Sermon Notes for Proper 16 Year C

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Jeremiah 1:4-10
    • Psalm 71:1-6
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Isaiah 58:9b-14
    • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Second reading
    • Hebrews 12:18-29
  • Gospel
    • Luke 13:10-17

The passage from Jeremiah is intriguing.   I can’t quite imagine that a boy would, or should, have confidence to speak God’s word.  He is certainly challenging the powers, reminding us that all organization is reorganization. We have to build anew: is this a question for the church?

Perhaps building an infrastructure takes years, so we often begin as children and must learn along the way.

I wonder if being a child is akin to being in a state of emotional “flow:” constantly learning and challenging, the slow building of mastery over a particular task.  In this case: learning how to speak.  But there many places we must simply do the work in order to learn, making mistakes along the way.  I wonder if our current society allows kids to just make mistakes enough.

Isaiah reminds me of Heschel’s statement that the Sabbath is God’s Cathedral.  In some way, the Sabbath restores a human economy, when we are not counting the goods we have, but simply enjoying them.

The gospel raises a few questions:  what does it mean to be set free from the bondage of Satan?  What are the steps to be free from envy or pride?  How do we pray this?  Is Satan here the same as sin?  It does not imply that the woman is a bad person; rather, she is burdened.

So to be free – can it mean free from self-delusion?  Do we become newly confident?  Or is that also an error.   Or does it mean being able to clearly see our mistakes, and to humanize our flaws and strengths, without thinking they’re judged by God.  I’ll be thinking about  what does it mean to be crippled

Sometimes I wonder about the ways we create our own obstacles.  We say mantras to ourselves that we inherit from other people.  We believe everything the media says.  We’re told we can’t sing; that we’re not worthy; that only through hard work on the Sabbath do we deserve to live.

But the touch of Jesus is simply this:  there is nothing you can do to deserve life; there is nothing you can do to deserve what you have.  By simply being a live you may shine in God’s glory.  Echoing Jeremiah, you have been made.  That’s all.  That’s enough.

Sermon Notes Proper 14 Year C

So it’s Monday, which means prepping for the coming Sunday.  Here’s what I’m beginning to think about.

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20.  I’ve got to choose between Isaiah and Genesis.

First, I cringe at the sentence, “incense is an abomination to me.”  Fortunately, we still have the Book of Revelation to trump that.

So Isaiah makes me consider that “learning to do good” is what is pleasing to God.  The “Learning” is interesting to me more than the task.  Admittedly, I think a risk here is to be vague without being concrete about what oppression, defense, and “ceasing to do evil” means.  Are Christians oppressed?  If so, how?  Is oppression about being shut out of economic networks?  It is not knowing how to plan for the future?  Most of the time, when my colleagues talk about “oppression” I sympathize, but then I’m not sure what it means.  Getting threatened – sure.  Just feeling bad about yourself?  Not convinced.

When God says, “Let’s argue it out” I wonder about how we talk to God.  What if argument is not about a war of words, but a way of learning how to think through the necessary tasks of doing good and seeking justice.  It mitigates the perfectionist, puritanical impulses of the utopian, making justice about a process of working through the problems.  Also “argument” prefigures the divine “logos” as logos, in Greek, can mean argument.  Jesus is the divine argument.

And then:  there is obedience.  I love preaching about obedience because it’s truly countercultural.  How is obedience different than being oppressed?  Sometimes it’s just easier and more liberating to just do the work you are told to do.  Can you imagine every musician in an orchestra demanding their own voice when rehearsing a symphony?    As the abbot of my order remarked to me:  Obey me in all the small stuff; argue the big stuff.  It makes life a lot simpler.

In Genesis (15: 1-6),  Abram seems a little disappointed in God.  Someone else will inherit his wealth because he has no children.   I think about how “inheritance” works – and what we do inherit from our families – cultures, traditions, wealth.  Those who inherit little are at a disadvantage in the US.  “What do you inherit” and “what will you pass down to your children?” are questions I might ask myself this week.

The passage in Hebrews references Abraham.  I’m struck by the kinds of characters God chooses:  it seems random, and not based on merit.  Rather, he’s the one who is chosen for absolutely no reason, except by faith.  But even that faith is the kind of argumentative sort.  Abraham is not exactly “obedient” but petulant and resentful.

What makes a “home,” a home and where do we find our home? What identifies the heavenly city, and can we find it here – even in NYC, or in the cities where we make our lives.  Perhaps in the school, our libraries, our Saloons, churches, are they places where we have already experienced the kingdom?  How so?

The gospel this week invites reflection about the apocalypse; or what would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?  A month?  A year?  What if you knew that a planet was going to hit Earth (say,  like the movie Melancholia).   I’m also interested in exploring why Jesus says “sell all your possessions and give alms” and why I’m decidedly not going to do that.  Is it because the selling possessions and the end of the world are tightly linked?

I might explore the difference between a human economy and a commercial economy.  A human economy, as I would define it, is one where exchanges are not counted because trust between the different participants is assumed.  A commercial economy, by nature, requires a calculation of goods that are exchanged between strangers.  In both cases, the question is:  why do we trust our families?  Or our coworkers; or our commercial institutions?  What happens when they fail?

Lectionary, Proper 6, Year B

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20
Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

How do we choose leaders? What was it about David? He was the youngest; he was also the one doing the work. This is counter to the way leadership is often handed: to the eldest.

I’m also intrigued by the liturgical element. We anoint people for a variety of reasons. Our anointing people is a way of reminding them that they are kings; as subjects to Christ they have their own personal authority.

Why did the leaders fear Samuel? After all the men had passed Samuel, he didn’t choose any of them, but the boy who wasn’t there? David wasn’t respected, it seems, in his own family.

The psalm today is a great example of the church being for people: 20:4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans. Amen to that!

How does work give us meaning and make us feel powerful? The last verse in Ezekiel is I will accomplish it. Accomplishment – how does it work with grace and God’s power? That we can accomplish things is an analogue to God’s creativity; our work is a mirror and reflection of God’s work. This might be an entry into seeing our own lives, our work, as callings. Psalm 92 develops this sense of God’s work.

Paul is considered, by some, a great humanist – he’s like a positive psychology cheerleader. I think the reading is provocative: From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! A human point of view is through status, success, failure. In Christ, we see people through their passions, desires and dreams. We see them each as kings. We are confident in them. When we talk of faith – let us first discuss what we have confidence in.

The Gospel is the Mustard Seed parable. A few notes to remember: the mustard seed is like a weed. It’s everywhere. It also doesn’t take much to harvest. Sometimes when parishes work to hard, they are missing the point: it is better to work naturally, to harness the gifts that are already present. Play to our strengths.

Trinity 2009 Sermon Notes

Trinity 2009

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

A few things to remember about the Trinity

1) The Trinity arose as a response to the real problem of God’s shared suffering with humanity.
2) The cooperative nature of the three persons of the trinity is held in contrast to an alternative: that of rivalry and competition.
3) Fathers and Sons may compete for attention. However, in this relationship they are held together through love, which is the holy spirit.
4) Schoolhouse rock has a neat song about Three as a Magic Number.
5) To assert the Trinity is to say that God has a life, and is not so transcendent or distant that s/he is not participating in human affairs.
6) Asserting the Trinity does not mean we make other theological mistakes (such as, for example, omnipotence).
7) The Trinity is not, properly, a biblical doctrine. It arises from contradictions and problems in scripture, and is a way of cohering the suffering servant with divine power while not making God into a sadomasochist.

The lectionary: Here are a few quotes I’m working with.

From Isaiah:”Our guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

I think feeling worthless or guilty is what inhibits us from taking action. We don’t think we can do the job. But sometimes the only way to do the job is to go ahead and do – with humility and attention, ideally with a mentor. This might be a way of exhorting a church, or challenging people – in a gentle way – to examine the sophisticated ways we use excuses to diminish our own power and remain weak.

Paul says, 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of Godand if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

During the week, I will be asking the following questions: What are we afraid of? What are some good examples of the “spirit of slavery?” Is it like having addictions? When do we bear witness to being “heirs with Christ?” Are we glorifying suffering? Is this sadomasochistic? Are we called to being doormats?

I think it may have to do with maintaining integrity. When we have integrity and vision, we may be challenged directly: we may be crucified. Working in the spirit does not mean eliminating desire, becoming ascetics, or perfect in our piety. Instead, we are called to be mature, to self-regulate, to persevere in one’s vision in the midst of those who would suppress our ability to act and take risks.

John desires salvation: this passage is often used as a proof-text to demand intellectual unity. The passage is like a riddle: and Nicodemus doesn’t answer it correctly. the challenging word, “anothen,” can mean born “again” or “born from above.” Nicodemus, being in the dark, doesn’t understand.

What does it mean to be born “from above” or be a child of the light, rather than the darkness? What does this tell us about the Father? Perhaps it is to affirm that God does not work through violence, but through love. Paul also indicates some differences when he distinguishes between flesh and spirit. The flesh is material, the spirit is intellectual. Yet, we are not expected to completely disparage the physical body we were given.

I sometimes think that the consequence of being “from above” is learning not to be reactive; or to take offense. Jesus did show some rage at injustice; but cleanliness, piety and offenses of religious natures didn’t seem to bother him much.

The word “salvation” implies opening up, to make room. In some sense, by not being reactive, we give people room to express their true feelings, to be more fully the person God loves. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need: a little room! I’ll be thinking of ways we offer “room” for others.

But it is also Children’s Sunday, so I might just talk about a three-leaf clover.

Pentecost Notes

Pentecost is one of those events that a good preacher is always wondering about. There are lots of opportunities in the readings.

The first reading, for many Christians, prefigures the resurrection. I’m not interested if this is a correct interpretation of the prophet, but it may allow for an interesting shape of what it means to be raised. A few questions come to mind: First, where are the bones from? How did they die? What made them perish? I may discuss how institutions die, stay stable, or thrive.

The passage from acts makes me consider language: how do we learn to understand each other? It reminds me of a book I read on the language of cats and dogs: that they have exact opposite signals when it comes to hunting or being friendly. Yet, some get along. I might discuss the problem of translation – that good translation requires charity. It is enough to understand to get the work done: not to get the sentences perfect. The apostles are given the gift of understanding – not just speaking. Perhaps the holy spirit is not really about being able to speak – but being able to LISTEN. Once we listen then we can practice the words we say.

The gospel. Here are the sentences that hit me: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” What does the world believe about sin and righteousness and judgment? It believes that people deserve the evil they get.

I admit, I find Jesus cryptic here when he says everything that is the Father’s is His and that it will come to us, or the hearers of the gospel. What is the father’s? What is it that will come to us? A feeling of peace? There is a sense that what comes from the father is the divine affection, a sense of wholeness, of being liberated, of not being afraid. How do we find ourselves in this place?

I might also use this time to preach about the nature of being a baptismal community: what does it mean to us? How does it feel? I might have them remember the last time they felt complete joy. The other day I was thanked and appreciated; I heard an inspiring song; one’s wedding. It might be a completely altering experience, like diving into freezing water. A baptized community encourages people to live their passions and share them with one another. I may extend the “song” metaphor: we’re baptized into God’s song….

Another way to look at language: people build language when they work together: sometimes it is more important not to talk, but to make things happen. As people work together, they create a new language.

God happens, the church happens: it is not just an institution – institutionalization may signal the death of the energy in a parish. The church, perhaps, is a catalyst for people making their lives happen.

Now time to go feed people.

Easter 7 Year B

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

I might use the first reading from acts to discuss how the church selects leaders. I’d probably diminish using a lottery system (is this a proof text for gambling?), and look for a metaphor that describes how people get selected by God for leadership. The lottery dimension might open up other metaphors using games that require luck, but I’d probably allude to the Hegelian world-spirit idea. I would also emphasize that sometimes we just get chosen. Might be useful to find modern Matthias stories. I imagine Matthias being on the bench, and then being asked to pinch hit. Does he hit a homerun? Who knows? He’s in the lineup.

The Psalmist says “1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Using the idea of leadership, this is one way of describing who leaders are supposed to be. Granted trees do sway; but the continue to grow and bear fruit. What is wicked will not last.

The Letter this week is a useful proof-text for those who believe that only a verbal, intellectual agreement with the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God is the way to eternal life. “5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” I think that “God gave us eternal life and this life is in his son” is a very important phrase that is worth memorizing. It does encapsulate the Gospel precisely.

It is also a truism. It doesn’t give us wisdom in itself. It feels much more like a chant. The hard work for the preacher is defining what eternal life is, and what it means that eternal life is in the Son. I usually interpret “eternal” as “fullness,” so we are looking for a fullness, a completion of our task. We have a life, and we are asked to do work. God will give us what we need to do the work, if we know his Son. But what did the son offer us? Peace. For those who find the language of “life in his son” opaque, I would begin with the promise of peace and wholeness. Once we know our mission in life and have the space to fulfill that mission, we are promised a life worth living: an “eternal life.” Jesus Christ, by offering his faith that destroyed the embarrassment of a failed God, actually returns the power to us. To have faith in his Son, is to accept the gift that our work matters, and that we can do the work. Jesus did not take the power back into himself. He gave it to us.

The sermon in John continues. As I said last week, it has the feel of a hymn, a chant, a series of words designed to be etched into the hearts of the cult. They are like glue, or stitches, to heal a broken people. They tend to speak for themselves liturgically.

However, I might use this as an opportunity to explore “sanctification.” Is it something that happens when we bless? What happens to us when we are sanctified? Is it like washing our hands? Or are we set aside? How so, when Jesus then sends us back into the world. Sanctification is about setting some boundaries, at the very least, so that we can learn to see and discern more clarity. Sanctification, perhaps, allows us to understand the “truth.”

Now “truth” is pretty complex, so I am dissatisfied with leaving such a thick, powerful word become simply a song for the community. Obviously, as a philosopher, such a word requires some exploration. I’m always tempted to move quickly to Augustine’s sentence “all truth is one” (I believe he said this in his commentary on Genesis, but it might also be in On the Trinity, but I forget), and defend how science has examined truth. But I might explore how wrong platitudes are sometimes, and that truth tends to dismantle the convenient beliefs we have. I might explore how truth in Christ destabilizes other “truths” especially those that revolve around social stability, wealth and violence.

Last week my core metaphor was sky-diving and rock climbing. If I go the sanctification route, I might use metaphors that have to do with containers, clutter, and organization – for sanctification is, in some sense, a description of how we organize the soul.