Baptized in Permanent Purple Ink

screen shot 1Autoplay audio is here. Snow day video is here.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday – January 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Just down the road from my house, adjacent to a laundromat, there is a corner convenience store, the kind that sells gasoline and a little bit of everything inside at exorbitant prices, including colorfully constructed glass contraptions that are labeled in large block letters as TOBACCO PIPE, an obvious lie if I ever heard one.

screen shot 2From time to time when I stop there, to fill up my car or to get a snack or something to drink, I will see a man I do not know personally, a man around my age, standing near the cash registers scratching lottery tickets. When I see him, he is always wearing a an open black shirt with black trousers and black shoes, and as I see him, I can tell something about him that I suspect most people could not: that he is a priest. I know this because I have shirts like his, the black shirt has the short, narrow, standing collar that clergy shirts have, and the placket covering the buttons. I know he is a priest because I can see in his breast pocket the tip of the white clerical tab collar that he has removed to conceal, as much as possible, who he is.

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Take the Long Way Home

roadAutoplay audio is here.

Reveille United Methodist Church
Epiphany Sunday – January 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12

King Herod was a paranoid and dangerous man, who even some in his own day thought was mentally unstable. Herod banished his first wife and three-year-old son in order to marry another woman and increase his political power. As Herod grew older, he became more and more paranoid, more and more afraid that someone was plotting to take his power from him, which led to Herod eventually executing his wife, mother-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, and three sons. It was said in his own day that it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son.

So we can imagine how Herod must have thought and felt when he somehow heard this rumor that a new king had been born in his land, and we can imagine why Matthew tells us that “all Jerusalem was frightened with him.” They knew Herod did not receive bad news well.

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Christmas in Rhyme: A Poem for Joseph

imagesLast year, I began writing poems to share at Reveille’s 5:30 Service of Lessons and Carols. Here is the one I composed for 2018. The audio, when posted will be here. Merry Christmas.

Come join together, come take a ride,
from Gaskins and Patterson, Broad and Glenside.
Come from the backroads, come down interstate,
Midlothian, Hull Street, or two-eighty-eight.
Come Kensington, Monument, Pemberton, Ridge,
take Huguenot, Willey, or the Nickel Bridge.
Laburnum and Boulevard, come make the drive,
come south and come west, take 195
Hurry, beloved! There’s no time to tarry!
It’s Three Chopt and River to Malvern and Cary!
From Southside to Northside from East and West Ends!
Come gather with strangers! Come gather with friends!
To take in the sounds, to take in the sights,
to exit the darkness and enter the light
of candles and organ, of pipe and of lyre,
the faces surround us all lit by the fire.

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Journey to Bethlehem: Battle Cry (or How Do the Rich Hear Good News for the Poor?)

Screen Shot 1Audio will be here.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2018
Luke 1:39-55

I wanted to believe that it is because I have had a good number of sermons to write lately: the first and second Sundays of Advent, last Sunday’s Service of Remembrance, this past Wednesday’s Evensong service, the poem for 5:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, the sermon for the 11:00 p.m. Communion service on Christmas Eve, but today’s sermon may have been the most difficult sermon of 2018 for me to write.

I sat down as I always do on Tuesday morning to write, naively thinking that with enough determination, I could complete both today’s message and the 11:00 p.m. sermon. However, as lunchtime rolled around, I knew I was in trouble. What began as a sermon about worship, worshipping God as Elizabeth and Mary did in this morning’s text turned into a sermon that I tried to force to use the song “Topsy Turvy” from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a primary illustration.

Be especially glad you did not get that one.

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How I Write a Eulogy: A Meditation on Death for Christmastime

220px-CandleReveille United Methodist Church
Service of Remembrance
December 16, 2018
John 1:1-14

“Hey, Doug. It’s Bobby….”

The phone would typically ring in the early afternoon, and that is how the call always began, with Bobby’s soft-spoken, almost melodic voice, reaching out in that distinctly southern way of hating to be a burden. Along with his mother and twin brother, Bobby ran the one funeral home in the small, mountain town where I used to live and pastor. I knew he was calling me from his office in the front room of an old white colonial house on St. George Avenue where his family had ministered to the dead and grieving for two generations, and I knew that he had the family in the room with him, and that they all wanted to know if I could help them. In small communities, it is still common to include the name of the funeral service’s officiating clergy in the obituary, and the local paper’s deadline was 3:00 p.m. for publication the next day.

Bobby would continue the way he always would: “Someone has died, and we are making the arrangements, and the family would like a service, but they do not have a church or a pastor. I was wondering if maybe you could help them out.”

In nine years in that town, I never told him “No.”

We would schedule a time to meet, either at the funeral home or in my study at the church, and Bobby, genuinely grateful, would thank me and hang up.

“How do you do a funeral for someone you don’t know?” is one of the more common questions I am asked about my work. It is a question I had to learn to answer for myself as I began my ministry over twenty years ago. I have always had good relationships with the local funeral homes. I think they like United Methodist clergy; we tend to be kind and gracious and give even the dead without churches or pastors the benefit of the doubt.

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Journey to Bethlehem: The Beginning of the End

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Fourth Sunday of Advent — December 9, 2018
Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

In Act IV of William Shakespeare’s seventeenth-century play Macbeth, the murderous and disturbed Macbeth visits the Three Witches, the prophetesses who predicted in Act I his ascension to the throne of Scotland, now make their famous prediction that Macbeth “never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” Since Macbeth believes that the odds of the forest in Birnam uprooting itself and making the roughly 20 mile journey to Dunsinane Hill are quite low, he assumes he is utterly safe from defeat.

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The Journey to Bethlehem: Alive at the End of Time

Screen ShotFirst Sunday of Advent (Year C) – December 2, 2018
Luke 21:25-36

Audio is here

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The popular song jazz standard “Love is Here to Stay” has been performed by the greats: Kenny Baker, Gene Kelly, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, “Nat King Cole” and Frank Sinatra, so name a few. It has been used on the stage and on the screen, big and small. It was the last musical composition that George Gershwin completed before his death at age 38 in the summer of 1937. Ira Gershwin composed the lyrics after George’s death as a loving tribute to his late brother.

It is a beautiful song, one whose longevity is fitting, since it is a song about permanence, specifically the permanence of love:

It’s very clear / Our love is here to stay
Not for a year, but ever and a day
The radio / And the telephone
And the movies that we know / May just be passing fancies
And in time may go / But oh my dear / Our love is here to stay
Together we’re going a long long way / In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble / They’re only made of clay
But our love is here to stay

With Europe on the brink of war and an impending feeling that everything could be falling apart, George and Ira Gershwin give us this lovely piece of American art about that which has the power, in the words of Saint Paul, to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things.

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Jesus in Jerusalem: How Christians Are to Vote

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Audio will be here when posted.

Christ the King Sunday – November 25, 2018
John 18:33-37

This is a travel weekend for many people in our congregation, and as a result, our attendance is a bit lighter than usual, and since we have a more intimate gathering today, let’s get personal. So tell me: Who did you vote for?
I told you it was a personal question. We all learn early on that it is impolite to mix religion and politics in friendly conversation, and yet this morning’s text, St. John gives us both. Let us then listen together for the word of God as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter eighteen, verses thirty-three through thirty-seven.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

I want you to know that I am well aware of the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 amendment to Paragraph (3) of subsection (c) within section 501 of Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, of the U.S. Code that among other things, stipulates that people like me cannot stand in places like this and tell people like you how to vote. Pastors who do so risk jeopardizing the non-profit status of their congregations. However, I have decided that, to be frank, I do not care. I am tired of tiptoeing around, so by the end of this sermon, I will tell you exactly how disciples of Jesus Christ are to vote, and how the next vote you cast is so important, one that must be cast as though the world were at stake, because it is.

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Jesus in Jerusalem: Playing Faith vs. Living Faith

Audio is here.

8580408850_6d45ee21e6Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018
Mark 12:38-44

This past week witnessed two important historical anniversaries. One is what we celebrate today: the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, whose military and civilian dead and wounded totaled nearly 40 million. From 1918 until 1954, November 11 was known as Armistice Day and it marked the end of major hostilities in World War I. In 1954, November 11 became a day to honor all veterans of our armed forces.
The second major anniversary of the last week was the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which occurred on November 9 and 10 of 1938. Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany carried out by paramilitary forces and German civilians. The name Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, hospitals, buildings, and synagogues were ransacked and smashed with sledgehammers. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged. Additionally, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. It was the pogrom that was, in many ways, the beginning of the Holocaust.
Friends, I believe that these milestones serve as an invitation for us to make the important distinction that Jesus makes in our reading this morning from Mark, the distinction between attaching ourselves to symbols and committing ourselves to all the ideals those symbols represent.
In this morning’s text, Jesus has recently entered Jerusalem to be crucified, which means in the chronology of things, Palm Sunday has happened and Jesus is waiting for Good Friday. He is teaching in the Temple, and Mark tells us this in Chapter 12, verses 38-44. Let us listen together for the word of God.

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