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Sermon: The Promise ... Tested


A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, June 29, 2014.

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (RCL): Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

        Please be seated.

           Before I begin, I hope you saw the bulletin announce that today has been designated as Social Media Sunday in the Episcopal Church to “spread the Good News.” So I invite those of you who dabble in either Twitter or Facebook to feel free to tweet or post any quotes or thoughts that are significant to you from this sermon. This is risky for me, but hopefully fun for you. Please silence your phones and use the hastag #Episcopal when posting. While I’m at it, please permit me a selfie with you. Thanks.


           All of us had, has, or will have, the promise we have heard from our Creator either tested or challenged. And we will ALL be brought up short by it. Whether as normal a life process as retirement or graduation that might leave us feeling purposeless, or perhaps as devastating as losing a loved one unexpectedly or receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness, each of us hears that promise from God individually and uniquely. So our circumstances of the challenge or test will be different. What do we do with that challenge? How will we respond when tested?

           Today’s Old Testament lesson from Genesis 22 is known as “The Testing of Abraham” or “The Binding of Isaac.” Isaac is bound upon an altar by his father Abraham at the direction of the Lord God to be offered as a burnt sacrifice.

           This is one of the hardest, most difficult, off-putting, and certainly frightening accounts we read in the Bible. Ellen F. Davis, in her book, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, opens her chapter on “Take Your Son” with these words: “Abraham and his God are appalling. If this is a test, then it would seem that both have failed miserably, both the One who devised the test and the one who submitted to it.” God tested Abraham to the limit, to see if he would believe that God would keep his promise that Isaac would be his heir, the son of promise. Like cardiovascular workouts that strengthen the heart, lungs and stamina of the human body, and muscles that are gained by pumping iron, faith can mature through trial and tribulation and the divine provision of God.

           Ten chapters earlier in Genesis 12, Abram was seventy-five years old, his wife Sarai was sixty-five and unable to have children, and they were childless. Nevertheless, God made a great promise. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make

your name great, so that you will be a blessing. ... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12: 1-3)

           There is God’s promise to Abram. But how would it be realized? This man and woman were old, childless, and she was barren. To fulfill that promise, God would have to grant Abram a child, for you need offspring to become a great nation. Could the promise be fulfilled?       

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Sermon: Trinity Sunday

Pantheon Sunburst

Sermon: Waiting in Liminal Times

Iona Cross

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, June 1, 2014.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A (RCL): Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10; 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

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

       On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, in the days between the Lord’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we remember the disciples gathering in the upper room, waiting for the Spirit to come and transform them and the church around the world.

         I wonder what it was like for the disciples. It’s hard for us to imagine because we have so few details. Yet let’s consider some things that might give us that sense of anticipation, where you know your life will be changed forever, but in ways you that can’t really ever imagine.

         Chrissie and I have seen this kind of anticipation among our family members awaiting their many (many!) births (for we have 13 nieces and nephews, and, so far, six great nieces and nephews. We’ve done aLOT of this kind of waiting!!). You know approximately when the event will happen and you know that things will never, EVER, be the same, but you cannot plan it all out completely because you are not in control.

         If you’ve never had children, maybe you remember a different kind of anticipation. Waiting for your first date! Or going on your first big trip to a faraway place. Looking for your first home. The point is, you must wait; we

all have to wait for some things, and sometimes we wait with great excitement, tinged with a little bit of fear and awe. The kind of waiting that can make your stomach churn. I think this is what the disciples experienced after Jesus ascended and said the Holy Spirit would come.

         Such liminal, or “in between times,” can be particularly daunting to some people, and this Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is a good case in point.

         Even today, there are those who find themselves somewhere between certainty and despair, between hope and fear, between the silence of a Jesus who seems gone and the words of eternal life from a conversant Lord. Yet, though physically gone, Jesus has not stopped speaking to us or caring about us. What he continues to say to us confirms what we know but sometimes have difficulty feeling; it’s what the disciples learned on Pentecost: God’s people are not left alone, a fact that needs to be preached, sung, tasted, and felt, repeatedly. It is powerful grace – grace that can be powerfully realized in the gathered liturgical assembly.       

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          A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

    The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A (RCL): Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

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


       “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”


That quote is attributed to The Rev. William Sparrow, a faculty member of the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Virginia from 1841 to 1874, and Dean of the Seminary from 1868 to 1874. His words are captured in stone at the entrance of the Bishop Payne Library at VTS, where I spent a good amount of time for three years and more recently this past week, in particular, as my wife Chrissie graduated with a M.A. in Biblical Interpretation cum laude. “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.” These are words which seem to resonate throughout our scripture readings today.


First in Acts, we have the Apostle Paul in Athens facing the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Greeks who know nothing of either the Jewish or Christian tradition. Paul proclaims that the “unknown God” to whom an altar is dedicated where they worship is the true Lord of heaven and earth who will judge the world with justice through Jesus, whom God has raised from the dead. Even entering onto foreign ground to preach the relevance of God, Paul tries to find common ground to usher them into a growing community of believers who follow and know a compassionate God. “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Paul offers the Athenians a spirit of generosity rather than an attitude of exclusion, and hopes to enter into dialogue and religious conversation with them.  


“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”


We also hear the Psalmist who offers grateful praise to God, who does not let slip the feet of those who follow, and delivers them from tests which could overwhelm them.


“Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.”


We hear also in First Peter that Christians have a zeal for doing what is right in God’s eyes, no matter what the circumstances, because in Baptism we are saved and made alive. This reading is rich with imagery of the church being an ark, floating above the chaos of the seas, and bringing the community upon which the heritage of the world will be renewed through the flood.


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Number #3: The Baptism of Emily

Angel of the Fount
I had the great honor and privilege of baptizing a young infant in our congregation, who was all of 4 months and one week old.  Emily was the most precious thing and so well behaved.  Every clergyperson should have a child so meek and mild to welcome into the house of God.

If Quest Love of The Roots (the drummer in The Tonight Show featuring Jimmy Fallon band) were my bandleader for a service whenever I did a Baptism, he would've yelled Number #3 at the 11:15 a.m. service this past Sunday.

Sermon: "Abundant Life!"

Beer in Roma

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 11, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A (RCL): Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

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

Last Saturday, I had the honor and privilege of assisting at memorial services for two of God’s children. One had lived a mere nine years and the other’s life had spanned almost nine decades. As I heard more about the quality of life my young friend Andrew had known, I turned to my clergy friend before her homily, and said, “A short but full life was his.” And later that day, I reflected upon the life of the older, a parishioner of Immanuel, Jean Schnedl, whose life was full of teaching, who was led by the Holy Spirit to share that same Spirit with others, and to do good works through intentional outreach. That provided me a moment of clarity to see the more true sense of ‘fullness of life.’

In the tenth verse of the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

So what does full or abundant life look like? The Greek word that we translate as ‘full’ or ‘abundantly’ is perissos – which means ‘more than sufficient’ or ‘over and above what is required.’ It can also mean 'out of the ordinary' or 'superior'. So the life that Jesus offers us is something totally extraordinary, quite unlike anything else we can experience. It is a life of fulfillment, completeness, and joy.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What God desires, is for his children to live a life full of happiness, peace, and a genuine friendship with God. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, writes about the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control[1], to which we might also add purity, humility, modesty, faith, character, wisdom, enthusiasm, dignity, optimism, confidence, and honesty. This is the life that Jesus offers us. This is what it means to have life in all its fullness.

The Old Testament refers frequently to the abundance of God’s “steadfast love,” and the God of Israel is consistently described as “abounding in steadfast love.”

In the Old Testament, especially in Proverbs, an abundance of material possessions, or wealth, can be referred to as a gift from God[2], or a reward for piety[3], righteousness[4], hard work or good planning[5]. But those texts also acknowledge that an abundance of wealth could be gained through unacceptable ways[6], and the prophets regularly condemned those who had accumulated their abundance at the expense of others.

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