Sermons

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

The Hebrew Bible begins with the word bereshit, commonly translated as “in the beginning.” The Greek form of bereshit is γένησις—Genesis. The root of the Hebrew word is a verb, three letters, בראbeht, resh, aleph—b, r, a—it means “to create.”[1] In the Hebrew Bible this word in its many forms is used only of God and God’s creative power, that is, of God’s ability to bring about something new. The word doesn’t explain how God does this; it’s not about God creating something from nothing. It is about “God’s extraordinary, sovereign, . . . effortless and fully free”[2] creative power.

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Christmas Eve, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is an Orthodox Jewish leader in Great Britain and in the Commonwealth. I read his blog Covenant and Conversation[1]. He has been writing since October reflections on the Jewish annual cycle of readings from the Torah, the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and our Bible. The readings are called “Parsha,” that is, “portion.” The first of the books in the cycle is, of course, Genesis. His article for December 10 was called, “Does My Father Love Me?”

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The Third Sunday of Advent, Solemn Evensong, by the Rector

In 1998, the summer before I came to Saint Mary’s, the late Father Raymond Brown published what would be the last of a series of essay collections on the Sunday gospel lessons.[1] I had the privilege once of hearing him speak at Notre Dame; I waited around afterwards to meet him and ask him a question. I bring this up because a question I didn’t ask him would come up as I began to use that last collection of essays.

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The Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018, by the Rector

Scholarship suggests that today’s gospel lesson was the beginning of the story that Luke knew about the adult Jesus Christ. It certainly sounds like a beginning,[1] a biblical, “When in the course of human events,” as it were. In all four gospels the beginning of the ministry of Jesus is linked to John the son of Zechariah, as he is identified as he begins his public ministry in Luke.

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The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Said Mass, by the Rector

The Virgin Mary is mentioned in the New Testament only by the four evangelists, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John—note that John refers to her, not by name, but only as the mother of Jesus.[1] This mother is there as Jesus’ ministry begins in Cana and later outside the walls of Jerusalem when he dies on a cross.[2] For the record, in John, Joseph does get a mention by name.[3] In addition to Mary’s role in Luke’s gospel, she is mentioned once at the beginning of Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles.[4]

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The First Sunday of Advent, Solemn Mass, by the Rector

Scholars know that around the end of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth century monastic workshops began to put the prayers and lessons for Advent Sundays at the front of the new liturgical books which they were making.[1] Scholars do not know why they did this, but because of the way books were laid out, Advent began to be thought of by Christians in the West as the beginning of the church year.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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].

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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]

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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, Solemn Mass, by the Reverend Dr. James Conlin Pace

For the past few Sundays in this season after Pentecost, we have been reading from Mark’s gospel. 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.

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August 5, 2018, 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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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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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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