God had heard me, too

Friday after Proper 29 – December 1, 2017 – Psalm 142

Listen to me preach the sermon here.

I don’t need to tell you all that God can handle your anger. If you’re mad, tell God about it. You want to keep the lines of communication open.

The psalmist gets it—

I cry to the Lord with my voice; to the Lord I make loud my supplication. I pour out my complaint before him and tell him all my trouble.


Sometimes we also get a sense of it—without even thinking about it.

On Tuesday morning I hustled to Becky Wright’s office after Morning Prayer, I did that thing where I kind of presumptively open the door as I knock on it and stopped dead in front of her chair. She looked up at me from her laptop and, in that way she does, which I’m sure I don’t need to explain, she said, “Hello.”

And I said, “I’m frustrated, and I need to tell someone. I woke up this morning and read the news. Now I’ve got all these horrible things whirling around in my head, and I’m fed up with this country and with the people in it and with the stuff they say. I guess I just need a safe space to say that.”

She immediately nodded in solidarity, and when I got a little more specific in my complaints, she identified with me. Then, she assured me that I wasn’t alone.

When I was through I exhaled, and the mood of the conversation lightened. As I stared down at the pile grievances I had just dumped at her feet, a few of the great blessings of my life flashed before my eyes, and I began to relax.

As I left she said, “Come back anytime.”

And as I walked down the hall I felt that wonderful sense of relief that comes from being freed from the isolation of your distress.

That’s called grace.

Suddenly in dawned on me. I thought I was just talking to Becky, but God had heard me, too.

Doing something

Tuesday of Proper 28 – November 28, 2017 – Luke 19:1-10

Listen to me preach the sermon here.

I love the story of Zacchaeus. What’s not to like? It’s one of the first Bible stories children learn and remember. There’s a catchy song about it. A grown man climbs a tree.

But, above all, it is a story about repentance and salvation.

Zacchaeus is a sinner. He’s deeply implicated in the oppressive powers of the Roman government. He is complicit in a corrupt tax system. He is hated by people around him.

But this sinner does something incredible. he risks public humiliation to try and see Jesus. He offers hospitality to Jesus. He repents of his sins.

His repentance doesn’t take the form of a quiet prayer to God. It’s not an afterthought or a quick soundbite of an apology. His repentance is profound, public, and, most important of all, it bears fruit.

Repentance isn’t just a “transaction of the heart.” [1] True repentance also involves doing something.

John the Baptist is one of the first people to teach us about this. In Luke 3 John baptizes crowds of people. He exhorts them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance . . . every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Then they ask, “What should we do?”And does he ever have an answer! “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors, “Do not to collet more than is due to you.” Soldiers, “Do not extort people for money or make false accusations about them. Be satisfied with you wages.”

John makes it pretty clear that repentance isn’t just something that happens in your heart or in your mind. It’s something you act out. Repentance is more than an idea or a prayer. It’s a lifestyle.

Luke’s account tells us this over and over again.

When a son asks for his share of the inheritance and then runs off and squanders it, he doesn’t just say, “OK, I made a mistake. Sorry, dad. Sorry, God.” No. He goes back home with rags on his body and shame in your heart and says, “Please, give me whatever job you have.”

When a notorious sinner sees that Jesus is in town, she doesn’t hide in her room saying, “I’m sorry, everybody. I’m sorry, God.” No. She takes an alabaster jar of ointment and she washes the feet of the Lord with her tears and dries them with her hair.

When one of the flock goes astray, the shepherd doesn’t look at the rest of the sheep and say, “Sorry guys, I let one slip past me.” No. He goes looking for it. And when he finds it he celebrates.

When a tax collector is reviled by his entire community, he doesn’t just stay at home and say, “I’ve sinned against my brothers and my sisters and against God, and I repent.” No. He goes out and does whatever he can to catch a glimpse of Jesus himself. And when Jesus asks to come to his house, he shows him great hospitality.  And when the crowd is closing in on you, de doesn’t just say, “My bad. I won’t do it again.” No. He offers to pay them back with even more than their fair share.

Repentance isn’t just something we say, it’s something we do. We act it out. We do something because the joy of our salvation isn’t just something in my heart or in your heart.

Salvation isn’t a private matter. It’s not about personal conversion. It’s not even about getting a personal ticket to heaven. It’s not something we keep to ourselves.

It’s something we share.

But let’s be clear. We don’t go back home because God requires it. We don’t break open our finest oil because God demands it. We don’t pay back more than we owe just to get the crowds off your back. And we don’t do these things to earn our salvation.

We do these things because we are grateful for the abundant grace that God has given us.

We do these things because when we realize that God is calling us to wholeness we are so overjoyed that words alone will not suffice.

[1] Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 219.


Feast of William Temple – November 6, 2017 – Exodus 22:21-27; John 1:9-18

Today I preached at the noon Eucharist for the Feast of William Temple in The Chapel of the Apostles. This sermon originally began as a poem, which I briefly considered reading during the liturgy, but as I adapted it I knew its essence had changed to a more traditional sermon. The preaching event you’ll see in the video is slightly different than the words on the page below. Watching or listening to a sermon is, in my opinion, always preferable to reading it because it keeps you closer to the spirit of the sermon as an event in time and not an object in space. If you chose to do that in this case, you might experience a *slightly* different piece of work.

You can watch me preach the sermon here. 

God took on flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

According to William Temple, because of the incarnation, “the personality of every man and woman is sacred.”

I beg to differ.

He obviously never went to diocesan convention. Or to a shopping mall on Black Friday. I guess he never walked down the halls of a seminary during midterms.

But he lived through World War, colonial expansion, and social tension. And surely crazed gunmen existed in his day.

So why didn’t he, like me, see that some of God’s people are barely tolerable?

I know people who check their phones while you’re in the middle of a conversation with them. I know people who commit and then don’t follow through. I know people who come to class unprepared.

As an arrogant, know-it-all seminarian, I’m sure that Temple would agree with me if he were here now. I wish that I could ask him about it.

I know just how it would go: I’d ask,“What annoys you most about other people?” And he’d answer, “They exist.” And I say, “Aha! Then what’s all this stuff about everyone having a sacred personality?”

And he’d reply, “Well, the truth is our common life together can be…exasperating.” And because that’s a word that I used last week to describe a crowded room of clergy, I’d feel really proud.

But then he’d say, “Sure, people are exasperating, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sacred.”

No one has ever seen God—it is God the only son—who has made him known. The Son was known in human form. Because of that our humanity is sacred. Our very beings and those of others are means by which God reveals himself to us. Even though they do things that are quirky, irritating, disagreeable, infuriating, and yes, even evil.

At this point in our conversation, I’d read the first chapter of John again, and realize what Temple is trying to tell me. And what he’s trying to tell you: Focus on Jesus.

But know this: You. Can’t. Live. Up. To. That. Because you’re not God.

But the good news is: You’re still sacred. Sacred doesn’t mean perfect. And sacred doesn’t mean best. Sacred doesn’t even mean good.

But Sacred does mean redeemed.

Any of them

Alfred the Great – October 26, 2017 – Wisdom 6:1-3, 9-12, 24-25; Luke 6:43-49

It’s hard to preach on our more legendary saints. It’s hard to know which parts of their stories are purely myth and which parts are not. Alfred is no exception.

It’s even harder to preach on a saint who is not named something like Luke, Andrew, or Thomas. It’s easier to explain apostles and evangelists. We know them through scripture that is sacred and inspired.

Alfred doesn’t have scripture. He has a Netflix series, but that doesn’t quite cut it.

Honestly, I get uncomfortable preparing to preach on saints like Alfred. I was once outside of this tradition. I thought, those people let their worship of saints get in the way of their worship of God. Nowadays, I know that’s not true. My faith has been enriched by a tradition filled with saints.

But somebody like Alfred? Really? He’s a king for crying out loud! How very Anglican it is to remember a monarch who revived the arts and promoted education.

But didn’t Jesus come for the poor? Wasn’t he born in a barn? Didn’t he ride on a donkey instead of a dazzling white horse? And wasn’t he constantly telling his disciples, “I’m not that kind of king, and this isn’t that type of kingdom.”

There is no hierarchy in heaven. So why celebrate a king?

The God that I worship casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. The God that I pray to fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. The God of my ancestors challenges my assumptions.

What was dead is alive. What was old is new. What had fallen away has been restored. So, why don’t we remember the innkeeper, or the drummer boy, or the third century goatherd whose life did not have any meaning until he heard the story of Jesus?

Those kinds of folks exist too, right? So, why do celebrate a king?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty to admire about Alfred. I have no doubt that if Jeremy Carlson met Alfred, he’d say, “Man, what a good dude.”

King Alfred kept his people safe. He promoted an educated clergy. He founded monastic communities and saw to it that classic theological works were translated into English.

The Book of Wisdom tells us that a king who listens to the Lord will profit and be the stability of the people. By all accounts, Alfred was a devoted, Jesus-loving churchman. Jesus tells us that only good trees bear good fruit. Alfred certainly fits the bill. That’s why we remember him.

But perhaps Alfred is just history’s low-hanging [good] fruit. There were others: soldiers, footmen, cooks, dish washers. Teachers, postal workers, custodians, and bus drivers.

It’s important to remember that we don’t come tonight to celebrate King Alfred. We come to celebrate God. We’re not glorifying Alfred. We’re commemorating what Alfred did to glorify God. And what we all can do to glorify God.

We hear about Alfred, not because he was a king, but because he’s a good example of life in Christ.

His good works were inspired by his faith in God. He bore good fruit because he treasured God in his heart. He built his house on a solid foundation of rock because he listened to Jesus.

So tonight, for good reason, we’ve got Alfred. But don’t look at Alfred to see God. Look at Alfred’s example to see yourself, not as a king, but as a person who seeks to do God’s will.

I saw a church sign the other day. It said, “There are no saints in church, only forgiven sinners.” I thought to myself—well, what do they think saints are?

Alfred was one of God’s own. A sinner like you. A sinner like me. And a sinner just like the goatherds, innkeepers, cooks, footmen, and dish washers. Just like the teachers, postal workers, custodians, and bus drivers.

Any of them can show you how to glorify God.

There is a former president who builds houses for the people who need them most. And there is also an old sunburnt mailman living pension check to pension check and still tithes ten percent to the church.

There is a university president who gives a third of her income to student scholarships. And there is a custodian who volunteers to sit up all night at the homeless shelter.

There is a billionaire CEO who leaves all of his money to charity and there is a destitute desk clerk who leaves all of his money to charity.

There is a movie star advocates against human trafficking, and there is a gardener who works overtime just to be able to feed the kids.

There is a professional athlete who coaches the special olympics, and there is a single mom who coaches inner-city youth.

There is a high-powered attorney who does pro-bono work for illegal immigrants, and there is a public defender who stands up for the most heinous offenders.

The same God who defies our expectations, who says that the last shall be first and the first shall be last…The same God who scatters the proud in their conceit…The same God who brought again Jesus Christ from the dead…That same God is telling us that we can learn from any of them.

Even a king.

There is a promise

The 17th Sunday After Pentecost – October 1, 2017 – Matthew 21:23-32

I preached this sermon at St. John’s parish in Decatur, AL where I am doing field work in preparation for graduation and ordination. You can listen to me preach this sermon by clicking here.

Today’s gospel comes from the beginning of the Holy Week narrative. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, throws the money changers out of the temple, and struggles to convince the chief persist and elders that his authority comes from God.

“What do you think? he asks, “A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” His audience answers, “The first.”

The answer is obvious. That’s the only thing they can say. The first son doesn’t want to work, but he changes his mind and does what his father asks. The other son just flat out lied. It’s not quite that simple, is it?

We really want to root for the first son, but we tend to overlook is that his words matter, too. A story about a son who said no to his father would have shocked Jesus’ listeners. Even if he did change his mind! It simply was not done.

The priests and elders are in a bind. Jesus asks them a rather simple question for which there was no easy answer. Neither son did the will of his father. One says no—a big slap in the face! The other says yes, but he lies. Both sons disobey their father.

We all understand this. Once my father asked my sister to cut the grass. She said, “No.” That did not go well for her. (But let me tell you, the grass got cut.) Once I lied to my dad about feeding the dog. He found out. (And let me tell you, the dog got fed.) Sometimes we screw up because we give the wrong response. Sometimes we screw up because we lie.

Many people through the centuries have read this parable as an allegory describing God’s chosen people. The first son represents the Gentiles—those in Israel who came to believe in the Messiah though they did not at first. The second son represents the Jews—those who knew they should believe, but don’t.

It’s not hard to see why it would be read that way. Instead of hearing this story as an allegory let’s hear it more strait-forwardly as a parable.

It is not about which group we fall into. It is not about prejudicing one group over the other. It is about realizing that everyone gets it wrong sometimes—no matter who they are or what group they belong to.

On a recent trip to the Holy Land I learned about the political strife of the Israeli territory. Some Israeli citizens forcibly annex Palestinian land because they believe it belongs to them. Their actions are often violent and illegal. Some unfairly treated Palestinians retaliate by killing Israeli soldiers. Soldiers who in turn gun down Palestinian teenagers in the street. None of this is okay.

There is right and wrong in the world, and as Christians we are called to name it. It is our Christian duty to denounce hate, injustice, and oppression whether it’s in Charlottesville or Sewanee or Decatur.

It’s just easier when other people are doing it. But what happens when sin creeps a little closer to home?

What about those things we do in our daily lives that contribute to the tragedy of the world? What about the pounds and pounds of food we waste every week? What about the recyclables we throw away? What about the clothing we buy that was made by children in sweat shops?

What happens when we find ourselves getting angry when we listen to the evening news? Sometimes I hear stories about neo-Nazis and wonder if I haven’t become one myself. I’ve even said stupid things like, “They should all just be taken out back and shot.” We all get it wrong sometimes.

It’s easy to think others are in need of grace, but it’s harder to admit when we are. But there’s hope. Listen closely to Jesus. “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

This is not damnation. This is a wake-up call.

Jesus does not say that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go instead of you. He says they will go before you. They will be there when you get there. And they will stay there alongside of you.

In this parable Jesus challenges us to understand that there is hope for all who sin, including you, including me.

Friends, it’s hard to fathom. If you are the one in the wrong, is there a chance for you? A chance?! There’s a promise for you! If you are the one in the right, is there a chance for the one who wronged you? A chance? There is a promise.

This is hard for us because we have been conditioned to believe that for us to be included somebody else has to be excluded. We expect that there are some who are too far removed to ever be included. Sometimes we might even feel that we are the one who is too far gone.

Let’s get really clear about what Jesus said. “Truly, I tell you, those who repent of their violent and illegal actions will go into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”

“Truly, I tell you, those who repent of their desire to condemn others will go into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”

“Truly, I tell you, those who repent of their wasteful and unethical habits will go into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”

There was a young woman who was away at college. She fell on hard times, dropped out,and started selling her body just to survive. She was drug addicted and living in the gutter. You don’t even want to know what her parents thought when they found out. You don’t even want to know the words that came out of their mouths. I bet you can guess.

They said, “You are never welcome in our house. You are never welcome at our table. We do not even know you.”

The good news is that God knows her. The good news is that God knows her parents. The good news is that God knows you and God knows me.

There is a table for her. There is a table for her parents. There is a table for you. There is a table for me.

Thank God there is a table for all.

Eve of Michael and All Angels

September 28, 2017 – Eve of Michael and All Angels – Genesis 28:10-17, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51

There is something poetic about angels. They are abstract, not easily explained, and depicted in myriad ways. We often cast them in the role of guardian, but even that is ambiguous. Maybe it means that God gives his angels charge over those who sleep. Or maybe it refers to those little white-clad creatures perched on the shoulder of your favorite sitcom character. I’ve even heard it said, “That woman must have had an angel with her to survive a car wreck like that.”

Perhaps when you hear “angel” you think of a quilt that your great aunt made or, God forbid, one of those “Precious Moments” figurines. The word is also used as a term of endearment. You have likely been called an “angel” by your lover or your grandmother.

On greeting cards, coffee mugs, or page-a-day calendars, angels are portrayed as cartoon characters, chubby little babies, and choir members. They represent the gentle, graceful, light, and airy. Even though depictions of angels are ubiquitous in popular culture, they remain somewhat of a theological mystery.

The poet Billy Collins points out that of all the questions you might have about angels, the only one you ever hear is, “How many can dance on the head of a pin?” Nobody ever asks how they pass the eternal time. Do they circle the Throne chanting in Latin? Or deliver crusts of bread to hermits on earth? Do they guide boys and girls across rickety wooden bridges? [1]

You and I know that they hasten to a tap on the roof of the car. What do they do in the meantime? Swing like children from the hinges of the spirit world? What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes, or their diet of unfiltered divine light? [2] Collins is on to something. Angels may be a mystery, but they trigger our imagination.

Our interpretations of angels have always been fueled by imagination. Look at our tradition. Angels have been organized into a hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels. In worship hosts of angels leap from brittle hymnal pages to the spring board of our tongues and then into the air where they briefly trip the light before gathering in throngs over the altar for the eucharistic prayer. Angels are important to our faith. Not because they are detectable by our senses, but because they feed our imaginations.

I’ve been pulling out my beard for two weeks trying to answer questions about angels. What are they? What do they do? What are they for? Where do they come from? I was seeking concrete answers instead of using my imagination. With cameras in our iPhones and Google Image results at our fingertips, we often forget to use our imagination, but angels remind us how.

Nathanael has no problem recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, but that doesn’t stop Jesus from giving him a little something to imagine, “You will see heaven opened and God’s angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Such an image helps us imagine a God so beyond compare that his glory can only be depicted by thousands of heavenly attendants. “Glory to you Lord God of our fathers . . . glory to you seated between the cherubim.”

Sometimes during the Magnificat I imagine Gabriel illuminating the dark cave, his voice not quite as deep as you might think, informing Mary that she will bear a son. On Christmas Eve, I lean back in my pew and picture angels bringing good news of great joy: the flash of green light and the supernal noise, like no music on earth. During Lent I imagine the solace Jesus finds in angels attending him after his forty-day fast.

Imagine the relief Abraham felt when an angel appeared to him just in the knick of time and said, “Do not lay your hand on your son.” Imagine the apprehension Moses felt when an angel appeared to him in the burning bush. “Moses, the Lord has something to tell you.”

Angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven are a sign to Jacob that God is with him. “I will keep you wherever you go.” Jacob went to sleep trying to escape, but woke up imagining a future with the God of his father.

The poor, persecuted author of Revelation practically has a Roman noose around his neck. He’s forlorn. He’s depleted. He’s angry. Imagination is his only refuge. He pictures a battle of epic proportions. Michael and his angel army crush Satan and upend the cosmic order. Angels are much more that ceramic dolls or kinds words. They are conduits for our imagination. Angels find us asleep in our humanity and wake us up so we can catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

There will be times when your prayer life suffers or when you visit the hospital that God’s glory will not be as apparent to you as it was to Nathanael, and you will need imagination to see the Kingdom of God.

There will be times when you are called an S.O.B. for doing what you think is right and you pray for an army of angels to overwhelm your accuser.

There will be times of declining church attendance when you can’t see God working in our life as clearly Abraham and Moses did.

There will be times of war, economic recession, and racist commentary when God’s promise does not feel as close to you as it did to Mary and the Shepherds.

There will be times when you need little imagination to see the Kingdom of God.

Take heart, angels are here to help. If you don’t believe me just remember: when you come to the garden expecting to tend to the dead, it’s an an angel who tells you to go back out and proclaim the one who lives.

[1] Billy Collins, Questions About Angels (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999), 25-26.

[2] Ibid.

I was also helped along in this effort by Sam Portaro’s book Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, especially his reflection on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. 

Casting out demons

Tuesday, September 5 – Tuesday After Proper 17 – Luke 4:31-37

Better 10 days late than never! Here’s a sermon from a recent Spanish-language eucharist at The School of Theology. (See also the English version below.)

La lección del Evangelio de hoy puede emocionarnos porque hay un exorcismo dramático: ¡un demonio se confronta a Jesús, y la gente está sorprendida por la capacidad de Jesús para expulsarlo! Pero, después de una reflexión más profunda, podemos encontrar otra verdad en la lección: la verdadera Palabra de Dios, manifestada en Jesús y en su enseñanza. La presencia de Jesús y su enseñanza le molestan al demonio. Después de escuchar la palabra proclamada por el Hijo de Dios, el demonio grita: “¡Déjanos! ¿Por qué te metes con nosotros…? ¿Has venido a destruirnos? Yo te conozco, y sé que eres el Santo de Dios.”

El demonio no puede esconderse de Jesús. Reconoce la Palabra de Dios y sabe que esta Palabra es bastante fuerte para destruir los poderes demoníacos. El demonio grita el nombre de Jesús, tratando así de ganar el poder sobre el. Jesús le regaña al demonio y se niega a contestar sus preguntas. Se le expulsa al demonio del hombre, y la gente lo admira.

Después de mudarse, empezar un nuevo año escolar, perder a un ser amado, o sufrir algún daño, nos damos cuenta de nuestros propios demonios. Tal vez alberguemos unos secretos demasiado incómodos para revelar: adicción, bulimia, odio o indiferencia hacia la creación de Dios. Nada es tan exasperante como que los miembros de nuestra comunidad revelen a nuestros demonios. Cuando esto pasa, los atacamos y, a menudo, tratamos de devolver la atención negativa a la persona que nos desafió.

Los miembros de nuestra comunidad, a diferencia de Jesús, no tienen el poder de echar fuera  nuestros demonios. Sin embargo, nos permiten reconocer y hacer frente a esos demonios. Cuando esto pasa, Cristo se manifiesta en nosotros. Al fin y al cabo, Jesús mandó a sus discípulos, “Vayan y anuncien que el reino de los cielos se ha acercado. Sanen a los enfermos, resuciten a los muertos, limpien de su enfermedad a los leprosos y expulsen a los demonios.” Jesús nos da los instrumentos para hacerlo. Por ejemplo, la Iglesia está dispuesta, en el sacramento de la reconciliación, a ayudarle a volver un penitente a la salud y plenitud de vida. A veces tomamos un cartel y marchamos contra los demonios. Otras veces, podemos simplemente escuchar como Jesús y estar presentes como Dios estaba presente entre nosotros en en el carne.

Jesús, la Palabra de Dios encarnada, que expulsó demonios y enseñó a las multitudes, es el mismo Jesús que vive hoy. Jesús vino a liberarnos de los pecados que nos controlan. Todas las veces que estamos enojados o celosos, o cuando luchamos contra una obsesión insalubre, o cuando no estamos dispuestos a perdonar, Jesús está allí para liberarnos.

Somos bautizados en la muerte de Cristo para que, levantándonos con él, podamos dar testimonio de la promesa de la vida eterna de Dios. Siempre que se nombran a nuestros propios demonios o a los otros que existen en el mundo, y cuando caminamos con aquellos que buscan superar los suyos, actuamos como el cuerpo de Cristo. Eso sí es la resurrección.


Today’s Gospel lesson may excite you because of the dramatic exorcism—a demon confronts Jesus, and all are amazed by Jesus’ ability to cast it out! Upon further reflection you may find another truth in this story: the Word of God, manifest both in Jesus and in his teaching. Jesus’ presence and his teaching agitate the demon. Hearing the word proclaimed by the Son of God exposes the demon and provokes it to cry out, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us…? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The demon cannot hide from Jesus. It recognizes God’s Word and knows that that Word is strong enough to destroy demonic powers. The demon yells Jesus’ name, attempting to gain power over him. Jesus rebukes the demon and refuses to answer its questions. He throws the demon out of the man, and the crowd is in awe.

After moving, beginning a new academic term, losing a loved one, or being seriously wronged, we become more aware of our own demons. We may harbor secrets too troubling to admit: addiction, binge eating, hatred, or indifference toward God’s creation. Nothing is as infuriating as when members of our community expose our demons. When that happens, we lash out and often throw negative attention back at the one who called us out.

Members of our community, unlike Jesus, do not have the power to instantly cast out demons. They do however make it possible for us to recognize our demons and to confront them. When this happens, Christ is manifest in us. After all, Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go and preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.” He gives us the tools to do just that. For instance, the church stands ready, in the sacrament of reconciliation, to help return a penitent to health and fullness of life. Sometimes we take up a placard and march on that demon. Other times, we simply listen like Jesus would listen and we are present as God was present among us in the flesh.

Jesus, God’s very Word incarnate, who cast out demons and taught the multitudes, is the same Jesus who lives today. Jesus came to liberate us from the sins that control us. Whenever we are angry or jealous, whenever we struggle with an unhealthy obsession or are unwilling to forgive, Jesus is there to set us free.

We are baptized into Christ’s death so that rising with him we might bear witness to God’s promise of eternal life. Whenever we name our own demons or those in the world around us, and whenever we walk with those who seek to overcome them, we act as the body of Christ. That is resurrection.


They remain examples

Thursday, June 29 – Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul – 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Today, June 29th, we gather to celebrate Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It is not January 18th, when we commemorate Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah nor is it January 25th when we commemorate the so-called “Conversion of Paul.” No, today we remember these two great leaders of the Apostolic Age because they were persecuted and died as martyrs.

Clement of Rome wrote to the Church in Corinth, “Because of jealousy and envy the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and competed unto death.”

It’s hard to say it much better than that. Peter and Paul were good at serving as witnesses to Jesus Christ. The fearful leaders of the empires of this world didn’t know what to make of their zeal for their God. Faced with the stark reality of a group of followers proclaiming a Lord who lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty, earthly authorities killed these apostles in an effort to ensure the continuance of their own power.

Both Peter and Paul took their place in glory as examples of God’s endurance, and today as we remember them because they glorified God in their death we can also learn from the example of their lives.

“I solemnly urge you:” writes the author of the second letter to Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Proclaim. Be persistent. Convince. Encourage. And rebuke.

Proclaim the message with persistence in good times and bad—whether surrounded by the Spirit’s rush on Pentecost, after your second trial, during the growth of the church in Rome, or during your seventh stay in prison. Encourage and convince—take heart, ask questions, and burst into doxology when necessary.

And yes, even rebuke. “For the time is coming,” says the writer to Timothy “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

Yes friends, we’ll have do some rebuking. It’s tricky to challenge those who wish to distort the faith, but luckily Peter and Paul show us that it is possible. Even they had differences of opinion. Their disagreement over the appropriate mission to the Gentiles is well known.

Paul wrote about his meeting with Peter in Antioch in his letter to the Galatians, saying, “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong … he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when [men from James] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”

These saints help us see this good news: that rebuking doesn’t mean leaving someone behind, writing someone off, or breaking a relationship. Amid the strong words of bitter disagreement these two who seemed on the surface so different—a cosmopolitan Jew and a rural fisherman—kept always in common their unwavering commitment to Jesus, and they remain examples for us.

They remain examples of the importance of never losing sight of what binds us together even when our hermeneutical lenses or exegetical interpretations are at odds. They remain examples for us—no matter how we vote at General Convention or what we think of a certain church canon—of our one, sure foundation, the Lord of the Church. And they remain examples for us of the peace that passes all understanding, that peace that guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord. So may it ever be.


May 1, 2017–Feast of St. Philip and St. James–John 14:6-14

You can watch me preach this sermon by clicking here

Jesus said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”

Translation: “How could you say that? I just told you! If you know me, then you know the father. Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

We’ve all been let down by stupid comments and questions before. It’s nothing new to us.

“I seriously just explained this to you.”

“We just went over this.”

“It’s on. The. Syllabus.”

We’ve all been there—on both sides of it. That feeling when you raise your hand in class, you ask your question and the see the side glances and smirks.

“Um…Dr. Brosend, did we just talk about this?”

Uh, yeah, Warren. We did.”


It’s a sinking, embarrassing feeling when we realize that we’ve missed something that we’re expected to know.

“Show you the father and you’ll be satisfied, huh? Have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t know me… I’ve been trying to tell you that all along!”


“Don’t you remember that day on the lawn, Philip? I asked you where we were going to buy enough bread for all those people.” Ask James—I think he was there, too. You said, “It doesn’t matter, six months’ wages couldn’t even buy enough bread for all these folks. Do you remember that? Lucky for us that boy had packed a lunch. And do you remember when we left that day? The crowd was satisfied. Do you remember what I did?”

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you don’t, then believe me because of the works themselves. Believe me because of what you’ve seen. Believe me because of what you know to be true.”

We can’t explain all of God’s works, least of all this miracle, but Philip helps us get to the point of it. It’s not entirely clear how Jesus would multiply two loaves and two fish, but what is clear is this: seeing God doesn’t have anything to do with your line of sight. No visual experience is going to get you to that place. No, it’s about a much larger truth.

It’s about our journey with Philip to recognize that we already know God through our relationship with Jesus. It’s about taking stock of how Jesus has been working in our lives.

“Lord, show us the father and we will be satisfied.”

No, don’t you get it?

We already have Jesus. We already know Jesus. To know Jesus is to know God.

And that satisfies us greatly.

It Takes Courage

April 27, 2017 – Thursday in the Second Week of Easter – Acts 5:27-33

Tonight I preached at the seminary’s final Community Eucharist of the semester. To view the sermon click here.

And so it is with today’s reading from The Acts of the Apostles as it has been with many of our readings from Acts since Easter: we join the following program already in progress.

The lectionary people have invited us into a vignette that is but one in a series of events in which the disciples find themselves in deep trouble. They have been performing healing miracles and teaching all over Jerusalem in the name of the Risen Lord Jesus. And here’s the thing: a lot of people are loving it. They’re won over by the hundreds. It’s no secret that Peter and the rest were good at what they were doing, and in tonight’s reading they appear before the council largely for that reason.

At the outset of the passage it says, “When they had brought them [from the Temple where they had been teaching], they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them…” They brought them, they had them stand before the council, and the high priest questioned them—it just sounds like a biblical precedent for our discernment process.

But, it’s more than that. We need to pay attention to what’s happening here—it’s pretty serious stuff. This is the same council that Jesus appeared before. These folks really don’t like the disciples stirring up people’s emotions and disturbing the civil order. No government does.

The council elders say, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

Listen to that: “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

It’s blood that the council members don’t want anything to do with, bad blood. “Don’t you go blaming us for his death!” the council elders seem to be saying. [1] Oh the nastiness, animosity, and distrust they feel toward that blood!

For many Christians today that blood is a good thing. It’s like when I see Tom Early in the hallway. “How are you, Tom?” He replies with a crooked smile, pointing his index finger at me, “Washed in the blood of the lamb.” The fountains of hymnody flow with it. It’s the only tonic capable of curing our sinful ways.

But these folks are afraid of that blood (and rightfully so perhaps). They don’t trust what the disciples are doing. “Don’t blame me for what’s happened!” It’s like—don’t put that evil on me!

They’re afraid, and they’re mad at the disciples; mad because they fear being associated with Jesus and his death. Deep down I think they’re scared that what happened to him will happen to them if the disciples keep winning people over. As their fear increases they lash out in anger at the disciples who are the living, breathing symbols of Jesus.

Sound familiar? It’s what we do. It’s our human condition, evidence of our frailty. When we’re afraid, it feels more natural, easier, to lash out in anger than it does to take up courage. When everything is piling up, you’re exhausted just trying to make it to the end, and you open your mail box and find a C- where there should be at least a B+ and you get angry. You might not pass. You take it out on the professor. Then you find out your diocese has released you, you might not have a job. You take it out on your spouse or your bishop. These types of things don’t exactly breed courage, but courage is exactly what it’s going to take to fill Jerusalem with the news of the Risen Christ.

This is the last one of these Thursday night Eucharists for a while, and as we look around the room we’ll the see the faces of those who won’t be here when the next one rolls around. Some of our friends won’t be back. They’re headed out into a world that’s very fearful. They’ll need some courage to fill Jerusalem with the news of the Risen Christ.

Courage is required, or else we’ll get stuck in the cycle of fear, too. When your new neighbor at the rectory says, “Listen preacher, it’s like I told the last guy, we don’t need you nosing around here. Wife’s got cancer and my back is acting up again. I’m out of work. God has nothing to do with us.” It’s too easy to ignore the promise of Easter in times like that and to become a prisoner of fear. We can’t let ourselves do that.

We’ve got to take courage like the disciples do when they say, “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” they say. “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus … exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior … and we are witnesses to these things…”

That kind of courage is a no-brainer to them by this point. They are literal witnesses to the resurrection. They have no reason to fear any civil authority. When they said this council members got so mad they wanted to kill the disciples. But it’s no matter; the disciples have a reason to hope.

They may have no reason to fear death, but for us it’s much harder, don’t you think? Can you go out into Jerusalem and testify to things that enrage people to the point they want to kill you? It takes a lot of courage. Can you do it?

And don’t say, “Well Peter did it and he’s our model so we’ve got to go and do likewise,” because it’s not the same. No, it’s not the same for us, because they actually saw it. They were there when they nailed him up and they were there to hear the news of his resurrection and they were there when he appeared to them, and breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

They were there, but we weren’t. It was easier for them to live into the promise of the resurrection because they witnessed it firsthand and so could obey God without question, right? It’s harder for us, right? It’s harder now that it’s 2017. That was all so long ago. I want to know how we can do it now!

To say today that we must obey God rather than any human authority—it’s laughable! Can you even imagine how much courage that would take?

Where does it come from? Where does our courage come from today?

In a nursing home sits an old woman that I’ve become reacquainted with recently. She’s the sweetest thing, but it’s a terrible place. I bet you’ve been there. It’s damp and cramped. There are fans that circulate air that has long since stopped moving; all they do is mix the smell from the kitchen with the smell of stale bed sheets. She’s so sweet, but I don’t know how she has the courage to go on in there. The staff members are always scowling. They don’t even try to hide it from the visitors anymore. Where does her courage come from? I can hardly even stand to visit.

Before I knock on the door I peek my head around and see her there reading her Bible. It’s the only book she’ll even try to read anymore. I don’t know how she could go on. I sit down and she tells me she’s been thinking about her family. Each night when the nurse puts her in bed she thinks of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she prays for them. How does she go on? The nurse comes in to bring her pills. “Oh, thank you so much, honey. I know you’re busy,” she says. How does she do it? She tells me about her new friend at her table in the dining room. They used to go to church near each other, so they have something to talk about. “She’s a good Christian woman,” she says. As I get up to leave she asks me, “Before you go, do you think we might have a prayer?”

I just don’t know where she gets that courage…


[1] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 208.