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.
September 6, 2020 Abbey Church Abraham
The first part of this morning’s gospel reading is more helpful than the next-to-last part: try to take care of problems privately before they become too big. That is easier said than done, because what might seem to be an offence that another person is committing is not wrong in that person’s eyes. It might be an offence only in our own eyes. So, at least by confronting people privately, we get a chance to learn that we might in fact be the one who is wrong, rather than the other person. We then have a chance to either correct our perception of the other person’s actions, or at least learn to live with them. Going to a person privately to confront them about a problem is difficult, and so it gives us a chance to ponder if the problem really is big enough to do anything about, or even if it can even be changed at all. We learn to accept the fact that sometimes the best thing to do is in fact to sweep things under the rug. That’s life.
The middle part about using a group to discern wrongdoing and confront the wrongdoer is a little better, because it relies on collective discernment and wisdom in how to confront the person and correct the problem. Even then, actions and intentions can be misinterpreted by the group, but it is not as common as one person misinterpreting another person’s actions.
The next-to-last part about group decisions having eternal consequences is really frightening. Yes, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. But honestly, we are not really all that good at following or even listening to the Holy Spirit. The fact that our group decisions have eternal consequences should make us veer far to the side of forgiving rather than condemning. We should always remember that we need to correct problems, rather than punish people. Punishing people solves nothing and only makes thing worse.
At least we get some consolation at the end of our reading: Jesus is with us, but only if we gather in His name. Gathering to condemn is not gathering in Jesus’s name. Gathering to heal and forgive is. AMEN
Proper 14 Year A
I Kings 19: 9-18
August 9, 2020 Abbey Church Abraham
In our gospel story this morning, Peter and the other disciples are doing exactly what they are told, but run into trouble anyway, and Peter follows Jesus’s instructions, but still becomes frightened. That’s life: even the best people living the best lives will have problems. In our story, Peter is rescued by Jesus. In our own lives, sometimes people are not rescued.
Many people say the existence of random desperation is a sign that either there is no God, or that if there is a God, it is an evil one who doesn’t care about suffering. We can’t blame people for thinking that way – they have a good point. Other people say that random suffering is actually not an indicator of the lack of a good God, but rather is an indicator the our good God is a lover, rather than a control freak. If God is not a controller, but rather a lover, that means that instead of changing our situations, God goes through the situation with us. We don’t know why tragedy happens to some and not to others – all we can really count on is that God loves us and is with us always and everywhere, even in our desperation.
Like Jesus on the cross, God does not always intervene and save us. On the cross, God did not save himself, because God is a not a controller. God suffers with us, as a lover does. That sounds comforting when we are safe, but not so much when we are hurting. Maybe the thing to do is to remember that although God does not always put an end to bad situations, God instead makes something completely new out of them – better than what came before and always much better than we could have imagined. But the fact remains that crucifixion comes before resurrection.
We don’t know why some people suffer so much and others don’t. Our job is to help others as much as we can. And it is quite alright to have faith in God while at the same time questioning God for allowing the suffering. We will suffer at times. Even worse, people we love will suffer, and sometimes won’t get better. God is with us and goes through the pain with us. It is not easy – it’s just the way it is. We will soon be up here to meet God our lover at the table. The time here is intimate as we join our lover in a meal and bring our bodies together in a union that is physical as well as spiritual. That is the perfect time for bringing our hurts, questions, and complaints to God, as people do when sitting down to a meal together or whispering to each other while making love. We might not get the answer we want, but we will be held close and offered a place to rest in the arms of the God who loves us and will never leave us. AMEN
July 12, 2020 Abbey Church Abraham
Everything we have is a gift – that’s “Grace”. We have to take what we are given and build a life out of it – that’s “Works”. Grace vs Works has been a topic throughout Christian history, and unfortunately, many times people have lived as if the two can not exist together. They can and should, and monastic life is a good example of the fact that grace should be a catalyst for good works, and good works are met with grace.
We have been given the opportunity to live here in a monastery (Grace). We then have to use monastic life intentionally and mindfully for it to come to any good (Works). All the tiny rules of refectory jobs, all the discussions, all the early mornings in church followed by gathering in the church throughout the day, all the private prayer and scripture reading, all the do’s and don’t’s, and all the grating characteristics and habits of the other monks: all of that is an opportunity to clear away the rocks and weeds of our own pettiness and whininess so that the seeds of God’s love can grow in the good soil of our cleansed hearts.
It takes a long time, and is tedious, and we can’t see our own progress, so the tools of perseverance and not comparing ourselves with others are important helps in preparing the soil of our lives. We will progress at times and fail at other times, but we won’t give up, because God never gives up – that’s Grace. May we work with the grace that is given to us. We are worth it. AMEN
January 5, 2020 Abbey Church Br. Abraham
It has taken two generations of stars to make us humans. In the words of Chrissie Hynde: “we’re special…so special”. But instead of treating ourselves and others and the world around us as the amazing stardust that we are, we so often treat each other like dirt. We don’t even treat our dirt very well. Still, God thinks we are special enough that he became one of us. We share DNA with God! God inhabits the material universe, making all of it a holy temple! Infinity flows throughout finitude! God is transcendent, immanent, and embedded in our world!
And we did not like that, so we killed Jesus. So, God solved that by raising Jesus from the dead, pulling us up into his resurrection. We are special because of creation, incarnation, and resurrection.
We need to remember that, and stop treating ourselves, others around us, and the things in our world so poorly. When we see someone whose life, words, and actions are causing others pain (bullies, business people, political figures, religious tyrants), we need to not only do what we can to stop the wrongdoing, but also have compassion on all involved (victims as well as perpetrators). Dehumanizing and damning the wrongdoer is in itself wrongdoing. After all, they are just as special as we are, and are caught in the same web of fear and sin as we are. They need help escaping evil just as much as we do.
God has wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature. May we take that to heart, and live as if it were true – because it is. AMEN
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
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
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
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
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