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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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Sermon: Don't Bury Your Talents - Grow Them!

Pantheon Sunburst

A homily preached at 8:00 a.m. at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, November 16, 2014.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (RCL): Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

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

         Over 25 years ago, Mary Sulerud, then the assistant at Grace Church, took the reins of my EFM class from the rector who’d been elected bishop in Oklahoma. Mary provided our class an exercise to create a personal one-sentence prayer. The exercise invited us to 1) consider how we saw God using superlative and a title; 2) how we viewed ourselves; and 3) what we sought in prayer. Knowing there would be times when praying was hard and less than forthcoming, this short prayer was always there, if needed, to begin talking with God. My individual prayer still is: “Almighty Father, your Seeking Servant prays for Guidance.”

         So I wonder: How do you see God? What title might you give or what superlative would you pick for God? Is it a God of grace, God of glory kind of understanding? How is God known to you? Present or distant? Gracious or stern? How are you known to God? Are you committed and “all in” or just mildly involved and somewhat lacking interest?

         Almost half of Jesus’ parables have to do with money or commerce. But money is only the presenting metaphor. These parables speak of abundant life. In today’s story a rich man is about to go on a long journey. Before departing he entrusts his money to three slaves. He gives five talents to one, two to another, and one to the third slave. Lest we mistakenly think that the third fellow was seriously short changed, we should note that his one talent was a huge amount of money.

         Upon the master’s return we learn that the first two slaves doubled the amount they received. However, the third slave was fearful so he buried his one talent so as not to lose it. There was no increase. On a deeper lever this is not about money. It’s about taking what God has given to us and working with it without fear, being willing to take a risk.

         The parable in our Gospel lesson focuses primarily upon that third servant. Gifts that are not used are lost. The title “talents” is unfortunate, in that in our language we use the word “talent” to refer to natural aptitudes or abilities that people have. Today when we speak of a “talented” musician, artist or athlete, we hark back to this parable. A talent in Jesus’ time was a valuable sum of money. Consulting the New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, a talent is A LOT! It is a monetary unit roughly equivalent to 6,000 drachmas, which is a sum greater than 15 years wages for a daily laborer. Because of this parable, the word talanta or talanton from the Greek transliterated to “talent,” thus acquiring a different meaning.

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Sermon: Come to the Wedding Banquet

VTS Immanuel Chapel

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, October 12, 2014.

18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (RCL): Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

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.

         In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable indicating that the blessings of God’s kingdom are available to all, but the invitation is not to be taken lightly. This is an interesting use of allegory, a story in which people, things, and events are used as metaphors to carry symbolic meaning. First, we see the invitation rejected by many (vv. 1-7); then the invitation is extended to strangers (vv. 8-9); and finally we see that invited persons are expected to be properly considerate (vv. 10-14).

           You might remember that in ancient marriages, a couple would announce their betrothal and then the man would begin to prepare a new place for the bride in his father’s house. When that was complete, then the groom and his family would process to the bride and the feast would begin. It might take months or years. No one knew for sure, but everyone knew it was coming and their presence was expected. So the Save-The-Date magnets were sent out long ago. Now, the day of celebration has come. Yet the expected guests are absent. Those originally invited are off tending to their own things rather than accepting the invitation to attend the banquet.

          

I cannot come.

           I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now.

           I have married a wife; I have bought me a cow.

           I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.

           Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.

           This represents a serious breach of ancient protocol. To accept the original invitation, to reply with Yes, means you will be present when the time comes; you are expected. Many commentaries says this parable speaks to the chosen elect of Israel first being called into covenant with God, and the judgment against Jewish leaders and Matthew’s community, who as insiders are exposed as false believers. The king’s servants and slaves are reminiscent of the prophets and martyrs of old who have announced the invitation to come to the banquet. Israel knows God is preparing this feast, as do we.

           Both the Exodus and Matthew readings are rich with images of festivals and banquets. We all know the joy of gathering. It often includes celebrating, eating, and drinking. It is a common and essential human form of communicating, of bonding, of re-membering and recollection, of hope and living. That’s why we gather at important times – such as the marriage of two people. A small circle of family and friends are invited. The coming celebration of Thanksgiving may be a good example. The feast is extravagant. All people are invited. No membership cards are required to gain access.              



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Sermon: "By What Authority ...?"

Scotland

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (RCL): Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

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

          I love movies. And my wife, Chrissie, will tell you: I love ALL movies. But now that I search for sermon material, I like to see movies with themes about God, heaven, faith and redemption, even if it’s a stretch, as in “Guardians of the Galaxy!” The latest film I saw, ‘Calvary,’ is about a good priest living in a small town in Ireland. It opens with Father James hearing a confession, in which the person speaks of being repeatedly abused as a child at the hands of another priest. The former offender is now dead, and the adult confessor has decided any retribution on the Church seems best carried out only against a good priest. Then the confessor announces he will kill Father James in a week’s time. The film follows this priest’s day-to-day dealings with all the town members. He discovers there is no shortage of domestic abuse, racism, suicidal tendencies and extreme immoral views. The lack of innocence runs deep. At the end, a series of criminal acts forces Father James to face his persecutor and the dark consequences from the Catholic Church’s past.

          “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus teaching in the temple after having cleansed the temple. He drove out the moneychangers, tossed some furniture around, scattered merchandise, and totally disrupted the business of others. I recall from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, our Lord screams, “My temple should be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. Get out! Get out!” Now teaching in the temple, Jesus’ authority is questioned by the religious leaders who are supposed to be in charge of the temple.

          I think we all know that Jesus came to disrupt the usual order of things – and this includes authority. The religious authorities, the Sanhedrin, try to throw the rule book at Jesus when they ask him about the source or origin of his authority. “By what authority …?” It’s obviously not one the Sanhedrin had established. Jesus’ authority is not found in religious law. The temple authorities hide behind their self-invented authority. They observe the commandments to make themselves look good, rather than the call to serve their neighbor.

          The surprising thing is that true authority finds itself on the outside. Jesus is the supreme outsider in this story. He is outside the boundaries the religious authorities want to establish. And Jesus is also the defender of the outsider, which in this instance, includes tax collectors and prostitutes. He places himself with the marginalized, even unto death, on a cross, outside the walls of the city, with other criminals. (Just so you know, Jesus has inspired groups throughout the ages and even today) There are religious communities, like the Little Sisters of Jesus, a contemplative Roman Catholic community of religious sisters, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who lived this identity with the outsider, not simply in service to the marginalized but living, completely assimilating with the poorest. They live among groups that are inaccessible to other forms of church ministry, whose day-to-day living is marked by divisions, racism, poverty and violence. They hope that in doing so they can be a sign of hope and healing in this broken world.      

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