2013 Sermons

Advent 1 2013

Fr. Charles Blauvelt, Vicar

A Advent 1

St. Matthew 24:36-44


Gathering his disciples on a hilltop far removed from the noise and haste of the bustling city, Jesus cautioned them to be ready.  As Noah in the days before the flood, as the faithful worker in the field, as the householder in the middle of the night, “you also must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”


Without having taken a single step outside the confines of his tiny homeland nestled at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Jesus knew that things were going to get difficult for his followers everywhere.  He saw the signs in the world around him, and warned them to be prepared, to be ready, to be alert through the times of darkness and doubt.  Forces, both religious and political, were already mounting in strength against the small band of believers.  Temptations were beginning to lure some away, including the one who would eventually betray him.  Fear had claimed the allegiance of many hundreds, and would continue to do so even in the best of times.  Disillusionment was waiting in the wings to snatch the new-found faith of others.  And the first of many times of persecution would soon be visited upon the few who remained.


If nothing else, the season of advent flies in the face of our yearly plunge into cultural denial, and connects us those same forces of darkness that still infest our world, and afflict our daily lives.  A cursory glance at the recent headlines reminds us that the reality of human evil abounds.  U.S. soldiers are blown up by terrorists, killing and maiming hundreds of innocents—all in the name of God.  In Bagdad a car bomb explodes, and in Afghanistan news of yet another massacre leaves the prospects for peace at an even greater distance.  Young children are assaulted and murdered in schools and houses next door by teenagers and adults who show neither remorse for their actions, nor concern for the pain and heartache they cause others.  And pictures of incredible suffering and devastation left by incredibly violent storms in the Philippines leave us feeling afraid and out of control.


In all of this, Jesus reminds us to be ready.


A little closer to home, over morning coffee we are greeted by the unsettling news of a neighbor being beaten and robbed right down the street.  Less and a week later an armed robbery closes the bank, with rumors of a bomb scare to boot!  All this follows close on the heels of similar crimes at neighborhood convenience stores, a shooting here, a mugging there.


Through all of this, Jesus counsels us to be ready.


“How?” we may well ask; ‘how do we stand ready through all of this chaos erupting, not only around the world at large, but also right here in our own back yard?  Do we carry on as others do, and pretend that it’s not really there?  Or do we wall ourselves away, turning our homes into fortresses with alarm systems and trunks full of automatic weapons?  Could that be what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, means by being ready?


While these may be the answers which some people adopt for their lives, I would certainly challenge the notion that the same holds true for Christians.  Beginning with the disciples themselves, and continuing throughout history right to our present day, faithful followers of Jesus the Christ have struggled to avoid falling victim to the fear-inspired mindset that leads to a denial of the evils of life on the one hand, or armed confrontation with those evils on the other.  As St. Paul instructed us so many years ago, the Christian path is to know the hour, to know the realities of life, but to live according to a different reality; to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” that we may “conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day.”


So where do we find this armor of light that helps us in standing ready?  Where are whatever tools we need not only to survive the current chaos, but to know the hope of salvation promised by Christ?  Well, my friends, you’ve come to the right place.  For the answer is sitting all around you.  Leaving us much more than a set of teachings for the good times and the bad, Christ Jesus left us Himself—the Body of Christ, the Church.  Our readiness for the advent of God in our lives depends to a large extent on the surety of our connection with this, the Body of God’s Son, right here at Holy Cross.


As we have rehearsed since the moment of Christ’s Ascension, the way to remain on a firm and faithful footing amid all the craziness of human existence is to build our lives in the company of other faithful people, that together we may remain focused on Christ and healthy in our approach to life on earth.  For us, the secret is in a faithful balance—structuring our lives that all bases are covered, that all needs are met, allowing faith to form the foundation of our days.


Several years ago, Fr. Oehmig of the University of the South offered some helpful hints for discovering this balance in building a faithful life, one day at a time.  In ten simple steps we are connected with one another, able to “conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day.”


  1. “In a conscious, sincere way, daily turn your life over to the care and protection of God, asking for the empowerment to do what God has given you to do.”  Surrender, which lies at the heart of every prayer, recognizes that we are cradled in the arms of holy love every minute of even the most stressful days, leading us lean on one another for help and support.


  1. “Read something from Scripture daily, even if it is but one verse.  In a planned or unrehearsed way, it’s up to you.  And when God presents a chance to do so, share your insights or questions with another Christian or two.”


  1. “Go to church at least weekly.  Forget being the Church without going to church.  Has anybody ever come into a deep Christian commitment watching ‘Dateline’, [the Today Show], or slogging through the mud on a football field?”


  1. “Forgive whoever has offended you, regardless of the quality of his or her repentance.”  Resentment or unforgiveness blocks any possibility of finding joy in life.


  1. “Give more money than you think you can, with no thought of the way it is going to be spent or how you are going to be repaid.  Remember the root of [the word] ‘miserable’ is ‘miser.’”   It is only when we give of ourselves that we can know how abundantly blessed we truly are.


  1. “Tell someone you love that you love them.”  Don’t rationalize or assume that your words of love are unnecessary, even if you see them every day.  Stay connected.


  1. “Pray for someone you dislike to be blessed in abundance.  Very similar to forgiveness, praying for another is a good way to get unhooked from your favorite enemy and your favorite bad feeling.”


  1. At home, at the store, even at work, “Say ‘no’ to something you feel angry or depressed after doing, and ‘yes’ to something you feel happy about after doing.  Forget if it’s religious or not.”  Half the time, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, God’s joyous presence with us comes as a complete surprise.


  1. “Allow any portion of the day, however serious, to be interrupted by a joke.”  Even the armor of light needs a lift now and then.  And,


  1. “Discover at least seven ways to play that cost less than $5.00.  I know this will send MasterCard and the shopping malls into apoplexy [especially at this time of year], but it is possible—and necessary—to do.”


It’s all there, my friends—all that we need to keep our armor of light shining brightly.  And the people we need to help us stay ready are all here, here in the Body of Christ.  For it is in coming together, striving together to keep all things in balance, that we remain ready together—ready to ward off the forces that would pull us from the way of Christ, ready to welcome the Lord Jesus upon his glorious return.


Let us pray:


Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which you Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

2011 Sermons Recent Sermons

Day of Pentecost June 12, 2011

Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

Locked rooms, doors locked for fear, fear of what’s out there, fear of the future. We all know them. We’ve all been there. Fourteen years ago, I made my way down the steep, crooked stairway of the old Holy Cross building. I was wounded, bruised by experiences in my last parish, uncertain whether I had a future in parish ministry. A kind warden at that last parish, an executive placement professional, had given me her company’s battery of outplacement tests and interviews. “Give it up,” she suggested. “Find something else to do.” Would a parish have me?

At the bottom of the steps a little group awaited: Terry Knowles, Peter Ashworth, Nancy Stehno, Laura Starr-Houghton, Diane Beland, two or three others. The vestry/search committee. They too were wounded, bruised. Bishop Theuner was about to shut Holy Cross down, lock the doors for the last time. “Give it up,” he’d said. Could they find a priest to serve them? Fear. Fear of what’s out there, fear of the future.

2011 Sermons Recent Sermons

Easter 7 June 5, 2011

Acts 1:6-14                                                                          

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11                                                    

John 17:1-11

My original thought was to retire at the end of this calendar year, or in November when I reach the mandatory retirement age in the Episcopal Church. It was my wife Anne who suggested that the Day of Pentecost, next Sunday, would be a better time. It’s the end of the church school year, she pointed out, and it would be smoother to have the interim before the next priest comes take place over the summer, when things are relatively quiet.

What neither of us thought of was how deeply the readings and liturgies of these weeks would speak to transition – transition in your lives and in ours. Liturgically, Jesus has “gone away,” ascended into heaven. We are waiting for what comes next: the “sending of the Holy Spirit.” It is not that I have been Jesus, or Anne and I – or you have been Jesus to us (though of course in a sense we are all Christ to each other, aren’t we?). Jesus remains Jesus. It is rather that departures, loss, transitions, interims are powerful times, full of God as well as of the devil. We are entering into such a time, and these weeks of the Church Year have much to say to us about such times. So, this morning, let us listen.

2011 Sermons Recent Sermons

Easter 6 May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31                                                                      

1 Peter 3:13-22                                                                  

John 14:15-21

My daughters’ high school offered a senior honors elective called “The Search for Meaning in Western Literature.” Students read a wide range of things, including – though this was a public school – parts of the Bible, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Every week they had to write an essay. One week it was on the search for meaning in what they were reading. The next it was on the search for meaning in their own lives. I’ve always thought this was the ideal high school course; adolescence is a time of searching for identity, for meaning. Teenagers ask, who are we, what is the world about, what is our place in it? For that matter, so do we adults. In our hearts, if we admit it, we are all of us adolescents all our lives; humans are created, it seems, to search for meaning.

2011 Sermons

Easter 5 May 22, 2011

Acts 7:55-60

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

“I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

The professor who taught me criminal law was scarcely older than his students. He was brilliant and charming and kind. He and his family had been refugees from Hungary, whether from the Nazis or the Communists I’m not sure. They were Jewish. While still a young man, Paul Bator was diagnosed with cancer, which progressed quickly to his brain. One day he awoke totally deaf, not long after totally blind. Shortly before he died, he wrote a letter to his friends, which one of them shared with me. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “I have everything I need: chocolate and raspberries and Jesus.”

2011 Sermons

Easter 3 May 8, 2011

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                                                                               

1 Peter 1:17-23                                                                  

Luke 24:13-35

There is a saying in Zen Buddhism: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Zen Buddhism is all about the shedding of attachments, including attachment to the Buddha himself. But Christianity, I think, is quite different. You might say it is about the deepening of attachments – though in a particular way, a way that avoids the false attachment of idolatry but leads us rather into a deepening quest for the attachment beyond attachments, that with God himself. Anyway, those thoughts as introduction to the gospel we’ve just heard, in which two of Jesus’ disciples meet him on Easter evening, on the road to a village outside Jerusalem called Emmaus.

What does this story mean? How do you and I encounter the risen Christ on the road of our life? How do our encounters change us? There are three parts to the Emmaus story which we will take up in turn: what Jesus does in “opening the Scriptures”; what he does in the “breaking of the bread”; and the final notation that when he had opened the disciples’ eyes he “vanished from their sight.”

2011 Sermons

Easter 2 May 1, 2011

Acts 2:14a, 22-32                                                                               

1 Peter 1:3-9                                                                        

John 20:19-31

If you are a visitor with us at Holy Cross today – and we welcome a group from the Church of the Holy Spirit, Plymouth, which is considering building a new church as we did – if you are a guest, you will not long remember the homily I’m about to give, or what hymns we sang, or anything else about this service. But you will remember this worship space, the seating in a circular pattern around the altar in the middle. We designed this building specifically for this configuration, and in these remaining weeks before my retirement on the Day of Pentecost, I want to celebrate Easter by worshiping together in this way.

It was Winston Churchill who said that “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” The  church architecture with which we’re most familiar traces back to the Emperor Constantine and Byzantine imperial reception halls, where the emperor or his representative sat enthroned at the far end of the hall, his court around him, and the supplicant common people arrayed below. These buildings, beautiful as they are, shape a theology in which God is far off, his people are passive consumers of religion, fearful and subservient to their clergy, and worship is a privatized affair – me and my Jesus.

This is not so different from the scene described in the gospel reading this morning – the evening of that first Easter day. The Resurrection has occurred – Mary Magdalene has seen, touched and spoken with the risen Christ, Peter and John have seen the empty tomb; they have reported these miraculous findings to the other disciples. The Resurrection has occurred – but nothing has changed. Everyone is huddled together behind locked doors, imprisoned or immobilized by fear. Remember: fear is always the first enemy of faith, the first enemy of the resurrected life we are called on to lead.

2011 Sermons

Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day April 24, 2011

Acts 10:34-43                                                                      

Colossians 3:1-4                                                                  

John 20:1-18

On all the Easter Days before I was ordained, when I sat where you sit, listening to Easter sermons rather than preaching them, I always came to church with one great question: Will this fellow, the preacher, say that he believes this stuff – really believes – or will he waffle? Will he (it was always a he in those long ago days) just go on about new life and new energy, resurrection as metaphor or image or inspiring story? Or will he say, Jesus really rose from the dead, the tomb was really empty, he really appeared to his disciples, this stupendous and supernatural thing really happened, and I, preacher man, really believe it, really stake my life on it? Which kind of sermon am I going to hear? Coming to church like you, that was always the question I had in my mind.

So this is my last Easter sermon, probably the last one I will ever preach, and I want to tell you right up front that I really believe this stuff – that it really happened, empty tomb, bodily resurrection, miraculous appearances and all. I really believe it, and I really stake my life on it. So there you have it, and the rest of what I’m about to say is all by way of explaining what I’ve just confessed.

2011 Sermons

Good Friday April 22, 2011

John 18:1-19:42                                                                                                                                                                   

I’ve never watched one of those reality TV shows, where people are cast on tropical islands to fend for themselves, voting one another “off the island” until an ultimate winner is left. Maybe in retirement I’ll come to that, but in my ministry I find there is quite enough “reality” just in everyday life. Because I have only a vague, hearsay notion of these “off the island” shows, I don’t know whether you’re allowed to take anything with you to the island. But supposing you are, what would I take? What one thing?

 Well, narrowed down to just one thing, I would have to say the Bible. (A choice that would no doubt ensure that I would be the first person voted off the island!) And if I were pressed to choose just one part of the Bible, it would be the Passion according to St. John, what we just read. As one commentator has said of John’s Passion narrative:

From beginning to end, artistry and ideology have consciously shaped traditions grounded in historical memory for purposes unique to this particular story of Jesus. Numerous details have been included that are nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament. Precise descriptions and electrifying dialogue merge to produce one of the most compelling and powerful stories of courage and commitment, betrayal and fear, politics and passion known to humankind. If we have not learned to find the importance of each word and phrase . . . , we will largely miss the carefully nuanced message of the Johannine Passion narrative. But if we do pay close attention, the story will lead us to the heart of humanity’s most compelling questions, to a forked road down which we must choose our own path[i].

2011 Sermons

Maundy Thursday April 21, 2011

Exodus 12:1-14                                                                   

1 Corinthians 11:23-26                                                      

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

When I left the last parish I served – after a very painful time for me – the bishop, Frank Griswold, asked me whether I was going to look for another congregation. “Yes,” I said, “I am.” “Good,” he said. “John, you need a congregation in which to do theology.” It was a discerning judgment on his part. He was thinking of me as, like himself, basically an introverted intellectual who tends to live off alone in his head. Theology, he was reminding me – the word means basically knowledge or relation with God – theology can’t be done alone or in our heads. It requires immersion in a community, life together with others. And this has proved itself for me. In our years together, Holy Cross has transformed me, very intimately and deeply. I’m still by nature an intellectual, an introvert. But it’s always now for me the congregation, the community, you and your lives, where I begin and end my thinking. It is in you that I know and relate to God.

I say this because this liturgy, Maundy Thursday, is at its heart about community. This is the night before Jesus’ death; the hour before his betrayal by Judas. Jesus, as St. John presents him to us in his gospel, knows fully all that is to befall him. This knowledge is part of his “oneness” with the Father, as well as his “oneness” with humanity. And so Jesus is preparing his disciples, his little fragile community that he loves so completely, for his departure, for what is to come. Every word that he speaks, every action that he does, has significance. The disciples do not understand it all now, but they will recall and understand in the future. It will sustain and comfort and give them courage. As Jesus asked them to, they will repeat his actions in the future. And so of course Christians have done through the ages, and so we do tonight.