Hosanna! To the Son of David!

A Homily for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Text: St. Matthew 21:1-11


Цвети (улазак Христа у Јерусалим)

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the triumphant king. Amen.

In any other year, we would mark today by joining in the crowd’s shouts of Hosanna! with a big parade around the parish, with the joyful waving of palm branches, singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” and we would literally walk into Holy Week.

This year, separated by physical distance, without our footsteps shaking the earth, without the organ leading us in song, without waving palm branches, we remember Christ’s words in Saint Luke’s account: even the stones cry out!

Pause this video! Run outside! Do you hear the breeze? It’s giving glory to God! Do you hear the birds lifting their voice in song? They’re leading the chorus! I know that only a quarter mile or so from where I sit, the stones and the Chattahoochee are joining together as they roar and proclaim the majesty of Christ our King!

But all is not well in Jerusalem. Continue reading “Hosanna! To the Son of David!”

Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees

A Homily for Vespers during the Fifth Week of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 22:23-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

Waaaaaay back in the very first season of The Simpsons, young rapscallion Bart badgers his Sunday School teacher with question after question before asking:

Ma’am. What if…your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?

Continue reading “Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees”

Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; St. John 11:1-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

As we enter into the Valley of Dry Bones, it’s not difficult to feel Ezekiel’s sense of desperation. He is a Judahite sent into exile, a priest who has heard of the Temple’s destruction, a prophet striving to make sense of why the Lord would abandon the Chosen People and let the Land of Promise fall into such ruin.

This morning’s imagery, the bones stripped bare by decay and rot, provides a vivid image of the doubt and fear Ezekiel and the other exiles felt. Staring out over the wasteland of a battle lost long ago, asked if these bones might live again, you can almost hear the defeat in Ezekiel’s voice:

O Lord God, you know.

His same resignation is on the lips of the rest of the exiles and those still living in the smoldering waste left behind in Judah. They cry out: Continue reading “Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs”

Let It Be with Me

A Homily for the Annunciation of the Lord

Text: St. Luke 1:26-38


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-Begotten Son. Amen.

There’s a day that will be here before we know it: November 1st. The Halloween candy will be moved to a discount bin and in its place, stores will be putting out Christmas decorations. Clergy Twitter will invariably foam at the mouth as we (rightly) point out that it’s All Saints’ Day and that we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.

But tonight, thanks to some overlapping cycles of the liturgical calendar, in the tail-end of Lent, we’re already looking forward towards the Feast of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. (Before COVID foiled this and many other plans, we were going to be singing that wonderful Basque carol tonight, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came.”)

The Nativity of our Lord and the holy feasts related to it are a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ, true God from true God, the Only-Begotten Son, through whom all things were made, became truly human – so fully human that he knew the pain of hunger, the temptation of sin, and even the sting of death.

But nine months before his birth in royal David’s city, on this day near the end of March, we take a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

It is Mary who, through her body, fed and nourished the one who gave us his own Body and Blood as a holy meal to sustain and nourish us. It is Mary who, in the waters of birth, delivered the one who gives us new birth through water and the Spirit.

Like the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in ages past, God promises Mary a child – but unlike Hannah, Mary has not been trying to conceive. For the Blessed Virgin, pregnancy carries with it not only the risk of medical complications in a world with low standards of health care and high mortality rates for both mother and child but also the risk of societal shaming for being with child (and the underlying assumption of how that child came to be) before marriage. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew reveals Joseph’s concern: that while he wanted to spare Mary the scandal of conceiving out of wedlock, he also intended to divorce her – until an angel convinced him otherwise.

Despite these risks – despite the fact that the Mother of our Lord was likely barely a teenager and even more likely terrified of what Gabriel had to say, that her Son would lay claim to the throne of David, bringing him and all of Judea into conflict with Rome and its legions – Mary answered the Lord’s call with these simple words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And here is really the center of this entire feast: in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, gods had children with human women through acts of abduction and  sexual violence. But the God of Israel, the One who has elected Israel from among the nations, the One who looks with favor upon the lowly and casts down the mighty, acts only with the Blessed Virgin’s knowing consent.

God’s covenant to bless the whole world through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants rests on the shoulders of a young woman who is willing to bear the Only-Begotten into the world.

Listen, dear ones, and hear what God is asking of you, the role our Lord has called you to play in this covenant. And despite all fears, tribulations, and threats, know this: You, too, are highly-favored, and the Lord is with you.

Amen.

Blind, but Now I See

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ephesians 5:8-14; St. John 9:1-41


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World who restores sight to the blind. Amen.

I’m not afraid of the dark, generally speaking. But on two separate occasions, I’ve been in a cave where the tour guide shut off the lights for us to see how dark it truly is deep under the earth’s surface: once in the paved tunnels of Wind Cave National Park, accompanied by an experienced ranger, and the other time on in the narrow, damp, muddy caverns under the mountains of eastern Tennessee on a spelunking trip with a high school youth group.

And both times were utterly terrifying. I could see, and then I was blind.

cave
Cave wit No Light (Artist’s Approximation)

Once the last photons disappeared, it was as though the entire world had been horrifyingly unmade. Suddenly, one entire sense was wiped out. With no fixed objects to look at, I was so disoriented that even the slightest tilt of the head or a subtle shift of balance was nauseatingly dizzying.

When the lights came on, I felt safer – but still not safe. I spent the long trips back to the earth’s surface still terrified that some accident might plunge us back into the void and that this time, we would be stuck in the inky abyss. Continue reading “Blind, but Now I See”

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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”

Water From the Rock of Our Salvation

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; St. John 4:5-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Fount of Living Water. Amen.

After years of slavery in Egypt, after ten horrifying plagues, after the Passover and the hurried escape, after passing on dry land through the sea while the pursuing army was drowned, the Hebrews have been liberated!

And their cry goes up: Ashira l’Adonai – now what? Continue reading “Water From the Rock of Our Salvation”

Has No One Condemned You?

A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent II

Text: St. John 7:53-8:11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes bringing life rather than condemnation. Amen.

We begin this evening in media res, in the middle of the story – or at least at the tail-end of one just before the next installment. This isn’t by accident.

Throughout the seventh chapter of Saint John, Christ is back in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths (one of the three major pilgrimages in Second Temple Judaism), and as so often happens, his teaching brought him into direct and public confrontation with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. While he’s teaching in the Temple, Jesus told the Temple, “…none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking to kill me?” Or, put another way, If I must die to fulfill the Law, what must happen to you? Continue reading “Has No One Condemned You?”

Born Again From Above

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: St. John 3:1-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who gives us new birth. Amen.

Nicodemus - John 3:1-21
Nicodemus

Evening has fallen over Jerusalem, and the cool air of the spring night is settling in. The city is packed to overflowing for Passover feast, and this metropolis is in even more of an uproar after a wandering preacher from Nazareth entered the Temple to drove out the animals and money changers using an improvised whip. And yet this same preacher has attracted a large following. As St. John phrased it just a few verses before our Gospel reading, “…many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.”

So it is that, as we read, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a religious leader among the Judeans, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. It might be a stretch to suggest he “believed in [Jesus’] name,” but he is definitely curious. “Rabbi,” he says, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God” because how else could anyone work such miraculous signs?

Which brings us up to the more familiar part of the story… Continue reading “Born Again From Above”

Christ the Deacon

A Homily, delivered to the Deacons of the ELCA’s Region 9

Texts: Philippians 2:5-13; St. John 13:1-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve. Amen.

On Maundy Thursday, 2013, Francis, then the newly elected Bishop of Rome, celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The time came for the foot-washing rite, and the new pope removed his chasuble before adjusting his stole, setting it on his left shoulder, crossing his chest, and hanging at his right hip. (I would say that the symbolism was obvious, but I didn’t notice he was essentially vested as a deacon until Deacon Adrainne Gray posted about it on social media.)

More than the stole, Francis also dramatically expanded the ritual to include women for the first time in the Vatican’s recorded history. Both of these are habits Francis developed during his time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and every year in his papacy, he has extended the rite to include more and more people on the margins of the Church: women, inmates, home-bound elders, and even Muslim refugees. Continue reading “Christ the Deacon”