Sermons

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Mark the evangelist knows Jesus as a man from Nazareth. In Mark Jesus is known as “the Nazarene.”[1] Today’s gospel lesson centers on how Jesus, after beginning his ministry, is received by the people of his town, the other Nazarenes. Presumably, they have known him as a boy, but know him now as a craftsman, a man who works with his hands. (The Greek word often translated as carpenter really only means someone who works with his hands, some kind of skilled laborer, not necessarily a carpenter.[2])

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The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, Said Mass, by the Rector

Since seminary, I have followed the pattern I learned at Nashotah House that at Daily Morning Prayer the canticle between the Old Testament and New Testament lessons should be the song about John the Baptist and at Daily Evening Prayer it should be the song of Mary. That’s not the only way to do it, but the logic is this: John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary are the bridge figures, as it were, between the old and the new. The third song in Luke’s infancy narrative, the Song of Simeon, is also used at Daily Evening Prayer.

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The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Aidan Kavanagh was a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk and liturgical scholar. He was 77 years old when he died in 2006. He taught at Yale for many years. Before Yale, he had founded the doctoral program in liturgical study while at Notre Dame. And before he was a Roman Catholic, he was an Episcopalian. He grew up in Saint Paul’s Church, Waco, Texas. He attended the University of the South. His obituaries that I found online avoid the question of when he became a Roman Catholic.[1] He became a novice of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana in 1957. His life was spent at universities.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sung Mass, by the Reverend Dr. Matthew Daniel Jacobson

I’ve seen several articles published over the last week talking about the drop in the number of babies born in the U.S. in 2017. It was down about 2% from the prior year to about 3.85 million.[1] The articles focus on the birth rate being below what is necessary for our population to replace itself. And that’s true, but it also really has been the case since the seventies.

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Trinity Sunday, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the retired chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth[1]—the majority of the Jewish Ashkenazi community in England and in some other countries of the British Commonwealth.[2] I’ve been reading his blog for a little over a year now—since Bishop Charles Jenkins shared one of Lord Sack’s posts with me. His primary audience is part of the Orthodox Jewish community in Britain and the Commonwealth, but I’m pretty sure he has many readers like me.

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The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Unlike most celebrations of the church year, today’s celebration is not about an event in the life of Jesus, but about the Holy Spirit. According to Luke’s second book Acts, the apostles are waiting in Jerusalem for Jesus’ promise to them to be fulfilled. The church continues to experiment to find a gospel lesson for Pentecost that undergirds our reading from Acts.[1] My own suggestion would be that we read the John’s narrative of Jesus’ death in which Jesus says, “It is finished,” and then he hands over his spirit to his friends who are with him.[2]

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The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

If think about the book of Ezekiel, my mind usually goes first to two passages that get read more than once in worship in the course of every church year. What’s first? Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones.[1] The second is the passage where God speaks about being the shepherd of his people. God says, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.”[2]

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Ascension Day, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

When I was growing up Southern Baptist, I knew about “footwashing Baptists.” But we Virginia Baptists didn’t do that in the churches my family belonged to. On Saint Mary’s home page photo rotation right now, there is a beautiful photograph from this year’s Maundy Thursday Eucharist of the washing of feet taken by Sr. Monica Clare. I confess that it was I who labeled the photograph, using language from my childhood, “Footwashing Episcopalians.”

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The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

In 1993, when I was living in New Haven, Connecticut, studying church history and working at Christ Church, a parish near the Yale campus, a woman named Marilyn McCord Adams joined the faculty at the Divinity School. Marilyn was a priest and, not long after she moved to New Haven, she joined the staff at Christ Church as a part-time assistant. It was there that I got to know her.

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The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

Since I work with our lectionary readings, I often check what is being read at Morning and Evening Prayer to see if I, or someone else, has made a mistake in setting out the text. This morning, the first reading was from the beginning and the end of the eighth chapter of Leviticus. The passage was about the ordination of Aaron and his four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar,[1] as priests.[2] Looking at the Bible that I keep at my seat, I realized why: part of the ordination included the ritual slaughter of one bull and two rams.

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The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

One of composer Thomas Tallis’s most popular anthems begins with the words, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”—wording from today’s gospel lesson taken from the Geneva Bible,[1] an English language Bible used by Shakespeare and others before there was a King James Version.[2]

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ healing of a man born blind[1] sets the stage for his words about being the Shepherd.[2] John’s gospel then continues with these words, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.”[3] With this, “the hour” of which Jesus spoke that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,”[4] came. The Shepherd has the stone taken away from Lazarus’ tomb. He calls to the dead man to come out. And then Jesus says to those who have come with him to the tomb, “Unbind [Lazarus], and let him go.”[5] Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, they follow him, and as he says, “No one shall snatch them out of my hand.”[6]

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The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Transferred), Solemn Mass, by the Rector

While I was in seminary, James Dunkly, a New Testament scholar who served as Nashotah House’s librarian, was the preacher for a feast of the Annunciation during Lent. In his sermon he made reference to the composer Franz Joseph Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli—Mass in the Time of War. I remember he held my attention—and enough so that I still remember him preaching about Mass in the time of spiritual war. Today we celebrate this feast of the Annunciation in the time of victory. In the words of the hymn we sang yesterday at Solemn Mass, “Death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.”[1] But before we go there, I want to look back at a sermon I remember preaching on the Annunciation.

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The Second Sunday of Easter, Said Mass, by the Rector

New Testament scholar Francis Moloney, in his remarks on the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection, makes reference to “Jesus’ unfailing love for both Peter and Judas”[1]—and he puts the word “Judas” in italics so that a reader like me does not miss his point. When I read these words, I thought to myself, “We’re in John where Jesus is in charge of his own betrayal.”

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The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Duke University Professor Joel Marcus in his commentary on Mark’s gospel—my favorite commentary on Mark—calls today’s gospel lesson “Epilogue.”[1] “Epilogue” is a word I think I first encountered in a ninth-grade English class, when we had to read Shakespeare for the first time. Here’s the epilogue that I can almost remember from having to memorize it almost fifty years ago:

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The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Solemn Liturgy of the Day, by the Rector

Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ arrest and death has no moment of human compassion. Jesus already knows who has betrayed him.[1] He knows his disciples will desert him, and despite Peter’s denial, Jesus knows and says to Peter, “This very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”[2] Jesus knows he will suffer and die,[3] but he does not know he will be abandoned by his Father on the cross.[4]

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The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

On Friday morning, when I began to try to write something about Holy Week for this week’s newsletter, I soon found myself trying to sort out the origins of the Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day. I pulled out the liturgics notebook I have from my last year in seminary. I didn’t find anything quickly that was useful—probably a comment on my handwriting more than anything else.

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The Burial of the Dead, Jon Alan Bryant, 1947-2018, by the Rector

The burial of the dead and the continual commemoration of the departed are part of the deep biology of humankind. The available evidence strongly suggests that Neanderthals buried their dead[1]—though there is a big dispute now about whether they buried their dead with flowers.[2] (Who knows?)

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The Third Sunday in Lent, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

In John’s gospel Jesus never performs an exorcism, never heals by casting out Satan.[1] In John, Jesus never responds to requests to perform miracles so that people will believe.[2] John the evangelist—the narrator—speaks of the “signs” Jesus performed; Jesus himself in John only speaks of his “works.”[3] And in John there is only one work that matters. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[4] The late British New Testament Professor C.K. Barrett wrote, “The works [of Jesus] make visible both the character and the power of God”[5]—and I would add, God and Jesus being One.

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The Second Sunday in Lent, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. James C. Pace

As I have told you many times, I grew up in the Episcopal Church. I grew up around, through, and within its liturgies of life, death, and everything in between, and they have changed my life. I can remember even as a small boy, that I loved the season of Lent. I loved the purple vestments and altar frontals. They were elegant, royal. My mother was the altar guild directress at St. Mary’s Church in Palmetto, Florida. My dad was the treasurer, lay reader, and a chalice bearer. And a few days before Lent began, dad would bring out this really tall step ladder and carefully traipse it into the sanctuary, and together, we would drape the huge crucifix above the altar with a really thin purple veil. It was a sheer veil that covered the corpus of Christ. When it hung there, it cast an eeriness over us all. At least it did to me. The body of Christ on the cross looked shrouded. I loved the season of purple. And though I lapse into such recollections all too frequently now, it is good to remember how the church and its liturgies shape our lives.

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