That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Not an Equation (Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2022)

There is an old tradition in the church: on Trinity Sunday, rectors do their best to get someone else to preach. If they have a curate or associate priest, he or she gets the pulpit on that day. If not, they try to invite some old retired priest to fill in (as Rachel has done today). No one really wants to preach on Trinity Sunday, the only day of the Christian year given to the celebration or commemoration of a theological doctrine, mostly because theology is dull, dry, and boring to most people and partly because this particular theological doctrine is one most of us get wrong no matter how much we try to do otherwise.

We try in all sorts of ways to explain the Trinity, through diagrams, through analogies, through some really bad and usually silly similes and metaphors. Most such explanations are less than convincing, and virtually all are theologically problematic. As Brian McLaren has observed:

Seemingly orthodox Christians expose themselves—often to their own surprise—as closet adoptionists or Arians, unconscious Nestorians or Apollinarians, or implicit monophysitists or monothelitists.[1]

So I’m going to leave Christian theology behind for a moment and ask you a question from another religious tradition: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

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What Does This Mean? (Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022)

Come Holy Spirit, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
everywhere present and filling all things.
Treasury of Blessing, Giver of Life,
Come, dwell within us and between us… Amen.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples, “filled with the Holy Spirit” rushed out into the streets of Jerusalem “and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability,” proclaiming the Good News to the crowds of people in town for Shavuot and answering their inevitable questions.[1] Jesus had told them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”[2] The Spirit, as Jesus promised, had reminded them and empowered them, and now here they were.

Scholars and preachers go through all sorts of hermeneutical contortions to interpret this event as some sort of reversal or overcoming of the linguistic scattering of the nations at the Tower of Babel. I suppose that’s why our lectionary pairs that Genesis story with the reading from the Book of Acts, but I don’t think that’s what Luke, the author of Acts, was trying to convey. I’m always left wondering, “If that’s what he was trying to put across, why didn’t he just say that?”

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As Long As It Takes (Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, RCL Year C), 6 March 2022

Lord God,
We ask you to hold the people of Ukraine deep in your heart.
Protect them, we pray; from violence,
from political gamesmanship,
from being used and abused.

Give, we pray, the nations of the world the courage
and the wisdom to stand up for justice
and the courage, too, to dare to care generously.

Lord, in your mercy, take from us all the tendencies in us
that seek to lord it over others:
take from us those traits
that see us pursuing our own needs and wants
before those of others.

Teach us how to live in love and dignity and respect
following your example,
that life may triumph over death,
and light may triumph over darkness. Amen. [1]

The Pope’s message for Lent is a poignant one, beginning with an acknowledgement that “going to some small extent without food [may not seem to] mean much, at a time when so many of our brothers and sisters are victims of war … and are undergoing such suffering, both physically and morally.” Nonetheless, insisted His Holiness, “Lent must mean something,” and he urged all Christians to focus on “the common heritage of humanity.”[2]

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Resolutions of the Magi: Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, 2 January 2022

National Cathedral Creche

So, did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I usually make three: lose weight, get more exercise, eat more healthily. I make them every year and every year by about Valentine’s Day I’ve let them slip. But this year I’m making a different resolution….

I did some research into the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions and here’s what I learned: the people of what’s called “the Old Babylonian Empire” are believed to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions; this was around the time of Hammurabi, the king known for his code of law. They celebrated the new year in mid-March, at the spring equinox when crops are planted. During a twelve-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians made both national and personal resolutions reaffirming their loyalty to the king, recommitting to pay any debts, and promising to return any farm equipment they had borrowed.[1]

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The Great Commandments: What’s Love Got to Do with It? – Sermon for RCL Proper 26B (Pentecost 23: 31 October 2021)

When my nephew, who’s now in his mid-40s, was about six years old, he was given a homework assignment that he found frustrating and he just didn’t want to finish it, but his mother made him sit down and do it rather than something else more to his liking. In his frustration, he blurted out, “I hate you!” My late sister-in-law responded calmly, “That’s too bad because I love you.” After a moment of reflection, my nephew amended his angry outburst: “I love you, too,” he said, “but I don’t like you right now.”

In the field of linguistic anthropology there is a theory called “cultural emphasis,” which postulates that if a particular topic is of importance to a society, that will be reflected in that culture’s vocabulary. If there are many words to describe that topic, then there is a good chance that that topic is considered important; the greater the number of terms, the greater the subject’s importance. Often this is particularly true of terms pertaining to livelihood, such as methods of food production, or to the weather.

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That’s Not How It Works – Sermon for 26 September 2021, 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21B

I really don’t like television commercials, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that regard. It’s a common complaint; we all talk about how much we dislike TV advertising. We all subscribe to Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services so we can avoid them. And yet, sometimes a particularly memorable advertisement tag-line will worm it’s way into one’s regular conversation. My step-father had one of those: whenever my mother made anything even slightly piquant he would say, “Mama mia, that’s a spicy meatball,” which some of you may recognize from an old Alka-Seltzer commercial.[1]

Another one that ended up in America’s political lexicon was Clara Peller’s famous question in a Wendy’s ad: “Where’s the beef?”[2]

My wife and I picked one up a few years ago from a commercial for the on-line auto insurer Esurance. Sometimes when we see someone doing something particularly bone-headed, one of us will turn to the other and say, “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”

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On Not Catching a Poem

On Not Catching a Poem

A poem is a hard thing to catch
You must be in the right place
At the right time
With the right equipment
Driving in your car
On a summer afternoon
When the poem crosses your path
Limping like a black cat
Crossing the hot tarmac
That’s just not the right time
Or place
Or equipment
And the poem gets away
Again

–– C. Eric Funston, 6 June 2021

“Heroes” – Sermon for Sunday, May 30, 1999 (Trinity Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend)

A book entitled Stories for the Heart was published a few years ago by inspirational speaker Alice Gray. It is a compilation of what Gray calls “stories to encourage your soul;” one of them is the following story, whose original author she says is unknown. It may not be true, but I (for one) hope it is:

It was a few weeks before Christmas 1917. The beautiful snowy landscapes of Europe were blackened by war. The trenches on one side held the Germans and on the other side the trenches were filled with Americans. It was World War I. The exchange of gunshots was intense. Separating them was a very narrow strip of no-man’s land. A young German soldier attempting to cross that no-man’s land had been shot and had become entangled in the barbed wire. He cried out in anguish, then in pain he continued to whimper.

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“Chance and Truth” – Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, June 4, 2000

In today’s Gospel, we are again in that long discourse from John’s Gospel which Bible scholars call “The High Priestly Prayer.” We’ve heard various parts of this prayer throughout the Easter Season. In this part of the prayer, Jesus asks of the Father, on behalf of the disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”[1]

We might well ask, as Pilate would soon ask, “What is truth?”[2] And we might also ask why Jesus makes this particular prayer….

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“God’s Abundance: A Snack Food Theology” – Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter (May 28, 2000: Memorial Day Weekend), Lectionary Year B

Monday being “Memorial Day,” this weekend, in the traditions of our country, we are remembering and celebrating those who have fought on behalf of, and given their lives for, the United States. In the traditions of the church today, we are celebrating something called “Rogation Sunday,” on which we give thanks for the abundance of the earth and ask God’s blessings upon agricultural pursuits, upon the fields and the herds. I’d like to read you a story about giving thanks for abundance. It is from the Paul Harvey radio program.

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