David's Columns

Sermon: What a Hot Mess This Is!

Preached at St. Christopher’s, Springfield VA on June 21, 2020
The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (RCL): Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Matthew 10:24-39
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable,
O Lord, our Strength, and our Redeemer.  Amen.
Families are funny, aren’t they?  If you consult the online resource Dictionary.com, dysfunction is defined as: “a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.”  With that said, I imagine there is some measure of dysfunction in just about every family there ever has been, is now, or will be in the future.  Years ago, my father went on a family wellness retreat which prompted him to call my sister, brother, and me, in order of oldest to youngest, to individually apologize for how dysfunctional our family was.  He heaved that “D-word” around a lot until I finally challenged him to “Show Me Normal.”  That’s not to say we do not have relational challenges in my family.  We are, in fact, human after all.  So, I am guessing that any notion of a ‘perfect family’ must live somewhere in that part of our brains which produces imagination and fantasy!

I would challenge anyone who suggests that Abraham’s family was perfect.  Talk about being dysfunctional!  Today’s account from Genesis about Abraham, Sarah and the newly weaned Isaac, and Hagar “and her boy” (for Ishmael is not referred to by name here) is marked with all kinds of messiness.  It’s enough to make me wonder if not everyone in the Bible is a good role model!

Now, Abraham fathered at least eight children by three different women.  There is Ishmael whose mother was the Egyptian slave Hagar; there’s Isaac whose mother was Abraham’s wife Sarah; and there were six other sons born to a woman named Keturah whom Abraham married after Sarah dies.  And although Ishmael was Abraham’s first born, Abraham cut off Ishmael and Hagar from the family, dismissing them out into the wilderness of Beersheba with nothing more than bread and a skin of water.

Afterward, Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.  Abraham took special care that his other children did not threaten Isaac’s inheritance; they received gifts before being sent away to the East.   So, in effect, Abraham actively disinherited seven of his eight sons and their families, and later disowned them, fearing they might ‘contaminate’ others, including Isaac.  Again, maybe not everyone in the Bible is the best role model!
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Sermon: "Pack Light"

Preached at St. Christopher’s, Springfield VA on June 14, 2020
Pentecost II, Year A (RCL): Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1,10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]
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.
             During this time of COVID-19, it has been difficult to imagine when we might travel again, and if we do, where we might go, and how.  I shudder to think how much it might cost these days to fly ‘the friendly skies.’  Before, we saw increasing costs associated with air fares and then, all the incremental fees you incur if your luggage exceeds 50 lbs., or you have more than one bag per person in your party, or you want amenities or additional foot room, internet capabilities, food, and on and on …  With reduced capacities, restricting the number of passengers on a plane, I am sure the airlines industry will try to recoup losses one way or another.
        The other day, I was remembering the last time my wife Chrissie and I traveled together.  It was October 2019 to the Holy Land for a special pilgrimage through St. George’s College in Jerusalem.  [If you want to hear more about St. George’s, just ask me, Chrissie, or Don and Lynn Knox.]  For folks who are more accustomed to packing a car liberally to drive somewhere, the need to pack efficiently, meaning “lightly enough” to fly, was a challenge.
         I thought about this because in today’s gospel, we hear about the challenges of travelling with Jesus.
Before today’s gospel, Jesus has come through a series of shining moments.  In quick succession, he stilled a storm at sea, cast demons out of a mad man, healed a paralytic, restored a woman from a seemingly incurable disease, raised the leader of the synagogue’s daughter from the dead, gave sight to the blind and a voice to one who was mute.  Consequently, Jesus’ fame spread like wildfire, and wherever he went, the common people would welcome and hear him gladly.   
        But Jesus knows what he must do next.  The mantle of his leadership must be passed on.  Collapse )
Iona Cross

Trinity Sunday: Augustine, Scripture, Historical Documents, & a Global Pandemic/BLM Movement

Preached at St. Paul’s, Piney Branch (in Waldorf, MD) via ZOOM on June 7, 2020
Trinity Sunday, Year A (RCL): Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

I speak to you in the Name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a story told about St. Augustine of Hippo, the great philosopher and theologian.  He was often preoccupied with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Augustine wanted so badly to understand this doctrine about one God in three persons, and to be able to explain it to others, carefully, logically, and completely.

One day, as he was walking along the seashore reflecting on the Trinity, Augustine happened upon a young child, all alone, playing at the shore.  This little girl, who had made a hole in the sand, would run down to the surf, fill a little cup with sea water, run back, and then pour the contents of the cup into the hole. Augustine drew close to the child and asked her, “Little one, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.”

Augustine asked her, “How do you think that you can empty this immense sea into this small hole using that tiny cup?”  To which she answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can possibly comprehend the immensity of God?”  And with that, the little child disappeared.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday.  It is the one Sunday where we remember the blessed Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The primary difference that sets this Sunday apart from other Sundays during the church year is that today, on Trinity Sunday, we focus on the “being” of God rather than the “doings” of God: we pause to look at who God is rather than what God has done.  On Trinity Sunday, we move from the “sacred story” to the mystery of the Sacred and Holy itself.  Our readings today all marvel at the wonder of God.

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Celtic Cross at the Abbey

Sermon: There, But for the Grace of God, Go I

Sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA October 27, 2019.
Proper 25; Year C (RCL): Joel 2:23-32; Ps. 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-6, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

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.

      I don't know about you, but having lived here in the DMV for 50+ years, I've had more than my fair share of close calls in traffic.  And Yes, some fender-benders too.  People swerve in and out of lanes, cutting me off, endangering others, and slamming on their brakes when those they tailgate need to stop also.  I sometimes pull onto the shoulder when braking seems not enough to avoid a collision.  And there are times when I pass accidents, knowing the crumpled wreck with shrouded interiors mean someone was seriously injured or has died.  In times like those I have said, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
      As I thought about this gospel lesson today, "There, but for the grace of God, go I" was again before me.  For, if I'm honest with you, I can see some of myself in both the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Perhaps you see that for yourself as well.
      So far in Luke's gospel, we've heard parables about money, relationships, wealth, persistence and prayer.  Now we are challenged by 'where you put your trust' and 'how we regard ourselves to others.'
      Genuine repentance and pretentious piety stand in stark contrast in today's gospel.  We know all of creation stands in need of God's forgiveness.  But keep the faith!  God's people - 'all who have longed for his appearing' - shall be accounted righteous for Jesus Christ's sake.  Our God is merciful to sinners.  And for all this, we, the assembly, glorify God forever.
      Now, we might expect the religious insider to be blessed and the obviously moral person to be judged right with God.  But as is so often the case with the parables of Jesus, today's lesson sweeps away all conventional expectations. Instead, we learn the coming reign of God is about unexpected reversals of fortune with judgment rooted in mercy.
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Washington National Cathedral

WNC Homily: Edward Bouverie Pusey

A homily preached at Washington National Cathedra on Wednesday, September 28, 2019
1 Peter 2:19–23  *
Psalm 106:1–5 * Matthew 13:44-52
Commemoration for Edward Bouverie Pusey, a Priest, 1888
Today in the Church, we remember Edward Bouverie Pusey.  The revival of High Church teachings and practices in the Anglican Communion, known as the Oxford Movement, found its acknowledged leader in Edward Pusey.  Born near Oxford in August of 1800, Pusey spent all his scholarly life as the University of Regius Professor of Hebrew and as Canon of Christ Church.  At the end of 1833, he joined John Keble, an English churchman and poet, and John Henry Newman, a theologian, poet, and Anglican priest, in producing the ‘Tracts for the Times,’ which gave the Oxford Movement its popular name of Tractarianism.

Pusey’s most influential activity, however, was his preaching which was both ‘catholic,’ or universal in its content, and evangelical in his zeal for souls.  But to many of his influential contemporaries, it seemed dangerously innovative.  A sermon Pusey preached before the University in 1843 on “The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent” was condemned without his being given an opportunity to defend it, and he himself was suspended from preaching for two years – a judgment that he bore most patiently.  His principles were thus brought before the public, and attention was drawn to the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  From another University sermon, on “The Entire Absolution of the Penitent,” may be dated the revival of private confession in the Anglican Communion.

When John Henry Newman defected to the Church of Rome in 1845, Pusey’s adherence to the Church of England kept many from following, and he defended them in their teachings and practices.

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Grace Nave & Font

Sermon: Choices & Decisions, Reconciliation & Reparations

Sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA on September 8, 2019.
Proper 18, Year C (RCL): Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

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

            Today, as we are called to contemplate the cost of discipleship, we might be aided by a personal prayer I created from Paul’s request to Philemon: ‘Refresh my heart in Christ.  Sustained by the company and forgiveness of the Christ in the blessed sacrament and recalling God’s grace in remembrance of baptism, strengthen us in this hour to “choose life” – to choose life in God as our own.’  This prayer, and all of today’s lessons, focuses on this urgency to choose wisely.
         From the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear Moses speaking to the Israelites, who are about to enter the land promised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In this passage, Moses lays out the stark choice before them: to choose life by loving and obeying the Lord; or to choose death by following other gods.
         In the Epistle, while Paul was in prison, he was aided by a runaway slave named Onesimus.  The slave’s master, Philemon, was a Christian friend of Paul.  Paul instructed Onesimus to return to his master and encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus back as his Christian brother.  The choice was Philemon’s.
         And in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus speaks frankly about the fearsome costs of discipleship.  Those who follow him should know from the outset that completing the course of discipleship will finally mean renouncing all other allegiances. This choice is ours.
         Freedom.  Freedom is one of the most important concepts in any language, and particularly in the language spoken between God and God’s people.  Our scriptures today point to the importance and reality of freedom of choice, as well as the importance of the choices many of us have the freedom or duty to make.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of a God who chooses to never stop loving us – no matter what.  We are encouraged today to keep our eyes on the prize as we make choices that reflect our discipleship, choices that increasingly model the freedom to “choose life.”
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Sermon: Grace & Gratitude, Humility & Exaltation

Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on September 1, 2019.
Proper 17, Year C (RCL): Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

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

Grace & Gratitude, Humility & Exaltation
        During my many years of education and formation at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), here at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill as your Associate Rector, and as a “Free Range Priest” between the Dioceses of Virginia and Washington (D.C.), I’ve had many opportunities to hear Ian Markham preach.
         Yes, as you all probably remember, the Dean and President of VTS, my teacher, my friend, and now a colleague, is known for offering a joke at the start of his sermons.  Usually, but not always, it relates somehow to his sermon or the gospel that’s read in church.  Ian co-authored the book, “Lectionary Levity: The Use of Humor in Preaching,” 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, here’s their offering for this Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17 in Year C:
        ‘You can tell a lot about a church denomination by the kind of items you find in vesting rooms used by those who serve at the Altar in church services.
         In the Lutheran Church, often there’s a picture of Martin Luther on the wall.
         In the Catholic Church, there’s a picture of The Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary.
         In the Episcopal Church, you will always find a full-length mirror.’

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My Sweetie and the Chic

Sermon: Each Story Has Some Pictures To It, And Every Picture Has A Story

Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge on August 25, 2019.
Proper 16, Year C (RCL): Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

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

One morning, three students from one high school and three other students from a rival school were in a ticket line at a train station heading to Pittsburgh for a big football game.
The three students from the first school each bought a ticket and watched as the three from the rival school bought only a single ticket.
“How are ALL of you going to travel on just a single ticket?”
“Oh, you just wait and see,” was the answer from the rival school students.
Sure enough, when all six of them boarded the train, the three with their own tickets each took a seat while the other three sharing a single ticket crammed into a bathroom.  As the train departed, the conductor walked by to collect tickets.  He took them from each of the three students who were seated, and then knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Tickets, please.”  The door opened, a single arm reached out, and passed the ticket to the conductor.
The students in the seats agreed this was a clever idea; so clever that after the football game, those students decided to do the same thing for their trip home to try to save some money.  However, when they got to the train station and saw those three other students again, they noticed that this time, NONE of them had bought a ticket.
“Well, how is THAT going to work?” asked one of the students who decided to share a ticket.  “Oh, you just wait and see.”
When they boarded the train, the boys with the single ticket crammed in the bathroom and the other three crammed themselves into the opposite bathroom.  After the train had left the station, one of the boys from the group without a ticket, went and knocked on the door to the other bathroom and said, “Tickets, please.”[1]
DISCLAIMER:  I don’t condone this behavior, but it fits where I’m going so stay with me.  And kids, don’t do this at home (or on a train).  It’s called stealing.   Collapse )

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: Hydrate! Perspirate! Urinate! (or 'Really? Bodily Functions Discussed from the Pulpit?)

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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