From Anguish to Alleluia!

August 17, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 15 – RCL Year A
Genesis 45:1-15; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Mt 15:21-28)

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been overwhelmed by the onslaught of tragic stories in the news. For the last several months there has been an increase of unrest, or at least that’s the way it feels. At first this seemed to be concentrated in the usual areas far away – the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Ukraine to name a few.

We’ve been hearing more and more about about the escalating attacks and death-counts in Gaza. Then, on July 17th we were stunned to learn that a commercial jetliner had been shot down over Ukraine, killing almost three hundred innocent victims. And all the while the Ebola virus has been spreading deeper and deeper across West Africa.

Immigration protesters on both sides of the debate staged rallies at a California Border Patrol station last week, in response to the child migrant crisis. Photo: Sandy Huffaker /Getty

And lest we think all the hardships are in far-off lands, we have our own issues to deal with. There are constant reminders of the young children seeking refuge in the U.S., fleeing their homeland due to violence and danger. This crisis has been met with mixed feelings and angry voices on both sides of the issue. Add to that the random shootings in offices and shopping malls, not to mention the endless bickering of a divided Congress, where finger-pointing rules the day. Read the rest of this entry »

Got Wheat?

July 20, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 11 – RCL Year A
Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In today’s gospel we have another parable from Jesus to the crowds, and as Matthew seems kind enough to do, we also have an explanation of the symbols in the parable, shared only with the disciples… and us, it seems.

Like the sower and the seeds parable we heard last Sunday, Jesus continues to use farming imagery familiar to his audience. But in this parable the seeds no longer represent the spreading of God’s word. Instead we have two kinds of seeds. The seeds of wheat are the good seeds sown by the Master. The other seeds are weeds, sown at night by the enemy. We are told that the good seeds represent the children of the kingdom, while the weeds represent the children of the evil one, sown by the devil.

Now, some might look at this text and conclude that one’s goodness or evilness is predetermined – that when we come into this world, we are either cast as a seed of wheat or as a weed, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t believe that this is how things work. And, for the purpose of Matthew’s gospel, this parable is more likely about Jesus’ hope to expand God’s kingdom in the world.

Through this parable, Jesus is beckoning the crowd to be WHEAT… that is, to hear his message about God and live into God’s call to love others. The alternative is to fall under the influence of those who act contrary to God’s message of love; those who focus on, or get distracted by, worldly things.

Read the rest of this entry »

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30, given while serving as seminarian

A few weeks ago, as part of my Sociology of Religion class, I attended a Sabbath worship service at a local Conservative Jewish synagogue. Now, I don’t know how many of you have attended a Jewish Shabbat service, but if you find yourself looking at your watch when our service approaches the one hour mark, their 3-hour liturgy would be a real test of endurance for you. It certainly was for me!

This particular Saturday included a Bar Mitzvah. For those of you not familiar with Judaism – the term Bar Mitzvah means “Son of the Commandment.” It’s the time when a Jewish boy, having reached the age of thirteenth, is now counted among the “adults” of the Jewish tradition. [When a girl goes through this it’s called a Bat Mitzvah.] Part of this Rite of Passage includes having the youngster lead a portion of the service, including reading from the Torah, which is written in Hebrew and contains no vowels or punctuation, making it very difficult to read. They also share a short story that they’ve prepared about the Torah reading, similar to our homily. So it’s quite a bit of work.

Now that particular morning, as I was walking through a virtually empty foyer just minutes before the service was to begin, I noticed a family coming through the door. I had a sense that this was the family of the Bar Mitzvah candidate. The young boy seemed happy and self-assured – and as he walked by me I asked, “Is this your day?” He confidently replied, “This is my day.” There was no arrogance in his reply, instead, it was a kind of “claiming” that was amazing and exciting to see. His name is Jacob. Read the rest of this entry »

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

This is my first sermon at Christ Church where I serve as a seminarian while pursuing a Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology, Emory.

Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, Proper 25 (Joel 2:23-32, Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Luke 18:9-14)

Growing up in Houston, Texas during the days of the Southwest Conference formed my reference-point for college football. The Orange and White of UT referred to the University of Texas Longhorns, not the Tennessee Volunteers. The “big rivalry” was between the Longhorns and the Aggies of Texas A&M – this was the game that families planned their Thanksgiving meal around.

And then there was Rice University… perhaps the Southwest Conference’s equivalent to Vanderbilt. But with both my mom and dad having gone to Rice during in the 1950’s, when the Rice Owls were a winning football team, the belief each year that Rice would prevail over Texas was instilled in me, and all my siblings, and continues to be espoused by my father even now.

The Southwest Conference disbanded almost fifteen years ago, and even though the teams have moved into various other conferences, the rivalry between the Owls, Aggies, and Longhorns are part of the Texas vernacular. Anyone who’s spent any time in Texas knows what an Aggie joke is and has a frame of reference for the stereotypes attached to each of these schools.

Now, for many of you, when I say “Roll Tide” you attach an image to it… it’s okay, the confessional prayer is just a few minutes away. But for me, having moved to Atlanta just this past January, this is my first SEC Season, and I have little frame of reference for it, or at least not the specifics…

I absolutely “get” the importance. It’s hard to miss. Just drive through any neighborhood and you’ll see a household’s loyalty announced with a banner flying from their front porch. But the rivalry between the Yellow jackets’ and the Bulldogs’ doesn’t motivate me in any way… at least not yet. Read the rest of this entry »

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