Monday, October 31, 2011


Sermon from October 30, 2011
(Pentecost 20 – Year A)
Matthew 23: 1-12
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

I am a hypocrite.
And you are a hypocrite.
As hypocrites, you and I tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and we lay them on the shoulders of others.
As hypocrites, we do deeds to be seen by others.
As hypocrites, we love to have the best seats in the luxury box at the stadium.
As hypocrites, as human beings, we are burdened down and heavy laden.

Jesus says to us hypocrites:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it;
But do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others;
But they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
They do all their deeds to be seen by others.
They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.”

This morning, it would be much easier to hear Jesus’ words and to rationalize that these words are about someone else.
Those people: those nasty scribes and Pharisees who heap on heavy burdens of law.
Those bankers on Wall Street - who heap on heavy burdens of upside-down mortgages.
Those politicians in Washington - who heap on heavy burdens of tax codes.
Those mega church evangelists - who heap on heavy burdens of religion.

It is much easier to hear Jesus’ words and to make them apply to someone else.
Yet the burden of our hearts is that we are hypocrites in that we do not always practice what we preach.
And our inability to practice what we preach is a burden.

When I was in the 8th grade, the expectations regarding homework in school were different than what I experience in schools today.
In each one of my classes, we had homework most every single night.
In social studies and history, we had to keep up with current events by reading the newspaper and making a journal of current events.
In math class, we had pages of mathematical equations to solve.
In English class, we were reading novels every night.

In the winter of my 8th grade year, I got very sick with the flu.
I was out of school for more than a week.
My mother called up to the school to ask how I could keep up with my homework.
I had hoped that my illness would have relieved me of the burden of completing my assignments.

Yet my teachers did not relieve me of the burden of the assignments.
Instead, after school each day, my mother went to the school office and picked up a list of my missed assignments for the day.
I gave her the combination to my locker and she got out the books that I would need.
After my mom got home, she plopped the books and assignments and projects in my bedroom.
And shivering with fever, I would stare at the stack of books that was my burden.

As I looked at my burden of missed homework, my 8th grade teachers became scribes and Pharisees to me, tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others, unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

All of us are burdened.
We are hypocrites.
We are sinners.
And our sins and our hypocrisy and our shortcomings are our burden.

Jesus uses the word ‘burden’ only twice in the Gospel of Matthew.
The first time occurs in today’s Gospel passage as Jesus teaches us:
“The scribes and the Pharisees tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.”

And the only other time that Jesus uses the word ‘burden’ is when Jesus invites us by saying:
“Take my yoke upon me and learn from me...
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The yoke of our sin, the yoke of our hypocrisy, is a heavy burden.
Yet when we are yoked to Jesus, his burden is light.

I might be bursting your idyllic vision of the priesthood, but Jimmy and I work more than just one day a week than Sunday.
And the last two or three weeks, it seems like I have been working through a burdensome to-do list.
Like you, I acutely feel the burden of all the things that I must get done today:
The phone calls that must be returned, the emails that must be answered, the reports I must complete for the diocese, the bishop I must contact about confirmation this coming Wednesday, the All Saints’ Day worship leaflet that must be edited.
All of us can look at our daily lives and feel the burden, the stack of undone homework that sits beside our bed, the burdens of life that are hard to bear, with no one willing to lift a finger.

Yet our life in Jesus Christ is not defined by our hypocrisy and our burdens.
For when we take Jesus upon us,
Then Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light.

An old Sunday School song sings:
“Jesus took my burdens and he rolled them in the sea.”
Yet Jesus does not magically take my burdens and roll them into the sea.
But Jesus invites me take some time with him in quiet prayer and in public worship.
And when I am yoked to Jesus, he gives me his peace, peace in the midst of my burdens.

For me, I am yoked to Jesus when I go off to the gym and I pray and in my prayers I imagine Jesus sitting right beside me.
For me, I am yoked to Jesus when I worship at St. Alban’s, imagining Jesus worshiping and singing and eating at his table with me.
I imagine Jesus being yoked to me – being tied to me.
And Jesus takes away my burdens.
Jesus takes my burdens and he gives me his stillness and his peace in the midst of my hypocrisy, in the midst of my sins, in the midst of the unfinished stack of my burdens.

We hypocrites have come into the church this morning.
We hypocrites are scribes and Pharisees with heavy burdens, hard to bear, laying them on the shoulders of others, with no one willing to lift a finger.
We hypocrites are burdened with sin and with a stack of undone homework and with a to-do list a mile long.
The burden of these things is intolerable.

Yet Jesus comforts us hypocrites, inviting us to take his yoke upon us.
So in private prayer, tie yourself to Jesus.
In public worship, tie yourself to Jesus.

Come to Jesus, all you who are heavy laden.
And he will give you rest from your burden.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


The Rite One version of the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist uses the more ancient language. We usually use the more contemporary language of Rite Two at St. Alban’s. In that Rite One liturgy, a portion of last week’s Gospel passage is said near the beginning of the worship service. That portion is this:

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatt and first commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

When I was a child growing up in the church, that phrasing about “commandments hanging” conjured up all sorts of images for me. When I thought of something hanging, I thought of meat hanging on a hook or clothes hanging on a clothesline or a criminal hanging from the gallows. As a boy, the image of “hanging” was rich with possibilities.

All of us hang onto something. Some people hang everything on their success. Others hang everything on their hobbies or on sports. Others hang everything on their children or their pets. We all hang our lives on something.

Yet Jesus says to hang everything on our love of God. And hang everything on loving others. For on these two commandments of love, everything hangs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Backside or Frontal Glory

Sermon from October 16, 2011
(Pentecost 18 – Year A)
Exodus 33: 12-23
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

After the ancient Israelites make a golden calf as a replacement God in their impatience,
After Moses comes down from the mountain and gets angry with his people for making the golden calf,
After the Lord gets angry,
Then Moses and the Lord kiss and make up.

Moses and the Lord are back to being best buddies again.
So Moses makes a request of the Lord, saying:
“Show me your glory.”

And the Lord replies:
“I will make my goodness pass before you.”

But the Lord also warns Moses:
“You cannot see my face.
So as my glory passes by I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will take away my hand and you will only see my back, for my face shall not be seen.”

Moses requests that he see the glory of the Lord.
Yet Moses only gets a glimpse of God’s glory, seeing the backside of the Lord.

Back in 2004, President Ronald Reagan died after a long journey with Alzheimer’s.
Whether you were a fan of Reagan or not,
The Reagan era marked a definitive period in my own life, the period of my life that was the glory of my adolescence.

When Reagan first became President in 1981, I can remember watching his inauguration on a small TV in my classroom in high school.
I was in typing class, learning how to communicate using an ancient machine known as a typewriter.
By the time I got to my next class period that day, we learned that the great news that the American hostages had been released from Iran.
It truly felt like a new era had begun.

When Reagan left office in 1989, that was the year I got married, the beginning of another era in my life.
And in between those bookends of Reagan’s presidency, there was the movie Footloose (not the remake) and topsiders and legwarmers.
And the B-52s and Madonna and Michael Jackson were playing on my Sony Walkman.
The Reagan era represents the glory years of my growing up.

And so when Ronald Reagan died in 2004, it was during the very last week that our family lived in the Washington, DC area.
So to pay homage to the glory years of my adolescence, I decided to pay tribute by going into DC and watching the funeral procession of Ronald Reagan.

On that afternoon, I grabbed a good book and I headed to the Metro station.
I rode the subway into the District.
I walked to Constitution Avenue, with the United States Capitol to my right.
I found a good spot on the curb to sit and read my book while I waited for several hours for the funeral procession to begin.

Finally, as police and military personnel began to process down the avenue, I stood up to watch the funeral procession pass me by.
The riderless horse with backward boots in the stirrups passed me by.
The casket coach with Reagan’s flag draped coffin passed me by.
The limousine with Nancy Reagan inside then passed me by.
I did not get a chance to see her face, but I did catch a glimpse of the back of her head.

The glories of America’s past, the glories of the Reagan-era of my adolescence, all passed me by, all with only a peek at a flag-draped coffin and a glimpse of the back of a woman’s head.
Yet I was satisfied with just a glimpse of glory.
That evening, I rode the Metro back home to Alexandria, knowing that a glimpse of glory as it passes us by - might be all that we need.

For Moses had requested to see the glory of the Lord.
Yet Moses did not see the Lord face to face, but caught just a glimpse of the backside of the Lord.

In the beautiful prose of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the writer proclaims:
“No one has ever seen God.
Yet it is God the only son, who is close to his Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

Two thousand years ago, there was another procession that marked the end of an era.
Two thousand years ago, the procession of Jesus carrying his cross marked the end of an era.
Between the bookends of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and his death in Jerusalem, this era had not been marked by Michael Jackson’s music or by legwarmers.
But the Jesus era was marked by the healings of a Canaanite woman and a Roman man and by countless parables, marked by about a kingdom that includes everyone and marked by conversations with a questionable woman at the well.
Yet the Jesus era is now over - as Jesus carries his cross through the avenues of the capital city.

A black man named Simon from northern Africa, from Cyrene, has come to Jerusalem and catches a glimpse of the funeral procession.
Simon of Cyrene has ridden the subway to sit on the curb in Jerusalem that Friday morning.
As Jesus passes by, the shadow of a cross moves across Simon’s face.
A Roman policeman grabs Simon by the arm and he barks:
“You! You carry his cross the rest of his way!”

With sad and pleading eyes, Jesus allows Simon to take up his cross.
Looking squarely into Jesus’ eyes, Simon sees the crown of thorns.
Simon sees the arms of love that will soon bear the weight of crucifixion.
Looking into Jesus’ sweaty and blood-smeared face, Simon sees the full glory of the Lord.

Simon of Cyrene did not just see the backside of the Lord in a tiny glimpse, as Moses did.
Simon of Cyrene saw the full frontal assault of the glory of the Lord, the frontal assault of the Lord of love who walks the way of the Cross - for you and for me.

For no one has ever seen God.
Yet it is God the only son, who is close to his Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Like Moses, we ask to see God.
Like Moses, we can see just a glimpse of God, the backside of God’s glory, in a brilliant lakeside sunset or in the multitude of stars in the night sky.
Yet we see God face to face - when we look into the eyes of a single mother who is carrying her cross, working three jobs just to put food on the table for her children.

We can see just a glimpse of God when we hear a beautiful symphony or gaze at an amazing piece of art.
Yet we see God face to face - when we look into the eyes of an incarcerated man on death row who is carrying his cross, hoping for forgiveness for his sins.

For as the ancient theologian Irenaeus proclaimed:
“The glory of God is human beings fully alive.”

This morning, like Moses, we make our request of the Lord:
“Show us your glory.”
And yet the full glory of the Lord is human beings who are fully alive, fully alive by carrying their cross.

For the goodness of God will pass us by in procession, showing us a glimpse of the backside of his glory.
Yet if you want to see all of God’s amazing glory, face to face, then join the funeral procession and take up your cross.

If you want to see God face to face,
Then look into the eyes of your fellow human beings, carrying the daily sorrow and pain of their cross.

If you want to see God face to face,
Then look into the eyes of Jesus - on his glorious Cross.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

iPods & iDols

Sermon from October 9, 2011
(Pentecost 17 – Year A)
Exodus 32: 1-14
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Three weeks ago, our garage door broke down, as the garage door refused to open or close.
For a few days, we worked around the malfunction by parking our cars outside of the garage.

Yet after a few days of this, I decided to have the garage door fixed.
I picked an afternoon when I did not have to be in the church office so that I could be at home all afternoon for a repairperson to come.

On my computer, I googled “Waco garage doors” and I found a repair company to call.
I explained to the repair company that I needed to have the garage door fixed, specifically on the afternoon that I would be at home.
I was assured by the company that a repairman would call me that afternoon, before 2 pm.

So on the scheduled afternoon, I waited patiently at home for the phone call.
However, two o’clock came and went.
And yet I did not hear from the garage door repair man.
At 2:15, I called the repair company back.
Yet no one answered the phone.
At 2:30, I called again.
Yet no one answered the phone.

In my frustration, I feared that my afternoon would be wasted - and that no one would ever come to repair our garage door.
So in my impatience and frustration, I googled other garage door repair companies in Waco.
I searched for someone - for anyone - to come and fix our garage door.

Finally, just when I had found someone else who said they could be at my house around 3:30, my other line beeped in.
On the other phone line was the original repairman, saying that he was on his way over.
This original repairman said to me on the phone:
“I am so glad that you did not get impatient and give up on me.”

To my chagrin, I hated to admit that I had become impatient and I had given up on him.
In my desire for instant gratification, I had searched for someone else.
In my impatience, I had searched for a replacement to fix my problem.

In the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the Israelites are impatient.
Their leader, Moses, has disappeared up the mountain, up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.

Moses is gone for a very, very long time.
The one true God had delivered the people from their bondage in Egypt through the Red Sea.
Yet Moses and the message of their one true God are now out of sight and out of mind.
So the Israelites become impatient.
2 o’clock comes, then 2:15, then 2:30, with no sign of a repairman, with no sign of Moses’ return.

So in the Israelite’s impatience, they do a google search for a new god to worship who will come to them right away.
And the google search comes back with instructions on how to find a replacement god - by making a golden calf.
So Moses’ assistant, Aaron, tells the people to take off all their gold jewelry.
Aaron makes a mold in the shape of a calf.
The Israelites throw their gold into the fire and the melted gold is pour into the mold.
Out of the mold comes a golden calf.
The Israelites now have a replacement god to worship.
The Israelites now have a new god that you do not have to wait on, a god that satisfies their impatience and their desire for instant gratification.

Last week, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, died at a tragically young age.
I was a bit surprised by the depth of reaction to Steve Job’s death, reactions that I read on facebook wall posts.
Some of these messages portrayed Steve Jobs in almost messianic terms.
These facebook posts said things like:
“Steve Jobs changed my life.”
“Steve Jobs changed my world forever.”

In thinking about why people speak of Steve Jobs in language that I would only use to describe Jesus Christ, I began to reflect on why Steve Jobs and the age of personal computing have become our golden calf, a golden calf that even I have participated in worshiping.

Years ago, right after I was in junior high school, my best friend moved with his family to London.
To stay in touch with my friend, I would take a sheet of very thin paper, paper designed specifically for letters that were sent via airmail.
I would use this piece of paper to write my friend a letter, putting several stamps on the envelope.
I was well-prepared that it would take 7 to 10 days for that letter to arrive in London.
And I knew that it would take at least another 7 to 10 days before I could expect a response via international airmail.

Yet today, I can send an email to London - and the message arrives in just a few seconds.
And if I do not receive a response back in a few hours, I begin to wonder if something is wrong.

The age of the personal computer has affected the level of my impatience.
Technology satisfies my desire for instant gratification.

Years ago, there were people who I went to high school with, classmates with whom I was perfectly comfortable seeing only once every 10 years, at our 10, 20 & 30-year reunions.
Today, however, with the facebook newsfeed on my iphone, I can now wake up each day knowing exactly what the men and women of the Class of 1982 are eating for breakfast that morning.

Yes, it is true, Steve Jobs and personal computers have changed the world forever.
Technology has dramatically fed our desire for instant gratification and affected our impatience.

And iphones and ipods and ipads can become i-dols.
Technology can be the golden calf of our generation, a new god to worship.
Technology can create a replacement god that you do not have to wait on, a god that soothes our impatience.

Yet in my own spiritual life, the one true God, the God who delivers me from bondage, does not abide by my schedule.
The God who delivers us through Jesus Christ does not satisfy my desire for instant gratification.

Instead, in my own spiritual life, God can be infuriating, infuriating in that God makes me wait.
Yet God seems to work in my life most powerfully when I am waiting, sometimes impatiently, for the Lord to come back down from the mountain.
My times of greatest spiritual growth and formation are when I am waiting on the Lord, waiting on my God to surprise me, in the fullness of God’s time.

For it is inscribed in the wood above the altar here at St. Alban’s:
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

And it is in the long, 40-year wanderings in the wilderness that the ancient Israelites wait and grow and trust in the Lord.
It is in the fullness of God’s time, not our own schedules, that we are surprised by grace.
It is in the fullness of God’s time that the original repairman calls to say:
“I am so glad that you did not get impatient and give up on me.”

Fellow wanderers in the wilderness:
Do not make false idols of instant gratification.
In your impatience, do not make a golden calf.

But in your impatience – wait.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Surpasses All Understanding

One of the most compelling phrases in the scriptures appeared in yesterday’s reading from the Letter to the Philippians as the Apostle Paul writes: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

I have experienced this peace before, this peace which surpasses all understanding. Have you?

I have seen this kind of peace in a hospital room, when the tubes have been removed from a terminally ill patient and the heart monitor goes to a flat line. There is God’s peace in the room. How? I don’t know. It surpasses all understanding.

I have experienced this peace before, when I finally made the leap to let go of the control over my life – and to let God lead me into the ordained ministry. I had worried and fretted about this leap of faith and had no idea how I would support my family on my wife’s teacher salary. Yet I felt God’s peace. How? I don’t know. It surpasses all understanding.

I hope and pray that you experience this peace, God’s peace. It is not the kind of peace that means the absence of war or problems or troubles. God’s peace is different. How? I can’t explain it. But I do know that it surpasses all understanding.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Against the Tide of Getting

It was a joy for Jimmy (our assistant rector) and me to participate in the Gratitude Gatherings last month. He and I attended, between the two of us, all 13 gatherings. With ovur 140 people in our church, we were able to share, in more intimate settings, the blessings that God has given us.
At these gatherings, people divided into small groups of 3 or 4 people to ponder these two statements:
1. Tell us about a time when you gave, up to or to the point of sacrifice.
2. Tell us about what you are grateful and thankful for.

As I participated in the gatherings, I noted that most of you were quite comfortable to share regarding the second statement, about what you are grateful for. Yet about the first statement, about giving and about sacrifice, some were a bit stumped.

Many of us have been the recipients of giving, of giving to the point of sacrifice. Some of us had parents who sacrificed much to give us a college education. A very few in this congregation have experienced the gracious giving of an organ donor, walking around now with a donated kidney in their bodies. We have been blessed beyond measure; we are the recipients of sacrificial giving. Yet we are not only to be receivers, but givers.

However, the messages that we hear all around us tell us the opposite. Every single day we are bombarded with: “Look out for #1” and “The one with the most toys wins” and “It’s all about me.” It takes a monumental force to push against the tidal wave of consumerism and consumption. It takes a huge effort to go against the grain of self-absorption. It takes Jesus.

Jesus says to us: “If you want to save your life, you must give it away.” Jesus teaches us: “There is no greater love than giving away one’s life for a friend.” Then Jesus puts his money where his mouth is - by opening up his arms on the hard wood of the cross.

At St. Alban’s, we provide avenues to practice a new life of giving, of giving up to the point of sacrifice. You can sacrifice your Sunday mornings at 9:00 AM - by helping our children in Godly Play. You can sacrifice your money – by giving it away to God’s work and writing a seemingly ridiculous amount on your pledge card. You can sacrifice your pride - by trying out a new thing by singing in the choir or reading scripture publicly. Yet it takes Jesus, and his example, to get us to giving to the point of sacrifice.

I am so pleased that we are a grateful and thankful parish. Now I want us to go deeper in following Jesus’ call - and to push against the tide of receiving and getting. For new and resurrected life comes when we take up our cross and when we give - up to or to the point of sacrifice.