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Sermon: Remember the Big Picture!

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA August 21, 2016.
14 Pentecost; Year C (RCL): Jeremiah 1:4-10; Ps. 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17    
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

          In the dark of night December 16, 1773, a small group of men banded together, boarded three merchant ships in Boston Harbor, and dumped 342 chests of tea into the bay.  This group of men, calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, took this action because of the taxation policies of the English Government.  The British called them _____ thugs.  Yet, only when we look at this act in Bost Harbor against the backdrop of the big picture will we see its true significance.  The 'Boston Tea Party' was not just an isolated incident; rather, it was one of the first acts of what became known as the American War for Independence.        
          We need also to see the story of today's Gospel in that same light. What is this Gospel telling us?  What’s the Big Picture here?

        If we consider the smaller picture, we see an act of love and grace in which Jesus healed a woman.  A woman who had suffered for eighteen years from some form of curvature of the spine.  This healing is certainly wonderful enough.  But Luke invites us to also see this event for the big picture.  This is not just an isolated act of healing; rather, it is one of many victories in Jesus' war of liberation against the forces of evil.  Jesus invites us to see this woman's illness against the backdrop of a larger picture; that of Satan working to bind up humanity.
        Luke asks us to see the healing of this woman as a sign of how the Kingdom of God works.  A work to transform the world.  A work to set people free from bondage.  As we remember this story, keep this bigger picture in mind.
        Let’s picture the whole thing now.  While Jesus teaches in the synagogue, he would sit toward the front.  Near him would be the leader of the synagogue, an elder entrusted for seeing that the teaching was sound, true, and informed.  As Jesus teaches, a woman appears; she is bent over and unable to straighten up.  Her infirmity makes it hard for her both to be seen and for her to see.         Read more...Collapse )
Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA August 14, 2016.
13 Pentecost; Year C (RCL): Isaiah 5:1-7; Ps. 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.
         
         What is going on with Jesus in this reading today?  Is he having a really bad day?  He is bringing FIRE to the earth?  He is bringing DIVISION and not peace?  What happened to the Prince of Peace?  After I read this and said, "The Gospel of the Lord," I half expected your response to be "What?"  For what Jesus says today hardly seems to be or sound anything like the Gospel we know.  But when you hear them in the proper context, they might make more sense BUT that doesn't make them any less challenging.       
         Again, as has been true for most of the Gospel readings this summer, they come from the part of Luke's story of Jesus where he is traveling from his home in Galilee to Jerusalem.  This will culminate with his death on the cross.  Along the way, Jesus did a lot of teaching as well as deeds of great power.  Today Jesus addresses these words to his followers and the crowds.  I believe Jesus is telling the crowds not to have false expectations of what Jesus is about.
         So Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth and having a baptism with which to be baptized.  Normally I think most people tend to understand fire as judgment.  That Jesus is coming to burn up the wicked.  Judgment is one image associated with fire in the Old Testament and again in the New.  There is the reality that Jesus does strip away of our pretenses and fallacies and selfishness and everything else that we use to prop ourselves up with.  Jesus does expose the unbelief of many.  So judgment is certainly part of this fire.  But I really believe there is more.
         When Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, John the Baptist talked about Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  There the image is more the empowerment of God so that we might believe and become followers of Jesus - so that we might both love and serve.  This fire comes in the person of Jesus and continues with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I mean, without the fire of our Lord Jesus Christ, would any of us be here?  Would any of us be believers?  Would any follow him?  Would there ever be such a thing as the Church, had not the fire of our Lord burned in people throughout the centuries?
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THE ASSOCIATE RECTOR’S CORNER: 
Sharing my remarks at the Alexandria Vigil for Orlando on June 15, 2016 at Market Square.   

     Hello. My name is David Crosby.  I’m an Episcopal priest here in Alexandria.  A large part of my ministry involves showing up and being present, listening and praying, and serving or speaking out.  

     I am here tonight, alongside other community faith leaders and city and state officials to add my voice where other voices have been silenced prematurely.  We  gather to remember those who lost their lives in a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, to stand with the LGBTQ community there as they hurt, grieve, and heal; and also to support the LGBTQ communities here in Northern Virginia, throughout this country, and around the world.  

     More than two years ago, in front of the courthouse of this city, I spoke at a Valentine’s Day action as a Call to Love, in order that friends in my church might have the same opportunity as I have to live and love together with our chosen ones in a faithful, monogamous, lifelong relationship.  They are here tonight having celebrated on Monday the anniversary of their marriage in our church.   

     Tonight I stand before City Hall to add my voice to others who call out for action in support of Humanity.  We must, as caring people and houses of faith, stand up to speak out, and to work toward ending the madness of violence in our country against our fellow human beings, especially through the abuse of guns.  Now, I am not against guns.  But I am for gun safety measures that might curb the devastation that is quickly unleashed using guns that can kill, injure, and maim.    

     Two promises we make in the Episcopal Church when we initiate someone into the household of God through Holy Baptism are worldly in scope.  

     One promise is to ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.’  As beloved children of God, we are called to witness in gratitude to God’s unconditional love, which has made a new way of life possible for us all.  So we promise to help those who reject or distort the truth about themselves or others, to see that there is an alternative way to live by loving them, and by allowing them to love themselves and another of their choosing, as the God of Love has loved us all.  

     Another promise is to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”  We believe it right to acknowledge that God’s reign of justice and peace, that is, of
reconciliation, is a reality.  Therefore, we promise to demonstrate in ways both great and small what it means to live together as a people restored to unity with God and one another in the name of our Lord.  

     In those promises, or vows, I have committed myself to honoring and respecting the uniqueness and value of ALL people, whether they be male or female; Straight or LGBTQ; Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or a non-believer.  

     I regularly call for prayers for those affected by any kind of violence.  And while I believe in the power of prayer to bring comfort amidst pain, and understanding out of confusion, prayer must also be paired together with bold, reasonable, common sense action to change, unless we continue to let hate win.  Hate cannot and will not win.  Love wins.  Love will win.  “Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love!”  

     As a Christian, I believe any action or ideology that draws boundaries between individuals, classes, races, genders, sexual identity, and religions is NOT of God.    I believe my baptismal promises and my ordination vows as a priest require I stand here tonight with all of you, but most especially with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, to support their right to be who they are, and to be with whom they choose to love.  

     Those same promises and vows also call me, and us, to action.  It is time that common sense reforms be enacted to prevent the unnecessary tragic loss of life in this country and this world by firearms.  Write your congressional delegate and call your state senator; ask them to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, and to keep those on terrorist watch lists from being able to legally purchase guns.  At least, let’s honestly discuss what could be done legislatively to help with gun violence prevention.  Be counted and be heard.  Stand outside the NRA building in Fairfax and be a visible and vocal witness as many did yesterday.  But also call for increased funding and action on matters pertaining to mental health care.  Above all, what we all can do is to stop blindly blaming people for being different.  

     When you see injustices in this world, be brave and confront them.  Change will not happen unless we demand it!  Hope will not die unless we let it!  Love must win!  Enough is enough!  

     I hope and pray that the hearts and minds of those who have authority over the laws of our country will work diligently and courageously to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”  

     May the gracious and amazing God who loves us, bless us all. Thank you.
              Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA July 17, 2016
          Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Year C (RCL): Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42.
    
          May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
      be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.
       
          Two weeks ago Tuesday, we reeled from news that a 37-year-old man named Alton Sterling had been fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge.  The shooting was caught on cell phone video by a bystander and quickly went viral on the internet.
        The next day as I drove to New Hampshire to visit my father, news broke of another fatal police-involved shooting of Philando Castille in Minneapolis.  The aftermath of a traffic stop gone bad was live-streamed through Facebook by his girlfriend sitting next to him in the car.
        Then Thursday evening, a peaceful Black Lives Matters-organized protest against the police killings of the preceding days ended abruptly when an apparent lone shooter, an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran, ambushed the police in Dallas, apparently targeting white officers.  Five were killed with nine others injured.  All of this has happened since that horrific tragedy in Orlando, where 49 innocents lost their lives.
        I expect that we’re all aware of these events because we read our newspapers, listen to the radio, watch the local and national TV news, or surf the internet and use social media.  My father had the TV on A LOT while we were there!  Memorial services were held and individual funerals have begun.  It’s hard to not see or hear something about each instance and all of it.  But that’s not all, is it? 
        This past Friday, that terrible truck attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day killed many people and injured countless more, and then a failed coup in Turkey left too many dead from the violence and way too many others wounded.  We have these terrible things piling up on top of our fears and terror.  How do we make sense of all this?  What do we need to do?
        I confess: I’d been glad to not have to preach last Sunday with the parable of the Good Samaritan confronting us with “Who is my neighbor?”  I saw it as the PERFECT question to address our domestic difficulties, but I knew it would be a hard discussion.  I’ve been told the rector’s sermon was powerful last Sunday.  We also heard a courageous sermon in New Hampshire.
        Now, we have the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary to try to cover all the uncertainties of this world.  I’ve been holding this lesson in my head and my heart all week.
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Sermon: Passing The Mantle

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill on June 26, 2016.

6th Sunday after Pentecost; Year C: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Ps. 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. 

Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

        I don’t expect everyone to realize this, but believe or not, I have been here with you at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for almost four years!  It’ll be four years in three weeks.  And for those who may not know or do not remember, I was called to Immanuel during the interim following the departure of Sam Faeth, the former rector, to assist with the transition to the new rector, who isn’t so new any longer.  Fr. Randy Alexander, 10th rector of Immanuel, has been here almost three years.

          Churches go through the process of transition, when former parish leaders leave and new congregational leaders are called.  The time of interim ministry in a parish is primarily for the community to grieve the loss of a beloved pastor, or perhaps recover from a bad relationship, to gauge where you are, to ready for where God might take you, and to brace for change.  It happens everywhere.  Sometimes well, and at other times, not so well or thorough enough.  And it takes time.  God is constantly acting and the Spirit is always moving, hopefully guiding communities and relationships, vestries and committees, leaders and followers. 

          Change happens, torches get passed on, and mantles get handed off from the last to the next.  An effective way to facilitate change, even as the game moves on with the primary players remaining the same, is through succession planning.  This is something I learned through my twenty-six+ years of private sector business world experience before God laid on my heart, ‘I have plans for you.’  And in my coming to Immanuel, where “God is with us,” I started to act as a new set of eyes in an established community, asking why we did this or how do you do that? 

          Today’s readings ask us to move into new directions of faithfulness to God. They ask us to believe great things and to trust that God works creatively and redemptively in our own freedom.  They ask us to live by the Spirit and in life-giving, not legalistic or guilt-producing ways, and to expect great things from ourselves as well as from God.

          Our readings take us into the realm of the mystical, miraculous, and magical; the realm of paranormal experience.  Elijah is caught up in a whirlwind and ascends into heaven.  The prophet is delivered from mortality to dwell in the house of God.  Elisha asks for a “double portion” of his mentor’s spirit and is given a sign, and then goes forth with the same miraculous powers to shape the world.  Like Moses before them, the Divine Force is great with Elijah and Elisha, who can now part the waters, with God’s help.

         

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CALL

It is our faithfulness to God and not our station in life that honors a call.

We often find our calls in the facts, circumstances, and concrete experiences of daily life.

One sign that God may be calling is a certain restlessness, a certain dissatisfaction with things are they are ...

a sense that something is happening in one's life, that one is wrestling with an issue or decision; a sense of being in a time of transition

Call usually involves service or benefit to others.

The word OBEDIENCE derives from the Latin AUDIRE, which means "to listen"

God not only calls, but empowers

MINISTRY is the active response to God's Call.

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