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Sermon: Fire & Division!

Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge on August 18, 2019.
Proper 15, Year C (RCL): Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; Take our minds and think through them; Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for yourself, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

  WHAT IS GOING ON with Jesus in this reading today?  Is he having a really bad day?  He’s bringing FIRE to the earth!  He is bringing DIVISION and not peace?  What happened to our Prince of Peace?  After I read this and said, "The Gospel of the Lord," I half expected your response to be "Whaaat?"  What Jesus says today hardly seems to be or sound like the Good News we know.  When you hear them in proper context, they make more sense, BUT … that doesn't make them any less challenging!      
     Again, as has been true for most of the Gospel readings this summer, they come from that part of Luke's story of Jesus where he is traveling from his home in Galilee to the city of Jerusalem.  This will culminate with his death on the cross at Calvary.  Along the way, Jesus did a lot of teaching as well as deeds of great power.  Today, Jesus addresses these words to his followers and the crowds.  I believe Jesus is telling them not to have false expectations of what Jesus is about.
      The crowd gathered there imagined Jesus to be the Messiah they wanted, longed for, and expected, who will usher in an era of peace by overcoming the Roman regime to reestablish the Davidic kingdom promised long ago by God.  Jesus faces the misconception of him as a waring and winning Messiah everywhere he goes.  The agrarian people are apparently good at discerning weather forecasts, but are far less astute at understanding the politics of their day and age.
      So, Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth and having a baptism that needs to be completed.  Normally I think most people tend to understand fire as judgment.  That Jesus is coming to burn up the bad and wicked.  Judgment is one image associated with fire in both the Old and New Testament, so it points to the reality that the call to follow Jesus does strip away our pretenses and fallacies, our selfishness and everything else that we use to prop ourselves up with.  Jesus exposes the unbelief of many.  So, judgment is certainly part of this fire.  But I really believe that there’s more to it.
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Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge on August 11, 2019.
Proper 14, Year C (RCL): Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
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.

        HYDRATE.  PERSPIRATE.  URINATE.  (Have I got your attention now?) 
         Last week, I heard someone remark after church, “I never thought I’d hear George Carlin quoted from the pulpit!”  Well, now … I bet you didn’t think a preacher would also talk about bodily functions.  But, if you’ve ever done a long-haul charity run, a walk, or a bicycle ride, you know these words.  Hydrate.  Perspirate.  Urinate.  I heard them often from more seasoned riders on a 4-day, 330-mile-long AIDS Ride twenty years ago as we bicycled from Raleigh, NC to Washington, D.C.  They are instructions to keep you safe, healthy, and able to finish your intended journey.  God doesn’t use these words with us in the Bible, but let’s see how and if they might correlate somehow!
         Jesus said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  That has been God’s promise from the beginning.  It was promised to Abraham, and promised to the early church, and is promised also to the “little flock” of which we have become a part by assembling here today.  Faith, God’s baptismal gift, trusts in the promises of God.  So have no fear.  We are called to be people of God who hope and believe. 
         We are called to HYDRATE in the wellspring that is hope in God.               
         The prophet Isaiah announces God’s displeasure with the offerings and sacrifices of the people of Judah and Jerusalem who lack compassion.  Although Jerusalem was not finally destroyed until 587 B.C., by Isaiah’s time, the nation had already reached the point of ‘no return.’  They had rejected God.  And God was appalled by their moral degradation, social injustice, and religious hypocrisy.  Swift and terrible judgment would fall upon all those who persisted in being disobedient and not attentive to God.  Isaiah addressed the Southern Kingdom, offering a word of judgment and a call to genuine repentance.  The prophet urges them instead to do justice and defend the oppressed. Indeed, if they repent, the Lord promises, sins that are like scarlet will be made clean as new-fallen snow.  
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Sermon: "A Place For All Your Stuff!"

Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge on August 4, 2019.
Pentecost 8 (Proper 13), Year C (RCL): Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always
O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

            Good morning, St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge!  It’s so good to be back with you!  Please know that you have been in my prayers since I heard word of Mother Kathy’s retirement and departure.  I know she was a real blessing to you as you were to her and her family.  May God bless her in whatever is next for them, and be assured that God has got this and you during this time of transition.  Thank you again for welcoming me. 
       I don’t know if The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary, has ever come here to preach at St. Margaret’s.  But if he has, you would know that he generally likes to offer a joke at the start of his sermon.  Usually, the joke relates somehow to his sermon or the lesson(s) read in church.  I have a copy of the book, “Lectionary Levity: The Use of Humor in Preaching,” which the Dean co-authored with Samantha Gottlich, a VTS alum and now priest in the Diocese of Texas.  They suggest that “humor is intended to be a way in for the preaching of the Gospel.”  So, I’ll share their offering for this Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13 in Year C:
       The late comedian George Carlin, with his reputation for profanity, was also a brilliant social satirist who once captured the very human dilemma regarding our attachment to “stuff:”
“You got your stuff with you?  I’ll bet you do.  Guys have stuff in their pockets; women have stuff in their purses .... Stuff is important.  You gotta take care of your stuff.  You gotta have a place for your stuff.  That’s what life is all about, tryin’ to find a place for your stuff!  That’s all your house is; a place to keep your stuff.  If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house.  You could just walk around all the time.
     A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.  You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane.  You look down and see all the little piles of stuff. Everybody’s got [their] own little pile of stuff.”
     Now maybe you wonder what that has to do with today’s Scripture lessons.  Read more...Collapse )

Sermon: Big Dreams, Large Ambitions

Sermon preached at St. James in Mt. Vernon, VA on July 28, 2019.
Feast of St. James, Year C (RCL): Jeremiah 45:1-5; Psalm 7:1-10; Acts 11:27-12:3; Matthew 20:20-28.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
           Good morning, St. James’, Mt. Vernon!  It’s so good to be back with you once again!  I thank Fr. Charles for thinking of me when he needs to be away, and I am always happy to come see friends from previous calls and other spheres of our shared life together.
         In preparing me for today, Fr. Charles shared that you would be celebrating the Feast of St. James’, your namesake and patron saint.  He provided me this as background: ‘When I arrived at St. James’, the Feast of James the Apostle was considered the church’s feast day.  But I soon heard from people how highly the founders of the church regarded the Letter of James, with its emphasis on the works resulting from faith.  And I soon realized that the Feast of James of Jerusalem (the author of the letter) is in October.  So now we celebrate both feasts, as we have the DNA of both James in our church!’
       Today in our Gospel account, we hear the familiar story of a mother who had two sons.  The mother approached Jesus and gave him homage.  When Jesus asked her what she desired, she immediately told him: “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your Kingdom.”  Well then!  I truly wonder if Jesus was shocked!  He had received strange requests before; however, this woman was bolder in her request than any other who had ever approached him.  Perhaps we should remember that James and John, those boys of Zebedee, were known as the “sons of thunder.”  Maybe we see from where their ‘thunder’ originates.
       Clearly this mother wanted only the best for her boys.  Like most mothers I know, she loved them, was proud of them, and because she had great dreams for them, she made this audacious demand of the Lord.  She wanted them to have the places of highest honor.  No small dreams here.  Most likely, the mother believed this would bring her two sons much power, fame, and fortune.  However, Jesus knew that his kingdom was radically different from what she thought it was.  Being part of Jesus’ kingdom would mean that her sons would have to suffer. 
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Sermon: Before I Leave You

Sermon preached at Grace Church, Russell Road in Alexandria, VA on May 26, 2019.
The 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (RCL): Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22.5; John 14:23-29.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
      Saying goodbye is never easy.  Not for us.  Not for me.  Not even for Jesus.  He had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, and he knew exactly what was coming next: a trial and certain death.
      But the disciples did not yet understand.  How could they?  If like them, you had lived in the constant, tangible presence of Jesus, witnessed his mighty deeds, and experienced his abundance, would you ever expect him to leave?  And even if you did, would you be well-equipped to handle his departure?  Probably not.  Goodbyes are hardly ever easy.
      Jesus knows his sudden absence will be jarring for the disciples.  But he will not leave them ill-equipped to face the future.  He will leave them with a gift. Well, with gifts.
      And these gifts were not only used by the earliest disciples, but they are still being used today.  By our community, and by every other Christian community.
The Gospel accounts vary about the nature of Jesus’ parting gift.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that the parting gift was a meal.
      Before the storm of that Good Friday, Jesus gathered all twelve disciples together for a simple Passover meal of bread and wine.  He took a loaf of bread and blessed, broke, and shared it.  Then he poured some wine in a cup, blessed it, and he shared that also as he said, “This do in remembrance of me.”
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Sermon preached at Grace Church, Russell Road in Alexandria, VA on May 19, 2019.
The 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C (RCL): Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
          One of the wonderful things about preaching in a place with many other fine preachers is to try to build a web of continuity from all sermons.  As it happens, when I first began considering today’s gospel, I remembered Ashley Mather was the preacher on the story I wanted to use as the connective thread.  I wanted to build my web on hers to capture your imagination—and yes, Spiderman IS my favorite superhero.
      Please recall the Gospel reading from a few weeks ago.  We heard the amazing post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and Peter on the beach by Lake Galilee, where Jesus re-commissioned Peter to ‘feed my sheep’ and ‘tend my lambs:’ to show love and compassion and pastoral concern for those who were in need.  Ashley reminded us of how the love of Christ reaches across those spaces we create by our own shortcomings.
      Jesus’ words to Peter commission each of us to a web of love, care and compassion: to support, encourage and help those who are feeling frail and vulnerable and to stand with others in their pain.
      So, the gospel this morning is the perfect complement because it goes to the very heart of what it means for us to follow Jesus.  Here, Jesus sums up Christian teaching in a couple of short, simple sentences: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
      At the end of the day, when all the doctrine has been debated, when all the traditions have been lived out, when all the hymns have been sung and the liturgies read, we are left with just one thing: Love.
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Sermon: Thomas Gets a Bum Rap

Sermon preached at Grace Church, Russell Road in Alexandria, VA on April 28, 2019.
The 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C (RCL): Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:19-24; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
        The journey to Easter, to that empty tomb and our risen Lord, is one filled with questions and reconciliation as we follow the narratives which bring us to and through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  These stories provide many examples of what God would have us do and be through the living example of the Son.  We even experience through Jesus the mystery of belief complete with its companions: questioning doubt and ultimate obedience.
        It never fails.  The week following the Passion of Our Lord, his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, we come around about to this story of Thomas.  Good old “doubting” Thomas.  Many have suggested Thomas could be the patron saint of most modern-day people because he asks questions we want to ask.  Remember that just last week, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and even she could not imagine Christ risen until he appeared and called her by name.
        It is recorded in scripture that Thomas was a twin.  Was he an identical twin, familiar with mistaken identity?  Thomas may have known how easy it was to be wrong about something, even when we see it with our very own eyes.  Perhaps that explains why he couldn’t accept the disciples’ claims that they, too, along with Mary Magdalene, had seen the risen Lord.  Thomas needed proof.  He wanted to be sure.
        We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t there on that first day.  Scripture says nothing other than he was not present that first time Christ appears to his disciples.  When he does arrive and the other disciples tell him what had happened, Thomas can’t overcome his sense of loss and doubt.  He had had courage enough to face death with Jesus, but to believe in Christ’s resurrection required even more.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  How hard this must have been for all of them.  The tension of a doubter amid the believing community that had seen the risen Lord continued for a week until Jesus reappeared with Thomas present.
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Maundy Thursday Sermon: Show n' Tell

Sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA on April 18, 2019
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.

         I remember loving ‘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 quite 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 life in the corporate world.  What I learned then is that it seems, as we get older, people can become very protective about what they are willing to show or care to share.
        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 sometimes, as spaces permit, project on walls) some 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 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.     
        We are, of course, expecting the ‘show ‘n tell’ we get in the other Gospel accounts: the tradition of Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread, and the blessing and giving wine, to share them with others in remembrance of Him.  But John doesn't tell us about that event at all.  Rather, we hear about something that happened at the meal, not reported by the other three evangelists.  He tells this remarkable story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.
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Sermon: Be Refreshed! So Rejoice!

A sermon preached at Grace Church, Russell Road in Alexandria, VA on March 31, 2019.
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C (RCL): Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
       Congratulations are in order!  We have reached the midway point of Lent! Traditionally, this Fourth Sunday in Lent has been known as Laetare Sunday, or the Sunday of rejoicing or refreshment during one's Lenten journey.  It is a time to breathe, to perhaps take a break from your Lenten discipline, but most importantly, to look towards Easter as it starts to come into view.  Later today, I will see Facebook posts from several seminary friends who celebrate this day by wearing rose-colored (“no, not pink”) vestments ~ I know of at least one Liturgics professor who rues this day.  Father Malm shared with me that, in the Church of England, today is known as “Mothering Sunday,” when people visit their “mother” church where they were baptized, or worship at the nearest cathedral.  (Maybe that’s where rose-colored vestments started.)
       Psalm 32 sets the tone today: “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!”  2 Corinthians says, ‘Happy are those who have “become the righteousness of God” in the merits of Christ Jesus.’  Joshua adds, ‘Happy are those for whom the forgiveness of God has “rolled away … the disgrace” of former things.’  And Luke also: Happy is the father at the return of his prodigal son.  And happy are we that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  Be Refreshed!  So, Rejoice!
       This day, and these lessons, are all about coming home, and forgiveness, and new life in accepting, even tasting, God's grace.
       The story in Joshua celebrates the Israelites finally crossing into the Promised Land.  They then celebrate the Passover and eat the produce of the promised land instead of the miraculous manna that had sustained them in the desert.  Thus, the Israelites symbolically bring their forty years of wilderness wandering to an end at Gilgal.
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Homily preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA on Ash Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019.
Ash Wednesday (RCL): Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
        Not too long after we married, my wife Chrissie and I were in The Eternal City.  She was returning to her favorite city in the whole world and there on business while I was there to experience Rome for the very first time.
       One of the sites I had to visit, based on Chrissie’s description, was the Capuchin Crypt.  It is a small space of tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini.  The six chapels contain the skeletal remains of almost 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order.  There are separate chapels arranged with skulls, pelvic bones, and leg and thigh bones all over the floors, walls, and ceilings, and there is one chapel with three skeletons dressed in monks’ habits.  The Catholic order insists that this display is not meant to be macabre, but rather that is serves as a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth and our own mortality.  With the three skeletal monks, there is a sign which says, "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..."
      This day, Ash Wednesday, invites us into the season of Lent with a solemn call to fasting and repentance as we begin our journey to the baptismal waters of Easter.  As we hear in today’s lessons, now is the appropriate time to return to the Lord.  During Lent, the people of God reflect on the meaning of their baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.  And the sign of ashes vividly signifies to us our human mortality and frailty.   Read more...Collapse )


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