Sermons

The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

We began reading from the First Book of the Maccabees this past week on Thursday night. Since the English Reformation, Anglicans have used the books we call the Apocrypha—from the Greek word for “hidden things.” (I’m not sure why they picked up that name.) They are books that were in the early Greek-language Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint, that was the basis of the first Christian Bibles. But these books, known in Greek, did not find a place in the Hebrew Bible—which came together among the Jews between the seventh and tenth centuries of the Common Era.[1]

Read More

The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

Yesterday afternoon I watched a movie that came out in August, Crazy Rich Asians. It was just serious enough and funny enough for me really to enjoy it. It was about family and about the prejudices, immaturities, and sins that can pass from generation to generation. It’s on the edge of not working, but once I relaxed, I enjoyed it a lot.

Read More

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Last Sunday, the lectionary placed us outside Jericho, where Jesus would encounter and heal a blind man.[1] He was a person who had only heard about Jesus but who believed the word that he had heard. The blind man was the good soil, if you will, of the parable of the sower.[2] He wanted to see again. Jesus does not touch him—no spitting this time as earlier in Mark.[3] Jesus said to him only these words, “Go. Your faith has saved you.”[4] But the evangelist tells us, “Immediately he regained his sight.”[5] But the good soil does not turn back to Jericho. He joins the disciples who are journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem. Today the lectionary leaps forward from the gate of Jericho to almost the end of the Tuesday before the crucifixion.

Read More

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Said Mass, by the Rector

This morning, we’re still in the tenth chapter of Mark. Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem at the beginning of the next chapter. Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage and ended with the disciples trying to keep children away from Jesus. But Jesus said to his disciples, “Let the children come to me . . . whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[1] The disciples’ misunderstanding of who Jesus is continues with the very next story in Mark, the story of the rich man.

Read More

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

In the late Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown’s short book, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections, in remarks about the development of a celibate priesthood in the Christian West and its value for today, the late Brown wrote, “If some of the Gospel demands, such as permanent commitment, seem very difficult to us today, I find no proof that they were not very difficult in the 1st century.”[1] Brown’s words, about the demands of the gospel being difficult in the past and in our time, have stayed with me. They remain something of a touchstone for me when I think about questions presenting difficult moral and ethical choices.

Read More

The Eighteenth Sundy after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, By the Rector

This morning I’m not going to preach about Jesus’ second prediction of his death and resurrection, or about his words on greatness in dominion of God, or about who one really receives when one welcomes a child in Jesus’ name. But the story of Jesus healing an epileptic boy is omitted by the lectionary, and I do not know why. Matthew and Luke recast it.[1] And it’s only in Mark that we hear Jesus’ words about faith and the father’s response. So this year, I’m going to preach on the exchange between the father and Jesus that speaks profoundly to the mystery of our faith.

Read More

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

The Syrophoenician woman, whose daughter was possessed by a demon, hears about Jesus and goes to him while he is in the gentile region near the city of Tyre. She finds him, falls down before him, and asks him to cast the demon out of her daughter, who is not with her, but at home. She hears from Jesus that it is not right for him to do this for her because she and her daughter are, for him, like an unclean animal, like “dogs.” In the words of New Testament scholar Joel Marcus, “the Jews are God’s children, and their needs come first; compared to them, non-Jews are just dogs.”[1].

Read More

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Closer to forty years than to thirty-nine years ago, I read Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.[1] It was a year before Monica Furlong’s biography of Merton was published—the book in which, for the first time as far as I know, the complex story of Merton’s life as a young man and as a Cistercian monk and priest began to be told.[2]

Read More

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

Unlike in Mark, Matthew and Luke,[1] in John, Jesus never asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” In John, Jesus tells people who he is and what he does. The Greek words meaning “I am”—ego eimi—are used many, many times in this gospel.

Read More

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

For the past few Sundays in this season after Pentecost, we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. And it has been a very good read; it goes very fast. Lots of ‘immediatelys’ are to be found therein. The action proceeds swiftly. Two weeks ago, if you recall in the passage from Mark, Jesus fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. That is pretty miraculous if you really think about the size and the dimensions of all that was involved in that kind of a miracle.

Read More

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Said Mass, by the Rector

Jesus answers directly only one of the questions put to him in today’s gospel lesson. Asked by the crowd that has found him on the other side of the sea, “ ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ ”[1]

Read More

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. Peter Ross Powell

Walking on Water? Really? Are we supposed to believe that Jesus did that? When I was in seminary we were taught that there was a difference healing miracles and nature miracles. We were to trust and believe in the healing ones and be suspect of the nature ones. Of course doing this empties the Gospel of much of its wonder. In the more than 40 years since I left seminary I’ve evolved in my thinking about nature miracles. Quite apart from what I believe, it is clear to me that Mark believed that Jesus walked on water. Mark was not giving us an allegory, a fable, or a metaphor. He was reporting the facts as he understood and believed them. Does that mean that we can thereby dismiss the Gospel? Or at least this particular Gospel Reading? I think not. Post-Modern scholarship asks us to enter into the world of Mark. So if Mark believed this happened and I seriously doubt it did, what do I do with this text? Can I surmount my rational scientific (actually in my case engineering[1]) mind and extract meaning from this text? Obviously yes or I wouldn’t be preaching on it!

Read More

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

While I was on vacation last month, I spent some time in Buffalo, in Upstate New York. I grew up in a town not far from there, and I attended high school in Buffalo’s historic center. It was a good visit. I spent time with my brother and his family. I visited my parents’ and my brothers’ graves, something I’d long needed to do, and I walked around the city, remembering my complicated adolescence of fifty years ago.

Read More

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Said Mass, by the Rector

Raymond Brown wrote in his book An Introduction to the New Testament in a footnote that there are about 450 verses in Mark describing Jesus’ public ministry and that about 200 of them are usually referred to in English as “miracles”—from the Latin mirari, “to wonder at.” Brown points out that the word Mark uses isn’t the Greek word for miracles, but for “acts of power.”[1] For example, the leper who comes to Jesus, falls on his knees, and really says, “If you are willing,[2] you have the power to make me clean”—not “you can make me clean,” but “you have the power.” And today’s gospel lesson is all about the power of God.

Read More

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Said Mass, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

David Brooks is a columnist for the New York Times. He possesses one of the conservative spots on the Op-Ed page of that newspaper.[1] Brooks is a quirky kind of conservative. Sometimes, for conservatives, he is too liberal and for liberals he is too conservative. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I like to read his essays: I find him unpredictable, and he’s good at making me question my assumptions and presuppositions.

Read More

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])

Read More

The Burial of the Dead, Richard Joseph Leitsch, 1935-2018, by the Rector

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was for over two decades a leader of part of the Orthodox Jewish community in the Commonwealth—what we Americans often call “The British Commonwealth of Nations,” but it’s simply “The Commonwealth.” I follow his blog called Covenant and Conversation. This week he wrote about the revival of Anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere—and these are his words—“within living memory of the Holocaust.”[1] His starting point was a phrase from the fourth book of Moses, Numbers, “a people dwelling alone.”[2] He writes, “If people do not like you for what you are, they will not like you more for pretending to be what you are not.”[3] He summarized his reflection with these words, “In our uniqueness lies our universality. By being what only we are, we contribute to humanity what only we can give.”[4]

Read More

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.

Read More

The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Said Mass, by the Reverend James Ross Smith

On Thursday evening, I attended a party and met a woman who works as a psychiatric nurse here in New York. She also serves as an adjunct professor at a well-known local nursing college. We hit it off immediately and had a really interesting conversation. She told me that she mostly works with patients who are struggling with various forms of addiction, and addiction medicine is the subject that she teaches. That interested me immediately, not least because we host a number of twelve-step meetings here at Saint Mary’s, and because addiction to opioids has become such a pressing problem in many parts of the United States, and I’ve long felt that it would be good for me to know about that issue. We ended talking about addiction, about twelve-step spirituality, about becoming sober, about relapsing, and about starting over—“one day at a time,” as they say. And we also talked about evil. It was she who first used that word. And it surprised me to hear a professor and a clinician use it. I hastened to ask her what she meant. She assured me that she didn’t believe that those who are addicted are evil—she herself lives with and struggles with a form of addiction—rather, she said, there is something evil in the way that addiction enslaves people and distorts their lives.

Read More

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.

Read More