You can read or listen to the sermons below, or you can download the .pdf format to your computer.
Many of us have been reading and opening our hearts to Celtic Christian practice. John Philip Newell, John O Donohue, Diarmuid O’Mucrhu, and The Iona community. This week we experienced a significant Celtic Religious contribution. The period of Halloween, Samhain, and All Soul’s Day was called the ‘three nights at the end of summer’.
To all God’s Beloved in Minnesota. Grace to you and peace from God the maker and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Before I get into my actual address, I want you to invite you to take a just moment to acknowledge the fact that this is the first time that our diocese has gathered together in Convention since January 25th of 2020 in person.
Let me ask you two questions. When in your life have you had communities or groups or family in which you really felt you belonged? Conversely, when have you felt you didn’t belong? Each of us has stories about both experiences, of belonging and of being disconnected from the people around us.
On Wednesday September 14, a plane carrying 48 immigrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard. They were mostly from Venezuela, which has had widespread hunger and malnutrition for a number of years. When the people got off the plane there was no plan for what they would do from there. Someone made a call to a local church, which happened to be St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and asked if they could temporarily house some of the immigrants. The church said actually, they could house all of the immigrants. So the community scrambled to set up cots and supplies in the parish hall, and the people stayed there for just two days until they were moved to a military base in Cape Cod which is now caring for them.
The Rev. Dr. Joy Moore is a homiletics professor at Luther Seminary here in St. Paul. She told the story of recently having been driving on a highway in Pennsylvania and getting lost. Because she was lost, she happened to see a sign to the memorial for 9/11’s Flight 93, so she spontaneously decided to take the exit and go see the memorial which was in the field where the Flight 93 crashed.
I was recently at a wedding reception and went to go sit down at one of the dinner tables, only at the last second remembering that there were little names on cards at every plate, about 200 seats in the room, and I needed to go look for my name. Now it’s perfectly ordinary in our culture to create seating charts for wedding receptions, and I can understand why.
When I was in seminary I took a nice light class called God, Evil and Suffering. In this class we reflected on two primary sources of suffering in life—from natural causes like COVID and tornadoes, and suffering caused by human violence and oppression. But there was a third kind of suffering we touched on, which is the optional suffering chosen by people who are pursuing a goal—for example, people who run marathons.
August 6th, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration: A brief definition, a change in form or appearance, a metamorphosis, an exalting or spiritual change. Transfiguration is a synonym of transformation. As nouns the difference between them is that transfiguration is a significant change in appearance or form; a metamorphosis while transformation is the act of transforming or the state of being transformed in form, appearance, character.
Today we celebrate the feast day of Mary Magdalene, one of only a handful of saints we honor on a Sunday morning at St. John’s. Mary Magdalene has a unique role in our tradition in that all four gospels say she was the first person that the risen Jesus appeared to, before even the twelve male disciples. Three of the four gospels also name Mary Magdalene as present at the crucifixion, and two of them name her again as observantly watching where Jesus was buried.
I was at my family’s cabin over the July 4 weekend, and we were reminiscing about our family’s friends when I was a kid. One particular scenario came up I hadn’t known about. My best friend Lori had four older brothers who were in my parents’ Sunday School class. One day one of the boys came crying to my parents because his parents never ever had a birthday party for the boys, but only had a birthday party for the daughter, my friend Lori. I didn’t know that. My parents were in their late twenties at the time and weren’t sure what to do about that, so they didn’t follow up.
The week before last Linda and I spent time in Baxter on a mini vacation… I had the opportunity to fish, and she had time to herself. I researched and hired an exceptional guide for two days and was very successful at both fishing and catching fish. More importantly, I had the opportunity to practice civil conversations with John, my guide.
Today is a mix of so many things. To begin with it is the day we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, our church’s namesake. It is Pride, when LGBTQ people from all over the world celebrate their identities which are natural, God-given, and beautiful. In fact our own Madison Gies put together a beautiful Pride Project that is on display at St. Mark’s Cathedral in downtown Minneapolis—you should go see it.
Today we return to the Gospel of Luke after several weeks with John. Today’s gospel story, which is noted in all three of the synoptics, follows immediately after the story of Jesus calming the seas from the storm that had frightened the disciples so much, they woke Jesus from a deep sleep in fear, and after he had calmed the gale winds they continued to be in awe and wonder, questioning who this Jesus was who commands even the winds and the waters.
Trinity Sunday is a complicated liturgical day. My spiritual director, a monastic, shared that he was assigned to preach on Trinity Sunday three years in a row…. he was not sure if it was a cruel joke, or some retribution. Preaching on the Trinity is akin to a Zen Koan, the sound of one hand clapping.
Today is Pentecost. On this day the church remembers and celebrates the Holy Spirit falling on the disciples and empowering them to speak in other languages. This experience could only be compared to a powerful wind or many sparks from a great fire. In the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, the word Spirit also means breath and wind. The Spirit was what gave birth to creation at the beginning of time, when She hovered over the face of the deep in an intimate and tender caress like a mother hovering over her child.
Almost exactly two years ago today, I began my time at St. John’s. We were a little over two months into the pandemic – a time when most of us were still locked down and scrambling to figure out what was safe, what was not, and even what sources of information we could trust to help us tell the difference. It was a week after George Floyd was murdered at 38th and Chicago. Minneapolis was still reeling from the event and its aftermath,
There was a psychologist named Viktor Frankl who survived three years in Auschwitz and Dachau during World War II. After the war he wrote one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, called Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book he describes how the conditions of the concentration camps affected prisoners, and he said that he had seen over and over again that those prisoners who had found something to live for had a greater chance for survival, whereas those who had given up hope often succumbed to the brutal conditions of the camp and died.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that invite a key response from us. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we really blow it. In my life, parenting provides many daily opportunities to show up or fail to show up. One night I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, and I suddenly realized that that day, my kid had opened up to me about something vulnerable, and that I had responded by lecturing instead of listening.
I remember years ago when I was practicing medicine in Flint, Michigan. Everywhere I went back then I saw billboards and bumper-stickers proclaiming “I Found It.” And I couldn’t help but think that this was the wrong way around. It should have been “It found me.” Because that is the way that first Easter story went – Jesus found his followers, when they did not even know to search. Jesus will find us… we cannot hide. God is present, whether bidden or not.
I want to acknowledge those who are here in person. Each of you is priceless, a gift from God. I want to acknowledge each of you who are joining us over the internet. COVID did at least help us figure out how to livestream, more or less. Each of you is priceless, a gift from God. And I want to acknowledge our loved ones who were with us three years ago the last time we did this but who now exist within the vastness of God’s Holy Mystery, united with the presence and love of God, who are also each priceless, a gift from God.
The women in today’s lesson were doing what they had been doing throughout Luke’s Gospel. They had been supporting and caring; when most of the disciples had deserted, the women had remained at the foot of the cross while Jesus died; now they had prepared spices to anoint the dead body, carrying out the ritual duties owed by family and friends to those who are gone.
On this Good Friday, I find myself thinking about a ritual called the ¡Presente! litany. It is a traditional ritual, thought to be hundreds of years old, practiced in Central and Latin America, to honor those who have died, and especially those who have died as a result of violence, injustice, or oppression.
It may seem strange to be here on Palm Sunday, and to have the story end where it just did. What normally happens on Palm Sunday is that after we wave our palm branches to remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we come inside and hear every step of the rest of the story: Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, his betrayal and arrest, his crucifixion and death. But we stopped early, this year.
I grew up in Minnesota until I was 12 years old. My family was Methodist, so when I was eleven I was introduced to church summer camp at good old Camp Koronis in Paynesville, MN. As I was writing this, I became curious and googled the camp. It is still there, just as it was over 65 years ago, when I attended for a week in each of two summers.
In today’s gospel reading we have a very familiar story, often called the Prodigal Son. It is the story of a man who had two sons, one of whom goes off to squander the inheritance he prematurely demanded of his father. This son ends up nearly dying of hunger until he wakes up and returns home, hoping to be accepted as a servant so he can eat again. But instead, he is welcomed and honored by the overwhelming love of his father whose child had been dead and lost and who has against all odds been found and is alive.
Melting Snow and Cleaning up after your dog in the backyard Leaves left forgotten, Lost toys, barbeque and lawn tools Wasteland, TS Eliot April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
We’ve decided to look for joy this Lent. Nothing says we have to wallow in our sinfulness so we can get ready for Easter. Now it’s true that we’ve had the habit of giving up chocolate, gossip, or sarcasm for Lent. We’ve treated Lent as a self- improvement season.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m curious, what do you associate with Lent? Lent is traditionally the forty days before Easter in which people learned about faith, fasted, and prayed like Jesus did in today’s gospel reading. And the reason Lent lasts for forty days is because in the Hebrew imagination, the number forty represents transformation. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness in today’s gospel text. The heavens opened and poured rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights in the time of the Flood, when Noah built the ark. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty full years after leaving slavery before they were ready to enter the promised land. In all these stories, there is something ending, and something else beginning. I think it’s no coincidence that it takes forty weeks for a baby to grow in a mother’s womb.
Every year on Ash Wednesday, we recognize the fragility of life. That it has a beginning and an end. That we are dust and we will return to dust. But even without Ash Wednesday, our own mortality couldn’t be more obvious right now. I don’t need to go into detail about the various ways we’ve been reminded of it over the last few years and the last week.
I used to volunteer at a nonprofit called Break the Cycle, whose mission was to help teenagers protect and free themselves from dating and domestic violence by understanding abuse and their legal rights. We taught about the predictable cycles of abuse which will continue unless you understand and have the power to interrupt them. And in general, we all know that violence and hatred perpetuate themselves. Someone is harmed, they retaliate, more loss and more retaliation occur, and on and on it goes. During the cold war, the entire arms race counted on the logic of mutually assured destruction.
Welcome Back! Thankful we can be together again…. “Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.” That of course is from Anthem by Leonard Cohen, he wrote of this poem: there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.
If you have ever spent any time around lakes or oceans, you will know that the surface of most bodies of water looks the same. Whether you’re on the local lake or the Pacific Ocean or Lake Superior, whether it’s 10 feet deep or 10 miles deep, when you’re sitting in a boat on top of it, the surface looks the same.
During this season of Christmas and Epiphany, and now today when we celebrate Presentation Day — the day that Jesus’s parents bring their baby to the temple to be part of Jewish rituals of presentation and purification — I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary and Joseph. Perhaps I’ve been thinking about these two because of my own relatively new parenthood. Or perhaps because I’m pregnant again and we’re expecting our own new baby to be born this summer.
Today after this service we are having our Annual Meeting over zoom, which is a time both to look backwards at the previous year, and also to look forward at the year to come. I truly hope that every one of you will come to the meeting. In it we will be doing some visioning exercises. We will imagine what a vital faith community would be like that truly nourishes and excites us, in which we see clear evidence of God at work because we are aligned with our highest values and our true purpose, following Jesus’ Way of Love. But to have a true vision of the future, we need to know what it is about who we are and have been that is most important. We are called to dig deep to the bedrock of our scriptures and tradition to find where it all began, when it was fresh and powerful and alive, in a way that speaks to us today.
In the name of God, who speaks to us even now. This morning, we honor the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, whose birthday is a national holiday. He was a brilliant writer and orator, and a formidable organizer. He could simultaneously radiate hope and urgency.
Perhaps some of you remember a beautiful little book, published about 25 years ago, called The Four Agreements. This book conveys four primary teachings of the ancient Toltec peoples of Mexico, of which the first and most important is to “be impeccable with your word.”
I am an enthusiastic listener to MPR classical public radio. Through most of Advent they played Christmas music. We hadn’t started singing carols here in church, since that is not our time for it. Now, however, we are in the season of Christmastide, robustly singing its noels here. But MPR has abandoned me. They, like the rest of the world, think that the season is over, and have turned their attention to the coming New Year’s Eve, and a stream of Strauss Waltzes.
Merry Christmas! I’m so glad to see your shining faces—well, at least your eyes. Each of us has come here from different places and for different reasons. Whether you live alone or are celebrating with family and friends; whether you love Christmas or are too busy to notice; and especially for those of us who are grieving the absence of loved ones to celebrate with, regardless, here WE are, together, in person and online. Let’s all say Merry Christmas to the people who are joining us remotely.
Every Sunday, we hear evidence that God speaks to people. Or that God did so, once upon a time. The Bible readings always say so, even if God’s off-stage, in an advisory role. And Christmas is my favorite example of God speaking with very few words. Gabriel invites Mary to give birth to a divine child. She says yes and composes a song. Luke made sure to include the lyrics in his Gospel. You could call it the Gospel According to Mary. We just heard Elizabeth’s dust-jacket blurb, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what the Lord spoken to her.”
I’m curious, did you like the translation of Luke’s gospel that Rex just read? It’s called The Message which is a paraphrase, not a direct word for word translation. Let’s start with a little exercise. Do me a favor and read the Gospel reading in the bulletin which is the more traditional translation.
We are all here for many reasons. In the world outside our doors, many people are getting ready for Christmas and Hanukkah and the other holidays – getting trees, buying presents, making guest lists and planning big meals. In our tradition, these four weeks leading up to Christmas are not just a time of joyful preparation. This is Advent which is a time of longing and hopeful expectation, a season in which as the scriptures say “the people who sat in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light.” And I know that for many of us, this time is especially poignant. Some of us have lost our beloveds recently. Some lost loved ones long ago, but that ache never really goes away.
John is a troublemaker. He is loud, confident, and based on history had huge followings, people who were daily repressed by the economic systems of Jerusalem, Herod, and the Empire. His criticisms of government and the economy are devastating…he warns that God’s Axe is laid at the root of the tree, Jerusalem, that we can all be replaced; God can raise up children from these stones.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” And with those words, happy Advent, everyone! Now, I must admit that I was feeling slightly grumpy about having to deal with this reading from Luke today – this apocalyptic message, these words about fear, foreboding, and distress. I felt like I had pulled the short straw.
In today’s gospel reading we have one of the most famous dramas in history. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect of Judea, has Jesus on trial for supposedly claiming to be a king, which would not be tolerated by the Roman Empire. But when Pontius Pilate asks him if he is a king, Jesus won’t answer the question. The closest he gets to an answer is to say that his kingdom is not from his world otherwise his followers would be fighting to protect him.
Linda and I were married on January 5, 1970, at Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church in Riverside California. A Monday Evening at 7pm, in the midst of a significant Santa Ana wind storm, powerful wind storms in Southern California that blow from east to west off of the dry desert, it is said that the winds can make you crazy. You might ask how we scheduled a Monday Night wedding, so close after the holidays. I was on winter break from graduate school in Northern California. I had to be back to teach a graduate course in Bob Dylan, prophet, and poet. And, we were sort of sneaking home to get married.