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

preaching

Proper 8 Year B: Exit Finite; Enter Infinite

Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24
II Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

July 1, 2018   Abraham   Abbey Church

The little girl and the woman in our gospel story this morning were both healed by Jesus, but it is a safe assumption that they both eventually died. Humans die. Jesus died. Jesus is fully human, as well as fully God. In some unexplainable way, that means that God had also experienced death. Impossible, but true. But, since Jesus is fully God and fully human, it also means that he not only experienced death, he also experienced fully human eternal life.

In our first reading, Solomon says that we are created as the image of God’s eternity, but we choose death through envy. God creates us for eternal joy, but we desperately want so much less, so we kill our eternal joy and try to fill the void with other things, doing anything we can to fill that infinite space with the finite things around us – even if that means taking them from other people. And so sin and death enter the world.

The things around us are not bad; they are good. They are just not God. Anything that is not God is less than God. So, we should take Paul’s advice from our second reading this morning. He is writing to people who have more than they need, asking them to give to people who have less than they need. They are not forced to do so; it is voluntary – giving must be voluntary in order to negate lifekilling envy. Giving is what God does.

It is not easy on the surface, but in terms of eternal joy, it is worth it. Letting go of our finite resource of things, time, and energy opens us up so that the infinite joy of God can fill us. We don’t always freely give of ourselves all the time, and we all know it. That does not mean we are evil. It means we are tired and worried. Jesus knows that; he was also tired and worried, and so doesn’t mind it sometimes when we just give up and have to let Jesus give through us (but even doing that is a form of giving: giving up our self-righteousness). It takes time and work, but mostly it takes grace. So it is a good thing that God is gracious and that God gives. God gives eternal life, and every time we refuse it, God offers it again.   AMEN

Proper 4 Year B: Have Fun With It

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
II Corinthians 4: 5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

June 3, 2018   Abbey Church   Abraham

Our scripture readings this morning speak of creation and Sabbath (or in other words: “work and rest”). Sometimes, people say that Christians should meet for prayer on Saturdays rather than on Sundays, because Moses says that people are supposed to meet for prayer on Saturdays. They are wrong – Moses says to rest on Saturday – we just heard that. Prayer can and should be any day including the Sabbath. Christians meet on Sunday to remember and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. Most Christians also do not work on Saturday (depending on what one classifies as work). And if Christians do work on Saturdays, they are not disobeying Moses, because Moses was giving God’s law to a specific group of people for life in a specific place. Maybe a Jewish Christian currently living in Palestine should be obliged to observe the Sabbath, but there are hints in the New Testament that they are not obligated to do so.

Having said all that, Christians should both pray and rest from work. Both things show our total dependence on God alone. Resting from work reminds us that everything comes from God – no matter how hard we work, we can not guarantee any material gain. Prayer reminds us that everything comes from God – no matter how hard we work, we can not guarantee anything. All is gift.

Yes, we should work. Yes, we should pray. And yes, we should at times rest from work. We really shouldn’t rest from prayer, but we should realize that resting from both work and intentional prayer in order to simply enjoy the universe around us is itself a form of prayer (gratefully having fun in the beautiful creation of God.)   AMEN

Easter III Year B: See It, Be It

Acts 3:12-19
I John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

April 15, 2018   Abbey Church   Abraham

 

There is a phrase in our second reading this morning that always catches me, either when I hear it or read it.: “…when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” I used to think that maybe the words had been transposed in some ancient manuscripts so long ago that we now just assumed that the order in our current Bibles is the correct version. I really thought John should have said: “…when he is revealed, we will see him as he is, because we will be like him.”, because God’s job is to make us holy, and then when we are holy enough, we will see everything, including God, as it really is – without the bias and filter of our own sinful greed and fear.

Yes, it is God’s job to make us holy – it’s all grace. And yes, the holier God makes us, the more we see things as they really are (always about God, never about us). But, the holier God makes us, the more we are expected to grow and cultivate the growth – actively doing things to receive the holiness that God is pouring upon us. It’s all grace, but faith and works are also part of the picture.

So, we need to work on seeing God as God really is, and dong that involves also seeing creation as it really is. We need to see everything in its true relationship with God, rather than in its false relationship to us. And of course by “seeing” it is implied that we start living in the truth and treating everything as it truly is in relationship to God, not as it might affect us. There are many ways to do that, and the classical Christian disciplines of fasting, prayer, scripture reading, going to church, etc. are helpful for many people. Other people might need to try something else, but the important thing is that we start seeing things and living life as it really is: without us as the center, but rather with God as the center. Freeing ourselves from the center of the universe is indeed liberating.

So, as we start to see God as God really is and ourselves as we really are and the rest of creation as it really is, what we are doing is actually becoming like God in at least one aspect, because God always sees the truth. It’s all grace, so eventually God will give us a glimpse of Godself as God really is, but God knows that we just can’t handle the truth yet. God is waiting for us to grow to the point that God can safely show us the truth without completely shattering us. At some point in eternity (which encompasses all points), God will be revealed to us, and “we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.   AMEN

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

Proper 25 Year B: Sunshine Of Your Love

Mark 10:46-52

The healing of Bartimaeus the blind man that we heard in our gospel story this morning is not the most dramatic healing Jesus has done. Healing our own blindness is a much bigger job, because we are blind in a much deeper way than merely being unable to see with our eyes. Jesus brings light to our inner darkness, and that darkness is caused by our own sin.

We have lost our way because we have put up barriers between ourselves and God. We might not be notorious criminals or cruel monsters, but our own petty selfish deeds are just as effective at rejecting God as are bigger sins. If our constant thought is “me, me, me”, then we are not thinking “God, God, God”, or “others, others, others”, or “God, others, and me” (which is actually the best of the choices). All of that emphasis on ourselves turns us into little black holes, sucking everything into our own little circle and covering us in darkness. We cut ourselves off from God, and in so doing lose all stability, sense of direction, and ability to discern truth from falsehood.

Of course, we are not always in that state. We wax and wane in our relationship with God, who remains stable in his desire and love for us no matter our condition. In fact, God’s love and desire for us is so strong that God takes action to dispel the blindness that we bring on ourselves, and sometimes that action is much more dramatic than the healing of Bartimaeus. We might experience it as being humbled by another person’s comments or actions that finally make us admit our pettiness, or by witnessing an event that causes us to finally see our own selfishness, or by a time of prayer and scripture reading that brings to light our own darkness and the need for God’s help. Those instances are more common than the kind of healing that Bartimaeus got, but they are no less miraculous. They might seem easier than healing physical blindness, but God’s healing of our inner selves is actually a lot more miraculous than healing of our bodies.

But even after we do wake up to God’s light, we ought not to just keep staring at it, dazed and confused. We have a life to live in the sunshine of God’s love, and we need to grow to the point where we can share that light. We need to work to stop ourselves from once again putting up barriers between us and God – all those selfish little things that blinded us in the first place. Of course, we must not forget that even with the need for work on our part, the healing that we need comes only from God. Like the blind man in our gospel story, we need to stand by the side of the road and cry to Jesus for mercy, no matter how often the people around us discourage us from doing so, like they did to Bartimaeus. But then we need to take that mercy that God gives us and put it to use, being honest about the thoughts, words, and actions that hinder our relationship with God. We do those things, and they are no one’s fault but our own. They might be big or small, hidden or well known to others, but they are there all the same, keeping us blindly isolated in a dark shell of self-centeredness. May we always cry to God for mercy, asking for God’s strength to save us and bring us out of darkness in to light. May we never be discouraged when we fall back again into our pride and thoughtlessness (because we will fall back again and again), and may we never discourage others from crying out for mercy (like those people around Bartimaeus). We fall dawn, we get back up again, but God is always there offering sight and hope. God will have mercy, we just need to be humble enough to ask for it.   AMEN

Proper 21 Year B: Ebony And Ivory

Numbers11: 4-6,10-16,24-29
James 5: 13-20
Mark 9: 38-50

We sometimes forget the great, freeing truth of what we just heard Jesus say in our gospel story this morning: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”. He said it in response to John who told him a story about finding other people working in the name of Jesus who were not from their own group. Jesus makes it clear that he is quite alright with people doing good deeds in his name, no matter what group they are in. He also makes it quite clear that anyone doing bad deeds, even if that person is in his group of disciples (and therefore presumably doing it in his name), will be cursed.

So it seems that actions are the important things, and group membership is of secondary importance. We probably all know people who are either indifferent or even hostile to official Christianity and yet are some of the most Christ-like people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And we also probably know church members who are some of the cruelest people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of hell.

None of that is to say that beliefs are unimportant or that orthodoxy has no value. They do have value, but only if we allow the Holy Spirit to use those tools to form us into loving people. If, on the other hand, we use them to form ourselves into hateful people, we are working against Jesus and against ourselves.

And even within the church around the world and throughout history, we ought not to be so quick to judge other groups because of their styles of worship or government, or the education levels or social classes of their members. The body of Christ is big and diverse, and many different denominations are needed to help everyone fit in the Body. The church would be impoverished without the gift of the multiplicity of denominations. However, we can and often do take that gift and twist it into opportunities for rivalry and bitterness between denominations – and the smaller the differences between denominations, the more bitter the fighting. No wonder the Holy Spirit gets tired of it all and so often chooses to work through non-Christians.

But we can change that. We can see other groups working in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. We can see other groups doing good things whether or not they do them in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. It is so much easier than getting upset (and so much less ridiculous). Then, maybe the Holy Spirit will think we are ready to do good works and will use us. How much better to be filled with the Holy Spirit than with jealousy and pettiness. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about us.   AMEN

Proper 12 Year B: More Than This

II Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

We have so much already, and God wants to give us more. The only thing stopping us from receiving all that God has for us is our own stubbornness in wanting something other than what God gives. God gives us the universe, but we want so much less.

Yes, the world is full people who have no food, no house, no clean water, no reliable compassionate government. The reason that is so is because somewhere down the line, someone or someones have not gratefully received what God has given them and have instead greedily and fearfully taken more than they needed, keeping it from other people who do need it. Natural disasters can happen, but most often human want and misery is caused by other humans.

That is completely unnecessary. There is no need for fear or greed. God gives us the universe. But, we want so much less, so we create misery in the world. We all do it to some extent – we are all caught in the web of sin and we all contribute to the web of sin.

But we can all do things to untangle the web of sin. Jesus, of course, has ultimately dissolved it, but right now we are still feeling its effects. We know we can all give to charity organizations and volunteer to help people and vote responsibly and recycle and waste less. But we can also be good to the people around us – cleaning up our messes and griping less about petty things and sharing work.

We can’t save the whole world all at once – that is God’s job and he has already done it – but we can make our little corner of the world better and we can make the entire world a little better with the help of others around the world. Like the gospel story, we can give our fish and bread and let God take care of the rest. We can let go of fear and greed and, as Paul says in our second reading this morning: “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

It is not easy. We are like the disciples in the boat – worried about life and even more worried when we see Jesus coming toward us because we know that he will ask us to do something that we think can’t possibly do us any good.

Of course, what he asks us is the only thing that can do us any good: fear not, share your bread and fishes, let God fill you.   AMEN

Proper 5 Year B: Talking Serpent

Genesis 3:8-15
II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The story we heard in our first reading from the book of Genesis has always puzzled me. We heard only a part of it, but the whole thing is familiar to most people: God puts the first humans in a garden and lets them eat anything but the fruit of one tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), but the humans eat it (they are convinced to do so by a talking serpent), and so are thrown out of the garden. The parts that puzzle me are basically everything in the story, but especially: why did God put that tree there if it was so important that they not eat it? and why did God not want them to have the knowledge of good and evil? The first question is easily answered by saying that it is a Bible story, so we should expect weird things like that.

The second question is what has really always bothered me – a lot. Why did God not want them (and by them I mean us) to have the choice between good and evil? Did God really want a race of infants? Did God want to protect us from ourselves or from others (and even so, could God not have protected innocent people from evil and yet still allowed others to choose it?) Wasn’t it really a good thing that they disobeyed and in so doing made us more fully human by allowing us to be free moral agents? Isn’t it really better for God to have creatures who can chose to do good rather than creatures who have no choice but to do good (and is that really good anyway?)?

I sure am glad that they disobeyed God. Maybe that is what God wanted all along and was finally relieved and overjoyed that after so many prehistoric eons his children finally decided to grow up and look at the world around them (one might say that was not only the day we grew up, but also the day we were born). Of course, we do not yet see the world as it really is, but we have a better view of it now than before the fruit was eaten. Of course, we do not always choose good, but at least now we have a choice, and so when we do choose to not do evil, it really is good.

The Fall (as the tree incident is often called) was not the only day that humans were born or grew up. We have had many births: creation, fall, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all birthdays for the human race as we slowly grow into our vocations as Children of God. In the story this morning, they all blamed each other for what happened. The same thing happens to us – people do things that cause us troubles, but those troubles (as bad as they can be and even if they are not our own fault) can all be catalysts for further growth. When those bad things happen, (just like in the story) God finds us, clothes us, and puts us somewhere we can get to work, never letting us go back to what we knew before. Of course, unlike in the story, God does not force all of that on us now – we can go on living sadly in our broken paradises if we so choose. Or, we can look at what has happened, see the good and the evil (like eating from the tree), and use all of that to grow. It is not easy, but years later it does make for a good story, just like in the Bible.   AMEN

Lent III Year B: People Are More Important Than Rules

Exodus 20:1 — 17
I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2: 13 — 22

We hear the saying a lot: “People are more important than rules.”, and it is a good thing to hear and remember. Rules are good, but people are always more important. That upsets us sometimes, because we all know how much easier it is to follow a set of rules than it is to consistently love other people and treat them with kindness and compassion. We sometimes forget that the reason we have rules is to help us live richer and deeper lives, both individually and corporately, and instead of using the rules to free us from our more harmful tendencies, we fall into the trap of becoming slaves to the rules, fearful of breaking them.

One area where that commonly occurs is in our relationship with God, or our spiritual life, if you would like to call it that. Human history is filled with examples of hatred, persecution, and even war caused by disagreements concerning religious matters. Sadly, many of these unfortunate episodes are sparked by disagreements over surprisingly petty things: the proper way to hold one’s hand while crossing oneself, the use of musical instruments in public worship services, the wearing of neckties by men. Of course, these minor incidents are only the excuses needed to start the trouble – the real reasons are an abundance of fear and a lack of love. We are fearful of breaking the rules and upsetting God, so we forget about loving other people. Yet, as Christians we say that God’s most complete revelation is not as a set of rules, but as a person – Jesus.

We see Jesus today as he comes to the temple in Jerusalem, which was supposed to be a focal point in the nation’s relationship with God; the place where God and the world met. He sees it filled with people making business deals to help them meet their ritual duties. This story often brings images of corrupt merchants being driven out by a Jesus who is angered because they are taking advantage of the people coming to the temple to worship. However, we shouldn’t automatically jump to that conclusion. It may very well be that many of these merchants were not cheating their customers – they were simply selling them the materials they needed to fulfil their religious obligations. People would travel long distances to the temple, and transporting the animals needed for sacrifice was sometimes not feasible, so they would bring money (no less a sacrifice) to the temple and then exchange it for the prescribed animal. In a similar fashion, those who came to give money could not offer the common currency, since it contained forbidden images – perhaps that of the emperor or a pagan deity. So they exchanged the money they had (once again, often not a small sacrifice) for acceptable temple coins. Of course there probably were some cheats among the merchants in the temple courtyard, and there most likely were some shady business deals going on. But in all likelihood, many of the people were quite sincere in what they were doing – trying to follow the rules as best they could.

If that is the case, then Jesus’s actions might seem a little rash. That notion might make some people uncomfortable, but if we truly believe that Jesus is God in human form, then we shouldn’t be surprised when he acts like a human being. Jesus is frustrated by what he sees: so much worry and fuss over the details of religion, while the essence of it – love – is so easily forgotten. In fact, some of the religious laws that had slowly come into being over the centuries since the exodus from Egypt and the Ten Commandments were so difficult to obey that many of the poorer people could not fulfill them, and the minority of the people who could looked down upon them as sinners. Jesus was witnessing the triumph of rules over people, and he is so grieved by it that he not only disrupts some of the details of the temple worship, he calls into question the temple itself.

He does not say the temple, or any of its laws and rituals, is bad. He merely asserts the authority of another temple: his body, where God and the world were united. By doing so, he upholds the sanctity of all human bodies as temples of the most high God. After all, we are made in the image of God. Furthermore. God was made in our image when God lived a human life as Jesus of Nazareth. Because of creation, we bear God’s image; because of the incarnation, God bears our image. We are doubly holy temples, where God and the world meet; each one of us bringing the presence of God into our world as we become channels of peace, love, joy, and health.

We have rules now in our society and church that are different from some of the biblical laws – that is fine, we are in slightly different times and situations. Still, the rules are there to help us grow in our vocations as temples, but we must never forget that it is the people who are holy, not the rules – no matter how good the rules are. That does not give us the license to follow only those rules that we choose to obey, but it does give us the responsibility to follow them prudently and mindfully – purposely using them as tools to help us grow in love for our God, our neighbors, and ourselves – which as we recall, Jesus says is the essence of all religious laws.

As living temples, we have built into us all the requirements we need to fulfil that law, even though we might not always nave the inclination to do so. That is why we still study the biblical rules gaining insights into how they can help us live in our, own time and place, and that is why we pray seeking to know God and ourselves better as we build our relationship with God through time spent in silent conversation and contemplation. We also look at the current laws and regulations, both in our church and in our nation, to see now they might be changed or interpreted differently to help us live together in peace and flourish as the unique and wonderful individuals God has created us to be.

We have a wonderful reminder of our vocations as temples of God here at the altar. Soon we will have the opportunity to come to the table and receive concrete and visible signs of Jesus into our lives. We might not understand exactly how that happens, but by faith we can then take the Jesus in us and give him to others. As the altar is prepared, it is treated with great respect, as is the bread and wine that we believe becomes for us the body and blood of Christ – the life of God in humanity. It is right that we show such reverence to holy things, but only if we are prepared to show the same reverence to everyone we meet everyday of our lives, for they too are holy. It may be more difficult to respect those around us than it is to respect the special things at the altar, and that is why we need to be aware of the reason we come to this table. We do it in remembrance of Jesus – God’s revelation to us that people are important: far more important than any rules.

So let us make this trip, and every trip to the altar into a time of growth as we become more and more aware of the holiness of the Body of Christ on the table as well as in the people around us. Let us reverence each other and ourselves as God’s image. Let us bring God’s grace to our world while never forgetting to accept it from others, as we grow in love and truth as living temples.  AMEN