SERMONS

Swallows and sparrows are on the side of nurture,

    in the Psalter making their nests by the side of God's altars.

And maybe, as our prayer book suggests, teaching begins with nurture:

nourishing God's people from the riches of God's grace. 

 ​ 

3 September 2017 | Matthew 21:23-32

Lauren Flowers Byrd+


I have a friend over in Alabama who often says, Let the river run. On first hearing it’s not the sort of thing anybody’d say in the wake of hurricane. Tom, though, says it to mean sometimes the only thing you can do is suffer the tide of an incoming reality you have no chance of stopping. Today, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we meet Jesus embracing another sort of hurricane: deliberately moving toward the end of his life, as if to say, Let the river run.

In the words of Peter, though, This must never happen. Peter wants to hold onto Jesus just as he is, and as he’s known him to be: durably strong. And for an answer, Jesus lets him have it, Get behind me, Satan! he cries, You’re a stumbling block to me. Get out of my way, and let the river run.

For a moment your heart goes out to Peter. He wants to protect Jesus and keep him safe (or protect his own ideas about who Jesus is). Hearing Jesus embrace his own death, it seems only natural to throw your lot in with Peter and cry, Say it aint so, Lord. Say it aint so.

The good news is Jesus isn’t interested in pleasing Peter. Or us. Today his mind is set on divine things like trusting God and embracing his own vulnerability, while Peter’s mind is set on human things like staying alive and self-preservation. Peter wants a savior who’ll show us how to hold on to our lives and let go of nothing. He wants what human beings often want in times of trouble: the hope of life rendered without loss. And toward that hope, Peter wants Jesus to be like him, somebody he can identify with, his very own personal savior.

It’s simpler to think of faith as a primarily personal thing, something to keep us safe in our pews and houses, and safe in our heads, too. Floods, though, teach us the terrible unity of all life. They throw us back on a kind of original chaos: the waters from which we all came. Floods are different than fires. Exempting the burning bush in our Exodus reading today, fires consume what they destroy. Floods recede and leave the awful wake of everything they drowned. When floodwaters rise, nobody’s house can stand against them. We’re all vulnerable that way. No matter who are, we all fall apart.

Under the pressures of coping with FEMA forms, buckled floors, knee-high waters, hungry families, ruined histories, sudden funerals, wet and rotting possessions, we all fall back on the need of compassionate strangers coming to our aid. And given how much we value our independence, the necessity of depending on others adds a further vulnerability, sometimes even the burden of shame for what’s happened to us.

We forget how the life of Jesus hallows the vulnerability of being human. We like to think vulnerability is a human weakness. But what if it’s also a divine gift, albeit one we resist with all our might?

After the waters began to recede in Houston, a woman named Kris, a wife and a mother, came home to a drowned house absent the hope of flood insurance. Today she’s saying the prayers she’s always said, and asking God to give her patience. “I have no control over anything right now,” she says. “I’ve never sat waiting for somebody to take care of me. I’ve always done it myself. Now, I have to wait all the time for somebody or something. I have to wait, wait, wait.”

In the wake of streets gone to rivers stretching from Houston to Beaumont, the suffering of so many, over forty lives lost so far, plus 136,00 houses destroyed and multitudes navigating the loss of home, it’s a great temptation to shake your head and pray with Peter, Say it aint so, Lord. Say it aint so.

Trouble is if it hadn’t been so, and if it weren’t so: if life somewhere somehow wasn’t always moving through dangerous waters, we wouldn’t be here today. We’re here because we believe in a Crucified Lord who asks us to embrace his vulnerability and follow him, a man who moved toward and met a disastrous end on the cross, and on the third day rose again, not to keep us safe but to give us will enough to follow him.

Had Peter had his way, Jesus never would’ve gone to Jerusalem. Instead Jesus would have remained Peter’s own personal safe-at-home savior. But there was no holding him back, was there? No stumbling block could ever hold back the living waters Jesus rode through death toward victory.

Believing only good things can happen to Jesus isn’t faith enough to live by. And believing only good things should happen to us or to others isn’t faith enough to follow him. It wasn’t then for Peter, and isn’t now for us.

An easy faith falls apart in a flood. Drywall lasts longer. No one who leans today into the saving work of hurricane relief does so to foster sentimental ideas about strength. First Responders and Homegrown Navies are not holding on to an easy faith. What they hold on to, and what they embody for you, is the holy and vulnerable work of sacrificial living. They may not profess Jesus as Lord, but they know how to lose their lives to find them. They know love costs you.

Anyone who stands in the way of sacrificial love and sacrificial labor is a stumbling block. Nobody specially wants to follow a drowning savior. But many do, as recent headlines illustrate. And it’s their doing that makes a holy difference in the lives of others.

Jewish poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote a song about Jesus. Jews often grasp the depth of what Jesus was up to on the road to Jerusalem. They bring to his story a faith that's come through millennia of desolation and dislocation. In Cohen’s words, Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water, and he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower, and when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him, he said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.

And of course we want to travel with him and think maybe we trust him. If only we didn’t have to drown in order to see him. If only we didn’t have to lose our lives to find them in his.

But here’s the thing: You are already a drowned people. It’s what Baptism gives you, the vulnerability of drowning in Christ that you might see Christ and serve Christ in the world. It’s what Jesus is saying to Peter when he tells him to back off. He’s telling him to surrender the hope of an easy faith and follow him. There is in Baptism the sense of losing our individual selves in order to find our communal life in Christ.

Are we found in him to be all alike? No. But we are indeed found to be one in him, and asked to share in his divine vulnerability, in his holy self-giving life.

We’re not here today to say pretty prayers for pretty people and pretty places. We’re here to say hard prayers for those who’ve lost everything and for those who wade into troubled waters to save people they’ve never even met. We’re here to come to the Lord’s table and receive his sacrificial body that we might be a sacrificial people who take up the cross and follow him.



6 August 2017 | The Feast of the Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36 | star rise
Lauren Flowers Byrd+


The second letter of Peter tells us the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain before [Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 4.25.24 PM] chosen witnesses is a moment you need to remember. You do well, this ancient letter advises, to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

And so today, on the feast thereof, we remember how Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, John, and James; how his clothes turned white; how he spoke with Moses and Elijah, and how when Peter suggested making three booths, a cloud overshadowed the witnesses and a voice said, This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.

Though we remember the Transfiguration on Sunday every year just before Lent, its actual feast day falls always on August 6th, which means it hardly ever falls on a Sunday. This lends a kind of once-in-a-blue-moon backdrop to a story that already has cosmic force. Another starry addition to our Gospel today is the coming solar eclipse on August 21, when the shadow of the moon will roll across fourteen states. They’re calling it the Totality Path, and I’m pretty sure most everyone preaching on the Transfiguration today will find room to mention it.  

It’s due to be visible in Oregon at 10: 16 a.m., and will end its course in Charleston at 2:48 in the afternoon. Though we’ll only witness a partial eclipse here in Savannah, I’m told 12 million people have a chance at experiencing its totality without ever leaving home.[1] And for those who do leave home, communities are preparing viewing stations where thousands will gather. They’ll pitch a lawn chair, peer into the heavens for a bit, and head home.

What you hope for in that brief outdoor moment is to hear the world hold its breath in wonder. Silence, though, is hard to come by in a crowd. And strangely, the cows want no part of it. When the moon crosses between the earth and the sun, history has it they head for the barn, while crickets have been known to break out in shrill choruses.[2] I’m guessing they know cosmic disruption for a fearful thing, and know what it is to feel helpless before something bigger than they are, something they cannot control.

We know that feeling. Whenever we look up – whether at the sky or in prayer – we tend to look up in hope, sometimes fearsome hope. Very often we come to prayer through some sort of danger or threat, absent any preparation at all. Sometimes in those places, we look up hoping for a way out of trouble or pain or loss. And sometimes we look up for a way in, for deeper engagement or understanding.

Traditionally people also bring a sense of imminent peril or doom to cosmic events. Some imagine the world coming to an end. Apocalypse. Others only worry their eyesight may be ruined. In the words of one astronomer, You have to be ready when totality hits because you can’t stop the moon. [3]

Also beyond our control, the totality of God surrounds us. And in Christ does not intend to eclipse the extraordinary gift of time with doom. At least not in the Gospel according to Luke. There, Jesus stands on the side of tenderness toward the sick, the friendless, the broken-hearted; on the side of sharing what we have with those who need it; on the side of your goodness unfolding here and now in earthly hours.

Luke is the only evangelist who remembers what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about that day on the mountain. Departure. They were talking about the coming departure of Jesus in Jerusalem. Not the exit sort of departure, not a way out. Instead they were talking about exodus: about a way in. The kind of departure that calls you to listen to what God is telling you and to live what God asks of you.

Exodus is no exit. As Moses knows, exodus is deliverance and freedom. It’s not about leaving people. It’s about setting them free. It’s not about cursing or regretting what’s behind you as much as it is embracing what is and will be.

Notably in Luke’s telling, Moses and Elijah shine with glory. He’s the only evangelist who remembers it that way. Who remembers Christ’s glory as a shared gift, luminous like starlight. His glory shining on theirs, their glory shining on his.

Also in Luke’s gospel, when the cloud comes and God speaks, Peter, John, and James remain on their feet. Tired, yes, but still standing. Matthew remembers them falling down and covering their eyes. For Luke there is no falling down or looking away. There’s only seeing Jesus for who he is, and on your feet discerning what next. They weren’t prepared. But they’d seen his glory, and knew there was no stopping him.

It wasn’t an exit door they moved toward. In him, there was no way out. In Christ, there was only the way in, to our living and our dying. He moved them toward the love of God. And as they followed him down the mountain that day, he led them toward deeper engagement with other people. He led them toward losing his life that they might lose their own in his name and find it.

Remembering this moment today should make us all run for the barn. Instead we’re here to remember Jesus descending that holy mountain. And to remember how his chosen friends followed him, chewing over the reality that God had not only spoken about his chosen Son, but had also spoken to them. God spoke to them.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

_____________________________

[1] The Week, Staff, “The Great Solar Eclipse of 2017,” The Week, 5 August 2017/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.



Preaching.

Sometimes it really is for the birds.