Monday, February 19, 2018

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent 2018

Sermon preached on the First Sunday in LentSt. Aidan’s February 18, 2018

I turned a corner on Saturday, I crossed a line.  And somehow, I know there is no going back. What I did on Saturday was more painful than I had expected, but I know I would do it again. I can’t tell you about Saturday without without beginning the story in an earlier time that will never return.   

When I was a child my family drove to the Missouri Ozarks a couple times each year to visit my father’s parents. Some summers I would be left on my own with the grandparents, which for me meant time with the grandfather I loved.  Upon arriving at their little house, I would make my way to the closet in the living room and reach into the dark corner until my hand gripped the cool barrel of my rifle.  Every day at their house included time spent plinking cans off a saw horse with that rifle, a tradition that began when I was five.  I remember one summer when I was about ten and I accompanied my grandfather to an auction out in the country.  Someone had died and all the items from life on a little farm were on display on tables in the yard, tools, kitchen ware, furniture, and one item that caught my eye and stood out for me as the only thing worth having on offer that day— a Sport King semi-automatic long barreled 22 pistol, complete with a leather holster.  It was a marvel.  I didn’t say anything to grandpa but he must have felt the same way because it was the only thing he bought that day.  I think it cost him ten bucks.  

I didn’t think much more about that pistol until some 30 years later when my father died and I found the pistol among his belongings.  I have kept it all these years as a token of the love I had for my grandfather and the times we spent together, like that day at the auction.  The gun has been kept in the dresser in my bedroom all this time. I have wondered about that gun and whether it was a good idea to have it around the house here in the city where my own curious grandkids visit, but I have kept it anyway.  Until Saturday that is. 

I was eating breakfast last Wednesday with some clergy friends and the talk came around to guns and their place in our world.  A good friend in his eighties, a former Marine who grew up along the Potomac and who was given a 22 by his father when he was ten, said that he had finally taken all his guns to the local police station and asked them to destroy them.  He said he didn’t want them any more and he didn’t want them out in the world.  Later that day when I heard the news from Parkland, I resolved to do what I knew it was time to do.  It just seemed right.  I drove that pistol to the station, let the officer take it, and drove away sadder than I had anticipated, and changed in ways I am still coming to understand.  

That was Saturday.  Sunday was the first Sunday in Lent and I was preaching.  The gospel for the day was about Jesus being baptized and then tempted in the wilderness.  I had been listening to the news about the 17 kids in Parkland and I was embarrassed, not just for my church, but for Christians everywhere and for Christianity in general.  I was embarrassed because voices were calling for a moment of silence, and prayers in response to the shootings……again.  Silence and prayers.  What about outrage and action?

So I warned my congregation that I was planning to talk about a place that was aching a bit in my heart and about politics.  I preached on Sunday about the sadness of letting go of that old gun and of the need for Christians to get serious about the work of associating the word “Christian” with the demand for sane, sensible gun laws.  I told my people I could not explain why that so-called Christian school in Lynchburg had encouraged its students to carry guns, but that theirs was not just another valid position among many.  It is wrong.  Simply wrong.  I talked about becoming a priest after seeing white collars around the necks of marchers in Selma, Montgomery, and Memphis, but that it was not until later in my life that I had realized that white Christians mostly came late to that fight for another right cause.  My own church had been slow to come around.  This fight, the fight for common sense laws to limit the kinds and numbers of guns was the same kind of fight. History will look back some day and ask of the Church. What was going on?  Where were you?  What were you thinking?

We worry about being political, and we worry about whom we might offend, and we soften our tone and seek conciliatory words with those who see this issue from another angle. And we end up doing nothing. Again.  

Mark’s story for the first Sunday in Lent speaks of Jesus being commissioned for the work of shaking things up and changing the world.  Then it speaks of him being tempted… to what?  At that point in the story the temptation can only have been to turn aside from the work to which he had been called.  Those who are called to disturb the peace and bring in a new way are always tempted to do nothing, to play it safe, to hope the new future won’t be as costly as we know it must be.  

The call of God throughout scripture is…..has always been, to leave the old, familiar, comfortable place (even when the comfortable place really isn’t) and to journey to the new place that God will show us.  That is the call for Abraham, Moses, Israel, Peter, James, John, Mary…  Like so many preachers, I don’t often tell my congregation that being a Christian means working to change the world, and that there will always be a cost in that work.  I am reminded this week by yet another senseless shooting that there is much work to do, and so I call you today to the work of Christians everywhere.  The hard work of changing the world.  

I know that old gun I gave up won’t change anything in terms of how many guns are out there, but it is changing my understanding of what the fight is about.  I loved my grandfather and I loved that gun.  But I would not give that gun to my grandson. The world has changed.  The setting and culture in which I embraced that gun is gone.  It has been replaced by a culture in which guns have become symbols of anger, fear, and pride spinning out of control, a culture in which the very presence of guns everywhere, always at our fingertips, challenges too many of us to think of new and more terrible ways to use them.  It is time to move to a new land, a new way, a new era in the life of humanity.  The gospel has never called its people to anything less than that.  Changing the world is our calling.  

I said all that on Sunday and I was surprised when people came up to me afterward and said, “that sermon had nothing to do with politics.”  They seemed to think it had a lot to do with Christianity.  

We did have a moment of silence and a prayer for the victims of this latest tragic mess,  and then a prayer for creative engagement with the problem, and hearts disturbed and stirred to go out and work to bring about the changes called for in our time.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Epiphany

January 29, 2017
St. Aidan's Episcopal Church

Matthew 5:1-12

I somehow made my way from the sermon on the mount, to the women's march to the diocesan convention.  It was a busy week.  

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.