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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

Sermon: The Power of Love and of Fire

A Sermon preached at Immanuel 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

Come Christian Triune God who lives, shake the world again. Amen.

First, Immanuel, let me say how great it is to be back with you today. It was very nice of both Randy and Rachel to ask me to come serve while they and others are at Shrine Mont.  [Take a selfie.]  Thank you.

It’s been an interesting week, hasn’t it? What, with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, lighting the world on fire by preaching so fully and passionately at the Royal Wedding!  I didn’t get the chance to preach last Sunday for Pentecost, so please grant me a little latitude to play with that now.  No, that doesn’t mean I’m preaching two sermons tho’!

++Michael offered his sermon titled “The Power of Love,” speaking about the Love of God known to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His sermon was mostly all about love, but he also touched on diversity, politics, human rights, the power of change, the power of devotion, and, most certainly, the power of love.  “There's power in love!  Don't underestimate it!  Don't even over-sentimentalize it!  There's power, power in love!”

I was totally mesmerized by and delighted with the passion Curry exhibited. He was waking them up in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, and I believe, based on the buzz through social media, he had engaged the whole world.  I mean, “THEY WAS WOKE!”  He had caught fire, and he knew exactly how to wield that fire.  As he ended his sermon, Bishop Curry spoke of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, scholar, and mystic who spoke eloquently of the various inventions or advancements made possible by the discovery of fire.  Curry remembered de Chardin said, “that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love - it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.”

This past Thursday, Chrissie and I welcomed friends from Hawaii as national news showed us images of nature’s fire and fury in the form of lava, ash, steam and gas spewing from a corner of their island home. Since May 3rd, the Kilauea [Key-lu-way-a] volcano has been breaking apart at its base in the southeastern corner of the Big Island.  You’ve probably seen the dramatic photos and videos of erupting fissures, walls of creeping molten lava, “lava bombs,” and dangerous gasses.  Thousands of Hawaii residents have been displaced and more than 80 homes and other buildings have been destroyed.  Our visitors assure us they are safe living on the opposite side of the island from all of paradise’s pyrotechnics.  I called this activity, “angry earth;” my friend Brian, however, tells me that Hawaiians have a different perspective because of their great respect for Pele, the honored female deity of fire.  What we as mainlanders may think of as disruption and destruction, they view as “old things being made new.”  I’ll give you a moment to think about that.

Now I invite you to consider how the power of love and the awesome renewing work of fire through molten earth both act as transformative works in our world here and now.

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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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