Unified in Prayer

The Gospel this week (Luke 11:1-13) gives us the very familiar account of Jesus teaching us to pray the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father as we Catholics name it). I’m ashamed to say that there have been times in my life when I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer and thought: this again? Often I don’t even think about what I’m saying, I just go into saying it by rote. More than once, I have said, “You know, this prayer is kind of boring.” And I have heard those words from friends and parishioners too. After so many times of saying it, the prayer can feel a bit lot a hot Sunday summer afternoon, when listlessness and ennui are the order of the day. Read more

Defiant Requiem

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Revelation 21:1-6

I have read Revelation 21:1-6 at numerous funerals, and have done so as tenderly as I could for the sake of those who were grieving. In that setting, I believe that was the right tone of comfort and hope. But this passage is far from a lullaby. Other tones ring out from these words, which is why it is important we read them on occasions other than funerals. Read more

By the Sea, on the Road

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-6(7-20)
John 21:1-19

A few years ago, my wife Lisa and three young kids joined me for the first time at the EP Gathering in Chicago, making a family vacation of it. During the time we spent in that metropolis, we took in some museums, visited Lake Michigan, and saw the fish at the aquarium. It was a busy few days. But of all the things we did, simply getting around might have been the most stressful. For kids used to walking down the sidewalks of Erwin, Tennessee (population 8,000), attempting to navigate the hustle and bustle of a city of millions was a new experience altogether, and as a parent, it was important to me to make sure they did it safely. It was up to me and Lisa to take their hands when we came to a busy intersection. It was up to me and Lisa to speak clearly and sometimes firmly as we gave instructions about how we were going to catch a bus or hop on a train before the doors closed.

Throughout those few days in Chicago, our chief responsibilities as parents were to keep everyone together and to keep everyone safe. The kids’ chief responsibilities were simply to trust us, to listen to us, and of course, to obey us. It’s hard to be an adult sometimes. But it’s hard to be a kid, too. Responsibility is hard. So is dependence. And for those of us called to follow Christ, living in that tension is sometimes the hardest thing of all. Read more

The Case for Emptiness

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Isaiah 6.1-8 (9-13)
Luke 5.1-11

I love it when a lectionary text comes with parentheses. It’s a sign, a hint, code for “preach at your own risk.” As in, “Do you want the good news, or (the bad news)?” Or, “These first few verses are okay, but (these verses) are liable to get you in trouble.” This week’s reading from Isaiah is one such example. The first eight verses tell the tale of Isaiah’s calling, which unfolds in a dramatic scene of burning coals and six-winged seraphim. In the vision, the voice of God fills the air, “Whom shall I send?” To which Isaiah responds with unclean, yet very brave lips, “Here I am; send me!”

According to the parentheses, we could stop there. And likely as not, we would have a pretty good shot at a pretty good sermon. After all, we probably know a thing or two about preaching the word with unclean lips. But speaking of sermons, that’s actually what those parenthetical verses are all about; a summary of what the Lord has in mind for Isaiah’s first prophecy:
• Preach a word the people can’t hear, can’t see, and can’t understand (6.9)
• Preach a word that precludes hope and delays healing (6.10)
And keep preaching, God instructs, until the cities are desolate, the houses are vacant, and the fields are fallow (6.11); in short, keep preaching until “vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.” (6.12) So no wonder these verses get the parenthetical treatment this week. I mean, that’s some assignment for Homiletics 101. Read more