A Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 13, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

The other week, I got home from work and saw my neighbor in their front yard with his kids. I went over to say hello and ask the usual “How are things,” but our relationship is beyond the evasive, “fine thanks, how are you”. We usually cut straight to it, the good and the bad, wasting no time on pleasantries. So, I asked, “How are things,” and he said “Ehhh, not great. I don’t really know what my relationship with Christianity is anymore…” Huh. I figured I had two options. Lean in, or lean out. Ask the follow up question, or pretend to suddenly get an important phone call and scurry away. I love this neighbor so much, and am invested in their general wellbeing, so I leaned in with a gentle “Tell me more,” a phrase I learned from the brilliant author Kelly Corrigan.

He went on to share that he was so overwhelmed with life, the constant grind of paying the bills and raising the kids and keeping food on the table and balancing a demanding job with a difficult personal life. And when he tried to look outside himself for some signs that things weren’t all that bad, all he saw was a world at war, mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, continued refusal to acknowledge that our society treats people differently based on how they look or where they live, and this deeply unsettling division growing between political parties.

He said, Why does it feel like the world is getting worse? And how can I believe in a God that lets this all happen?

On the one hand, some of you might be thinking “How depressing. Life’s not that bad.” On the other hand, others of you might be thinking “How wonderful. I’m not the only one!” Whether you are in that place right now or not, I think we’ve all asked these same questions. I know I have. Most days we might be able to push through and focus on the here and now, but every once and while, we all reach that point of overwhelm with our own circumstances or the condition of our nation and our world, and, like my neighbor, are left with the paralyzing question: God, how could you let this happen? Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket, as grandma always said? Do you even care?

With these questions and that conversation with my neighbor in the back of my head, I’ve sort of stumbled around the past ten days, beginning to wonder if we are a part of some crazy new phase in the world’s timeline. Are things are finally getting so bad that Jesus is like, “Alright alright, alright, I’ll come back now.” I joked about it with a wise, old friend, and she responded “Oh honey, we’re not all that special. This isn’t anything that hasn’t happened before”

At first I was like “you’re not hearing my pain or being attentive to my truth and you’re really just making excuses so you don’t have to be a part of the work to make this world a better place”. Why yes, I am a millennial, if that sentence didn’t give it away. But in all seriousness, I did keep thinking about her response, it challenged me in some unexpected way, and then I fell into the gospel passage for today in which Jesus essentially just says to some of his followers “Bad things are coming”.

He goes on to describe what that might look like. For instance, wars, and uprisings, and divisions, and widespread sickness, and natural disasters, and hate. Sounds familiar. And on the one hand, that could seem unsettling, Jesus sort of listing the exact calamities ahead, like he’s predicting them. But it actually felt like a huge comfort to me, and maybe to his followers, to see Jesus acknowledging that life comes with some big, scary things, to hear him naming that reality, and moreover, that he wasn’t all that surprised.

And with my friend’s comment and Jesus’s words I realized the profound gift of remembering that no, we are not special and no, the things we’re facing aren’t anything new. God has seen everything under the sun. There’s literally nothing that could shock God.

And there is such relief in this, because we can acknowledge that yes, life can get hard. Bad things happen. But while we might be largely unprepared to handle them, God is not. God is a seasoned pro, at the ready, sincere in his understanding of us and unwavering in his presence with us, right? God can relate to us in our difficulties with solidarity, because God actually lived a life as one of us. God came to us as Jesus and took on flesh, and in doing so God also took on pain, and suffering, and a human death, God lived a life and in doing so said,, “I’m experiencing this with you, and I understand you. And I will always be here with you.”

There is this video by Brene Brown that I just love and sent around to our pastoral care teams recently. Brene talks about the difference between having sympathy versus empathy. At one point she says empathy is when someone’s kind of in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom and they say “I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed,” and then we look and we say “Hey, I’ll come down, I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone”. Whereas sympathy is like peering over the edge of the hole and saying “oh its bad. Yeah, no. you want sandwich?

This is such a helpful way of orienting how we approach others who are in hard times. As I spoke with my neighbor, I tried to channel Brene and remember to climb down in the hole, not peer from the outside with unhelpful and distanced comments. And the more I’ve thought about Brene’s video this week, and her genius perspective on how we can orient ourselves to others, the more I’ve realized that it’s not all that unlike how God orients Godself to us. Instead of peering at us from above, thinking “oh yeah, that’s bad. I’m out.” God climbed down to us, breaching the distance between us, by becoming a vulnerable human like us.

So when we are faced with life’s tragedies, and we reach the point of overwhelm, and we question if God even cares, we can rest assured that God is with us. That is the mystery and the beauty of the incarnation. And maybe it’s not only about how God is oriented towards us, but it can serve as a model for how we are oriented towards one another. Leaning in, not out. Climbing down into that hole, not simply peering from above.

Now is there more going on here than just God being with us in hard times? Absolutely. Don’t hear me wrong and think I’m limiting God’s involvement in our lives to just that of a good friend. And we are turning the corner towards Advent and will get to cover lots more about all the implications of God coming to us as a baby and that baby being Jesus, the savior of the world. But for today, maybe it’s enough rest in the simple yet radical reality that we have a God who fully understands us, fully loves us, and promises that we never have to be alone.

Amen

 

A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 2, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

 

Have you ever had that experience of walking into the middle of a conversation and trying to act like you know what’s being talked about, but really having no idea what’s going on? You try to pick up on context clues but you’ve obviously missed something fundamental in order to keep up. Today’s passage from Luke sort of feels like that to me. We begin with “the apostles said to the Lord, let our faith increase” and we can try and push some meaning out of that , but really, we’ve only got the second half of the conversation here. It’s as if I opened the parish hall door in the middle of the adult forum and heard you all say to David “Increase our faith” or “help us believe” and then he gave this funny parable type response. Instead of explaining what I think may have happened to the person next to me, I think I’d initially ask, “wait, what did I miss? What did David just say first to make you all then ask for more faith?”

So, what did we miss here, in Luke, what did Jesus say to then get that response from the apostles, because this doesn’t make a whole of sense otherwise… Well, in the verses just prior, the part of the conversation that we missed, he challenged them to forgive, not just once, but over and over again. He essentially said, “If someone sins against you, even if it’s seven times in a day, but is repentant, if they’re sorry and see the wrong they’ve done, you must forgive them.”

Knowing what Jesus has just charged them with, I actually find their response so hilarious and relatable. “Did he just ask us to repeatedly forgive the very person who keeps pushing our buttons and driving us to the edge of insanity. Whew, Lord help us! Increase our faith! Cause there is nothing left inside me that can forgive them even one more time.” The apostles are probably thinking that Jesus’ expectations are impossibly high and are acutely aware that, on their own, they just can’t. So they beg that Jesus to give them the faith they need to believe that what he’s asking can be done.

Now it may not be the task of forgiveness, but I bet that most of us have been faced with challenges from scripture and the sayings of Jesus, or from our prayers with God, or even from our church life, that seem impossibly high to meet. Maybe the idea of praying for your enemies seems literally impossible because of the amount of pain that they’ve caused you, or maybe it’s the idea of giving of your own time, and energy, and resources in this season of stewardship and thanksgiving, because you’d really rather preserve what you have left after the last 2 and a half years. Or maybe, like me, it’s trying to follow the practice of sabbath, of rest, that I know Jesus so desperately wants me to cultivate. The idea of having to regularly find a day to slow down and release control to God is enough to make me cry out “Lord, increase my faith”. Jesus, help me out. How am I supposed to measure up because what you’re asking of me seems impossible.

When the apostles responded to Jesus, he of course gave them a strange answer in return. Jesus said that if they had faith the size of a tiny seed, that would be enough to make a tree uproot itself and be planted in the ocean. Now at first, it might sound like he’s rebuking them, like “If only you had an ounce of faith, you’d be able to do what I asked of you”. But I’d like to suggest that he’s really saying “friends, you have all the faith you need”.  They ask for more because they are worried they can’t do what Jesus has asked them to do, but  I think Jesus wants them to understand that he isn’t asking for some mountainous sized faith, they have all the faith they need.

Faith actually is not something quantifiable, anyway. You can’t chart it on a graph or understand it in terms of net gain or net loss. Instead, faith looks like offering up whatever energy or effort or trust that they can muster and believing that God is able and willing to take that and do what once seemed impossible. Are they actually capable of forgiving someone who has hurt them over and over and over? Well, yes, but not because of something that they found deep within themselves, but because God can take the seed of belief within them, the part of them that is willing to even try, and is able to do something powerful and good, what would have been impossible on their own.

It might sound cliché, but it was true for them and it’s true for you and me today, that God takes what hope and trust we can muster, our tiny act of faith, and helps it become something more powerful that we could even imagine. And this should challenge how we think of faith because so often we want to quantify it in some unhelpful and untrue way, and this should relieve us of the shame that we’ve been carrying for too long because we have told ourselves some lie like we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t good enough Christians.

Instead, Jesus reminds us that we have all the faith that we need to get going, because faith looks a lot like just showing up and being open to God and to God’s faithfulness to us. And when I think of how that plays out in the lives of this church community, I think of the mornings that some of our parents find that extra twenty minutes to tune into the Sunday morning livestream, even though the kids have to be at 27 different places that day, and the dog threw up on the carpet, and they honestly haven’t felt God’s nearness in quite some time. But they still show up and find a renewed sense of strength in their lives.

Or I think about those of us reaching out for the help we need, barely making it to that support group or appointment or making that phone call to a friend, even when we’re pretty sure we are the only ones to have ever dealt with this and there’s no way God loves us anymore anyway. And little by little, God breaks through in God’s faithfulness, helping us see the grace to get to tomorrow.

If I’m being honest, faith for me today looked like getting in this pulpit and offering up these words to you, even when I’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week like Alexander in the most relatable children’s book to come out of the 1970s, and I trust that God will use something here to do some kind of good work in somebody’s life.

And faith that looks like all of that that I just described, friends, is faith enough, most days. Because yes, Jesus asks some pretty big things of us, like forgiveness and rest and prayer and trust, but Jesus never meant for us to get there on our own. Instead, he shows us that our single seed of belief, our one step towards God, is always returned by God’s abundant faithfulness to us, and together, that is how the impossible gets done. Amen.

 

A Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, September 4, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

 

The other week, I went on vacation for a few days to the beach, and one of my favorite parts of going to the beach is visiting those cute local shops that have so much charm. So I was strolling around with a cup of coffee and stepped into a little bookstore, and as I was poking around the nick knacks and shelves, I came upon a section marked “Self-Help, Spirituality, Christianity”. I’m always curious about the Christianity section of bookstores and what authors they keep in stock, and I often see Christianity and Spirituality combined. That makes sense to me. But this addition of the Self-Help genre caught me off guard for a second.

I sort of stared at it, and thought about it, then had this sudden urge to say to anyone walking by “Wait, these aren’t the same. At all!” Now don’t worry, I was able to refrain from any kind of sidewalk preacher behavior or public embarrassment. But, since then, I’ve still been thinking about that moment, and I’ve kind of mourned this amalgamation of Self-Help and Christianity, because… they aren’t the same.

They’re almost opposite, really, because the story of Christianity is honestly a story about how self-help failed. We as humans were unable to save ourselves or will our way to God. That’s kind of the whole point of Jesus as Savior, Messiah. But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that our story is about how God helped us. We, my self-first included, big time, still try to help ourselves, to will ourselves to be better, to recreate ourselves and our story, apart from God, the true author of our lives. I mean, the amount of times I’ve started a new year, or decided to turn over a new leaf, and thought “This time I’ll read the right book, or I’ll listen to the right podcast, and I’ll finally make some good decisions for myself, and be better, and dig myself out of this hole.”

Read more

A Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 14, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

 

At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been on the road, doing his ministry through teaching and healing, and pointing time and time again to the coming kingdom of God. So far, he’s healed dozens of folks from all sorts of sufferings and sicknesses, answered questions about fasting and the sabbath and finances, and forgiven the sinful and the broken. Jesus has been hard at work devoting every moment, every action, and every word to bringing about God’s healing love to a hurting world.

In our passage today, he’s speaking just to his disciples, and to address the obvious, Jesus seems angry. His tone and message come across as harsh. But when I remember all that he’s done and everywhere he’s been, I remember that he has put his entire life, literally, into the work of the Kingdom of God at this point. And he really wants his disciples and his followers to start getting it. To actually get on board. So, I wonder if he’s actually impassioned here, and not angry. What if the tone comes from a place of caring so deeply about his people and his mission that he can’t help but let it flow out in this big emotional way? I sense an intensity, an urgency, as he’s trying to stress just how significant his mission is.

It makes sense that he would be overcome with such passion here, because there isn’t much more time until he takes that final road to Jerusalem and completes his earthly ministry. Yes, so much has already happened, but so much more is coming. And that is what he wants to talk to them about now. This is his time to prepare them for what is coming.

Read more

A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 31, 2022

By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector

 

There are a few topics which our culture considers “off limits”, like for dinner conversation with new friends or at family gatherings. Politics, religion, money. But it’s funny, isn’t it, that some of our least favorite conversation topics seem to be Jesus’s favorites. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches and preaches and prays about those very things like politics and money that make us so uncomfortable. Like in our scripture today. With little obscurity, Jesus talks about greed, about money, about possessions. And while I can’t speak for you all, I found it a little uncomfortable. In part because it’s felt personal, and in part because it was challenging. Is Jesus really asking me to give up my inheritance, or my retirement account? Am I supposed to feel bad for having things? What is Jesus really saying to us here?

Looking at the passage, the younger brother asks Jesus to get involved with his family business. He wants his brother to divide the inheritance with him, and this actually seems pretty reasonable. Wanting to split the family money evenly is a decent way to handle things, but for some reason it sets Jesus off into parable mode. Well, if we look back at the context of the time, we can start to see why. At the time, it was customary for the eldest son to be responsible for the estate, and he did this with the family inheritance. Younger brothers were allowed to have portions of the estate, but the eldest always received more, because he was in charge of more, and supposed to keep things going for future generations to live off of. So, the more the younger brother takes, the less the older brother has to handle the needs of the land and the larger family. Based on that reality, the younger brother starts to look a little less reasonable and a little more greedy…since he’s concerned with his own welfare, over and above anyone else.

To warn the younger brother about the consequences of such a mindset, Jesus tells the story of the landowner whose fields produced abundant crops, so much that they required whole new storage facilities. Things were so good that he was taken care of not only for the present moment, but for the future, and what else was there to do but eat, drink, and be merry. Once again, that seems pretty reasonable. Work hard, play hard. You earned it. But Jesus doesn’t call this man a fool because he worked hard and had savings to show for it. No, Jesus calls him out because of how he thinks about and uses this money, this good fortune.

Read more