1 Kings 19:9-18 † Psalm 85:8-13 † Romans 10:5-15 † Matthew 14:22-33
*A video form of this sermon can be found here or you can see the entire liturgy here.
In the Fishlake National Forest, on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau there is a colony of quaking Aspen that is an estimated 80,000 years old. Now, were you walking in the midst of it right now rather than listening to me, it would not be readily apparent. There is no tree in the grove that is anywhere near that age. Cut one down and you might count 80 rings, 80 seasons of growth. Maybe more. Maybe less.[i]
But underground, the eighty-year-old trunks are 80,000, a 100,000 years-old if they are a day. Some scientists think even this is a huge undercount, suggesting the forest has been around for the better part of a million years. Every tree here has sprouted from a rhizome mass too old to date even to the nearest hundred millennia, they say.
1 Kings 3:5-12 † Psalm 119:126-136 † Romans 8:26-39 † Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The naturalist John Muir once said,
It is a powerful sentiment, one that resonates deeply with me, and I suppose is one of the reasons I am drawn to those yearly walks in the woods that I’ve just come back from. There’s something deep to experience. A sensibility, an understanding that words more often than not fail to unearth. But it’s there, beneath the feet. Deep underground, and yet, all around, if we choose to see it.
It hasn’t been a good week, though, for our friend John Muir.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 † Psalm 16 † 1 Peter 1:3-9 † John 20:19-31
A video version is available here.
One of my favorite TV shows was Modern Family. A few weeks ago it wrapped its final episode after eleven seasons. At its best, the show combined great slapstick and physical comedy with some beautiful and, sometimes, even inspiring sentiment. One memorable episode way back in season five was titled “Australia.” Phil Dunphy went to Australia for a vacation because he had been conceived there, and his mother had always wanted him to go and visit. He’s finally decided to go fulfill her dying wish, and the rest of the family decides to tag along.
The problem is that things don’t go very well for Phil. As soon as they arrive, he has an allergic reaction to a local fruit. Then he gets stung by a jelly fish. Then, in one of the best physical bits I’ve seen in a long time, he gets punched in the eye by a kangaroo that he thinks is the spirit of his mother. That’s worth the half-hour all by itself.
Isaiah 58:1–12 † Psalm 51:1-17 † 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10 † Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Does God think we’re her keeper? It’s a bold question.
I watched her go uncelebrated into the second grade,
A greenless child,
Gray among the orange and yellow,
Attached too much to corners and to other people's sunshine.
She colors the rainbow brown
And leaves balloons unopened in their packages.
Oh, who will touch this greenless child?
Who will plant alleluias in her heart
And send her dancing into all the colors of God?
Or will she be left like an unwrapped package on the kitchen table --
Too dull for anyone to take the trouble?
Does God think we're her keeper?
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 † Psalm 27 † Philippians 3:17-4.1 † Luke 13:31-35
This is one of those really awesome texts that fits well in the Dangerous Book for Boys, Daring Book for Girls[i] genre of children’s books that argue it is good to go close to the edge and, sometimes even leap over it, that understands you need to get dirty sometimes and maybe even risk a few cuts and bruises to really know something, that recognizes that an overly sanitized, protected, secured life may not actually get us anywhere worth getting.
I think of Molly and Megan McAdams who were delighted that the 2014 film “Into the Woods” included the part of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Cinderella in which the evil step-sister cuts her toe off in her desperation to fit into that golden slipper. They showed it in that film rather than scrub it out like Disney’s writers had done for their previous versions of the fable.
There’s something about the grit of life, the close experience of it, the finding our way through that has everything to do not only with our faith and life and well-being, our resilience and joy, but with our encounter with a God who tends to traffic in these places as well.
In a way, this is the call of Lent. To get a little dirty.
I am an avid reader of the comics. If I’ve read nothing else from the paper on a Sunday morning I will look at breaking news to see what we need to be mindful of, and I will read the comics--religiously!
Pearls Before Swine is one of my favorite comics these days, and I love how this one gets right to the heart of our stress-filled, bubbled, and too-often disconnected existence. And more to the point, I love how it gets to what is at the center of this gospel today: Love your enemies.
Or maybe it doesn’t. To imagine the person who cut you off on the freeway is your enemy is something of a stretch, isn’t it? It’s a verbal weaponization of a pretty mundane event, to imagine my neighbor on the freeway is my enemy, and not instead, someone who may be having a bad day, like I might be.
We probably shouldn’t domesticate the notion so carelessly, because there is much, much worse that is done for which we should preserve such a decisive word like enemy. In these days of Fake News, we should try to be as accurate and truthful as we possibly can.
Daniel 12:1-3 † Psalm 16 † Hebrews 10:11-25 † Mark 1:8
“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” says the 19th century poet Emily Dickinson.[i]
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all –
Hope is feather-light, the smallest and most vulnerable of things, yet it has such potential to evoke possibility against unimaginable odds.
Dickinson’s embodiment of hope seems a little jarring juxtaposed to the principalities and powers that show up in Daniel and Mark today. Such solidity and heft against such a fragile thing—teacher, “what large stones and what large buildings!”
You get the sense anything so insignificant would be crushed in an instant, would be powerless against such size and force. But Dickinson isn’t done. In fact, she ups the ante, throwing this feathered creature into the tempest.
Genesis 3:8-15 † Psalm 130 † 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 † Mark 2:20-35
I wanted to redeem Jesus’ family. I wanted things to be better in the end. I wanted Jesus’ dilemma to end like the version of Heinz’s dilemma in which they end up on the beach, with her made well from the medicine she needed, and maybe with a fairer health system in place that values people over profit. I wanted the garden before the serpent shows up and everyone starts blaming everyone else for their choices. So I went to the end of Mark where we find two Marys. But, as much as I’d like to tell you Jesus’ mother shows up at the foot of the cross to be entrusted to John or at the empty tomb to wonder where they’ve laid him, I cannot. In Mark there is no happily-ever-after with his family.
One writer puts it graciously, suggesting Mark, unlike the other gospels, did not seem to know of any positive traditions about the family of Jesus.[i]
This is the earliest gospel. It is written closest in time to the conflict and heartbreak we suspect these followers of the reformer/disrupter Jesus experienced as he created something new from a religious tradition that had become misshapen and corrupt.
We know enough about broken families and broken relationships these days and in this political climate to have learned that sometimes the best move is to separate ourselves from what has become abusive or corrosive—even among our closest families. Sometimes we must separate for our well-being and even our survival, even as we try to hold onto our memory that we belong together, that we are one family.
Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 8:1-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest should read Timothy Egan’s The Good Rain. It is a thrilling yarn by a modern day wilderness adventurer who follows the route of a trailblazer from 1853. Woven through many historic threads, is Egan’s reverence for Creation in the Pacific Northwest. Let me read a small passage, chosen at random.
Near Vasiliki Tower (a mountain in the North Cascades), wildflowers grow from rock slits high above timberline. A hummingbird buzzes overhead, and I see goat prints on a patch of midsummer snow. As it has for many citizens of the Information Age, computer time has cut my attention span and reduced my patience. To come up here, I must slow to glacier time.
In a class at Seattle U, several of us from St. Andrew read a half dozen books, at least four of which also captured an enchantment with Nature in these parts.
I was reminded of the creation story Pat read that begins Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And it was good. Farther down, at verse 26, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing.... God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….
St. Andrew Sermons