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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”

Calm in the Storms

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Job 38:1-11; St. Mark 4:35-41


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calms the tumultuous storms. Amen.

What shall we say about Job? This novella is one of those books in the canon of Scripture we tend to ignore. Sure, we might make passing reference to it, but we often keep it – and its tragic events – at an arm’s length.

Here’s a quick summary to jog your memory:

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Job Hears of His Misfortune, Gustave Doré

Job is doing quite well for himself, living the dream life. He’s wealthy, his estate boasting a thriving herd of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. His large family gets along, dining with each other frequently. The prologue tells us “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” To borrow a phrase from social media, he was #blessed.

Cut to the heavenly court, where the Accuser wanders in and strikes up a wager with God: Job is only pious because his life is perfect. But would he remain faithful if his posh life were taken away? What follows is a series of tragedies that in short order leave Job bankrupt, alone, covered in sores, sitting in an ash heap, waiting for death, using a broken vase as a backscratcher, as his wife tells him to just give up.

Sitting alone among the ruin, Job’s “friends” – though I use that term lightly – wander by to tell him it must all be his fault.

And it’s at this point that we all remember why we ignore this depressing section of the Bible. We’re not even at chapter three yet, folks.

Continue reading “Calm in the Storms”

Seeds of Mustard and Kudzu

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; St. Mark 4:26-34


Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.

The Kingdom of God, our Lord says, is like a mustard seed. It’s small, insignificant, easy to miss. But plant it in the ground and it will grow and grow and grow until it becomes the mightiest…

…shrub.

Well, that’s different. Uh, Jesus, why not go with the cedars of Lebanon? That’s what Ezekiel did. Those cedars – there’s a mighty plant! Their timbers supplied the navies of the ancient world, the railroads of the Ottoman Empire, and the timbers for the very Temple itself in Jerusalem. The mighty and majestic cedars of Lebanon! Any bird would be lucky to build a nest in their branches!

But our Lord Christ goes for the mighty mustard shrub.

Continue reading “Seeds of Mustard and Kudzu”

Where are you?

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Genesis 3:8-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who searches for us even in our sin. Amen.

Put yourself in Eden, just for a moment. Imagine being our first parents in the Garden.

Up until just a few moments ago, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. All of creation was perfect, just as it was meant to be. The cosmos were very good.

Then the serpent came along and made some empty promises. It started out with a bite – it was only a bite! – how did it end up like this? Perfection is starting to unravel. You and your spouse had literally been made for each other – book ends of creation, crafted from soil and bone in the likeness of God. But now suspicion and blame is creeping in. And even though you’ve never covered your body before, you’re suddenly filled with a sense of shame and an urge to get dressed – if only someone would invent clothing!

Continue reading “Where are you?”

The Trinity

A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17


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

To what can we compare the Most Blessed Trinity?

God’s existence as three persons united into one being is perhaps the most confusing belief in the Christian faith.

How Christ can be present in heaven and here at the Altar? That’s easy enough – he’s God.

How can water do such marvelous things? It’s not water but water with the Spirit and Word of God.

Ok, we’ve the Sacraments down.

What’s the deal with the Crucifixion? Well, through his death and resurrection, Christ destroys the power of death. That makes sense. We that every year when spring brings green life out of the barren death of winter.

But the Trinity? One-in-Three and the Three-in-One? That brings with it all sorts of caveats to try to clarify it, and it just makes it more confusing.

Continue reading “The Trinity”

Groaning for Deliverance

A Homily for Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us the Spirit as an advocate. Amen.

“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

It has certainly felt that way for the past fourteen months – groaning under the weight of our eager expectation for things to return to something that might resemble what we used to call normal. Groaning for relief, for community, for financial relief, for a vaccine. Groaning for family and friends and coworkers and neighbors who have been separated from us, for loved ones who have been on ventilators in the ICU, groaning for relief and healing and hope of life after death. Groaning for three and a half million fellow humans killed by this wretched pandemic. Groaning for deliverance.

Continue reading “Groaning for Deliverance”

Now What? The Church Gets to Work

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has ascended into heaven and sends us out as apostles. Amen.

“In those days,” our reading from Acts begins.

What days? The days immediately after the Ascension. On Thursday, we read the tail end of Saint Luke’s Gospel – forty days after the Resurrection, Christ leads the disciples out to Bethany where he blesses them as he ascends to the right hand of the Father. The disciples go back to Jerusalem where, as Luke tells us, “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” And Luke begins his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, with the same scene – Jesus ascending and the disciples staring up in amazement – as if to say, “Well now what?”

Continue reading “Now What? The Church Gets to Work”

The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c.,_GTG).jpg

There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most Protestant congregations in the US, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.

There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday;  Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are most often observed the following Sunday.

Then there’s the Ascension. Following Saint Luke’s dating in the Acts of the Apostles, it falls forty days after Easter Sunday. Like the observances in Holy Week, the Ascension is pegged to a specific day of the week: it always falls on a Thursday. As with Epiphany, the Reformation, and All Saints’, and unlike the observances of Holy Week, the Ascension is almost always celebrated the following Sunday. In his brief commentary on Acts 1:1-11, New Testament scholar Brian Peterson writes:

Continue reading “The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies”

But What Is Love?

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Texts: 1 John 5:1-6; St. John 15:9-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who first loved us. Amen.

What is love?

We talk about it so much. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He told us to love our enemies. On Maundy Thursday, he gave us a new commandment: to love one another, and he said the world will know we are his disciples by our love.

Last week, the First Epistle of John said that God is love.

So. What is love?

What does it mean to love our neighbors and one another, itself a difficult enough task?

Or to love God?

Or, perhaps most difficult of all, to love our enemies?

Does love mean the same thing for the authors of Scripture that it means for our culture today? Consider what we mean when we say we love someone or something – we might mean something along the lines of affection, as for family and friends. Or it might have a physical, romantic component, as with a spouse or partner. But we might also use it to mean we have a preference for a specific food or place.

Without much thought, I might easily say I love hiking, Suzanne, pulled pork, my friends, God, and the German city of Speyer.

Continue reading “But What Is Love?”

Worship on a Wilderness Road

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; St. John 15:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who abides with us. Amen.

It’s not an ideal situation, that’s for sure. If I were to sit down and plot it out, for maximum impact, it’s not how I would draft it. (Probably why nobody’s asked me to add to the canon yet.) But here it is: the first conversion of a Gentile to the Christian faith recorded in Acts. To be certain, Christ’s ministry attracted Gentile attention (the Syrophoenician woman in Mark and Matthew, and in Luke the Gerasene demoniac and the Roman centurion). But today, we see the Church for the first time open its arms to someone born outside the heirs of Abraham.

That’s a controversial enough proposition – it raises quite a few arguments in chapter 10 and again in chapter 15. But add to that the setting – outside of Jerusalem, with just a few people, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip – and it becomes downright odd. Up to this point, the Church’s ministry has been dominated by stirring speeches to large crowds (like Peter on Pentecost or Stephen as he’s martyred). It’s just a normal day on a road in the wilderness.

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The Good Shepherd

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Psalm 23; St. John 10:11-18


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

Every year, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we mark what has come to be called Good Shepherd Sunday – reading through part of John 10. Arguing with a group of Pharisees, Jesus says that he is the shepherd, that the sheep hear hisvoice for they know him (we read that section last year). In today’s text, he clarifies: he is not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd.

Christ isn’t merely some 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 ensnared, 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, to quote Pope Francis, smells like the sheep.

More than that, Christ is the one who lays down his life for the flock.

Continue reading “The Good Shepherd”