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, the Transfiguration, Aug 6, 2023

When my five-year-old granddaughter and I are going somewhere in the car, we often listen to music that she likes.  Not too long ago, we got the soundtrack to Aladdin from the library.  My car is not exactly a magic carpet ride, but the music does take us into another world, a magical world in which what’s expected gets turned upside down and the impossible becomes reality. 

In the movie, Jasmine, a princess with all she could ever want and more than she could ever need who is imprisoned in the restrictive world of royal expectations meets  Aladdin, a street urchin who never has enough and is constantly in trouble with the law. 

The two go on a magic carpet ride high above the world that holds them both captive.  We probably all know the hit song from this show, “A Whole New World.”

As I was listening to this song yet again, the thought burst into my mind that in many ways, the lyrics have some similarities to  what is  going in today’s scripture, when Peter, John, and James go up on the mountain with Jesus to pray.  High above the world that they know, they open their hearts to God.  Although they are weighed down with sleep, they are awake enough to be aware of what is happening. 

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Sermon, Pentecost 7, Proper 10, July 16, 2023

Beginning this Sunday and for the following two Sundays, we have the privilege of hearing Jesus tell four parables.    

In Matthew’s gospel, as Eugene Boring notes in his commentary, the words, deeds, and mission of Jesus have caused quite a bit of conflict with and rejection by the leaders of Israel, and right before the passage that we just heard, Jesus is even in conflict with his own family.  Jesus says that his family is not necessarily made up of his “blood kin,” as we say in the South. 

Instead, the family of Jesus consists of the ones who hear the word and then do God’s will. 

So according to Boring,  Jesus tells the four parables that we find in the 13th chapter of Matthew in order to comment on the meaning of his rejection by the leaders of Israel and the founding of the new community of God, the community made up of those people who do God’s will—not necessarily the religious leaders of the day, or even his own family.

In today’s parable, Jesus, the sower, sows God’s Word, or the seeds, out in the world, with mixed success.  Many of the seeds are lost as they fall on pathways so well-trodden that the ground is too hard to receive the seeds and so the birds eat the seeds up.   More seed is wasted as it falls onto rocky ground.  Even though some of the seed takes root, it withers away because there’s not enough soil to keep the roots moist.  Other seeds come up but get choked out by the thorns that have also grown up alongside the seed.  Finally, some of the seed falls on good soil and produces a harvest that is abundant beyond imagining. 

So someone hearing this parable might come to understand that despite all the conflict and rejection with the leaders of Israel, a new understanding of God’s kingdom on earth will take root and produce an abundant harvest.  This parable, as Boring points out, shows us the “mysterious, concealed working of God, who miraculously brings the harvest.” 

The parables that Jesus tells start in a familiar world, but as the story goes on, those listening find that their usual expectations get challenged, and new understandings begin to take shape in their hearts and minds. 

Imagine what would happen if Jesus were among us today, and wanted to tell a parable to us, to get us to consider what it means to do God’s will, to reconsider who is God’s family, and to ponder what an abundant harvest, brought about by the mysterious working of God, will look like. 

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Sermon, July 9, 2023 – Pentecost 6, Proper 9

Sermon, Proper 9, Year A 2023

Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-15; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Before the jail in Caroline County closed several years ago, several of us led a Bible study there once a month.   As part of our training, we took a tour of the jail and got to see how the prisoners lived.  We were allowed to go into a part of the jail that wasn’t being used, so that we could see how the prisoners lived.    

Each cell clustered around the large common area holds four people.  The bunks are metal.  There is a clearly visible toilet in each cell, offering no privacy.  The prisoners spend a great deal of time in their cells.  At certain times of the day, they can come out into the common room, unless there has been some disturbance and they are locked down.  Getting outside means going into an area with a high fence topped with barbed wire, where there is room to walk, but not room for anything else. 

And for prisoners who cause trouble, the solitary cell to which they are confined is separated from everyone else, completely silent and windowless, completely isolated from the outside world.

Periodically, throughout our lives, we find that we are maybe not in an actual jail cell, but in some circumstance in which feel that we are being held captive. 

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Sermon, July 2, 2023, Pentecost 5

Sermon, Proper 8,  Year A 2023 

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6: 12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

In a Native American legend recorded for You Tube by the Anasazi Foundation, a grandparent tells his grandchild about two wolves who are at war.   The grandparent describes the two wolves. 

One is a bad wolf full of anger, envy, jealousy, regret, resentment, judgement, bitterness, hate, spite, cruelty,  greed, self-pity, guilt, inferiority, lies, false pride, and ego.      

The other wolf, the good wolf, is full of peace, joy, hope, love, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence and generosity, empathy, truth, compassion, self-control, and faith. 

The grandparent places his hand on his grandchild’s shoulder.  “These two wolves are at war inside of me, and also inside of you, and every man, woman and child who walks this earth.” 

The grandchild thinks for a moment and then asks the grandparent, “Which wolf will win?” 

The grandparent replies, “The one you feed.” 

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Sermon, Pentecost 3, Proper 6, June 18, 2023

Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 110; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

First, I’d like to thank Ben for preaching the sermon I had planned to share with you last week before I unexpectedly had to be absent. 

The theme of that sermon was “Press on to know the Lord.” 

As God’s people, we are to press on throughout our lives to grow in our knowledge and love of God,

for that knowledge and love of God brings us peace

and God’s peace brings us into a deeper knowledge and deeper love of God, a never ending circular exchange,

an eternal turning toward love that is essential to our spiritual growth. 

As we receive God’s peace, as we come to know God’s love more and more personally, we also find that our hearts fill with joy. 

And that is the theme of today’s sermon!  Rejoice! 

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Sermon, Proper 5, Pentecost 2, June 11, 2023

Sermon, Proper 5, Year A 2023
Hosea 5:15-6:6, Romans 4:13-25, Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Please look at your bulletin cover.  The device in the photograph shows a person in a wheelchair, and underneath the image is this statement.

“Press to operate door.” 

I usually don’t use these devices, even when they are available, because I believe that I am self-sufficient enough to open the door myself. 

But think about it.  On some level, every one of us here today is that person who stands in front of a door and can’t get it open.  The door isn’t stuck, we are!  All of us need God’s help in some way or another.  Maybe your belief system has you stuck, or you are devastated by grief and can’t get up, or you are physically sick and can’t stand.  All of these ways of being stuck keep us from pushing open the door into the glorious freedom of life in God.

Give it some thought! 

What keeps you stuck?    

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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.