Christ Against the Legion

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 3:23-29; St. Luke 8:26-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord who came to set the captives free. Amen.

Imagine it: a man forced to live out among the graves. Not some serene field with polished headstones, but a necropolis – a city of the dead – filled with charnel houses in which the deceased rot, are exhumed, and then re-buried. Not a place in which death and decay are buried beneath the surface of a manicured lawn, but where the dead hide just out of sight and the ugly truth of our mortality fills the air. Where tombs are a family affair and, after a person dies and decays, their bones are pushed further back to make room for the next corpse. A person literally goes to join their ancestors in the ever-growing pile of bones. The tombs are not beautiful, well-maintained historic sites. Instead, they are homes of stench and rot, an unclean place. They are not a place to visit or for an evening stroll to admire the handiwork of centuries-old sculptors on a nice spring day. Rather, they are somewhere to be avoided except to fulfill certain familial obligations.

And in to this horrible setting, enter a person. Continue reading “Christ Against the Legion”

Trinity Sunday Sermons

Homilies for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

This year, I joined with the saints of Holy Trinity parish in Decatur as my godson was baptized into the Body of Christ. (It was also their patronal feast day and the bishop preached. What a joyous celebration!) In lieu, then, of my normal Sunday sermon, here is a link to my homily from 2018 (Year B) and the full text from 2017 (Year A):

Text: St. Matthew 28:16-20


Grace to you and peace in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

trinity-shield1

On this Trinity Sunday, we are left scratching our heads, reaching for analogies that always fall short of describing this divine mystery. The Gospel texts for the previous weeks have been not-so-subtly hinting at today’s feast, offering up cryptic descriptions of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are connected: God in Trinity, the Trinity in unity, equal in glory and co-equal in majesty. The Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, the Spirit proceeding from both.

We want it to make perfect sense, to be able to sit down and chart out exactly how the Trinity works, to be able to explain the it to our children, our family, our friends, and even ourselves – and yet this divine mystery frustrates our every attempt at understanding. Every analogy falls short. Continue reading “Trinity Sunday Sermons”

The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

trinity-shield1

Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

Continue reading “The Athanasian Creed”

Babel, Undone

A Homily for Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21


El_Greco_006-large.jpg
El Greco’s Pentecost, 1596

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends the Holy Spirit upon us that we may be one. Amen.

Confession time: I’m not good with languages. My pronunciation is terrible, I have no ear for accents, and, worst of all, I don’t devote the time to studying them that proficiency demands. It’s a shame, too, because I’ve always actually really liked languages, especially the history of how they evolve and borrow from one another. Over the past twenty years, I’ve studied French in middle school, Spanish in high school, German in college, and Greek and Hebrew in seminary.

In fact, I took a full two years of German in college. When my parents were stationed there my senior year, I excitedly went to visit them in Heidelberg, and I was confident that my semesters of anguish would producing stunning results. First night in country, we went out to eat at a local restaurant; I placed my order in my most polished Deutsch:

Ich moechte einmal Radler und ein Jaegerschnitzel bitte.

…only for the waiter to respond in perfect – but frustrated – English. So much for that idea. Continue reading “Babel, Undone”

Decline and Resurrection

News broke a few months ago that the religiously unaffiliated now make up about a quarter of the US population. New Gallup research suggests that religious people with no congregational membership make up another quarter of the population. Put another way, nearly half of the American population lacks a congregational affiliation. Whether they identify with a faith tradition or not, they may as well be “Nones.” Continue reading “Decline and Resurrection”

Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 16:9-15


 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sent us faithful witnesses to proclaim the Gospel. Amen.

Question: How many of you attended a church with a woman serving as pastor before you were 18? Show of hands.

saint lydia

If you grew up in the old LCA or ALC, you wouldn’t have seen a female pastors until after 1970. Even in the theologically diverse realm of “General Protestant” military chapels during the 1990s and early 2000s, while I met the occasional female chaplain, they were far and few between. It wasn’t until I got to college that I joined a ministry with women serving as fully ordained pastors. In fact, when I started seminary in 2010, even though some predecessors of the United Methodist Church began ordaining women in the late 19th century, my class was the first at Candler to be majority-women.

And if we look around the world, we see that women in ministry are the exception, not the rule. Given that half of the world’s Christians are Catholics and that a wide variety of Protestant denominations actively bar women from ordained ministry, the reality is that the majority of Christians have never heard a woman preach in the pulpit.

In other circles of the Church, women are not only kept out of the pulpit but kept off of congregational councils and committees, prohibited from teaching men in Sunday school, confined to “women’s ministries” like wedding planning, and relegated to a “second-class” status. Continue reading “Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us”

Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 11:1-18; St. John 13:31-35


peters vision windo
Peter’s Vision, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has given us a new commandment. Amen.

“Love one another.” Such a simple, straightforward commandment. And yet like all of God’s Law, this one convicts us of our own sinful shortcomings, revealing how rarely we live into the life that our Lord intends for us. It seems odd that the lectionary should place this passage on Maundy Thursday and then, this year, bring it back around so quickly. It’s been, what, a month since we read it last?

But perhaps there’s some wisdom in this: to keep this perfect Law ever before us, a reminder of our need for God’s forgiving grace and a guide of how Christ intends for us to live in response to our redemption. As if to say, “On Maundy Thursday, you were forgiven your sin, given the new commandment, and fed with the Bread of Life. Let’s check back in. How have y’all done living into the gracious new life of Christ?” Continue reading “Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery”

Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; St. John 10:22-30


goodshepherd dura europos.jpg

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

We’ve been dropped at the end of a familiar story: “I am the Good Shepherd,” says our Lord. (Indeed, this is Good Shepherd Sunday, and over the three years of the lectionary cycle, we make our way through the entirety of this extended metaphor. This time last year, we read that more famous portion of the text.) The Lord is our shepherd – not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd. Christ isn’t some mere hired hand who runs off at the first sign of trouble but rather the very one who seeks out the lost sheep, who wades into the swift waters to rescue the drowning, who crawls through the briar patch to free the ensnarled, who fights off bandits and wrestles wolves to save the lambs. Far from the clean-faced and bed-sheet-clad shepherds of modern Nativity plays, Christ is the shepherd who smells like the sheep and lays down his life for the flock.

Hearing this imagery, the crowd is… Continue reading “Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice”

“Tend My Sheep”

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 21:1-19


feed my sheep

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Great Shepherd who sends us out to tend to the flock. Amen.

Christ is risen, has sent Mary to proclaim this Good News, appeared to the apostles, and even to Thomas. So – as many pastors have asked – now what? Or, in concretely Lutheran terms, “What does this mean?” Continue reading ““Tend My Sheep””