Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven

A Homily for Vespers on the first Wednesday in Advent

Text: Isaiah 2:1-4


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We tend to think of Advent as a long countdown to Christmas. That’s what this wreath is all about, right? Light a candle each week, then the big one on Christmas Eve.

That’s the origin of the tradition. We tend to think that Jesus lit candles to mark the days until his birthday and that we’ve done this for thousands of years, but the Advent wreath only dates back to the 19th century when a German pastor working with children.

“Pastor Klaus, Pastor Klaus, is it Christmas yet?”

“Nein! No! Not yet! Stop pestering me!” And so he took a wagon wheel, slapped some candles on it, and told the kids, “Here. We’ll light a candle each day, and when they’re all lit, it’s finally Christmas. So stop asking!” It quickly evolved into the four candles we know today, then moved from the home into the sanctuary.

Or those cute little cardboard calendars that, even though they’re designed for children, I still insist on buying for myself every year: starting on December 1st, you open a small flap and pull out a piece of (admittedly mediocre) chocolate each day until Christmas.

BuzzFeed published an article that really gets to the heart of how we view Christmas. They put forward a list of “crazy German Christmas traditions,” writing: “The so-called Advent Sundays are another great way to get hyped for actual Christmas!”

(As an aside, the same article also lists Christmas Eve services as a “great way to to kill time” “as the local pastor rant[s] about people that only visit the church on Christmas,” so I’m not sure I trust their expertise on Germany, Advent, or Christmas.) Continue reading “Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…”

A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; St. Luke 21:25-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming with power and great glory. Amen.

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today, my friends, because this week hurts. There is no way around it. Yesterday, we commended our brother Bill Moses to God’s care, and many of you have gone by the hospital to say your goodbyes to our sister Anne, who is nearing the hour of death. Sisters and brothers, I am not ashamed to say that I have cried this week.

Two weeks ago, Saint Mark recounted Jesus’ predictions of destruction and chaos, of a world rising up in revolt. Last week, on the Feast of Christ the King, Saint John showed us Christ’s trial before Pilate, a God subject to imperfect human laws, subject to powers and principalities, subject even to death.

And these chaotic scenes resonate deep within us. This week, it has certainly felt like the world was shaking, as though chaos reigned supreme. It has felt as though these things have the final say. Continue reading ““Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…””

Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#2: “They May Have an Unresolved Answer to the Problem of Evil”

To put it simply, the problem of pain is as follows:

God is:
A) Ominpotent (All-Powerful)
B) Omniscient (All-Knowing)
C) Omnibenevolent (All-Good or All-Loving)
But pain, evil, and suffering exist.
Therefore, at least one of the attributes to God must be false because:
A) An all-powerful God would have the ability to prevent pain.
B) An all-knowing God would know that pain exists and how to prevent it.
C) An all-good God would desire only what is good and pleasant for the world.

For many, as Childers points out, this problem is a major impediment to theistic belief. Alt-rock band Modest Mouse voices this doubt with agonizing beauty in their song “Bukowski” making the bold claim “If God takes life, he’s an indian giver,” before continuing:

If God controls the land and disease,
Keeps a watchful eye on me,
If he’s really so damn mighty,
My problem is I can’t see,
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?

In theology, attempts to defend God from the apparent contradictions in the problem of pain are called theodicies. Continue reading “Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain”

What Kind of King?

A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; St. John 18:33-37


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Christ the King, 17th century Greek mosaic

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our coming King. Amen.

It’s a bold claim, isn’t it? To stand, bound and on trial, before the imperial governor, the embodied representative of the Roman Empire, and to claim kingship? The Romans had conquered the entire Mediterranean world, from Spain to Turkey, from Tripoli in North Africa up to the limes in Germany, from southern Egypt to as far away as Britain. The Romans had vanquished the fractured Greek rulers and kept the Parthian Empire at bay in Iran. Rome made and broke kings. They commanded entire legions to keep rebellious territories in line. The Romans knew how to shatter the spirit and will of defiant kings and mutinous militias: through the strength of arms and torture. Lay waste to the city, crucify the leaders. Roman authority was rooted in a mighty brutality. Continue reading “What Kind of King?”

Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#1: “They May Adopt a Belief That the Bible is Unreliable”

Here we come already to the first instance demanding nuance. What does Childers mean by “unreliable”?

She cites to authors like Rob Bell (former megachurch pastor) and Rachel Held Evans (Episcopalian lay person and author) and their writings addressing discrepancies between the historical record and Scripture. In these instances, “unreliable” means “not always 100% historically factual.” (I’ve addressed this topic before — see here.) Rob Bell, at least in his early days, compared biblical historicity to springs and bricks. He writes: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority”

Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists

Alisa Childers, a self-styled apologist and frequent contributor at The Gospel Coalition, has written an article on links between progressive Christian theology and atheism. In particular, she highlights three beliefs that “some” progressive Christians “may” hold in common with secular humanists. While Childers attempts to add shades of nuance with her modifiers of choice, the tone of her essay is clear: progressive Christianity leads to heresy and, in time, out-right atheism.

Childers sites to famous former Christians: Bart Campolo (son of the pastor/scholar Tony Campolo), Bart Ehrman (biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina), and Michael Gungor (former Christian rock star). These non-believers left Evangelical Christianity (patent pending) for more progressive parts of the Church before rejecting the faith entirely.

Citing the younger Campolo’s claims, Childers warns that progressive Christianity will see a mass exodus towards “full-blown” atheism in the coming years. She then lists the three shared beliefs that map the route from progressive theology to atheism: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists”

Not a Stone Left on Stone

A Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; St. Mark 13:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will topple every stone from its place. Amen.

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Lincoln Memorial

Imagine, if you will, that we have taken a trip to Washington, DC. As we wander around the seat of our national government, we of course marvel at the beautiful neo-classical architecture. DC — ok, well, the heart of DC, not so much the sprawling suburbs — is a well-designed city which draws on the great monuments of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture to communicate our country’s loftiest ideals. The Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials call to mind the Egyptian obelisks, the Roman Pantheon, and the Greek Parthenon. Instead of divine heroes, these monuments stand to elected human leaders, flaws and all. Continue reading “Not a Stone Left on Stone”

To End All Wars

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — today, we mark a century since the end of World War I.

It was called the “Great War” and the “war to end all wars,” but the aftermath suggests otherwise.

In the first industrialized war, we saw the terror of the modern age fully unleashed. A war that stated with horses ended with tanks and planes.Poisonous gasses, automatic weapons, aerial warfare — these “advancements” unleashed hell across the various fronts. Technology prolonged what would have been a months-long imperial skirmish into a years-long horror show in the trenches. Continue reading “To End All Wars”

Etiology and the Polis

A Pastoral Epistle on Origins Stories, the Polis, and the Common Good


As we approach the end of the 2018 midterm elections, my mind turns towards our founding myths, stories which explain why the world is the way it is. Among theologians, we call these stories “etiologies.” Among superhero fans, we call them “origin stories.” Either way, they set out to explain key aspects of some thing or some one’s identity. They ask common questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Why are we here?
  • How did we get here?
  • Why does the world look the way it does?
  • What does it all mean?

Consider the creation narratives in Genesis — one a poetic ode to divine power and created order as God speaks the cosmos into being over seven days, the other showing God as a tender gardener who literally sculpts humanity — Adam from the soil, Eve from Adam’s flesh. Both myths shed light on who God is — the poet with power to speak the world into being or the loving craftsman. Continue reading “Etiology and the Polis”