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Rivers of Living Water

A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent III

Text: St. John 7:14-31, 37-39


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”

Coins, Icons, and Humanity

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 22:15-22


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God. Amen.

Christ’s answer about taxes is really a quite simple and elegant solution in hindsight:

Show me the coin used for the tax….Whose head is this, and whose title?

The emperor’s, of course. In stamping a coin with his image, Caesar is laying claim to the money – a statement that this is how we conduct business in the Roman Empire, the currency of an imperial economy.

These are all ways to portray the image of a nation, whether it’s rooted in a single monarch, a piece of land, or a set of aspirations and ideas.

Continue reading “Coins, Icons, and Humanity”

God’s Restoring Judgment

A Homily for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Isaiah 25:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who prepares a feast for us. Amen.

It’s been sort of like living out Murphy’s Law this year, hasn’t it? If it can go wrong, it probably has. I won’t belabor the point because I think we’re all pretty much tired of 2020’s parade of horribles at this point, but let’s just consider the natural disasters: a string of tornadoes that destroyed one of our companion churches in Nashville, wild fires running the length of the Pacific coast that have sent smoke across the entire lower 48, a hurricane season so active that we’ve run out of names (and then some), a derecho that leveled buildings and destroyed crops across ten states, all of this in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century.

(Any one of these would make for a far-fetched action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a body-builder-turned-scientist racing against time. All of them at once can only be described with a sigh and a bitter remark about what else 2020 might have in store.)

Continue reading “God’s Restoring Judgment”

Judgment in the Vineyard

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 5:1-7; St. Matthew 21:33-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who tends to the vineyard with love and care. Amen.

Imagine planting a vineyard – not just growing a few vines along a fence, but the years of work to cultivate the soil, to carefully prune back the vine so that only the choicest grapes grow, to build a winepress and watch towers. It’s month after month of backbreaking labor, and year go by without anything to show for it – until one day, the harvest is finally at hand. Put yourself there: walking through the rows of vine, each one hanging heavy with fruit, a warm breeze blowing on your face. You pick a grape and toss it playfully into your mouth – this, this is what all those years of work have been building toward. You bite down, feel the skin give way with a slight pop…

Continue reading “Judgment in the Vineyard”

I Go…Or, I Want To…

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; St. Matthew 21:23-32


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the truly obedient Son. Amen.

In my mind, I am amazing. No, really, I’m studious, disciplined, innovative, and generous. In my imagination, I wake up every morning at 5:30 to pray, exercise, and study. I stick to a mostly-vegetarian diet. I’m quick to give away money to anyone in need, ready to stand out on the street protesting for justice, and then I spend my evenings quietly reading while drinking tea.

Or at least, I will. Starting just after this next episode. Or tomorrow. Ok, when we get to Advent and start the new liturgical year: consider it a resolution.

The truth is, despite my best intentions, I stay up too late re-watching the same tv shows I’ve already seen five times, which means I’m definitely not up at 5:30. Despite the large number of prayer books on my shelf, the only times I’m able to really stick with the Daily Office are when I’m on retreat. And I never happen to have that spare single dollar bill on me to give to those in need.

Continue reading “I Go…Or, I Want To…”

Grace Isn’t Fair

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Jonah 3:10-4:11; St. Matthew 20:1-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unfairly pours out divine grace upon us. Amen.

“Life isn’t fair.”

Someone has probably said that to you – at least once – at some point during your life. Maybe a parent, a teacher, a coworker. It’s practically a cliché at this point; as someone complains about the injustices of the world, be they minor or major, to tell them, “Life’s not fair.” As if to say, “Welcome to the club, bub,” or “Deal with it,” and end the conversation there.

How unfair the Gospel may seem sometimes.

Continue reading “Grace Isn’t Fair”

To Forgive

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 18:15-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has called the entire Church. Amen.

“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

If these words sound familiar, it’s because we’ve read them before – and recently. It was two weeks ago, when Simon confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” and Jesus bestowed on him a new name: Peter, the rock, and promised him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (This, by the way, is why Saint Peter is so often depicted in pop culture as pearly-gatekeeper, a sort of celestial maître’ d, checking off whatever fictitious character happens to find themselves knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door.)

Continue reading “To Forgive”

“More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic

Question: What exactly do you do?

A while back, I wrote on the work clergy do behind the scenes: sermon writing, liturgical prep, home visits, and more.

As you might imagine, a lot of that has changed during the ongoing pandemic. Sure, there are still sermons to write and pastoral care to be done. At its most basic level, ministry goes on.

But the daily work of ministry? It’s different. In the ELCA, we call pastors “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” — but right now, the Word is proclaimed through a camera lens, and we’ve had difficult (at times, contentious) discussions about what Sacramental ministry looks like when the Church is meeting in cyberspace.

So what is it I’m doing now that I’m not behind the Altar and can’t climb into the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

Continue reading ““More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic”

Peter’s Faith

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 16:13-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has entrusted the apostles with the true faith. Amen.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God…”

Once more we have one of those stories that, were this a modern piece of cinema, would end like all other bio-pics. The film score would swell. A title card would appear on the screen, reading something like, “Saint Peter became the first Bishop of Rome. To this day, he has been succeeded by two hundred sixty-five popes who lead the world’s one billion Catholic faithful.” To be honest, there might actually be a movie that ends this way. (And it’s worth noting, this is roughly how the movie about Luther ended, too.)

Continue reading “Peter’s Faith”

Crumbs From an Overflowing Table

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.

Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.

The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.

In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.

This sort of back-and-forth was still a live question in Jesus’ day. First-century Judea was home to Jews but also Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and others, and had Gentile neighbors in every direction. Continue reading “Crumbs From an Overflowing Table”

Sinking Beneath the Waves

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 14:22-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heaven Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks across the face of the deep. Amen.

Preachers and the folks who write Bible study curriculum have gotten a lot of mileage out of this story, reading it in completely opposite ways.

Some have criticized Simon Peter for his doubt, spending page after page tsk-tsking Peter for his fear, for his lack of trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” and authors, safe in their armchairs far away from the crashing waves, have taken this as an opportunity to rake poor Simon over the coals. He’s supposed to be the rock upon which the Church is built, but he sinks like a stone. Continue reading “Sinking Beneath the Waves”