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Sermon: The Ten Commandments

Sermon preached at Christ Church, MD in La Plata & at Wayside (Newburg), MD
on October 8, 2017
18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) Year A, RCL: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

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

I wager to guess that no other document has been so influential to Western culture than the Ten Commandments. In Western civilization, the Decalogue has a position of inescapable significance. For Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, this is the only formulation of religious principles that are held in common. In many Christian churches, knowledge of the Ten Commandments is a requirement for membership. The civil law of many lands has some root in this covenant law of God given to Israel at Sinai.

Scholars suggest that the Israelites were not the first, nor the only, people to have a written law. Other ancient law codes have been discovered for other civilizations such as the Sumerians, the Akkadians, and the Babylonians.

That there was no written law in Egypt could be explained by the status of the Pharaoh. He was considered a god, and therefore his spoken word at any given moment was law. Law, in ancient times, as well as today, served to regulate and control interpersonal relationships, to maintain the stability of community life, and to guarantee justice as justice was perceived. For Israel, the law bound together a heterogeneous group of slaves into a nation, a community that endures to present day. The law became the outward expression of the covenant, so we call it Covenant Law (Capital “C,” Capital “L”). Obedience to the law was Israel’s response to covenant. It was the outward and visible sign of their being a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation.”

The way the Ten Commandments are stated is rare, in fact, hardly found outside of Israel in the ancient world. The laws are in the form of absolutes, “You shall” or You shall not.” A more common expression of law was conditional: “If you do this and that, then I will do that or this.”

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Sermon: "By What Authority?"

Sermon preached at Christ Church, MD in La Plata & at Wayside (Newburg), MD on October 1, 2017

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) 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,
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 sometimes a stretch, as in “Wonder Woman!”  But Wonder Woman works for this week’s gospel, because Diana, Princess of the Amazons, recognizes her call to help save humankind for the terrible conflict of World War I.  She is challenged by both sides who question her authority – she, in turn, shows her authority by besting all challengers in strength and wit.  Sometimes you can prove your authority by your actions, as Wonder Woman does.  Sometimes you must make the point differently.

        “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we find Jesus teaching after having cleansed the temple.  He drove out the moneychangers, tossed around some furniture, 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 oversee 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 that members of the Sanhedrin had earned through their studies and public ceremonies of institution.  Jesus’ authority is not found in religious law.  The temple powers that be hide behind their self-contained authority.  What they don’t see is that now they observe the commandments to make themselves look good, rather than the call to serve their neighbor.    

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Sermon: Values of the Sacred Fabric Unfold

Sermon preached at Christ Church, MD in La Plata & Newburg, MD on September 10, 2017
14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) Year A, RCL: Exodus 12:1-14; Ps. 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

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

          This past Thursday, I was at the Washington National Cathedral, where I volunteer once a month as a Nave chaplain. I was there to attend the noonday Eucharist, and afterward, join other volunteer chaplains for a luncheon with the Cathedral’s Dean, Provost, Canon for Worship, and two Cathedral vergers.
          As I walked through the Nave, I overheard that ‘the windows had been taken out and moved to an undisclosed location.’
          In 2015, following the tragic mass shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, the Dean at that time called for the removal of two Cathedral stained glass windows that honor Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
          It was then that the Cathedral began a process to engage in deep questions of racial justice, the legacy of slavery, and God’s call to us in the 21st century. Over the past two years, there were many passionate voices who engaged Cathedral leadership and held them accountable to the process.
          Programs that were hosted, conversations within the Cathedral community, and events around the nation brought greater focus to a key question: Are the Lee-Jackson windows, installed in 1953, appropriate to the sacred fabric of a spiritual home for the nation?
          As you probably heard, the Cathedral Chapter decided Tuesday to immediately remove the windows. Their understanding is that the windows are inconsistent with the Cathedral’s mission to serve as a house of prayer for ALL people, and represented a barrier to important work on social justice and racial reconciliation. The Chapter determined the association with racial oppression, human subjugation, and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of the Washington National Cathedral.
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Sermon preached at Christ Church, MD in La Plata & Newburg, MD on September 3, 2017

13th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) Year A, RCL: Exodus 3:1-15; Ps. 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

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

I wonder: Have you ever considered which of Jesus’ disciples you might be most like?  There were twelve of them; thirteen, in fact, if you count Matthias, chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot.  So, you have options.  Something is known about each of them, but not always fully for all of them.  Except for Judas, all are remembered through Feast Days in the life of our Church.  Check the Church calendar!  You can learn more about the disciples through several different books: Lesser Feasts & Fasts; Holy Women, Holy Men; or the latest iteration, A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

For the longest time, I resonated strongly with Peter when he was first called by Jesus.  Several years ago, I truly ‘dropped my net’ to follow Jesus (leaving a 26+ year career at VISA USA, the bankcard company, and excellent salary and benefits), not knowing where or to what it would take me.  I sensed that God was calling me into something new, but I never imagined (though others seemed to know, and tried to tell me) that ministry of a different kind, shape, and way, was what lay ahead for me.  

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Sermon preached at Goodwin House Alexandria in Alexandria, VA on August 27, 2017

12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) Year A, RCL: Isaiah 51:1-6; Ps. 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

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.

Last Monday, I think we may have shared an experience, even as I was almost 500 miles away in Irmo, South Carolina, and you were here on the rooftop of Goodwin House in Alexandria, VA.  How many of you experienced the Solar Eclipse of 2017?  [a show of hands?]  Do you still have your special glasses to gaze at the sun?  I still have mine.  I hope to use them again in 7 years when the next opportunity to watch the celestial dance of God’s creation unfolds above us.  If you haven’t already, mark your calendars for April 8, 2024, when14 states between Mexico and Canada will witness the next solar eclipse. 

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The Sounds of Discernment

Hello Blog, my dear old friend
I've come to post to you again
Because a movement has begun dawning
And my heart is once again longing
To know what's new and next with God
For it feels somewhat odd
But well within the realm of Discernment.

In days and nights I sit still
Seeking to hear the desire of God's Will
On the couch or in a pub
I try to quiet the surrounding hubbub
With eyes, heart, and mind open to whatever
Might be the next great endeavour
In this on-going life of Discernment.

In these most recent days
I've pray I haven't too far strayed
afield and from the path you set for me
For its not just me - its us, its we
We go together, not alone or without each other
With you, God - father, mother, spirit, brother
Because of this wilderness walk called Discernment.

"God", cried I, "I do not know
To where or in what or even how to go
I seek your vision that I might see
What it is you want of or for me
But it feels a bit like abandonment
That I cannot find my way yet through Discernment.

So I with others bow and pray
For that next call along the Way
Waiting for post-its, emails texts, or other blips
That might come from your desire to my lips
To again speak aloud where you would have me go
All the while I certainly know
About this curious journey called Discernment.
Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 14, 2017
Good Friday (RCL): Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

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.

       It is finished.  How did we get here?  How did this happen?
       It was sin in that garden in Eden that first knocked creation off its axis into chaos.  It was angry sin that led Cain to kill his brother Abel, for whom God had regarded well for the gifts that Abel had offered God.  It was sin again at Babel that marked the collective pride of humankind.  And while every sin, whether a capital "S" sin or a lower-case "s" sin is still Sin - an act of rejecting God - the immorality of humankind's wickedness finds new heights -- or depths -- in the gruesome events of this day that we observe as Good Friday.
       Holy Week can make us feel so uncomfortable.  Yes, we know the story - there is glorious victory and the promise of life eternal out yet before us - but to get there, we must first venture outside the walls of the Holy City to a cross on the mount of Calvary.  We must pass through this darkness of Good Friday.  We remember when human malice broke barriers and reached levels of previously unmatched brutality.  The Messiah, our King, who had come to save all things, was nailed to a tree and left there to die.
       On each Good Friday, we must brave the finger of wrongdoing and accountability that is shoved into the ribs of our humanity:  “...this Jesus whom you crucified...” (Acts 2:36);  “...you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life...” (Acts 3:14–15);  “...whom you crucified...” (Acts 4:10);  “...whom you killed by hanging him on a tree...” (Acts 5:30).
       Humanity has never heaped upon itself more self-condemning guilt than on Good Friday.  That simple phrase — "you killed" — pierces through all of our vain excuses.  It was certainly a conspiracy to kill the Son of God.  The culmination of that plot has stained our hands with God’s own blood.
       This is why Good Friday was the most horrible sin the world ever witnessed.  Worse than the corruption of creation.  More incriminating than brother slaying brother.  More terrible than Babel’s arrogant tower.  If ever there was reason that God might again rain down wrath upon the world, and re-flood the globe with justice, there was no more opportune moment than the brutal death of the beloved Son of God.
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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 13, 2017
Maundy Thursday (RCL): Ex. 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Ps. 116:1, 10-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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.

        When you turn to the internet and ‘google’ the phrase ‘show and tell,’ what you get back from Wikipedia is that “Show n’ Tell” is a common expression about showing an audience something and then telling them about it. Many of us remember this from school, right? Well, I learned that in the United Kingdom, North America, New Zealand, and Australia, it is a common classroom activity at early elementary school.  It is used to introduce young children to the skills of public speaking.  For example, a child brings an item from home and explains to the class why they chose that particular item, where they got it, and any other relevant information about it.
        I loved ‘Show n’ Tell’ when I was younger. I learned so much about my friends, and sometimes, I even learned something about myself.  Why was that item important?  Did I really want to share it with others?  Why?  How did that make me feel?  I was usually very happy to share my treasures, those things that were special to me, especially things that I loved.
I remember using ‘Show n’ Tell’ once as a team-building exercise in my former corporate world life. What I discovered is that it seems, as we get older, people can become very protective about what they are willing to show or care to share.
        It’s curious that this memory came to me as we approached these three Holy Days. “Show n’ Tell” has certainly found its way into some pulpits already, with preachers offering object-centric sermons.  We might hold or employ (or even project) some particular item that can be easily seen and understood by our congregation to get your attention and, hopefully, make a point that will be memorable.  But tonight, I think of ‘Show n’ Tell’ most specifically because, in many ways, this Maundy Thursday liturgy that we celebrate now is what we as Christians, and specifically as Episcopalian/Anglicans, do as our own form of Show ‘n Tell.
         It was something of that nature that Jesus was doing the night of the Last Supper, as is recorded for us by the evangelist John. In some ways, it comes as a surprise to us just as much as it did to those early disciples.     
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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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