Dogs at the Table

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 2:1-17; St. Mark 7:24-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to feed the children of God. Amen.

We’ve seen something like this before.

Jesus is staying at a home in the area near Tyre when a woman comes to him, asking that Christ might cast a demon out of her daughter. There’s a familiar pattern for healing stories and exorcisms like this. There will be some little exchange, the disciples will get annoyed, onlookers will scoff at the entire situation, and Jesus will tell the woman that she has great faith and the daughter will made well. Standard enough fare for the Gospels.

We see these healing narratives over and over again. So much so that we get used to them and, to be honest, we stop paying attention until the end. Oh, hey. Jesus healed the person with…what was it this time? Another leper? Leprosy! Jesus healed the person with leprosy. Yea. Alright. They get a little boring, we lose focus, and the details often evade us as long as it’s a happy ending.

Usually, any sort of disturbing details are floating just under the surface; they demand a close reading of the text to really get at the real point of the story.

But not this time.

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Saint James, Law, and Gospel

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 1:17-27; St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our Perfect Law Giver. Amen.

If we’re being honest, we’ve all known someone like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: quick to chime in with an accusatory question and judging “side-eye.” In contemporary speech, “Pharisee” is synonymous with exactly this type of person, an arrogant and legalistic disciplinarian slavishly devoted to a strict interpretation of the rules quick to render an unrequested verdict.

“Your disciples eat without washing their hands? Bless their hearts.”

“Oh. You let your children watch that movie? Aren’t you worried that it might corrupt their young mind?”

“You listen to that kind of music? I shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ as they say.”

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I Am the Bread of Life – A Difficult Teaching

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:56-69


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

A man, let’s call him Rob, walks into his pastor’s office one day. “Pr. Linda, I’ve got a question. Every Sunday, you say that bread has become the Body of Christ, but how…”

Pr. Linda excitedly cut him off. “Rob, that’s a great question – one Christians have been debating for almost our entire history.” Pr. Linda, being something of a scholar, gives Rob the whirlwind tour of Eucharistic theology throughout church history.

It’s a great tour; she hits all the high points – Ambrose and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Zwingli and the Marburg Colloquy, Calvin. She makes sure to start with Aristotelian metaphysics before delving in to the Synoptic Gospels and I Corinthians and checking in on the relevant liturgical texts from the Didache, Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the Apostolic Tradition of Pseudo-Hippolytus, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Anaphora of Addai and Mari all the way through to the Roman Missal promulgated after Vatican II, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and of course Evangelical Lutheran Worship. She quotes extensively from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and both the Small and Large Catechism. She even mentions Berengar of Tours and Paschasius Radbertus! When was the last time you heard a pastor cite to Berengar and Paschaisus?

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Eat My Flesh

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:51-58


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

Let’s pretend, just for a few seconds, that while we might be familiar with some or most of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we’ve never read any of the Gospels or the Epistles. We’ve gone to worship at the Temple, where we’ve sacrificed animals and consumed their flesh, but we’ve never celebrated Holy Communion with bread and wine.

And so it is that we arrive, with a few thousand of our closest friends, around a wandering Nazarene preacher who miraculously feeds the entire crowd with only a few loaves and fish. Just like Moses! And Elijah! And Elisha! Surely God is at work!

And then he starts to speak: Whoever comes to me will never go hungry! Will never go thirsty!

For people familiar with hunger – whether in first century Judaea or twenty-first century Macon – that is quite a promise! No wonder people flocked to Jesus! Not only did he promise that his followers would never go hungry, he also demonstrated his ability to keep that promise!

No wonder the crowd responded, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

But then comes the twist. It’s the twist we see coming because we’re reading this after Maundy Thursday, after the Church took this teaching to heart, after we made this teaching “the source and summit” of our weekly worship. But to the crowd that day? Oh, to the crowd that day, this twist is among the most shocking things they’ll ever hear:

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The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Tenth 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.

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!

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Woeful Shepherds & Good Shepherd

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23


Grace and Peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

There were two men, one wealthy and with many flocks, and one who had a only one small ewe – not so much a piece of livestock but a pet. “Like a daughter to him.” A traveler called upon the rich man – who, hesitant to part with one of his own sheep, stole the poor man’s ewe, butchered it, and served it to his guest.

Upon hearing this story, King David – himself a former shepherd – grew angry, condemning the hypothetical rich thief. “The man who has done this deserves to die!” the king raged. “He shall restore the lamb fourfold because he did this thing, and because he has no pity.”

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From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Seventh 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.

A mediocre tv show or movie might be 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 really good movie or book is worth re-visiting, and a great work is worth returning to 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.

I spent this past week re-reading a book by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times (five?) and with each revisit, new details stick out to me, ways that he sets up themes in the first pages that dominate the rest of the novel. The ways he plays around with genre. The minor turns of phrase in this work that, with a wink and a nod, pop up in what he called his “fictional autobiography” a decade later.

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The Prophet in the Hometown

A Homily for the Sixth 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.”

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Little Child, Get Up

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; St. Mark 5:21-43


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who call us to get up from our deathbeds. Amen.

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine what the woman in today’s Gospel story endured because we have all, at some point, suffered from some illness that took a physical, emotional, and social toll on us – even something as common as a cold can knock you out for a few days, depriving you of sleep and shutting you off from friends and family. But I dare say almost all of us have more experience than that – is there any among us who has not received that fateful call from the doctor that the test results came back and it’s not good news? Or spent years watching a loved one slowly fade? To place ourselves in her shoes is less a matter of imagination and more about remembering that time in our own lives.

The text tells us she “endured much under many physicians” and “spent all that she had” – and still only grew worse. It’s an all-too-common story.

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Calm in the Storms

A Homily for the Fourth 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:

118-job_hears_of_his_misfortunes
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.

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