Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6: 35, 41-51


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us the Bread of Heaven, his flesh. Amen.

I have to admit it: I’m disappointed. The facts of history are not nearly as interesting as the legends.

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Zwingli

During the early days of the Reformation, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss theologian, were at odds with each other over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Those of you who studied the Catechism as part of your Confirmation will well remember what Luther wrote: the Sacrament is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Zwingli, by comparison, said that the bread and wine merely represent the Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, that Holy Communion is nothing more than a memorial.

To unite the disparate factions in the face of imperial pressure, Prince Phillip of Hesse brought the two feuding theologians together to the city of Marburg for a conference to hash out their differences. Continue reading “Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ”

The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; St. John 6:34-35


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

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Loaves and Fish, Church of the Multiplication

When last we saw Jesus, he was taking a leisurely stroll across the waves after feeding the five thousand. According to Saint John’s account, Jesus had taken the disciples to a remote location, but the crowds followed them, as they are wont to do. With a sly look, Jesus asked the disciples where they could find food to feed five thousand people; Philip pragmatically pointed out that six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed so many people, and Saint Andrew found a kid with five loaves and some fish – before quickly reminding our Lord that such a small meal was nothing compared to the size of the crowd. Of course that didn’t stop Jesus: he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it out to eat. And not only did it feed the entire multitude but they had twelve massive baskets of large chunks left over. As Jesus retreated further away from the now-sated crowds and his disciples sailed back across the lake (with Jesus miraculously following on foot), the multitudes were left with a burning question. They gave chase, and this is where we pick up today: the people have once again pressed in around our Lord and the disciples, and the people want to know what all this means! Continue reading “The Bread of Life”

“What are they among so many people?”

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:1-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who abundantly provides for our every need. Amen.

Last week, the lectionary did something a little weird: it skipped over the main event. Remember, if you will, the disciples came back from their big trip and the crowds swarmed around them; so many people flooded the area that the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.” To get away from the people, Jesus and the disciples sailed to a secluded place, and the crowds followed them. Even though the throngs put a damper on the whole “quiet spiritual retreat,” Saint Mark said Jesus had mercy on the crowd because “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” and then…nothing happened. The text skipped forward something like twenty verses and the disciples were back in a boat! It left us with a big unanswered question: what happened?!?! What did it look like for Jesus to shepherd the flock, to “have compassion on” the crowd?

Today, Saint John chimes in sort of like Paul Harvey: “And now…the rest of the story.” Continue reading ““What are they among so many people?””

From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Mark 6:14-29


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who claims those whom the world has rejected. Amen.

To my mind, one of the most satisfying feelings in the world is re-visiting a story and making new connections. I’m sure many of you have a favorite book or movie: one to which you return frequently and are always surprised to find some new detailed contained within suddenly grab your attention.

A good tv show or movie is worth watching once. We all know what a beach read is – a bargain book that you take with you on vacation. It might be worth reading once while listening to the waves and trying to keep an eye on the dog or the kids.

But a truly great movie or book is worth revisiting time and time again. Each time through, some new detail emerges, a new theme grabs your attention. The second, third, tenth time through, you’re still catching subtle foreshadowing, shades of irony, jokes that are set up three episodes before the payoff, plot lines discretely seeded in the first pages that culminate in the final chapters. Notes that start subtly but soon dominate the score, meaningful echoes that play out at different levels. Continue reading “From the Beginning, with the End in Mind”

The Prophet in the Hometown

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5; St. Mark 6:1-13


 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out as prophets proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Amen.

No prophet ever, upon receiving God’s call, jumped for joy. “Woohoo! I get to speak truth to power and tell the people how their actions have afflicted our Lord! Where’s the King? I wanna go tell him his actions cause God grief. But first, let me go tell the landowners that the Lord plans to cut them down. I wonder, when I flee into exile, if I’ll go longer without food or water. I can’t wait to find out.” Continue reading “The Prophet in the Hometown”

Becoming Poor to Be Made Rich

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who made himself poor that we might become rich. Amen.

Our society is a little bit obsessed with money, isn’t it?

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Hohenschwangau, Bavaria, Germany

I know, this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking claim, but consider the old show, Life Styles of the Rich and Famous, or if you’re my age, its spiritual successor, MTV’s Cribs. These programs went out of their way to showcase the opulence of modern celebrities – penthouses, mansions, yachts, cars that cost more than some people could possibly hope to earn in a decade. These shows glamorize the life of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

Funny how you never see a show praising the resilience of the working parent who drives a ten-year old minivan or the family that relies on public transportation.

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Part of the sprawling  Domus Augusti, Rome, Italy

But of course, it’s not just our society – it’s not as though such wealthy extravagance is unique to the past century in the United States. As a kid in Germany, one of my favorite things to do was to tour the magnificent Schloesser of centuries past, the massive palaces that bear witness to the feudal age. And in Rome, that eternal city, you can wander up the Palatine Hill and see the ancient foundations of the Caesars’ estates.

 

Lest we forget, the Church has not been immune from such greed. From the palatial residences of medieval bishops to modern prosperity preachers boasting a fleet of private jets, our obsession with financial wealth is widespread. Church-wide greed sowed the seeds for the Reformation centuries before Luther. This preoccupation with earthly wealth infected the Church early on: a fourth century Roman aristocrat and pagan high priest once remarked upon the Pope’s life of luxury, “Make me the Bishop of Rome, and I shall become a Christian immediately.”

But, dear ones, “y’all know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that by his poverty y’all may become rich.” Continue reading “Becoming Poor to Be Made Rich”

Calm in the Storms

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Job 38:1-11; St. Mark 4:35-41


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calms the tumultuous storms. Amen.

What shall we say about Job? This novella is one of those books in the canon of Scripture we tend to ignore. Sure, we might make passing reference to it, but we often keep it – and its tragic events – at an arm’s length.

Here’s a quick summary to jog your memory:

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Job Hears of His Misfortune, Gustave Doré

Job is doing quite well for himself, living the dream life. He’s wealthy, his estate boasting a thriving herd of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. His large family gets along, dining with each other frequently. The prologue tells us “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” To borrow a phrase from social media, he was #blessed.

Cut to the heavenly court, where the Accuser wanders in and strikes up a wager with God: Job is only pious because his life is perfect. But would he remain faithful if his posh life were taken away? What follows is a series of tragedies that in short order leave Job bankrupt, alone, covered in sores, sitting in an ash heap, waiting for death, using a broken vase as a backscratcher, as his wife tells him to just give up.

Sitting alone among the ruin, Job’s “friends” – though I use that term lightly – wander by to tell him it must all be his fault.

And it’s at this point that we all remember why we ignore this depressing section of the Bible. We’re not even at chapter three yet, folks. Continue reading “Calm in the Storms”

A Mighty Shrub

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; St. Mark 4:26-34


Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.

Is it any wonder that Scripture makes such frequent reference to trees? They are signs of abundance and long life, and for good reason. Even a humble acacia tree of fifteen feet would soar above its desert surroundings and be the tallest object in a small Israelite town, a landmark that lasts for decades. A sycamore, that preferred perch for Zacchaeus, could easily grow up to sixty feet tall. The ancient economy depended on trees which provided timber for building, fuel for burning, and fruit for eating. Precious commodities like frankincense and myrrh come from trees.  These majestic plants were so important to life across the entire ancient world that they took on sacred characteristics in societies from Scandinavia to India.

But in the ancient Near East, no tree loomed quite as large as the mighty cedars of Mount Lebanon. Continue reading “A Mighty Shrub”

A House United

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; St. Mark 3:20-35


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into one holy family. Amen.

“Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod.”

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Diet of Worms

These are the opening words of the papal bull, Exsurge Domine (the Latin phrase that leads off the document) signed by Pope Leo X threatening to excommunicate Martin Luther in the year 1520. When Luther refused to recant, he was formally excommunicated a year later at the Diet of Worms. Continue reading “A House United”