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Holy Name Sermon: What's In a Name?

Sermon preached at 12:00 Noon at Grace Church, Russell Road in Alexandria, VA on January 1, 2019
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 on the road to Damascus; 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 grow in our marriage which celebrates 38 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’)
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Sermon preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Falls Church, VA December 24, 2018.
Christmas Eve, Year C (RCL Christmas Day III): Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

Alleluia! To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!

For much of Christmas, what we see and hear is the Holy Family in Bethlehem. If you came for that tonight, I’m sorry. It is the readings prescribed for Christmas Day I or II that are full of things making Christmas the season that it is. Both Matthew and Luke give us Nativity accounts from an earthly perspective: the way Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in their fields saw what happened.
     Tonight, we hear John’s telling of Christmas, not an earthly account, but from a heavenly perspective, for those with eyes of faith that see. This is the way the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven would have told the Love story of the Incarnation had John not been commissioned to tell it. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-2, 14)
     Eugene Peterson, the American Presbyterian clergyman, scholar, theologian, author, and poet who died earlier this year, in his interpretation of Scripture called The Message, writes: “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. ... The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
     By Word through Flesh, God is in the neighborhood.Read more...Collapse )

The sermon preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Falls Church, VA on December 23, 2018.

The 4th Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

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.

        The readings on this Fourth Sunday of Advent move us from the time of preparation and anticipation to a place where the cradle and cross are inextricably connected. Between a lovely tribute to the little town of Bethlehem and the Blessed Virgin Mary's magnificent song of praise, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us in no uncertain terms that Christ’s advent is for “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is this kind of tension in which the church always lives as when in the Holy Eucharist – with high delight – “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”

        The eighth-century prophet Micah was one whose prophecies were intended to call the Kingdom back to its common core values of righteousness and justice, especially for the poor. This prophet, having pronounced God's judgment upon Judah, speaks of a future shepherd-king who, like David, will come from the small town of Bethlehem. This king will restore Israel and bring peace. And while this passage is not a prediction of the birth of Jesus, New Testament writers often interpret it as such.

        The imagery language "when she who is in labor has brought forth" might be related to Mary, however the language in the original Hebrew is ambiguous, and the "she" could refer to the nation or to something else. Micah the prophet is concerned with political history and its future, and how God will deliver God's people; Micah is not necessarily prophesying about a Messiah.

        The significant message of Micah is that amid turmoil for a nation that has lost its bearings, God's plan will continue to be revealed and will involve leadership that ushers in a reign of peace. This is a message of hope needed in any time, especially in our own day now.

        "Restore us, O God of hosts; show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved." The psalmist today picks up this sense of longing for restoration and leads us forward into the reading from Hebrews.

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Sermon: God & Jesus Rested; We Should Also

A Sermon preached at Church of St. Andrew’s in Arlington, VA on July 22, 2018
9 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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

         Jesus said to his disciples, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."
         I don't know if we value rest and relaxation enough.  Rather, we seem to make a virtue of unceasing labor; we boast about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we're important and significant.  We feel guilty when we're not working, and maybe even envious of those able to step away from the grindstone.
         I say this to highlight the way we approach work and leisure.  Because God is quite interested in the matter of rest.  To God, rest is not just wasted time when we could be doing something useful and productive.  No, rest properly understood has value, worth and purpose.  It's essential to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.  I hope we all will examine the balance of work and rest in our lives; and not only the quantity, but the quality of our rest, to see if it's what we need.  And perhaps more importantly, if the balance of work and rest we experience in our lives is pleasing and acceptable to God.
         First, let's establish that the Lord God rests.  Anything that God does is a good thing.  We hear that again and again in the creation account in the Book of Genesis.  No one would accuse God of being lazy or unproductive.  Yet the Bible tells us clearly that both God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer regularly took time for rest.
         Why does the Bible tell us this?  Because the balance of work and rest that we see in God's creative activity is intended to be a model for us.  Whether or not you believe we should set aside the seventh day of each week as a formal day of rest, Scripture tells us we should follow a regular pattern of ceasing from our labors.  It tells us a lifestyle of uninterrupted labor, day after day, is not good for us, nor is it pleasing to the Lord.  In other words, if God chose to rest, then we should also.  We should strive to follow God's good example.
         In the same way, we see that Jesus rested also. Read more...Collapse )

Sermon: "Be Plumb with God. Get in Line!"

A Sermon preached at Church of St. Andrew’s in Arlington, VA on July 15, 2018
8 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

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

         Amos was not the kind of prophet attached to temples or royal courts.  Rather, he was ‘a layman, a shepherd and dresser of fig trees’ from Judah (the southern kingdom) called by God to speak to Israel (the northern kingdom).  God’s word of judgment through Amos conflicted with the king’s high priest Amaziah, whom Amos encountered in Bethel.  When Amos told what he saw when God held up the plumb line of justice next to Israel – that the poor were being trampled – he became an instant threat to the power of both priest and king. 
         The plumb line was in use in Egypt as a builder’s tool, mostly by masons, as early as the first half of the third millennium B.C.  Two ledges of wood were joined, one above the other, at right angles to a plank.  The line was attached to the top of the plank and passed through a hole in the upper ledge.  If the line touched the edge of the lower ledge when stretched taut by the weight of the stone plumb, the stone or mud-brick wall was properly built “in plumb” or perpendicular to the ground.  The only refinement to this tool later, following the Iron Age, was the weights were made of metal.
         In the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press, Nashville;
 Vol. 4, 2009), the plumb line, a tool used to measure straightness, “served also as a metaphor for the moral assessment of Israel’s kings, of the nation’s adherence to the covenant, and of the justice and righteousness expected of the people.”  God is judging the sins of King Jeroboam and Israel, and Amos, the “not-prophet,” speaks for the Lord.
         Amos’s vision was of the Lord standing on a wall that had been built with a plumb line.  The Lord’s words were decisive: “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.”  Why?  Because Israel was out of plumb.  It was not perpendicular to the horizon, or level with, the Lord’s covenant and commandment.  The wall of Israel was not straight according to righteousness and justice.  The symbolism was pointed.  Israel was leaning so far out of the plumb of God’s will that the “wall” was dangerous.  It must be destroyed for safety.
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Sermon: "Pack Light"

A Sermon preached at Church of St. Clement in Alexandria, VA on July 8, 2018
7 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
I speak to you in the Name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

         If any of you have traveled recently, needing to use ‘the friendly skies’ to get from where you are to where you want to be, you know how expensive it can be to fly anywhere.  The costs associated with air fares and the incremental fees you might incur if 1) your luggage exceeds 50 lbs., or 2) you have more than one bag per person in your party, 3) you want First Class or Economy Plus for other amenities or additional foot room, 4) internet capabilities, food, on and on …
         My wife Chrissie and I just returned from nine days on the big island of Hawai’i, visiting friends.  [Yes, I feel the sympathy I was afforded just a moment ago as I lamented the costs of flight travel suddenly evaporated when I shared where we went.  I understand.]  But 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.
         Today’s gospel has Jesus just coming through a series of shining moments.  In quick succession, he had stilled a storm at sea, cast demons out of a mad man, healed a woman from a seemingly incurable disease, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Consequently, Jesus’ fame spread like wild fire and wherever he went, the common people would welcome and hear him gladly.  But it was time to go home.
         Deep in the heart of every person, there is a wistful desire to be welcomed home with open joy.  There is something special about coming home.  Home is the place where love lets us be ourselves, pride shares our achievements, and understanding covers our faults.
         Jesus probably has hopes for the same response to his homecoming.  Not more than a year before, Jesus had left his village of Nazareth as a nobody, but now he returns home as a person who is rumored to be the Son of God, with a message of Good News and a ministry of miracles.  Earlier, before he had established his reputation, the Nazarene townsfolk almost apologized for his supernatural claims, suggesting, “He is beside himself!”  That was a gentle way of protecting the reputation of his family.  Jesus now requires no such excuse.  He comes home a second time with all the evidence he needs to support his claims.  I imagine Jesus thinking, ‘Surely, my family will welcome me now.’         Read more...Collapse )

Sermon: The "Voice of Truth"

A Sermon preached at St. Paul’s, Baileys Crossroads in Falls Church, VA on June 24, 2018
5 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49; Ps. 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

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

One of my favorite Christian bands is a group named Casting Crowns.  Seeing the lessons for today and knowing that I'd be preaching, I've been playing Casting Crown’s "Voice of Truth" repeatedly this week, often singing along.  The song, written by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns and Steven Curtis Chapman, relates the account of David and Goliath and today’s Gospel as Peter walks on the water to Jesus.

In First Samuel, the soldier Goliath vividly depicts the superiority of Philistine military might.  He mocks Israel’s God.  “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”  And he curses David.  In contrast, young David is armed with a slingshot and a deep reliance on God.  "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down …”  David’s victory witnesses to the whole earth that “there is a God in Israel.”

In today's Gospel from Mark is another life-threatening moment.  The disciples who accompany Jesus fear the winds will shred their sails and that waves will sink their boat.  As Jesus sleeps, they panic, and waking him, they ask, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  After rebuking the wind and calming the sea with the words, "Peace! Be still!", Jesus challenges his disciples with "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"  I sometimes imagine what would happen if Jesus were to ask them, "Don’t you know you have God with you?"

I wonder that because these same followers of Jesus have been with him.  He had recently rebuked demons through the power of his word.  Jesus has been revealing himself through his teachings and signs to be the Son of God.  And yet, the disciples still wonder who Jesus is.  Who or what do they imagine Jesus is?  How do we see and know Jesus?  Do we imagine God with Us?  Can we acknowledge God with US?  Do we see this?

I’ve since learned that "Voice of Truth" relates to Mark Hall's struggles with dyslexia and his learning issues as a child.  Co-written by Steven Curtis Chapman, the track is a pop rock ballad that encourages listeners to face their giants, tackle their personal fears, and to step out in faith.  “Voice of Truth” was on the debut album of Casting Crowns released in 2003.  Let me read you the chorus:
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Sermon: In the Kingdom of God

A Sermon preached at Christ Church, La Plata & Wayside (Newburg), MD on June 17, 2018
4 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Ps. 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

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

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks in parables.  Again.  He does that A LOT!  Jesus frequently uses this literary device to get his point across.  And in this passage from Mark, we hear that Jesus preached only in parables, “as they were able to hear.”

Parables are brief stories that illustrate a specific religious or moral construct, short tales that communicate universal truths.  They aren’t like fables or legends, in that they are true.  But they are also not like nonfiction narratives, in that they are not always strictly factual.

Parables are a kind of extended metaphor, which is one way – and maybe the best way – of grasping the amazing wonder that is God within the limits of our human language.


Today’s parables are about exactly that: the amazing wonder that is God.  Jesus refers to it as the “kingdom of God,” whereas others in our day and time might prefer something more expansive or inclusive.  Some suggest we should call this the “realm” or the “commonwealth” of God – and the Greek of the original text supports this interpretation.

The etymology of the term derives from the word for “base” or “foundation.”  It refers not to territory, as in the Kingdom of Siam, but to dominion, as in a semi-autonomous state that is under the sovereignty of another entity.  Consider that our own Anglican Communion is an example of such a kingdom, for the worldwide assembly of churches in communion with the Church of England – including our own Episcopal Church – is semi-autonomous.  Yet each church is also part of the Anglican family, and all of us are under the sovereignty of God in Jesus Christ.

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A Sermon preached at Christ Episcopal Church in Millwood, VA on June 3, 2018.
2 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): 1 Samuel 3:1-10, [11-20]; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Come Christian Triune God who lives, Here I am ~ Shake the world again. Amen.

     There’s a story about a game warden in a not-too-far-away county who received word that a poacher was shooting deer out of season on his property. The poacher had been up to these shenanigans for some time, but no one had been able to catch him in the act. So, one morning, the game warden decided to sneak up to the man’s property, spy on him, catch him in the act of poaching, and arrest him.
     Before dawn, the game warden left his car out by the road, hiked deep into the woods, and quietly made his way into the thick brush just behind the alleged poacher’s cabin. A few minutes went by in the still of that morning before he saw a light come on in the cabin.  A few minutes later, the back door opened.  The man stepped out into the cold air.  He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted out, “Hey, warden, you want to come in for a hot cup of coffee?”  Well, the game warden was dumbfounded.  He sat there for a second, but figuring his cover was blown, and seeing there was no sense sitting out there in the cold for the rest of the day, he stood up from his hiding place and said, “Sure. Sounds good.”
     The two men went into the cabin and sat down for coffee. After a few moments, the warden looked across the table and said, “I have just one question.  How did you know I was out there this morning trying to spy on you?”
     The poacher said, “I didn’t, but every morning I open my door and call for you, just in case you might be there.”
     Every morning … every year … every moment … God’s call to follow and to serve comes to us and God awaits a response … just in case we might be listening. We might not hear it.  More commonly, we may not recognize it.  Even more likely, we may be paying attention to something else, preoccupied with ourselves and our own agendas.  But God’s call is nevertheless issued.  God’s Word is still sent forth with a persistent urgency and with a gracious frequency that we could never expect.
    
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Here's the sermon I preached at Immmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 27, 2018.
1st Sunday after Pentecost/Trinity Sunday, Year B (RCL): Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

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