Sermon Archive

Featured

All of these sermons were delivered in the Abbey Church. To make it easier to find a certain topic or lectionary day, click one the blue tags below (Holidays, Sundays Year A, Sundays Year B, Sundays Year C). The sermons are posted in order of their calendar date, so not all in the same lectionary year are together – keep scrolling down, and you will find more from earlier calendar years.

preaching

Baptism Of Our Lord Year B (First Sunday After Epiphany): We Don’t Understand And That’s OK

Baptism Year B (first Sunday after Epiphany)
Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:1-4

January 7, 2018   Abbey Church   Abraham

No matter how it is described, we really don’t understand the creation of the world. The Biblical account that we just heard in our first reading is beautiful and true, but we still can’t ever fully comprehend it: God spoke, and everything was made. The current scientific account is also beautiful and true, but we still can’t ever fully comprehend it: dark energy and the quantum foam that permeates the universe causes things to constantly pop in and out of existence.

The two baptisms described in our second reading this morning are also things we can’t ever fully understand: how can water be a channel of God’s grace?

The Baptism of Jesus we heard about in our gospel story this morning is also something we don’t understand: why does God in the flesh need to be baptized and have the Holy Spirit come to him?

We don’t understand these things, and maybe we can’t understand these things, but that is ok. We can still try to live in the mystery of these things. We can be thankful for, and wisely use and protect the wonderful universe that God has created. We can realize that we need to change our lives from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, and that we need the grace of God and the Holy Spirit in and around us in order to change and keep changing. We can follow Jesus into and through baptism, even if we do not understand everything about his own baptism. Then, we can follow Jesus in the rest of his life, and even if it does not include crucifixion, it will include death – and only then can we also follow Him in resurrection.

We don’t understand all these things, but that’s ok – we live by faith, not by sight.   AMEN

Shining Star, No Matter Who You Are; Shining Bright To See Who You Can Truly Be: Epiphany 2018 – first profession of Br. Armand Koss

Epiphany 2018 – first profession of Br. Armand Koss
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Paul just told us in our second reading that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” That is good to hear, but it would also have been good to have heard that the wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in earthly places, as well as in heavenly places, because we all have been given at least a little authority over some earthly things, and we sorely need the wisdom of God in order to wisely and justly fulfill our duties as stewards instead of as the capricious tyrants that we usually are. Matthew told us a story this morning about one capricious tyrant who was not pleased to be told of the light shining in the darkness, showing the way to be free of our own tyranny.
We are like Herod in Matthew’s gospel story this morning, because like him, we don’t want to give up the rule of our own petty worlds. But we must, because before we can bring the good news of the light shining in the darkness to others, we ourselves must wake up to that light. We must listen to what Isaiah told us this morning and “arise and shine, for our light has come.” We must “lift up our eyes and look around, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.” We must abdicate our pathetic little thrones and freely allow God to rule our lives so that we can become truly alive and fully human the way we are created to be. Once that happens, we can then be light bearers to others who are in their own dark worlds created either by their own self-centeredness and self-righteousness or by that of others around them. We can be like the wise men, leading others to Jesus by our own search.
Of course, we swing back and forth between the light and the dark; sometimes joyfully letting God reign in our lives, at other times miserably and mistakenly living under the false assumption that we can do a better job and so pushing God off the throne of our hearts. We don’t usually push God away on purpose. Instead, we most often crowd God out of our lives by cramming so much of our own self-importance inside us. It might be better to say that instead of chasing God away, we block our view of God, because God is always there, waiting for us to stop dreaming about ourselves so that we can open our eyes and see the real world bathed in the glory of God. When we do that, we also see ourselves bathed in the glory of God as we are meant to be.
That is why we are here today. We are practicing opening our eyes, our hearts, and our lives to God by seeing God in the scriptures, in the bread and wine, and in each other. Once we get used to seeing God in those things, we will start seeing God in all things and treat every person and object with the same respect that we give to things in the church. (The monks will remember that Benedict tell us to do just that.) We know we don’t do that, or actually it is better to say that we know we don’t do that yet or we don’t do it all the time or consistently yet, so we need to keep practicing opening our eyes to God not only when we gather together, but also in our own daily private prayer, scripture reading, work, and encounters with other people. If we do these things mindfully, with good intention, constancy, and perseverance, and of course, relying solely on the grace of God, we will slowly start seeing Jesus more fully in everything the more we train our eyes away from ourselves. We will see his star rising and slowly loosen our grip on our own petty kingdoms so that we become less like Herod and more like the wise men – joyfully and freely bringing him our treasures as he becomes the treasure that we bring to others.
And so we are about to hear a person promise to diligently work on seeing God in the things around him – specifically in the daily, extremely boring round of monastic life; and in the people around him – specifically the extremely boring monks in this monastery. Hopefully, God has already given him one of the most important and merciful gifts we can ever receive: the gift of disillusionment, because if we are living with romantic ideas about monastic life (or life in general), we aren’t living in reality, and so often when those idealized, unachievable illusions are shattered, so is the person holding them. Monastic life is just life, and monks are just people (the same can be said about any life and any person, business, church congregation, etc): we will be disappointed by them, and we will disappoint them. So it is a choice to be either suffocated by the monastic schedule, or to use it is a support to build a wonderful life. It is a choice to be either wearied by the monks around us, or to grow in understanding of their struggles and gifts. The choice is not made at a profession ceremony – it is made every day and every moment. Every day we wake up and say: “Today is the day I am a good monk (or parent, or spouse, or employee, or employer). Every night we say: “OK, I failed today, but tomorrow by the grace of God I will try again.” God will and does give us the grace of growing in love, peace, and joy. It takes time, and we all know how difficult it is, so let’s give ourselves and each other the time and space to grow into the star leading people to Jesus. It’s all about him; it’s never about us, anyway. May this first profession of monastic vows be a blessing to not only the one making the vows, but to all of us hearing them, and to the entire world. AMEN

Proper 27 Year A: Encourage One Another With These Words

Amos 5: 18-24
I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13

November 12, 2017   Abbey Church   Abraham

All of our Bible readings we heard this morning speak of the appearance or return of the Lord. They all seem a bit scary, and in fact they are used to scare people a lot of times. Most of us have probably heard some preacher at one time or another using these very scriptures to frighten someone into doing something, and doing it now, before Jesus comes back and it is too late. The motives behind those urgent sermons might be good, but the method seems to be a bit different from what we heard the Apostle Paul say. In his letter to the Christian in Thessalonica, writing about the return of Jesus, he tells the listeners to encourage, or console or comfort one another with these words. He did not intend for his words to frighten.

Not only the words that we heard from Paul, but also the story from Jesus in the gospel reading has been used to scare people into acting the way the preacher wants them to, so that Jesus would not reject them when he returns. The way the story is made scary is: Jesus is cast as the groom, people whom the preacher thinks are saved are cast as the wise bridesmaids, and people whom the preacher thinks are not saved are cast as the foolish bridesmaids whom Jesus shuts out of heaven because they aren’t ready when he comes back. In all honesty, that’s a good casting of the characters in the story. The one flaw in that rendition is the part where Jesus shuts the foolish bridesmaids out of heaven. In reality, Jesus does not shut people out of heaven, Jesus brings people in. It is we ourselves who shut ourselves out of heaven, and unfortunately, many times when we turn from heaven and make our own hell, we bring the people around us in to hell with us.

Hell is all about thinking we don’t need or deserve the oil or keeping the oil all to ourselves; heaven is about sharing it. But, there is also the question: if we are always sharing our oil with the same persons who never get it for themselves, are we in some way keeping them from the joy of accepting heaven? The oil is never of our own making, of course – it only comes from God, and is always freely and lovingly given. Of course, people who think they have not been given any oil are wrong – God is pouring it out upon them as much as all other people, but we all need to open up to receive it. And anyway, at the end of the story, Jesus says nothing about having enough oil; he just mentions the importance of being awake – and both groups in the story were asleep. So who knows? All we need to know is that God gives us all we need for life and joy, and what he gives us is God’s own self, poured into us until it overflows into the world around us, making heaven for us and the people around us. May we freely open up to accept God’s gift of Self, and freely open up to give it to others. We need to be familiar with what Jesus is like before he returns, so that instead of being frightened and blinded by the amazing awesomeness, we are ready to add our shine to His and to all others who are His lamps around the world. So why not, as Paul says, encourage one another with these words?  AMEN

Proper 7 Year A: Job Description

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Romans 6:1b-14
Matthew 10:24-39

The prophet Jeremiah told the truth about the situation his nation was in, and he got in a lot of trouble for doing that. He was alternately persecuted and consulted by the religious and political leaders who knew he was telling the truth but dared not publicly agree with him. This morning we heard him complaining to God for putting him in this uncomfortable and dangerous situation.  Immediately before our reading, Pashur the priest had put Jeremiah in the stocks for the night for warning that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonian army, and immediately after our reading, King Zedekiah sends another priest (also named Pashur) to ask Jeremiah to pray to God to make the Babylonian army go away, because the king knew they would destroy Jerusalem.

Our gospel reading talks about Jesus putting his disciples in much the same situation as God put Jeremiah. He warns them that they will meet with danger and be persecuted for bringing the truth of Jesus to the world around them, but he also tells them not to worry about it, because God will carry them through to safety. We may never be in physical danger because of our allegiance to Jesus, but if we are doing it right, we will arouse the suspicions of the people around us who owe their allegiance to other things like money, or power, or reputation. We won’t blindly follow any party line, so we will be accused of being dangerous and stupid by those who do. But all of that is ok, because we have work to do bringing the joy, peace and healing of Jesus to the world around us. Our individual tasks as members of Christ’s body are important and necessary in order that all the other tasks of the other members around the world and throughout time can be fulfilled and fall into place.

Like Jesus and Jeremiah, we need to speak the truth, even when other don’t want to hear it. We need to speak the truth humbly, and then we need to live it as best we can. And the truth is: God is love, we are all infinitely loved, and we are to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God. May we not shrink from this task of loving. We might not do it very well or often, but Jesus slowly transforms us into his love every chance we give him. May this gathering be one of those opportunities to grow in Jesus.   AMEN

Lent V Year A: Remember Life

Lent V Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our scripture readings this morning point to the fact that life comes from God. Without God, there is no life. Of course, without God there is nothing at all, so there would also not be life. But in our daily lives, we so often live as if there were no God. We don’t always do that intentionally – usually, we just get so busy and frenzied that we forget about God, or we get so lazy and negligent that we don’t care about God. Sometimes, yes we do intentionally live as if there is no God – those times when we intentionally tell little lies or commit petty frauds to get what we want before someone else gets it.

In all those cases, when we finally come to our senses and realize that we have either intentionally or unintentionally forgotten God, we realize how dead we feel and how much we need God to be fully and truly alive. So, we as individuals and groups make helpful rules for ourselves to keep reminding us of God. Churches have membership rules, worship services, educational facilities, and special times (like Lent) to help us live more in the reality of God and therefore more fully. Individuals have scripture reading and prayer time to help them do the same thing, and the two (group and individual) should theoretically help each other and work together.

But we know that sometimes, even surrounded by reminders of God, we don’t always remember God and sometimes we even willfully forget God. Sometimes we just get tired of always remembering, and in so doing, we manufacture our own deaths. If that happens to us a lot, maybe that is a sign that we or our institutions are going about it the wrong way. Maybe we are using fear as a tool to help us remember God. If so, we should probably stop what we are doing and reconfigure our group and individual programs to take out the fear and replace it with love. Love won’t tire us out and make us want to forget God. And, if we are living in love and forget God anyway, no big deal – we will be doing life-giving things and so we will be living in God even if we do not realize it.

God takes our old bones and brings them to life. God brings us out of the grave. God give life and holiness to this beautiful flesh of ours. And if we are Christians, we go so far as to say that God has this beautiful flesh of ours, making it even more alive and holy in the person of Jesus. So, let us not forget to live in God. One of the best ways to remember is to come up here and eat with God at God’s table. We will all probably forget God sometime today, but that is ok – we will be doing this same thing tomorrow.   AMEN

We’ve Only Just Begun: Annunciation 2017

Annunciation 2017
Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

When you are in love with someone, you don’t want what that person can give you, you want that person. In a strange way, that is what we heard the Letter to the Hebrews say: God doesn’t want our sacrifices, God wants us. Instead of showing God our “sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings”, God want us to say: “See, I have come…”

When you are in love with someone you want to be with that person as close and as often as possible. We heard about Ahaz and Isaiah in our first reading. The story is about Judah being afraid of an attack by the Arameans. God is going to protect Judah, and wants to show King Ahaz to not be afraid. God says he will give Ahaz a sign of love and protection – a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” That sounds like the way one feels when one is in love; everything is “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Ahaz won’t ask for a sign, but Isaiah says God will give it anyway. The sign that is deep as Sheol and high as heaven is the Immanuel – God with us. God is in love with us, and is with us as close and as often as possible.

God shows his love for us by being with us, even if we so often do not think we are worthy of God’s love. Maybe that is what Mary thought when the angel greeted her in our gospel story this morning. The angel said: “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” When she heard it, she was perplexed and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Maybe we do the same thing – we are told God loves us and finds favor with us, but we doubt it. In response to our doubt, God shows us with a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” The sign, written all over us, is: God is with us – God wants to be with us, to come to us, to be inside of us, and to reproduce himself inside of us. The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That sounds a lot like the closeness that lovers enjoy – covering each other, being inside each other, using that closeness to produce a new life that will grow and add even more joy to the relationship. We are called in a similar way that Mary was. God loves us, and if we so allow it, God will come to us, cover us, and reproduce Godself within us.

We can have our excuses to doubt God’s ability or desire to be in us and grow in us. Mary said: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” We might be tempted to say: “how can this be, since I am selfish, or hateful, or dull, or impetuous.” We also might have trouble believing that anything we give birth to (even if the other parent is God) will be of any good to anyone. But with God working with us, we will give birth to exactly what is needed.

Mary shows us how we are all living temples of God. As Mary carried God in the flesh inside of her, so we also carry God in us. As in any pregnancy, the outward appearance of the mother changes, so we will change outwardly as God’s presence grows inside of us. We do need to remember, though, that we are all different to start off with, so sometimes it is difficult to discern how we ourselves and those around us are changing. It is best no to judge them or ourselves anyway – just let God control the growth of everyone. Another aspect of pregnancy is the importance of the mother taking steps to insure that the person inside her is growing properly. So we also must change our habits and actions to promote the growth of God’s presence in us, so that eventually we can give birth to God in our own world – to bring God into other people’s lives by our own life.

Mary was told to rejoice because God found favor with her, the Lord was with her, and she was to carry God inside of her. So we also should rejoice, because God finds favor in us, the Lord is with us, and wants to be carried inside of us. God is in love with us and wants to be with us as close and as often as possible. How can we resist – when God comes to us and covers us; when God’s breath (the Holy Spirit) is upon us; when God says he wants to be with us always. All we have to do is rejoice that we are so highly favored, and say: “Be it unto me according to your word.”   AMEN

Lent I Year A: All We Know

Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

The story that we heard this morning about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit has spawned a lot of theories and questions about human nature, such as original innocence, original sin, and the fall of man. It has also raised the question of what is meant by the “knowledge of good and evil”, and why God did not want them to have it. We assume that Paul is talking about this story in his letter to the Romans that we heard in our second reading, and although he does not cite the story specifically, that is probably a good assumption. Paul’s take on the story seen in the light of his relationship with Jesus has also spawned a lot of questions and theories, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith through the grace of God.

Tempers have flared, friendships have dissolved, churches have split, and violence has erupted because of differences of opinion concerning these theories. Yet we still don’t know all the answers to the questions posed by the story and Paul’s interpretation of it. Maybe we would do better if we just acted on what we do know. We know that we do bad things. We know that doing those bad things ruins our lives and the lives of others and sours our relationship with God and other people, as well as our relationship with ourselves. We also know that no matter how hard we try, we can not completely stop doing those bad things. We know that from our own experience. We can also learn a few things from other people’s experience transmitted to us through scripture, such as the fact that God loves us and made us good, that Jesus did not do those bad things that we are prone to do, and that ruined lives and soured relationships are healed by Jesus.

The difference between knowing that we hurt ourselves and other people and trusting that Jesus heals those hurts involves a leap of faith. Without taking that leap, we remain the same hurtful people. By taking the leap, we at least have a chance of changing – if what the gospels and subsequent Christian experience teaches is true.

I don’t know of many or any people who have really made that leap, but another leap we can make is that of trusting Jesus to count the desire to make the leap as good as making the leap itself. We can come up with all kinds of theories about exactly why we do what we do and exactly how Jesus fixes the mess, but it might be more productive to just admit our sin and let Jesus fix it. He invites us to do that. He stands at the door and knocks. All we have to do is let him in and eat with him. We have a table set here to allow us to do just that. How convenient.   AMEN

Epiphany IV Year A: We’re Just The Gophers

Micah 6:1-8
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

The sermon from the prophet Micah we just heard in our first reading is about the danger of living selfishly and sinfully (the two are really the same thing) and then trying to smooth things over with God by doing “religious” stuff. It is good for us to hear that and to heed it. But there is another meaning to Micah’s sermon that would also be good for us to hear and to heed. That is: there is no need for us to do anything to make God like us, love us, and give us good things. There is no need of that because God already likes us, loves us, and gives us good things, and there is nothing we can do to make God stop doing those things. All we can really do is what Micah says: “…do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with our God.” Even then, we don’t do those things to win favor from God – we do them because we have already found favor with God.

So, we take this wonderful universe God has made and live in such a way as to share it with others. One of the most important things that can help us share it is to remember, realize, and live the fact that God did not make this wonderful universe for us – we are simply one small part of it. We are lucky here – we have more than we could ever need. So, we need to do what we can to help those people in our world who do not have everything they need. Sometimes they are lacking things because of natural causes, so we can respond to calls for help in crises. Most of the time, though, people lack what they need because others are acting as if God made the universe for them and are cheating the unfortunate people out of their share of things. There are many ways we can help solve those horrible problems, but unfortunately, they are usually the most difficult to correct. That is no reason to stop doing what we can to help.

But as important as it is to help people in need, it is equally important to remember that we are not the source of the things they need, we are merely a delivery service. We have been overly blessed, so we bring some of that blessing to others. In order to do that, we must always be receptive to God’s gifts and never forget that we have done nothing to deserve them. How much has God blessed us! We live in a place that gives us the opportunity to wake up early every morning to pray and then to come back throughout the day for more prayer. What a gift! It is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God. May we take that gift and allow it to form us into better deliverers of God’s good things to the people around us and the people far away who need them.   AMEN

No More, No Less: Thanksgiving Day Year C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Everything comes from God; nothing comes from us – that is the theme of today, and we are grateful for all that God has given. But from our narrowly human point of view, God is good at providing only raw materials; it is up to us to put in the work required to turn these raw materials into things which are (once again, only from our narrowly human point of view) useful. So we are thankful not only for the things God has given us, but also for the ability to work – for blessing us with memory, reason, skill, and most importantly: opposable thumbs. We must also remember to work not instead of God, but with and because of God.

There are a few things to help us work in gratitude and thankfulness. The first is to remember that we get the most satisfaction from our work when we do our best. We usually do that in terms of doing no less than our best, but we also need to be careful to not get caught up in the frenzied attempt to do more than our best. We have limits, and trying to go beyond them is as harmful as never trying to reach them. Work is our area of responsibility; results are God’s area of responsibility (and it is not our job to tell God what the results should be). We do our best and let God take care of the rest – that takes a huge burden off of our backs that we mistakenly took up in the first place.

We also need to work not with patience, but rather with constancy. The difference in the two words is subtle, but can have a big impact on our lives. Patience means we are merely waiting until things get better, so we work with a stiff upper lip and hope for the better. Constancy means we choose to do what we consider to be the right things no matter if things ever or never get better. Patience can lead to bitterness. Constancy is already infused with joy.

And we need to work out of love, not out of expectations for outcomes. One of my biggest prayers is that I hope to never see the fruit of my labors, and that we never see the fruit of the monastery’s labors (not that there will not be fruit, but that we will not see it), because when we see the fruit of our labors, we are tempted to work for results rather than out of love.

And so, the human race takes this wonderful planet that God has given us and makes wonderful things like donuts, spacecraft, and Olympic curling teams. I am thankful for all of those things. We at the monastery take this wonderful corner of the wonderful planet God has given us and we make guesthouses, meals, letters to prisoners, and calendars. Most importantly, we make prayers.   AMEN