Tag Archive for 'baptism'

Lent 2 March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a                                                                  

John 3:1-17                                                                            

Yesterday I was back in Illinois to preach at the funeral of a lady named Elizabeth Carpenter, who died at the age of 98. Liz was the last of the founding members of St. Charles’ Episcopal Church. That I be the preacher for her funeral was one of the things she requested. It was a significant request, because Liz Carpenter had a difficult time accepting me as her new rector. You see, I came on the heels of the beloved Fr. Ludtke, founding rector of the St. Charles’ parish, who had served it for 33 years and then retired. There was one interim Sunday and then I arrived: my first parish. I was the new guy, full of seminary learnings, and I liked to make changes. Fr. Ludtke was the old guy, who had liked things to stay the same.

But Liz was a serious Christian. She believed in that Benedictine vow of stability which we talked about last week in the adult forum. This was her church and she was going nowhere. So she’d come to my office, sit herself down, produce a list from her purse, and we’d go through it item by item: why did I change this, why did I change that? And what happened was that Liz Carpenter learned to accept change, indeed to change herself. The present rector of St. Charles’ told me a story. A few weeks before she died, Liz was in church, sitting in her wheelchair at coffee hour. She was looking around at the coffee hour crowd and she said to Fr. Nesbit, “I don’t know all these people any more.” And then, after a pause, she added, “But I guess that’s a good thing.” A good thing for her church to grow and change. Continue reading ‘Lent 2 March 20, 2011’

Lent 1 March 13, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                                                      

Romans 5:12-19                                                                  

Matthew 4:1-11

I’ve told the story before, but it’s worth repeating. A rich man came to see me in the church I served back in St. Charles, Illinois, about a wedding for his daughter. They were nominal members of the more fashionable parish in the next town down the river, but they never attended church so the priest there had refused to do the wedding. Would I? The father would “make it worth my while.” What did my church need?

Well, I thought to myself: think boldly here, John. So, looking out the window of my study to the vacant expanse of lawn we owned, I said, “Well, we very much need to expand our education wing.” My visitor made a choking sound, so I quickly laughed said that I was only kidding; we’d be glad to do his daughter’s wedding and he could make whatever contribution he felt called to out of gratitude.

Needless to say, my relations with that man were never very good. He got my back up; I got his. We were operating, you see, out of completely different paradigms. He came from a successful corporate career, the world of commerce and power, where I offer something to you if you will do something in return. I will build you a ship (this had been this rich man’s most recent business) if you pay me so many hundreds of millions of dollars. The Church, however, operates (or is supposed to operate!) differently. For example, each Sunday we offer you a wonderful breakfast, a beautiful worship service, a helpful (we hope) message for your week, and the Body and Blood of Christ. And it’s entirely up to you what you do in response – moneywise or anything-wise. It’s all free gift. Continue reading ‘Lent 1 March 13, 2011’

Baptism of Our Lord January 9, 2011

Isaiah 41:1-9                                                                        

Acts 10:34-43                                                                      

Matthew 3:13-17

 If you’ve driven down 114 in the past few weeks, you may have noticed the message on the sign board at Christ Community Church: Christmas is not a day; Christmas is God with us. We might expand on that thought: Christianity is not a religion; Christianity is God with us.

That’s an almost impossible idea for us human beings to get our minds around, and it must be said that in two thousand years we’ve never really succeeded. We want a religion. We want a God who is comfortable, understandable; a God who fits nicely into our lives, a system that suits us, that works for us; a church that meets our needs, that comforts us with certainties and never challenges us or confronts us with the awesome mystery of the living God. Continue reading ‘Baptism of Our Lord January 9, 2011’

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’

Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2010

Isaiah 43:1-7                                                                       

Acts 8:14-17                                                                        

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

A friend writes to say he has “lost his faith.” This can mean different things for different people, but for him, he explains, he “can no longer believe in the doctrines of Christianity.” What doctrines? He doesn’t say. The Incarnation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection? I don’t want to put him on the spot by asking, nor do I want to put myself in the position of doctrinal expositor.

But it does seem odd to me. Doctrines, I think, really come last rather than first in faith. First comes a sense of wonder, the asking of questions about the meaning of life, if life has meaning. And a close second comes some sort of personal contact, experience of a person of faith that makes one want to have what they have. I suppose it’s not coincidental that this friend of mine grew up as an only child, has never married, never had children, and has led a life sheltered from the ordinary interactions with other people – the daily ups and downs – that most of us enjoy (or suffer through). Continue reading ‘Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2010’

Holy Cross Day September 14, 2009

Numbers 21:4b-9                                                                               

1 Corinthians 1:18-24                                                       

John 3:13-17

I want us to reflect together this morning on two things: desire and commitment. We will find, I think, that our reflections lead us to a deeper understanding both of baptism and of the cross.

This last Friday I drove up to Tilton to meet a friend for lunch. It was also an opportunity for me to pick up some socks and undershorts at the outlet mall. There, parked next to me, was one of those huge excursion buses – from New Jersey, no less – which had driven all that way with a load of people to shop. A few of the shoppers were straggling back to the bus, bags of purchases in hand, looking exhausted. Looking lonely, too. Malls are full of people, but they are not communities. Continue reading ‘Holy Cross Day September 14, 2009’

Pentecost 6 July 12, 2009

Amos 7:7-15                                                                       

Mark 6:14-29                                                                      

Children’s literature is full of stories in which someone discovers a magic doorway – the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, the back wall of a clothes closet in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – through which they pass into a world where everything is different. The sacrament of Holy Baptism, symbolized by the baptismal font that stands by the entrance to our worship space, is such a magic doorway into the world of Christ. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 6 July 12, 2009’

Pentecost 3 June 21, 2009

Job 38:1-11                

Mark 4:35-41                                                                      

The Hebrew people, who wrote the Bible—both the Old Testament and the New—were a desert people. Water for them had a double, paradoxical meaning. It represented chaos, threat and danger. On the other hand, it represented life and new birth. We’ll get to that other hand in a minute, but let’s start with the chaos, threat and danger side of water.

Continue reading ‘Pentecost 3 June 21, 2009’

Day of Pentecost May 31, 2009

Acts 2:1-21                                                                          

Romans 8:22-27                                                                

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15



Let’s call him Adam. He was one of the unhappiest people I’ve ever known. Nothing and nobody could please him. Everything was always against him—and against him personally. If there was a new policy at work, it was a terrible idea and instituted by his boss for the express purpose of making Adam’s life miserable. If his daughter was having trouble at school, she was having trouble just so as to reflect badly on her father. And church—well, every change, every experiment, every new hymn tune, every sermon, was a direct insult to Adam. I had a special file folder labeled “Adam letters” telling me so.


I was on my guard big time therefore when Adam made an appointment to come and talk to me. I dressed carefully, so there would be nothing for Adam to criticize in that department, one of his favorites. I went over in my mind all the things in the last month or two that he might find fault with, preparing my defenses. And still I dreaded our meeting; my heart rate rose as I watched Adam pull into the church parking lot and get out of his car and I felt my breathing constricted.


So I was surprised when, once we’d settled into our chairs in my study, Adam pulled out a small white card and handed it to me. “My therapist said I was to work on these things. And he said if I had trouble, to come and talk to you.” This was news to me: that Adam would seek help in therapy! But there was more. On the card was written: “Practice praying before the Altar in church. Put yourself in the presence of God. Let God show you how much he loves you. Be with God in the light of love.”


“I’m having trouble with this,” Adam said. “I can’t do it. I can’t even begin. I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Continue reading ‘Day of Pentecost May 31, 2009’

Easter 5 May 10, 2009

Acts 8:26-40                                                                        

John 15:1-8                                                                         


(Members of the youth group presented a dramatization of the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The congregation renewed their baptismal vows, sprinkled with water from the Font by the children.)


Our lives are shaped by little coincidences that aren’t coincidents at all, but the workings of God’s Holy Spirit. We can plan our lives, our children’s lives, so carefully. We can work so hard at fulfilling dreams. But in the end, the power of the Spirit working largely unseen trumps whatever we try to do. Would I be here this morning, would I be an Episcopalian, let alone a priest, if a college friend had not invited me to come with him early one Sunday morning to the S.S.J.E monastery in Cambridge? I doubt it. The working of the Spirit.


So this drama we’ve just witnessed, about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, is about the working of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading ‘Easter 5 May 10, 2009’