Category Archives: Sermons

Is it worth it?

Sermon from October 21, 2008
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
Principal texts: Job 38:1-7; Mark 10:35-45

Let the little children come...

Me, at the pulpit with my son, who ran up while I was preaching

Even though the other disciples were annoyed with James and John’s request, it’s important to remember that at the time they made it, they were committed. They were all in, and there was probably no going back. It reminds me of a movie from my youth. Any of you remember Jerry Maguire? Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr.? It was about a sports agent’s quixotic quest for meaning, love, and some modicum of success. It was a silly movie that knew it was silly, but it was also strangely touching. Anyway, after the title character, played by Tom Cruise sort of quits and is sort of fired from his job at a successful firm, he gives this impassioned speech about how he is going to start his own company that will be more devoted to people than profits, and he hopes that half the room is going follow him out. Alas, only one nobody employ is particularly stirred by the theatrics, Renee Zellweger’s character, Dorothy. In this painfully awkward scene right after they’ve walked out, there’s no going back. But it starts to become clear that he has no real plan, and Dorothy needs to ask him a few logistical questions, such as whether the new company will have dental insurance.

James and John seem a bit like Renee Zellweger’s character here. Or at least that’s one aspect of what’s going on. They would probably have some explaining to do if they went back to the family’s fishing operation. Or at any rate, they can’t unsee what they’ve seen. But things are getting harder, and Jesus has been talking weird of late. He has said that he is going to be handed over and killed, and that anyone who wants to be his disciple has to follow him. So while it’s possible to see this episode as a power play, an attempt at a backroom deal, I’m inclined to take a gentler view of it. After having now been through a lot with Jesus, and with promises of greater difficulties on the horizon, perhaps they are asking him for something pretty understandable, to which most of us can relate. “Jesus, you’ve just said that nobody is going to get rich off of this venture. You’ve said that any houses and fields that do come our way will come with persecutions. Your talking an awful lot about death and rejection.” Maybe in asking Jesus to promise that they will be enthroned next to him, what they’re really hoping for is a promise that there will be an enthronement at all. That this whole venture they’ve given their lives to for the last year or so really is going somewhere. “Jesus, can you at least promise that it’s going to be worth it?” Continue reading

That Jesus and Paul Were Criminals

El Greco, The Disrobing of Christ (El Expolio de Cristo). My picture choices are always a bit of free association. But I like how Jesus just doesn’t fit in this picture. This is a picture of the administration of justice, and he is the criminal. But something about him just makes everything else that is happening look absurd.

I’ve been asked to make my manuscript public, which I’m happy to do. I had written something else, but then got up early starting Friday morning to write a fresh sermon after Jeff Sessions made his awful comments about St. Paul in order to justify the unjustifiable. It was something else to prepare this one, but I’m really quite pleased with how it turned out. That said, I’m more aware with this one than with most of my sermons that it is written for a listening audience rather than for readers. For one thing, I don’t quite show my cards  until near the end. Anyway, this was preached at Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan last Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, proper 6. The principal text is 2 Corinthians, 5:6-17.

I’ve told this story to some of you, but my wife and I decided it’s time for everyone to hear it. Her mother, Erna, and her twin sister, Rosemarie, were born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1944. The Bohemian forest had long been a multi-ethnic region, and her German family had lived there for generations on one side. Then Hitler occupied the country. Erna’s family were certainly no heroes of the resistance, but they had minimal involvement with the Nazi occupiers. Erna and Rosemarie was one-year-old when the war ended. Everyone suffered in those days. But the Soviet and Czech authorities decided to heap tragedy upon tragedy by making it a crime for ethnic Germans to stay. They expelled them all, whether they’d had anything to do with the occupation or not. Soldiers came to my mother-in-law’s house and told them they had to leave in 15 minutes and could take only what they could carry. My wife’s grandmother spoke Czech and managed to negotiate an extra 15 minutes. But the forced evacuation was brutal. Many died, including one-year-old Rosemarie. There are lots of thorny political issues around this story that I’m not going to touch. What is clear is that what happened to my mother-in-law and her sister was obviously tragic, but also unjust, and completely unnecessary. The German government had carried out unspeakable horrors against the Jews of Europe, among others, and may those who were killed never be forgotten. But the Czech and Soviet governments then used the same logic, just on a smaller scale. They criminalized people not for what they had done, but for what they represented, and forced them out. Continue reading

The Gospel and Gun Violence: A Lenten Meditation

DWh3fOcXUAAtty8A chaplain’s life is measured in vigil candles.

I wrote these words when it came time to return to the University of Chicago Divinity School to think more deeply about religion and violence. The year was 2002 and the last time I had pulled the box of candles off the shelf in my office in Memorial Church was the evening of September 11, 2001. 

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Titus after Trump

I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear. Continue reading

Business as Usual

I had the chance to preach yesterday at my Madison church, Lake Edge Lutheran. Yes, I’m Episcopal. But we’re officially friends. Which is convenient, since I’m married to a Lutheran PK. The local background you need for this one is that in March, an unarmed black teenager named Tony Robinson was fatally shot by a police officer. The DA announced on Tuesday that there would be no charges. You can listen to the audio on the church website, or read the manuscript below.

A protest related to the shooting in the Wisconsin capital.

A protest related to the shooting in the Wisconsin capital.

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Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?

This, a repost of sorts from eight years and two blogs ago, is the sermon that I preached at my grandmother’s funeral (July 11, 2007). I used a lot of the same images in a discernment paper recently, so it’s been on my mind. And since I haven’t had time to write any new posts of late…

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? -Job 38:4-7

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