Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

November 27, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5


Listen to the sermon here

As we set out into a new Church year in troubled times, I found a fresh appreciation for Isaiah's vision and its ability to guide a people always in danger of wandering from the path.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 

Luke 23:33-43

November 20, 2016

I pulled out a favorite old story about a mythical king and then wrote an update.  The first story is from one of our era's finest minds.  The second draws on the readings for the day and ancient tradition.

You can listen to the whole thing here.  Or you can read Yertle the Turtle on your own and then the second story below.  

A long time ago 
in a land far away
lived a wandering clan
who traveled all day
They camped out at night 
under great starry skies
where they sang and told stories
before closing their eyes

Their leaders sometimes 
heard a voice in the air
who pointed the way 
saying go over there
where the pastures are greener
come travel with me 
I’ll keep you safe 
you’ll be happy and free

So they traveled quite happy for quite a long while
up and down mountains for many a mile
as the traveled they saw many marvelous things
they saw countries with cities and castles and kings

and they said to their leaders we need a king too 
just imagine the king things our own king could do
our king could make speeches and build us a town
with walls up to there we just need us a crown
and a head to accept it oh let’s tell the voice 
that what we need’s a king, yes that is our choice.

so they sent their best talker to talk to the voice 
who said are you sure, that’s just not the best choice
you’ve really done fine as a wandering clan
kingdoms are trouble it’s not a good plan

But the people insisted and the voice said “I give”
so the voice found a king and a place they could live
they piled up great stones over here, over there
they built toll booths and towers way up in the air
they formed a great army and went out to war
for the trouble with kings is they often want more
and kings are not always the best they can be
too often they say, hey what’s in it for me
And that’s how it went with kings one, two and three
the city they built rose spectacularly
with turnpikes and temples and all of that stuff
till finally the people said we’ve had enough
we’re tried of working so hard we are through
we’ll start our own kingdom so phooey on you

And that’s pretty much how it went from that day
kings came and went and were carted away 
their buildings were smashed they were no longer free
for other kings too said “what’s in it for me?”

And through all of these troubles the voice still was heard
as a tiny small sound not as loud as a bird
by the old folks who struggled and tried to recall 
when the voice led the clan and they trusted the call

And the voice never left them and here is the thing
the voice said I’ll teach them a thing about kings
I’ll send them a king who can teach them that kinging 
is more than great walls and loud trumpets and singing

and soon there appeared a new king with no crown
a very plain fellow who walked through the towns 
telling stories of fields and farms birds and trees 
saying kingdoms can be just as plain as all these

but the people weren’t happy they’d waited so long 
for a king like the old days who’d right all the wrong
in the end they got others to take him away 
and hang him up high at the end of the day

It is such a hard lesson we’re still trying to learn
but the voice thinks we’re ready that now is our turn
to learn from the sign tacked on top of that tree
real kings never say, hey what’s in it for me.



Monday, August 29, 2016

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday in Pentecost

St. Aidan's, Alexandria

August 28, 2016

Luke 14:1,7-14

They say preachers only have one sermon.  This is mine and this is where it took me on Sunday.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday in Pentecost

July 17, 2016 


Here is what I had to say on Sunday.  We had fifteen people gather after the 9:30 service to talk about ways we could make a difference in the current climate of fear and division, and 25 people after the 5:30 service.  I am liking Pelagius more and more.....

Monday, May 16, 2016


Notes from Iona


The "harbor" at Iona
After five days in Edinburgh, we finally arrived with our good friends John and Mackie Rice at Iona, where we wandered, sat, talked to some of the one hundred or so locals, and began dreaming of leading a pilgrimage of folks from St. Aidan's and the Center for Spiritual Deepening.  We were told by a wise friend that if we came to this magical place we would return more than once and I hope that is true.  

We arrived by ferry after a harrowing (for this driver) 40 mile trip across the isle of Mull on a single track road.  That drive added to the joy of walking up the ramp into the little village after the short crossing from Mull.


The church that dominates the sky line in the village is a twelfth century Benedictine chapel built where Columba's abbey was situated in the sixth century.  Not much remains of the original structures.  A small stone chapel near the church is believed to be Columba's burial place.  Worship is led at least twice a day in the chapel by members of the Iona Community, an ecumenical religious community that does a lot of work with the poor and struggling in Glasgow and that leads retreats on Iona for people from all over the world.  On Tuesday evening as we set out for the 9 pm service, it seemed like half the village was making its way to the chapel in a silent, growing procession that led us into the church where we were met by candles and gentle music, much like 5:30 at St. Aidan's. 



One of the remaining structures from those earliest pilgrims to Iona is the base of a hermit's cell, which is a thirty minute walk from the village.  For Mary and me, it was a thirty minute walk to the hermit's cell and a two hour walk back.  You can expect a sermon about the dangers of thinking you can find a short cut in strange country, the benefits of getting lost in the bogs on Iona and the adventures of climbing barbed wire fences.


Much of Iona looks like this.  The end of the island you see is about two miles from the high vantage point where this picture was taken.  The whole island is three miles long and a mile and a half wide.


Only the few residents who live in the island are allowed to have cars but traffic jams can still be a problem.


This is the oldest high cross on the island.  It stands beside the abbey chapel and is 1200 years old.  It was erected less than two hundred years after Aidan set out from Iona to do his missionary work in northern England.


Iona is indeed a "thin" place whose scenery and pace can gentle a pilgrim into graced moments of gratitude.  Columba and Aidan came to Iona to find themselves by trusting their lives into God's care.  This holy island still attracts many who come for those same reasons.  I look forward to returning and learning to draw on the gifts that pilgrims have always found on Iona: silence, surrender, belonging, call, challenge, community, grounding.........the list will grow, I am sure.  I am, for now, a grateful pilgrim--grateful for this place and grateful for my community that allows it's priest to wander off in search of renewal.  I'll see you in a few weeks.  
Blessings

John



Tuesday, April 5, 2016



A Sermon for Easter Sunday

March 27, 2016

Easter 2016

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Why are you here today?
What have you come out to see?

Maybe you’re here to hunt easter eggs.  I’m glad you’re here because I’m sure not going to go looking for all those eggs.  Hunting for easter eggs is a fine reason to be here today. 

Maybe you’re here for the hymns and the flowers and the buzz of the big easter crowd.  More good reasons to be here in this room this morning.

Maybe you’re here as a gift to someone who loves you, someone who said, “Oh please come, please let’s go together.”   I can’t imagine a better reason to be here today.  

Maybe you’re here because the Jesus story has caught you in some new way, or has been a part of your journey as long as you can remember.  
Maybe you’ve come to recall and reconnect and be touched once again by the celebration of this most festive day, with its mystery and it’s uncanny ability to show us something new, no matter how many Easters we have known.  
Or maybe you are here because, where else would you be?  This is what I do.  I wouldn’t miss this day.   
These are all fine reasons for showing up today.  

What I hope you are hearing is that we all have our reasons for being here today and that is not just ok, it is an important message of the resurrection, especially in Luke’s telling, the version we just heard.  There are all kinds of ways to respond to this day, to be present in it, and only when we see that and recognize that our little piece of the puzzle fits and belongs with all the others do we begin realize the enormity of the message of the risen Christ.  Christ comes to life and is present with us in as many ways as there are people in this room.  That seems to be an important part of the good news we celebrate this morning.  Think about the story we heard.

The scene opens with the women running to the tomb.  Dutiful, pragmatic, they are where they need to be to take care of the business at hand.  Many of us live such faithful lives.  
They show up because someone must, and because even the events of the last few days don’t change the fact that they are Jesus’ friends, with responsibilities and continuing obligations to that relationship.  They come out simply to do what needs to be done and are surprised to learn that their relationship with their friend and teacher is not ending, but just beginning.  Sometimes just showing up can change everything.

Then they run back to the disciples and try to explain what has happened and their story is met with skepticism.  Impossible, they say.  These women were distraught, confused, unable to accept the reality of their friend’s death.  Their story was is an idle tale.  And yet from that very group, good old impulsive Peter just can’t stand it.  As is so often the case with Peter, he is up and out the door before he knows what his feet are doing. He is skeptical like the others but he always leads with his heart and he is propelled by a glimmer of hope, somewhere deep within that maybe he hasn’t seen the last of Jesus.  He runs to the tomb and ends up returning with the certainty that something new has taken place, something he can’t begin to understand.  Somehow he knows that his journey with Jesus is not ended, but changed.  I imagine that walk home…..so much to ponder….a future that lies in the unfamiliar..…

And what about those skeptics he left behind.  The tradition tells us they all found ways to approach the mystery of the risen Christ.  James ended up leading the church in Jerusalem.  What happened between his rejecting what sounded like a crazy story and becoming a leader in the movement?  It is good that we don’t have all the details of that transition.  It is enough to know that he made that inner journey, and since we don’t know exactly how it happened, we are free to imagine ourselves into that open part of the story.  Most of us know something about the tension between wanting to be open to something new and good and wanting to protect ourselves from being drawn into something a little too crazy.  James and the others must have lived in that tension for some time.

I think of John, the beloved disciple.  I think of the poetry attributed to him in the gospel that bears his name.  I wonder if his approach to the resurrection began with a search for words that might begin to convey something of the unspeakable.

I think about Nathaniel who was surprised in the beginning when Jesus said he had seen him before they ever met.  I wonder if maybe Jesus sought him out and doubled his surprise at how Jesus could be present with him, even when he wasn’t aware of that presence.  

There are as many way to experience the resurrection today as there are people in this room, and more.  I haven’t always believed that.  

Like most of us, probably, I began this faith journey thinking there must be some right and proper way to understand all these stories, the church’s teachings, the faith in which I was raised.  
I remember times of wishing I could believe what I was sure all these others around me must believe easily.  I remember wondering what they would think of me if they knew what I really could and could not believe.  One of the blessings of getting older, I’m finding, is a loss of the need for certainty….an understanding that what we know is very rarely the end of what we will know and that our lives are open in new ways in new seasons.  Paul said about faith once, “we see through a glass darkly,” but the church doesn’t always lead with that bit of humility.  

 It is so easy to look up one day and decide that the way we have understood Christ doesn’t work any more, doesn’t fit where we are and what we have learned on our journey.  Too often, when that happens, we turn away and think the story is ended.  That may be the one truth Jesus’ friends shared in common, the belief that the story was over.  

The Easter message that replaced that fear of loss was not a single, common message, but one that became real for each of them in different ways and in response to who there were and what they could take in.  They each began to experience the risen Christ in ways that had to do with their gifts and their hopes and their particular place in the larger story.  The message of Easter is that Christ is always new, alway coming to life in some new way to meet us in the here and now.

What seems obvious to me today is that over time, and in our life together with this mystery, and in stories like the one we heard this morning, Christ rises in new ways in new times throughout our lives.  Just when we think he is gone, here he is again with some new connection, some new call, new hope, new next steps.  What binds us together and calls us to celebrate today is the promise that we share in the risen life of Christ…..not in the particularities of that life, but in the promise that the one who was raised to new life invites us to new lives we have not yet imagined.   Not just once, or twice, but over and over again.  

That Easter message is for everyone.


Alleluia, Christ is risen!

JB

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
St. Aidan's Episcopal Church, Alexandria, Virginia
March 13, 2016


I managed to record this one so all you have to do is click here to hear this Sunday's sermon.  I had some fun with the Downton folks and scandal.