silence before Holy Eucharist this morning:

Creator God,
give us a heart for simple things:
love and laughter,
bread and wine,
tales and dreams.

Fill our lives
with green and growing hope;
make us a people of justice
whose song is Alleluia
and whose name breathes love.

“A prayer from Africa,” Pocket Prayers for Peace and Justice, compiled by Christian Aid, p. 88

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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