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Sermon: "Praise You in This Storm."

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on June 21, 2015.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable,
O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

Several storms blew over our house last night. Rain pelted windows. Thunder shook walls. Lighting lit up the sky. Storms induce fear in our dogs, so much that little girl Gili crawled up onto the furniture with Chrissie, and wedged herself in between Mom Dog and the back of the couch. Gili was already trussed up in one of my T-shirts that serves as a homemade thunder shirt, and she smelled of lavender. (Lavender is a calming scent.) She was still panicked. Panting. Clearly upset, despite our best efforts to offer a calming presence.

         We all experience storms in our lives to a greater or lesser degree. Storms can steadily approach, or hit unexpectedly. Storms can shatter our reality, shake our confidence, induce fear, and lead us to question. They might be personal or relational. They could be within local communities, across the national stage, or further abroad around the globe. What are some of the storms in your life, and how do you respond to them?

         In 2004, we received a frantic phone call sometime after midnight while we were visiting friends three hours away. Our niece Shannon had suffered a brain bleed from an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation. It was five weeks before her senior prom and six weeks before she would graduate from high school. What Chrissie remembers distinctly from the call from her sister was “Pray. Pray hard. Pray with everything you’ve got.” As we departed without goodbye hugs or kisses, our friend asked, "How does this happen?"

         We left Yorktown, heading back to Fairfax, but swung through Charlottesville to pick up one of Shannon's brothers. Scott had finished exams at UVA and his mega-party celebration was interrupted by the same seemingly cryptic message. He thought she was dead; we assured him Shannon was still with us. After a few short questions and quick answers, he climbed into the back of our car to sleep, intermittently providing us updates he'd gotten from his father while we were driving.

         It was a long dark journey back. Full of adrenaline. Chrissie and I held hands most the way back. We prayed individually and collectively. We were especially vigilant for beasts that would bound across the road. (At one point on Rte. 29, five deer came crossing our path, causing us to slow down and catch our breath.) And while we had news that kept us hopeful, we were still terrified at what we would find.  

         Shannon lived through that particular event, attended her prom and graduated from high school, and then ten months later, she suffered a more catastrophic brain bleed. Yet she is still with us, has graduated from college, and has a job. We constantly call her "Our Amazing Niece."


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Sermon: Bagger Vance and "The Way We Dance."

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 31, 2015.

The Holy Trinity/1st Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

        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.

        O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise, and ever enjoy its consolations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I am a golfer and I love movies. So you probably understand that I love movies involving golf such as "Tin Cup," "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and "Seven Days in Utopia." But my most favorite movie that weaves a story around the great game of golf is "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

           "The Legend of Bagger Vance" is a movie about a mythical golf match, set in the 1930s in Savannah, Georgia, that involves golf legends Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and the hometown ace, Capt. Rannulph Junuh. As a teenager, Junuh (played by Matt Damon) had Tiger Woods-like promise. But after his World War I tour of duty, he is marred both psychologically and spiritually, and has lost interest in life, love, and golf. Content to gamble and drink his days away, Junuh is a recluse until his former girlfriend, Adele Invergordon, invites him to join Jones and Hagen in an exhibition match.

Junuh, encouraged by a community that recalls his pre-war glory, reluctantly agrees to compete. While hitting practice balls in his backyard, Junuh meets a mysterious journeyman by the name of Bagger Vance (played by Will Smith). Vance offers to caddy for Junuh in the upcoming match and is determined to help him rediscover his passion for the game. Throughout the movie, Junuh seeks to find purpose in his life, though he is fearful of what that purpose might be.

           At one point early in the festivities, as Adele and Rannulph begin to reconnect with one another, he asks her, "What was it, Adele? .. What did you like about us?" ... to which Adele replies, "I like the way we danced."

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the one Sunday where we specifically remember the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The primary difference between this Sunday and others throughout the church year is that today we focus on the “being” of God rather than the “doings” of God: we pause to look at who God is rather than what God has done. Usually, our lectionary includes narratives that tell stories, maybe about history, myths, or parables. On Trinity Sunday, we move from the “sacred story” to the mystery of the Sacred and Holy itself. All the readings today talk about that being of God.


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Sermon: The Meaning of Our Lord is Love

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 10, 2015.

6th Sunday of Easter, Year B (RCL): Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

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

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

"I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

I love those words. For many years, "that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" were words that epitomized the fruit of a marital relationship wedded in and through Jesus Christ. My wife Chrissie and I shared in the ministry of Episcopal Engaged Encounter for 25 years, a program endorsed by the Church for the preparation of couples wanting to be married in Holy Matrimony. This joy is not happiness. It's not a surface thing. It is something deeper. Imagine something being shared by two people as being twice the joy, and half the sorrow. Even in lament. It's a joy that manifest deep love in relationship.

Today’s image of the life that the risen Christ shares with us is the image of friendship. We are called to serve others as Jesus came to serve; but for John’s gospel, the image of servanthood is too hierarchical, too distant, to capture the essence of life with Christ. Friendship captures the love, the joy, the deep mutuality of the relationship into which Christ invites us. The Greeks believed that true friends are willing to die for each other. This is the mutual love of Christian community commanded by Christ and enabled by the Spirit.

          The Acts of the Apostles tells us Peter was sharing the good news of Jesus with a Gentile soldier and his family when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Recognizing that the Spirit works inclusively in the lives of both the Jews and the Gentiles, Peter commands that these Gentiles also be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

          John's first epistle says that God’s children believe that Jesus is the Messiah and to love God by keeping God’s commandments. Thus the world will be conquered, not through military might, but rather, through faith and love.

          The Gospel according to John remembers the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus delivers a final testimony to his disciples to help them in the days ahead. Here, he repeats the most important of all his commands: that they love one another.

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Homily: "Come, Eat, and Be Filled."

A homily preached at the new Immanuel Chapel-VTS in Alexandria, VA on April 23, 2015.

Acts 8:26-40; Ps. 66:14-18; John 6:44-51

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

           There was a happy accident that happened this past Saturday, just down the hill and across the street from here, at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill. We host a Breakfast Bible Study that Chrissie, my wife, and another, lead on the third Saturday of each month. It was a lovely morning after the storms the night before, and as we drove to the church, we noticed the traffic signals were out. Arriving at the church, we found it dark. So we began to improvise the breakfast, and found a table set up on the back patio that had been abandoned the night before due to weather. We had this lovely setting looking out to our memorial garden, and, thankfully, we could still cook most of the breakfast on our gas stove. Then the power came on during our preparations which allowed for coffee to be brewed and the bagels to be toasted. We were all set. God is good!

           I mention that because our invitation to Breakfast Bible Study is “Come, Eat, and Be Filled.” And considering today’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and John’s Gospel, I quickly had a title for this homily.

           Today’s lesson from Acts tells of the encounter that Philip has with the Ethiopian eunuch. The Angel of the Lord had first directed Philip to go south, and then the Spirit compelled him to approach the eunuch’s chariot. Those are certainly ‘holy nudges.’ Hearing the eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah,

Philip asks if he knew what he was reading. The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And there you have it friends, a Bible Study group, right there on the side of the road, between Jerusalem and Gaza.

           Gathering together around scripture allows us to 1) formulate our own understanding of the text; 2) to enter into a dialogue in community; and 3) to act. The study method we use for our breakfast gathering is the African Model of Reflection, where we employ three different translations or interpretations of the reading while offering questions to guide our discussion. If you are not already familiar with this method, talk to me; I was heartened recently to hear that a priest I consider to be an elder statesperson in our Church endorses this particular manner of study.

           But back to Philip and the eunuch. It is important to note the eunuch was reading aloud so Philip could know what he was studying. And hearing those words from Isaiah, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth,” Philip had his opening to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Philip heard, listened and acted, and the eunuch was open to receive the Word. Having heard and received the Word, then finding water along the way, the eunuch asks Philip if he might be baptized. Having done the work of the Lord in that place, the Spirit carried Philip away to continue spreading the Gospel elsewhere.

           I find it important and meaningful, when I read Morning Prayer alone, to read aloud. There is something more powerful about scripture when it is not only read, but is also heard. Taking scripture in through reading and hearing seems to help it find its way more profoundly to my head and to my heart. Plus, the added benefit of hearing something aloud, allows others to know what you are doing when they happen along, and it may be the catalyst to invite them to join you.

           In John’s Gospel, following the feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus walking on the water, Jesus is again teaching. Here we come to see it is only the humble, teachable ones who hear and understand what the Father says. Jesus makes the simple, unequivocal assertion, “I am the bread of life.” The contrast with all physical bread, particularly the manna given their fathers in the wilderness, is sharply drawn. That bread, Jesus says, they ate and are dead. But Jesus is “the bread” which comes down from heaven. His coming into the world is once for all. The Incarnation will not be repeated! The living bread, which is his flesh, is given, not just for those to whom He speaks, but for the whole world. Jesus knows their hunger and knows what they need.

           So, whether they be happy accidents, or ‘holy nudges,’ or acts of obedience, the call is the same: Come, Eat, and Be Filled. Thankfully, through fellowship, food, and the Word, all are invited, and those who come, will be fed and satisfied.


Sermon: Five Proofs of Jesus' Resurrection

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 19, 2015.
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B (RCL): Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

We Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this belief which distinguishes Christianity from all other world religions. No other faith tradition claims that its leader and founder was bodily raised from the dead and that His spirit now lives in those who worship and serve him.

Jesus the Shepherd was struck down and the sheep had all scattered! The flock responded as you might expect, realizing that now they were on their own. There is no one to lead them, no one to protect them, no one to provide for them. The sheep are frozen with fear and they huddle together in that upper room.

Yet the Great Shepherd is not gone forever. It was three days. Okay people, here comes your wake-up call! Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!) On Easter Sunday, we heard from the Gospel of John. Last week, we heard from Mark. So today, we get Luke’s resurrection account when Jesus first comes to his flock to calm their fears. He simply wants them to know that He has returned and that all shall be well.

There are times when it may be hard to imagine Jesus present with us as we worry about things, all that ‘stuff’ that troubles and consumes us. I don’t know how it is for all of you, but since I said ‘Yes’ to this call to ordained ministry, my life has certainly had its challenges: Family issues, graduating from seminary, the process requirements from my diocese, and questions in my own mind; that’s not to mention the General Ordination Examinations that have to be taken, which was light work for some, and required additional work from others (like me). Yet as followers of Christ, there is comfort in knowing that the risen Christ is present with us, and we are not alone.

Yet the world doesn’t seem to accept this. For the world to seek relief from worry and fear means that problems must be fixed. Unless the crisis or catastrophe or injustice is resolved and finally settled, the world says, ‘What good is this Lord of yours? How can you believe in Jesus Christ? Jesus is the divine ‘fix it guy!’ Christ should mend what’s broken and if He doesn’t fix it, then who needs Him?’

We ALL need Him. And for us, it is enough to know that Jesus Christ risen from the dead is present with us. We turn to Jesus for guidance and direction, to guard us and protect us, but in the end we say, “Thy will be done. Lord, just abide with us. Please, Jesus, be with us.” As long as we know His presence, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Rom 8:28a) We know the peace which passes all understanding, even in the storms of our lives.

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Sermon: John 3:16 & The Rainbow Man

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on March 15, 2015.
4th Sunday in Lent, Year B (RCL): Numbers 21:4-9; Ps 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Every time I hear this text, I can’t help but think of “The Rainbow Man.”

(Cue the wig)

Maybe you remember him. If you’re a fan of professional sports (and maybe even if you aren’t) and watched any major sporting event on TV between the late 1970s-1980s: be it football’s Super Bowl, or baseball’s World Series, or NBA’s Championship Finals, you saw this guy. A LOT. He was America’s most celebrated fan. His name is Rollen Stewart.

Stewart started out as a wig-wearing self promoter who showed up at almost every major athletic event worldwide and always managed to plant himself smack-dab in front of a TV camera. Known as “the Rainbow Man” for the multicolored Afro wig he wore; he was also called “Rock 'n' Rollen” for the party vibe he exuded. Stewart drove miles and miles to attend big events. He often got more TV face time than most network announcers. He found fame, as he intended, simply by showing up.

For a first few years, he just danced in the stands. After the 1980 Super Bowl, he was up late in his hotel room and saw a televangelist preaching about the end of the world. Stewart experienced a dramatic conversion and, then, decided his Rainbow Man character would convince the world to believe in Jesus. Sports arenas were his church and TV his pulpit, with the Word a sign saying, ‘John 3:16.’

(Cue the sign!) Do you remember him now?

Selling his home to buy tickets, Stewart lived in his car and traveled from place to place for game after game. He learned where to place himself in the stands, and when the camera would be on him. The pitcher winds up and there's Rainbow Man preaching ‘John 3:16’ right behind home plate. The kicker lines up a game-winning field goal--there’s ‘Rainbow Man’ behind the goal posts--‘John 3:16.' The horses leave the stables, turning the corner toward the track at Churchill Downs, and in this one perfect spot, amidst fans with mint juleps and their fancy hats, is Rainbow Man with his massive wig, waving a sign: ‘John 3:16.” It’s fair to say this scripture is well known, due in part, to “Rainbow Man.

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