A couple of years ago I first became aware of an online test you can take through Harvard University. Maybe you know of it: it’s called the Implicit Association Test, and it’s designed to measure the subtle biases and stereotypes many of us carry around, both consciously and unconsciously. The best-known version is about race. Images of black people and white people are flashed on the screen, together with words with either positive or negative associations, like “kind” or “sneaky” or “hardworking” or “lazy.” The test measures your response times as you push a button to categorize the images you see. The results for most people in our culture can be sobering. It’s easier and quicker for most participants to associate a picture of a white person with a positive descriptor, and a picture of a black person with a negative descriptor, than the other way around. Most people show some level of preference for white people over people of color. (more…)
Lord, speak to us this day: and may we have ears to hear.
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Today’s gospel reading was a long one—and you can blame me for that. The lectionary, our schedule of readings, actually abbreviated this passage, but in doing that it left out some verses that are key to what’s going on … so I decided to take advantage of a permission in the Prayer Book and put them back in. I did this after it was too late to change the bulletins, so you might have noticed hearing some lines that weren’t printed in! Let’s dive in and figure out what’s happening between Jesus and this group of Pharisees. (more…)
In the name of God: Source of all Being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit.
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“Choose this day whom you will serve,” said Joshua to the people of Israel. This was probably the passage Bob Dylan had in mind when he wrote his song “Gotta Serve Somebody.” “It might be the devil or it might be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” It was 1979 and he had just entered a born-again Christian phase that would last about three years. Many of his fans were aghast. Here was Bob Dylan, symbol of the counterculture, suddenly turning into some kind of churchy altar boy. John Lennon was so upset he sat down and wrote a response song called “Serve Yourself.” (more…)
“So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.” Psalm 78:29
Sometimes we have everything we need and yet, we are still hungry. See if this situation sounds familiar to you. You’ve come home from grocery shopping. You bought enough food for you and your family to last at least two weeks. After you finish putting everything away in the fridge you realize that you want to eat a little something. You open the refrigerator, look through all the shelves and decide, wait for it, there’s nothing to eat.(more…)
Have you ever had a family story where the point was clear, but the facts might have varied a bit in the retelling?
The lore in my father’s family was that Great-Grandfather Shaver had been married seven times. They told and retold that story: the man who couldn’t settle down, who went through six divorces before he finally found someone he could live with. A few years ago my father got interested in genealogy and started doing some actual research, looking up marriage certificates and burial records. It turned out Great-Grandpa Shaver was married four times. It really did take him a long time to settle down, and some of those marriages really were tumultuous. So the story was clear although the details had fluctuated. That’s oral tradition at work. (more…)
As a child growing up around Lake Tahoe, I remember visiting the famous resort called the Cal-Neva Lodge. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s been closed since 2013, but its glory days were much longer ago; it was a hangout in the fifties and sixties for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and other assorted celebrities and hangers-on. I remember being fascinated by its swimming pool, which straddles the Nevada-California border, so you can swim from one state to the next. There was something so strange about the idea that an arbitrary line down the middle of a pool was a real boundary between two places. In a way, the line was completely imaginary. Birds could hop from one side to the other. The pines and aspens were the same on both sides. Yet in another way this artificial, human-made line had very real consequences, because the gambling laws were very different on each side. Inside the lobby, inches from the Nevada side of the line, the slot machines began. (more…)
The word Gospel means good news, but it can feel strange to hear “The Gospel of the Lord” after a tale like that one. Where’s the good news here? The story we just heard is full of manipulation and violence. There’s a hint of prurient interest in the description of this group of men watching and pleased by this young girl’s dance. There’s exploitation of a child as her own mother uses her daughter’s innocent request as an opportunity to get back at her enemy. There’s the pathetic weakness of King Herod, trapped by his pride into going along with a beheading he didn’t really want but wasn’t willing to say no to.
It seems like a good Sunday for a sermon about sin. (more…)
Have you ever wondered how many people have ever lived on Earth?
The people at a think tank called the Population Reference Bureau have. Of course a lot depends on how far back on the evolutionary tree you start. But starting about 50,000 years ago with the emergence of modern Homo sapiens, they came up with an educated guess of about 108 billion human beings ever born.(more…)
If you go to Terminal E in the Atlanta, Georgia, airport, you can see a display of pictures and items from the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s the original permit for the March on Washington and the suit Dr. King wore to meet with President Lyndon B. Johnson. When I first saw the exhibit as a college student flying home from Atlanta, the thing that struck me most was a photograph of Dr. King playing baseball in the yard with his children, displayed alongside the actual little toy bat and ball themselves. I remember the odd but compelling feeling of seeing these homely artifacts that had been touched by this great person, just one degree of separation away from me through these physical relics of his life. (more…)
I have been looking forward to this moment for months. To finally stand here in this parish, with these people. In this beautiful building, full of light and color and 145 years of prayers. Here in the center of Santa Rosa and the heart of Sonoma County. We are the church of the Incarnation, which means the Word of God made flesh. Today we’re here to encounter the very physical and sacramental presence of Jesus Christ together in our hearts and hands and faces, and soon in our holy meal. Thanks be to God. (more…)
Jesus teaches in parables. Mark says he only talked in parables. These parables typically used metaphors to open the meaning of something deeper – the kingdom of heaven or the meaning of neighbor, for example – and, as parables do, they often had a surprise twist at the end. Many of the metaphors used by Jesus involved agrarian images, shepherds and sheep, vines and vine branches, and, today, growing grain and mustard seeds. The Bible, as a whole, is dense with agricultural images: the psalms sing with references to plants, forests, cattle, sheep, birds of the air and fish of the sea. Our lesson today from Ezekiel talks of a great, thriving tree, a huge cedar with great boughs that produces fruit and offers shelter to birds of all kinds. (more…)
This morning I want to talk a bit about God’s family. Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” In the best of all possible worlds we are born into families where there is lots of love, kindness, support and care. If you have ever witnessed the birth of a child, you have hopefully experienced what it is like to be part of such a joyous occasion. One in which there are hopes and dreams for a good life for this new person and a commitment on the part of the parents and caregivers to do their best to provide all that is needed for the child to thrive and be healthy. (more…)
“Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name”
Jesus told the disciples,26 “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me.27 And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning. (Good News Translation).
There are, in that passage, two very important ideas. One is that Jesus will send to his followers a spirit that will help us understand the truth of who God is. The second idea is that we are expected to share our experience of Jesus with others. (more…)
Today we celebrate what is commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Good Shepherd Sunday is one of these unofficial church holidays we get each year that isn’t listed on the calendar exactly, but which comes with the same regularity as Christmas and Easter each year.
Good Shepherd Sunday can sound a little cuddly and fluffy. You might think of this like the beautiful window behind me. (more…)