Sermon: Holy Saturday

A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” “I’m the new associate at your local church,” the pastor replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.” “Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the pastor shut the door. Continue reading “Sermon: Holy Saturday”

Sermon: Good Friday

Image credits.

A man dreamed of walking through a vast desolate area. In the distant, near the horizon, he saw a cross and immediately altered his course to go see this site. The closer he got, the more detail came into focus and soon he realized that Christ was on the Cross. He knew that these horrible events had happened two millennia before, but the closer he came the more he understood that it was also happening today. A line from the poem, The Dream of the Rude, came to mind:

I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the ruler’s corpse with clouds,
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the king’s death; Christ was on the cross. Continue reading “Sermon: Good Friday”

Sermon: Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration at St. Stephen’s AME Church

Brown Chapel AME Church is located in Selma, Alabama and was the starting point for the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, a distance of about 54 miles, which were attempting to bring attention to the disparities in voting rights.

The first of those marches ended on March 7, 1965, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only six blocks from the Brown Chapel, when the organizers and participants were attacked by police and bystanders. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, but it did not stop the marches. A second attempt, with Dr. King and 2,000 others was attempted on March 9, but a federal restraining order had been issued prohibiting the march, so Dr. King and the others stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, once again met by police, knelt and prayed, then returned to Brown Chapel in order to prevent another bloody attack on those marching. Continue reading “Sermon: Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration at St. Stephen’s AME Church”

Sermon: RCL A / The Epiphany – “Example of the Magi”

A traveling salesman reports: In a small Southern town there was a nativity scene that indicated great skill and talent in its creation. One small feature bothered me though. The three wise men were wearing firemen’s helmets. Totally unable to come up with a reason or explanation, I left. At a “Quik Stop” on the edge of town, I asked the lady behind the counter about the helmets. She exploded into a rage, yelling at me, “You darn Yankees never do read the Bible!” I assured her that I did, but simply couldn’t recall anything about firemen in the Bible. She jerked her Bible from behind the counter and ruffled through some pages, and finally jabbed her finger at a particular passage. Sticking it in my face she said, Continue reading “Sermon: RCL A / The Epiphany – “Example of the Magi””

Sermon: Christmas Day RCL A – “Light”

Bilbo Baggins, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, was stuck in the cave with Gollum and they began their riddling contest. After a few, Gollum put the following riddle to Bilbo:

“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills,
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.”

Any guesses, My Preciouses? Continue reading “Sermon: Christmas Day RCL A – “Light””

Sermon: Christmas Eve RCL A – “Hiding”

A telemarketer called a home one day and Little Johnny answered. In a small voice Johnny whispered, “Hello?” The telemarketer said, “Hello! What’s your name?” Still whispering, the voice said, “Johnny.” “How old are you, Johnny?” “I’m four.” “Good. Is your mother home?” “Yes, but she’s busy.” “Okay, is your daddy home?” “He’s busy too.” “I see, who else is there?” “The police.” “The police? May I speak with one of them?” “They’re busy.” “Any other grown-ups there?” “The firemen.” “May I speak with a fireman, please?” “They’re all busy.” “Johnny, all those people in your house, and I can’t talk with any of them? What are they doing?” With a little snicker and a bit too gleefully Johnny whispered, “Looking for me.” Continue reading “Sermon: Christmas Eve RCL A – “Hiding””

Sermon: St. Andrew and the Blessing of the Columbarium

Many a rednecks last words can be summed up in the simple phrase, “Dude, hold my beer.” Others’ last words range from the humorous to the sad to the profound.

Murderer James W. Rodgers was put in front of a firing squad in Utah and asked if he had a last request. He replied, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest.”

Humphrey Bogart said, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”

At the deathbed of Joan Crawford, a housekeeper began to pray. Joan snapped, “Dammit… Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”

Recognizing that he would die before being able to reverse the official state endorsement of Christianity, Emperor Julian proclaimed, “You have won, O Galilean.”

Voltaire, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan is reported to have said, “Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.” Continue reading “Sermon: St. Andrew and the Blessing of the Columbarium”

Sermon: “Go!”

This sermon was preached at St. Stephen’s AME Church.

A man enters the Confessional box.  He notices on one side a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap.  On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars. Then the priest comes in.  “Father, forgive me, for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Confession, but I must first admit that the Confessional box is much more inviting these days.”  The priest replies, “Get out! You’re on my side.”

It is quite interesting being a priest. You see the world from a different angle, because so often folks want you to see their “good side.” It’s not often that when you are all dressed up in a clerical collar that you can meet someone for the first time and come away actually knowing much about them. There are those rare occasions when someone begins talking and it seems they’ve lost the “Off” switch, but for the most part it comes down to respectful pleasantries.

You also get various reactions from people as you walk along. There’s always some who give you a hearty, “Hello, Father,” but there are others that avert their eyes. They don’t want to be seen by a priest or they have a certain disdain for clergy to the point that they won’t even recognize you as a person.

Some priests don’t think that it is necessary to walk around looking like a priest, but I do, whether the world accepts it or not. It is a way of constantly reminding folks that there is another way.

Of all the looks you get along the way, the oddest ones come from folks who have never really seen a priest up close. I was at the grocery store just a few weeks ago and the you man bagging my groceries asked, “Are you a pastor or something?” It was all because of the dog collar. Some will give you more than the once over and particularly stare at the dog collar. I mention this because I got this certain look while around several youth in their early teens. A girl – maybe fourteen – looked at me and my collar, then noticed the crucifix that I wear. Her eyes lit up a bit as she leaned in for a closer look. “Nice necklace,” she said, “it has a man on it.” “It has a man on it.” Now, it is one thing to not really know much about priest, but this girl – this fourteen year old girl – did not know that this man on my necklace was Jesus. She didn’t know the story or anything about Him. Her friend sitting next to her looked up and said, “Oh, that’s God” and I was thankful for her input, because at the time I was a bit too flummoxed to say anything.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” His name will be Jesus. He will be great. Son of the Most High. David’s ancestor. He will reign forever. He will be… a man on a necklace.

As long as Jesus is seen only as a good moral teacher, then there is no access to eternal life. As long as he is viewed simply as the epitome of enlightened humankind, then there is no sustaining Truth. As long as Jesus is only a man on a necklace, there is no salvation. As long as we, His disciples, do nothing, then we are not fulfilling his final commands: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

So, what are we to do?

One of my favorite stories of the Desert Fathers – those men who lived in the deserts of North Africa during the 300s and dedicated their lives to God – tells of the time Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’

The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes in his first saying in the book The Way, “Don’t let you life be sterile. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and of your love. With your apostolic life wipe out the slimy and filthy mark left by the impure sowers of hatred. And light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.”

The Episcopal Church has been around since 1789. Since then we have had 27 Presiding Bishops – the ecclesiastical head of our denomination. In 2015 we elected the 27th, The Right Reverend Michael Curry. He is the first African American to hold that position. If you were to ask him what is the most important aspect of the church, Bishop Curry would answer it in one word without hesitation: Jesus. He is passionate about this and believes the church is called to be the Jesus Movement in this world.

He spoke to us recently via an online video and began by recalling the words of the angel at the empty tomb of Jesus, “This Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek, he is not here, he has been raised as he said he would be and he has now gone ahead of you to Galilee.  There you will see him.  It is in Galilee that the Risen Lord will be found and seen for he has gone ahead of us.”

Bishop Curry goes on to say,

Galilee.  Which is a way of talking about the world.

Galilee.

In the streets of the city.

Galilee.

In our rural communities.

Galilee in our hospitals.

Galilee in our office places.

Galilee where God’s children live and dwell there.

In Galilee you will meet the living Christ for He has already gone ahead of you.

The church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it, the church must go where the congregation is.

Now is our time to go.  To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ.  To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation.  To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.

Bishop Curry concludes, “This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.”  Today I say to you, “We are the Jesus Movement. We are the Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church branches of the Jesus Movement in Enid, Oklahoma. Go. Light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart. Go. Make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go. Teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us. Go. And remember, He – the Great I Am – is with us always, to the very end of the age. Amen.

Sermon: Easter Sunday

The Rev. Fred Craddock tells about a friend and his family who were missionaries in China and were at some point put under house arrest.

One day the soldiers arrive and tell them that they could return home to America and had twenty-four hours to pack. One stipulation: they could only take with them 200 pounds of their belongings.

The husband and wife and their children had lived in China for years. What would they decide to bring? They took their scales and began to weigh and soon after the arguments began. We can’t possibly leave without this… But what about that… Oh, wait, we forgot this…. The children wanted their toys and the parents wanted their few valuables. They chose and chose and weighed and weighed until they had exactly two hundred pounds. Typewriter, vase, essential clothes. Two hundred pounds to the ounce.

When they met the soldiers at the airport the commander asked, “Ready to go?”

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes. 200 pounds exactly.”

“Did you weigh the children?”

“The children? No. I didn’t weigh the children.”

“Weigh the children,” he said.

Weigh the children, and in a piercing moment of clarity you finally discover that which is of most importance.

The women returned to the tomb where Jesus was buried, but when they arrived, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away and the body of Jesus was not there. Then the two angels appeared to them and asked, ”Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Betrayed and handed over to be tried, scourged, put to death, and then rise again. All this Jesus did for them and for us – for you. But why? Why did Jesus do all of these things and endure so much? I’ve given this some thought and I think I’ve got a few answers for you.

Jesus did all these things so that you and I would go to church on Sunday mornings and feel guilty when we don’t. He took the abuse of the soldiers and others so that we would read our Bibles everyday. He allowed the crown of thorns to be placed on his head so that we wouldn’t do things like cuss and watch dirty movies. He endured the scourging so that he might vigorously oppose whatever we vigorously oppose, and to stand with the Democrats or the Republicans or whoever shouts the loudest. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord has risen indeed, so that we might all be nice people, smile at one another, and get along.

Yes, we’ve figured out exactly why Jesus suffered, died, and rose again, but we forgot to weigh the children. When we get so wrapped up in the little things, we forget that which is most important, and in the process, God becomes very small. God is no longer about eternal life, but is instead perceived as a task master intent on us following established rules. When we forget that which is most important, God is no longer interested in making all things new and transforming our lives, but is instead only a genius at pouring on the guilt and shame. When we mistakenly understand our faith to be about what we do for God, instead of what God has done for us, then we are essentially rejecting the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. And God becomes even smaller.

Weigh the children. Seek that which is of most importance. Go to church and read the Bible. Yes. Good. Stop cursing and watching dirty movies. Absolutely! Oppose the injustices of this world. By all means. Democrats… Republican? I got nothin’. Run away. But when it comes to understanding the “Why?” of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, understand that these are the vases, books, toys, etc., but these are not the children.

Julian of Norwich, in her Revelations of Divine Love, wrote, “This is the reason why we have no ease of heart or soul, for we are seeking our rest in trivial things which cannot satisfy, and not seeking to know God, almighty, all-wise, all-good. He is true rest. It is His will that we should know Him, and His pleasure that we should rest in Him. Nothing less will satisfy us… We shall never cease wanting and longing until we possess Him in fullness and joy.”

The “Why?” of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is so that He could seek and find the lost. So that His Father could become Our Father, so that we could become His children through the forgiveness of our sins. He came so that he could destroy the works of the devil. He came that we might have abundant life and life eternal.

A fun – but as it turns out, untrue – story about the great golfer Arnold Palmer. Legend has it that he was invited to play several exhibition rounds of golf in Saudi Arabia with the king. Following all the events, the king was so impressed that he wanted to give Arnold a gift. Arnold said that it wouldn’t be necessary, that he had enjoyed his time. The king was not pleased with the answer and insisted, so Arnold said that a special golf club would be nice. The king was delighted. The following day, a messenger delivered an envelope to Palmer. It contained the title to a golf club. A 465 acre, thirty-six hole golf club.

When it comes to our King, we are thinking too small. For we think He only wants us to practice our faith, when instead He wants to transform our lives and the world around us. He wants to set us on fire with His love so that we might set the world ablaze around us.

Weigh the children. Your life with God – the life He wants for you – is about far more than anything you could ask or even imagine. Weigh the children and in a moment of clarity, discover how God wants to transform your life.

Let us pray:
God our Father,
by raising Christ your Son
you conquered the power of death
and opened for us the way to eternal life.
Let our celebration today
raise us up and renew our lives
by the Spirit that is within us.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.