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Homily: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Homily preached at the Washington National Cathedral on March 21, 2018.
Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent: Canticle 13; Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28; John 8: 31-42

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

We have two contrasting pictures of humanity in today’s scripture and we see God’s response clearly. In the first reading from the prophet Daniel, we find Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confronted with a horrible death by being burned alive in a furnace if they do not renounce their faith, reject their God, and offer worship to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol.

These three companions of Daniel, they remain faithful, and even though the men who cast them into the furnace are killed by the heat in the act of throwing them into the flames, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remain unharmed. Not just unharmed, but scripture tells us they are walking around in the blazing fire on the white-hot coals, in the company of a fourth who is apparently an angel (“…the fourth looks like a son of God”). Their reward for faithfulness was salvation by divine intervention.

We then shift to Jesus, still embroiled in the discussion begun earlier in St. John’s Gospel. It says he is speaking to Jews who believe in him, but we note that later in the passage, on a couple of different occasions, the Lord mentions they are trying to kill him – not something that “Jews who believe in him” would be doing.

St. John’s Gospel is full of ironic statements, and there are a couple of good ones in this passage. Read more...Collapse )

Sermon: "Sir, We Wish To See Jesus!"

Sermon preached at Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA on March 18, 2018.
5th Sunday in Lent, Year B (RCL): Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

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.

Some time ago, I heard a story about a vicar who was moved to tears the very first time he was asked to preach at the church where he was serving. It wasn’t the invitation to preach that brought tears to his eyes, but what he saw the first time he stood in the pulpit. The church, I came to find out, is Trinity Church at Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts.

Phillips Brooks, the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, served Trinity Church as their rector, and helped shepherd that congregation through the tragedy of a fire which destroyed their building. Consequently, Brooks became responsible for one of the masterpieces of American nineteenth-century church architecture that is Trinity Church. He had a very direct role in Trinity’s design. However, there is one small feature that is only apparent to those who preach there.

As this vicar ascended the pulpit to preach, he noticed a little bronze plaque attached to the interior wall, which had six simple words, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” That very moment, that preacher looked out into his congregation, as I am looking out upon you now, to see the people of God as they really are: pilgrims on the Way who are seeking after Jesus.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

In our Gospel reading today, now the Greeks have come. Who are these Greeks? I’ll tell you – we aren’t sure. Scholars differ in their assessment. Some think they are those ‘other sheep, not of this flock,’ Gentiles who now have heard the voice of their Shepherd. The Greeks might also be Jews who traveled and have settled away from the homeland. Either way, they want to see Jesus. They probably learned about the raising of Lazarus, for news of that recent miracle quickly spread throughout the land, and they have come to see about this Jesus.

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Sermon: The Rainbow Man and John 3:16

Sermon preached at Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA on March 11, 2018.
4th Sunday in Lent, Year B (RCL): Numbers 21:4-9; Ps 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

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

I take as my text this morning those assuring words from today’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Every time I hear these words, I cannot help but think of “The Rainbow Man.”
(Cue the wig)

Perhaps you remember him. If you are a fan of professional sports (and maybe even if you aren’t) and watched any major sporting event broadcast on TV between the late 1970s-1980s: whether be it football’s Super Bowl, or baseball’s World Series, or the NBA’s Championship Finals, you saw this guy. You saw him A LOT. He was America’s most celebrated fan. His name is Rollen Stewart.

Rollen Stewart started out as a wig-wearing self-promoter who showed up at almost every major athletic event worldwide and always managed to plant himself smack-dab in front of a TV camera. Known as “the Rainbow Man” for the multicolored wig he wore, he was also called “Rock 'n' Rollen” for the party vibe he that exuded. Stewart would drive miles and miles to attend big events. He often got more TV face time than most network announcers. He found fame, as he intended, simply by showing up.

For the first few years, he just danced in the stands. After the 1980 Super Bowl, he was up late in his hotel room and saw a televangelist preaching about the end of the world. Stewart experienced some sort of dramatic conversion and, then, decided his Rainbow Man character would convince the world to believe in Jesus. Sports arenas were his church and TV his pulpit, with the Word as a sign that said, ‘John 3:16.’

(Cue the sign!) Do you remember him now?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

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Homily: Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!

Homily preached at Noonday Eucharist at the Washington National Cathedral on February 21, 2018.hear
Lent Ember Day Wednesday; Year B; Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 51:11-18; Luke 11:29-32

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

I am glad we hear from Jonah today. But let me fill in the parts you didn’t hear -- when God said, ‘go to Nineveh,’ Jonah ran the other way. Only after God makes the seas stormy, Jonah is cast overboard, and swallowed by a great fish, Jonah calls out for God’s mercy, and finally goes to Nineveh as commanded. Then later, he throws a hissy fit when God forgives Nineveh. He is angry God doesn’t punish the city, so he storms off in a huff. Later, when a bush giving him shade withers, he ramps up his tirade. God asks if he has any right to be angry, and Jonah, in classic infantile style, whines, “Yes! Angry enough to die!” I imagine him stamping his foot, pouting, and furrowing his brow.

Jonah is easy to poke fun at because his behavior is so childish and self-centered. We laugh at his adult-sized temper tantrum because we all know adults are too old for that sort of behavior. (Pause ~ Look around) But that is what is tricky about Jonah too. For deep down, in places we do not like to talk about, we also know Jonah’s experience all too well. If we’re honest, we could confess that we too have thrown an epic hissy fit or two in our adult lives. We’ve all had our Jonah moments. If you’re like me, you pray “Boy, that sounds all too familiar. I hope no one sees my hissy fits!”

In the end, Jonah does what he is told – witnesses to the people of Nineveh, as God requests. Yet in the drama of Jonah’s story, we often overlook one central aspect here. Jonah is not the hero of this story; No, Nineveh is. Nineveh, for all its sinfulness and shame, has no problem admitting they are wrong. When Jonah proclaims the city will be overthrown if they do not repent and change their ways, the people immediately believe God. They declare a fast, and everyone – elders, adults and children – put on sackcloth. Even the king of Nineveh immediately rises from his throne, puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes. The royal decree is for all in the city – humans and animals – to fast, be covered in sackcloth, and cry out their repentance to God. The king declares, “All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change God’s mind; God may turn from God’s fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

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Homily: We Can Be Transfigured, Too.

Homily preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Alexandria VA 5:00 p.m. on February 11, 2018.
Last Sunday after Epiphany/Transfiguration; Year B: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9.

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

With hope and longing, we hear the message, Heaven is real.

Elisha followed Elijah through the wilderness and across the Jordan before he saw the heavens open in a burst of light, with a fiery chariot and horses descending, to sweep Elijah away in a whirlwind up to heaven.

Peter, James and John saw Elijah, Moses and Jesus, who shines dazzlingly bright, in conversation on a high mountain where Jesus had led them.

In these two stories, heaven and earth collide.

Elisha sees that the long journey continues for Elijah, although Elisha must stay firm on the earth.

Peter, seeing the transfigured Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses, wants to remain on this high mountain — “Let us make three dwellings.” At the same time, he feels the profound awe and fear that shepherds felt when they were surrounded by the bright glory of God and the heavenly hosts, announcing the birth of the Christ child.

Today’s readings are full of mystery. The Old Testament story of the assumption of the prophet Elijah, in the Second Book of Kings, sets the stage for our Gospel. Since Elijah did not die but was taken up into heaven, he remains alive with God and thus appears on the holy mountain with Moses and Jesus in the light of divine glory.

The death of Moses is also shrouded in mystery. Deuteronomy records that at the end of the Hebrews’ forty years of wandering in the Wilderness, Moses ascended Mount Nebo, in full view of the Promised Land, and there he died. The narrative continues that the Lord buried Moses, and no one knows the place of his burial. By New Testament times, the tradition had grown that Moses had not died, but had been taken up into heaven also.

More tradition developed that the return of either Elijah or Moses or both would signal the arrival of the Messianic age. So, the prophets of Israel had foretold. The Book of Malachi included the prophecy, “Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” And before he died, Moses himself had told the Israelites, “The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from among you, from among your brethren – him you shall heed.”

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Sermon preached at Christ Church, La Plata & Wayside (in Newburg), MD on January 21, 2018.
3rd Sunday after Epiphany; Year B: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps. 62:6-14; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.

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

Have you ever wondered what a split-second decision that changes your life looks like? As I was working on this sermon, I noted that we passed the 9th anniversary of the amazing emergency landing on the Hudson River of US Airways Flight 1549 by Captain Charles “Sully” Sullenberger. You will recall, the plane had been hit by a flock of geese after taking off and lost both engines. With no time to make it to the neighboring airports, the pilot landed in the freezing waters off of Manhattan. All 155 souls on board were saved by an army of rescuers from across New York City and New Jersey.

My friends, THAT’S an immediate decision that changed the lives of many people! It is as profoundly life changing as the disciples hearing Jesus’s call and leaving their own lives to follow him.

Today and for the next two weeks, we get accounts of Jesus’ early ministry from the first chapter of Mark. Today we get a sample of Jesus’ preaching and his calling of the first disciples. Next week we will see Jesus casting out an unclean spirit. Two weeks from today, we’ll hear about Jesus healing physical ailments. Through these readings, we look for insight and faith for what all of this means for us.

Today, we hear Jesus speak to us, saying, “Repent, Believe, and Follow.” Repent and believe -- well, that’s a summary of Jesus’ preaching. And Follow: that’s the summary of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Repent, believe, and follow. These are three imperatives, three commands, from the lips of Jesus. Repent, believe, and follow. Three words that lead to forgiveness, faith, and purpose in life for every one of us.

Let’s start with Jesus’ preaching. We read: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” This preaching, the proclamation of the gospel, begins with an announcement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” What does Jesus mean by these two statements?

“The time is fulfilled.” Everything that has been leading up to this moment and preparing for this moment has now come to pass. Read more...Collapse )
Sermon preached at Christ Church, La Plata & Wayside (in Newburg), MD on January 14, 2018.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany; Year B: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Ps. 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

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.

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.” (PAUSE)

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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Sermon: "How are you 'Christ-massing?"

Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge (VA) on December 31, 2017.
1st Sunday after Christmas; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4;4-7; John 1:1-18

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."

So, how was your Christmas? Today is the 31st of December and I've already had more than enough people ask me, directly and through Facebook, "How was your Christmas?" And while I understand what's being asked, I also hear the assumption that Christmas is over. But as our church calendar rightly reflects, there are Twelve Days of Christmas. It is a not only a day. It is a season. The Season of Christmastide. Until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. But already in some homes, trees have been taken down and dragged to the curb, decorations have been packed away, and leftovers have been thrown out.

I mention this, not to criticize or judge, but really in recognition that we're mostly 'event-driven' people. We tend to live our lives from one event to the next. And if you don't agree with me, I invite you to look at your calendar. I've looked at mine. It is mostly a schedule of events. Go here next, do that afterward, get ready for this, on and on. Our days are so full of events and appointments, should there ever be a day or two when there's nothing scheduled, we say things like "I have nothing going on that day," or "I'm not doing anything that night." It's as if there's no life, nothing to learn or discover, little to nothing to experience during those non-event times. Thankfully, St. John's Gospel has a different understanding of Christmas, life, and humanity.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

Such intense power in so few words! John has caught the sweep and wonder of the history of salvation and shared it in hymnic form. All through the prologue of this Gospel, John sets forth the career of the Incarnate Word in simple, powerful phrases – “the light shining in the darkness,” “became flesh and dwelt among us,” “full of grace and truth,” “declaring the Father,” some “did not receive Him,” but others were “born of God.”

This, for St. John, is the Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation -- "In the beginning." Creation is not an event of the past, but rather it is the ongoing life of God with God's people. St. John echoes and continues the story of creation from Genesis, "In the beginning God said, 'Let there be ...' and there was ..." Land, sky, vegetation covering the world, living creatures from the waters, birds of the air, creatures creeping along the face of the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God. This prologue is far more than an introduction to the Gospel. It really us a dramatic summary, a revelation, of all that will take place throughout the earthly ministry of Our Lord.

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Homily preached at Christ Church, La Plata, MD on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017.
Christmas Day – Selection I; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Please be seated.

Well, it's all over with. The weeks of preparation, the four weeks of Advent ended (just this morning), pageants and concerts, shopping, gift-wrapping, delivering, waiting for loved ones to come...it's all over, and now the celebrations can begin. There's no better way to celebrate this joyous night than by singing. In fact, there is an ancient legend about the angel chorus that is mentioned in tonight's Gospel reading.

One day, God called the angels of heaven together for a special choir rehearsal. God told them they had a special song to learn ... a song they would sing at a very special occasion. The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard … with great focus and intensity. To be truthful, some angels grumbled a bit ...but God insisted on a very high standard for this choir.

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally, God announced that they were ready...but then God shocked them a bit. God told them that they would sing this song only once...and only on one night. There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Again, angels grumbled. The song was so extraordinarily beautiful, and they had it down pat now...surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand.

Then one night, God called them together. They gathered above a field just outside of Bethlehem. "It's time," God said to them … and the angels sang their song. O my, did they sing it! "Glory to God in the highest...and on earth peace and good will toward all..." And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this one.
When the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why could they not sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right. Why couldn't they sing that great song anymore? "Because," God explained, "my son has been born...and now earth must do the singing!"

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Homily preached at Christ Church, Wayside (in Newburg, MD) on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017.
Christmas Day; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-14

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

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear those words, I am shaken to my core. To think that God loved us, his creation, so much to become flesh here on earth with us, to live the life we live, to feel the joys and hurts that we know, to come and die for us that the whole of creation might be redeemed. I cannot fathom it.

Our Lord God takes on human flesh and nature and appears on earth, full of grace and truth. This is a novel concept in the history of religious teaching and the development of our faith. But what the Evangelist describes with his words is neither legend nor myth. It is a description of how divine life and light again make themselves present in the darkness of death and sin. It is the story of re-creation revealed by the Lord and Giver of Life himself.

John the Evangelist tells of the great mystery of how God became human to save humankind. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven”: so the Church confesses in the Creed. It is a confession of faith, of belief in what transpired in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and other points in ancient Judea. What took place was for the world’s redemption: God being incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and made man, so that He may suffer and die to atone for sin.

John’s Prologue to the Gospel literally takes hearers back to the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The beginning of creation is the focus of John’s opening sentences. God the Father spoke the Word, God the Son, and creation came into existence: light and darkness, land and sea, sun and moon, grass and trees, birds and fish and land animals. That same Word was spoken when God the Father said: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” And everything was good.

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