The Sound and Fury of Loving God

Sermon for Sunday, June 5, 2016
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Galatians 1:11-24

But when God… was pleased to reveal his Son to me…I went away at once into Arabia.”

Though I usually am not able to read the entire Sunday Times, I always try to read the “Modern Love” column in the “Sunday Styles” section.  “Modern Love” stories are reader-submitted, and can be about:

  • the vagaries of dating – “Dating, like insanity, is like doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.” (May 13, Sarah Moses)
  • a mother with Alzheimer’s finding comfort in her “perfect” boyfriend – “Unless she’s sneaking out of the window at night,” the daughter writes, “I’m not sure how she’s going on these dates.” (Deenie Hartzog-Mislock, April 9, 2015)
  • being a gay father on Mother’s Day – “I finally just said, ‘I’m her mom!’” (May 6, David Beach)

Last month, in a column entitled “The Sound and Fury of Silence,” Laura Pritchett told of her quiet divorce after two decades of marriage.  She and her husband divorced so quietly, in fact, that “neighbors sometimes can’t tell the difference from before the split and after…  Both of our cars are often in the driveway… We [still] like each other and always have.” But… Continue reading

Saying Goodbye

Sermon for May 10, 2016
Tuesday in the 6th week of Easter
Acts 20:17-27
Preached at Bethany Convent, Arlington, MA

“I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” – Acts 20:26-27

pauls_farewell_to_elders_of_ephesus_church“Goodbyes” are part of all of our lives.  Sometimes we choose them; other times they choose us.  Some “goodbyes” are small; some are big.  Some are temporary; some are permanent.  Saying “goodbye” leaves a place of emptiness within and is difficult because we are parting with an event or place or person who has given our life value and meaning.  Saying “goodbye” well is important, because saying “goodbye” well helps us to claim the gifts God has given us through an event, place or person, and allows us to move forward into the future God has in store for us.  Saying “goodbye” well involves 1) acknowledging the reality of the “goodbye,” 2) feeling the feelings of the “goodbye,” 3) withdrawing the energy from the person, place or event, and then 4) placing our energy in what lies ahead.  Saying “goodbye” well opens us to the future and the possibility of growing ever deeper in hope, meaning and joy, and we will never regret it. Continue reading

Strength Made Known in Weakness

Sermon for Sunday, July 5, 2015
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul”

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

Of course, Paul is talking about himself.   Of course, Paul is talking about a religious experience he had and is trying to explain in every-day words something that doesn’t happen everyday.    And of course, Paul’s experience and Paul’s language have to do with us.   Let me explain. Continue reading

“Why not become all fire?”

Sermon for Sunday, August 24, 2014
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 12:1-8

 

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. – Romans 12:1

Some of us may recognize this passage, as it is one of the passages used for the so-called “Offertory Sentence” that follows the Peace, just before Communion.  It is a curious passage: I mean, “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice?”  What is Paul saying here?

Let me back up a bit.  I have a hunch that a lot of us, perhaps all of us, deep down, would like to give our life to something.  Deep down, we know it’s not satisfying to live a life focused on ourselves.  We want to know that our life means something, that our life has an impact beyond ourselves, that we are giving of ourselves for a greater good.  We want to know, too, that we are living lives “whole” in which all parts of our life are brought together, maybe focused on this higher purpose.  And perhaps we want to know, too, that when we’ve left this world, we’ve left it a better place.  I may be looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but this is what I see.  I see people who want to give their lives to something greater, because we’ve found that ultimately it’s not satisfying to live life only for ourselves.

I think Paul saw this, too.  Paul knew that people were craving something deeper, something that made sense of their lives and maybe focused their lives on something noble, something higher, something that would bring them ultimate satisfaction and maybe peace, and maybe even joy.  And I have a hunch that Paul had found the way to live life in such a way.

That one way that Paul found was to live his life for Jesus Christ.  Paul had tried multiple other options: he was a tentmaker by training, he was a Pharisee by education, and – because being a Pharisee wasn’t enough – he was even a persecutor of the early Church.  Paul writes about all the things he was, or had tried, that ostensibly should bring satisfaction, in his letter to the Philippians:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul goes on to say that all of these things – the best boarding schools, as it were, an Ivy League education, the house in the ‘burbs, the club memberships, the nice car, the beautiful wife… you name it – none of those things brought what he was looking for.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Paul had found a way to live life whole, he found the one thing necessary, he had found the pearl of great price, that brought him the satisfaction, the peace, the joy, that he longed for.  That one thing was “knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”

Having discovered this, Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”  “Look,” says Paul.  “I’ve tried everything and had all sorts of opportunities that should have brought me satisfaction, but none did.  But then, Jesus Christ appeared to me on the Damascus Road.  Jesus changed everything.  Oh, my goodness, it has not been easy,” I can hear Paul saying.

Five times I have received… the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea…  [I have been] in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters… 

But, OMG, has it been worth it!  I can’t imagine life without Jesus.”  “And why don’t you, Romans, do the same?” Paul asks.  “Why not give yourselves to Christ?  Why don’t you live your life for him.  Why not give him everything?”  And so Paul wrote to the Romans,

I appeal to you, therefore… to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

I think Paul is right.  From what I can tell, the only satisfying way to live life, the only way we to truly find peace and joy, the only way we can be fully alive, is to live our life for Jesus Christ.

burningThere is a wonderful story from the desert fathers, the men and women who lived as monks in the deserts of Egypt in the 4th and 5th centuries, that tells of one brother’s desire to live life whole, to give himself to a higher cause, to find ultimate meaning and purpose for his life.  This brother, Abba Lot…

…came to Abba Joseph and said: “Father, as I am able, I keep my rule, and I keep my fast.  I say my prayers every day, and I meditate and keep silence; and, as I am able, I cleanse my heart of evil thoughts.  What more should I do?” The elder rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire.   Abba Joseph said: Why not become all fire?

I wonder, what about you?  What is stopping you from becoming all fire?