Monthly Archives: April 2013

Broken, loving hearts, sermon audio for Easter 5

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked most closely with John 13:31-35.

Love has consequences.


Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alleluias, joyous and wilted

Somewhere around the 4th or 5th week of Easter, I find myself remembering my friend, classmate, and colleague the Rev Cody Unterseher. I think about Cody not because the anniversary of his death is around this time of the year (April 25). I remember Cody because of what happened on Facebook in 2010.

Cody and I were at seminary together for one year–just long enough for a couple of those stereotypical (because they really happen) late night theological (well, liturgical) conversations, long enough to share parts of our stories, long enough to hear him preach (a sermon I still remember). We graduated together in 2008–me with an MDiv, Cody with an STM. After graduation we were Facebook friends. I would read his articles around the internet as he posted about them. I like having smart friends who make me think, with whom I don’t always agree. I hope he found some level of interest or joy in the updates from my life as a parish priest.

In 2010, for the Great Fifty Days of Easter, Cody posted “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” in a different language everyday on Facebook.

For the first couple of days I thought it was interesting and a good reminder. In the second week, I thought it was a little drawn out. In the third week, I was over it. I could no longer even guess at the languages; I was no longer excited by the novelty of our yearly proclamation. But Easter and Cody weren’t over.

Just like our Easter Lilies, our Alleluias wilt–only faster. After 40 days of stifling our voices, of missing our joyous four-syllable proclamation, we can speak, shout, sing it again. At the Easter Vigil (my favorite), on Easter Sunday I can always hear the joy in people’s voices, in my voice as we proclaim our ‘Alleluias’ again.

Then the joy of reclaiming our “Alleluia” fades into the normality of life more quickly than the shocking joy of the resurrection should. By Easter 4, the joy of being permitted the recently forbidden has faded. The idea that “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” is extraordinary starts to go over as well as another verse of “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia.”

Until Cody. Until 50 days of reminders. By holding “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” up for all of Easter, Cody moved me through the wilted Alleluia phase.

This year, most years since 2010, I remember Cody and 50 days of Alleluias I only understood through context, through what I knew those strange foreign words should mean. I remember reaching for a meaning I didn’t always understand, couldn’t prove, didn’t always feel. I remember the moment when I realized that this is what it means to be Easter-ed.

In the first moments of Easter it is easy to be over-joyed with our yearly proclamation. Then life continues. Our transformation into the people God calls us to be is slow, hard work. Sometimes I have to reach to be the person God is calling me to be, reach for what it means to be a part of Christian community when I don’t know if either can really exist. What God asks of me often feel strange and foreign in a world full of really terrible, sad things. When I act as if I have been Easter-ed, when I believe in and act on the things God asks of me, strange and foreign as they may seem, I start living into the meanings, the transformation, the faith I faithfully keep reaching towards.

So on Sunday I will remember Cody and 50 days of Alleluias. I will remember to reach for what I don’t always understand. Then, as the last strains of the processional hymn finish, as I exhale the in-between breath, I will faithfully and joyously proclaim, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

Categories: Episcopal, My Life, Theology | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

SR: Dancing, Stretchers, and Sheep

Link:Dancing, Stretchers, and Sheep, Easter 4 2013

Summary of what I was saying and why:
This was the second sermon I wrote. The first was was good. And then I was reading one of my favorite poets before bed one night (something I do, but not that often) and suddenly I was thinking about a different poet, a different poem, and how it was a great way of slipping into this Gospel. So I wrote the first draft at about 11:30pm, on my iPhone, sitting in bed.

Jesus Count:Medium
Good News:Jesus saves us, always

What did I change on my feet?
I tweaked the end a bit, but not more than I often stray from what is written.
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I think the introduction as I wrote it was a little better.
I only made oblique reference to the horrors of the week. That is always a pastoral judgement call. Those tragedies were addressed during the Prayers of the People.
What did work?
I still really love the interweaving of this poem and this Gospel. The Good Shepherd passage is a text we’ve heard so much. Reading it through the poem helped me hear it again.

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Funston preaches on even Jesus’s challenge in praying from the middle of one of those weeks.

Priest Jones on the stories we listen to and the crowds we are a part of (which is not quite what you may be thinking, so go listen).

Priest Sinclair on the images we’ve seen and the images of Jesus.

Priest Fox on the answer to the question the crowd meant.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

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Dancing, Stretchers, and Sheep, a sermon for Easter 4 2013

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked most closely with John 10: 22-30.

Easter 4 is Good Shepherd Sunday. Which is hard for us to hear with depth.
The poem is “A Divine Invitation” by Hafiz, from I Heard God Laughing.

Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment


This week has been bad.  I don’t know the adjectives to describe how bad.  It started with tragedy for too many people as the rest of the nation watched with horror, prayed in sympathy, and helped in kindness.  But the week refused to stop there.

Monday’s bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon was followed by Wednesday’s warehouse explosion in West, TX which was followed by Friday’s shooting of an MIT police officer in Watertown, MA.

Before all of this my week started with a tweet reminding us that this week included the anniversaries of the deadly end of the Waco siege (April 19, 1993), the Oklahoma city bombing (April 19, 1997), the Columbine school shooting (April 20, 1999), and the Virgina Tech shooting (April 16, 2007).  The last six months have not been kind to us.  A mass shooting in an elementary school in Sandy Hook CT on December 14, 2012. At least 2,244 gun deaths since then. (link)

We live in a violent world.  As I said on Good Friday, Incarnation was always going to end in pain, suffering, and death.  (link) I believe we are capable of not only taking measures to mitigate how much violence is possible, but to enact less pain and suffering on our brothers and sisters.  However, in the moments of this week, in the midst of  massive pain and suffering alongside the stresses of life that we already live with, I need help surviving.  Sometimes YouTube videos of kittens, pandas, and penguins are enough.  This week they are not.  This week the everything is too much.  The stress, the pain of the world is pushing my stress meter too far up.

This week I need help practicing the belief that life goes on.  I need help practicing hope.  I need help practicing gratitude.  I need help practicing joy.  I am not a person who regularly writes out lists of things I am grateful.  But the science says it works.  So, in no particular order:

  1. Friends.  In general but especially that handful of people who give me the gift of letting me be myself in their presence.  I hope you all know who you are.
  2. A job I love. I spend (a lot of) my hours doing work that I love.  People ask me into their lives, trust me with their concerns, and invite me to help represent our Church.
  3. I get to preach to Gospel and preside at Eucharist.  I know that this seems like it should be part of #2 but I really love my job.  It’s hard not to make these separate items, really.
  4. My dog has started playing.  I mean really playing.  He now steals the toy from me in tug of war.  2 1/2 years ago that didn’t happen, he was 65 lbs and I would win tug of war because he didn’t know what was going on.  We’ve also cut 4-9 minutes off our mile time for a walk.  Some of that is we’re faster, more of it is we spend less time on behavior corrections.
  5. My family.  They have never not supported me.  Whether in seeking ordination (and thus complicating weekends and holidays forever), moving across the country for seminary, or by buying me Biblical commentaries for Christmas.  They love me in all of my uber-geeky-ness.

I know this solves nothing.  But it helps me remember that we live in a violent world, but we do not live in a solely violent world.  Perhaps most importantly, we live.  We continue to muddle through our lives.  Getting up, practicing hope and love and gratitude, facing all of the things that happen.  Praying that we will make it through.

Let us pray

This is another day, O Lord, I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen. (BCP, pg 461)

There is more to be grateful for than what I have listed.  I believe we could all use some practicing  this week.  Please tell me some of things you are grateful for.

Categories: My Life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

SR: Peter and Promises, Easter 3, 2013

Link: Peter and Promises

Summary of what I was saying and why:
This sermon was slow to write. The Gospel is about feeding, it’s about love, it’s about Resurrection, and none of that was interesting to me this year. It felt like I’d just done something on the whole obedience bit in Acts and Revelation would’ve taken more time than I had. And I kept re-reading the Gospel. Then I remembered the “Quo vadis?” story about Peter and Jesus outside Rome. And I started thinking about how hard it is to do what Peter promises on that beach.

Theology: discipleship
Jesus Count:medium
Good News: like Peter we too get to return, again and again

What did I change on my feet?
The last addition was the section about the promises we have trouble keeping–most of the language coming from the Baptismal Covenant. It wasn’t on my feet, but it was Sunday morning.
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
I was pretty happy with this one.
What did work?
I liked this treatment of Peter. When I was done preaching it I felt that previously I tended to write him off too much. This time I feel like he got credit he deserves.

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Lightcap preached on Saul and conversion being wounding work.

Bishop Fisher worked in a Mad Men reference while talking about Saul’s anger.

And there were other good sermons but I personally struggled once anyone mentioned Greek words and meaning of love. Greek was never my strong language and this week I just couldn’t go there.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

Categories: Sermon Review | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peter and Promises, a sermon for 3 Easter 4-14-13

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked most closely with John 21:1-19.

Peter, the bumbling disciple, is also having some trouble keeping promises.

Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

SR: Faith, Doubt, and Community

Link:Faith, Doubt, and Community

Summary of what I was saying and why:
This is always a fun text for me. The perennial question of how unquestioning faith is or should be is one worth revisiting. This year Steve Pankey wrote about what the Greek actually says and I started thinking. There are plenty of people, good faithful people who don’t always believe everything. Even what we’d like to consider the basics.
That has been preached a lot but I remembered an exercise from EfM that let a group explore the things held in common and the things we disagreed on. So I slightly modified that, explored how to introduce and tie things together, and brought my whiteboard out.

Theology: relationship
Jesus Count: low
Good News: faith is practiced in relationship

What did I change on my feet?
Anytime you introduce a lot interaction into a sermon it becomes hard to script too much. I had a pretty good sense of what I was going to say at the beginning and the end. I was fairly sure my congregation would go along with the middle. This time I was right.
What didn’t work/what did I miss?
This is a hard question to answer with this kind of a sermon.
What did work?
Most of this sermon depended on there being a space where people could speak honestly–or at least honestly enough. That seemed to happen this time.

Other sermons I liked:

Priest Arnold highlights the Eucharists beautifully “Through our prayers, God’s grace, the movement of the Holy Spirit, Christ is present for us to touch, to eat, to drink his life into our own.”

Bishop Fisher considers what the interim week was like for Thomas.

Priest Pankey followed his post with a great sermon, “Don’t Doubt Thomas”

Deacon Pam reminds us how important the woundedness of Jesus is.

(Don’t see your sermon or a sermon you liked? Maybe I don’t know about it. Leave me a comment with a link and I’ll take a look.)

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Faith, Doubt, and Community: a sermon for Easter 2 4-7-13

The lessons can be found by clicking here. I worked with John 20:19-31.

not belief whiteboard

Our beliefs and doubts

Thomas has not-belief. As do we all.

This is a fairly interactive sermon. I tried to make sure the mic picked up the gist but there may be parts that are tough to understand. Thank you for your patience.

Easter 2, 2013

Categories: Easter, Sermon | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

120 Books, 40 Days

The year I bought the most (non-school) books was my senior year of college.

I was six or seven when I discovered books so I’ve spent almost a quarter century reading, buying, and accumulating books. One of the six bookshelves (yes, six) in my apartment is dedicated to books that I have found and anticipate keeping for a long period of time. Some of them are the books I’ve had since I was six or seven.

Books are full of words, ideas, places, and people that I fell in love with. All of it. From the other places and amazing character to the fascinating ideas and the words that brought me all of this. I was a bibliophile before I knew the word, with a healthy library habit and more books than my shelves could hold.

I think there is a bit of escapism in every reader. Otherwise we would find no pleasure in spending time in Shanara, Middle Earth, Pern, Narnia or more realistic but happily ending worlds of Beverly Cleary, LM Montgomery, and so many others that passed through my hands.

But my senior year of college was unique. That year I needed escape. I’d had brain surgery for the second time. Both my physical and emotional recovery were arduous. Thank God for used book stores and therapists. I relied on both.

I learned that while my therapist will help keep me sane, my book buying habits are the first bellwether of serious stress. When I start buying more books than I can read, repeatedly; when the books begin to over-pile the shelves, even by my standards; when things progress beyond the “I like five books but I only really want one” stage; it is time to worry. It has been several years since I worried myself. The upside to having a bellwether is, if you pay attention then you know what is happening.

This year I noticed, well, book creep for lack of a phrase. I wasn’t buying more books than normal. I just wasn’t also cleaning my shelves off. I like having my books in my space. I have at least nosed through nearly all of them and they are my friends. There are worlds and possibilities and things I want to know. And there was too much of it.

A combination of bookshelf contemplation and Lenten preparation led me to one conclusion: it was time for fewer books. And because I knew I would not do it without a number, I gave it one. For Lent, I would take 100 books out of my apartment. 100 of my friends, of the books I had held and read and wanted to know, gone.

The first 78 to go

The first 78 to go

There were rules, of course. I have always found it useful to be specific in my Lenten disciplines. (There is a difference between no candy and no chocolate.) Duplicate books counted. (I had a few on the theory that they would be books I would give away, eventually.) Fiction books didn’t count. (The fiction section of my library is better cultivated and edited than others so I knew it would be too easy to remove some of those books.) And all 100 books had to be out of the house or boxed by Easter. Anything else was too much wiggle room.

At the beginning of Lent I had cataloged 650 books in my library and figured there were about 50 uncatalogued books. (This should not shock you, I spent a lot of time in libraries as a child.) 100 books, my goal, was about %14 of my library. The first ten books were easy. The next ten weren’t too bad. I got to 50 without any huge difficulties. 50-75 was challenging. The last 45 (because I actually went 20 over) were a debate on every single book. But in 40 days 120 books left my apartment.

In my Ash Wednesday sermon this year, I preached that Lenten disciplines are about drawing closer to Christ. In selecting books to give away, I accepted. I accepted that I will never be an expert on the Cold War, the Holocaust, Celtic Christianity, and so many other things. I came to terms with only owning one book about many topics. I held old friends and got lost in a few. As I held books I could not part with I began to realize that this discipline wasn’t at all what I thought.

I had thought giving these books, my escapes, away would be about being more vulnerable and less armored. And that terrified me. In culling down my bookshelves, I have indeed found myself, not more vulnerable but less distracted. More aware of the things I may truly be called toward as opposed to just interested in.

Perhaps, this time, Jesus was on the bookshelf.

From I Can Has Ceezburger

From I Can Has Ceezburger


Categories: Church, My Life, Priest's Life | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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