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Sermon: Please Mind the Gap

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on March 19, 2017

Third Sunday in Lent, Year A (RCL): Exodus 17:1-7; Ps. 95:1-7 [8-11]; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-26, [27-38] 39-42

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.

        Six years ago during Spring Break of my Middler year in seminary, Chrissie and I flew to London for five nights and six days. It was my first visit to England, and while I speak the language, there were enough different accents, turns of phrases, customs, and practices, that I needed a few days to get my bearings. We spent a good amount of time walking about, riding buses, and descending into the London Underground, to get around the city.           

          Traveling from Heathrow Airport into the city, I was amused by the public address announcement each time we pulled into a new station. “Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”  

          When we returned home to the States, I googled “Mind the Gap.” A warning to train passengers to take caution while crossing the threshold between the train door and the station platform, it was introduced in 1969 on the London Underground, better known there as “the Tube.”          

          Because some platforms on the Tube are curved and the railway cars are straight, an unsafe gap is created when a straight car stops at a curved platform. Without any mechanical device that might fill the space, visual and auditory warnings were developed to help passengers from being caught unaware and thus suffer injury by tripping over, stumbling from, or stepping into that wide gap. The phrase “Mind the Gap” was chosen for this purpose; you see it painted along the edges of curved platforms as well as hear it through recorded announcements as trains arrive at stations.     

          This warning is relevant also where platforms are of nonstandard height. The deep-level tube trains have a floor height that is eight inches less than the subsurface stock trains. In those places where trains share platforms such as the Piccadilly Line (tube) and District Line (subsurface) stations, the platform is a compromise.   

          Please Mind the Gap.

          Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary begins in Matthew then brings us to the Fourth Gospel. The stories from John show us that God loves the whole world. Last week’s story of the nighttime visit with Nicodemus was with the religious “in crowd.” Today’s encounter is with a Samaritan woman whose name is never given, an outsider coming with her questions from different background and heritage. In each story, Jesus touches the spiritual nerve of the individual that he meets. Jesus unmasked the spiritual emptiness of Nicodemus who seemed righteously self-sufficient, and here he opens up the curiosity and wonder of a questioning Samaritan woman. Jesus has no canned, well-rehearsed, cleverly packaged approach for dealing with either person. He speaks instead ... to their gaps. He spoke first about being “born again.” Now he offers “living water.            

Our Lord is mindful of such gaps. He sees all of them, yet they don’t become barriers keeping him from accomplishing his ministry. That this exchange at the well between Jesus and the Samaritan woman even took place is amazing, showing the boldness of Jesus to disregard social conventions, customs, and expectations, all for his redemptive involvement in the lives of human beings. Jesus simply ignores the centuries-old impasse between Jews and Samaritans and the social taboo of a man, let alone a rabbi, having lengthy conversations with women in public.                       

          The verse preceding where our Gospel began today says, “But he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria” to return to Galilee in the North from Judea in the South. Normally Jewish travelers would make a detour around Samaria, to avoid contact with Samaritans. Jesus must have sensed a spiritual hunger in the Samaritan people, feeling his Father’s call which sent Him into the WHOLE world, not just part of it. Jesus saw the gap in humanity that this represented, and in spite of the long history of resentment and animosity between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus minded the gap.


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Sermon: Salt and Light

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on February 5, 2017

5th Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (RCL): Isaiah 58:1-9a; Ps.112:1-9;1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

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

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

          “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matt 5:14-15)     

Back in 1954, a five-spindle milkshake maker vendor named Ray Kroc was peddling his wares throughout the midwest United States. Everything about him suggested he was a hustler, more away from his wife than at home, constantly on the road, going from one bad drive-in food experience to the next. When an large unexpected sale of eight mixers to a single restaurant compelled Kroc to journey to San Bernardino, CA, he was gobsmacked by the innovative concept of McDonalds, which was owned and operated by Richard and Maurice – “Rick” and “Mac” – the McDonald brothers.

Based on Rick’s ingenuity and persistence, the McDonalds redesigned the whole workings of the drive-in restaurant. They focused on offering quality food through limiting menu choices to only the most popular items of burgers, fries, and drinks. That was matched with constant assessments of assembly line styled production, enabling orders to be ready in seconds rather than minutes. The result was a consistent product which patrons continued to flock to, again and again and again, even for a walk-up venue in the world of drive-in businesses. A market niche that moved from loitering teens to whole families dining together ushered in the never before known “fast-food business.”

  Efforts to grow their business failed because when they expanded, the McDonald brothers lost control of many of those qualities of their business that made the San Bernardino restaurant so successful. But Ray Kroc was a visionary who saw the opportunities before them, and him. As he learned more about their operation, Ray saw a picture in Rick’s office, a concept schematic, which depicted a storefront property with “golden arches.” Kroc convinced the McDonald brothers to contract with him to be their head of franchising.

  Now I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone. You should see it yourself. If you don’t already know the story of McDonalds and its “Founder,” you should check it out. But I posit to you today that McDonalds is one of our society’s examples of “a city built on a hill.” Golden Arches. Easily seen. Instantly recognizable. Everywhere you go. Even when the restaurant is in a centuries old building, say like in Rome, it is NOT hidden. Those Golden Arches are like a light shining all over the world to invite hungry people in.

  In our scripture readings today, we hear a lot about different kinds of light. Isaiah declares that when we "loose the bonds of injustice" and share our bread with the hungry, light breaks forth like the dawn. Light shines in the darkness for the upright, the psalmist sings. In the gospel according to Matthew from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the very light of the world, calls his followers to let the light of their good work shine before others, like a lamp on a stand illuminating a house. Even Paul's letter to the Corinthians seems to point to light, by claiming that true spiritual maturity involves judging ourselves and others in light of those "things God has revealed to us through the Spirit."  

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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 29, 2017

4th Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (RCL): Micah 6:1-8; Ps. 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

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

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

         From the Old Testament reading today: "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  These are powerful words that are quoted often.  The prophetic voice of Micah to the people in Jerusalem announces the expectation of all of God's people.  Do justice.  Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

         I wonder, when you hear these words today, how do they resonate with you, or perhaps how they convict you?  I ask because of the recent transition in the leadership of our country and the events that are swirling thus far.  Do justice?  Love kindness?  Walk humbly with your God?  These words certainly both resonate with and convict me at the same time.  It's been quite a week.  Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more!

         In Micah, we see a court room drama playing out.  With mountains and the foundations of the earth serving as jury, God brings an indictment against Israel.  God has "wearied" Israel with a long history of savings acts.  But God does not seek or expect lavish sacrifices in attempts to earn divine favor.  Instead, God empowers the people to do justice, to love loyalty to God, and to walk intentionally, deliberately in God's service.

         As I said, it's been quite a week!

         Last Saturday began with Breakfast Bible Study here at Immanuel, looking at scripture that confronted us with loving our enemies and judging others.  Afterward, I drove my wife, sister-in-law, and a friend to the metro to join the Women's March on Washington; I went home to watch many of the speeches courtesy of C-SPAN.  That evening, we joined some other friends for a small concert to benefit Syrian Refugee Relief.

         During the day, I heard Some speak with authority.

        I heard Some speak because of celebrity.

         I heard one speak and sing from compassion.

         I heard and watched Most speak and act in anonymity.

        But from where I sat, All spoke loudly.

        Because they felt they must to DO JUSTICE.

         Because they felt they must to DO KINDNESS.

         And for many that I know, they felt they were walking with God while doing these actions.


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Sermon: Behold the Lamb of God!

Sermon preached at 7:45 a.m. at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 15, 2017.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (RCL): Isaiah 49:1-7; Ps. 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
         Since the Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary, Ian Markham, has officially returned on Epiphany from his year-long sabbatical, I offer you this in honor of his return:
           What happens if you ask Jesus to take the wheel of a self-driving car?       
           Emmanuel Override!
           (Ba dum bum ... I'll be here for about another seven minutes!)
           We're two Sundays into this season of Epiphany, and often the big question is, “Who exactly is this Jesus?” The Epiphany is the Revelation of God, how the Word made Incarnate took on flesh to be revealed to the world.
            So why are we spending so much time looking at this???
           Today’s gospel opens with further reflection on who Jesus is as seen through his baptism. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the one anointed by the Spirit. We also hear at his baptism, for a voice from heaven declares it, that Jesus is God's own Son. That same voice will echo in a few weeks at his Transfiguration.
           But in-between, we have a number of these Gospel readings which unfold and unpack different aspects of who Jesus is. Through his words and actions, we get a clearer picture of this one born in Bethlehem, of whom the angels sang. What is his identity? And if he is the Savior, what kind of savior would he be?
           Today, John the Baptist chimes in. He declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God.” The text also calls him Rabbi, the Son of God, and the Messiah, that is, the Christ. All these names or titles tell us something about who Jesus is.
           But Lamb of God is perhaps the most unusual name of these. It's a literal term in the Old Testament, relating to the Passover. There a lamb, a perfect unblemished male lamb was slaughtered, and its blood was used on the doorposts to mark the homes of God's people. In the final plague God levies against Pharaoh, which would kill all the firstborn of Egypt, the Angel of Death would see the blood of the lamb on the door and pass over that house. Furthermore, God commanded that the lamb also be roasted and consumed that night by God's people. It is a feast established then and carried over every year to now in remembrance of God's mercy to them. It is part of the way they recount how God saved them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
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Sermon: What's in a Name?

Sermon preached at 10:30 a.m. at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 1, 2017.
1 Christmas-The Holy Name; Year A (RCL): Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
       So, what’s in a Name?
          In this life that I share with Chrissie, my wife, she is Chris-Miss, but perhaps more importantly, she is Heart Of My Heart (which comes from the final verse of Hymn 488, “Be Thou My Vision”).  And I am, to Chrissie, her Beloved, for that is the etymology of my name David; the purpose which I am called to share with her.
       In the Book of Genesis, and throughout the rest of Scripture, names have been changed to reflect new identities and purposes.  Abram became Abraham and Sarai, Sarah.  Jacob became Israel, one who struggled with God, after his wrestling match at the River Jabbok with the holy stranger.  In the New Testament, Saul, persecutor of the fledgling Christian movement, is knocked from his horse and blinded; he became Paul, an advocate for the risen Christ.  Simon became Peter, the Rock upon which the Church is built.  From the beginning of creation, names have been given the highest importance.  They are more than just words.  For us, they often convey a person’s place and purpose in the world.
       Even as Chrissie and I grew in our marriage which celebrates 36 years tomorrow (I love you, sweetheart!), bringing forth no children of our own, we are accustomed to welcoming four-legged animals to fill our home and warm our hearts.  And when we began, for the most part, we developed our own tradition of claiming and renaming through adoption:

·  Valentine became Lazarus (revived when he didn’t go to a different home)
·  Dilly became Gili (which in Hebrew means, ‘my joy, my happiness’)

       Another example - this weekend, we went to see, “Hidden Figures,” the story of three brilliant African-American women at NASA who served as some of the brains behind the successful launch of John Glenn into orbit, which ultimately restored our nation’s confidence in reaching for the stars and beyond.  Names play an important role in this movie where how you address someone shows respect and intimacy.  Clearly, names have importance and carry weight.
       Today has long been celebrated as a principal feast day of the Church: what we call the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  In ancient Jewish tradition, a child was circumcised and named on the 8th day of their life.  This ritual, chronicled in the 17th chapter of Genesis, was and is, considered a sign of the covenant between God and God’s people, dating back to the time of the patriarch Abraham, about 1800 years before Jesus.               Read more...Collapse )

Sermon preached at 7:45 a.m. at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on December 18, 2016.

Advent III; Year A (RCL): Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

         Driving south last week on I-95, I saw a roadside sign for Caroline County. It caught my attention because I’d just seen the movie, “Loving,” about Richard Loving, a white construction worker in Caroline County, and Mildred Jeter, a local bi-racial woman; they had fallen in love. Learning she was pregnant, they decided to marry in 1958. However, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 prohibited interracial marriage, so they drove to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony, but returned to their life in Caroline County.

           Five weeks later, sheriff's deputies raided Mildred's home to arrest and jail the Lovings, saying their marriage was invalid in Virginia. After pleading guilty to breaking the anti-miscegenation law, and being sentenced to one year in prison, the judge suspended their sentence on condition that they not return to Virginia together for at least 25 years. The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, but when they returned briefly to Caroline County so their first child could be delivered by Richard's mother, a midwife, they were arrested again. Only after their lawyer pleaded that he’d advised them erroneously were they able to go free to return to D.C.

           Two other children were born, and Mildred grew increasingly frustrated being away from the country. After watching the 1963 March on Washington, Mildred wrote to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help, and he referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union. Two young ACLU lawyers took their case and, after considering constitutional law, they concluded the Lovings' ordeal had a good chance of being heard before the United States Supreme Court after losing in the lower courts. When this happened, attorney Bernard Cohen asked Richard if he had a message for the Chief Justices; he replied simply, "Tell them that I love my wife." Ultimately, the Supreme Court's ruling in 1967 struck down the country's last segregation law. I suspect some of you might remember this landmark decision.

           Today in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear of the birth of Jesus Christ from Joseph’s perspective, sometimes called ‘The Annunciation to Joseph.’ With little in Scripture about this most important surrogate father, it is understandable that if this were the birth of a common child, we would not need to hear anything more. Yet this is no ordinary birth. This is the birth of Christ Jesus the Messiah: The Son of God, begotten by the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, when God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is also a story about a man’s devotion and character. In this, I see similarities between Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Richard Loving, the husband of Mildred.          

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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on November 27, 2016.
I Advent, Year A (RCL): Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

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

          Charles Dickens’novella, A Christmas Carol, is a well known story that makes its rounds every year about this time.  Its theme is an eternal truth: the importance that time has on us and how our perception of it helps us live our lives most authentically.  Dickens’ story, which you probably know, uses Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future, to show a man how he turned into a mean, miserly person.  Each ghost helps him understand just how unhappy he is and how miserable his life is.  The story is so popular - it plays every Christmas in the Nation's Capital at Ford’s Theater, and that there are at least 45 adaptations, featuring among others, Mickey Mouse, the Muppets, Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs, and of course my wife Chrissie's favorite, Mister Magoo, that have been made based on it – because the man, Ebenezer Scrooge, wakes up from his nightmares and chooses to do something about his own life and thereby makes his world a better place because of it.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new church year, a great opportunity to think about time for all of us.  The word "Advent," from the Latin 'adventus,' means "coming."  So in Advent, we celebrate the various comings of Jesus, the Word incarnate and God on earth.  I invite you now to consider with me how this Season of Advent, just like Dickens’ story, can operate in three tenses, all at once: Past, Future, and Present.        
To begin with, in Advent, we await the birth of the Christ child as we recall a past event, a birth that happened over 2000 years ago; it is a celebration that will happen -- that is already is beginning to happen -- right now.
         And this past event has great significance to our present time.  In Advent we once again await the birth of Christ into our lives, our families, our church, and the world.  We await this Christmas, that holy evening, just 28 days away, where bathed in candlelight, we will say: "Yes Lord! Thank You Lord" and rejoice in his presence, his having come among us as a babe, a child, a man, a human like us, to love, to teach, and to heal us. 
        And as we wait, we savor those things that remind us of all the good Christmases that have past.  We relish them and make them part of this Christmas, with music and carols, special dinner dishes and treats, candle lit worship, visits and phone calls, prayers and readings, cards and notes, and those wonderful smells of the season.
In Advent, we await a past event and indeed we prepare our lives for it.  And the preparation we do now enriches our lives and makes this is a special time.       
        But in Advent, we also await the future, a special future: we await the unveiling of the reign of God, something continually being revealed, but yet to be fully realized.
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Sermon: The Attitude of Gratitude

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA for Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016.
Thanksgiving Day; Year C (RCL): Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35        

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 gifts do you receive on a regular basis?  I’m talking about those daily happenings that we all have which make our lives a little bit easier, a little bit brighter, a little bit better—however you may choose to describe it.  Maybe it’s the interactions you have with the coffee shop employees and patrons.  Maybe it’s the smiles you receive on a walk through a store.  Maybe it’s the snuggles you get from your pets or your children or your loved one.  Maybe it’s the paper that gets delivered to your door every morning.
        What happens to you when that flow of such seemingly small gifts—I mean, I love my newspaper with my coffee, but I can get the news in other ways—when those daily expected things are suddenly not there?  Think about that.  What happens when your dog shuns you because you were gone for a few days, or your cat shuns you because, well, because it’s a cat!  Or that first time a small person you love pushes you away and says “no hugs?”  Or when that morning coffee comes with a confrontation, or your paper fails to arrive?
Be honest with yourself.
          If you are like me, my first thought is annoyance.  Because I have come to EXPECT something good, and it is not happening.  To me.  I (emphasis I) am affected.

        I submit that in our world of mostly plenty, this kind of mindset permeates our society on too many different levels.  Most of us are blessed by the way we live, even if we do not always consider our daily gifts as real blessings.  Yet in this same land of plenty, in our very community here, there are still far too many who live on our streets and under our bridges, seeking their next meal for themselves and others, and wondering where, and if, some sound work and good clothing might be found.  I was disheartened to hear recently at a Region IV Council meeting of the eight Episcopal churches in Alexandria that there may be as many as 185 students in our city’s public schools who are homeless!  When I hear that, I realize how at risk I am, and that we all might be, of becoming complacent, and prone to not giving thanks for everything or even anything, and by that lack of gratitude, failing to offer my help to those in need.
        “Attitude is everything.”  It’s no different when it comes to actions of Thanksgiving, or what we at Immanuel refer to often as Grace and Gratitude.  The attitudes we carry throughout life are of paramount importance if we are truly to live lives that demonstrate our gratitude to God for God’s movement in our lives.  And God’s presence, the essence of how God works in our lives is manifest both in the myriad gifts we are given and in the power of our gratitude for each and every one of those gifts.  The attitude for gratitude leads to action!        Read more...Collapse )


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