Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Son of Man who comes on clouds descending. Amen.
It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has come and gone, neighborhoods are decorated with festive greenery (I noticed last weekend that Mercer Village and Downtown already had their lights up). Starbucks has been using their seasonal green and red cups for weeks now. And from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day, countless radio stations will be playing an amalgamation of actual carols, kitschy seasonal songs from the 1950s, and old wintertime standards that for some reason have come to be associated with Christmas. (Rudolph is hardly sacred music, and surely “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is just as apt in January as it is in December, but I digress.)
Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:
Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens Princeps Senatus – First Among the Senators Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion Imperator – the Conqueror Pater Patria – Father of the Nation Divi Filius – the Divine Son Augustus – the Exalted
This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the first-born from among the dead who calls all the saints into new and everlasting life. Amen.
Grief shows up at the strangest of times, doesn’t it? It sneaks up months after the tears stop, years after the funeral. Sure, there are the occasions we expect to be hard, the anniversaries and holidays. We might brace for how difficult Thanksgiving or a birthday may be, but then grief catches us unawares on a random Tuesday. A simple smell may remind you of your grandparents’ home, and suddenly you remember weeping at the graveside as a child. Or walking through a park, the particular shade of a flower reminds you of your late husband’s favorite shirt, and the pain feels as fresh as the day he died. After a long day, you reach for the phone to call a friend who could always tell a joke to make you smile, was always there to listen to you complain, always offered good advice – only to remember she died three years ago, and all of a sudden, the wound is reopened.
There’s no rhyme or reason for it, nothing you can do to prevent it. Grief is normal, but it feels so isolating and hurts so much. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Pastor, I know it shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time,” but of course it does! And the closer the person was to you, the longer and more painful it will be. Yes, it’s normal, yes, it’s expected, no you shouldn’t just get over it, but it still hurts.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, Who Is, and Was, and Is To Come, the First Born from among the Dead. Amen.
There is no denying it: the days are getting shorter – even if we hadn’t “fallen back” last night. Nature drove this point home rather starkly for a few hundred thousand of us in north Georgia as we spent Thursday without power. By 7, it was dark enough that I was reaching for oil lamps to illuminate the dinner table – a far cry from the long days of summer when Suzanne and I could take long strolls until 9 or 9:30 at night.
For two millennia, the Church has incorporated this natural cycle into our calendar, using the long nights as an expression of our yearning for Christ’s birth and return in glory – the themes of Advent, which we will mark in a month.
A Homily for the Ordination of a Presbyter by the Rev. Mitchell Lewis*
Texts: 1 Peter 5:1-4; St. John 21:15-19
I am Andrew’s father, a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia Conference. And I appreciate Bishop Gordy allowing me to stand in this pulpit tonight as you prepare to set Andrew apart for the work of a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
When Andrew was 2 years old, I began a 27 year career as an Army chaplain, from which I’ve just retired. So you can do the math. My first assignment was at Fort Leonard Wood, and we took Andrew to a Lutheran preschool in St Robert, Missouri. I’m not sure if that started him down the road to Wittenberg or not.
Throughout his life, Andrew sat under all sorts of preaching and teaching in chapel worship and youth groups. He heard Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, non-Denominational evangelicals, parachurch groups, and so forth. The Army chaplaincy is a real smorgasbord of Christian religion. And there was a point, when I was assisting a Lutheran congregation on post, that Andrew probably heard the phrase “simul justus et peccator” every Sunday.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, and from the Holy Spirit who has called and renewed the Church throughout the ages. Amen.
Were we able to pluck Martin Luther from the 1500s and drop him into a car in our parking lot or in front of a computer screen today to worship with us, I doubt he would recognize what we are doing here today: broadcasting the service over the radio into people’s cars? While others watch a pre-recorded service on YouTube? First we’d have to explain what a camera is, what a microphone does, the basics of both radio waves and the internal combustion engine, what a computer is, and how a network of various wires connects almost the entire globe.
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.
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.)
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…
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.