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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.
Many of Abbot Andrew’s sermons are posted on his blog.

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Advent II, Year A: Unnatural Acts?

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12


December 8, 2019 Abbey Church Abraham

In our first reading this morning, Isaiah tells of a golden age of peace and happiness that will come when one of Jesse’s descendants brings righteousness and faithfulness to us. We identify that person as Jesus, and we look to him to bring the golden age to our private lives and the entire world. However, all we need to do is take a quick look around to realize that we are not in a golden age in our private lives or in the rest of the world. It is not here yet, as much as we pray for it and work for it. Paul knows this as he writes to the Christians in Rome, as we heard in our second reading this morning. He tells them to keep living in harmony and to keep believing, and especially to keep hoping.

We also heard from John the Baptist in our gospel story this morning, telling us to not only hope for the golden age, but to do something about it: “repent…prepare…bear fruit…”. John warned the people that the person coming to bring the golden age might not be what they were expecting, and what he was bringing might not be what they expected. John tells the religious people who were coming to him that their piety would not stand up to what the messiah was bringing. We often think of John the Baptist as someone who merely yelled at people whom he considered hypocrites. Maybe we should really think of him as someone who cared about people and so warned them when he thought they were in danger of missing out on the truth.

But still, those warnings would have come as a shock to all the religious people coming to hear him. The warnings would not only be a shock, they would have seemed unnatural and wrong because they weren’t the same as their religious viewpoint told them the way the world should be. The coming of Jesus should shake us up just as much as it shook them up. The things he brings should make us squirm in our smugness and self righteousness. The prophet Isaiah this morning is a good example this: wolves, leopards, lions and bears are not supposed to pal around with lambs, kids, calves, and cows (they are suppose to eat them). Children are not supposed to play around asp and adder dens, because the natural things those snakes are suppose to do is bite children. Isaiah is telling us that the unexpected one will do unexpected things, so it is in our best interest not to have a list of jobs for Jesus to take care of. He will do what he sees fit when he sees fit.

That might sound scary to us because it takes things out of our control. But really, it should make us feel safe and secure, because it means everything is in Jesus’s hands. There is no place safer than that. So, we need to make sure we are in those hands, instead of always trying to escape because we think we know better than Jesus. By trusting Jesus, the golden age is already within us, because with Jesus, every moment is an eternity of heaven. Then in our turn, we can take that heaven and give it to the world around us.

We are not there yet – that could not be more obvious. So, we wait. Tom Petty says: “the waiting is the hardest part”, so as we wait, we also prepare: we hope and pray, and make peace. We take ourselves out of the center of our petty lives and put God in the center (which in turn makes our lives not-so-petty). Jesus comes on Christmas Day. He can also come into our lives everyday and every moment. All of those comings involve unexpected things, but that is good, because it gets us ready for his next coming. 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

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

Proper 29 Year A (Christ The King): The Kingdom of What Is

Ezekiel 34:11-17
Ephesians I:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Our scripture readings this morning are about our relationship to God and to each other, reminding us to let God be God, and let others be themselves. When we do those things, then we can truly be ourselves, because we stop spending so much time and energy trying to take care of God’s business and the business of the people around us, giving us time to work on becoming the best person we can be. By doing that, we will truly bless the world and the people around us, and truly bless ourselves.

The prophet Ezekiel, whom we read first this morning, is reminding us that God is the shepherd and judge of all, and we are not. We should all be thankful for that, because God is a much better shepherd and much more merciful judge than any of us could ever be. As Ezekiel puts it: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep … says the Lord God … I shall judge between sheep and sheep..,” Our job is to be sheep, not the shepherd. Of course, our job is to be the best sheep we can be, and to show others by example the best way to go, but we must never try to force them to go our way. Saying that is not a call to fatalism or not caring about others and the paths they follow; we can never just happily let people wander off onto ways that are dangerous (like sheep getting lost), but really the only way we can show people the best way is to go there ourselves and offer help to those who want to follow. We must also remember that just as there are many dangerous paths, there are also many good ones — the best path for us is not always the best one for others. As the song says: “We’re one, but we’re not the same.” (U2 — One)

In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus continues this idea of helping people along the way rather than forcing them to follow. He makes it clear that righteousness does not involve making people behave the way we think they should; righteousness involves offering help to people who need it. By offering help to people, we walk the path of righteousness, and others are free to follow. This is where the analogy of humans as sheep breaks down: humans are not dumb animals. We are free individuals made in the image of God and worthy of the utmost respect. Until we realize that fact and practice it as the guiding force in our relationships with others, we really can’t offer help to others, because truly helping people is in no way akin to throwing scraps to dogs. Our desire to help people must spring from the recognition that we are all equally unique children of God, that we all have something to offer others, and that others have equally valuable gifts to offer us. We are free to offer and accept gifts, but we can never judge their validity. God is the judge. In order to make a right decision, a judge must have all the information about the case, and God is the only one who ever really has all the information. For that we should be thankful, because as was stated before, God is a much more merciful judge than we could ever be,

Of course we can use our discernment and wisdom regarding the things that are offered to us, in order to decide if accepting them will be the best for our own growth. We should also use our wisdom and discernment regarding the paths that we see others following, so that we can warn them if they are heading toward danger. But we must always do those things with prayer and humility, making sure we are motivated by love, rather than by our own preferences, fears, and prejudices. Learning how to do this — how to make valid judgments to guide our actions and words rather than invalid judgments concerning the worth of others — takes a lot of prayer and honesty about ourselves, but it is work that is well worth the effort, because it helps to make the world a little better place.

There is a famous saying from Lord Acton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The idea was not original to him; William Pitt in 1770 said: “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” And before that Alphonse Lamartine said: “absolute power corrupts the best natures.” Of course the same idea was around long before these recorded instances, but they are all wrong – power does not corrupt us; we corrupt power. Things don’t corrupt people – we corrupt things. Power, like food, sex, and all the other good gifts from God are given to us to help us live good lives. Yet we sometimes (not always, maybe not most of the time) let those things ruin our lives and the lives of those around us. Only God has absolute power, and God is not corrupted by it .We should let God reign, not try to subvert God’s reign by assuming that we should judge others and make them follow the path we see fit. We should let God be God, let other people be themselves, and by doing so, let ourselves be ourselves.

We don’t do that because we are filthy pests crawling in the dust before the throne of a cruel God who rules according to arbitrary whims. We do it because our true dignity lies in the fact that we are children of God, and as heirs to the throne, we have a share in divine authority and power. So we must base all our actions on the integrity and legitimacy inherent in ourselves and everyone else as royal offspring. God rules by living with us, serving us, and showing us the right path by traveling it with us. The responsibility we have for each other should take the same form — leading by serving and acting, rather than by demanding and legislating.

Of course, we do have certain functions in society that put some in positions of authority over others – such as civil government, superiors in a monastic setting, and hierarchy in a work situation — and we should faithfully carry out our duties in those situations, whether it is to obey or to command or a little of both. Our world would soon fall to subhuman standards if those types of structures were not honored, and it will fall to subhuman standards if those who are given power choose to corrupt it. But as far as personal dignity and ultimate freedom go, we are all equals in the eyes of a God who also choose to partake of our equal status by living as one of us in Jesus. God is God, We are not. How lucky we are to be ourselves and no one else. May we be the best selves that we were created to be, and may we help others do the same.    AMEN

Proper 25 Year A: ABC

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
I Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

It sounds so simple: “Love God, Love you neighbor, Love yourself.” Then why don’t we do it, and why are there so many different religions, denominations, books, sermons, and other means of trying to do that simple thing? – Love. Maybe it is because it is not so simple after all, or maybe it is because we turn it from being something simple into something complex and difficult.

We think Love is difficult because Love involves others, and others freak us out. With The Other, we get scared, or infatuated, or obsessed or repulsed (that includes The Other that is ourself). But it is really only the hurting, fearful shell that we have built around our true selves that finds Love difficult. So in order to keep the greatest commandment, we need to either get rid of the shell, or heal it, or at least learn to work around it. That is the difficult part – once we do that, Love is easy, because it is the natural state of our true selves underneath the fearful hurting shell. And since we all have different shells around us (some would call it the ego, or false self, or the flesh, or fallen man, or sin), we all need different ways of breaking through it – hence all the different traditions and methods of Learning to Love God, neighbor, and ourselves. But we all do need to do something to break through the shell, and we need to not negatively judge others for choosing a different method. We need to stick with our method and persevere even with the knowledge and faith in the biggest truth that it is God alone who heals and saves us. God does that because God is Love, and since we are made in the image of God, so are we.

Once we let Love out of our shells, we start seeing that others are Love, and they are also made in the image of God – they are not scary or repulsive or objects to possess or be possessed by. They are beautiful, and so are we.   AMEN

Proper 12 Year A: Wisdom, Understanding, Trust

I Kings 3:5-12
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Solomon has wisdom and understanding, and the disciples understand what Jesus says – or so our first and third scripture readings just told us. But then we see how badly Solomon managed his own family and allowed idolatry to appear in his kingdom, and we see how much the disciples (including us) really so often don’t understand what Jesus is saying. Our middle scripture reading has Paul telling his Roman readers all about the joys of trusting God. He is right, of course. But we know how often we do not trust God – if ever.

There is nothing wrong with wisdom and understanding (in fact, they are good things), but they won’t help anyone unless they are used. Our scriptures are correct in pointing out that wisdom and understanding come from God: unless we live in the reality that God is the source of everything, we have no wisdom or understanding. But to be truly wise (to live in the reality that everything is about God, not about us) also involves trusting God as the source of everything (everything is about God, not about us). To be truly wise and understanding involves not only knowing that God is the source of all, but also living in God as the source of all.

The two really should go together: the more we understand the sovereignty and love of God, the more we can trust and rest and live in the sovereignty and love of God. The more we trust, rest, and live in the sovereignty and love of God, the more we will recognize it intellectually. Of course, we can never fully comprehend God, because God is infinite and we are not. But, we can grow more fully into our beautiful human nature, and the more we do that, we become not only more our individual unique selves, but we also become more like God (and so we can understand and trust a little bit more all the time).

There are many ways we can grow more in knowledge and trust of God: reading scripture, praying individually and corporately, being around others who are intentionally seeking to grow, giving to and serving other people, and coming to this table to be fed by God’s self. We don’t have to be immediately wise or trusting, and we will fail in those areas over and over (look at Solomon and all the disciples), but we can always grow. The people around us will also fail (even our most trusted role models will fail), so we ought to compassionately give them the same slack to grow that we would want them to give us. We all go up to the table together to get wisdom and understanding. We trust God to give it to us. And then we come back for more, because we all know how much we need it, and how much we need to trust in the only One who can give it.   AMEN