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Sermon: Easter Vigil 2011

April 24, 2011

Sermon preached at the Easter Vigil, April 23, 2011, at St. Paul’s Church on-the-Hill, St. Paul, MN.

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Alleluia! Christ is risen!

We have come to the end of our Holy Week journey and found an empty tomb. We marched triumphantly through the gates of Jerusalem, while Christ entered humbly upon the back of a donkey. We gave voice to our blood lust for murder, while he refused to speak–even to save his life. We jeered his humiliation along the Via Dolorosa, while he paused to teach and bless us. We stood speechless upon Golgotha, while he declared forgiveness from the cross. We sat weeping before the tomb, while he transcended the bonds of hell for our sake. We did not believe what we saw, while he gave us faith, hope and love to endure.

And now our journey continues. It is an Emmaus journey where we encounter the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. It is an Easter journey where we proclaim that by dying, he destroyed our death; and by rising, he restored our life. It is now up to us to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ; to proclaim the Good News of life and love and reconciliation offered to us and to the whole world; to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s justice and peace—and with truly thankful hearts, may we show forth God’s praise, not only with our lips, but with our lives.

It’s not too late to embark upon the journey. If fact, the journey is only just beginning. Though it began some two thousand years ago, it is our journey yet today. In the Fourth Century, St. John Chrysostom prepared an Easter sermon for the catechumenate–the culmination of their Lenten journey of preparation for baptism.  As we come to the end of our Lenten journey and prepare to renew our own catechumenal promises through the Baptismal Covenant, it is fitting that we should listen again to his timeless words.

The Hieratikon of St. John Chrysostom

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honors every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Savior has set us free.

The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.
The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.
The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountering you below.”

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.
Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.

Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.

For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!

Evensong Meditation [mp3]

April 17, 2011

The mp3 file below is a portion of the Palm Sunday service including a lesson, prayers, and a meditation by the Rev. Scott Monson offered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on-the-Hill, St. Paul, MN.  We invite you to listen and pray with us as we journey into the heart of God during Holy Week.

Evensong – Palm Sunday 2011 SPOTH (Click title to play mp3 file)

(File size: 17 MB – Play time: 33 min.)

Sermon: Our Pilgrimage Into the Heart of God [mp3]

April 17, 2011

Sermon preached on Palm Sunday (The Sunday of the Passion), April 17, 2011, at St. Paul’s Church on-the-Hill, St. Paul, MN

Palm Sunday: Our Pilgrimage Into the Heart of God

(Click title to play mp3 file)

(File size: 10 MB – Play time: 11 min.)

Sermon: The Samaritan Woman at the Well [mp3]

April 2, 2011

Sermon preached Sunday, March 27, 2011 [Lent 3 – Year A] at St. Paul’s Church on-the-Hill, St. Paul, MN

“The Samaritan Woman at the Well” (Click title to play mp3 file)

(Note: As this Gospel reading [John 4:5-42] is considerably longer and more complex than most, this sermon [19 min.] is longer than usual.)

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

March 9, 2011

Sermon preached March 9, 2011 at St. Paul’s Church on-the-Hill, St. Paul, MN • Text: Joel 2:1-2,12-17

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Are you hungry?

The people of Joel’s time were hungry. Overwhelmed by locusts and unprepared for the threat—or the promise—of the coming day of the Lord.

Did they listen to the words of the prophet? As I listened to Joel I was struck by one singular thought – They were overwhelmed but Joel never told them why. Joel never said – “You sinners!” He never told them that they brought this on themselves – He just said, “Repent!”

Repent.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Lent is a time of returning. We are returning to Holy Week and Easter, and we are returning again to our ultimate reconciliation with God.
We gather to return, and we also gather to remember.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It’s reminder of our own ephemeral nature.

To remember who we are,
and to remember who God is and what God has given.

Return and remember. Rend your hearts and not your clothes. Hunger for righteousness.

Are you hungry?

In Joel’s text – the people of Israel are called to return and remember.
To turn around, to repent – with your heart – rending your heart and not your garment.

And perhaps God will turn around and leave behind a grain offering and a drink offering.

True repentance – a complete turnaround – is a turn away from self, a turn to God – It’s more than just “I’m sorry” — It’s a break; a break with everything we knew before and leave it all behind. It is a turn to something pure, and good and holy.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Repent and remember the Good News.
That after repentance comes reconciliation:
restoration to harmony; renewal; removal of inconsistency; reunion; pacification; appeasement; propitiation; atonement; expiation.

Reconciliation means to change places with the other:
to walk in their shoes,
to laugh their laughter,
to weep their tears,
to hold their dreams and feel their joy.

What is the Good News?

That we are indeed reconciled to God, through Christ. Through repentance we are reconciled – and God turns around and leaves us a grain offering, a drink offering, a sacrifice.

In Joel, the locusts had consumed everything – they ate up all the grain, they consumed all the grapes. The people were hungry.

And we too are hungry. We are hungry for reconciliation.

How can WE offer a grain offering and a drink offering? How can we?
God has to offer the bread and the wine; the body and the blood.

God has to offer the sacrifice.

What do we have to offer? What is it that God wants?

Rend your hearts and not your clothes.

Are you hungry?

We will be receiving Holy Communion this morning. We will fill ourselves with the bread and slake our thirst with the cup. We will not leave hungry.

Today is a time of repentance. We will come forward and offer to God our repentance; we will offer to turn around.

Today is also a time of reconciliation. We will feel our spiritual hunger for right relationship—with God and with our fellow human beings. We will pray for God to overwhelm us with grace and love – and we will hunger for righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they will be filled.

Are you hungry?

From Maintenance to Mission

February 18, 2011

Over the past year I have been a graduate student at the University of Minnesota studying leadership, change and culture.  Interacting with the amazingly diverse students there has been an eye-opener.  I’m pretty transparent about my priesthood in that context, and that has sparked some revealing conversations.

This is hardly a scientific sample, but these conversations have revealed that the institutional church is, for the most part, irrelevant to their view of the how to make the world a better place.  They have a strong sense of secular mission that significantly overlaps with the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission.  These young people passionately want:

  • To respond to human need by loving service.
  • To seek to transform the unjust structures of society.
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

And they are amazed to learn that the church—at least The Episcopal Church—has any interest in those things whatsoever.  Their notions of the institutional churches, largely formed by the electronic media, are that we are concerned only with ourselves, we fight amongst ourselves continually, we are oppressive and exclusive, we are old, and we have the values of another age (their grandparents’ era).

Another surprise was how they view those buildings we value so very highly.  I suggested that a small group of which I was a member meet in the lounge of a church building: it was convenient, centrally located and had good public transportation connections.  In a word, they refused to meet there.

When I probed I discovered that, to that group of young people, church buildings were “dark, scary, forbidding, oppressive, and unwelcoming.” (Among other things, they told me churches buildings were mazes where they got lost, they could never find a bathroom, and there would be no wireless connection. Fair enough.)  Most of them had only been to a church for a funeral.

And we wonder why we have such a hard time attracting young people?

The transition from “maintenance” to “mission” is huge for most of us; largely because we have been in maintenance mode for so long it has become the norm.  Transforming ourselves and our institutions to mission mode means we have to transform the normative culture of both ourselves and our institutions.  That takes time, and that takes focused work, and that means change.  Change is almost never easy or painless.

To be relevant in today’s culture, we need to raise the voice of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ above the voices who are speaking on our behalf.  Our image of advocacy for mission needs to outshine our image of irrelevance and in-fighting.

And we probably need better signs, better lighting and Wi-Fi zones in our churches.

The Subject Was Love

February 14, 2011

The subject of love is a slippery slope for preachers, authors, poets and just plain folk.  I remember well how a friend and colleague (the Rev. James Lemler—then dean of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary) once shared his experience with this elusive topic. His now-legendary story, as I recall it, involved not being able to join in a family outing because he had to prepare his sermon for Sunday. One of his daughters brought him up short by saying he didn’t have to prepare because all of his sermons were the same: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, love.”

As I attempted to preach on love yesterday, that story was echoing in the back of my mind. How could I begin to explain the beauty, power and mystery of God’s love for us? How could I help people feel and know God’s love? How could I put into words what God has so powerfully and completely put into action? What did I have to offer beyond: blah, blah, blah, blah, love?

My precarious venture upon the slope of love found me slipping and sliding and careening—tangled in a web of platitudes, similes, metaphors and, as a last resort, theology.  At the end, I think I came up short. Mere words could not encompass the elusive vastness of my topic.  Once again, love escaped me.

And then it came to me—literally–not in words, but in symbols, tokens, sacraments: outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. It came to me in the simple beauty of children’s valentines. While I was tobogganing down the slope of love and heading for the trunk of the tree of reality, the Sunday school children were revealing the sacred mystery through construction paper, glue, glitter and stickers. Love incarnate, if you will.

Love is not about what we say; it is about what we do. Jesus had a lot of great things to say, but it was what he did that made all the difference. He turned the tables, he healed, he raised the dead, and he died and rose again that we might live abundantly and forever. How do you begin put all that into mere words? God and humans joined forever in love through those amazing actions.

That came to me through sacraments. It came to me as I took and blessed and broke and gave those outward and visible signs of God’s all conquering love, and it came to me as, one by one, the children presented me with their valentines. Such simple gifts conveying what I could not put into words.

Intolerance: Harbinger of a New Dark Ages for Humankind

February 1, 2011

The Enlightenment philosopher and ethicist, Denis Diderot, defined intolerance as: “a violent emotion inciting people to hate and persecute individuals with erroneous notions.” (His essay still rings with a call for tolerance and acceptance. The complete text is available online at Intolerance.) Along with his colleagues, collectively known as the philoshopes, Diderot was aware of the enormous dangers to humanity wrought by intolerance—religious, racial, ethnic, sexual or otherwise. His insights are as valid today as when they were published in 1765.

Religious tolerance seems as wanting in the 21st Century as it was in the 18th Century.  Whilst the intolerance amongst Christian peoples is, for the most part, no longer the burning issue in the contemporary world, religious intolerance and its attendant violence are remain alive and well. A quick review of recent international conflicts provides ample evidence for my claim:

  • Three decades of “the troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland
  • Genocide of the Tutsi minority by the Hutu in Rwanda
  • Muslim, Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Religious civil war among Muslims, Christians and Animists in the Sudan
  • Sri Lanka, East Timor, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, Tibet, Uganda, the Middle East, and the list goes on and on

Diderot’s definition of intolerance has lost none of its applicability.  The frightening increase in the United States to ‘hate and persecute individuals with erroneous notions”— political liberals vs. conservatives, pro-choice vs. pro-life advocates, freedom to marry vs. family values supporters, to name but a few—would be equally abhorrent to Diderot and the philosophes.

We are inheritors of The Age of Reason, but are we reasonable? We are children of The Enlightenment, but are we enlightened? Are we slipping incrementally back into a Dark Ages of absolutism, intolerance and oppression? What would Diderot do with access to a global, online “Enlightenpedia?” What will we do?

Sermon: The Mission of God for Beloved Children of God [mp3]

January 31, 2011

Sermon preached Sunday, January 30, 2011 at All Saints Church, Northfield, MN.

MP3 File“The Mission of God for the Beloved Children of God” (Click title to play mp3 file)

(Note: A few minutes into this sermon the processional cross tipped over, prompting an improvisation and a little laughter.)

What the heck is “God’s Mission,” and what am I supposed to do about it?

January 31, 2011

The Mission of God (or the mission of the Church) is like the weather: Everybody talks about it, but nobody seems to do anything about it. If the Church is to regain its relevance to modern, American culture, that has to change.

My notions of “mission” have changed a lot over time—and they continue to do so.

My childhood notion of mission had to do with people whom I rarely saw, who were always asking for money, and who lived and worked in places I could barely find on a map.

I outgrew that notion, but began to conflate mission with evangelism. Moreover, I conflated both those concepts with “church growth”—more butts in the pews.

My seminary professors (John Dreibelbis and James Griffiss) disabused me of those notions.  They introduced me to the concept of the “mission of God” (misio Dei, as the Latins said). This had everything to do with our relationship with God and with others and, thereby, our role in advocating for love, peace, justice and reconciliation. I was finally starting to get it—or so at least I thought.

Lately, I’ve begun to see the Mission of God being very closely linked to the Image of God (the imago Dei since I’m dropping Latin tags). If God is love, and peace, and truth, and beauty, and justice, and acceptance, and forgiveness, and more; and if I am created in that image; then I am called and empowered through God’s grace to live more fully into those attributes of which I am an inheritor. I am a child of God, and I am called to live into the covenant established with God’s children by God through Christ.

A few weeks ago, I heard Krista Tippett interview Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain on her National Public Radio show, On Being. Rabbi Sacks said, “It’s by being what only I can be that I give humanity what only I can give.”

So because of who I am (created in the image of God and a beloved child of God), I have unique and special gifts to share. I have a role to play in helping to bring the reign of God more fully into the world.

But while I am created in the image of God and am a beloved child of God, I ain’t God. I’ve only had a glimpse of the beauty, love, peace and justice that is God, and what little I share is, as Paul said, in an earthen vessel. Nevertheless, I am part of a great cloud of children of God—the Church—and I can work in concert with others to engage in the mission of God. My unique gifts, combined with the unique gifts of many others, can make a pretty big contribution to the world. Sharing common goals with God—love, peace, truth, beauty, acceptance, forgiveness—we undertake the shared mission of God.