Sermons

Treasure in a Clay Jar

Treasure in a Clay Jar

“… we have this treasure in a clay jar, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Pentecost 2B – June 3, 2018

Let me begin with a story: A few months back, I awoke early in the morning, as I usually do, got dressed, and ambled down the stairs. I am always, without fail, accompanied in this morning ritual by our little Labradoodle, Rosie, who is also an early riser, and insists that her walk is our first order of business. Indeed, Rosie is so enthusiastic about her morning walk that I have to exercise great care in descending our steep and narrow staircase because I know she will be barreling down the stairs right behind me. Once we’ve safely navigated the stairs, the next step in the ritual is for me to put her leash and harness on, and then reach over to the drawer of the side table in our foyer where the poop bags are kept to pull out a couple of bags before we head outside.

The trouble is that on this particular day, I was either too rushed or less nimble than usual, or both. Because when I reached over to open the drawer, it somehow got stuck. Thinking I just needed to pull a little harder, I instead ended up pulling too hard, with the effect that the side table starting teetering forward, which in turn, caused the lovely ceramic bowl Pat had placed on the table to go crashing to the floor, shattering, irreparably, into dozens of pieces.

That would have been bad enough, but what made matters worse was that this bowl wasn’t just any bowl; it was one of the very few presents we still had from our wedding some 38 years ago. It’s not that the bowl was especially beautiful or expensive. It is, rather, that the bowl held so many memories for us. Memories of the wedding itself, and of the friend who gave us the gift. Memories of the different cupboards, and sideboards, and tables where the bowl lived, in the various rooms in the various homes we have made over these last four decades. Memories of the apples and oranges the bowl held sitting on our kitchen counter; of the salads it served at dozens and dozens of dinner parties; of the whipped potatoes it offered at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals; of the time we used the bowl, in a pinch, as a water dish for the dog; memories, too, of children’s hands grabbing Halloween candy from its generous hollow.

It’s odd how such an ordinary thing as a clay bowl can carry such meaning.

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Eastertide Vespers to Feature the Music of Faure and Pergolesi

In addition to prayers, readings from Scripture, congregational hymns, and a short homily, our Vespers service will feature musical interludes as guest musicians John Baumer-Petre (baritone) and Christopher Petre-Baumer (flute) join our resident organist, Priscilla Walter, in offering selections from Faure and Pergolesi, among other pieces. Please join us, and bring friends! Sunday, May 6, at 5:30 p.m.

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Suffering Love

Suffering Love

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” Matthew 16:24

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

September 3, 2017 – Pentecost 13A

Jesus is angry. It doesn’t happen often in the gospels, but when it does we should pay attention. Today is one of those days. Jesus’ anger this morning is directed at Peter, who just last week, you will remember, emerged as a leader among the disciples: Peter, the rock, upon whom Jesus hoped to build the Church, the disciple who boldly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Ah, but Peter’s fall from grace is swift and dramatic. It turns out that Jesus is a rather different Messiah than Peter expects. When Jesus today explains for the first time to his followers that his destiny is not worldly fame and power, but instead sacrifice, Peter is dumbfounded. He goes so far as to rebuke Jesus, insisting that suffering cannot possibly be Jesus’ future. Peter has bigger and better plans for Jesus.

It must have been impossibly hard for the disciples to hear, really hear, that the Cross would be Jesus’ fate. Suffering and death are not things than any of us want to hear – for Jesus, for those we love, or for ourselves.

Surely, Peter must have wondered, if this man is God’s son – if he can heal the sick, feed the hungry, make the blind see and the deaf hear – then certainly he can do better than yielding to arrest and torture and death. I can hear his thought process now, ‘I’ve given up my livelihood, and left my family and friends to follow this teacher. This isn’t how the story is supposed to go. This is not what I want in a savior.’

But we shouldn’t be too hard on Peter for wanting a different outcome. For the truth is that the human heart longs for heroes: heroes who are strong, heroes who are winners.

The Yale theologian, Nicholas Wolterstorff, puts it this way: “When you and I are left to our own devices, it’s the smiling, successful ones of the world that we cheer. ‘Hail to the victors.’ The histories we write of the odyssey of humanity on earth are the stories of the exulting ones—the nations that win in battle, the businesses that defeat their competition, the explorers who find a pass to the Pacific, the scientists whose theories prove correct, the athletes who come in first, the politicians who win their campaigns.”

We love winners. But Jesus asks something different from us. He asks us to turn our eyes toward suffering. And not just his suffering on the Cross. Jesus is asking us to turn toward the world’s wounds, for Jesus is in fact the lens through which God wants us to see all humanity. Like us, Peter and his friends would rather not look into the world’s pain. Like us, they would rather think about their own dreams for a safe and secure future, apart from the world’s needs.

But repeatedly throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that it is those who struggle, not the victors, who deserve our attention. Jesus turns everything on its head. All our notions about “success” turn out to be wrong. To be like God is not to win at all costs, but to lose for the sake of others. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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Our True Foundation

Our True Foundation

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn….” Isaiah 51:1

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 27, 2017 – 12A Pentecost

My parents – God rest their souls – were high school sweethearts who married one month after they graduated from high school. My father was 18, my mother 17. They were from a tiny farming town of about 1,800 folks in Pennsylvania by the name of Newville. My dad was the youngest of eight and grew up on a dairy farm. My mother was the daughter of the guy who ran the feed store in town, my Grandpa Arby. Ours was not a Brahmin family.

At the time mom and dad married, they had neither money nor jobs. The only thing they knew for sure was that they wanted to get out of Newville. So, the day after they married, in July of 1957, my father enlisted in the Air Force and was told to report to Lawry Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver. And so off my parents went, in a car borrowed from one of their grandparents, and spent their honeymoon driving across country staying in the cheapest possible motels. I figure that I must have become a twinkle in somebody’s eye somewhere around Kansas because I was born nine months and 3 days after they were married. You do the math.

Eventually my parents arrived at base and my father reported for duty. Because he was married, they did not require him to stay in the barracks with the other single enlisted men, but rather provided him with a small 18×6 foot trailer. And after I came along, that’s where the three of us lived, basically in one room, for the next several years – in the Capri Trailer Park.

While I don’t remember much from those days, I have kept an old Polaroid black and white photo of my mom and me in front of our little trailer. I keep the photo not only as a reminder of these humble beginnings, but because it taught me a valuable lesson about my true home. Many years after the picture was taken, when I was in the third grade, after we had moved to California, my teacher asked our class to do a little project on our family origins. You remember the assignment: bring in some photos of your family, and your first house, and share a story about your personal history.

Well, when my turn comes, I pull out my prized photo of our little trailer and began to tell, in the halting way of a third grader, the story I just told you. But then, in the middle of my presentation, I hear one of my classmates say under his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear: “trailer trash.”

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A House of Prayer for All Peoples

A House of Prayer for All Peoples

“. . .my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 20, 2017 – 11A Pentecost

Later this morning, we will welcome Bishop Gayle Harris to dedicate and bless this new entrance to our church, literally opening a new door into our future. Many, many people have contributed to this important project, and we will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to give our thanks to them in appropriate ways. But today I want to spend a little time reflecting on the theological significance of what we are doing.

On the surface, this new entrance may seem to be merely an accommodation to our friends who have trouble walking, who are wheel-chair bound, or who use a walker. And yes, our hope is that this new entrance will meet those important needs. But this new door is much more than that. When our bishop blesses the entrance, the words she will use are these:

“Sanctify, O Lord, this entrance to be an enduring expression of your extravagant welcome and hospitality to us, and to all persons who seek a deeper relationship with you, and bless this community as it seeks, with your help, to break down all barriers that separate us one from the other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

What happens in this Church every Sunday, you see, is that Christ welcomes us into the heart of God. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done or not done, where we’re from, how much money we make, what color we are, none of that matters to Christ. Christ welcomes everyone to hear his good news, to be transformed by it, and to be fed at His table.

But a responsibility comes with this welcome. And that is that we share it, we reflect it, we embody it for the rest of the world. And that is what we are doing by opening the doors of our church even wider than they already are. As Christ welcomes us, we are welcoming too.

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Pushing through fear

Pushing through fear

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 13, 2017 – 10A Pentecost

Our granddaughter, Emerson Ann, came into the world this past Wednesday evening. She is healthy, beautiful, and doing well, as is our daughter, Kate, and her husband, Hunter. For all these things, we give God thanks and praise. Pat and I are now blessed with two grandchildren, with yet another one on the way in December, God willing, and we intend to do our best to spoil them all.

As human experiences go, the birth of a child is about as close as we come to both the beauty and the power of the divine, and it elicits an equally wide range of emotions: there is great hope but also anxiety; there is great joy but also pain; there is great courage but also fear.

It’s much easier for the grandparents, of course, sitting on the sidelines, but even so, I was struck by how anxious I was just waiting for reports from the labor room of how things were going. And as I waited, I couldn’t but help re-live in my own mind the experience of watching Emerson’s mom, Kate, come into the world some thirty years ago.

I remember standing there in the delivery room of Stanford University Medical Center, awkwardly dressed in the unfamiliar green gown and mask of the maternity ward. I crouch behind one of the nurses, desperate to get as clear a view as I can of this amazing moment, but also fearful of getting too close to such an awesome sight. I know that I am on holy ground, simultaneously attracted to the sheer mystery of life bursting forth into the world while also afraid of its power. With one hand, I reach out to Pat, as she struggles in the painful throes of childbirth, wanting to comfort her; but truth be told, I am hanging on to dear life as much as she is. And then, with that last great push, a little body emerges into view. Like all fathers, I find myself counting fingers and toes, arms and legs, making sure everything is there and in its place, waiting for that first, noisy squeal of assurance that another life has begun, and that all is well.

To witness the birth of a child is miracle enough, but to know that she is your own makes this moment unlike anything else. Suddenly, as a parent, you feel an overwhelming desire to do anything for this new life, to nourish her, to share with her all the joy and beauty that is in this world, but also to protect her from life’s many dangers.

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