Shared Belief: Tradition and Ethics

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


#3. “They May Affirm a Culture-Adapting Morality”

About three and a half years ago, Pope Francis promulgated the encyclical Laudato Si, calling for Christians to care for our common home (i.e., the earth). What followed was an uproar from politically conservative corners of the Church. Jeb Bush announced that he doesn’t take policy advice from the Pope, and Rick Santorum stated that the Church should stick to “what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

It just so happened that, I was heading for a two-night backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with some older pastors during this same time. On our drive through the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee, we discussed the reaction to the Roman Pontiff’s document. How could it be, I wondered out loud, that care for the environment — with all that it means for the poor, for future generations, for our role as stewards — is not considered a point of “morality”? Continue reading “Shared Belief: Tradition and Ethics”

O Come, Emmanuel: Advent in Review

Advent was a crazy season this year. As a solo and part-time pastor, December is always chaotic, and all the more so at Redeemer. We gather together for midweek Vespers, meaning that December brings with it twice the preaching load of a normal month.

But December also brought with it three funerals, two of which followed months-long hospitalizations. Continue reading “O Come, Emmanuel: Advent in Review”

The Lord Revealed

A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; St. Matthew 2:1-12


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes into the midst of us as a radiant and lowborn King. Amen.

As formal as royal events are today, they have nothing on the status of kings in ages past. The further back in history you go, the more power kings and emperors claimed for themselves. We may know a little about folks like Richard the Lionheart or Charlemagne (whose Latin name, Karlus Magnus, means Charles the Great. But of course his full title for use in documents was “Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire.”)

And these medieval kings have nothing on their ancient counterparts.

Consider the heirs of Alexander the Great. When his empire wad divided among five ruling families, they set themselves up as kings and were constantly at war with each other. One such ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over territory stretching from Judaea to Persia. He claimed the titles Nicator (“the Bringer of Victory”) and Epiphanes (“the Manifestation of God”). He also brought his kingdom to the brink of war, persecuted the people of Judaea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the pagan god Zeus, ultimately setting up the successful Jewish rebellion now observed as Hanukkah – so perhaps he was not so manifestly awesome as he claimed.

Antiochus’ nephew Demetrius I was given the title Soter – Savior. Continue reading “The Lord Revealed”

The Little Boy Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:41-52


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us as both a child and a savior. Amen.

What was our Savior like as a child? Beyond the carol’s claims of “no crying he makes”?

We see shockingly little of Christ’s early life. Mark and John completely omit our Lord’s childhood. Matthew gives a quick over-view in only a chapter and a half. Luke packs it all – from birth to age thirty – into one chapter, fifty-two verses – much of which focuses on the first few days of his life and the people around him rather than on Jesus himself. All of the material we have is laden with symbolism: the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt as refugees only to return safely in a re-creation of the Exodus. Jesus presented in the Temple, greeted with prophetic excitement as Anna and Simeon proclaim that this child is the one they’ve been waiting for. Today, St. Luke builds on his already-rich imagery, telling us that the Holy Family was pious, and that Mary and Joseph observed Passover with the traditional pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. In a foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection, Jesus disappears for three days before being returned safely.

But today, beneath the symbolism, we also see an important – no, a vital part of Jesus’ life. We see something incredibly normal. Yes, this reading is set 2,000 years ago, and yes, it is full of vibrant imagery, but it also contains a very human moment. It’s a scene that has undoubtedly played out in nearly every family over the centuries. Continue reading “The Little Boy Lost”

Unto Us a Child Is Born

A Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; St. Luke 2:1-20


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born to us this night in the city of David. Amen.

Tonight marks the turning of the age. Tonight, of all nights, God steps into human history as one of us, and everything changes. The Son of God, the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ will live among us. He’ll walk the dusty highways. He’ll be baptized and tempted in the wilderness. He’ll call disciples and teach. He’ll perform wondrous acts, turn water into wine, feed the multitudes, calm the storms, and walk on water. He’ll cast out demons, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, heal the lepers, and even raise the dead. He’ll enter Jerusalem in triumph and institute the Sacrament of his presence at the Altar for us. He’ll be handed over, tried, bound, and crucified. He’ll descend into hell and rise again victorious. And in his glorious Resurrection, he’ll open to us the way of everlasting life. Alleluia! Amen!

But all of this will come later. Tonight’s miracle is enough: the Divine Word which is with God and is God from the beginning, the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, through whom all things were made — is born in Bethlehem. Tonight, God becomes one of us. Continue reading “Unto Us a Child Is Born”

My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Text: The Magnificat


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who places in our hearts songs of praise. Amen.

The Lord, the Mighty One, the God of Israel, has done great things. In ages past, the Lord appeared to Abram and Sarai, who were beyond childbearing years. To them, the priest-king of Salem declared:

Blessed be Abram by God Most high,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High….

After these things, the Lord made a promise to Abram and Sarai: their descendants would outnumber the stars in the night sky, and through this family, God would bless the world. Imperfect though they were, Abraham and Sarah bore children, and their family — small at first — began to grow.

When the heirs of this family found themselves living in slavery in Egypt, a desperate mother sent her child adrift in a drastic ploy to save his life. The Lord kept watch over this child, protected him as he floated among the predators in the Nile, and after he grew into a man with a short temper and a stutter, called Moses forth to lead the people out of slavery, across the sea on dry foot, and into the wilderness where God renewed the promise made to Abraham. As they led the Hebrews into freedom, Moses and his sister Miriam sang out: Continue reading “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord”

“On That Day…”

A Homily for Wednesday the Third Week in Advent

Text: Isaiah 11:10-16


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

A time is coming. That’s what we’ve been reading about for the past several weeks. The end of the age. The apocalypse. The eschaton. The parousia. The last day. We’ve heard of dire warnings, and we’ve been waiting for “doom or a breakthrough from heaven.”

The doom part is easy to imagine. We experience so much of that in our daily lives and in the newspapers. Look at Yemen, at Syria, at South Sudan, at the internment camps on our own southern border, the drug crisis overwhelming our populations, the ever-worsening predictions about our climate. These crises and many more are seemingly omnipresent. Continue reading ““On That Day…””

Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; St. Luke 3:7-18


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who stands ready with the winnowing fork in his hand. Amen.

We’re over halfway through Advent — we’ve made it to the third Sunday, sometimes called Gaudete Sunday, or “Rejoice!” Sunday. In many parts of the Church, they’re lighting the odd candle out, a rose candle that stands out like a sore thumb among the purple and blue. Some parishes are even hanging up rose-colored paraments, and a few lucky priests are wearing rose vestments. I’ve even been told that somewhere, someone can somehow differentiate between rose and pink.

It’s a festive, jolly time of year! It’s time to rejoice, to deck the halls, to go out caroling, to feast on all sorts of sweets, and to raise a hearty glass of wassail or gluehwein. As many of you know, I’m fairly rigid about the liturgy, which means I’m hesitant to celebrate Christmas before we arrive at the 25th, but I do want to join in the seasonal festivities.

To that end, I’ve endeavored to write a few Advent carols rooted in this year’s lectionary readings; here’s a fun one based on the first Sunday’s Gospel: Continue reading “Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!”

How Long, O Lord?

A Homily for Wednesday in the Second Week in Advent

Text: Isaiah 6


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

“How long, O Lord?”

This is the Advent question.

For kids, it’s “How long until Santa gets here?”

For retail workers, I would assume, it’s, “How long until long hours, the massive crowds, and the constant barrage of unending pop Christmas music stops?”

For most of us, it’s “How long until Christmas?” The wreath, remember, is little more than a count-down clock, a 150-year old tradition to keep incessant questions at bay.

But the Great Tradition is more concerned with another question, the one that Isaiah asks: How long until the Lord’s coming? During Advent, we sit and wait — not just to prepare our hearts and minds for the Feast of the Nativity on the twenty-fifth of December, but even more so for an event completely outside of our control on a date as yet unknown: the last day when Christ shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Continue reading “How Long, O Lord?”

Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

On December 6th, we marked the feast of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the Greek city Myra (in present-day Turkey).

Chiefly, he is remembered for his generosity and secret gift-giving. The son of a wealthy family, Nicholas gave away much of his inheritance to the poor. According to one tradition, the bishop heard a poor man praying; the man had no money to provide dowries for his three daughters and worried that, unmarried, the young women would be left impoverished. Over the next three nights, Bishop Nicholas is said to have thrown bags of money through the window to provide for the family. Continue reading “Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra”