Tag Archives: Christ Church

A Deacon’s First Sermon

On Saturday, I was ordained a deacon at the Church of The Good Shepherd in Raleigh.  It was good to be in my home diocese.  On Sunday, I “deaconed” and preached at Christ Church in Charlotte, with all the sweet smells, visions, faces, and sounds of my home parish.  While I had preached at Christ Church before, this was my first time preaching in “big church” with some extra pieces of clothing befitting a deacon.  So it was a touch foreign and abundantly homey at the same time.  I remain filled with gratitude.
Proper 7, Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, North Carolina
Genesis 21:8-21, Matthew 10:24-39

In the name of the One, Holy and Everliving God, Amen.

Even the hairs of your head are all counted…
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…
You are of more value than many sparrows…
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…

Goodness, today’s Gospel message is full of paradox. One moment we are told how special and cared for we are. The next we are told of certain struggle and pain. Three times we are told not to fear, and then we are given some scary predictions of what to expect as followers of Jesus.

This is not an easy passage to preach.

And our first reading from Genesis isn’t any easier. Abraham sends his slave and mistress Hagar along with his firstborn Ishmael into the wilderness with nothing but some bread and water. And he does so with God’s blessing!

What are we to make of God’s word to us today? What is the good news?

I have a friend. He could be your friend too. He’s a member of this parish and he’s a doctor and most of his patients happen to be children. This friend often has to give children shots. And when he does, parents will attempt to prepare a child saying, “Now don’t worry honey—this isn’t going to hurt.” At which point my friend must turn to the child and say, “Actually, this is going to hurt. But only for a moment. And you are going to be OK.”

Now which of these statements is most likely to engender trust in the child?

Truth can be hard to hear sometimes, but truth doesn’t let us down. Truth grounds us. Truth gives us the sure foundation we need so that we can weather whatever lies ahead.

This Gospel passage is a shorter snippet of a longer conversation Jesus is having with his disciples about what to expect as followers. Some scholars call it the “missionary discourse” because Jesus is preparing his friends for a mission. He has summoned the twelve apostles, he has commissioned them to go out into the world preaching and healing, and he has warned them of persecution. Then comes this bit of comfort… and of swords. And then Jesus finishes the conversation by telling them that those who welcome the disciples–these missionaries–welcomes Jesus himself and the God and Father of all.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you, too, are a missionary. Listen to these hopeful and hard truths—they are yours.

“It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” In other words, remember Jesus? Always stirring up trouble with statements like, “love your enemy” and “it is better to give than to receive?”[1] The Jesus who came to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “freedom for the prisoners?”[2] Well, Jesus followers, if the disciple is like the teacher, we ought to expect more than a few raised eyebrows about our lives and actions.

And listen when Jesus says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” As Jesus followers, we’re not just called to know that God is Love and rest in that truth. We have to be and do that truth. We can’t just sing at Christmas “Go tell it on the mountain,” rather we must live lives and make decisions that truly tell-it-on-the-mountain every day.

Think back to the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Do you recall the very next sentence? “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3]

When peace is not the way of this world, peacemaking is not peaceful work.

And so Jesus, like the doctor about to give a child a shot, tells it to us straight: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Again and again in the Gospels we see Jesus portrayed as one who contradicts the social norms and introduces chaos. Indeed, Jesus can be divisive. So the life of a disciple, a Jesus follower, a missionary–of you and me–could and perhaps should demonstrate the same. When the Gospel proclaims a counter cultural message, and we are the voices that proclaim it, we are going to come up against traditional power structures and even against one another. We see evidence of this division in our homes and in our churches as we all seek truth and then live out the difficulties of the truth we seek.

And as a result of being truth seekers, truth proclaimers and truth doers, we may feel deserted. Like Hagar and Ishmael, we can count on wilderness moments of thirst for living water and hunger for the bread of life. And like Hagar and Ishmael we can count on God showing up, hearing our cries, staying with us—even in the wilderness.

Today’s Bible passages tell it like it is. They tell us, “This is going to hurt, and you are going to be OK.” Truth like this may be hard to swallow, but it’ll stick to your ribs.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you take a big risk to make what could be just a small change in a broken world. And you’ll remember: do not fear…even the hairs of your head are all counted.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you speak up for a cause or a person who has been beat down. And you’ll remember: have no fear…nothing is secret that will not become known.

It’ll stick to your ribs when you keep quiet at a time you’d really like to speak up – so that someone else can be heard. And you’ll remember: do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

The truths that give us comfort and hope mean what they do and ground our faith because we’ve heard the hard truths too. Jesus’ statement, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” is uncomfortable to hear. It makes us squirm a little. We might want to gloss over these words to focus instead on words like, “I have come that they would have life and have it to the fullest.”[4] But Jesus’ promise of the Kingdom of God and life eternal and “life to the fullest” are promises we believe because Jesus tells the truth about all things—persecution and peace, division and reconciliation, oppression and salvation.

Jesus tells the disciples, “do not be afraid,” because Jesus knows how scary proclaiming the Gospel can be. Jesus anticipates us making unpopular decisions and speaking uncomfortable truths. AND Jesus tells the disciples, “do not be afraid,” because Jesus knows that God will show up and stay with us and sustain us until the fullness of the kingdom is known and the peace of God reigns supreme.

And so I’ll end with a prayer by William Sloan Coffin, taught to me by my dear mentor John Porter-Acee:

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short,
Grace to risk something big for something good,
Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth
And too small for anything but love.



[1] Matthew 5:44 and Acts 20:35

[2] Luke 4:18

[3] Matthew 5:9-10

[4] John 10:10

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Jesus: The Wounded Healer

This sermon was given on May 1, 2011 at the evening service at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC.  During the service we celebrated the graduation of two Education for Ministry (EFM) students with whom I studied.  The graduates asked that I preach, and I was honored to oblige.

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

When I was in grade school, we had an annual tradition of making Christmas plates in class, which we would cover in homemade wrapping paper, and then place under the tree at home for our parents to open on Christmas morning.  It was kind of a big deal.  I drew my very first Christmas plate at the age of five, and I knew exactly what I wanted to draw on it—Baby Jesus.  After several minutes of painstaking work, it occurred to me that I had failed to draw Jesus, and instead had drawn myself.

Two years later, I took up the task of drawing Jesus again.  This Jesus was much closer to the mark.  He had a halo, a beard, and a Stoll—just like an Episcopal Priest.  At the top of the plate I wrote, “I love you Mom and Dad—JESUS.”

At that same period of childhood, I, like lots of kids, would sometimes see my parents argue.  And when they did, I didn’t hide or pretend like I didn’t notice what was going on.  Instead I would run to the cupboard, grab my Jesus plate, and thrust it up in the air like a shield, shouting, “Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you!!!!”

When I shared this story with my EFM friends a couple of weeks ago, two of whom are graduating tonight, we all laughed at how perhaps this was the first inkling of my desire to be a priest one day.

You may be asking yourself: What in the world does this have to do with today’s scripture??

Our Gospel reading tells us the story of the infamous “doubting Thomas.”  When I told my dad that I’d be preaching on Thomas this weekend, he looked at me and said, “Don’t be too hard on him.”  Another of my friends prefers the nick name “curious Thomas.”  Why is it this passage makes us a little nervous?  Why is it we don’t want to be too hard on Thomas?  Because we are Thomas.  We too have doubts.  And yet I think there’s an even deeper story we can miss if we just focus on Thomas and his doubts.

When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus and that Jesus lives, Thomas doesn’t just say he has to see Jesus to believe He is risen.  He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Why did Thomas need to see Jesus’ wounds?  One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, says that ministry and healing words seem in-authentic, “unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.”

Thomas was wounded on Good Friday when he saw his friend and teacher hung up on a cross.  So he didn’t just need proof of Jesus, he needed healing.  And he needed healing from someone who understood what it is to be wounded.

I think maybe it’s pretty significant that Jesus didn’t return to his disciples whole and unscathed.  It wasn’t: “Yeah, I conquered death, no big deal.”  But: “Man!  That HURT!  See these holes in my hands and feet?  And check out my side!!  You can put your hand in the wound, it’s so big!  That was a painful mess.”

So Jesus returns to His disciples again, wounds and all.  And this time, Thomas is there.  And Thomas doesn’t just see that, yes, here is Jesus, alive and well.  He sees Jesus as real and really alive.  Real because He hurts like I do, has wounds like I do—and really alive because He’s here speaking to me, saying “Peace be with you.”  And His presence is peace.

Here’s another story—an old legend taken from the Talmud:

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet… He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”  Elijah replied,
“Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds.  The others unbind their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again.  But he unbinds one at a time and then binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”

In both stories we see Jesus, the Messiah, illustrated as “the wounded healer.” Wounds are often something we want to cover up, hide, and ignore.  We want to be rid of them as quickly as possible, and we certainly don’t want them to slow us down.  And yet here is Jesus, wounded.  And He doesn’t hide His wounds, but says, “Look at me.  Put your finger here and touch my hands.”  There’s something to this woundedness.  Something Jesus doesn’t want us to miss.  A wise friend of mine says, “Grace enters the soul through wounds.”

Nouwen says, “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”  And, “Therefore ministry is a very confronting service.  It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness.  It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts.”

Jesus comes to His disciples with his wounds, saying “Peace be with you” with his wounds, ministering to them with his wounds, so that we who are also wounded might have the courage to do the same.  Our hope is not just in the Risen Lord, but in the Lord who is risen with wounds.  Thus we who are wounded need not hide from this broken world, but bring peace into it, holding our banner high, proclaiming “Jesus loves you.”


Tagged , , , ,