Home › Sermons
Over my past four weeks at Emmanuel Church, I have come to understand some things about living in New England and about the Emmanuel community. First, Newport is gorgeous in the Fall! Of course, Newport was also beautiful in the summer, but over the past few weeks, as the temperatures have dropped, the leaves on the trees have started to turn to warm reds and vibrant yellows, and the sunlight reaches us at a new angle. As I look out my window at our Emmanuel Day School children playing in the churchyard at recess, my heart fills with the beauty of the season and with gratitude for our life in community at Emmanuel.
Yesterday, EDS had its opening family picnic out on the lawn, with Mr. Christopher, community celebrity children’s musician, leading in the fun. Even though the rain came earlier than we had hoped, the beauty of the Fall afternoon, together with the warmth of community, music, children, and fun, was more than a fair trade for having to end a few minutes early.
In these weeks as the seasons have changed, the members of our Property Committee (Debbie Venancio, Ron and Pam Fleming, Ed Gosling, Dave Monroe, Kevin Venancio, and Anne Sherman) have been working their usual magic keeping our beautiful church building and grounds in their best condition. Mother Anita and Steve also put their very best into maintaining our beautiful church and grounds for many years, and every time I look around, I am grateful for all that these wonderful community members have done – and continue to do!
I’ve had our community on my mind a great deal over these last weeks, and that perspective affected my view of our gospel reading this week – the Rich Man and Lazarus, which means God has helped him. The parable contains a lot more particular detail about how the Rich Man and Lazarus look than we often see in the gospels – some of it genuinely cringe-worthy. We read both of the elegance of the Rich Man’s clothing – he’s dressed in purple and fine linen – and of Lazarus, who lies outside the Rich Man’s gates. Lazarus is covered with sores and is terribly hungry; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Remember Jesus doesn’t give us details that aren’t important. Why does Jesus give us this gruesome image of Lazarus’s sores alongside the Rich Man’s purple and fine linen? Well of course there’s an economic message and a sharing message in that detail. But there is also a community message. Jesus is giving us these high-contrast images – these details – to show us what we miss when we don’t truly see each other, and know each other as neighbors and community members.
I have found Emmanuel a warm and welcoming place – a loving, concerned, safe environment filled with neighborliness and mutual concern – kind of like the old TV show Cheers, where everybody knows your name. I am so very honored to be in community at Emmanuel Church as we see and greet each other in gratitude for our lives together in Christ.View Sermon
As Professor Fennimore of the A.D. Garrett crime thrillers is fond of saying, Context is everything. Whenever we look back – whether on our tragedies or our triumphs – we stand in a different place than we did when we first experienced those events. Time has moved along. We simply see and experience the world in a different way. Even if we’re walking on the same dirt, we are under a different sky, in a new day. The context is different, and our perspective at any point comes from that context.
In our Old Testament reading this week, we can see a difference in perspective playing out. Moses is up on Mount Sinai in the cloud of God’s glory when chaos breaks loose back down the mountain with the Israelites. Moses has left his brother Aaron in charge, and Aaron has just made the Israelites a golden calf to worship as their god.
And God is furious! Get right back down that mountain, Moses, and straighten all this out, God roars.
But is God really furious? And was the Israelites’ action really that unreasonable?
When we imagine ourselves in different places we see things differently, and maybe that’s what God is trying to show Moses. Up on top of Mount Sinai, God has been talking with Moses. That’s really heady stuff. It might be easy to lose sight of what things are like down at the bottom.
The Israelites have gotten really tired. They’ve been waiting for Moses to come back for forty days and forty nights, which, even if it’s a metaphor, is a really long time. And they don’t even know yet that God has just told Moses never to make an idol. So what happens next? God tells Moses to get himself back down that mountain and sort all this out before God clears the slate and restarts Moses’s leadership with a brand new people.
And then Moses starts to empathize with the Israelites. Moses implores God to remember that God brought these same Israelites out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand. Why would God give up now, Moses asks.
As Moses reasons with God, he explains God’s own kindness and mercy to the Israelites, putting himself back into the context of the Israelites. Moses learns God’s own compassion by explaining God’s compassion to God. Was God really furious? Context is everything.View Sermon
On Sunday, August 25, 2019, churches all over the United States joined together to toll their bells to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African people in North America. The bells rang for four minutes, the Aquidneck Island churches at noon, and others together at different hours throughout the day.
We share in this difficult history here in Rhode Island as closely as the areas of our country where enslaved peoples worked on plantations, and built some of the most familiar and important structures of our American democracy – the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings. Profits from slavery and related businesses in Rhode Island and other areas of New England helped to fund some of our oldest and best-known institutions of higher learning.
These are really difficult subjects to talk about. But without the gracious friction of our dialogue, we can’t begin the process of listening, in mutual respect and learning, that can lead to self-knowledge, insight, cultural humility, and understanding.
In our epistle reading this week, the Letter to Philemon, it is interesting that Paul doesn’t condemn slavery outright, even though the very same St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Galatians in Christ there is no slave or free.
Instead, in the Letter to Philemon, Paul asks his old friend Philemon to free Philemon’s escaped slave Onesimus, who has become like a son to Paul while Paul has been in prison in Rome. Paul assumes the place of prisoner, reversing the power arrangement in the three-way relationship among Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.
Paul calls Onesimus his own heart and beloved son and refers to Philemon as his debtor, re-framing and re-contextualizing our understanding of their roles in society.
This paradoxical reversal stops us and helps us to see power and authority in new places. How can we release ourselves from bondage by becoming prisoners of love as Paul said he had become?View Sermon
Saying Good bye and Thank you
You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Jesus tells us again and again, and particularly in today’s Gospel, that his is the way of life, and embrace it we must if we are to be followers of Christ. There is no time to delay; there is no time for hesitation, no time for despair, no time looking back to our past mistakes and failure of nerve. It is time to go all the way in this life of discipleship and to know its costs – which thankfully for us, do not usually mean our lives as in the case of martyrdom. This call does mean making Jesus our top priority. It does mean asking ourselves every day: “What would Jesus have me do?” When we do this, and embrace Jesus’ life as our own, those fruits of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in today’s Epistle just seem to kick into place. We have more than enough to join this ministry of joy and love. And we always have one another.
A Forward Day by Day quotation of a few years ago still hits me like a 2 x 4 with its compelling wisdom. It reads, “A sign of God’s will is that we will be led where we did not plan to go. When I look back on those events,” the article continues, “I see God’s hand in them. When I was able to put my trust in God, I was led where I did not plan to go but where I definitely needed to be. Thanks be to God!” How true this has been for me!
I never expected to serve at Emanuel; I had other plans. God took care of that, and what a blessing you have been in my life – and in Steve’s.
You have asked what you can do for me – so here goes – Come to church – EVERY SUNDAY. We need to worship and pray together and practice doing that. We are always in rehearsal. I totally understand about other commitments. Make church the top priority along with your family and friends. I have attempted to do this my entire life – not just the over half of it I have been a priest.
We come to church to practice being Christians – to pray, serve and love one another. Thank you for the fabulous nine years that I have practiced being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, with you! How I will miss all of you. I love you Emmanuel, Newport. You are forever in my heart.
It’s the small words that count most: in today’s Epistle, Paul tells the Jerusalem Christians that their welcome does not go far enough. The Gentiles do not have to subscribe to all the Jewish regulations, he insists. What these Gentiles have to do is be baptized and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Sometimes Paul gets carried away. In this case, he presses his point by telling his Jewish colleagues that all the old categories they had followed all their lives are too confining. What follows is absolutely radical. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ.” They note his emphasis on all.
One preaching professor reads this Galatians passage and observes that the hardest words to learn in any language are never the long words but the short words. The Galatians have no trouble pronouncing the long, ponderous words: circumcision, for one. But they stumbled over three short words: faith, grace, baptism, and especially, “all.”
“All” is very hard for the people in Galatia to follow. All is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus – all are welcome at the table, all are forgiven, all can be cured. It is about taking that first step, as the man possessed with the demon in today’s Gospel knew so very well, taking the step towards health and wholeness. All are welcome at the Lord’s table at Emmanuel Church.
Trinity Sunday: It’s complicated….
Today is Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday specifically dedicated to a Christian teaching or doctrine. This annual commemoration gives us the opportunity to explore the mystery of God and how Christians from the earliest centuries sought to understand God and Jesus’ relationship to God. It gives us the opportunity to explore the different strands of our relationships to God, as the earliest Christians did. By the time the Nicene Creed was penned in the fourth century, the doctrine of the Trinity had come into focus as describing 1 God in 3 parts – as Creator, as Savior and Sustainer.
The Trinity doctrine is a simple and complicated formula: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is no formula to be memorized for yet another examination (as I did when I was confirmed in 1970). This is a formula we carry with us on all our journeys.
There are 3 major feast days in the Church year: Christmas, Easter and PENTECOST.
Pentecost is probably the least known and celebrated. Unlike Christmas there’s no baby in the manger, no angels, no crèche scene and tableau with the Holy Family. Unlike Easter there is no empty tomb, no Holy Week story of drama to precede it and no women. Instead, we have tongues of flame on the 12 disciples’ heads. It’s all about the Spirit in the tongues of fire and what happens next.
Pentecost is just as exciting as Christmas and Easter in its own way, including it being (unofficial and not entirely accurate) the birthday of the church.
You’ll know that it is a big deal at Emmanuel – look for the color red, balloons, and an Emmanuel photo taken at the end of the 10 am service. (Many thanks to Kim Robey for taking the photo!) Don’t miss the activities, all signs of the Spirit alive and well at Emmanuel.
How do you say goodbye? For Jesus, preparing to leave the close society of his disciples seems to have been a long process. Almost from the beginning he gently, or sometimes in exasperation, explained that the course his life was following would lead to profound changes in their lives. So he began saying goodbye early.
When families get together to say farewell to someone moving away, or to celebrate the last few days of someone’s’ single life before marriage, or when someone is in the final stages of his life in this world, they often rummage around and get out old photographs. Every time we hold a funeral here at Emmanuel families put together a collage of photographs, and usually have a photograph of the deceased loved one on the cover of the service sheet. These pictures stimulate an extended round of reminiscence – where holidays were spent, the most memorable meal. Before an impending change, people tend to reflect more than usual on how they got to where they are. They are preparing to say “Goodbye.” I cannot underscore how important such remembering is and how it must continue as part of our lives. It is all about staying connected to one another.
On this seventh Sunday of Easter, we stand between our observance of the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, as the readings for today remind us once again of our new life in the Risen Christ. The Gospel passage concludes the series of readings from Jesus’ “farewell discourse” (Jn 13:1-17:26) with his “high Priestly Prayer (Jn 17:1-16). As the prayer begins, Jesus’ “hour” has come, as he asks that he might glorify God and promises eternal life for all. Jesus prays for his immediate disciples to be protected and unified in the Father’s name and assures them that they will be protected and with him.
Let us contemplate all that Jesus gives us in the conclusion of this long goodbye,. May we trust God that even as Jesus was telling his first disciples one last time that with God and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit we are never alone or comfortless. Wherever this journey of following Jesus takes you, you have all that you need to boldly follow him as your Savior, putting all your trust in God and Jesus, as Jesus reminds his disciples, one last time.