Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 † Psalm 25:1-9 † Philippians 2:1-13 † Matthew 21:23-32
Some of the most striking painted rock art in the world is found in the sea caves of Norway’s western coastline. They are located in wild, remote, Arctic areas where peaks plunge into the ocean, hammered by ice and wave actions over millennia.
There are twelve such painted caves, containing around 170 simple stick figures, arms and legs stretched wide as if they are dancing or leaping. These are different that the far more common petroglyphs which have been carved into rock here and throughout the world by the ancients. These are paintings, made using iron oxide pigment, daubed using fingers or brushes some two to three thousand years ago by Bronze Age hunter-gatherer-fisher people who made their lives along an isolated coastline. The art that they made was preserved in remote caves in wild places.
Ezekiel 33:7-11 † Psalm 119:33-40 † Romans 13:8-14 † Matthew 18:15-20
You can find a video copy of this sermon in the context of worship here.
Daniel Kirk, has given his expertise to studying early Christianity, particularly as it is represented by the apostle Paul. Kirk attends two churches on Sundays: a traditional Reformed Church in America and a house church—well, he did before the pandemic. Kirk has shifted his definition of church from what we do to who we are together. “Church is the people I’m trying to follow Jesus with and the people who are following Jesus with me. It’s the intentional community of people who walk in self-giving love for each other while trusting themselves to the care of God.”[i]
I am especially struck and convicted by that last phrase--trusting themselves to the care of God. Richard Rohr gets at this when he suggests Jesus praised faith even more than love.
Now, both are pretty important, it seems. Especially in these polarized times. I remember visiting Cuba some years ago. We traveled on a religious visa with the Presbyterian church and spent much of our time with the First Presbyterian Church Havana community.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 † Psalm 67 † Romans 11:1-5, 29-32 † Matthew 15:21-28
*A video form of this sermon can be found here or you can see the entire liturgy here.
Is this boy happy?
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.
Jeremiah 2:4-13 † Psalm 81:1, 1—16 † Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 † Luke 14:1, 7-14
There’s a lot of things I love about doing this work I get to do with you. But one that always tends to bubble to the top for me is the privilege you sometimes give me to hold your stories—especially the most vulnerable and fragile ones. I wonder if you feel the same way about the life you share with one another? I wonder if you experience as well the mutual gift that it is to hold something fragile for someone else.
I suspect those stories that feel most delicate for us feel that way because they scrape close to some of the deeper truths of our lives—those things we just can’t let go of, nor get past, the scars of our lives, the injuries that become something more. Their memories linger. They stay with us. Hold us and haunt us, and indelibly shape us.
To share in those with you is, for me, to get close to bedrock, something deep and true and stable. Although it is also, and in the same breathless moment, to brush against something wild and feather-light. Maybe it’s something like this Hebrew notion of entertaining those angels unaware—our best nature and deepest truths—without knowing it, until the moment is past and all we have is the hindsight of resurrection and righteousness.
Acts 9:1-20 † Psalm 30 † Revelation 5:11-14 † John 21:1-19
If you were here last week, you may be wondering what we’re doing reading another section from the Gospel of John. “Didn’t we finish that last week?” you might ask. And my response to you is to say, give yourselves a pat on the back for your insightful and close listening. We should all be proud!
Check out the last paragraph from chapter 20, the previous chapter in John, from last week’s reading:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.[i]
It is clearly the ending to the story—a hopeful summary statement by the gospel writer reminding us what the work of Jesus’ disciples has been about. Case closed. Time to move on.
And then we have this afterthought:
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias…
If you haven’t already, you may want to get to know these faces. These are neighbors of ours, young Americans predominantly from the northwest, with others scattered throughout the country. They range in age from 10 years-old to their mid-twenties. And they are suing the federal government for knowingly causing climate change and violating their constitutional rights. They are litigants of the youth climate lawsuit known as Juliana v. United States.
Their complaint asserts that, through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.
The constitutional climate lawsuit was originally filed in Oregon in 2015 and has been making its way through the court system. The expectation is that the lawsuit will finally go to trial late this year, although that could change given the considerable resistance it has received from the federal government and corporate interests throughout the process.
On average, Death Valley gets two inches of rain a year. Two inches. There are two major mountain ranges—the Panamint Range, pictured here, and the Sierra Nevadas beyond them to the West that trap weather systems that would otherwise drop precipitation from the Pacific, making it one of the driest places on earth.
Yet it is fair to say that Death Valley, one of the driest places on earth, has been shaped by water.
Well, water and tectonics.
Isaiah 62:1-5 † Psalm 36:5-10 † 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 † John 2:1-11
So what is going on here?
Is this a story about a wedding that hasn’t been planned very well, a potential social disaster, a mother and son bickering because they don’t want their friends to be embarrassed? It could be. “Woman”--mother, why are you asking me. It’s not my time. And yet, apparently it is. Jesus’ objection seems to drown in the flow of the story as water jars are quickly filled, as an oblivious steward is astounded, and as a wedding is saved with about 400 bottles of really good wine no one accounted for.
Or maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe the party wasn’t about to collapse. Maybe this wasn’t about poor planning. It could have been even worse: a story about a poor, struggling family doing their best to pull off a celebration demanded by social customs that they could not afford. Suddenly this gift not only saves the day, but delivers them from shame.
Or, it could be that this was a celebration that was simply winding down: “When the wine had run out,” the story goes, as if this was the expectation, as if there was an understanding that all good celebrations have a closing time.
If we read it that way, this becomes gratuitous. A story about abundance for the sake of abundance—unnecessary, saving nothing, a sign, as John tells us, the “first of his signs” of a story and a savior that is so full of life that nothing will be able to hold it back—not powers or principalities, armies or political leaders. Gratuitousness, generosity, an onslaught of extravagance. There are many ways we could read this. The story does not seem to tip its hand.
This is a sign—the first of his signs, says the text. But a sign of what? What do the disciples see that makes them believe in him and sets this greater story in motion?
Isaiah 60:1-6 • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 • Ephesians 3:1-12 • Matthew 2:1-12
I’m currently reading two books side-by-side. I don’t say that to impress you. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I planned it. Mostly, I fell into it. If I were more honest, I’d tell you that I can’t bear to read the one alone, so it is, as much as anything, a matter of survival.
The one—the hard one, the devastating one—is a book by Chris Hedges called America: The Farewell Tour. Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, formerly a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. I’ve talked about him before and about at least two of his numerous previous books. One is called War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The self-evident title reflected on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another, Losing Moses on the Freeway, was an examination of the ten commandments as they relate to American culture. I recommend them both.
In addition to his years in the Balkans, the Americas and the Middle East, Hedges’ writing is informed by his religious education as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School—thus the reflection he did on the commandments.
Hedges is a devastating writer. He writes in excruciating detail about the state of things, creating a provocative and difficult-to-deny indictment on where we are currently—the decay of American democracy, and perhaps even civilization itself as the common good has been sacrificed at the altar of greed. “We cannot battle racism, bigotry, and hate crimes, often stoked by the ruling elites,” he contends, “without first battling for economic justice.”[I]
St. Andrew Sermons