Sermons

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

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]

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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.

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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]

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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]

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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, 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.

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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 Body and Blood of Christ, Solemn Mass, Procession through Times Square, and Benediction, by the Rector

Before I get to the sermon, I want to remind all of us, myself included, of one important and inaccurate custom we find in all the principal translations of the New Testament into English: Jesus and his disciples were not “at table eating.” No table is mentioned in the Greek text of today’s gospel. This is what it says: “as they were reclining and eating.”[1] The verb “reclining” said it all. In the time of the New Testament, people reclined on couches around a U-shaped or crescent table.[2] In the context of this supper, and at this point in the journey (and recalling the remark in John about how the disciple Jesus loved lay close to Jesus’ breast[3]), the manner in which they were actually eating carries the meaning of intimate fellowship.

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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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