Sermons

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

This afternoon when I turned my attention to the late Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament to read about the letter we know as “The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy,” knowing that I would have to confront the issue of New Testament authorship.[1] So that’s what this homily is about. There are two technical words that comes up in this discussion, I will mention them only once: pseudepigraphy (false writing) and pseudonymity (“false name”).[2] Now, I’m going to try to summarize what we know about who wrote what.

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The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Simeon is described as a man who lived in Jerusalem who was waiting for the consolation of Israel—that’s all we know about him, except for one thing, “Inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple”—and at the point in time when God wanted him there.[1]

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The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

After being driven by the Spirit to the barren wilderness where Jesus would confront Satan, Jesus hears that John has been arrested. Then Jesus begins to preach, “The time has been fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near!”[1] But before he begins his ministry of power—his exorcisms and his healings, he calls Andrew, Simon, James, and John to follow him. Then Jesus and his four disciples head to Capernaum.

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The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

Tonight I want to set aside for the most part the first reading. It’s from that part of Isaiah generally known as Second Isaiah. Most scholars date these chapters from the time after the return of the Hebrew people to Jerusalem from the years in exile in Babylon.[1] In the passage we heard, the prophet uses the image of a ruler’s daughter who has lost all her family and all of her possessions and has been enslaved. The prophet asserts that the false religion and the wickedness of the people of the city has brought about its destruction by God.

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The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, An Epiphany Procession with Carols, Saint Thomas Church, New York City, by the Rector

Unraveling the origins of early Christian festivals means wading backwards, as it were, through how the gospel lessons, and the celebrations they inspired, were understood by the generations of Christians who came before us. In the Christian West, second-century Christian writer and teacher Justin Martyr wrote that the wise men were kings from Arabia.[1] Matthew’s gospel, of course, doesn’t mention “kings”; he speaks of “Magi”—probably best understood as Persian wise men, priests, astrologers.[2]
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The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

A friend with whom I chat at my gym and his wife are young parents. They go to church. They happen to be Roman Catholic. Last week Epiphany came up. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but I said something about there being shepherds and angels in Luke, but only wise men and a star in Matthew. My friend realized that I was telling him there were two different stories. I think I said something about Mary being a virgin in Matthew and Luke, but the stories are different. I reminded him about the seven-day creation story at the beginning of Genesis, followed immediately by the entirely different story of Adam and Eve.

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The First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 31, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

In the Israel of Jesus’s birth, very young women, eleven- or twelve-years-old, were formally betrothed by contract to a man, who was often somewhat older. A young woman would continue to live with her parents for a year or a more. According to the commentaries I read, the timing of the move to her husband’s house, in Mary’s case at least, had to do with the ability of a husband to provide a home for a wife.[1]

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Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

The book of Genesis preserves a legend about “the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.”[1] They were called “Nephilim.” They were the children “of the sons of God and the daughters of men.”[2] In Genesis, they were among those wiped out by the Great Flood, which only Noah and his family survived.
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The Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

The preface to the first, the 1549, Book of Common Prayer, begins—famously—with these words, “There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.”[1] These words were the work, of course, of archbishop and reformation martyr Thomas Cranmer. We know that the seventh-century practice of the monks of St. Peter’s in Rome to read the Bible all the way through in a year had by the ninth century spread through the Christian West. But by the time of the Reformation, these readings had been greatly shortened by the addition of many weekday commemorations—feasts of saints—and other devotions.[2] There was also the major problem that if you did not read and speak Latin well, you could not understand the words you heard in worship.

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The Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2018, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. Peter R. Powell

I was ordained a priest 41 years ago tomorrow.[1] I was confident that becoming a priest would make a difference not only in my life but in the world. I was arrogant. I was a much better Episcopalian than I was a Christian. I was perhaps a Christian in name only. I knew that being a priest would give me power to effect change, and I knew how to save the church.

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The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8, 2017, Sung Mass, by the Rector

There are two Christmas stories in the New Testament. There is one by Luke that begins with the annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel.[1] The other is by Matthew that begins with Joseph having a dream in which an unnamed angel announces to him, “Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”[2] Now in Luke, Gabriel tells Mary what God plans to do—note carefully: he does not ask for her permission or agreement. In Luke, she responds, “Let it be to me according to your word.”[3] But Mary’s response is beside the point. With respect, God decided that Mary would be the mother of Emmanuel.

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The Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

At the Solemn Mass on Friday night on the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the choir sang a Mass setting by Francisco de Peñalosa. Peñalosa died in 1528, so I think music historians would place him somewhere in the middle years of the Renaissance, but two of our choristers, who know about such things, tell me that Friday’s Mass reminded them of music from the early years of the Renaissance. I know too little about such things to venture an opinion about all that, but I will say that there were things in Friday’s Mass that seemed distinctive to me and very powerful. That was especially true of the song of praise, the Gloria in excelsis.

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The First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

This morning I woke up and realized that there is a high probability that Mark’s gospel was written during the Jewish-Roman War that began in Jerusalem in the year 66. Jerusalem was reconquered by the Romans at the end of August in the year 70. Masada, the last fortress holding out, fell to the Romans in the year 73.[1] But before we get to Mark, I want to begin this morning with Isaiah.

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The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King, November 26, 2017, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

The story of the adult Jesus begins with his baptism, his encounter with the devil in the wilderness, and then with Jesus going out alone to preach, “Change your mind, for the sovereign power of the heavens is at hand.”[1]

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The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2017, Said Mass, By the Rector

The master is Christ.[1] The servants, or better, slaves, are believers, Christians.[2] [The Greek word here can mean servant or slave, but the one called simply “man” at the beginning of this passage is called “kyrios,” kyrie, that is, “lord,” when he returns. The primary definition of this word is “one who is in charge by virtue of possession, owner.”[3]

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November 19, 2017, The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Evensong, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

“Then [the Chaldeans] sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god! . . . Therefore [the wicked man] sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his seine; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich” [Habakkuk 1:11, 16].

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The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 12, 2017, Solemn Mass, Sermon by the Rector

In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus gives five sermons. All of them have acquired names. The first and the longest is the Sermon on the Mount.[1] Then there’s a Mission Sermon,[2] a Sermon in Parables,[3] and a Sermon on the Church.[4]

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The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, November 5, 2017, Solemn Evensong, Sermon by the Rector

Tonight’s second lesson and the reading at Benediction to come, both from Luke, probably are familiar to all of us, because these words are more frequently heard in the form Matthew gives them in the Sermon on the Mount.[1] Luke and Matthew are quoting what New Testament scholars now call the “Sayings Source.”[2]—it was known as “Q” for the German word “quelle,” meaning source, when I was in seminary. The text, of which no copy exists, almost certainly did exist in the classical world. In addition to its use by Matthew and Luke; the passage we heard tonight was also quoted by Justin Martyr, who died c. 167, in a form that suggests he was using the Sayings Source, and not Matthew or Luke.[3]

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All Souls' Day, Sung Mass, Homily by the Rector

The mother of one of my good friends died at the end of September. I had visited with them in April. Her death was unexpected, but it was a release from the suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In that sense, it was a blessing that many of us have prayed for when someone in own our families has had this terrible disease.

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October 29, 2017, The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

In the post-World War II period many things changed in America. For those of us of a certain age, that time was intense and unforgettable. One of the marks of those postwar decades was a yearning for authenticity. This yearning was a significant element of the literature and cinema of the period. J. D. Salinger was a kind of prophet of the authentic life: his Holden Caulfield condemned phoniness; his Franny, appalled by the bourgeois values of the Ivy League, retreated to her parents’ spacious apartment to recite the Jesus Prayer and remain unstained by everything that was false and fake. In Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, Benjamin, a recent college graduate, played by the young Dustin Hoffman, returns home to Pasadena, lost and confused about his future. And, as we discover, he can’t turn to his parents or their friends for guidance. In The Graduate, the older generation is clueless, hopelessly corrupt, hypocritical and, of course, inauthentic.

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