Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Colossians 1:15-28


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The chains of Saint Paul, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn, through whom all things were made and by whom all things are renewed. Amen.

We’re reading the words of a man about to die.

The lectionary is taking us through Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. This short series began last week and will continue through the next two Sundays, taking only a few verses out of this short book (it’s only four chapters) and scattering them over the course of (roughly) a month. Reading the letter this way, it’s difficultto pick up the flow of the argument.

So, let’s start with the context: it’s important to remember we are reading the words of an imprisoned saint facing death. Recalling the stories told in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own writings, we know that he was accustomed to hardship and repeated arrest, but after traveling the Roman world and proclaiming the Gospel, he was eventually arrested one final time in Jerusalem and shuffled between different Judaean cities as he was tried by various officials. As a Roman citizen, he exercised his right to appeal his arrest to the Emperor. The trip from Judaea to Rome was long and arduous, including shipwrecks, hunger, and months in detention between legs of the journey. He spent years imprisoned in Rome before ultimately being taken outside the city walls and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Today’s Epistle lection is among the final surviving words of someone on death row.

And what do we read? A glorious hymn of praise giving all honor to Christ. Continue reading “Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not”

The Good Samaritan

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Saint Luke 10:25-34


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to love our neighbor. Amen.

As the camera pans over a model of a small town, complete with a little red trolley, the familiar tune plays, and we zoom in on a single house. Fred Rogers enters the door, changing from his suit jacket into that ubiquitous cardigan and, with just a hint of flash, tosses off his dress shoes and replaces them with sneakers. All the while, he cheerfully sings:

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Fred Rogers during the 1960s

It’ s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

And he finishes, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

For decades, we welcomed Mr. Rogers into our homes, but he made it feel as though he were welcoming us. For thirty minutes at a time, he talked to generations of kids about feelings, letting us know that it was important to love ourselves and to be kind to others, that it was ok to be scared or sad sometimes, teaching us about the world – but it was almost as though he was learning with us. At his core, Mr. Rogers believed that children should be treated with respect and dignity, just as any adult, and it shows in his work – he was never condescending but instead reached children on their level. For those of us in the audience, he treated us like neighbors. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan”

GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 6:1-16; St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Preachers, myself included, like to give the disciples a hard time. You’ve heard me say this before – that Peter, James, John, and the other nine so often miss the point of what’s really going on. Jesus says one thing, and the Twelve immediately do just the opposite – often to comedic effect.

Silly sons of Zebedee, don’t you realize that the first will be last and the last will be first?

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Preachers @ Saint Peter

But here’s the catch: from a human point of view, the Twelve really do have reason to boast. Continue reading “GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!”

“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him even unto Jerusalem. Amen.

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””

Christ Against the Legion

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 3:23-29; St. Luke 8:26-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord who came to set the captives free. Amen.

Imagine it: a man forced to live out among the graves. Not some serene field with polished headstones, but a necropolis – a city of the dead – filled with charnel houses in which the deceased rot, are exhumed, and then re-buried. Not a place in which death and decay are buried beneath the surface of a manicured lawn, but where the dead hide just out of sight and the ugly truth of our mortality fills the air. Where tombs are a family affair and, after a person dies and decays, their bones are pushed further back to make room for the next corpse. A person literally goes to join their ancestors in the ever-growing pile of bones. The tombs are not beautiful, well-maintained historic sites. Instead, they are homes of stench and rot, an unclean place. They are not a place to visit or for an evening stroll to admire the handiwork of centuries-old sculptors on a nice spring day. Rather, they are somewhere to be avoided except to fulfill certain familial obligations.

And in to this horrible setting, enter a person. Continue reading “Christ Against the Legion”

Trinity Sunday Sermons

Homilies for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

This year, I joined with the saints of Holy Trinity parish in Decatur as my godson was baptized into the Body of Christ. (It was also their patronal feast day and the bishop preached. What a joyous celebration!) In lieu, then, of my normal Sunday sermon, here is a link to my homily from 2018 (Year B) and the full text from 2017 (Year A):

Text: St. Matthew 28:16-20


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

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On this Trinity Sunday, we are left scratching our heads, reaching for analogies that always fall short of describing this divine mystery. The Gospel texts for the previous weeks have been not-so-subtly hinting at today’s feast, offering up cryptic descriptions of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are connected: God in Trinity, the Trinity in unity, equal in glory and co-equal in majesty. The Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, the Spirit proceeding from both.

We want it to make perfect sense, to be able to sit down and chart out exactly how the Trinity works, to be able to explain the it to our children, our family, our friends, and even ourselves – and yet this divine mystery frustrates our every attempt at understanding. Every analogy falls short. Continue reading “Trinity Sunday Sermons”

The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

Continue reading “The Athanasian Creed”

Babel, Undone

A Homily for Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21


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El Greco’s Pentecost, 1596

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends the Holy Spirit upon us that we may be one. Amen.

Confession time: I’m not good with languages. My pronunciation is terrible, I have no ear for accents, and, worst of all, I don’t devote the time to studying them that proficiency demands. It’s a shame, too, because I’ve always actually really liked languages, especially the history of how they evolve and borrow from one another. Over the past twenty years, I’ve studied French in middle school, Spanish in high school, German in college, and Greek and Hebrew in seminary.

In fact, I took a full two years of German in college. When my parents were stationed there my senior year, I excitedly went to visit them in Heidelberg, and I was confident that my semesters of anguish would producing stunning results. First night in country, we went out to eat at a local restaurant; I placed my order in my most polished Deutsch:

Ich moechte einmal Radler und ein Jaegerschnitzel bitte.

…only for the waiter to respond in perfect – but frustrated – English. So much for that idea. Continue reading “Babel, Undone”

Decline and Resurrection

News broke a few months ago that the religiously unaffiliated now make up about a quarter of the US population. New Gallup research suggests that religious people with no congregational membership make up another quarter of the population. Put another way, nearly half of the American population lacks a congregational affiliation. Whether they identify with a faith tradition or not, they may as well be “Nones.” Continue reading “Decline and Resurrection”