Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's been awhile

I haven't posted anything in quite some time. It had been my intention this summer to update sermons through 2015. Moving to California got in the way. Things are starting to settle down, so I expect to be able to update sermons as well as create some new posts.

I'm quite glad to see immigration become a topic of national discourse, although saddened (and not surprised) that it has taken a terrible refugee crisis to bring it to the forefront. If you are curious about my thoughts on immigration, here is a sermon that I preached on this topic: "Loaves For The Whole World."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Five: April Showers Bring May Flowers

Today's Friday Five:

1. What spring flowers and plants do you see? Or will see sometime in the future?

2. What kinds of weather are you experiencing in April?

3. What are the stereotypical harbingers of spring in your area? How about where you grew up?

-Flowers, green leaves, and fluctuating weather. When I grew up in Belize there was no Spring, (they have two seasons, wet and dry).

4. What season do you like best in your home area?

-Late Spring and early Summer! I love warm weather!

5. What is sprouting or blooming in your life? What do you wish for?

- I've been doing spring cleaning, literally and metaphorically. It feels good to simplify and organize. I wish for good things, wholeness, and growth for all people.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Healing the Dis-ordered Life

A sermon based on Mark 10:17-31
Preached on October 14, 2012.

Today’s gospel lesson from Mark is a story about how hard healing can be. Sometimes the cure is harder than the disease, so to speak. Right now you may be thinking, healing? What gospel did Anna think she read because the gospel that I heard was about a rich man and how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Yes, I heard that same gospel too, and it was about healing.

What makes me so convinced that this lesson is about health as much, if not more than, wealth? I read a commentary that inspired me. Apparently, everywhere else in Mark’s gospel, when a person kneels in front of Jesus to ask him something it is always a request for healing – either healing for themselves or for a loved one. Here are two examples:

Mark 1:40-42
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

Mark 5:22-24
22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.

In both these stories and elsewhere in Mark, the person making the supplication is kneeling and they are asking for healing. The leper is asking to be made clean, and Jairus is asking Jesus to save his daughter from dying.

The rich man in our story also kneels, asking for healing even though that doesn’t sound like what he is asking. The man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) The first thing that strikes me about this question is that Jesus reacts to being called “good teacher.” Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18).

Why would Jesus have such a reaction to being called good? Could it be because it was linked to the request about eternal life? By emphasizing that no one is good but God alone, Jesus could be suggesting that there is something wrong with the question that the man asks. The man asks Jesus because he thinks Jesus is good enough to know the secret to earn eternal life. The man asks what must I do – which means that the man thinks that there is something he can do to obtain eternal life. Jesus said that no one is good enough and so entering God’s Kingdom can’t be about being good enough but has to be about something else.

Jesus asked the man if he had kept all of the commandments, and the man said that he had. At that point the text tells us that:

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Jesus loved the man. To others the man might have been rich, successful, blessed, self-righteous, or self-occupied. But to Jesus he saw a beloved child of God who was trying to do all the right things but was lacking one thing.

What was he lacking? By all appearances, the man lacked nothing. He had money and possessions, which would have given him some status, and the man had ethical behavior under the law.

What did the man need healing from? Only Jesus knew for sure, but I believe that the clue is in what Jesus prescribed: giving away his possessions and following Jesus as a disciple. I believe that the man’s problem was self-centeredness and isolation from other people. This is a dis-order in that it is not the order that an ideal life should take.

The cure from self-centeredness is to do away with whatever is making you self-centered. In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus tells his disciples that if their hand causes them to stumble, then cut it off, and if their foot causes them to stumble, then cut it off. It is better to go through life maimed in this way than to be prevented from the Kingdom of God in the next life.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

There is Enough (A Prayer)

A parishioner shared this prayer with me, in response to my sermon a few weeks ago on immigration (where I said there was enough for all people). This prayer makes a great grace before meals as it reminds us when we are being fed that there are others who are without. It encourages us to think about why in a land of plenty there are some who are without, and then to think about what we can do to change this.

Lord, there is plenty to eat for the hungry. 
There is enough to keep and to give, enough to buy and to sell; 
enough to serve and to store. 
There is enough for all of us. 
Lord, tables are empty, but there is enough; 
cupboards are bare, but there is enough; 
tongues are parched, but there is enough. 
Lord, make room for the hungry and the thirsty at some table. 
Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest. Amen.

-by The Rev. Joseph T. Webb, III

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Loaves For The Whole World

A sermon based on 2 Kings 4:42-44Ephesians 3:14-21, and John 6:1-21.
A sermon on the topic of immigration. 

In our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings, one man has “twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack” and Elisha wants to use it to feed a hundred people. Elisha’s servant has strong doubts about Elisha’s mathematical skills - "How can I set this before a hundred people?" he said. Elisha replied, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, `They shall eat and have some left.'" And it was so.

Our gospel lesson from John tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand. A huge crowd had followed Jesus and now Jesus wanted to feed them. The disciples questioned this plan. Philip said, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." Andrew said, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" The details of this story are a little different from the one in 2 Kings, but the overall story is very much the same. People were hungry, there didn’t seem to be enough for everyone, but in the end all had more than enough.

Both of these stories speak about the ability of God to provide. These readings also touch on people’s fear of not having enough. Elisha’s servant and Jesus’ disciples saw the limited amount of food that they had and could not imagine any possible way of it feeding so many people. They must have been hungry themselves, I can picture them worried about giving away all their food. It’s not that they didn’t care about the other people, but that they couldn’t see how they could help themselves while being generous to the crowd.

This is a common human failing, and it does great damage to other people. Throughout history, people have placed many barriers up, intending to protect themselves and what they have by keeping other people down or far away.

In July 1938, the √Čvian Conference was held in order to discuss the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Representatives from 32 countries and 24 voluntary organizations met for 8 days in √Čvian-les-Bains, France.  Jews in Germany and Austria were hopeful that countries would agree to accept more immigrants. Hitler even said that he would help the Jews leave if there were countries that would accept them.

The United States, despite having called for the conference, refused to increase its immigration quotas to admit more refugees.  Other nations at the conference followed suit.  State department correspondence reveals the US government’s cynical motive in calling the conference was specifically to forestall political pressure to liberalize immigration law.

In 1979, Walter Mondale described the hope represented by the Evian conference:
"At stake at Evian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world. If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved. As one American observer wrote, 'It is heartbreaking to think of the ...desperate human beings ... waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian ... it is a test of civilization.'" (New York Times: Evian and Geneva by Walter F. Mondale)

Civilization failed the Jews. The Nazis viewed the outcome of the conference as justifying their own treatment of Jews, and it may even have contributed to shifting Nazi policy away from deportation and towards their horrific “Final Solution."  With no place to go European Jews were trapped in their native countries, forced into concentration camps, and then slaughtered. 

Why wouldn’t other countries accept more Jewish refugees? Undoubtedly, many people were bigoted against Jews. Many people disliked people of a different race and religion than their own. Many people were fearful of competition for jobs and resources, or assumed that the refugees, destitute after being robbed by the Nazis, would somehow drag them down. Today things aren’t very different. People are still fearful of letting in all the refugees who want to come. Millions of desperate people are trapped in their countries, not allowed to leave for a safer and better life.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


A Sermon based on Job 38:1-11 and Mark 4:35-41.

This is a short question that we all have asked countless times. 
It is a question that is very easy to ask, but not always easy to answer. We begin asking this question as a small child. Why shouldn’t I touch fire? Why do I have to go to bed now? Why are things the way they are?

We might grow older and ask this question a bit less often, but we still wonder – why? There is a why question that is perhaps the most powerful and hardest to answer and it is “why do bad things happen to good people?” In philosophy and theology we call this “the problem of evil” – how do you reconcile evil in the world with a loving all-powerful God?

In many times and many places – people have answered this question of “why bad things happen” by saying that bad things only happen to those who deserve them. It might seem obviously false to us, but it has been commonly thought to be so, even in Jesus’ time. The disciples once asked Jesus – who had to sin that a man was born blind – was it his parent’s sin or his own sin? (John 9) Jesus said it was neither who sinned. Hindus have a complicated system of reincarnation and karma that insists that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people – that you deserve your fate. Classical Hinduism explains that it is your own fault when you are born into an unfortunate situation – you must have done something wrong in a previous life in order to be born to abject poverty and suffering.

When we try to automatically place the blame for bad things onto the victims we ignore numerous things, but there are three I'd like to mention: 
1. When we blame the victims we ignore when other people or society at large is responsible, and thus things are more difficult to change for better 
2. People really are a mix of good and bad, and 
3. Bad things really do happen to people who do not deserve it

We have a good example of this last point in the book of Job. Job lost everything – his wife and children, his property, his health – and some of his friends tried to offer him advice. They believed that Job did something wrong, and so must admit his guilt. In the story, Job is innocent of any wrongdoing. The book of Job teaches us that there isn’t always a good reason for suffering, and that it is not always our fault.

Towards the end of the book of Job, God responds to the accusations against Job and to Job’s cry to God. God’s response is interesting because God offers no explanation why things have happened to Job. God exclaims: Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) This is an echo to the question that people often asked God – “Where were you when I needed you? Where were you when such and such happened?” God doesn't often answer that question in the way we would wish.  God’s echo of our “where were you?” shows the distance between what we experience and know and what God knows and experiences.

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples are frightened by a storm. Jesus is asleep in the boat, and they woke him up and asked, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38) Jesus wakes and calms the storm. The disciples thought that just because they didn’t see an immediate reaction from Jesus meant that he didn’t care. But Jesus was in the boat with them and in control.

Along with “Where were you”, “Do you care” is another way of asking God why something happened. When things go wrong in our lives and in the  lives of those whom we hold dear – we wonder, where is God in all this? Does God even care? We wish that Jesus would wake up from his nap and do something.

I have no clear, easy answer to why bad things happen. If I did, I wouldn’t put it in this sermon anyways. I’d write a book and then become the richest person on earth.  There is not one answer or one statement that will satisfy every situation that we find ourselves in. It would be dishonest of me to pretend that I have the answer for why things happen.

There are certain things that we can know, for we all observe them. We know that there is suffering, there is pain, sorrow, loss, destruction, and death in this world. Sometimes it is our own fault, sometimes it is the fault of another person or group of persons, sometimes it seems to be no one’s fault.

Sometimes we can see the likely reasons why things happened – people do make bad decisions, people do make legitimate mistakes, and the physical world has chaotic phenomenon that can be studied by scientists – like hurricanes and earthquakes. But oftentimes, we don’t see a reason or are not satisfied with the reasons that we obverse. Yes, we know what causes hurricanes but why didn't God stop it? Yes, that person’s decision to drive drunk caused a person’s death but why didn’t God intervene? I wish I had an answer as to why God sometimes intervenes and sometimes does not – I’d write another book about that one.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

God's Bamboo Kingdom

Sermon based on Mark 4:26-34

Jesus taught with parables all the time, they were especially helpful in illuminating what the Kingdom of God is like. There are several reasons why parables are such an effective teaching technique, I just want to mention two today:

1. Stories are easy to connect with, remember, and share. A parable is often a short story that connects with the audience - it contains familiar scenarios so that the listeners can picture what is happening in their minds. A short story also has the benefit of being easier to remember and to share with others, thus the teaching gets shared with more than the original audience. 

2. Parables are different from regular stories in that parables often contain surprising or shocking imagery or outcomes. Parables were not only to teach and instruct, but also to frustrate, to challenge, to transform.

Both of the two short parables today are about seeds and growing. Those are things that Jesus’ audience would have easily related with. These days, the only plants I have regular interaction with are orchids - and they are air plants and very different from anything you would plant to eat. They are surprisingly hard to kill, even when I forget to water them.

As a kid, my parents had a very large vegetable garden and my family regularly ate from that we grew. I have memories of Dad plowing the field, and then he would instruct my brother and me what seeds to plant and where. Some seeds were large, others were tiny. Some you had to be careful about putting enough space in between seeds, others were not so particular. I remember after all the work that went with planting, there was the excitement and then boredom of waiting for them to grow. Some plants grew more quickly than others, some took so long that I had forgotten what we planted by the time they did sprout. Still others never grew at all. It was a big mystery to me. Why did some grow and others did not? Did we do something wrong? Or was there something wrong with the seed itself? I had no idea.

In Jesus’ first parable today, he said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29)

What is Jesus saying about the kingdom of God in this parable? He is relating it to a common experience of farmers - where there is much uncertainty about the growth of crops. As a farmer, there is much you can plan and prepare for, but there are always some unknowns and some things outside of your control. Likewise, the kingdom of God is something that we can make some preparations for but it is largely out of our control and there are many unknowns. In the parable, it is the earth that does much of the mysterious work of growing the seeds. In the kingdom of God, it is God who does much of the mysterious work. In the end, when the grain is ripe, the farmer better be ready to harvest - or else all that work goes to waste. We do not know when the kingdom of God will be ripe, or will be totally here transforming a new heaven and a new earth - but when that day arrives people will be ready for whatever comes next.