So Shall Your Descendants Be

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who conforms us to his glory. Amen.

What made Abram so special?

This wandering Aramean frequently gets a one-on-one audience with the Almighty. Why?

Three chapters before today’s lection, the Lord calls to Abram, telling him to take his nephew and his wife and move across the barren desert to Canaan. God pledges, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great….”

Shortly thereafter, Abram – having left Canaan for Egypt to avoid a famine and fearful for his own life – gives his wife Sarai to Pharaoh. Abram didn’t even make it a full chapter before he decided to sell someone out to save his own skin; he’s not exactly a stand-up guy. Nevertheless, Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, delivers God’s blessing to Abram. Today, as we read, the Lord again appears to Abram and promises that Abram and Sarai, who are aging rapidly, childless, and anxious about their legacy, will produce a family that outnumbers the stars in the heavens.

abrahmic covenant

This blessing reassured, Abram and Sarai settle down, trust in the Lord, and live happily ever after.

Continue reading “So Shall Your Descendants Be”

Born Again

A Homily for the first Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. John 2:23-3:15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to be born of water and the Spirit. Amen.

What does Jesus mean by “born again”?

In common usage, this phrase ranks up there with (and is often seen as synonymous with) “evangelical” as a term to distinguish between types of Christians. “Well, you have your Catholics, your mainline, and your ‘born-again evangelicals.’”

Here in the South, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask, “Have you been born-again?” or “Tell me about when you were born-again.” I would wager that most everyone here has been asked this question – as surely as you’ve been asked which SEC team you root for. Continue reading “Born Again”

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

jacob blessing josephs children
“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

Ashes to Ashes

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Text: St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to repentance and new life in himself. Amen.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.”

We read these words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel every year before we begin our Lenten fast.

Minutes later, we kneel down and receive an ashen cross prominently on our foreheads – an obvious and outward sign that we went to church like good little Christians. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes”

“It Is Good for Us to Be Here”

A Homily for the Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Exodus 34:29-35; St. Luke 9:28-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Transfigured Son, the Chosen One. Amen.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Have you ever seen so something so beautiful that it overpowered you and fascinated you to the point that you couldn’t pull yourself away? Maybe you were standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, watching the dawn break over the ocean, seeing the Rocky Mountains glow in the lays rays of the setting sun.

Or perhaps something very ordinary appeared more vibrant than ever before – a spring flower covered by a March snow, every last flake reflecting the sun’s brilliance. Maybe a flash of lightning illuminated your lawn in some new way. Or even more simply, it could have been the smile on your friends’ newborn child or looking up on a cloudless day to take sudden notice of just how blue the sky really is.

This is the sublime – a display so beautiful that it overpowers us, gives us a sense of just how big and intricate the cosmos really are, and holds us in place, demanding our attention. It’s so powerful want to fall on your knees, with our face on the ground, in sheer awe – and yet so transfixing you can’t take your eyes off the scene.

In these moments, you want to stay as long as you can, to let this moment overwhelm your senses, to take in every last ray of light, to remember every faint fragrance, to feel the gentle breeze, so that you can remember it all and escape back to that moment in the future. Continue reading ““It Is Good for Us to Be Here””

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”

#SBCToo

Infuriating but not surprising. That’s my response to the latest news in the unfolding scandal in the #ChurchToo era.

The Houston Chronicle has broken the story that everyone knew was coming. At first, I felt numb, as though there was nothing else could shock me following the waves of accused clergy in the Roman Catholic Church — but then I read about just how close the abuse was to the top. Baptists may not have Bishops, but their conventions come damn close. And, just as on the other side of the Tiber, these false prophets have sacrificed children to demons, covering up criminal acts and sins.

Women impregnated by their abusers, forced to “confess” their trauma in a perverse display of church “discipline,” urged to get an abortion by leaders in a denomination that exiled moderates through a thin veneer of pro-life language.

And we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of abusers — and it is only the start. Continue reading “#SBCToo”

Gone Fishin’

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 5:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to fish for people. Amen.

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Miraculous Catch of Fish, 17th cent. Italy

When I was younger, I loved fishing. Or at least, I thought so.

On summer days, my sister and I would hop in the truck with our grandpa and drive out to a local pond to try our hand. Even in the July Georgia heat, we would beg and beg and beg to go fishing. Mind you, neither my sister nor I were very good at it; my sister recalls that we went fishing more than we went catching. And like any small child at the pond, we were loud, quick to pester each other and unlikely to leave our lines in the water for even a second before re-casting. But my grandpa was never one to scold us for our impatience or being loud enough to scare away every fish within five miles. And growing up, our Gospel reading today connected  with those memories of summer days with grandpa, sitting under the tree. Fishing for people? Sounds great. Continue reading “Gone Fishin’”

Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

Biblical Literacy in the Public School System

For the past few days, my Facebook feed has been lighting up with shared posts cheering on the idea of biblical literacy laws. My Twitter feed, by comparison, has filled with posts amounting to “be careful what you wish for.” Several armchair pundits have pointed out that the same Christians who have been fighting against sex education, modern scientific cosmology, and evolutionary biology should be equally as suspicious of a government-sanctioned biblical studies curriculum.

I myself have weighed in on Twitter, but it’s difficult to mount a full review in only 280 characters — thus, this longer piece.

Rabbi Jeffery Salkin offers a nuanced take, writing about the importance of biblical literacy but the immense practical challenges that make such a curriculum impossible to introduce. Providing more nuance than the 280-character crowd, noting that “because of the atmosphere in America today, such classes would undoubtedly become part of the culture wars.”

Religion journalist (and Candler alum!) Jonathan Merritt expounds on the Twitterverse question. He asks, “If many evangelicals don’t trust public schools to teach their children about sex or science, why would they want those schools teaching scripture?” before going on to explore the legal and religious implications of the proposed curriculum. Like Salkin, Merritt believes any religion curriculum would reignite the culture wars. Continue reading “Biblical Literacy in the Public School System”