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Good Friday Homily

Good Friday is a hard day for many of us.  It's often difficult to think of what's "good" about it.  There are many questions that arise.

Like where do you stand on the matter of capital punishment?  Good Friday is a day when we confront it and have to face it. 

Do you think of Jesus as someone who was clearly and absolutely innocent of any offense, whether against humankind or God?  Good Friday is when we remember Jesus was executed as a traitor in a manner that some say demonstrated it was God and not just the Roman Empire that judged him. 

Do you believe that people who are good will also be successful and left at peace?  Good Friday would certainly seem to speak against all of that.

Yes, it's a hard day, and many of us only contemplate it in the context of "It's Friday ... but Sunday's comin!"  On this day, we often want to rush ahead onto Easter, because Good Friday is about pain and humiliation and desertion.  And certainly in this present time and age, with the news around the globe, it becomes far more difficult for us to be either ignorant of suffering and the denial of death. 

No, Good Friday isn't pretty.  It doesn't fit in well with the Flash-animated slideshows on many church websites that show an endless parade of mostly young and always smiling faces.  For us, Good Friday is an image problem; it’s a downer that makes us uncomfortable.

Yet I have met folks for whom Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is a time and an image of profound consolation.  And when I've thought about what was different between those people and communities that are consoled by Good Friday and those distressed by it, my mind keeps coming back to this:

Good Friday is a day when those who are suffering what Jesus suffered enter into the mystery: the mystery of God’s suffering with them.

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Sermon Video: A Fragrant Offering Unto God

Not quite sure how we got the double screen, but ...

Sermon: A Fragrant Offering unto God

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill on March 13, 2016.

The 5th Sunday in Lent; Year C: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8     

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,

be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.   

           Not so long ago, that house in Bethany was filled with sadness and the sound of weeping. Friends and neighbors had gathered to mourn with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus. With their brother dead, the two sisters were alone.

           But then Jesus arrived and changed everything. With a gesture, with tears, with a blessing, with prayer to his heavenly Father, he defeated the power of death and called Lazarus back to life.

           Now, in what seems to be just a little time later, they are all gathered again. It is a joyful reunion, but I can’t help but imagine that there is also an undercurrent of awkwardness and tension. For one thing, it must have been pretty strange to have Lazarus there. We’ve all been to funeral dinners, where family and friends gather for a meal lovingly prepared by the church community and aided by our neighbors. We fill our empty stomachs with ham, fried chicken, scalloped potatoes, dreamy bean casserole, Jell-O salad, and all sorts of cakes and pies.

           We fill our empty hearts also by reminiscing about the deceased — sharing stories about his shortcomings or laughing over her peculiarities. It’s how we cope with our grief and keep the memory of our loved ones alive.

           This scene in Bethany may well be the only funeral dinner in history where the deceased was actually present. Think of how awkward that must have been. What happens when the deceased is no longer dead? How do you feel and what do you talk about?

           Furthermore, by raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus has graduated from the category of "manageable nuisance" to "serious threat." News of the incident has sent his opponents over the top. It is time for Jesus to disappear before he leads hundreds to their deaths. His days are numbered and he knows it.


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Sermon: Answer to the Holy

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill on February 28, 2016.

The 3rd Sunday in Lent; Year C: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-18; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9         

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,

be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

          This world in which we live, and move, and have our being is shot through and through with the Holy, though we may never know when or where or even if we will encounter it. But maybe you’ve experienced the Holy…

          - In church on a Sunday morning, when a particular hymn takes your breath away, or brings tears to your eyes;

          - At a 12-step meeting, when an alcoholic with 20 years of hard drinking followed by another 20 years of sanity, sobriety and service, speaks the truth and we hear it and know it, deep down in our hearts;

          - Or during a hike in the woods, when we come upon an ancient and majestic tree, and realize it has been here on the face of the earth roughly 10 times longer than we have;

          - In a hospital delivery room, when the nurse places a newborn baby into your waiting arms;

          - Or perhaps sitting around tables at a Bible study, with scripture before you, when words on the page can take up residence in our hearts, and we know they will never leave.

          For me, I experience the Holy through my wife Chrissie; she is the Heart Of My Heart. Holiness is evident in both good times and bad, especially when I am hurt or sick or feeling unlovable and she continually reaches out to me in love.

          I hope that all of us can name other places and times and circumstances. Yes, our world, this world that God has made and given to us, is shot through and through with the Holy. But we never know where or when or how or with whom we might encounter it.

          Moses had his meeting with the Holy at a time in his life when he was, perhaps, at low ebb. You know the famous story of his early years. How the people of Israel sought refuge in Egypt during a time of famine when the skill of their ancestor Joseph saved the country. Eventually, they came to be under a Pharaoh, who did not know Joseph. And so this Pharaoh looked upon the Israelites with distrust and dismay, as if these resident aliens, these immigrants, were dangerous … and so they were taken into slavery. You remember that Pharaoh decided that all Hebrew boys should be killed at birth, but he was subverted by clever, fast-thinking Hebrew midwives. You know how, thanks to the wily and resourceful women in his life—his mother, his sister, and even the Pharaoh’s own daughter—Moses was drawn forth out of the waters of the Nile that might have been his death, and was given another chance at life.


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Sermon: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016

Year C (RCL): Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Each Ash Wednesday, I am reminded of the words of Committal from the Burial office in our Book of Common Prayer, when the Celebrant says, "...we commend their body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

       A form of those words are spoken for the very first time in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says to them, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen. 3:19c)

       Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. This is a stark reminder of whence we came and to where, all other factors being equal, we shall return. We are by nature and deed a walking, talking, thinking, doing package of dust and ashes.

       There is not much value in dust and ashes. Gardeners understand that it can be used to help grow plants, but it is worthless. It is often less than worthless. It can be a hindrance and a liability. You can't make it pretty by painting it, and you can’t make it smell good by spraying perfume on it. Dust is dust, and ashes are ashes, and the plain fact is they both are largely to be avoided.

       That goes for us, too. When all is said and done, our righteousness is like rags upon us; our virtue is but a spray of perfume upon thoughts and feelings and deeds that are best buried and forgotten.

       So why do we take time to smear ashes on our foreheads? Why on this day do we gather and remember what we are?

       The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we gather also to remember who God is, and what God has done for us, in and through Jesus Christ.

       We gather because, as devoted people of God and followers of Jesus Christ, all other factors are NOT equal.

       God has given us a way out of our plight of "ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It is the way of the Cross. The death of Jesus Christ at Calvary was God's way of placing a sign of infinite value upon that which would otherwise be worthless. This day, this Ash Wednesday, which starts our holy and penitential season of Lent, is for us to know and realize that God has chosen to give us some other life than that which leads only to dust heaps and ash pits.

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Sermon: O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair

Preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill February 7, 2016 for the Last Sunday after Epiphany.

Transfiguration Sunday, Year C (RCL): Exod. 34:29-35; Ps. 99; 2 Corinth. 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36.

         In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

         Today is Transfiguration Sunday, where we straddle between the end of Epiphany and the beginning of yet another church season. Later this week, we’ll be feasting on pancakes, bacon, and sausages to celebrate Shrove Tuesday before we enter into that holy and blessed penitential season of Lent.

           Today signals the transition from the Incarnational Cycle of God breaking forth into the world through the birth of Jesus to the Paschal Cycle of Christ which culminates with the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. We have an Epiphany hymn that I think describes this odd time and this unique event in far more lovely words than I could ever write. It’s Hymn 137, if you want to hold that open...

“O wondrous type, O vision fair

of glory that the church may share,

which Christ upon the mountain shows,

where brighter than the sun he glows!”

           Our lessons today from Exodus, Second Corinthians, and the Gospel according to Luke tell us that witnesses to the glory of God will be unable to avoid reflecting that glory in the world. This is the “Glory that the Church may share.” It was true of Moses as he came down from Mt. Sinai to renew God’s Covenant with the people of Israel. It was undoubtedly true also for Peter, James and John when they witnessed the meeting of the Law, represented through Moses, and the Prophets represented by Elijah, with Jesus, God’s Incarnate Word in the World.

           We pray that it will be true of all of us also who see the glory of the Lord in the world, and in the Eucharistic supper to which we all join around this table, and in those who are being “transformed into the same image” by the Spirit of God.

           God is always being revealed in ways that can both surprise and confuse us, whether it be shining forth from the face of Moses on a mountaintop, or in the dazzling appearance of Jesus, or after Christ dies on the Cross and later rises from the tomb. God’s presence and God’s glory is a mystery to us. But the Mystery therein is what we seek, and what we seek to share with our world.  


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Sermon: Yes, It Is Time!

An 8:00 a.m. Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 17, 2016.

The 2nd Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

        I usually warn couples during marriage preparation that things can go wrong on their wedding day.

          It may be unfortunate, like the person responsible for distributing the service bulletins to wedding guests beforehand suddenly takes ill so nothing was handed out, leaving everyone there (except for the priest's spouse) with little to no idea of how or when to respond during the service.

          It might be something that few, if any, notice such as a diamond chip falling out of the groom's ring that is found by the Altar Guild just as those outward and visible symbols of vows exchanged are prayed over and blessed (that was Chrissie's and my wedding thirty five years ago with our initial wedding bands).

          Or perhaps it is something all too obvious as when weather intrudes upon an outdoor wedding venue. The service had concluded and no sooner than the bridal party and I had processed out and were under cover, the skies opened up, leaving the wedding guests tossing chairs about and scrambling for cover!

          But weddings are fun. I love doing wedding because the occasions are joyous and because I truly value the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Yes, couples are usually stressed, but by the time the reception begins they are finally married and have moved beyond all the details into that sweet “whatever will happen, will happen” kind of mindset.

          What do they care, they are married and are kissing every time someone clinks a glass. The wedding planner, whether paid or some really organized friend, on the other hand still has lots of other things to worry about as the reception unfolds. How’s the food going to turn out? Will the servers circulate or just stand around? Will the DJ get the first song right? Will everyone be able to hear the toasts? When should they cut the cake?  No, the wedding planner doesn’t relax until well after the happy-couple departs for their honeymoon. You couldn’t pay me to be a wedding planner!

          When I read this account, I wonder if Jesus’ mother, notice this gospel never names her as Mary, was the wedding planner. She seems to be very concerned about the details of this wedding feast.


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