Clinging to God in Good and Bad

The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Psalm 23

Who brings out the best in you?

Is it a family member or maybe a good friend? Maybe your priest brings out the best in you (probably not), or could be the beggar on the street or a stranger in line at Starbucks. Or perhaps it is not a person at all, but an activity, that brings out your very best. Maybe you cook for people, do yardwork or fix things, or simply listen when someone just needs to talk. All kinds of people and activities can bring out our best selves, and when they do, we feel a sense of wholeness.

But now that you’ve got that source of joy and fountain of goodness in your mind, I’m going to take us into a valley and ask, what brings out the worst in you?

Is it the other drivers on North Main Street, who apparently don’t know what those painted lines on the road signify? Or perhaps it is your Netflix queue and your comfortable sofa, seducing you to retreat from the world for hours at a time? Whatever it is that brings out your worst self, you might be content with indulging it from time to time, or it may trouble you on a deeper level. Continue reading “Clinging to God in Good and Bad”

How to Raise the Perfect Human

The First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

A week ago, I visited an animal rescue shelter in Southbury to meet Elly—a five-month-old Labrador/Doberman Pinscher mix. It was love at first site. Isn’t she adorable? This Thursday, I will pick her up and bring her into her new home. In my anticipation for her arrival, I pulled out “the good book,” by which (of course) I mean Cesar Millan’s “How to Raise the Perfect Dog.” This is the book on raising puppies into flourishing, happy dogs.

In one section, Millan writes about the importance of setting not just physical boundaries—like crates and baby gates—but also invisible boundaries. Invisible boundaries that I communicate by putting out my hand and projecting a blocking energy. If Elly tries to nudge the gate, for instance, to push it over, I can move toward her even more assertively, establishing an invisible frontier between her and the gate. By communicating Elly’s limitations, she can learn to flourish in a home with chairs that would be a joy to nibble, a peace lily that would be so much fun to tip over and destroy, and rugs that look like luxurious, oriental pee pads.

One wonders if God had a resource like Cesar Millan’s book when attempting to raise the perfect human.

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Culture Changers

Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58:1-12

Seasons have a way of changing culture. When winter blows in, we cling to family traditions as closely as we clutch our sweaters and mittens. As the world thaws, we begin taking on new endeavors, inspired by the budding flowers of spring to come out of our winter shells. And in the summer, we create opportunities to relax and bask in sunlight in the company of friends and other loved ones. Seasons affect our attitudes, and with changed attitudes we meet the world in ways that can change our culture.

Likewise, our liturgy in the business of culture changing. Like winter, spring, summer, and fall, our seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time, diagnose our challenges and prescribe ways to walk forward with God.

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Worse than Wrath

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Psalm 2, Matthew 17:1-9

Like a Naked Chicken Chalupa from Taco Bell, the psalms can be difficult to digest. Part of me prefers to sing the psalms even if only to mask with beautiful voices the theological challenges they pose.

The second psalm begins in a relatable enough manner, asking why the kings of the earth rise in revolt against God. I have asked myself the same thing, as do people from all places on the political spectrum. Earthly rulers act in their own interests and, in the best-case scenario, in the interests of their constituents. The psalmist declares that even though rulers will try to be like gods over their people, the true God laughs at their foolish attempts.

The psalm gets a bit sticky when it says, “Then [God] speaks to them in his wrath, and his rage fills them with terror.”

Oh boy. A wrathful God? No, no, no, no, no. We are Anglican New Englanders—our emotional range is limited to heightened blood pressure and perhaps brief, modest displays of mild contentment. We are calm and composed, and we are positive thinkers—chalice half-full kind of people. We have no room in our proper, religious lexicon for wrath or rage. But there it is, right there in our holy scriptures—a wrathful God. So we often ignore psalms like this precisely because we do not want to believe in a judgmental God.

That is, until we do.

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God Does Not Make Mistakes

For 22 years, I thought that being gay was funny (not in a good way). People I loved squirmed when two men would kiss on the television screen. I was chided for watching the wrong show and given looks for acting in a not-so-masculine way. It was not a subject that was talked about in my family, in church, or at school. So there I sat, quietly, wondering why I was so disgusting and funny (again, not in a good way).

Then during my senior year of college, a priest proclaimed to a group of high schoolers at a conference I staffed that if they were gay it was not only okay–it was great. “God doesn’t make mistakes,” he said.

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This sermon originally appeared on Sermons That Work, part of the Episcopal Digital Network.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48

Most people are not as lucky as Beyoncé. Instead of waking up feeling “flawless,” most rise from bed a few minutes late, somewhat dehydrated, and in great need of a tissue. Certainly no one removes a sleep apnea mask to declare, “I woke up like this.” So why is it that we are willing to suspend reality for Queen Bey persona of perfection but find Jesus’ high expectations so impossible to grasp?

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Heroes & Villains

Beatitude Sunday: Matthew 5:1-12

Great stories contain good heroes, but the best ones have captivating villains. Batman has the Joker, Orange is the New Black has Vee, and Star Wars has Darth Vader. Herod the Great is the first villain of the Gospel According to Matthew. Known for slaughtering the children of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus, Herod is a terrific villain—that is, until he dies in chapter two. Like Darth Vader, Herod only represents the real villain of Matthew. Like the dark side of the force in Star Wars, there is a more pervasive villain than Herod looming in Matthew.

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