Sermon: Christmas 1 RCL B – “New Beginning”

The podcast can be found here.


The Top 10 New Years Resolutions that I should actually be able to keep:

  1. Stop exercising. Waste of time.
  2. I want to gain weight. Put on at least 30 pounds.
  3. Read less.
  4. Watch more TV. I’ve been missing some good stuff.
  5. Procrastinate more.
  6. I will no longer waste my time reliving the past, instead I will spend it worrying about the future.
  7. Stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.
  8. Stop bringing lunch from home: I should eat out more.
  9. Take up a new habit: maybe smoking!
  10. I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

As I’m sure you have, I have thought long and hard about my resolutions for the coming year. I have three: 1) Next year at this time, I will look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel. 2) Next year at this time, I will have doubled the size of this congregation. 3) Next year at this time, I will be like one of those great saints of God who were so focused in their prayers, that they had to be dragged away from the blessed sacrament and reminded to eat. Next year at this time, I will not be, nor will I have accomplished any of the above.

Here we are. One week after celebrating the birth of our Savior, and we’re already setting ourselves up for failure. Hoorah! What idiot came up with this disillusioning ritual? And why do we walk into it every year with our eyes wide open?

Asking someone what their New Year’s resolution is is akin to asking someone what they’re giving up for Lent. So often, both are only exercises in will power. Will I go to the gym enough times and eat right so that I come out in twelve months looking like Fabio? Will I be in prayer so much that I have callouses on my knees? If so many of these resolutions end in failure, then why do we persist?

Brother Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P. (Dominican) discussed this in an article. He writes, “At the root of the practice of New Year’s resolutions is a dissatisfaction with who we are. Though there are certainly unhealthy kinds of dissatisfaction, in and of itself dissatisfaction is not a bad thing. Only the most arrogant person lacking even an ounce of self-knowledge would actually believe that he has no room for improvement. Making resolutions reminds us that we are not finished products—and breaking them makes this even more obvious.”

The resolution reminds us that we are a work in progress, however, Morales goes on to ask, “But what’s the point of resolutions if we’re fairly certain we’re not going to keep them? Is there anything to be gained by them?” (source) For me, I am very well aware of the fact that I need improvement, so why go through the exercise?

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin writes about a particular project: “I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into.” The project included thirteen virtues that he intended to focus on, such as: temperance, moderation, and frugality. (Originally it had only twelve, but a Quaker friend pointed out to him that he seemed prideful to many, so Franklin added “Humility,” the description of which was, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”) He made a book with a grid system, setup in thirteen weeks. Each week he would focus solely on one of the virtues and for every time he failed at keeping the virtue, he would make a small dot on the page. He noted in his autobiography, “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” He did see improvements, but there were still failures, so much so, that he had intended to reuse the little book, but over time, the pages had holes in them from the number of dots he had to erase.

What’s the point of resolutions? What is to be gained? Brother Morales writes, “Perhaps the most important thing about resolutions is not following through with them perfectly, but rather the determination to start over every time we fail.”

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke Skywalker has been training with Yoda. Yoda gives Luke what appears to be an impossible task. Luke does not believe he can do it, but eventually concedes and says, “All right, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda responds: “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Another great movie—Elizabeth: the Golden Age: the Spanish Armada is on the way. Elizabeth and her troops gathered at Tilbury. Elizabeth rallies the troops by saying to them, “My loving people. We see the sails of the enemy approaching. We hear the Spanish guns over the water. Soon now, we will meet them face-to-face. I am resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all. While we stand together no invader shall pass. Let them come with the armies of Hell; they will not pass! And when this day of battle is ended, we meet again in heaven or on the field of victory.” Do… or do not. There is no try.

If, along the way, you should fail, then remember that no one can take away your birthday and then recall the words from Proverbs: “Though [the righteous] fall seven times, they will rise again.” (Proverbs 24:16) On the day that you fail, make another firm resolution to get up, erase the marks from the page, and begin again.

This same principle holds true in our walk with Christ. The fact that we say “The Confession” each week should be a clear indicator of that one. We get down on our knees and we confess our sins and repent of any wrong doing. We hear the words of absolution and receive the forgiveness and grace that comes from God. We go to one another, extending the hand of peace to those we love and those we have injured or offended and to those who have injured or offended us. And then we go out into the world, fully intending, fully resolving to live in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, but no sooner have we driven out the parking lot—if we even make it that far—and we find ourselves once again stumbling. Falling. The light of God shines into the darkness of our lives, exposing every blemish. And it is then that we have two options: remain face down in the dust or get to our knees and begin again. Do… or do not. There is no try.

With that in mind, what are my resolutions for 2018?

Next year at this time, I really would like to look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel – at least have a little of their hair – but the truth is, unless I can take a pill for it, its not going to happen, because I’m not really all that interested in looking like one of the shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novels. That said, I am interested in my collars not being so tight. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like for our church to have doubled in attendance so that we have to start figuring out where to put everybody, but the truth is, we can add numbers, but not depth. We can be a church that is a mile wide and an inch deep. That said, instead of chasing some number, I resolve to chase souls. To reach as many as the Lord places before me with the Good News of His Son, Jesus. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like to be like one of those great saints of prayer, who spent so much time praying before the blessed sacrament, that they had to be pulled away and reminded that they needed to eat, but the truth is, I’m not that obedient and I’m great at finding other things to keep me “busy.” That said, I resolve to spend some time each day in sincere prayer, seeking my God, and hoping to draw at least one step closer to Him. I resolve to work on that one, too.

To this list, I will add one more resolution. A resolution for me as your priest. Saint Paul said it in his first letter to the Corinthians: I resolve to know nothing while among you except Christ Jesus, and him crucified. (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2)

Whatever your resolutions may be, resolve to love God more and to love your neighbor more. When you fail at either, get to your knees and begin again.

The following is a prayer by Francis Brienen, a minister in the Reformed Church. Let us pray:

God of all time,
who makes all things new,
we bring before you the year now ending.
For life full and good,
for opportunities recognized and taken,
for love known and shared,
we thank you.

Where we have fallen short,
forgive us.
When we worry over what is past,
free us.

As we begin again
and take our first steps into the future,
where nothing is safe and certain,
except you,
we ask for the courage of the wise men
who simply went and followed a star.
We ask for their wisdom,
in choosing to pursue the deepest truth,
not knowing where they would be led.
In the year to come, God of all time,
be our help and company.
Hold our hands as we journey onwards
and may your dream of shalom,
where all will be at peace,
be our guiding star. (source)




Sermon: Alfred the Great

The podcast can be found here.


“Live your life in such a manner that the priest won’t have to lie at your funeral.” Ever wonder what someone might write or say about your life once you are gone? If it would be something your proud of or something that would cause you to bury your head deeper than six feet down? Perhaps a more comforting way to think about it is to ask: what would you like for them to say or write? When we’ve entered the Heavenly Kingdom, I don’t know that we’ll really care what people say or think, but it would be nice to know that you would be remembered fondly. Continue reading “Sermon: Alfred the Great”

Sermon: John Coleridge Patteson and Companions

The podcast can be found here.

Image: The Martyrdom of John Coleridge Patteson – one of three scenes carved into the pulpit at Exeter Cathedral. (source)

040910 exeter cath pulpit

At the age of fourteen, John Patteson knew he was going to be a priest. At the age of twenty-seven, he was. He grew up in England, and in 1855 would go to serve in Melanesia, a chain of some 10,000 islands off the northeast coast of Australia. His Bishop told him that his work would include “the evangelization of no less than 20 million.” Just to make it interesting, some of those 20 million were headhunters and cannibals, and had the custom of strangling a woman if her husband died. In addition, slave traders roamed the seas practicing “blackbirding” – capturing the natives and forcing them into slavery on the farms of the Europeans. Patteson was not deterred.

The goal of the mission was to travel to the islands and convince the tribes to allow one or two of the older boys to leave the island for ten months to a year, so that they could be trained in the teachings of Christianity, then take them back to their islands where they would evangelize the rest of the community. Continue reading “Sermon: John Coleridge Patteson and Companions”

Sermon: Proper 18 RCL A – “Two or Three or More”

The podcast of this sermon can be found here.

A crowd of individuals can be a very fickle creature. It begins with each of us doing our own thing, but when we come together, we no longer pursue what makes us different, but what makes us alike. Given the right motivation, we will do what is necessary to be like everyone else and do what everyone else is doing. For example, take the wave at a football game, when 1,000s will go round and round the stadium, raising their hands and cheering.

Two physicist spent a summer studying this phenomenon. Perhaps it would be better to say, two bored physicists or two government funded physicists spent the summer studying the wave at sporting events. They reported, “The reason why we got interested in stadium waves was that people, apparently, very often behave like particles.” They say that in participating in the wave, we act like matter. Interesting points about a wave: in order for it to be sustainable, it must span from the top to the bottom of the stadium, it travels at about 20 seats per second, requires only 20 to 30 individuals to start a stadium of 50,000 moving, and typically the waves run clockwise. The primary factor though, in getting one started, is timing, when the mood is ripe. If it is an intense moment during the game, all you’re going to do in trying to start a wave is anger the people around you, but in times of celebration or even better, boredom, your chances of success increase considerably. So, like matter, given the right circumstances, a very small catalyst can start a very large reaction and get things moving. (source) Which, when applied to how individuals respond in a crowd, tells us that even if you’re sitting there trying to enjoy your supper with a beer in one hand, hotdog in the other, and some peanuts balanced on your knee, you’re still going to attempt to pop up when the wave comes to you, so that you can be like everyone else. Continue reading “Sermon: Proper 18 RCL A – “Two or Three or More””

Sermon: St. Teresa of Calcutta

The podcast can be found here.

The young woman prays: Jesus, my own Jesus – I am only Thine – I am so stupid – I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish – as You wish – as long as you wish. [But] why can’t I be a perfect Loreto Nun – here – why can’t I be like everybody else?  Jesus responds, I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children … You are, I know, the most incapable person – weak and sinful but just because you are that – I want to use you for My glory. Will you refuse?

Who was the young woman?  She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, but she is now known as the Saint of Calcutta – Mother Teresa.  That prayer dialogue she told to her superior in 1947.  In 1948 she was given permission to begin her ministry in India.  She started out alone, a small woman in her white and blue habit.  When she died in 1997, the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, consisted of 610 missions in 123 countries including the US.  In 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.  She donated the $192,000 cash prize to the poor of India.  Let’s face it, when we get to heaven and are standing in line waiting to get through the pearly gates, she really is the one that we do not want to find ourselves behind. Continue reading “Sermon: St. Teresa of Calcutta”

Sermon: Proper 16 RCL A – “Mistaken Identity”

The podcast for this sermon can be found here.

An old cowboy named Bud was overseeing his livestock in a remote mountainous pasture in California when a fella in a fancy car comes skidding up. He gets out and is wearing this outlandish high fashion getup, a Rolex, with his hair slicked back, and a California tan – the works. When he opens his mouth, he’s clearly from “back east.”

Coming over to Bud he asked, “If I tell you exactly how many cows you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?”

Bud sized up the fella another moment then agrees, “Sure, why not?”

The guy pulls out is iPad and iPhone, makes a call, and ask for a photo from a satellite above. Once received he runs it through some computer analysis and has it count the number of animals on the ranch. After a few minutes, he turns to Bud and says, “You have exactly 1,562 cows in your herd.”

“That’s right, pardner,” replied the old cowhand. “Well, I guess I owe you a calf. Pick one out.”

The fellas looks over the herd, picks one out and then proceeds to cram it in the backseat of his car.

Bud interrupts this process. “Listen. If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?”

“Why not?”

“You’re a U.S. Congressman.”

The man is shocked. “Yeah, how’d you guess that?” Continue reading “Sermon: Proper 16 RCL A – “Mistaken Identity””

Sermon: St. Bartholomew

The podcast for this sermon can be found here  

Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then [Jesus] came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked [the disciples], ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’  But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.”

Luke 9:46: “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.” Luke 22:22, just prior to our Gospel reading today: “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.”

Then there’s that little episode in Matthew’s Gospel: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.’”

Is it just me, or do the disciples seemed to be a bit obsessed with having power? Continue reading “Sermon: St. Bartholomew”

Sermon: Saint Mary the Virgin

Listen to the podcast of this sermon at Podomatic : 

C.S. Lewis summed up a very Anglican perspective of the Virgin Mary in the preface to Mere Christianity (it’s a bit wordy and a bit heady): “There is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this [that is, the question of Blessed Virgin Mary]. The Roman Catholic beliefs on that subject are held not only with the ordinary fervour that attaches to all sincere religious belief, but (very naturally) with the peculiar and, as it were, chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honour of his mother or his beloved is at stake. It is very difficult so to dissent from them that you will not appear to them a cad as well as a heretic. And contrariwise, the opposed Protestant beliefs on this subject call forth feelings which go down to the very roots of all Monotheism whatever. To radical Protestants Continue reading “Sermon: Saint Mary the Virgin”

Sermon: Ignatius of Loyola

Image text: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam is the Latin motto of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and means “For the greater glory of God.” 

Born in 1491, Ignatius began his life as a privileged young man.  In his autobiography he writes, “Up to his twenty-sixth year, he was a man given over to the vanities of the world and special delight in the exercise of arms with a great and vain desire of winning glory.”  That great desire for glory nearly cost him his life as he was severely injured in the battle of Pamplona in 1521.  It was during this time of healing that he had a great spiritual awakening and understood that his life must be dedicated to the work of Jesus.  No longer would he be a knight in the battles of the world, but would become Christ’s knight, in the battle for souls. Continue reading “Sermon: Ignatius of Loyola”