Read Sermons Author: The Rev. Lisa Corry

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What would it take?

May 10, 2020

If someone were to ask you, what is it that would take away all the trouble in your heart? All that weighs it down or causes inward commotion. All that stirs anxiety - If someone came to you and asked what would it take to lift the trouble in your heart, what would you say? (Consulted work: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2)

It is a bit overwhelming to ponder. Partly because it simply seems impossible. Particularly now. A pandemic. Death. Grief that is complicated by social distancing, wellbeing also complicated by social distancing limitations. Fear. A dire financial situation. Anxiety…and more…

What do you need to not have a troubled heart? 

That is where our gospel reading begins today. Jesus is answering that question. In the narrative of John, just prior to this in chapter 13, Jesus had foretold his betrayal, washed their feet, spoken the new commandment to love one another, and told Peter, “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” 

Their hearts are heavy…troubled. There is more happening than they can understand, and they know it is bad personally and for everyone…a little like our feelings with covid-19. We do not understand it. It is bad for everybody. And it is bad for us personally.

Jesus does not frame this lifting of hearts with a question. We start with a bit of exhortation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” In the Greek, the word for heart is Kardia…cardia…like heart. But it is broader, not just referring to our physical heart. It is about the control center of life. All that makes us work (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).  Do not let your control center, where all comes together for the momentum of your daily life become troubled – become agitated, under commotion, anxious. 

That is a giant exhortation. 

After the exhortation, it is almost like there is a sentence missing, something like: I have got you. I have got what you need for this. 

Jesus is offering what we need to not have troubled hearts. 

We may picture crazy tangible generosity to be offered at this point…but no, that is not where this is going. 

The way to alleviate the heavy heart Jesus proclaims is to “believe in God, believe also in me.” What? 

If you listen for it, the word believe is used six times in our gospel reading today. That is a lot. In conversations with friends and those close to us, like in scripture. When something is said over and over, it is worth paying attention to – it is a theme.

Grief, Remembering, and Help from God

April 26, 2020

The Road to Emmaus…This is perhaps a familiar bible story. The gospel of Luke uniquely uses journey or going from place to place as a motif. Luke communicates narrative but uses journey as a literary device to emphasize theology, not history or geography.  

So, when we hear a journey as a part of the narrative, in Luke, it signals us to pay attention and to ask some questions about its deeper meaning. 

I appreciated what Bishop Benfield said about scripture Easter Day, he said that it is for then and there, but Scripture is also always for here and now – a message in our context, for us today.

In our reading, we have two people walking and Jesus joins them. They are some of the “rest” or “them” – followers of Jesus but not inner circle. They have likely been in Jerusalem for the Passover and quite aware of Jesus’ “hour” coming, though not understanding what it meant. 

So, they are going home. Like so many after the Passover. And they are shattered. Their hope is gone. Jesus is dead, some women have told a story about angels and an empty tomb but there is no body, no Jesus. 

They are grieving together. Talking as they walk, recounting what happened – as we often do with a tragedy. Today in our pandemic it would be something like, this is how the sickness started, this is when the ambulance came and no one could go with them to the hospital, this is when it all went south…remembering.

Remembering is a power thing. To remember is to re put together. It helps us. It helps us to picture it, to say it, to feel it, to know it. To make it real.

As they are remembering together, suddenly Jesus shows up and they do not recognize him. It could be a product of their grief on an emotional level. It could be as simple as being outside of their plausibility structure: Jesus is dead, so Jesus would not be here with us. Or could it be that for these two of the multitudes, Jesus was so draped and cloaked in their expectations of him that they really could not see him. 

Jesus walks up and hears them and says: what are you talking about? And Cleopas says, I imagine kind of rudely to…God: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place…?” Jesus answers: “What things?” In Greek, a single word: Poia

You are the Messiah, the Son of God

April 05, 2020

Palm Sunday. Lent has felt long and today we arrive at a tipping point. We move from Lent, maybe with this pandemic, the longest Lent of our lives, to the Passion week. 

I’ll confess, it’s tempting to connect this day and our texts to our own experiences – and make it about us. But, the fulcrum of this day demands we focus on Jesus and our need to respond to being saved.

We started today with Palms symbolizing celebration – the wonder and joy of welcoming Jesus as King into our midst. Then our gospel reading has taken us, beautifully through the chant from Jesus’ betrayal to his death and the plan of burial in the tomb.  

There’s so much. It’s kind of chaotic and full - and even the chant of the gospel for today serves to illustrate it. Even in that there is a bit of disconnect – the beauty of the sound and the intensity of the words. Into that you feed the abundance of content and minute descriptions in the narrative. It’s a lot.  

So much disjointedness, and chaos, and content…and pain.

Where do we begin? 

It tends to be helpful, when we can, to put ourselves in a context. Palm Sunday, as I said, serves as a tipping point into the Passion or Holy week. We refer to the Passion of Christ, the word passion from Latin is patior – meaning suffer. It is what Jesus endured for our redemption, our salvation (Saunders, William.    

Lent is the season that bids us to journey with Christ toward his suffering and death. Holy week – this week before Easter - puts a magnifying glass on Jesus’ last week – from entering Jerusalem, when everybody is so happy, to his death. The Passion of Christ. 

Today is an overload of important stuff. And it takes us through really the content of the entire narrative of focus from Maundy Thursday, where we typically think of Jesus’ washing the disciple’s feet, to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Prior to that we see in Holy week snapshots that help us dial into the reality of Jesus’ coming suffering.  

We begin to see scripture and church history converging in this practice of Holy week. Scripture shows us our reality, and church history bringing practices that help us take it in.

The Silent Exhortation of the Unnamed Man

March 22, 2020

Today we hear of a miracle, the man healed reflects to the Pharisees: “never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” 

This is a fascinating text and offers some things for us to us to chew on in this time of pandemic. We observe people who are not aware, people who are looking to solve by pointing the finger, and people who are afraid. Not unfamiliar to us in this time. 

This person, who experiences this profound healing, and is sought out by Jesus afterward, is never given a name in our narrative.  

I think this says something. Somehow it silently exhorts us. 

The opening is interesting. This man is blind from birth and the disciples want to know why. They frame their question by wondering to Jesus whose fault it is: “Rabbi,” they say, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  

Who sinned…well everybody. I can hear in some circles today similar thoughts about this pandemic. Whose fault is it? Did we sin and now God’s judgement?  

Jesus’ answer is interesting, He says: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” 

This pushes on our assumptions. We may read this to say: this person was born blind so that they could be healed, and God would be known. But that is not what this is saying. We can tend to put these together: healing means revelation of God or in contrast, no healing means no revelation of God. But that is not what is laid out. Our God is a God or revelation both within and through our limitations. Here, God would be revealed whether the man born blind received his sight or not. That’s just who God is. 

Why is this pandemic happening? We cannot pin that down. We are so limited as creatures. But in it, we can look for God’s works to be revealed.  

God’s works here are healing. This blind person, who has not seen Jesus is strangely healed through spit and mud and washing - and afterward their community, church leaders, and parents let them down.  

In the presence of God’s works being revealed, this person, who is never even given a name is let down. 

First his neighbors show that they do not even know who they are: is this the beggar? They say. No, it’s not the beggar. They do not recognize this person. Not because they look different because they can see, but because they have never noticed the one who needed help in their midst. Ouch. As this person responds to their questions, we begin to see this person’s journey to belief in Jesus. On this first round, they say “The man called Jesus” opened my eyes.  

The neighbors then bring the Pharisees to the person “formerly born blind,” and they respond with contempt toward this work of God. It has happened on the Sabbath. The Law has been broken. To them the person says the one who opened my eyes “is a prophet.” 

For this person Jesus has moved from being merely a man to be a prophet – a messenger of God.  

Then their parents are brought in and they cave under fear of personal consequence: there had already been agreement “that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. So, they say of their son, “ask him.”  

This person has encountered Jesus, is journeying in their faith, and is repetitively let down by those around them: people who do not pay attention, people who respond with contempt, people who cave under fear.  

It’s here the narrative circles back. We see that God has not only met with this person and helped them but is pursuing them. “Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him…”  -  Let’s not miss this. We see here how God relates to us: Jesus heard about this person…Jesus was paying attention. Listening. Aware. And further – Jesus found this person. Jesus looked for this person and found them. This brings out concepts we hear from our Psalm appointed for the day: The Lord is my Shepherd.  

The word picture of shepherd is prevalent in scripture. This was a familiar vocation then and there. People knew what it meant that God be shepherd to them. It means that God is with us, carries us, searches for us, sacrifices for us. 

And here we also see that God calls us to follow, to act. Jesus, upon finding this person says: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and remember – this is the first time this person has seen Jesus. Upon seeing and interacting they say: “Lord, I believe.” And they worship. This word for worship here implies that they fall to their knees or prostrate themselves. There is a full body reaction to this profession of faith. This person has moved from seeing Jesus as a Man, to a prophet, to the Savior. 

There are a couple of trains of thought for us to take away from this narrative of a person without a name that are pertinent in this time of pandemic.  

The first is reflection on who we are to people right now. The unspoken exhortation we see here is let’s care for each other even in this time of social distancing. Let’s call, text, FaceTime, skype each other. Let’s not buy out the stores but just buy what we need so there is enough for everybody. 

This person is not named. Let’s pay attention and notice and know who others are. Let us not be like this person’s neighbors who did not ever notice them before. They were someone in their midst but somehow unfamiliar.   

Further, let’s not respond with contempt for the happenings in the lives of others. Let us not label and demean.  

And let us not act out of fear but out of love. Let us advocate for each other and stand together with others during this time of crisis.  

Lastly, let us reflect on the truth of God’s nature and character: The Lord is our Shepherd. To each of us. God meets us and carries us when we need support. God is inconvenienced to care for us – God is listening and looking for us and finds us. God sacrifices to take care of us. 

Thank God for God’s presence and power and love.

Nic’s Invitation & Challenge

March 08, 2020

We heard in our gospel reading, some language that we do not often hear in our Episcopal setting. You must be born again. It may sound a bit Evangelical, perhaps even Fundamentalist…but low and behold, here it is…in the Bible. 

What do we do with it? 

It may make us uncomfortable or maybe it assures us… 

In our Epistle and our gospel reading today we hear repeated the words faith, works, righteousness, and belief. And in our Old Testament reading, we pretty much see all of these illustrated through Abram - And remember Abram and Abraham are the same person…A change of name is given by God just a few chapters later in Genesis to more accurately reflect that he is the father of many nations. We are also seeing Nicodemus illustrate these key words today – faith, works, righteousness, and belief - but he is moving more slowly and carefully. 

It appears that God tells Abram to go and Abram simply does. To a place he knows not. 

But in our gospel reading, we are introduced to Nicodemus. He is a pharisee. That tells us, he is educated, and values keeping the law and values making sure the law is practiced by others. He is described as a leader of the Jews. In contemporary terms, he is a respected businessman who is a leader in the community. 

Nic, we’ll call him, is a part of the movement that is offended by Jesus. The pharisees value law, exclusivity, and outer appearances that esteem works – things you do. Jesus, in his ministry, is demonstrating inclusivity, mercy and grace. There is tension, and it is growing. 

But somehow Nic is stirred, curious…and maybe afraid. If he begins to show interest or follow Jesus, it will cost him everything – his standing as a pharisee and as a leader in the community. 

There is a lot at stake. 

So, what does Nic do – he sneaks around. Not a very good role model, but perhaps a person who we resonate with. 

This is in steep contrast to the activation of Abram to go where he knows not. 

Here’s where it gets interesting and maybe comical – Nic’s interaction with Jesus. 

Nic, by what he says, shows his hand. He’s convinced God’s presence is with Jesus: “no one,” he says, “can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Notice he’s not asking a question. But Jesus, “answers” him. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

More Fully Confirmed

February 23, 2020

Transfiguration Sunday. Matthew tells us: “Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…”

Transfigured – Metamorphoo in the Greek – makes us think of metamorphosis…maybe a butterfly…literally to change to another form: caterpillar to butterfly – in that case unrecognizable in the change one to the other – in this case, recognizable, but more. In Luke’s account of this, instead of transfigured he says, “the appearance of his [Jesus’] countenance was altered.” 

But remember – both Luke and Matthew were not there. They are describing what they have heard – after some time went by – Peter, James, and John were “ordered” not to say anything about this until after the resurrection. Interestingly John, who was there, does not report this experience in his gospel. Maybe it was too personal? Maybe it’s simply, as Loisy asserts (Bromiley on Transfiguration), because John’s gospel is a “perpetual theophany” – a never ending revelation of God. 

What I love about the Bible is that is tells us crazy ungraspable things so casually. It’s almost like dinner time conversation: “Please pass the potatoes:” only Jesus was transfigured. So calm. So tidy. 

But this is crazy. I was reading in the Bromiley Encyclopedia on the Transfiguration. And it also asserts an understatement: this is a difficult passage. 

And here we are. 

The timing of this is so great – it’s the Sunday before Lent begins. We may find challenge, assurance, and umph for the Lenten season in this passage. 

Part of the fun of today’s readings is the conceptual overlap of the Old Testament and Gospel as well as the recollection we hear from 2 Peter. 

In Exodus Moses takes his assistant, Joshua, with him up a mountain for a 40 day and 40-night conversation with God. In the gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. 

Israel is on the brink of wandering in the desert for 40 years, Jesus’ followers are on the brink of witnessing Christ’s suffering and death. For both, they are on the edge of the unknown and unsure where it is going. This may stir us as we approach Lent.

Encouragement in Our Now from Mary & Joseph

February 02, 2020

Today we continue in our Epiphany season – seeing God’s revelation and affirmation of Christ – the reality of the Messiah arriving on the scene. 

What’s weird about this season of is that Jesus is a baby one week and an adult the next and then a baby again…The point is not to be linear but to show – which is really the definition of Epiphany – to show. 

There are things going on in our gospel reading today that serve as example to us. We are in a strange place globally and nationally and maybe personally – and so were Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna.

We, today, have a Senate impeachment trial – only the third time in our nation’s history has a president been charged by the House of Representatives and a Senate trial taken place. Republican or Democrat – this is hard and challenges ideas for us all about faith, character, commitment, and constitution – our very democracy. Leaders in these trial presentations are not always behaving really great. It leaves us asking some questions: is this who we are? what will become of us? Where are we going? 

We are at an historic moment as a nation that is challenging for each of us. 

Additionally, there is this coronavirus. An outbreak internationally that began in China and has a lot of unknown with it. In the vein of movies I have seen, this illness quickly has come to the place of being spread person to person. A little scary as we consider other historic outbreaks. 

Right now, watching the news is actually worse than most scary movies I have seen. 

I don’t mean to be dramatic about our “now.” I realize that in every generation there are those things that take place that can shake us to our core: politically, economically, ideologically.

But our national and international news is a bit core shaking these days.

On top of that, there is the tragedy of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and ripped apart with horrifying suddenness four other families. That intersects with us – the worse can happen to any of us at any time. It does not matter of you are rich or poor famous or unheard of – none of us gets a pass on suffering and death. We are all out of control. It’s just not something we are always aware of…

There is a Wildness to Baptism

January 12, 2020

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. We acknowledge, we honor, and we respond.

But what is this baptism thing? It is a sacrament and if I asked what a sacrament is, many of you, perhaps from your preparation for confirmation back in the day could spout it off. A sacrament is (and this is found in the catechism section of our Book of Common Prayer in page 857): “sacraments are outward signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” Simply put sacraments are things familiar to us that God uses to show God to us. 

In our contemporary culture baptism may be thought as something we do to babies and we go Awwww. And in our building lay out, we do it often a little clandestinely in the back corner. What’s going on back there anyway? 

Well, a lot. 

This bowl of holy water and little babies make baptism seem tame, but there’s a wildness to baptism, a recklessness, a danger to consider.   

The wildness comes as we take in all the angles of action going on. 

In our narrative this morning, the Trinity is uniquely present – Jesus – incarnate God, the Holy Spirit as a dove, and God the Father expressed through voice, speech. 

As we look at this, quite dramatic expression of the Trinity, let’s remember that Jesus is Savior, but also, that Jesus is also our model. He shows us how to live and informs our understanding of what is happening. So, a part of baptism for us now, today, is that the Trinity is expressing God. All of God present. All of God moving. 

The wildness comes as we consider God’s voice and the water. We heard in our gospel account: “just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” 

Just as he came up from the water. 

Historically, people were baptized more regularly as adults, and it was more regularly done as a full immersion – all of a person all the way under the water. Now, that changed over time, because of need and in response to culture. That’s the beautiful thing about liturgy – it is dynamic, not static. It changes in ways that are discovered with care in response to culture and crisis. The crisis of change with baptism was infant mortality. By illness and other factors, so, the sacrament of baptism began to be done with infants – because they might die.

Sacraments are familiar things…

The Scandal of the Incarnation

December 25, 2019

It’s Christmas morning. Whew. We made it! It was a late night for us potentially in a lot of ways – gathering to worship and preparing for celebrations. And a late night for those on the scene at the first Christmas: Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds. 

We like them may be a bit tired and fuzzy. 

It’s interesting to ponder what this morning was like for those on the scene in contrast to what it’s like for us and for the writers of the readings we have heard this morning – particularly Hebrews and John. 

We hear in our epistle this morning, written likely at least 60 years after Jesus’ birth: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” 

Speech. Words.  

This echoes the creation narrative of Genesis 1: God created. Over and over we hear from Genesis, “God said,” and our imagination goes to immediacy – poof - water, trees, sunlight, moon, stars, animals, people. God did not think, God did not wave a magic wand, God spoke and created. 

A big deal. A powerful deal. It’s a little hard to grasp in our day. Words unfortunately do not tend to be a big deal now, but in the then and there they carried weight, had authority, conveyed truth, and communicated the power to accomplish what they said.

We’ll come back to words.

Let’s consider those on the scene -

That first Christmas morning must have been a tired one. Mary and Joseph had a newborn. Jesus is God incarnate, become one of us. Incarnation. We hear that language in our gospel reading. Jesus is God incarnate, but that does not mean some definable percentage of human and divine was mappable in his person. Jesus was both, and his humanity was not compromised at all – he had likely already been breastfeeding, filling his diaper, crying and keeping his parents awake in their makeshift “room.” They were tired on this first Christmas morning.

The Darkness of Advent

December 01, 2019

Advent is here. The word advent means “coming.” And we hear that in our Isaiah reading – a bidding for people to come. And we hear of Jesus’ 2nd coming in our gospel reading. 

Come. Respond. Move toward something…but what? We hear at the end of our Isaiah passage: come to the light. 

In this time of year, it is dark. A lot. Maybe it’s dark when we go to work, and dark when we come home. It can affect our well-being, our energy. We can easily become inert and feel like its midnight and be shocked when we look at the clock and see its only 7 p.m. 

In the midst of this dark potentially inert time, Christmas is already around us. This past week – before Thanksgiving – Little Rock had the lighting of the Christmas tree downtown. This month will quickly become full – busy with food, parties, shopping, decorating. 

Into the short days and busy-ness we throw church into the mix: We’ve got the Christmas pageant – which many of our children have been diligently been preparing for. We’ve got music, which in the Episcopal tradition may feels odd to some, but can be so meaningful. We do not do Christmas songs before Christmas. It’s just too soon. And we’ve got the Advent wreath, which tonight, speaking of the bidding to come – come to our Advent event. Complementary dinner, Chris will help us understand this season and the meaning of the wreath. We’ll also have opportunity for wreath making for you to take home your own wreath, as well as ideas of how to practice Advent in the home. It is our great hope that this will be parish wide – families, young adults, not so young adults…everyone included. 

So, we’ve got darkness perhaps stress, and church that is a bit out of sync with culture. When we put all this together, maybe personally it just feels like, when will this be over? 

Jan Richardson in her Advent Devotional, Night Visions, helps us take stock a bit. Here’s what she says: 

“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before.  It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will.  That’s just how Advent works.  What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes by you.  And you begin to grasp what it was you missed…So, stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.  There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Our readings today around circle around ideas of darkness, light, and time.