I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.
And yet there is hope.
It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.
But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.
I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.
This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
I had the privilege of preaching the Ash Wednesday service at one of my church’s campuses a few weeks ago. As is appropriate to that Holy Day and this Lenten season itself, we sat with words that drew us into a meditation on our mortality and death.
(I also talk about my grandfather’s death. For more about that, you can read my reflections.)
I help lead a Bible Study and sometimes, when I’m feeling artsy, to help us start a discussion on a certain text from Scripture, I’ll ask my group a question: what color is this text? As in, what’s the emotional tone? When you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images that come to mind? For me, sitting with this Psalm before preaching it, I felt it was a dull, pale blue–or maybe more like a burlap grey. And I have found that “hue” marking much of my time this Lent.
So even now, a few weeks in to season, I find myself returning to the themes of this Scripture text. I hope it might lead you to engage all the more deeply into this Holy Lent. The text is Psalm 90.1-12, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
During 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:
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:
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:
During my tenure as a coordinator of Christian education, I heard a lot from people about their hunger to know the Bible, so I hired professors from a nearby seminary and offered regular courses on the Old and New Testaments. People told me the descriptions sounded like just what they needed, but that was usually the last I saw of them. The classes were small and sporadically attended…. Yet every quarter, people asked for more Bible courses. They said they wanted more; they were not getting enough. So I offered more Bible and still no one came.
Finally I got the message. “Bible” was a code word for “God.” People were not hungry for information about the Bible; they were hungry for an experience of God, which the Bible seemed to offer them.
The above quote was so insightful and helpful to me. At my church, we’ve spent years hearing people talk about wanting more “meat” or wanting to be “fed” more. When they say that, they often are thinking they need to feel cognitively challenged and stretched by information about the Bible or Theology.
I 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.
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:
I recently had two more pieces of writing go up at the website Going to Seminary. They both have similar themes about freeing ourselves to engage in seminary with our whole selves. The first about how to make the most of your preaching class. Here’s the intro:
In seminaries, the most hit-or-miss class might be the occasional course on Preaching. I’ve had the unique experience of taking two different preaching courses at two very different seminaries. One course was incredibly dry, unhelpful, and boring. The other was life-giving, challenging, and skill-enhancing. And I’m here to tell you that a good preaching course in seminary can change so much more than how well you do behind a pulpit.
The other post is about the most maligned set of courses in most seminaries: Practical Theology. These have the reputation for being the obligatory wishy-washy or touchy-feely classes that all the theologians just want to roll their eyes had. And yet, at my seminaries, I’ve had the opportunity to take Practical Theology courses that ended up being the most important classes I’d take. Here’s a preview:
As I’ve grown older, the sermons that used to feel so “applicable”, “practical”, and resonant now seem to have less and less resemblance to reality or the world around me. They seem to be words offered to imaginary, disembodied people I’ve never met; people that can simply receive the proclamations of God from his ordained authorities and then live lives of passionate obedience and response–those who can simply “hear the Gospel”, “preach it to themselves”, and be changed. That’s a fantasy world. It is not reality.
I’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?
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:
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:
Sure, I’ve donesomelectures, 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:
Believe it or not, I don’t really have much experience at all in preaching. Yeah, I’ve spoken and “preached” at some things, but I’ve still never offered the preached proclamation at a Sunday worship service. It’s an area I’ve wanted to grow in for a while.
To that end, I took a preaching class last semester for my seminary program. It was a powerful course that changed my whole relationship to both the Bible and the act of preaching. Each of us wrote and presented a sermon on an assigned text. The sermons were recorded, and I’m offering mine here today. It opens with some brief words on the context I had in mind when preparing this.
I hope it meets you and speaks to you, wherever you are. The video is above, the text and my manuscript are below. You can also download files for both the audio or the manuscript.
Special thanks also to an old friend, J. Chord Barnes of ASERWorks Media, for fixing some audio issues in the original recording and remastering it for me. Check him out at the link above.Continue reading →