Category Archives: Recent Sermons

Recent Sermons at Incarnation

God: The Obsessive-Compulsive Party Host

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

In today’s Gospel story, we find the Son of God hanging out with folks from “the wrong side of the tracks.” The Bible refers to them somewhat cryptically as “tax collectors and sinners.” Perhaps it would be more meaningful if we referred to them as “collaborators, swindlers, partyers, and prostitutes.” The Pharisees and the scribes, the devout churchgoers of their day, don’t approve! So, Jesus uses this situation as a teaching moment. And he tells the Pharisees and scribes two teaching stories about the nature of God.

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The first story is addressed to the men who are present. In the Greek, the parable literally begins with these words: “Which man among you…?” Jesus poses a situation in which a shepherd owns 100 sheep and one gets lost. Jesus then  asks a rhetorical question of his audience: Wouldn’t they leave behind the 99 sheep to seek the one lost sheep? Wouldn’t they be so overjoyed when they found it that they would carry the sheep home on their shoulders and then throw a party for the guys next door? The way the question is posed, the expected answer is surely, “Yes, we would!” But let’s stop and look at the parable before we commit ourselves, because I think Jesus is tricking us! Realistically speaking, what shepherd in his right mind would abandon 99 defenseless sheep in the wilderness to seek out one stray? It doesn’t make a bit of sense. Unless there is some assistant shepherd that we don’t know about, why would anyone risk 99% of their savings to recoup the loss of 1%? So, if Jesus’ audience had had time to consider the implications, they just might have said, “No, we would not abandon the 99 sheep to seek the one that was lost—that’s crazy talk!”

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Division in a Time of Crisis

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In 1939, Winston Churchill gave a famous speech about Russia that included the following phrase: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” The same could be said about today’s Gospel reading! Here we have Jesus Christ, Son of God and Prince of Peace, telling us that he has not come to bring peace to the earth, but rather division. He goes on to describe how even families will be divided because of him. What are we to make of this? Well, as Winston Churchill said, “Perhaps there is a key.” And I think that the key is the word “crisis.”

In English, “crisis” connotes a time of catastrophe, a time when everything is going very wrong. But the English word “crisis” derives from a Greek word that has a somewhat different meaning. That Greek word means “a moment of judgment” or “a time of decision.”

The terrible division that Jesus describes is not something that he particularly wants to take place; it is something that he knows will take place in response to the Gospel. He came to bring Good News to the earth, and yet Jesus knows very well that many people will reject his teaching. Today, just as on every Sunday, we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed, and we are presented with a moment of judgment, a time of decision, a personal crisis. Will we side with Jesus Christ, or will we side with the world?

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Well, folks, this entire nation is facing a crisis. As a people, we are faced with a moment of judgment, a time of decision. Every day, we all must ask ourselves, “Whose side am I really on?” The psalm today reminds us of God’s commitment to the vulnerable people of the world. He says, “Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.” What God does not say is to support the politically powerful, to defend the mighty, to give tax breaks to the rich. He just doesn’t! God is primarily concerned with those in need. The rich and powerful have already had their reward.

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There Is Need of Only One Thing

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

This week a preacher is presented with an embarrassment of riches. Each of the readings deserves a sermon of its own. But, considering the state of affairs here at church, I have decided to preach on the story of Martha and Mary.

The story is short. The plot is simple. But the moral of the story is annoyingly ambiguous. Consequently, biblical interpreters throughout the last two millennia have proposed a wide variety of interpretations.

The Church Fathers were fond of allegorical interpretations. One Church Father explained the story of Martha and Mary as an allegory contrasting the contemplative life (represented by Mary) with active life in the world (represented by Martha). He thought that this story was included in the New Testament to encourage Christians to abandon life in the world for life in a monastery.

With all due respect to the Church Fathers, I think I might prefer a more literal interpretation! So let’s take a closer look at this story of a dinner party gone wrong.

Jesus arrives at an unnamed village and is welcomed by Martha into her home. Her sister Mary then sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to his teaching. Already we know that the women of this family don’t feel bound by custom. For according to custom, Jesus should have been welcomed by a male family member. And Mary should have been in the kitchen, preparing the meal.

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But the violation of custom is not the real problem here. The problem is that Martha is going crazy trying to prepare a banquet for their distinguished guest, and Mary isn’t helping. Martha suspects that her sister won’t listen to her, so she tries to get a third party (in this case, Jesus) to take her side in this family dispute. (Nowadays, we have a word for this little trick, triangulation.)

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God Is Not Mocked

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Today is my 60th birthday, and I just came back from a weeklong vacation. So you might think that you would get a happy and relaxed sermon. Sorry! This sermon was written before my vacation, when pictures of drowned immigrants were still fresh in my mind.

In the Epistle appointed for today, St. Paul warns the Galatians: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” I hope to God that the leaders of this nation, most of whom call themselves Christian, remember this warning. Desperate immigrants, who are tired of living in tent cities in Mexico, are drowning trying to find a place of refuge, a place of safety, for themselves and their children. They are dying of dehydration in the desert trying to escape the Hell they live in back home. They are willing to shred their flesh on barbed wire fences to get to this Promised Land. And the joking response of our President is that “the country is full.” “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked!”

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The Collect of the Day that we prayed at the start of this service states: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” Well, folks, desperate Salvadorans are our neighbors. Desperate Hondurans are our neighbors. Desperate Guatemalans are our neighbors. Most of these would-be refugees are Christians, to boot. And as St. Paul reminds us, we are supposed to “work for the good of all, especially for those of the family of faith.”

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Three in One, and One in Three

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bible Readings

Today is Trinity Sunday, and this principal feast is a bit of an anomaly. For it doesn’t commemorate an event or a person, but a doctrine, namely, the doctrine of the Trinity. Stating the doctrine of the Trinity is simple enough: “We believe on one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, however, is not so simple. You don’t need a degree in mathematics to see the fundamental paradox: we Christians say that we believe in one God; but when asked the Name of our God, we enumerate three separate persons, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

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A fuller statement of the doctrine may be found in the Athanasian Creed. It states: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible.” (To which one might add, this whole Creed is incomprehensible!)

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Using the Promised Gifts

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Day of Pentecost, and it’s an important day in the Episcopal Church for a variety of reasons. For one thing, today is one of only seven “principal feasts” in the liturgical calendar; these so-called principal feasts outrank all other celebrations or commemorations. For another, today is widely considered to be the “birthday of the Church.” (Of course, one can make a good case that the Church was born when Jesus called his first disciple.) Today also has the distinction of being one of four “baptismal feasts” on which baptisms, or the renewal of baptismal vows, are appropriate. In any case, one thing everyone can agree on is that it is a day to “pull out all the stops.”

Now, let’s move on to the appointed readings for the day. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, recounts the story of that first Pentecost, when the disciples encounter wind and fire and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They miraculously find themselves able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in languages that they do not know. The heart of their message to the crowd is found in the very last line of the reading: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So far as we know, this miraculous gift of tongues did not remain with the disciples, but even so, they were not left bereft of spiritual gifts.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he reminds the Christians in Rome that the Spirit of God continues to lead and guide the faithful, so that they can live as God’s children are meant to live in the world, with courage and with confidence. He reminds his readers that in a real sense it is not they who pray but the Spirit of God who prays with, and through, them.

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Then, we come to John’s Gospel, which somewhat confusingly  takes us back in time to the Last Supper, before the disciples had even received the gift of the Holy Spirit. There, Jesus makes this promise to his disciples: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” Now, that word “advocate” is a bit problematic. Every time I hear it, I think of a trial lawyer. But that is not exactly the kind of advocate that Jesus is speaking about. What he means is that the Father will send someone who will stand by the disciples throughout the trials and tribulations of this world. That someone is, of course, the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes on to promise that the Spirit of God will continue to teach the disciples long after Jesus has returned to the Father and will guide them further and further into Divine Truth.

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One Church, One Nation, One World under God

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today, we find ourselves in that liminal period between the Ascension and Pentecost, and in the Gospel reading, we look back at Jesus’ prayer for the Church, given at the Last Supper.

That Jesus is praying for the unity of the Church is clear enough. But the language that Jesus uses isless clear. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…. [May they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” At first hearing, it sounds an awful lot like a line from a song by the Beatles: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” But that’s where the similarity ends. Jesus’ words are of the utmost importance for the Church and for the world—the Beatles’ words, not so much!

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Now, Jesus’ call for unity has been taken seriously by the Church right from the very start. Unity is, after all, one of the four “marks of the Church” mentioned in the Nicene Creed, along with holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. Of course, just because the Church takes unity seriously does not mean that the Church has done a very good job of maintaining it. It hasn’t. Christian history is filled with schisms and disagreements. In fact, Christians can’t even agree on the definition of unity!

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Of Codfish and Commandments

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Every culture in every age categorizes some foodstuffs as too disgusting to eat. Often, it is the case that the foodstuffs that are rejected are the delicacies of another people. When I was in Portugal recently, I was told that salted codfish, octopus, and barnacles are particularly beloved of the Portuguese. Call me squeamish, but even if I weren’t a vegetarian, I don’t think I would want to eat any of those items! Well, the Jews of the first century also categorized certain foods as disgusting filth. And for them the food laws were not unwritten, social norms, but actual written laws. Certain foods were considered filth, and the people who ate them, namely the Gentiles, were also considered filth. And you know what happens when you touch filth, you get dirty!

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So imagine the shock and horror of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem when they heard that Peter had polluted himself by eating filthy food with filthy people. As we heard today, Peter had a vision in which God declared filthy foods to be clean and fit to eat. Peter took this as a sign that the filthy people who ate such foods had now been declared clean by God himself. In other words, part of the Torah had been abrogated! When Peter was summoned to the house of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, he witnessed the members of the household responding to the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter then instructed them in the faith and baptized them on the spot.

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When Peter told his story to the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who had called him to account, their criticism was silenced. And they acknowledged that God had done a new and astounding thing: he had extended salvation to the non-Jewish peoples of the world, something previously unimaginable. So, while it is St. Paul who deserves credit for extending the Christian mission to Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire, it is St. Peter who deserves credit for first discerning that God had torn down the wall separating the People of God from the Gentile peoples of the world.

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Of Shepherds and Sheep and Multitudes in White

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Bom dia! And in case you didn’t understand that, it means “good morning” in Portuguese. As you may know, I just spent two weeks in Portugal on vacation. I had a great time, but I’m glad to be back home!

Today is unofficially referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The reason is pretty obvious. We get references to lambs, sheep, and shepherds in the Collect of the Day and in three out of four of today’s appointed readings. (The first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles is the sole exception.)

The purpose of this set of readings is to drive home the point that Jesus is the good shepherd of God’s people. For country folk, this statement might not need much explanation. But for us city folk, this seemingly simple idea needs more clarification, I think.

With apologies to St. Peter, I am going to skip right over his miracle in the Acts of the Apostles and begin with the appointed psalm, Psalm 23. This is the one psalm that most people can quote, even if only partially. And because of its promise of consolation, it is the favorite psalm at Christian funerals. The problem with this psalm is that we have heard it so many times that we don’t pay attention to it anymore. And we really ought to pay close attention to the very first line: “The Lord is my shepherd.” This verse is, in effect, a pledge of allegiance—not to the flag of our country, but to our God. When we recite that line, we declare where our ultimate loyalty lies. Above our dedication to any sports teams, above our commitment to any political party, above our patriotism to our homeland, we Christians vow to follow the Lord, just as sheep follow a shepherd.

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Painfully Preparing for Joy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Palm Procession Gospel

Passion Gospel

Today, Holy Week begins, and by a quirk of liturgical history, we get the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem juxtaposed with St. Luke’s account of the Suffering of the Christ. For this reason, today is given two names in the prayer book: Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion (or as we would say in modern English, “the Sunday of the Suffering”).

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This dual nature of Palm Sunday bothers some people. They rightly point out that it is redundant to read one Passion narrative on Palm Sunday and another on Good Friday. A few churches have gone so far as to omit the reading of the Passion Gospel on this day. But this first, shorter reading of the Passion does serve a couple of useful purposes. First, it reminds us that we humans are fickle. For the very same crowds that acclaimed Jesus as their Messiah, later shouted for his crucifixion. Second, this first reading sets the tone for the week ahead; it serves as a sort of “preview of coming attractions,” if you will. And the coming attractions are many!

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