Sermon: Empty Tomb; So What?

picture for easter e weekly“Empty Tomb; So What?”

(April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday) Easter brings us to the the greatest miracle and mystery of the Christian faith, but what’s it all about? What happens *after* the empty tomb to change our lives? God’s salvation is still happening, not accomplished all at once. Instead, we are invited into the ongoing work of God. (Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-12)

Easter Sunday, complete with the interruption object lesson from my son William.

Sermon: “King of Kings”

palm leaf tree plant 6“King of Kings”

(April 13, 2014) Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a king, but not the sort of king anyone was expecting. When we fail to live up to the expectations of others– or when they fail to live up to ours– can we cut one another a little slack? Are we willing to ask ourselves if our expectations are good and healthy ones, or simply what we want to see? (Matthew 21:1-11)

First Sunday back in the sanctuary, and mic troubles and all the distraction and pressure that comes with that!

Sermon: Love is Born, Ready or Not!

Christmas Eve“Love is Born, Ready or Not!”

(Dec 24, 2013 – Christmas Eve) Into our lives where sorrow and loneliness lurk, into the life of the world, where love was least expected, God’s presence breaks in. Christmas is not about celebrating Jesus’ birthday– or at least not primarily about that. First and foremost it is a celebration of “Immanuel,” God-With-Us. (Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-7)

I of course take no credit for and intend no infringement upon Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I quote from it and from Anne Robertson’s blog post “Transformation in Whoville.”

Sermon: Christmas is Coming, Ebenezer Scrooge!

Bulletin Ad 2“Christmas is Coming, Ebenezer Scrooge!”

(December 8, 2013) Bah Humbug! Ebenezer Scrooge’s name is synonymous with being stingy and mean and hating Christmas. He seems quite happy with his life, but he has no peace, because he does not live with justice. That Christmas spirit can’t be contained, however; Scrooge sees some glimpses of his place in the world and how his actions and inactions impact others and experiences a change of heart. Can God’s justice break into our lives? Is there anything we can do to help seek peace and justice in our world? (Isaiah 11:1-10)

The Advent series this year is a look at how God breaks into our lives when we least expect it and whether we’re ready or not. We’ll look at seasonal grumps who find transformation breaking into their lives: The Grinch, who experiences love; Ebenezer Scrooge, who moves toward justice; George Bailey, who rediscovers hope, and a Mystery Grump, in need of some Christmas joy.

Sermon: Christmas is Coming, Mr. Grinch

Bulletin Ad 1“Christmas is Coming, Mr. Grinch!”

(December 1, 2013) The Grinch, alone and angry, despised the whole Christmas season– until love broke into his life and he found his heart growing three sizes. Can God really break in to our cold-hearted loneliness? (Isaiah 2:1-5)

Before the sermon, I played a clip similar to this from the 1966 animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

—-

The Advent series this year is a look at how God breaks into our lives when we least expect it and whether we’re ready or not. We’ll look at seasonal grumps who find transformation breaking into their lives: The Grinch, who experiences love; Ebenezer Scrooge, who moves toward justice; George Bailey, who rediscovers hope, and a Mystery Grump, in need of some Christmas joy.

Sermon: Against All Odds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Against All Odds”

(Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012) Jesus is born as the son of poor, unwed parents, as a Jewish man in the Roman Empire. Ours is a God accustomed to hope and love that transcend the odds stacked against us. May Christ be light to you in life’s dark places this Christmas, and always. (Luke 2:1-20)

This sermon draws source material, information, and quotations from a 2004 Christmas Eve sermon by Dean Scotty McLennan (available as a pdf here), and a blog post, “God Can’t Be Kept Out,” by Rachel Held Evans (found here).

Resetting an Open Holiday Table

thanksgiving dinneras posted on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog

Family legend tells that the year after my parents separated, my mom faced the prospect of her first Thanksgiving alone. She accepted an invitation to the home of a friend, and my family and I have been spending alternating Thanksgiving holidays with them ever since, adding spouses and children and new traditions along the way, changing the location but keeping the love and laughter that I have always associated with my favorite holiday.

My nuclear family system is undergoing tremendous and unanticipated change. Change of the sadness and separation variety. With my two children spending the holiday break with their father, Thanksgiving represented for me my first long stretch away from my kids since the new visitation rotation started, my first holiday separated from the joys of my life, and my first Thanksgiving without a delightful, warm, amply-set table, packed to capacity with mismatched flatware and ringing with the noise of little people’s laughter.

Your basic hell.

Invitations to each of my parents’ houses did little to ease that pain; the thought of being surrounded by family—but not the family I missed—stung deeply. When I imagined myself with the rest of the guest list, as literally every other person who would be at each gathering spent the holiday with at least one of their children, there was no way I could imagine keeping turkey and stuffing in my belly.

Sometimes, family isn’t the place we can be. Or should be. Or is healthy or safe for us to be.

Sometimes, when family feels broken, what is really happening is a breaking open.

Fortunately, I know and love a lot of people who have a much more expansive concept of family. I’m part of this crazy connection of Methodists, and reconciling ones at that. I called a friend, who called a friend, and I ended up with a much more inclusive, broadly defined family celebration than the typical Thanksgiving crowd: four reconciling United Methodists, some good cooking (duck, not turkey), some shared laughter and song (okay only two of us sang), and a supportive space for tears, joy, and rejuvenation.

If that sort of feast isn’t a foretaste of the inbreaking of the kin-dom, I don’t know what is.

My expectation of the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year isn’t born out of magazines and Martha Stewart, and doesn’t need to be picture-perfect. It does, however, include a strong focus on connection and love and family, and I’m experiencing what so many already know: that family is defined by who we love and cherish, the people with whom we set (and clear) the table, the ones who welcome our grief and our celebration.

In the Thanksgiving episode of the NBC show “The New Normal,” the main characters define for themselves a difference between relatives and family. While the former might represent obligation and dysfunction, places of pain or alienation, the latter are the ones with whom we choose to surround ourselves, the people who make a holiday special and sacred. I found mine, and it’s a vast and diverse family, some of whom are even related to me.

This season, may your places of brokenness be places of breaking open, and may your gatherings be filled with love and laughter and the deep joy of chosen family.

Seeking Easter Inspiration

Here is my deep confession:

It is hard for me to get inspired to lead worship on Easter.

I face this every year. In part, I think the expectations I place on myself are too high– I want to do something “cool” or “relevant” to get the attention of the visitors; I want to lift up a different part of the story to appeal to the questioning; I want to go deeper to inspire the regulars; I am confronted with the centerpiece and cornerstone of our faith.

On the other hand, I just don’t know what to say. Retelling the story doesn’t seem to be enough (it is for me on Thursday and Friday– the messages of servanthood, connection, commitment to ones principles, courage, loss, violence– these speak for themselves). I personally don’t get enough out of Easter if it’s just a line-by-line reading of the Gospels. Does this make me a bad pastor? A bad believer? I hope not. But it’s not enough for me to read about the empty tomb. So what? What do we do now? How does this change us?

This may be the best thing I have read all season, all year, in all of my ministry when it comes to Easter inspiration. I won’t just preach that, but at least I have a place to start. Thank you, Carl Gregg. That was what I needed to hear, to find what I need to say.

It’s. Still. Christmas.

People of faith, we have a problem. It’s not that people say “Happy Holidays” (as a contraction of Holy and Days, ‘holidays’ actually reveres all of the sacred and special days in this season, from Solstice to Kwanzaa to Hanukkah to Christmas to Watch Night to New Year’s Day). It’s not that there’s a war on Christmas.

It’s that there are two Christmases.

One Christmas season starts on the day after Thanksgiving, maybe earlier. It features songs about snowy weather and Rudolph and Frosty and poems about Saint Nick. For it, people decorate in red and green, put up lighted trees and wreaths, and buy lots and lots and lots of gifts. It celebrates in its own way the spirit of generosity, the specialness, even sacredness, of giving and receiving, of being with the people you love in the midst of the cold. Santa reigns supreme on this Christmas, which arrives with tremendous fanfare on the morning of December 25, when households are filled with light and merriment and food and presents. And then the holiday ends. By December 26, the trees are down, the lights shut off, the music off the radio.

I celebrate this Christmas. I will not begrudge you if you do as well, whether or not you consider yourself Christian. It is a fun and good holiday, and teaches good values and practices joy.

But it’s not the only Christmas.

The other Christmas begins not after Thanksgiving, but after the season of Advent. It starts, like all good holidays in the tradition of its ancestral faith, at sundown– sundown on December 24. For this holiday, people decorate first in blue or purple for advent, but most primarily in white and gold. People sing songs about angels, shepherds, and a certain baby. They put up trees and wreaths and lights, yes, but also nativities and candles. This season arrives sometimes with great fanfare, sometimes with solemn prayer, sometimes at 5:30 or 7 pm, or 11 pm (which we somehow call “midnight”), and again on the morning of December 25. On this Christmas, the one who reigns supreme is a baby, born to set his people free. Jesus own this Christmas. It’s his birthday, and as such, it too embraces giving and family and joy, but it also teaches holy expectation, God’s promises, new birth, and the presence of Christ in the midst of the world’s ordinary brokenness.

This Christmas does not end on December 26.

From a theological perspective, this Christmas does not end at all, of course, but in this context, I am speaking purely seasonally, practically, decoration-ally. This Christmas, Jesus’ Christmas, lasts for twelve days (there’s a song about that somewhere), and ends on January 6 with the celebration of the Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi– traditionally a more appropriate time for giving– as the Wise Ones reveal the global significance of the baby Jesus and present gifts to him out of love and reverence.

I want to pry these two Christmases apart. The “secular” Christmas and the “sacred” Christmas (how I dislike that language!). The Santa Christmas and the Jesus Christmas. I think they should have two separate names. We could name the Jesus Christmas lots of things: Noel, Nativity, the Feast of Christ’s Birth. But I’m not willing to say that Santa can have the name Christmas. Good luck getting it back from him and his holiday, but it’s not his to keep. I mean, it’s got the other guy’s name in it, and the word for church service. Christ. Mass. Christmas. It’s kind of a word owned by the Christian tradition, even if the holiday no longer is.

So I don’t know what we call SantaTide, the Season of Giving, St. Nicholas Day. It’s a great holiday, and I celebrate it with joy and find it holy.

It’s just not the same holiday as Christmas, a holiday that I am still celebrating, with songs of Gloria and twinkling lights. I think we can celebrate both faithfully– those of us who choose to– and I think we can, in pulling them apart, offer up ways for people who dislike Santa’s bent toward consumerism or people who find the baby Jesus a myth from a faith not their own, a way to celebrate their holy day, their holiday, without having to buy into the other.

This is my new mission, as I enter a new year, but not yet a new season of the church (nope, not celebrating Epiphany on January 1 either, lectionary watchers!). How do we tease out St. Nicholas Day (like St. Patrick’s Day or St. Valentine’s Day–  once named for a saint, but now cultural holidays with their own metaphors and themes) from the Nativity of Christ? Come to think of it, how do we reverence the beauty in our cultural celebrations and our religious ones, in ways that allow each to be holy in its own way?

And don’t even get me started on the Easter Bunny. We’ve got a few weeks before that candy comes out at least, so I have some time to prepare.

This our hymn of grateful praise

My family and I have much to be thankful for this holiday.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite time of year, perhaps even more so now that it is one of the only holidays that doesn’t fall on a weekend and a major church work day. It’s a time for family and good food, and reflecting on all the blessings of life.

This year, there’s health and happiness, there’s a loving community (and a friendly street– never again to be taken for granted!), and there is new life– one nephew born almost a month ago and one niece or nephew making his or her way into the world right now.

May you celebrate all that you have to be thankful for, and see the blessings great and small all around you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 944 other followers