Author Archives: Rev. Stephen Holton

Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

HANDING OUT THE BREAD OF LIFE (John 6:24-35)

I was talking to Dan Poindexter the other day, about the death of his brother. He gave me permission to tell this story.

The curious thing for Dan was that, although he grieved and missed his brother, he was not more emotional about it; and yet there would be these memorials he was asked to attend, where he would have to show emotions for the sake of others, to be in solidarity with them!

We talked about this, and wondered if he should go, or stay at home and heal on his own. And yet there was no huge need for healing.

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Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

WHAT WAS NOT ENOUGH – WITH CHRIST IS ENOUGH (John 6:1-21)

The boy did not have enough. The disciples didn’t have enough. No one had enough to feed all these people.

Jesus starts by messing with Philip. He says to him, “Where are we to find bread for all these people to eat?” You can just imagine Philip stammering and saying – um, um, we didn’t send an advance team. We didn’t do a count. We didn’t get people to sign up ahead of time so we could arrange for caterers. We didn’t go into the towns and villages to find out where the caterers were. What are we going to do?

And Jesus just smiles, knowing he thinks that way.

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Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

FINDING PEACE, GIVING LOVE (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest awhile.”
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest awhile.”

Are you tired? Have you had enough? Do you feel beaten up by life? “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Have you been doing the work of the Lord? Have you been spreading God’s peace – which is what the disciples have been doing, entering a house and letting their Peace rest on it if they are accepted, and then shaking the dust off their feet if it is not. Has your peace been accepted? Have your good deeds helped others? Have you been “through word and action sharing Christ’s message with each other and the larger community,” and are you tired out?

Come away . . . and rest. That’s an order, a direct command. There is no option. Not – come away, if you can finish up first, save one more person first, do one more good deed first. No. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Now.

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Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost

FORWARD TO NORMAL (Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19)

It’s over. The time of transition is over. David and Israel are emerging from the long time of Saul’s kingship when Saul was trying to be like any other king, and Israel was trying to be like any other kingdom.

We see this with Michal, daughter of Saul, looking out at David behaving most unkingly, and despising him for it, as he dances before the Lord, dances with wild abandon so that his linen ephod or kilt flies up exposing what should not be exposed.

Michal disapproves. This is most unkingly. Church should be solemn. And so the Lord curses her with barrenness, and blesses David’s kingdom with new life.

It’s over. The time of transition is over. The ark of God has been housed far away from Jerusalem, because people did not trust the power of it. In fact, on the journey here, in a part that is left out of today’s lesson, Uzzah steadies the ark of God when it shakes a little bit on the cart – and fire comes out and burns Uzzah to a crisp. This is not a God you trust to be safe and sound, to do your bidding if you say all the right prayers. No, this is a God who executes his own will, whom you try to keep up with.

This is something the people of Israel have learned in their time of transition, that God is not a domesticated, safe, peaceful God who’s just there for them, for us. No, he demands that we be there for him.

And yet they want this nondomesticated, unsafe, nonpeaceful God at the heart of things, so they take him into Jerusalem where David has erected a tent for him. And there the wild God will dwell, with all his wild people dancing like crazy people before him.

So the transition is over – in Israel’s understanding of God, and their understanding of themselves and of their worship and their relationship with God enacted in that worship, and in the personality of their king – that he is a worshipping king who puts worship first and government second and, in that worship, is wild, where his inmost self is expressed before God with joy, rather than hidden behind solemn liturgies that lead no one anywhere.

The time of transition is over.

At some point, in six months or maybe more your time of transition will be over. And you will emerge from your time of transition with your definition of God changed, and your definition of yourself as a church changed. And hopefully you will be led by a rector who worships God with the same wild abandon that David did, the same personal intensity and relationship that David had, out of which flowed the wild worship that his people saw, that led them into the same wild worship and perhaps the same personal intensity.

Private relationship with God comes first. Private trust of God comes first, then public display of this relationship in total vulnerability. And the people see that vulnerability and follow it from the depths of their hearts, and all the church is changed.

And then, in the last act of David’s entry into Jerusalem – God’s entry into Jerusalem – and the transition from Saul, the former king, David shares all this food with the house of Israel.

Out of worship comes sharing and ministry. For Jesus in his parables shared food not just with the wedding guests who all knew they were invited, but with all the people on the highways and byways of life who did not; not just the friend but the stranger; not just the disciples but the 5,000.

So Jesus shows the same wild abandon in distributing food and the goodness of God’s grace, as David shows in worship. But it all starts in worship.

This is why we share food in ministry. Food is the natural outgrowth of worship. After worship it is natural to go out in mission. After Eucharist, where we share the body and blood of Christ made present in bread and wine, it is natural to share the food of Christ made present in peanut butter sandwiches or stew, or macaroni and cheese – and to share it with the same wild abandon, the same personal intensity and love which we brought to worship earlier that day.

This is why last week I trained as Lay Eucharistic Visitors: Sally Wortmann, Clint Allen, Kirby Zummo, Tom Hubbard and David McDonald. They will be able to take, in the absence of a priest, the sacrament to those who are sick and shut in, and you should speak to them of anyone whom you know has become sick and cannot come to church, or speak to Meri Maisonet and she will relay the message. And the Lay Eucharistic Visitor will bring the intensity of their personal faith, publicly expressed, to that hospital room or living room or bedroom, where they will share the food of God, the food of the Church with a fellow parishioner so both can share the strength of God and both go forth from there to bring his wild blessings to others.

This is a transmission of strength and blessing that goes nowhere if we keep it to ourselves. And even if you are not a Lay Eucharistic Visitor you can go forward from here as a friend, who loves your neighbor as yourself, with the wild abandon that knows that there is plenty of love where that comes from, because it comes not from us, but from God.

This ministry of food is a special ministry of the Episcopal Church. It reminds me of my uncle and aunt’s Methodist Church in London, Ohio, where they didn’t have coffee hour on Sunday. Not every church does. So after church the good Methodists who wanted to, would go down the front steps and cross the street to the Episcopal Church, which had coffee hour, and share it – because food is important, and celebration is important, and hospitality is important.

And so in addition to coffee hour we share “a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins” with all the people in their need, in soup kitchens and feeding programs and community dinners and potluck suppers – because the ministry of food, in our Eucharistically centered church, is a natural extension of that Eucharist.

This is why we want to have a mini capital campaign to renew the kitchen, so that at this ‘second altar’ we can entertain more guests, from the highways and byways of Cornwall, and not just keep the good stuff to ourselves.

So we move forward with joy into God’s world, the joy of the new normal, the joy which, as someone once said, “is the most infallible sign of the presence of God,” the joy which we share with wild abandon starting with our relationship with God, continuing with our public worship of God, and finishing with our mission of God to all his other people. Amen

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost

GATHERED AND SENT

To Serve the Lord and Help His People (Mark 6:1-13)

We are all gathered here, week by week. We come for different reasons – to see our friends, to relax in a spiritual environment after a week in a secular one, to hear the word of God, to sing his praise in the old hymns we love so well and the new ones we are just learning in this blended, blessed service of ours.

We come to be filled up. And then we come to be sent out, to fill up other people, help other people, talk of redemption to other people; to bring them back here, to the source; or to heal them with our own deeds of power as Christ has given us ability.

And he has given us ability. He blessed us as he blessed the first disciples with authority over unclean spirits, to deliver people from greed and hatred and selfishness and divisiveness and racism and sexism and homophobia, and hatred or suspicion of the poor. He came to save us from all these things and to give us power to be his agents so that we might deliver people from evil and make the world a better place.

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Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

HOPE FOR HEALING (Mark 5:21-43)

The woman had no hope for healing. She could not approach Jesus. She was unclean, because of her hemorrhage. She probably smelled. She was probably dirty. People probably tried to keep her away. That’s why she snuck up behind Jesus and was only able to touch the hem of his garment before she was swept away by the crowd. But that was enough. She felt power come into her body. She felt the blood stop flowing. She felt herself start healing – because she had had the power of desperation, the power of desire. She hadn’t given up. Her faith had made her well because by her faith she hadn’t given up after 12 long years of disappointments when anyone else might have given up.

Who knows why Jesus hadn’t healed her before? Never mind. Here he was now, in her presence, ready to heal her. And here she was, ready to be healed, ready to break all the religious rules that said women during their menstrual cycle, particularly an uncontrollable menstrual cycle, were unclean and should stay away from holy people like Jesus.

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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

EVIDENCE OF THE RESURRECTION

Why do we come to church? Why do we get up, Sunday by Sunday to get here? Why do we pledge?

We do it so we can experience the resurrection. “And they were all of one mind and had all things in common, sharing as any had need.” This is not normal behavior. Normal behavior is competitive yet these did not compete. Normal behavior is selfish and yet these shared. This is Luke’s way of showing that the resurrection had happened and Jesus was among them and so they were behaving… as Jesus would. And not out of nay great effort but naturally, because Jesus was among them and with them and within them.

And so they were unselfish as Jesus was, and uncompetitive as Jesus was, and trusting as Jesus was, and loving as Jesus was. And Jesus promised them this when he told them – greater works than these shall you do if you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, the size of half a cuticle on your finger nail. And we all have that.

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Sermon for Easter Day

AFTER FAITH DIES, LIFE LIVES

Mary goes out, full of sadness. Everything she believed in has died. Everything she hoped was true, was dead. She can’t sleep the night so she goes out in the early morning, full of sadness, not full of faith. She goes out to where her Lord is buried. She does not even hope to see him because the tomb will have a rock rolled over it. She can only hope to be near the one she loved, the one she believed in, the one she lost.

The tomb is empty. The rock is rolled away. She goes immediately to the teachings of despair, not the teachings of resurrection he told them while he was still alive. No – ‘they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’

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