Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sermon: “Superman-tle”, 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21/2 Kings 2:1-6, 11-14 (June 26, 2022)


In the scant free time that Nick and I have in common these days, we’ve been working our way through all of the CW superhero shows on Netflix. We’ve finished “Green Arrow” and caught up on “The Flash”. Now we’re on the second season of “Supergirl”. I thought I knew the basics of most of the main superheroes, but it turns out that I didn’t really know much about Supergirl. Apparently, the premise of the original comics was slightly different from the TV series, but the basic idea is the same: Supergirl is Superman’s cousin, whose parents also sent her to Earth because of Krypton’s imminent destruction.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A Personal Plea Following the 6/24 SCOTUS Decision

Have you ever felt like your body was an enemy? Like it was working against you and you had no control over it? 

I have.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Sermon: "Ring, Ring", Psalm 139:1-10/Romans 8:28-30, 35-39 (June 19, 2022 - Rev. TJ Remaley's Installation)


I’m going to take this opportunity to admit something that many of you may have already noticed by now: I am willing to go to great lengths in order to avoid preaching at Presbytery events. I’m not entirely sure why; it started because I hate having to come up with multiple sermons in one week, but at this point it’s as much about keeping my streak going as it is about anything else. However, when my good friend TJ asked me to preach on this important day, I said, “UGGGGGH, FINE!!” (which, you should know, truly is the highest form of praise coming from someone who hasn’t preached at a Presbytery event in 7 years.)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sermon: "Standing in the Ravine", Psalm 42/Luke 8:26-33 (June 19, 2022)


I feel like I say this a lot, but today’s gospel reading truly is one of the strangest stories we have in the Bible. Jesus encounters a man possessed not just by one demon, but by many. So many, in fact, that the demons refer to themselves as “Legion”, which is the term for a Roman military unit consisting of anywhere from three- to six-thousand soldiers. This man was not just possessed; he was absolutely overtaken by demons. And it only gets weirder from there: the demons essentially barter with Jesus and wind up in a herd of pigs, at which point the pigs rush off a cliff and into a lake, whereupon they drown.

At first glance, this is also one of the least relatable stories in the New Testament. Demon possession isn’t something that we believe in so much these days – in our tradition, we’re generally suspicious of anything that ventures too far into the spiritual realm. But what if we change the way we read this passage, from a literal description of demons and possession to a metaphorical description of trauma and its impact? If we can reimagine this man’s demons as the personification of depression, or addiction, or PTSD, or abuse, or profound grief, suddenly it becomes a lot easier to empathize with him. If you’ve ever known depression, then you can relate to the man’s inability to take care of himself. If you’ve ever known addiction, then you can relate to his struggle to fulfill his responsibilities. If you’ve ever known any kind of abuse, then you can relate to his withdrawing from society.

This man and his legion of demons are a surprisingly accurate reflection of how trauma can affect human beings. So it’s comforting to know that, even when beset by whatever demons may haunt us, we’re never too far gone for Jesus to pull us up out of the depths of our despair and set us free. No burden is too powerful, no shame too deep, no pain too great for Jesus to relieve. Luke assures us that no matter what struggles we face, we never face them alone.

But there is a catch. The demons’ exorcism into the herd of pigs is probably not quite the final, resounding victory that it seems to be. This isn’t the first time that this man has struggled with these demons. When “Legion” sees Jesus, they react with terror because they already knew him – he had driven them out of this man before. Verse 29 says, “Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times, it had taken possession of him…” but every time, it had returned with a vengeance to torture him again. This was not an isolated incident. I can only imagine how the man must have felt watching the pigs hurling themselves over the cliff: a mixture of relief and uncertainty, all the while wondering how long he had before the demons would return to torment him again.

This interpretation of the passage may be a bit unsettling…but it makes it even more relatable than ever. Few of our “demons” can be exorcised for good, either. Anyone who has grieved a major loss knows that you don’t “get over it”, you learn to live with it. Anyone who’s suffered from a mental illness knows that you don’t cure it, you manage it. Anyone recovering from addiction knows that sobriety isn’t an accomplishment, it’s a journey. The demons that haunt us can’t be vanquished once and for all by sheer force of will or perfect faith. They’re unwanted companions that we often must learn to live with.

But the demons’ persistence doesn’t mean that they’re ultimately victorious, either. Psalm 42 reflects the tension between the ongoing struggle with our demons and the recognition of God’s faithful salvation. The psalmist weeps, “My tears have been my food both day and night…My whole being is depressed; my bones are crushed.” But these laments are only part of the psalm. They’re balanced with reminders of the joy that the psalmist feels in God’s presence, the joy of God’s faithful salvation and the hope that God brings. The grief does not negate these statements of hope, and vice versa. They aren’t mutually exclusive. The certainty that God will help co-exists with the struggle to get through the next moment. In a life of faith, hope and despair are not opposites, but neighbors.

This can be a hard reality to accept. Those without faith often see it as evidence of divine abandonment, proof that God doesn’t exist or at least isn’t as powerful as we claim. Like the people in Psalm 42, they ask, “Where is your God now?” and it can be difficult to come up with a compelling response. One of the best explanations I’ve found actually comes from a song on one of my favorite ‘90s albums. In it, the singer compares herself to a frail flower in a ravine. The weeds and trees have grown wild around her, shielding her from the sun and the rain – all the things that she needs to thrive. She compares her experience of trauma to someone ripping the flower up by its roots and leaving it tossed aside in the ravine, cut off from its source of life both above and below. Although the words are very different, the content of this song sounds very much like what we find in Psalm 42.

As in the psalm, the singer also encounters skepticism from those who don’t understand her perspective. But while the psalmist doesn’t answer them directly, the singer does. She says, “Why do you ask/why I’m not blaming my God?/I’ll tell you what:/He was the only one there.” Having sprouted deep in the inhospitable ravine, this was not the first time that the flower had faced challenging circumstances. But every time before, the sun had been a source of life and healing. So even though the flower knew that it would probably continue to struggle in the ravine, it looked for a “piece of the sky” to give it the strength it needed to get through the moment. No matter how many times the flower found itself tangled in the weeds and overshadowed by the trees, the sun still found a way to provide help when it was needed most.

It can be difficult to summon faith in God’s unfailing mercy when we find ourselves standing at the bottom of the ravine over and over again, ripped up by our roots, and unable to see the open sky. And when our personal traumas are compounded by the demons of institutionalized bigotry, social injustice, or systematic oppression, it can feel like no matter how much progress we make towards wholeness, we always wind up back where we started. It can feel pointless to keep looking for a piece of the sky when there’s so much standing in the way.

But the good news that we hear in the story of the man possessed by Legion is the same as the psalmist’s refrain: “Hope in God’s saving presence!” Faith is not a one-time fix for all that ails you, nor is it assurance of an easy life. It’s a promise that our pain will not have the final word, that our trauma does not get to define us, no matter how often it returns. And, importantly, it reminds us that our momentary healing isn’t the end of the story, either. If it were, then nothing could ever get better than it already is, and we wouldn’t need Jesus. The promise of God’s kindom is that, no matter how many setbacks we encounter, a better world is not only possible; it’s inevitable.

So, whenever you find yourself in that familiar ravine struggling to see even the smallest piece of the sky, remember how God has saved you in the past and lean on your faith in that promise. Keep going, keep hoping, keep looking for God. Because I promise you that God has been there and is there and will be there, whether you see them or not. Jesus never tires of banishing your demons, no matter how often they take hold of you. The Spirit never tires of sending waves of comfort, no matter how deep the ocean of your tears. God never tires of pointing out the small piece of the sky that you might have missed, no matter how many trees obstruct your vision. Keep taking that next step, fighting the demons, enduring the taunts of doubters, and searching for the sky, because no matter how many times you’ve returned to that ravine, it will never be for good. Hope in God! Our comfort and our help forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sermon: "The Holy They", Matthew 28.16-20/2 Peter 1.16-21 (June 12, 2022)


Today is Trinity Sunday; the day that the Church sets aside specifically to celebrate and explore the beautiful mystery of God’s nature. I say “mystery” because, while we all pretend that the notion of one God in three persons is a completely logical idea, the truth is that it doesn’t actually make any sense at all. (If you think I’m wrong on this point, then congratulations; YOU get to do the children’s sermon next year.) The doctrine of the Trinity is an idea that many of us have been parroting our whole lives without really understanding it. Sure, we all have our favorite analogy to describe it (water, the sun, a three-leaf clover, an egg) but at the end of the day, there’s something heretical about every single one, leaving us exactly where we started.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sermon: “The Voices That Matter”, Genesis 11:1-9/Acts 2:1-8, 12 (June 5, 2022)


Ever since the first time I realized the parallels between the stories of Babel and Pentecost, I’ve struggled to make sense out of it. In Genesis, it kind of seems like God’s just creating trouble where there isn’t any. After all, the Holy Spirit would never have had to do that translation trick at Pentecost if God had just let the people keep their unified language in the first place. Things seemed to be working just fine; the people were on track to build the first skyscraper millennia ahead of schedule and, more importantly, they all seemed to be getting along and cooperating. It’s difficult to imagine why God would want to put a stop to any of that, especially in light of God’s contradictory actions at Pentecost.