Archive for the '2010 Sermons' Category

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Dramatic Response to the Gospel October 24, 2010

Breaking Through: A Dramatic Response

to the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The following drama, written by Pat Karpen of Holy Cross, was presented in lieu of a sermon. It was followed by congregational discussion. 


Cummings – an older angel                            Marge Burke

Esmeralda – a younger angel                         Pat Karpen

Sarah – a young woman of about 17              Sonia Sculer

Colin – a young man of about 17                    Ben Harrington

The two guardian angels are poised on step ladders at either side of the stage area. We see Esmeralda (E) desperately trying to scratch her shoulder blades.

Cummings (C):  What’s the matter, Esmeralda?

E:  These wings trying to come out. The itching is making me crazy. It’s like cutting teeth.

C:  Patience, Esmeralda. Soon the itching will abate and you’ll have your first set of beautiful angel wings – a full-fledged guardian angel, ready for action.

E:  Thank God.

C:  Exactly, Esmeralda. Exactly.

E:  Sorry.

C:  We want you to go on a visit. 

E:  Me? My first guardian angel visit! God thinks I’m ready?!

C:  Yes. Now listen carefully. The young woman you’ve been assigned to needs some help. She can’t hear you because of all the noise in her life. That’s the biggest problem we have in being guar-dian angels. People these days are so full of themselves and their problems they never stop to listen to God. You’re not getting through. Take a look.

Sarah (S) is screaming into her cell phone. 

S:  Mother, be quiet and just listen. (Pause.) No, I will not come home. (Pause.) Will you just shut up and listen! I hate math! I hate school! I don’t care if I fail! I’m not interested and I don’t need it! (Pause.) Shut up!! I don’t need it in my life. I don’t want it in my life. I will not go to summer school! I will not have a tutor! It’s stupid! It’s boring! It sucks . . . good-bye! She disconnects and immediately redials.

Colin, it’s Sarah. You still wanna hook up? Meet me at the field.

E:  Oh, crap — oops, sorry! Cummings, I’m on it. I’ll do you proud.

As E twirls to earth, S and Colin move more center. E “freezes” Colin and speaks to S.

E:  Hey.

S:  Who are you?

E:  Your guardian angel. 

S:  Yeah, right. You don’t look like an angel.

E:  Yeah, well. Maybe I wasn’t always an angel. The transition takes a while. I’m workin’ on it. (She scratches her itchy feather patches.)

S:  So, angel…what do you want? I’m busy.

E:  Takes a big breath. I want to save you from the clutter of ego, self loathing, fear and a graceless existence. I want to lead you to the embrace of mercy and wisdom. Oh, man! That sounded like a heaping load of . . .

From on high.

C:  ESMERALDA!!!!!!!

E:  Sorry. Sorry. Here’s what I mean. I don’t think your problem is math or mother. I think your problem is you.

S:  How did you know about math? Who are you? Really?

E:  Leap of faith time, Sarah. I really am your guardian angel. I’ve been trying to get through to you. A lot of us have been ,but you just couldn’t hear because of all the clutter. So we decided maybe a visit was in order. So . . . It’s over, Sarah. You can’t con me. You can’t con any of us. Level with me. Level with yourself.

S:  Oh, give me a break. Pause. E does not speak. Just looks at her. What? Pause. What!?  Pause. What?!  What do you want? Did my freaking mother hire you are something?! Pause as E just looks at her.  What!? What do you want me to say? That you’re freaking right! That I’m freaking terrified! Do you think I like being stupid! There she said it. Do you think I don’t know that I’m stupid! Pause as she softens just a tad. Do you know what it’s like to sit in that classroom and watch everyone except me get it. Even the really dumb freaking ones. Do you know what it’s like to start out by thinking that you’re normal. That you’ll open the book just like everyone else. That your pencil will fly across the pages as you come up with the answers. That the teacher will smile at you and your work. That she’ll have quiet talks with you about your talent and your future. That you’ll know the answers. That you won’t have to hide. Disappear. Talk trash. Start fights. Act bored. Act up just to hide the freaking fact that you’re useless. Stupid . . . just stupid.  Nothing. A  . . . nothing. Do you know what it’s like to go from hope to knowing that you don’t stand a freaking chance. There. Is that what you wanted to hear? Feel good, angel?

E:  Pause. I don’t like to see people in pain. No. But . . . if the pain comes not from cruelty but from looking at things that are hard to look at . . . things that have to change before we can move on . . . then maybe some temporary pain now . . . to stop what will end up being a huge and permanent pain  . . . might be worth it.

S:  What?

E:  If you keep changing who you are; if you harden your heart if it was meant to be gentle; if you make yourself brittle if you were meant to be soft; if you fill yourself with anger and let it grow and consume you; surely you will lose yourself. Do your best. Your talents will emerge. Don’t measure yourself against others. Don’t masquerade out of fear. Forgive yourself your failures and shortcomings – after all, God forgives you. Present your true spirit, regardless of how fragile and vulnerable it might be to the world.  Love yourself and others because of the eternal love given to you.

S:  Are you serious?

E:  Damn if I’m not.  C starts to scream at her from above but stays himself.

S:  You really are. Pause. How about if I promise to really think about it? How about if I promise to listen more for your voice? I mean it. I’ll . . . I’ll just try.

E:  I’ll take that. She freezes Sarah and goes to Colin and unfreezes him. She is a bit angry with Colin.

E:  Hey you.

Colin:  Yeah. Who are you?

E:  Her best friend. Listen to me. Were you gonna hit on her because you wanted to, because you thought you could, or because you thought you should? Do you fell good knowing that you’re taking advantage of a fragile spirit? Does it make you feel like a man, like a tough guy to work a con like that?

Colin:  What are you talking about? We’ve been friends forever. We tell each other everything. I wouldn’t do that to her. I wouldn’t do that to anyone. Who are you anyway? Who do you think you are accusing me of all that trash?

E:  Pause. She starts to babble a bit. Oh, sorry, sorry. I got carried away. I’m kinda new at this. Actually this if my first visit. I wasn’t even supposed to make contact with you. I just got carried away.

Cummings, who has been watching from above as E digs herself a hole, speaks to her gently with a smile.

Cummings:  Ask him about the books, Esmeralda.

E:  What are those books you have?

Colin:  Oh. Some used math books I found in a store. I’ve been trying to think of ways to help Sarah.  She’s not stupid, you know. She’s just beaten herself up so badly she kinda doesn’t know which way is up.  What did you mean when you said this was your first visit? 

E:  Nothing. Nothing. I’m uh . . . from the South. You really are a good person, you know.

Colin:  Nothing special. I just . . . you know . . . I want to help.

E:  Yeah, I know. Be prepared for itchy shoulders.

Colin:  What?

E:  Nothing. Nothing. Listen. Really nice meeting you. Take care. Keep on the path. She freezes Colin and twirls back to Cummings.

E:  Hey, Cummings.

Cummings:  Hello Esmeralda. What did you learn? How did you do? 

E:  I learned that there’s only so much we guardian angels can do. They’re responsible for so much themselves, human beings. It’s scary. All we can do is point and suggest and . . . I guess . . . pray. I did feel a shifting in Sarah, Cummings. I really did.

C:  You have a good voice, Esmeralda. By the way, how’s the itching?

E:  OMG!! Sorry, sorry. The itching has stopped! It’s gone.

C:  Yes, Esmeralda. You’ve got a fine set of baby wings. You did a good job down there. Thank you.  God is pleased.


Pentecost 21 October 17, 2010

Genesis 32:22-31                                                                               

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5                                                             

Luke 18:1-8

 Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. – Luke 18:1

So we’re talking about persistence this morning – persistence, commitment, a life grounded in hope and in ultimate trust in God. And while Jesus is talking specifically about prayer, in a real sense all life is prayer (or should be); so we’re talking about life, the character of life lived in discipleship with Jesus.

There are two brothers, sons of a Marine officer: The elder has followed in his father’s footsteps, a high school athlete, a family man, a major in the Marines leading combat missions in Afghanistan, about to return for another tour of duty. The younger is just getting out of prison, where he’s served time for a botched bank hold-up. He’s a drunk, a ne’er do well . . . all the rest. The father has no time for the younger son. “You know what your problem is?” he berates him. “You’re a quitter. The moment things get tough, you check out.” Continue reading ‘Pentecost 21 October 17, 2010’

Pentecost 20 October 10, 2010

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

Luke 17:11-19


Friday afternoon we had a training session for our two new young acolytes, Alex Goulet and Anna Ishak, and Alex cracked one of the pillar candles at the altar. It was loose on its holder and he tipped it too far and it fell on the floor. Now what does that have to do with the readings for today? Everything.

You see, the readings are linked by the fact that each has to do with leprosy. Leprosy is mentioned again and again in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. It’s not to be confused with Hansen’s disease, which is the name for a medical condition, a bacterial infection now readily treated with antibiotics, that causes blotchy skin and disfigurement. In biblical times leprosy covered a wide range of ailments that had in common symtoms that made the skin discolored, scarred or imperfect. Biblical people thought that these imperfections were connected to moral imperfections. So people with “leprosy” were unfit to worship God and unfit for human society. They were outcasts. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 20 October 10, 2010’

Pentecost 19/St Francis Day October 3, 2010

Genesis 2:4-10, 15-20a                                                     

Galatians 6:14-18                                                                

Matthew 11:25-30                                                             

 This homily was preached at the Eucharist following the blessing of animals for St. Francis Day. The lections are chosen with reference to that occasion.

So here is the title of a new book which caught my eye: Some We Love [these words superimposed on the silhouette of a cute Labrador puppy], Some We Hate [the silhouette of a rat], and (the punch line) Some We Eat [the silhouette of a pig]. The subtitle of the book, which I haven’t read but intend to, is Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.*

Last Sunday we tried to bring some straight thinking to one of the concerns of St. Francis of Assisi, the poor and the outcast. Today we turn our attention to another of his concerns, animals and the environment. If we just blessed pets – the animals we love and on which we lavish billions of dollars in care each year – we would be sentimentalizing what St. Francis stands for. As people who try to bring moral judgment to our lives, we need to go more deeply. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 19/St Francis Day October 3, 2010’

Pentecost 18 September 26, 2010

Amos 6:1a, 4-7                                                                    

1 Timothy 6:6-19                                                                

Luke 16:19-31


Once upon a time there was a young man, the son of a prosperous merchant. He had a love for good times, rich friends, music, partying, and fashionable clothing. One day he was selling cloth in the marketplace for his father when a beggar came by, asking for alms. Finishing his business deal, the young man ran after the beggar, emptying his pockets and giving the beggar all that he had. His friends mocked him for his charity; his father was enraged.

He sought glory on the battlefield, but without success, captured and imprisoned for a year. He suffered a serious illness. He began to spend time alone, wandering in the countryside, praying in abandoned churches. He took to nursing lepers who were shunned by others in society. One day in the marketplace, in a showdown with his father, he stripped off all his rich clothes, renounced his patrimony, and declared his dedication to the poor.

You will have guessed, perhaps, whom I’m talking about: St. Francis of Assisi. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 18 September 26, 2010’

Holy Cross Day September 12, 2010

1 Corinthians 1:18-24                                                        

John 3:13-17                                                                       

In the hall across from the office here at church you may have noticed, on your way to the restroom, a wall calendar. It’s sent every year from the Church Pension Group, a multi-billion dollar enterprise which handles pensions, insurance, health benefits and more for the Episcopal Church. Each month on the calendar there’s a clever cartoon, drawn I believe by a priest in New York City. This month’s cartoon features an update of what’s called the Great Commission.

The Great Commission comes at the end of St. Matthew’s gospel, where after the Resurrection Jesus bids his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (We’re carrying out the Great Commission this morning, as we baptize Annabelle Nicole Charette.) But the cartoon, which is captioned “The Great Commission Revisited,” up-dates this by having Jesus say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, developing task forces and strategic plans, and surveying the congregation in order to craft a succinct and memorable mission statement easily communicated on bumper stickers, website home pages, t-shirts and coffee mugs.” A wry and telling comment on the state of the Church (and the world) today. Continue reading ‘Holy Cross Day September 12, 2010’

Pentecost 15 September 5, 2010

Deuteronomy 30:15-20                                                     

Luke 14:25-33                                                                      

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but there’s a pattern to the way I preach. I usually begin with some story or example from life, develop a topic, and then bring the biblical readings to bear on it. That’s not the only way to preach, obviously. Many preachers start with the Bible, what is called expository preaching, illustrating the points in the lessons with examples from life.

I usually start with life because most congregations in Episcopal churches are not very familiar with the Bible and don’t automatically accept it as authoritative the way, say, a Baptist congregation would. But there are drawbacks to my approach. It tends to water down or soften the force of the biblical readings. You might even say it’s a coward’s way of preaching.

So let’s start with the Bible this morning. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 15 September 5, 2010’

Pentecost 14 August 29, 2010

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16                                                     

Luke 14:7-14                                                                       

A woman describes her mother, a “serious Anglican” on a hardscrabble farm in Ontario earlier in the last century:

My mother prayed on her knees at midday, at night, and first thing in the morning. Every day opened up to her to have God’s will done in it. Every night she totted up what she’d done and said and thought, to see how it squared with Him. That kind of life is dreary, people think, but they’re missing the point. For one thing, such a life can never be boring. And nothing can happen to you that you can’t make use of. Even if you’re wracked by troubles, and sick and poor and ugly, you’ve got your soul to carry through life like a treasure on a platter.

“You’ve got your soul to carry through life like a treasure on a platter.” What a marvelous image! I always hesitate when we have a reading like the one this morning from Hebrews. There are soaring moments in Holy Scripture – the one in the Hebrews passage this morning, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” is an example. But then, embedded right there with these soaring moments are the nitty gritty ones: “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” 

I hesitate because I ask myself, can I preach on the soaring passages and ignore the nitty gritty ones? And if I preach on the nitty gritty ones, what can I say? Fornication means sex outside marriage. Well, these days virtually everyone has sex before they are married. Churches are full of people living together without getting married – some without any intention of ever getting married. Of all the marriages I’ve officiated at, only once has a couple not had premarital sexual relations; the man was a serious evangelical Christian. So what do I say?

Condemn everyone? Or is the Bible hopelesssly out of date when it comes to the nitty gritty? Are only the soaring passages relevant? Though if Jesus Christ is the “same yesterday and today and forever,” can the nitty gritty parts really be so easily discarded as applying only to the past?

The description of the farm woman carrying her soul through life on a platter comes from a marvelous short story by the Canadian author Alice Munro. The story tells how after the author’s parents died, their farm was sold to a commune of hippies. The hippies raised goats and painted a rainbow on the barn and flowers on the walls inside the old farmhouse—flowers and, in one room, a naked Adam and Eve. Revisiting her childhood home after the hippies left, and seeing the painting of the Adam and Eve couple, the author speculates on what sort of hippie orgies went on  in that room, which had been her parents’ bedroom.

The story is thus about the changes in morality that have occurred over the last century. It ends on an ambiguous note. We learn that the hippie commune collapsed; its easy amorality didn’t work. But we also learn that the prayer on your knees, soul on a platter morality of the old mother wasn’t the whole story. After the mother’s death, her husband in a nursing home grumbles in his senility about how harsh his wife’s moral standards had been in practice, how her righteousness had hurt her family. And the author herself, divorced, her hair dyed Copper Sunrise, telling a little white lie to paper over a relationship, the author concludes:

Moments of kindness and reconciliation are worth having even if the parting has to come sooner or later. I wonder if those moments aren’t more valued, and deliberately gone after, in the setups some people like myself have now, than they were in those old marriages, where love and grudges could be growing underground, so confused and stubborn, it must have seemed they had forever.

So Alice Munro’s story, entitled “Love’s Progress,” ends up where a lot of modern morality ends up: with ambiguity, a sense that neither the old absolutes nor the hippie discarding of all standards is the answer; with a wistful grasp at “moments of kindness and reconciliation” in a world where nothing lasts forever, a world essentially without God.

Well, I don’t know. In this sermon I have in effect offered you three choices: the old Anglican on your knees, soul on a platter choice; the hippie commune pattern; and the grasping at moments of kindness and reconciliation pattern. Maybe it’s my generation, maybe my vocation, maybe my experience of life: for myself I’m really pretty convinced that the on your knees, soul on a platter choice is the only real one, the one closest to “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever.” It can be done wrong, of course – in ways untempered by forgiveness, with a self-righteousness that ends up hurting others. But it takes more seriously than the other choices, it seems to me, the fact that we live our lives under the eye of God and in relationship with other immortal souls. It gives ultimate value to our days, our actions.

The nitty gritty of a reading like the one from Hebrews today – not throwing people in prison and treating them as inhuman, not torturing people as though they were not like us, honoring marriage and treating sex as something sacred, freeing ourselves from the love of money and being content with what we have – this nitty gritty seems to me in the end of a piece with the soaring passages. In the lives I minister to, ignoring the nitty gritty leads to unhappiness and worse, has created a society that seems to me in many ways bent on destruction. “Mutual love,” which is what the Hebrews passage is about, may have its soaring moments, but it is built on nitty gritty and a sense of living in the presence of God.

Pentecost 13 August 22, 2010

Hebrews 12:18-29                                                             

Luke 13:10-17                                                                     

This week Anne and I were visiting old friends at their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve known David since we were both 12 at camp – my oldest really good friend. We shared a tent there, roomed together at college, were in each other’s weddings, and have spent time together nearly every summer of our adult lives. This year was different. David was diagnosed last winter with an inoperable brain tumor and has just undergone weeks of arduous radiation and chemotherapy. He’s on a walker, with balance and vision problems. He tires easily. He gained some strength while we were there, but the future prognosis remains uncertain.

In our time together, sitting on his porch looking out at the sea, we reminisced about the past, caught up on our children and grandchildren, shared some thoughts about the state of the world, joked with each other as we always have. But one thing we didn’t talk about was faith, because David doesn’t believe in God; religion has never been part of his life; he has no time or use for it. He’s respectful of it in my life. Indeed, out of the blue he sent a check for $30,000 to help with the building fund for Holy Cross. But God, Christ, Scripture, prayer, church – for him they’re all a delusion, a waste of time, something to be indulged in an old friend perhaps, but not for him.

So for me it was as though a whole dimension were missing in my time with this dear friend. We could not talk about prayer – was Jesus there at all for him in his weakness, his thoughts of death? Was there comfort in the psalms? Things in his past that troubled him, for which he needed healing and forgiveness? What was his hope for the future, for a future beyond death? How did he see his life in terms of God’s kingdom, of Christ’s great dream for humankind? Did his suffering deepen his understanding of the Cross? These are the questions I think I would be exploring if it were I in his place, but to raise them with David would only have been a mockery, and I would never do that to someone I respect and love. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 13 August 22, 2010’

Pentecost 12 August 15, 2010

Jeremiah 23:23-29                                                             

Luke 12:49-56                                                                     

Our friend Bishop Walmsley is off at Grace Church, East Concord this morning, filling in for Fr. Wells who’s on vacation. I overheard the Bishop last Sunday at coffee hour grumbling (nicely, of course) about having to preach on the gospel we’ve been given this morning. “It’s that passage about Jesus dividing families,” he said. “Who wants to talk about that?” And I feel the same way. A beautiful summer day; who wants to hear about divisions in families or bringing fire to the earth? But here we are: the Lord is speaking to us and we must listen. This is holy ground. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 12 August 15, 2010’