Sermons

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

If there was ever a week where we needed to hear those words it was this one. On the very day we announced changes to our staff and worship schedule for the fall, our diocesan Bishop Alan Gates announced that he will be retiring late next year and called for the election of his successor. Never mind our breaking news world with more gun violence, the end of federal Covid restrictions, a surge in migrants seeking a better life in our country, and I could go on. Because of course there’s all that personal news too, right? Waiting for the report back from the doctor, or high school seniors who had been planning to go to one place finding out that made it off the wait list on another, or deciding to put the house on the market, or burying a loved one. And that’s just a sampling of the stories I’ve heard this past week.

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At our annual spring clergy conference, our practice is to read the gospel for the upcoming Sunday for our closing Eucharist. This week at that service our gospel lesson was read in Spanish. When this happens—the gospel read in a language I don’t know—I usually just take it in and let the words wash over me even if an English translation is printed in the bulletin. This week, however, I kept hearing a word I knew repeated. It’s the Spanish word for way: camino.

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Sometimes it’s the seemingly small things in a story that mean a great deal. In the Harry Potter series, we are introduced to the Golden Snitch during Harry’s first Quidditch match, the broomstick flying sport played in J.K. Rowling’s imaginary world. Harry’s position is seeker, and his main job is to catch the snitch, a small golden orb with wings, flittering around the Quidditch pitch like a hummingbird. In the opening book of the series, Harry ultimately catches the snitch in his first match, but accidentally with his mouth. Harry wins the match for Gryffindor House over their rivals Slytherin, and he learns he loves Quidditch and being a seeker trying to find that ever elusive snitch.

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Every year as I prepare my Holy Week sermons, I listen to the soundtrack from “Schindler’s List.” With its moving violin parts, exquisite choruses sung in Hebrew, and haunting yet hopeful songs, the Oscar winning music written by John Williams and Itzhak Perlman reminds me of the horror that is possible in our world. That cruelty toward others is sometimes used in order to humiliate and dominate the marginalized. That power and hatred can coalesce, and senseless violence is the result. 

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“Do you know what I have done to you?”

This question comes after Jesus “strips, kneels, and washes—not himself but his followers,” as Professor William Brosend puts it. “Do you have any idea what this means?,” he asks. John doesn’t tell us if the disciples respond with anything other than silence. Maybe they just don’t want to hazard a guess because of what he just did, in taking on the role of a servant. Notice none of them jumped up and grabbed the basin even though the menial job needed doing, and since it was just the thirteen of them. It’s like waiting for someone else to pick up the trash from a knocked over barrel: “I’m not gonna do it; you do it!” No one is itching to get their hands dirty, or take the low wrung on the totem pole.

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Peter sat outside in the courtyard waiting. He wanted to see what would happen, to hear the news make its way from inside the High Priest’s palace out to the people gathered there. He sat away from the others assembled there, trying to hide from prying eyes in the darkness. But it didn’t work. A servant girl came up to him and declares, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” There’s no question in her mind, this maid for Caiphas. She must have been there when Jesus was arrested at the garden given her utmost certainty on the whole thing.

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The people who chose our readings for this morning want to make sure we get the point. We heard it from Ezekiel and his dry bones, and from the Psalmist and their call to hope more than watchmen waiting for the dawn to break. St. Paul gives us his take in Romans about the Spirit of Christ giving life to our mortal bodies, and finally it’s clear in the long drama about Lazarus and his restoration to life in John’s gospel. So here it is: God can bring about life even when we think that things will never be restored. We can place our hope and trust in the one who offers renewal.

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There aren’t many professions which include telling the people who fund your work a yearly reminder that they are going to die. And yet, that is exactly what we clergy do on Ash Wednesday. Don’t forget your mortality. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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On Ash Wednesday, I shared with you some questions to consider during Lent that were posed by author and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner. If you’re anything like me, even with the questions given to me in paper form, you considered the first of those six questions with the intention of engaging the others later in Lent, only to find that perhaps you misplaced the piece of paper. Or maybe you haven’t given them much thought after that first one. Or life has gotten busy, and even though it’s Lent here at church, it hasn’t really felt like it in your daily life.

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Oh, Adam and Eve. You had it all. You had good food, a wonderful garden, each other, and all those delightful animals on top of it. You’d think the river otter and giraffe would have been enough, but clearly they weren’t. You needed more. That one last thing God held back from you—that fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You decided you had to have it all in your grasp, in your control. So when encouraged by that tricky serpent, you ate from the fruit of that tree, and the consequences were far reaching. There’s no need to ask if it was worth it, because we know. That’s part of that knowledge we all gained from what you did. We lost our innocence too, and we learned that the freedom to choose given to us by God comes with a steep cost, one that we often don’t realize until it’s too late, although God gives us a warning.

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