Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sates our thirst. Amen.
Tonight, we find ourselves back in time: we’re exactly one chapter earlier than we were last Wednesday, when Jesus was confronted by an angry mob preparing to stone a woman caught in adultery. (For more on the relationship between these two episodes, check out last week’s sermon.)
It’s the Feast of Booths, and Jesus is on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, a city packed to overflowing with worshipers flocking to the Temple. In the turmoil of such a crowded city, the religious leaders are on a sharp lookout for anyone who may be stirring up trouble or fomenting insurrection, lest a riot bring about a violent crackdown from the Roman troops. And Jesus, they worry, is exactly that type of dangerous revolutionary.
What we see throughout chapter seven is an extended series of encounters with the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the Temple guards, debating the Law of Moses and the very nature of Truth itself. Continue reading “Rivers of Living Water”→
As we move into Advent, we begin at the end – with a dose of eschatology and apocalypticism. In November, the lectionary cycle ended with a distinct turn towards the end of things, and we pick up there as well, like a snake devouring its own tail.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King, who comes riding on the clouds. Amen.
This is our King?
Arrested, standing trial, bound, headed for Golgotha?
It’s so far removed from our expectations. This does not look like the One Like a Son of Man who, in Daniel, comes with the clouds of heaven to receive dominion and glory and kingship from the Ancient One, standing before a fiery throne. Hours before his death, this does not look like one who will be served by all peoples, nations and languages, who will receive everlasting dominion and kingship that shall never be destroyed.
This is not exactly Alpha and Omega, Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come. This is not our picture of the Almighty.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming again in glory. Amen.
Rome. The Eternal City.
It sounds like the tagline for a fantastic tourism ad campaign. Or maybe like it was written by some 19th century Romantic, as though Percey Shelley coined the phrase in writing to Keats. Or perhaps it’s some medieval papal propaganda, as though Boniface IX granted Rome the title to spite those antipopes in Avignon?
The moniker actually dates back much, much further. The Roman poet Tibullus first called Rome Urbs Aeterna in the first century while the empire was still pretending to be a republic. The city was already seven centuries old. And this before Octavian became the Augustus and built his palatial estate on Palatine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus, before Vespasian ordered the construction of the Colosseum, and before the Arch of Titus was built, dedicated “to the divine Titus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian.” This arch celebrates the Roman military defeat of Jewish rebels, the ransacking of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.
Wandering around the city even in our current age, a student might gaze from the Colosseum past the Arch of Titus towards August’s palace and say, “Look, teacher! What large stones and what large buildings!”
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is ever reforming the Church and making all things new. Amen.
Worms, spring 1521. The Imperial Diet has brought together papal delegates and powerful bishops with prince-electors, dukes, and all manner of representatives from the across the Holy Roman Empire. Pope Leo X, a sire of Florence’s powerful banking dynasty, the Medici, and Emperor Charles V, who united Spain and the Holy Roman Empire under Hapsburg rule, are working together to crush an insurgent protest movement coming out of a college town in Saxony.
Already the year before Leo wrote Exsurge Domine:
Arise, O Lord, and judge your cause…for foxes have risen, seeking to destroy the vineyard….The wild boar from the forest strives to destroy it….
It’s flowery language for a bull, an official letter from the pope threatening excommunication unless a certain German monk should recant. In response? That monk, one Martin Luther, burned the document. Quickly thereafter, Leo issued another bull officially excommunicating Luther for rejecting papal authority.
And so it is that we find ourselves in the imperial city of Worms, Luther standing trial with two options: recant of everything and go back to peaceful obscurity in the university, or be banished from the Church and the empire. Given a day to prayerfully consider his response, Luther entered the chamber and defiantly said these famous words:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to feed the children of God. Amen.
We’ve seen something like this before.
Jesus is staying at a home in the area near Tyre when a woman comes to him, asking that Christ might cast a demon out of her daughter. There’s a familiar pattern for healing stories and exorcisms like this. There will be some little exchange, the disciples will get annoyed, onlookers will scoff at the entire situation, and Jesus will tell the woman that she has great faith and the daughter will made well. Standard enough fare for the Gospels.
We see these healing narratives over and over again. So much so that we get used to them and, to be honest, we stop paying attention until the end. Oh, hey. Jesus healed the person with…what was it this time? Another leper? Leprosy! Jesus healed the person with leprosy. Yea. Alright. They get a little boring, we lose focus, and the details often evade us as long as it’s a happy ending.
Usually, any sort of disturbing details are floating just under the surface; they demand a close reading of the text to really get at the real point of the story.
Texts: St. James 1:17-27; St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our Perfect Law Giver. Amen.
If we’re being honest, we’ve all known someone like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: quick to chime in with an accusatory question and judging “side-eye.” In contemporary speech, “Pharisee” is synonymous with exactly this type of person, an arrogant and legalistic disciplinarian slavishly devoted to a strict interpretation of the rules quick to render an unrequested verdict.
“Your disciples eat without washing their hands? Bless their hearts.”
“Oh. You let your children watch that movie? Aren’t you worried that it might corrupt their young mind?”
“You listen to that kind of music? I shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ as they say.”
A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: St. John 6:56-69
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.
A man, let’s call him Rob, walks into his pastor’s office one day. “Pr. Linda, I’ve got a question. Every Sunday, you say that bread has become the Body of Christ, but how…”
Pr. Linda excitedly cut him off. “Rob, that’s a great question – one Christians have been debating for almost our entire history.” Pr. Linda, being something of a scholar, gives Rob the whirlwind tour of Eucharistic theology throughout church history.
It’s a great tour; she hits all the high points – Ambrose and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Zwingli and the Marburg Colloquy, Calvin. She makes sure to start with Aristotelian metaphysics before delving in to the Synoptic Gospels and I Corinthians and checking in on the relevant liturgical texts from the Didache, Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the Apostolic Tradition of Pseudo-Hippolytus, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Anaphora of Addai and Mari all the way through to the Roman Missal promulgated after Vatican II, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and of course Evangelical Lutheran Worship. She quotes extensively from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and both the Small and Large Catechism. She even mentions Berengar of Tours and Paschasius Radbertus! When was the last time you heard a pastor cite to Berengar and Paschaisus?
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.
Let’s pretend, just for a few seconds, that while we might be familiar with some or most of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we’ve never read any of the Gospels or the Epistles. We’ve gone to worship at the Temple, where we’ve sacrificed animals and consumed their flesh, but we’ve never celebrated Holy Communion with bread and wine.
And so it is that we arrive, with a few thousand of our closest friends, around a wandering Nazarene preacher who miraculously feeds the entire crowd with only a few loaves and fish. Just like Moses! And Elijah! And Elisha! Surely God is at work!
And then he starts to speak: Whoever comes to me will never go hungry! Will never go thirsty!
For people familiar with hunger – whether in first century Judaea or twenty-first century Macon – that is quite a promise! No wonder people flocked to Jesus! Not only did he promise that his followers would never go hungry, he also demonstrated his ability to keep that promise!
No wonder the crowd responded, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
But then comes the twist. It’s the twist we see coming because we’re reading this after Maundy Thursday, after the Church took this teaching to heart, after we made this teaching “the source and summit” of our weekly worship. But to the crowd that day? Oh, to the crowd that day, this twist is among the most shocking things they’ll ever hear:
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Heaven. Amen.
A few months ago, a genre of video made the rounds on the internet: “Everything is cake.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: a person cutting into everyday objects to reveal that, surprise, it’s cake. Mashed potatoes? No, cake. Hamburger? No, cake. Glass of water? No, cake. Basketball? Salad? Remote control? Rainbow trout? Pile of Legos? Glass of water? Foot in a sandal? No, cake.
It was the world’s most repetitive magic trick. Everything in the video turns out to be cake. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Oh, come on. Surely that’s actually a plate of raw chicken. It even looks slimy like the pre-wrapped chicken at the grocery store. It’s not going to also…oh. Ok, yeah, that’s also cake.
How can this be? What appears to be spaghetti and meatballs, or a cell phone, or a human hand, is actually cake? What sort of magical craftsmanship?
Cake certainly cannot take such forms, but with enough fondant, food dye, and skill (and, let’s be honest, probably a low-resolution camera) you can make a cake look like just about anything.