We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Pentecost Year A May 28, 2023

Come, Holy Spirit! 

From the beginning, the breath of the Holy Spirit pours out, bringing life.   The Holy Spirit gives life to smallest microscopic organisms that can be seen only with the help of a microscope, and yet are essential to the world’s food chain.  And the Holy Spirit works in and through the sweeping grandeur of this earth’s magnificent and ever changing landscapes, covered in life, that the earth sustains.

All of this life exists and thrives through the power of the Holy Spirit, uncontrollable, wild, and free.  As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

We Christians have been given the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  I guarantee you that even  when we don’t acknowledge or recognize the Spirit, the Holy Spirit is always at work in those born of the Spirit, and that’s us. 

So today, I’d like to talk about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives so that we can more easily recognize the Spirit’s presence in each of us and among us. 

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Sermon, Easter 6, May 14, 2023 – Praying for God to fill our imaginations

Have you ever wondered about what is going to happen to church as we know it?  What is going to happen to St Peter’s after we are gone? 

Like many churches, we now have fewer people here at St Peter’s.   Even the huge denomination of Southern Baptists has declined by over three million members since 2006, losing almost half a million members in just this past year. 

The signs of the decline of what we can broadly term Christendom are everywhere. 

We ask ourselves how many people we can lose and keep going.    Maybe we ought to spend our money differently.    Do we need to change our worship services?  We are puzzled, clueless and troubled when we think about these things.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want St Peter’s, after a long slow decline, to someday be deconsecrated so that it can be sold and turned into yet another Port Royal antique shop! 

The disciples had some of the same questions we do.  They wondered what would happen to them when Jesus was gone.  They were worried about how they’d continue without him.   

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Sermon, 4th Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2023 – “Abundant Life”

John 10:1-10

Today’s gospel about abundant life offers so many things to think about—Jesus as the Good Shepherd; we sheep who follow the voice of our shepherd; the strangers, thieves and bandits who try to call us away from Jesus; and then, finding that Jesus himself is the gate through which we pass to enter into God’s everlasting security and abundant life.    

Jesus used these images because shepherds and the sheep pens that dotted the landscape were a familiar sight to those who were listening to him.    According to a meditation on The Our Daily Bread website,  the sheep pens were probably made of stone, or possibly wood, about three feet high.  Toward evening, the shepherd would lead the sheep into the sheep pen to protect them from predators.  Some of these enclosures were large enough for several flocks, so a watchman stood guard and allowed only certain shepherds and sheep to enter through the one gate into the sheep pen.  In smaller pens that held only one flock, the shepherd himself would serve as the gate.  Once the sheep were inside the pen, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance to the pen to serve as protection to the sheep through the night, and to keep out anyone or anything who might try to harm the flock. 

For us Christians, Jesus is gate through which we find God. Jesus is also the shepherd, the one who leads and guides us once we hear his voice, the one who leads us in and out and helps us to find the pasture in which we have all we need. 

This gospel reminds us, though, that often we hear the voices of the “thieves and bandits” of this world instead of the voice of Jesus, and so we choose not to enter the sheep pen, even when Jesus calls us, because other things seem more inviting, or more necessary.     

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Sermon, April 16, 2023, Easter 2 – Repentance “in touch with the Reality that God Creates”

“Hope” – George Frederic Watts 1886

Repentance plays a major part in today’s gospel. 

So let’s start with what repentance means.   

I like Eugene Peterson’s explanation of repentance in his book, Long Obedience in the Same Direction. 

Peterson says that “the usual biblical word describing the no we say to the world’s lies and the yes we say to God’s truth is repentance.  It is always and everywhere the first word in the Christian life.” 

He goes on to say that “repentance is not an emotion.  It is not feeling sorry for your sins.  It is a decision.” 

And that “repentance is the most practical of all words and the most practical of all acts.  It is a feet -on- the- ground sort of word.  It puts a person in touch with the reality that God creates.” 

In today’s gospel, John gives us the closing event on the day of the resurrection.  Early that morning, Mary Magdalene had met Jesus in the garden. 

After this emotional meeting, Mary had gone to tell the disciples that she had seen Jesus and all that he had said to her. 

Later that day, the disciples met, which brings us today’s gospel. 

They had locked all the doors of the house where they were because they were afraid. 

And Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you.”  He showed them his wounds.  They could have no doubt that Jesus was the person standing there in their midst.  They could see for themselves that God had brought about a new reality, something that they could not have imagined, new life out of death, , that is, the resurrection of Jesus.   

And they rejoiced. 

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Sermon, Good Friday, April 7, 2023

Can you imagine being Mary, the mother of Jesus, that day? 

Mary stood there with her sister, with Mary the wife of Clopas, with Mary Magdalene and with the beloved disciple on that dusty, horrid hill, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.  The most sordid of deaths, Roman crucifixions, took place there.  Criminals hung on crosses and gasped out the last hours of their lives, and finally, agonizingly, suffocated and died.

Now, Mary is watching her own son hang on the cross.  This is the man that she had carried in her body for nine months, and given birth to,  loved and cared for as a child.  She loved him as he grew up into the man in whom she had complete confidence.  She is watching him die an ignominious death on a Roman cross. 

What must she have been feeling? 

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Sermon, Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Dalai Lama has said that “once committed, actions will never lose their potentiality.”

Every action in today’s gospel has a ripple effect, an influence far beyond the original action.  The story of the death of Jesus stands as stark testimony to the fact that once an action is committed, it cannot be taken back.  The consequences of the action spark other actions, becoming part of the tapestry of events into which our own actions are eventually woven. 

In today’s gospel, actions of betrayal, denial, accusations, manipulations, actions based on greed, actions taken out of fear, actions designed to keep the balance of power in place, are all actions that lead to the death of an innocent man, Jesus. 

This weighty tapestry of events becomes literally so tragic that darkness falls over the whole land as Jesus hangs on the cross.  And then, as Jesus cries in a loud voice and breathes his last, BEHOLD, the curtain in the temple is torn in two. 

The historian Josephus, writing in the time of Jesus, describes this curtain in the temple in Jerusalem, the massive structure which had been renovated by Herod the Great.  Josephus said that the curtain in that temple was made of Babylonian tapestry, “scarlet and purple, clearly depicting royalty.  It was woven with great skill and symbolically depicted the elements of the universe.  Embroidered into the veil was ‘a panorama of the heavens,’ meaning that it probably was designed to resemble the heavenly firmaments.” 

The purpose of the curtain was to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple.  The Holy of Holies was the place in which the Jewish people believed God’s presence dwelt.  Only once a year could the high priest go behind the curtain and enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to offer sacrificial blood of an animal to atone for his own sins and for the sins of the people. 

Matthew reports that, as Jesus dies, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom, so that it can never again separate God from the people.  Jesus’ death has torn away all barriers to God’s presence with us and for us, even in our deepest sins.

Once committed God’s actions will never lose their potentiality either, which is the good news in today’s sorrowful story.

Although all of the actions that led to Jesus’ death could not be taken back, God used those actions for good, to free us, once and for all from being held forever captive by our sinful ways. 

Now, nothing can separate us from the love of God except for our own active rejection of that love. 

Which brings me to Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. That betrayal set in motion the whole series of events that led to Jesus’ death.  Scripture tells us that when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, he repented.  But he could not change what he had done.  He couldn’t go back and fix what he had done.   This story would play out and Jesus would die. 

So Judas at least took his thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and the elders and said that he had sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  But they said, “What is that to us?  See to it yourself.”  They refused his money and his repentance. 

Judas threw down the money, left, and went and hanged himself.

After all the time he had spent with Jesus, he still didn’t understand that Jesus had brought to earth a new reality in which God’s grace is sufficient.  No longer an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, but only God’s justice and love.  If only Judas had thought to repent to God instead of to the chief priests. 

But the tapestry in the temple that kept the people from the immediate presence of God was all that Judas could understand.  Even after all that time with Jesus, all that Judas ultimately knew and all that he could see in his mind’s eye was that curtain of scarlet and purple through which he could never pass and through which the chief priests had refused to ever offer atonement for his sin.  And so, his pain and his repentance disregarded by the priests, he felt that he had no recourse to God and death was all that was left.   

Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom.  God removed that barrier, too late for Judas in this lifetime, for Judas had already taken justice into his own hands. 

How often we come before God in this life with the events of our lives, with all of our sins and weaknesses interwoven into a thick tapestry of our own creation, a barrier that we believe blocks our way to God forever.

But if we remember this story of all that happened the day Jesus died, we can recall that as Jesus breathed his last, God ripped the curtain of the temple in two, and destroyed every barrier that has ever blocked our way to God. 

We can live in hope,  because we know that our true place of repentance is not in the temple in front of a curtain, but kneeling in contrition at the foot of the cross. 

Sermon, March 19, 2023 – Lent 4

Are you stuck in your ways?  I know that the older I get, the more I would say that being stuck in my ways is true of me.   After all, it’s good to do things in a particular way, to be a certain way, and I like my comfortable beliefs.   Life is less complicated if we know how we want to do things,  and we have beliefs that support the way we tend to see the world. 

But today’s passages have made me think differently about being stuck in my ways.  The many people in today’s lectionary readings who are stuck have got some issues to face! 

In today’s Old Testament reading, God shakes his prophet Samuel up a bit because Samuel is stuck.    Samuel is balking over anointing a new king.  After all, Samuel had anointed Saul, the current king, and had been a big supporter of Saul.    But now, God is ready to move on, since Saul has been a disappointment to God as the leader of Israel.  So God tells Samuel—stop being stuck in the past.  It’s time to do something new.  So Samuel finally gets himself together and goes to Bethlehem to find Jesse, the father of many sons. 

Samuel expects that the Lord will choose the one of the oldest, kingliest-looking sons.  He has a preconceived idea of what a king should look like—and yet, seven sons pass by and God doesn’t choose one of them.  So Jesse sends for his youngest son, David, who is out in the fields keeping the sheep.  Certainly not king material—a shepherd, and too young to be given such responsibility. 

But surprise of surprises, when David shows up, the Lord says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.  

The most unlikely person is the one that God chooses as the next King of Israel and not only that, the one from whose family the Messiah will someday be born. 

Samuel isn’t the only one who is stuck. 

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Sermon, 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2023

Today’s passages invite us to consider for ourselves who Jesus is and what Jesus offers to each of us, if only we take the time to be in conversation with him and to spend time with him.  Jesus welcomes us into a closer and more loving relationship with God through both his living and his dying.       

In today’s passage from Romans, Paul says that “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.”

Is God really waiting to deal wrathfully with us, miserable sinners that we are? 

In his commentary on Romans, William Barclay, a Scottish theologian, explains “the wrath of God” in this way.

Think about the law. 

We all know that none of us can keep the law perfectly.  That doesn’t stop us from trying to keep the law, but sooner or later, we mess up.  When we mess up, we suffer the consequences.  And if we think of God only in terms of the law, then we can assume that God is going to be angry with us when we break God’s laws.  Barclay points out that if we think of ourselves in terms of the law, then we are all headed for God’s condemnation. 

Paul wants  the Romans to know that trying to be in a right relationship with God through our own efforts will never work, because we will never be perfect. 

Thanks be to God, then, that we have another way to be in right relationship with God, and that way is when we enter by faith into a relationship with God.  We learn God is not waiting to condemn us and wrathfully punish us.  Instead, God loves us and is waiting for us to draw more ever more closely into God’s presence. 

Jesus is the one who leads us into a deeper relationship with God.  As we come to know Jesus more and more, then we find ourselves growing closer to God.  Jesus would do anything for us. He doesn’t wait for us to be good, or to have our act together—in fact, while we were sinners, Christ died for us.    

When Jesus died, he showed us the way to God by showing us the way of God—God is always breaking love wide open so that it can be shared more fully.  When Jesus was broken open in his death on the cross, God’s love flowed from the cross out into the world like a stream of living water that gushes up to eternal life.

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Sermon for March 5, 2023 – “Faith is foundational to our lives as Christians”

Faith is foundational to our lives as Christians.

In the Living Compass Lenten devotional that some of us are reading during Lent, the readings last week were about faith.  Robbin Brent wrote in her entry for Friday, March 3, that faith is believing in something and then acting on that belief. 

And she quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who says that “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole stairway.” 

We are practical people—we like to see what’s ahead, and plan accordingly so that we can be thoroughly prepared.  Planning trips, planning vacations, planning for school, planning for retirement, planning for issues that we may face toward the end of our lives—all of this planning is good to do.  But we so often plan as if we are the only ones in charge of our lives and fully in control,  forgetting that life is notorious for handing us unexpected and often unwelcome challenges that we have not planned for. 

But when these unexpected things happen, we can act on our belief in God by stepping faithfully into whatever the situation is, knowing that God is with us, and will go with us, and will never, ever leave us alone—so we can proceed, yes, often with trepidation, or with caution, or even with great sorrow, but proceed we can and will.  We can lay aside our own plans and enter the unknown into which life is calling us.   

We can step into the unknown because we are people of faith.

In today’s Old Testament reading, God tells Abram, just a regular person like us, to go from his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land God will show him.  God does not give Abram a map or tell him anything about how to get where God is leading him—that is the future that Abram cannot see.   

But Abram believes in God, and so he acts in faith.  The writer of Genesis states succinctly, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” 

Today’s psalmist is starting out on a difficult journey to Jerusalem, a trip that will be full of unknown challenges, since the traveler must pass through the barren wilderness, exposed to the heat of the day and the chill of the nights, possible attacks by thieves, getting lost, and no telling what else.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay home? 

But the psalmist is willing to set out because that person has faith in God’s steadfast love.  The traveler knows that especially in the difficulties of the journey, God, like a mother hen spreading her wings over her chicks to protect them from predators and to keep them warm and safe, will also protect the psalmist in the face of any challenge that may arise. 

And then we come to Nicodemus.  I really like the story of Nicodemus because he is a practical human being, a literal thinker with a bit of an imagination,  a law keeper and a planner, all admirable traits. 

It’s that bit of imagination and that need to plan that brings Nicodemus to Jesus at night.  After all, he and his fellow rabbis know that Jesus is a teacher who has come from God and that Jesus couldn’t do what he was doing apart from God. Nicodemus just might need to factor Jesus into his life and his plans.  So he decides to go have a talk with Jesus to find out.

The first thing that Jesus does is to dismantle the tendency of Nicodemus to think  literally, to believe only what he can see and understand.  Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the world of imagination—to the life of the Spirit, a life that requires being willing to enter the unknown, because “the Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  

Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus(and here’s the GOOD NEWS)  that God is on the side of the world—all of those who don’t know God, or have any idea of the Spirit—Jesus has come to clue them in, to open them up, to challenge them to go beyond what they can see to what they cannot even imagine, that is, the beginning of life in God, here and now. 

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save the world.

We’ve probably all been where Nicodemus is—we are curious, we can see that God is at work in the world, and we want to know—what do you, God, have to do with my life?  We believe in God, but we aren’t sure that we want to act on that belief by letting the Spirit in and possibly wrecking our carefully thought out plans. 

We can’t predict or control the Spirit.  So how can we plan for the work of the Spirit in our lives? We have to have imagination, to be open to possibilities that may never have occurred to us, to be willing to jettison our carefully laid plans and be willing instead to enter the unknown. 

Ultimately we have to choose—we can take a chance and enter into the unknown life of the Spirit, and act on our beliefs, going where God calls us, or just continue on as we are, thank you very much. 

Remember, faith is believing in something and acting on that belief.  As Robbin Brent says in the essay that I mentioned earlier, “it is our faith in God, expressed through our willingness to act on what we believe, that prepares our minds and hearts to respond compassionately to suffering, our own, others’ and the world’s.” 

One person who chose to enter the life of the Spirit was Harriet Tubman. She was born a slave and escaped to freedom.  But Harriet could not forget all of the people who were still enslaved back home.  So she acted on  her belief that “God don’t  mean people to own people.”  She had compassion on those who were still suffering as slaves.  At great risk to her own life, Harriet Tubman kept going back into danger, over and over, even though she had a bounty on her head, to lead many more slaves to freedom. 

Quaker abolitionist Thomas Garrett said of Harriet Tubman in 1868 that “I never met a person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul…and her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.”  His statement is on the wall of an exhibit at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Dorchester County, Maryland. 

 Many of us know about this intrepid woman because of our friend Cleo Coleman, who embodies Harriet Tubman and tells the story of Harriet’s faith and how she acted on her faith by becoming a liberator of her people.    As the History Channel says of Harriet Tubman, “she is one of the most recognized icons in American history and her legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background.”   

Harriet Tubman has a new separate feast day on the Calendar of the Episcopal Church, and that day is March the 10th. The Episcopal Church encourages all parishes and dioceses, in conjunction with other communities of faith,  to honor Harriet Tubman in a worship service  on or near the 110th anniversary of her death, which will be this Friday, March 10, 2023. 

So we honor her today as a person who did not hesitate to enter the unknown life that the Spirit called her into, by acting on her faith and responding compassionately to the suffering of others by leading them to freedom.  And as Harriet Tubman herself said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  You have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” 

After Nicodemus left Jesus late that night and made his way back home, maybe he looked up at the stars and remembered God’s promise to Abraham,  that God would make of Abraham a nation as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  After all, Nicodemus was a member of that nation of Israel and a teacher.  But now, maybe Nicodemus wondered what else Jesus could teach him.    Would he ever understand what Jesus was trying to say about being born again, being born from above, being born anew?  Maybe Nicodemus wondered if he might dare to follow Jesus openly.  Or maybe he was just too tired and too puzzled to give the conversation he had just had with Jesus much more thought right then.  

We will never know.    

But what we do know is that several months before Jesus was crucified, the chief priests and the Pharisees, of whom Nicodemus was one, wanted to have Jesus arrested. Nicodemus spoke against this arrest.    He said, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”  He was taunted for his statement—the others said, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you?” So now we know that  Nicodemus must have given more thought to what Jesus had said to him, for Nicodemus is acting on his belief that Jesus has come from God by having compassion on Jesus and speaking against his arrest. 

After Jesus is crucified and dies,   Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body so that he can give Jesus a proper burial.  Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus, and brings with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  The weight of these spices would be appropriate for the burial of a king.  Clearly, Nicodemus revered Jesus and had compassion for him, or he would not have honored him so lavishly. 

We hear nothing more of Nicodemus and we can only imagine the rest of his story.   Did his compassion for Jesus become compassion for the world around him? 

We don’t know the rest of our stories either.  We can’t know the future.  But what we do know is that God loves us with a steadfast love.  And that steadfast  love never ceases.  God’s love will carry us through all our goings and comings in this life, through all the joys and all the heartaches, because we know that God’s mercies will never come to an end.  Even after our longest and darkest nights,  God’s mercies are new every morning. We can proceed through the unknowns ahead with confidence.   

And we can faithfully act on our belief in our steadfast, merciful and loving God by letting the Spirit blow where it will through our lives.   We can faithfully step into the unknown, and go where God would send us, full of steadfast love and compassion for all this hurting world. 

One more look at Nicodemus – from a sermon in 2011

“Nic was a big guy in many ways.  He was tall, and even though he had put on a little weight in middle age, he still had a certain youthfulness and confidence that other men envied.  Nic was a big guy at work too, having successfully risen to the top of his profession, known as a leader, not only in the local company, but also at the corporate level.  People listened when Nic spoke.  They paid attention, sought his guidance.

Black Escalde“Nic drove a large black Escalade. He loved the way the Escalade roared to life when he turned the key in the ignition, the way he sat up high above the rest of the traffic, barely having to press the accelerator to gun past anyone in his way and to get to his destination in record time.The Escalade suited Nic, summed up who he was, really.Big, bold, in charge.”

Read more of the 2011 sermon