April 17, 2022
Sometimes things aren’t where you thought you left them.
I have misplaced so many things it’s become a running joke in our house, but one that still stands out is one time that I lost my sunglasses. It was several years ago, and as Annie and I were getting ready to go on a walk, I just could not find them. We searched all the places I might have put them down—the bedside table, the kitchen table, the living room, even the car. They had completely disappeared. So I had to just grin and bear it going on a walk on a sunny day. Then, while she was getting dinner ready, Annie found my sunglasses in the refrigerator! I had apparently put them down amid the groceries and then they got put into the fridge with the lettuce. Sometimes things aren’t where you thought you left them.
April 16, 2022 (Easter Vigil)
You know what’s really fun? Getting to be in on a surprise. There’s something wonderfully conspiratorial about knowing some really great thing that’s going to happen to someone else, and you know before they do, so you get to anticipate how they’ll react. It’s even more fun when you’re the one who gets to spring the surprise—whether that’s a super awesome gift, or a surprise birthday party, or even a surprise visit from a beloved relative. Surprises are fun.
But I think “fun” isn’t the first word that would come to mind for Mary when she had this incredible surprise to tell. Earthshaking, sure. Mind-blowing, of course. Indescribably good, definitely. Because for a moment, there in the garden, standing with the newly-risen Jesus, Mary was, for the first and last time, the only human being on the planet that knew the surprise. Literally no one else knew—have you ever thought about that when reading this resurrection story? I’ve read it—preached on it—six years now and it just dawned on me this time around!
April 14, 2022 (Maundy Thursday)
If you had twenty-four hours left to live, how would you use it? For almost everyone, the answer would come down to making sure every moment could be spent with loved ones—telling them all the things you ever wanted to tell them, and making sure they knew just how much you loved them. Some people are given the opportunity to know (to some extent) how long they have, and they get to do just that. In tonight’s gospel, we see just how Jesus chose to use the time he had left before he would go, as he said, where his disciples couldn’t go.
This is an emotional scene, where Jesus has his last supper with the disciples who had followed him for around three years at this point. He needs to tell them everything that’s left, making sure they have the right takeaways from his teachings. He prays for them, and he offers all the comfort he can muster to get them through the next few days and all that would come. He knows he doesn’t have a lot of time, and maybe it’s for that reason that he takes the time to show them, rather than just tell them, what the most important part of their identity as his followers will be.
April 3, 2022
A few years back, Annie and I were in a grocery store picking up a few things for the week’s meals. But one thing that stopped me short while we were on our way to getting some kind of vegetable or other was a pallet of soft drinks. Well, one particular kind of soft drink. Sun Drop. Now, I don’t know how many of y’all have had Sun Drop, but I was genuinely surprised to find it outside of the South. And this might sound weird to some, but Sun Drop has a special place in my heart.
See, my grandma had this cabinet. It was six foot high cabinet (which is hilarious because she wasn’t even five feet tall with her hair) that was filled, top to bottom, with exactly two varieties of soft drink: Cheerwine (which I’m certain y’all have never heard of) and Sun Drop. And to this day, if I catch a whiff of the sugary lemon-lime carbonation that is Sun Drop’s scent, I am immediately transported back to my grandma’s kitchen. Scent and memory are tied together.
March 27, 2022
When we experience some kind of big or momentous change as human beings, we like to mark it in some way: a party, a ceremony, even a moment that acknowledges the transition that’s happening. We do it every single year on New Year’s Eve with a big party. And in a couple short months, many of us will be marking the transition out of school with graduation. Opening up a new business or starting a new construction project often has some kind of ribbon-cutting ceremony! We celebrate the transition from one life to the next when we come together for a baptism, the ritual washing away of the old sinful person and the birth of a new child of God.
And we also mark the not-so-happy transitions in life as well with some kind of acknowledgment. The bittersweet moment of moving to a new place might be marked with a get-together. A bad year and a closing business has a gathering to mourn and remember what happened. And of course we mark the death of a loved one with a funeral—a time when we remember who they were and talk about the hope we have. We mark these transitions with rituals, ceremonies, some kind of remembrance.
March 20, 2022
One of the things I was taught way back in elementary school math class was this peculiar rule about shapes. A square is nothing more than a rectangle with all sides being equal. So, technically speaking, all squares are rectangles. However, and this was an important part of the lesson, not all rectangles are squares. It’s an extremely basic concept and somehow it perfectly fits the lesson Jesus teaches in the first half of our gospel reading this morning. Come with me on this.
We hear about these two awful, tragic events—first, about some Galileans who were murdered on the orders of Pilate, possibly during worship since their blood mingled with sacrifices; and second, some Jerusalemites who were crushed by a collapsing tower. The senselessness of tragedy has always been something we as human beings have tried desperately to apply some kind of sense to. We need a reason. When bad things happen, why do they happen? The explanation Jesus was confronting—an explanation that, by the way, is still far too prevalent today—is that God was punishing these people for some kind of sin they committed. If bad things happen to you, it must mean that you sinned.
But not all rectangles are squares.
March 13, 2022
When I was in elementary school, there were a few things I and my friend group took just a little too seriously: winning footraces at recess, which Pokemon cards were the best to collect, where to sit on the bus, and pinky promises. Y’all remember pinky promises right? It was an ironclad agreement that whatever was promised would absolutely, under pain of death, never be broken. Of course, making sure that people follow what they say they’re going to do doesn’t go away as we get older. We consider someone’s word to be really, really important; and someone who keeps their word is worth getting a promise from. Making sure others keep their promises goes way back, to the covenant we see God strike with Abram in our first reading.
Covenants weren’t something unique to Israel. There’s evidence of covenants all over the Ancient Near East. A covenant, basically, was an ancient contract in the days before there were law courts and things like that to make sure people did what they promised. The Genesis reading puts it pretty clearly what it looked like to make a covenant. The part where Abram cuts those animals in two? That’s a well-documented part of ancient covenants. It’s where the Hebrew expression comes from—“to cut a covenant.”
March 6, 2022
Part of life with a three-year-old is that she loves the stories, songs, and princesses of Disney. We’ve been on a rotating kick of movies—right now it’s Beauty and the Beast—but a while ago we watched Moana, a story about a Polynesian daughter of the chief who has to rescue her island from the evil that is finally reaching their shores. Like so many Disney movies, it’s got some great music, but there’s one song that I’ve had in my head for a while now called “We Know Who We Are.” In it, the memories of Moana’s ancestors sing about their voyaging prowess and how they would sail from island to island, exploring new lands and seeking adventure.
January 23, 2022
Have any of y’all ever looked at one of those mid-century editions of magazines like Popular Science? There was an astounding level of optimism from the fifties about what would be possible in the next century or so. And it makes sense, because there were some amazing things that were just starting to happen in that decade that it seemed like the world was just going to get better and better, to the point that problems known in the fifties would be unimaginable by now. And while we haven’t quite matched those dreams, those midcentury hopes really captured the spirit of what we think when we think about the future.
January 16, 2022
Some time in the fifth century, the Church made it official that one of Mary’s titles would be “Mother of God.” And I think nowhere in scripture does that title become more apparent than in this telling of the wedding at Cana. She and Jesus, along with his disciples, were all attending a wedding, having a good time. But at some point in the night, Mary notices a disaster brewing. The wine is about to give out. This poor couple, on such a happy day, were about to experience the embarrassment of having not planned for enough guests. But it’s how Mary handles this information that really seals her title.