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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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Sermon: Lent I - Testing or Temptation

Iona Cross

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on February 22, 2015.

First Sunday in Lent, Year B (RCL); Genesis 9:8-17; Ps. 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15.

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

      Today, the First Sunday in Lent, is traditionally when we reflect upon Temptation. So when I say the word temptation, what comes to mind? For me, my first recollection of ‘temptation’ was the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies cooling on the kitchen counter. My mother would look at my older sister, brother and me over the top of her glasses and say sternly, “Not before supper.”

        In the rather bare account from today’s Gospel, Mark simply tells us that after his baptism, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days where he is confronted by Satan -- and faces temptation.

        The Greek word for this confrontation, peirazó (pi-rad'-zo), serves as to “try,” “tempt,” or “test.” Here it be better to translate that Jesus was ‘tested’ rather than ‘tempted.’ This story reminds us of biblical precedents where God tests people called to play a significant role in the drama of humanity’s redemption, and gives us a key to discover what Mark is saying to us. God sent Abraham away from the land of his people to a new land that God would give the children of Israel.

        The forty days of Jesus’ temptation also recalls the great flood, the “baptism” which the faithful Noah and his family endured. Just as from Noah’s baptism of testing there emerged a new people of God, we find in Mark’s narrative, soon after his baptism and testing, Jesus calls his disciples and reconstitutes a people of God. As with Noah and his family, Jesus and the disciples will be the beginning of a new humanity “born again from above” (as John writes), in the image of Jesus, the one after God’s very own heart.

        With this scene of Jesus’ testing being set in the wilderness, God’s dealings with the children of Israel following their exodus from Egypt is undoubtedly being referenced here. The Hebrew people were constituted as a nation, not just through “baptism” as they escaped the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt through the Red Sea, but in their formative testing during forty long years in the wilderness.

        Such testing may or may not include temptation as you and I imagine it. Yet it did involve the people facing extreme conditions, out on the edge, where, not having common human comforts and support, the strength of their faithfulness to God’s calling could be both assessed and refined.

        Since Israel is God’s “child,” the biblical tradition describes God’s testing of Israel in the wilderness through the image of a father’s disciplinary testing or training of a son. This, then, is the background to Mark’s record of Jesus’ ‘testing.’


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Sermon: The Water That Unites Us

VTS Chapel

Sermon preached Epiphany I: Baptism of Our Lord at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria on Jan. 11, 2015.

First Sunday after Epiphany; Year B (RCL): Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.

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.

         Water, darkness, and light. These are things so familiar to us that we could not imagine life without them. They are elements so universal to our experience that humanity has fashioned them into symbols of other things, thereby giving them meaning and power. For us, that power is mostly symbolic and not real.   In the case of water, we cannot physically exist without it. When we visit the ocean, we enjoy its beauty but few of us have experienced the terror of being on a boat in the midst of a raging storm. Similarly, darkness is easily dispatched with the flip of a light switch or the glow of a cell phone. The fear of unknown things creeping about in the dark is something children grow out of as they begin to age and start to reason--unless you are Stephen King, who claims to still look underneath the bed every night. Hear again the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

           What comes to mind as you hear those words? How do you imagine this? What does it look like? The most important thing to note is that God is not creating the universe out of nothing. Rather, there is already something there and it sounds very much like chaos. The Hebrew conveys that sense even more strongly. The words for ‘formless void’ are “tohu va vohu,” and for ‘deep,’ “tehom.” Both are related to Babylonian words, names of Babylonian deities that played a role in their creation myths.[1] Here they are gods no longer, but inanimate stuff from which God creates the universe.

           Water of the sort described in Genesis 1, the tempestuous waves of an ocean in the midst of a storm, seems a far cry from the waters of baptism, especially that which we use in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Basically it’s a few drops here and there. It is hard to imagine being afraid of baptism, unless you consider a newly ordained priest wrangling a child around a flower-festooned font at Easter. My friends, the Reeds, would tell you that their daughter Maggie’s baptism looked more like a water boarding incident than a baptism.

           Our baptismal water, the way we perform our sacrament with less than a gallon of water in total and at most a few sprinkles over the forehead, does not convey the rich and powerful imagery of baptism in the New Testament. Paul writes repeatedly that baptism is a means by which we share in Christ’s death: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)


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Lady Altar Shelf

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA December 25, 2014.

Christmas Day; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear those words, I am shaken to my core. To think that God loved us, his creation, so much to become flesh here on earth with us, to live the life we live, to feel the joys and hurts that we know, to come and die for us that the whole of creation might be redeem. I cannot fathom it.

Our Lord God takes on human flesh and nature and appears on earth, full of grace and truth. This is a novel concept in the history of religious teaching and the development of our faith. But what the Evangelist describes with his words is neither legend nor myth. It is a description of how divine life and light again make themselves present in the darkness of death and sin. It is the story of re-creation revealed by the Lord and Giver of Life Himself.

John the Evangelist tells of the great mystery of how God became human in order to save humankind. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven”: so the Church confesses in the Creed. It is a confession of faith, of belief in what transpired in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and other points in ancient Judea. What took place was for the world’s redemption: God being incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and made man, so that He may suffer and die to atone for sin.

John’s Prologue to the Gospel literally takes hearers back to the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The beginning of creation is the focus of John’s opening sentences. God the Father spoke the Word, God the Son, and creation came into existence: light and darkness, land and sea, sun and moon, grass and trees, birds and fish and land animals. That same Word was spoken when God the Father said: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” And everything was good.

Yet you know how what was good in the beginning quickly became anything but. What once had the fullness of God’s favor lost it with the Fall into sin. Man lost the likeness of God, becoming thoroughly tainted and corrupt. What the Word had made and pronounced as very good was now not. Death had entered where there once was nothing but life.

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Pantheon Sunburst

Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA December 21, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.

4th Sunday of Advent; Year B (RCL): 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  

       I love this Collect. I heard it A LOT while serving at my field education site during seminary. The rector there, Fr. Vincent Powell Harris, would pray this collect often, if not every Sunday, in the sacristy as we readied to approach the Altar for worship. It was not until I was ordained priest and celebrated the Eucharist the Fourth Sunday of Advent that I realized this is the collect for this Sunday.

         “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself,”

         In Second Samuel, we hear about the promise that God had made to David, and keeps, to give him an everlasting throne. Centuries later, after the Babylonian exile, no king sat on the throne. Even then, however, the people of Israel remembered this promise and continued to hope for a king, the messiah, the Lord’s anointed. Instead of David building a house, or temple, for the Lord, the Lord promises to establish David’s house as a kingdom and dynasty forever.

         This is the Davidic Covenant, the fourth of four covenants that God made, first with the living creatures of the earth, and later with God’s people. First there was Noah, with a rainbow in the sky as waters receded from the face of the earth following the great flood. Then Abraham, with whom God entered into an unconditional covenant, including a promise of land, descendants, and blessing and redemption. Third was Moses who brought the tablets of Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai to covenant with God’s people. Finally, the covenant with David would ultimately span from the covenants of the Old Testament into the promise in the New Testament.

         In Luke’s Gospel, the angel tells Mary that God will give David’s throne to her son Jesus. She is perplexed by Gabriel’s greeting and by the news of her coming pregnancy, but Mary is still able to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.” We who know that Jesus is called king only as he is executed still find it a mystery hard to fathom, but with Mary today we hear the news of what God is up to and say, “Count us in.”

         In this annunciation account, Luke makes clear that God comes with good news for ordinary people like Mary from little-known places such as Nazareth. This king will not be born to royalty in a palace, but to common folk in a humble manger. Here Luke highlights the role of the Spirit, a special emphasis in his gospel.


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God's Minute: December 1st

God's Minute
Here's today's scripture reference and prayer from "God's Minute", a book published in 1916 that contains 365 daily prayers sixty seconds long for home worship "by the most eminent preachers and laymen in the English speaking world":

I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee. - Isaiah 48:17.

   O God and Father of all the families of the earth, Thou art worthy of our daily love and constant gratitude. Thou knowest we can never be other than children crying to Thee for food, raiment and shelter for our sustenance and protection. We stretch our hands towards Thee to be led through paths we cannot know, beside which temptations lurk and snares are set. Deliver us, we beseech Thee, from the evil one.
   Help us to appreciate our earthly family relations, established and wondrously blessed by Thee. Grant that our home may be kept in peace and good-will among all of its members by that love for one another which casts out suspicion and fear. We consecrate it with all its interests to Thy care and service, that the yearning of our hearts for Thy approval and indwelling may bring to us godliness with contentment.
   Today, in our family worship,we confess our sins that He Who is faithful may forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As we go forth to our individual tasks, give us courage, strength, patience and that wisdom which cometh down from above, which is first gentle, peaceable, easily to be entreated, full of good works. All of these blessings we ask in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.

President I. N. McCash, LL.D.,
      Spokane, Washington.

Sermon: Waiting, Preparation, Anticipation

Votive Candle

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA November 30, 2014.

1st Sunday of Advent; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37


         Restore us, O Lord God of Hosts;

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

         When I was younger and Advent began, I could feel my excitement about Christmas build daily. Maybe it was because of the ads on TV or seeing all the decorations appear, but I constantly wondered: Would I get what I wanted? Now I wonder – “What if you got all you wanted, all you ever wanted, and if wasn’t enough? What then?

People gathered to await the word to come. They all came with hearts they had prepared. Some expected one thing; others tried to imagine something differently. As they waited to hear, the day gave way to dusk, and then night, and they finally were cloaked by darkness. Many stood together anticipating the announcement.  

         Waiting, preparation, anticipation.

         Today we begin a new liturgical church year with Advent. The season of Advent is characterized by expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation, and cheerful preparation. But sadly, our country is torn again by the strife of racial inequality. The grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO addressing the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer has re-ignited cultural tensions along with cries for justice. Black lives matter. Just as much as any other life matters.

         We need not debate specifics of the case or the decision made. I am troubled by the death of this young man who, made in the image of our Creator, was a precious child of God. This incident and his death exposes some ugly human conventions and deep-rooted attitudes in this land. It could have been Anytown USA, but this time it was Ferguson, MO, where prejudice, discrimination, division, brokenness, and a significant lack of trust played out, first on a bloody street in broad daylight, and eventually through long, dark nights with images of riot, fire, and destruction.

         Waiting, preparation, anticipation. It is a new church year and Advent is here.      

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Pantheon Sunburst

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