“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

“The End & The Beginning”: On Houses, Wise & Foolish [sermon]


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A couple of weeks ago, I got to finish up our church’s series going through the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was such an experience to prepare and give. For one, this was my first time ever preaching two weeks in a row (if your pastor does this regularly, give him or her a hug for me–it’s hard!)

Second, this was my firs time preaching on a text I previously preached on. This text was the same as my first ever “real” sermon. It was the oddest experience diving back into this text and it feeling so new–as if I’d never read or studied it previously.

And lastly, this is the shortest set of verses I’ve ever been able to preach on–5 verses! This gave me the freedom to slow down, and experiment with how I wanted to structure this and go about writing the sermon.

This sermon tries to serve both as a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount as well as a conclusion and call to action for those of us who have sat under it all Summer. If that piques your interest, feel free to listen to or read the sermon below. The text is Matthew 7:24-29. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

“Do Unto Others”: The Golden Rule of God’s Kingdom [a sermon]


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As part of my church’s series on The Sermon on the Mount, I got to preach this past week on the Golden Rule, as well as Jesus’ call to action at the end of the Sermon.

For many of us, when exploring Christian faith, what we’re really looking for is what makes Christianity distinctive. What does it have to say that any other perspective on existence doesn’t—or can’t? I can imagine many people see Jesus offer the Golden Rule and think that he is acting as just one more ethical teacher repeating this ethical principle that most anyone who wants to be a nice person knows about. And it’s true: much of what Jesus says is, technically, not new in human history.

But here’s the trouble: as a human race, we’ve had a lot of practice with the Golden Rule. It’s in us. It’s in our laws. It’s in our societies. It’s in our intuitions that guide and shape how we move through the world. It shapes our sense of justice and morality. And yet we still fail it every day. We’ve had so much practice legislating it, commanding it, manipulating it, teaching it, and hoping for it. And yet it is not the predominant reality in our world or relationships.

That’s why when Jesus comes on the scene, it’s not enough for him to simply repeat the same old teachings in the same old ways. We need more than that if we have any hope for living his vision out. And in this sermon I argue that what Jesus offers here is an entirely new framing and context of the Golden Rule. What Jesus offers here is so much more than a simple ethical maxim. It’s not even Ethics at all! Further, if we see Jesus as just one more religious authority trying to tell people how to act, then we’ve profoundly missed Jesus’ point and what he’s trying to offer us here.

So feel free to listen to or read the sermon, and let me know what you think. The sermon text is Matthew 7:12-23. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

“Rage Against the Dying of the Light”: My Good Friday Sermon


job-silohetteI had the honor of giving the reflection at our Good Friday service this year. For the service, we did a series of extended readings, from Luke 22.39-23.56, from Jesus praying in Gethsemane to his burial.

Preaching on this passage was a unique privilege for me, having recently returned from Israel. I walked these very steps that Jesus takes in our story. I prayed in the shade under the Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. I walked down the Kidron Valley to the place where it’s actually quite possible Jesus was imprisoned overnight, beaten, and mocked. I walked through Old City Jerusalem to the fortress of Pilate. Our hotel was right outside the old city walls near the place of Crucifixion.

This passage therefore, especially in light of that trip, was so rich with meaning throughout. Nevertheless, the focus of my message was living in the darkness and tension between Good Friday and Easter.

Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here (and below) is my manuscript for your perusal. Also, here is a picture of the cemetery I reference in the sermon:
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My Sermon on Christ in the Darkness (John 1)


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During the Advent season, I preached a sermon on John 1.1-5,10-18, the famous Logos. In the sermon, we talk about Jesus revealing himself in the midst of the darkness of this world and our hearts, and so encouraging us to press all the more deeply into darkness rather than running from it. Looking back on it, I think it’s a very “Lent-y” sermon and so I’d like to throw it up here this week during Holy Week. It was my first sermon I preached without a manuscript, so there’s no version to read (sorry). But here it is for listening:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.

[Image credit: “Exodus”, by Marc Chagall]

Lent & Ash Wednesday: A Collision of Life & Death


paul-ash-wednesday-2014This is the reflection I wrote for my Church’s Lent Prayerbook this year. Its about Ash Wednesday, but its Lenten themes remind us of the spirit of this season, as we move into Holy Week next week.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the time in which we turn the volume up on the dark whispers and hauntings in our souls that we spend the rest of the year trying to drown out. It is the season where we feel the gravity of our weakness and finitude. And Ash Wednesday particularly focuses on where we are most weak and most finite: our mortality.

Hundreds of millions (perhaps billions?) of people will gather today to take on what I feel is one of the most packed symbols of the historic Christian faith: the placement of ashes in the shape of a cross on their forehead. We are called in the ashes to begin this process of mourning our seeming slavery to Sin and Death. In the Ash Wednesday service, we hear the words, “remember from dust you came, and to dust you will return.” Ashes are a symbol of suffering, lament, tragedy, repentance, and mourning.
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Advent and… (the series)


advent-nativity-icon

This is the dedicated post page for the Advent series “Advent and…”. In it, we looked at the various ways Advent connects to seemingly unrelated parts of our life and existence.

Welcome to Advent, 2012.
This was the series introduction. I looked at how Advent speaks to our whole selves, including a whole host of “un-Christmas-y” kinds of things.

Advent & Sex: we are holy ground
When you think of Christmas time, you don’t often think about sex. This post talks about the implication of Christ’s arrival for our sex lives.

Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!
The Advent story is a notably sex-less affair. What this means for us is huge. This was by far the most widely read post of this series, and in the top five most widely read posts in this blog’s history.  Continue reading

A Systematic Male Feminist Theology: Table of Contents


IcyAndSot-Freedom

This is the dedicated post page for the Male Feminist Theology Series on this blog.

Male Feminist Theology: a Vision; a Proposal

This series is based on a white paper I wrote. It is more technical than these blog posts are and cites sources without giving introduction or explanation. The blog posts break it up into bite-sized chunks, and are heavily edited to (hopefully) make them more accessible to the casual reader. The full paper is posted below.

Background: Fear & Loathing
The How (and Why) of Christian Male Feminism

This series has been a long time in development and preparation. This was a post that summarizes the whole path leading to thought and process behind it.

God & Her Glory: A Table of Contents

Before we began, I felt I needed to explain why I, at times, would choose to use feminine pronouns for God. This caused such an uproar in my social media sites, it led to several posts in which I went more in-depth about this.

On Theology: Choose Your Own (Feminist) Adventure

This whole series employed a very particular perspective on theology, in which we can freely choose what true things about God to emphasize depending on our context and concern in the moment.

I. Passion: A Theology of God, Creation, & Humanity
The Suffering & Reconciling Feminist God

This whole Male Feminist Theology begins with laying out a doctrine of God that would motivate us to solidarity and action with women. This opening post lays out a vision in which God’s own nature is Suffering-Unto-Shalom/Goodness/Life

The Dying & Rising Christ

This Suffering-Unto-Life Nature of God extends from the Godhead and is exhibited in each of its Persons. In this piece, we talk about the centrality of Jesus, the Incarnate God, as the center of our theology, and what he can teach us about God.

The Grieving & Comforting Holy Spirit

In this post, we talk about how the Holy Spirit–within Herself–also suffers-unto-life, moving into the brokenness and injustice of the nitty-gritty of the world, to bring healing, life, and wholeness.

THESE BROKEN & GOD-BREATHED SCRIPTURES

Here we articulate a theology of Scripture, and how revelation flows from God the Spirit and not God the Father. We also deconstruct how this acts to liberate women in Christian community.

A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible [PART 1] [PART 2]

In these posts, I ask hard questions about how we deal with the patriarchal texts of Scripture. Do we just say the authors were “wrong”, or are we wrong in how we’re reading these texts?

A Groaning & New creation

Coming up next!
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The Weight of Gratitude: A Sermon of Mine


job-silohetteI’m going on three decades of attending church services. I’ve heard a lot of sermons on gratitude and almost all of them are the same.

They spend much of their time trying to convince us Americans that we actually are far more wealthy than we ever thought. We have more stuff than most any other people in human history, and so we need to stop being so consumeristic and unsatisfied and just learn to be grateful and give thanks for what we have—because we have a lot. And us Christians have even more reason to be thankful, as we have the greatest gift of all: Jesus!

But all this does is lead us towards some brief, unsustainable, inch-deep emotion of happiness which we then call “gratefulness” and then walk out the door thinking we’ve gotten our annual “gratitude shot”—all while being able to ignore the violence raging in the world and in our souls.

So where is gratitude when we face violence and doubt, or when we hit the muck and mire of life, the pits and poverties of existence, the pain and injustice? Does gratitude have nothing to say?

Well that’s what my most recent sermon discusses (I’ve also written about this before). The sermon text is Psalm 40,  Let me know what you think. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

Male Feminist Theology: a Vision; a Proposal


Adolph Gottlieb-rolling

Starting next week, I will be doing a blog series that walks through a framework for what I’m calling “Male Feminist Theology”. This series is based on a paper I wrote a few months ago. The paper itself is more technical than these blog posts will be and cites sources without giving any introduction or explanation. The blog posts will break it up into bite-sized chunks, and I will heavily edit them to (hopefully) make them more accessible to the casual reader.

But, if you don’t care about all the context and fuller explanation, and just want to jump to the end, I wanted to give you all a chance to read it in full if you wish. I’ve embedded it below, but you can also find it on Scribd and Academia.edu. Let me know what you think! Continue reading

My Sermon on Judgment, Poverty, Sheep, & Goats


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Yesterday, I got to preach the hardest sermon I’ve gotten to preach (so far).

The text is Matthew 25:31-46, what is commonly called “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”. It’s also the one where Jesus shows up as a naked and hungry beggar and prisoner. It’s one of the most difficult, confusing, and doubt-inducing texts in the Gospels. Let me know what you think. Sermon cameos include Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Martin Luther, and homeless Jesus. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

My church let me preach another sermon. Here it is.


Tanner-the-anunciation-mary

Believe it or not, even after preaching my first real sermon ever, my church let me preach again. All jokes aside, I had the honor of preaching this past Sunday as part of our Advent series.

The text is Luke 1:26-38, the moment in the life of Jesus known as The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Cameos in the sermon include Mary, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Barth, the podcast Serial, racism, white privilege, and the story of everything. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
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My first Sunday Morning Sermon. I’d like to share it with you.


paul-liberti-sermon-preachingSure, I’ve done some lectures, taught some classes, led a home group, and preached a sermon in a seminary class, but I’ve long believed that there was something truly sacred and “other” about preaching to a church family in a gathered worship service. And it’s something I had never done.

I’ve always been an over-zealous guy, and very wise leaders have pulled the leash on me, telling me to just sit and watch for a while, until the time was right to put me in front. This has continued through my life at my church in Philly, as they’ve slowly discipled me and loosened the leash bit by bit in service to our people.

Well this past week I had the honor of preaching my first Sunday morning sermon to my church family. It felt good and I myself experienced such a grace and blessing in preparing for it and offering it to my brothers and sisters. And so, I’d like to share it with all of you as well.

It’s the final sermon in our series “Finding Freedom” that went through the Ten Commandments. The text is Matthew 7:13-29, the very end of the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
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A Baby Step Against My Latent Racism (And Maybe Yours?)


client-coffee-hands-bwI know, I know. One of the worst types of writing there is in the world is a white person writing about their discovery that they are privileged and this is deeply engrained. I know. This post isn’t that, I promise. Just stay with me for a little bit.

Having worked in social work for a little over five years now, I’ve grown in my understanding that racism is about a whole lot more than individuals feeling an active, conscious dislike of someone just because of their race. It’s structural, cultural, political, economic, and systemic.

(Still, I’ve really missed this at times, and old habits and ways of thinking die hard. I’m really, really sorry for that.)

Recently, I had the honor to speak at one of my church’s ministries for those in homelessness. Afterward, I walked around saying hello to the almost-exclusively black crowd there. As I made eye contact with different people, I would offer a smile to them and give them as warm of a look as I could. I did really feel a genuine warmth and love for this group.

And yet, I started feeling this…thing…within me. As I gave my smiles away to the crowd, I realized that this was a problem. I was giving my smiles to them. Something in me felt as if I, as a privileged white male, was “serving” these people by “granting” or “bestowing” upon them affection. Does this make sense? Do you see the problem?
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In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4


Then Job answered:

“Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
Job 9.1-4

It seems here that Job is no longer clinging to his earlier idea that he is indeed righteous and pure. Instead, he is admitting that his friend is correct: he is sinful and has done wrong things. But, he also points out that God is not a God that would insist that every single little sin and wrong-doing be brought to mind and confessed before relating favorably towards someone.

Job is saying that people are too sinful for God to structure the world in such a way that the righteous are related to in one way and the wicked in another, because everyone belongs fully in that latter camp. There can only be two sets of rules if there are two teams playing the game.

He is in effect saying what Paul says in Romans 3, that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, therefore there is no distinction among people. Ironically, then, Job’s defense here is not necessarily the he is righteous, but rather that he is far too messed up for his friends’ version of reality to be right.

Also of note, the rest of this chapter is more or less Job proclaiming the very things that God uses to rebuke him at the end of the book. Job really does seem to know this stuff.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.