Fifth Sunday After Pentecost — Year B: Truth and Lamentation

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Based on Lamentations 3:22-33

Today’s first reading from the Old Testament contains some of those light, breezy verses that you can imagine on a cross stitched sampler or superimposed on a picture of a flower or something. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” That sounds pretty nice, right? When you read it you can almost hear the birdsong and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing softly in the background.

And I wish I could just let things stand like that. I wish I could give you a flowery, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” uplifting message and then just sit down, but that wouldn’t be faithful to this text, friends. Because the little sliced-and-diced segment from the lectionary is just a smidgen of the larger story here. Continue reading

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Third Sunday After Pentecost — Year B: Family, Baptism, and the Reign of God as a Gay Bar

photo-1457049946030-985b401546ceThis sermon was preached June 10, 2018, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Arlington, MA. It is based on Mark 3:20-35.

“Blood is thicker than water.” We hear this pretty often, it’s supposed to mean that family relationships should always be the strongest bond in a person’s life. Friends come and go, romantic dalliances end, but family will always be with you. This fits nicely with our respectable U.S. family values. We’ve made the nuclear family the cornerstone of society. This goes doubly-so for the more conservative parts of the Christian tradition; perhaps you remember James Dobson’s Focus on the Family group, founded in 1977 to promote “biblical family values” around marriage and child-rearing.

Now, I don’t know if Dr. Dobson has seen today’s passage from Mark, but it casts a very different view of “biblical family values.” Jesus’ family come to fetch him and he completely disses them, choosing rather his followers and disciples as his family. It’s a stark rebuke. Continue reading

Year B — Lent 4: SNAAAAKES

Schnorr-Bibel, Eherne Schlange - The Bronze Snake / S.v.Carolsfeld / 1860 - Bible Schnorr, Serpent d'airain

Preached at St. Paul Lutheran Church, based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.

OK, I’m sorry, I just have to say this… I know this is Lent, a super serious time of self reflection and solemn introspection, buuuutt I think the first reading from today is hilarious. It’s got all the markers of great comedy: complaining, snakes, a harsh realization that we need to do something about all these snakes. And again, I get it, it should not be funny. Snakes are scary! People dying from snake bites is no laughing matter. But at this point in Israel’s story, wandering out in the desert, it’s hard not to read this text as a screwball comedy or the road trip from hell. You’ve got the Israelites in the back seat, complaining both that they don’t have food and that they don’t like the food that they do have. Which is it, guys?! Then you have God, so exasperated that he sends a buncha snakes just to mess with the Israelites. And you’ve got Moses over here, just trying to keep the car on the road, pleading with the other passengers to just get along already. I’ve been on road trips like that, maybe with slightly fewer snakes, but still… I get it. Continue reading

Year B — The Feast of the Transfiguration

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What was the moment that took your breath away? That left you speechless? Maybe it was holding your child just after their birth; or the first time seeing a favorite piece of art in person; or perhaps when a friend trusted you enough to make a deep, personal disclosure. For me, it was lying flat on my back on a campground picnic table in middle of the trans-pecos desert, looking up and seeing the Milky Way for the first time. A true city kid, I had no idea there could be so many stars, and in the enveloping silence only possible in west Texas, I felt the awe of being both totally connected and totally insignificant.

These overwhelming moments can be joyful, but usually come with a subtle recognition that nothing will be the same. In the midst of overwhelming beauty, something has changed, and there’s no going back. For me, looking up at the desert sky, I knew that I would have to take seriously God’s call on my life, that I could no longer coast through life, that there was something else out there for me, if I just had the courage to reach out for it.

I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt upon seeing Jesus transfigured, if they knew on a gut level that their lives were now different than they had been minutes earlier? We know they were dumbstruck; Mark tells us as much. If there was ever a scene of sensory overload in the Gospel, this is it. The details come fast and furious: dazzling white clothes, two of Israel’s most revered figures, a cloud overtaking them, the literal voice of God. How could they have adequately put this experience into words? When Jesus tells them not to speak of this until after his resurrection, I imagine the disciples saying “yeah, no problem, how could we even begin to speak of this?” Continue reading

A Homily for National Coming Out Day

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It is good to be here with you all. It is good to be able to gather among people like y’all and bear witness to my most authentic self. I hope you feel the same, in whatever led you to this place. Because to be sure, there is power in gathering, power in being able to assemble together. And I don’t mean just a warm, vaguely inspirational feeling that comes from being surrounded by like-minded people, though that is heartening in its own way. No, what I’m talking about is power both to resist the world as it is and to set forth an alternative vision of the world as it ought to be. In our communion in places like this, we see a micro-vision of how the world could be, witness to the broader culture that such a world is possible, and harness collective power to make it happen. But this power is only available to us when all people are able to live openly as who they really are.

Because the oppressive structures of this world will always try to suppress the power that we have, to keep us isolated and ashamed of our very being….in short, to keep that closet door shut tight. Make no mistake, this is violence and completely contrary to the full, abundant life God envisions for us. And perhaps most heartbreaking of all, at least for me, is that the voice that tells us to lock away whole parts of our humanity has very often come from the church. The church, which should be the witness to the liberating message of the gospel, which calls us to authenticity and freedom, too often operates as an arm of the very sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, capitalist culture it should resist. The church can and should repent of these perversions of the gospel. We lament the ways the church has failed so many of us.

But there is another movement brewing in Christ’s church. It’s a stream that has been there since the beginning, despite attempts to repress it. After all, the gospel we proclaim is of a God who dissolves every binary humanity has created: sinner/saint, death/life, and in the person of Jesus human/divine. These no longer have dominion over us.

In my own life, hearing this message anew as a young adult in my 20s was revelatory. I had always felt a low-grade shame about how I did not fit into conventional gender roles or the binary of either/or attraction. There was a stark outline of How These Things Went, and I was failing at it. I felt alone and as if there was something wrong in my fundamental essence. It was in hearing the witness of queer Christians and theologians that I began to experience the gospel again and as if for the first time. In experiencing the truly radical good news of the gospel that honors all parts of our humanity, I was able to become the person I always was, and for the first time I experienced theology not only intellectually or cognitively, but in my nerve endings.

The power of such a realization, this coming out, has even been called a sacrament. Not just sacred, but a sacrament. The queer theologian and pastor Chris Glaser says this about the process of coming out as a sacrament: “At their best and deepest level, sacraments renew life, relationships, community, and communion with God. At its best and deepest level, coming out means a new life, fresh and refreshed relationships, access to a new community, and increased intimacy with God.”

So there is indeed power in gatherings such as these, in knowing oneself and in being known more completely, in proclaiming that what God has created God has called good.

It’s also a power not to be held tightly or kept insular. Part of the reason we gather in a place like this, under these circumstances, is so that we can use this power for the liberation of all…liberation for those unable to come out for whatever reason, liberation for those who bear the brunt of society’s violence and hatred, liberation for the crucified ones of this time and place…

This work of liberation, which is done in freedom and a spirit of joyful disruption, this work is done knowing that God has already set us free from death; this liberation is true gift to all. When Christ says that he came that they may have life and have it abundantly…this is what he meant. Not just another individualized, comfortable, materialistic life, but a life of solidarity, in a collective of people all empowered to live their most authentic lives, and to join with one another in the struggle for liberation. Coming out and gathering is a good first step. Let us take the next steps together, onward toward the liberation of all.

Year A — 18th Sunday After Pentecost

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Based on Isaiah 5:1-7 & Matthew 21:33-46

Planters know how to play the long game. Farmers, gardeners, winemakers…these folks think in seasons and years, not hours and days. The benefit of action taken now perhaps won’t be realized for a number of growing cycles. I have a dear friend who recently moved onto a plot of land in a very rural area, and she and her partner are in the midst of preparing the land for planting and harvest. This includes preparation to make the land itself liveable (like patching holes in the roof of the trailer on the property, or shooing away the family of racoons that lives underneath it), but also more intensive preparation of the soil. Before my friends came to live on it, the plot was basically an automobile junkyard, with dozens of cars parked on it for about a decade. Renewing and repairing that land will take many cycles of soil remediation, and it will be a long while before anything edible or beautiful will grow on it. Humanity’s impact on that land will need to be mitigated for years to come. The long game. Continue reading

Year A — Epiphany 4

My first ever sermon! Preached Jan. 29, 2017, at Unity Lutheran Church of Berwyn. Based primarily on the Epistle, but addresses the Gospel text a bit as well. Anyhoozles, here it is:

I have had more than a few moments in my life where I have been, by anyone’s standard, a complete failure. Like, just totally missed the mark. Some of these moments are funny now, like the lopsided birdhouse I made in high school shop class, a structure so rickety that no self-respecting robin or blue jay would ever choose to live in it. Or there was the time a friend and I attempted to make a pie from scratch, a process that went so spectacularly off the rails at literally every step that we refer to it now in solemn voices only as “the great cantaloupe debacle of 2014.” And don’t even get me started on my ill-fated summer spent working on my grandparents’ farm…the less said about that the better.

Incidents like these are fairly low stakes, so we can laugh about them now, but I also have my fair share of higher level failures: overdraft fees and past due notices, flunking out of college, relationships not treated with the care they deserved. Failures like these sting a bit more, even now. These experiences formed how I view and operate in the world, for better or for worse.

Moreover, there have also been times when I’ve felt isolated by society’s standards…been made to feel like a failure…based on my economic standing, my ability to access healthcare, even how I’ve performed (or not performed) within society’s definition of masculinity. Failing to live up to these external standards can bring a feeling of deep shame, a gnawing sense that there’s something wrong not only with what I’ve done but with who I am. Continue reading