For All the Saints

A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; St. John 11:32-44


all-saints

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus should weep?

I have heard some preachers argue that Jesus wept for the doubt he saw displayed around him, that he was crying because those closest to him did not recognize his power to raise the dead, but that’s not what the text says. Martha and Mary express nothing but faith in Christ – faith that he could have healed their brother and faith that he can raise Lazarus even now.

Throughout the Gospels, we have seen him heal many and even, on rare occasion, raise the dead. When he arrived in Bethany, just a few verses before our reading today, he greeted Martha’s great faith with reassurance: Continue reading “For All the Saints”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sets us free. Amen.

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Luther Memorial, Worms

About eight years ago, when my parents were stationed in Germany with the US Army, I had the chance to visit them for an entire summer. On my way to seminary as a United Methodist openly flirting with the Lutheran tradition, I jumped at the chance to visit the numerous historical sites affiliated with the Reformation. Over those months, I traveled to Worms (as in, “the Diet of…” and of “Here I stand, I can do no other” fame), Augsburg (as in “Confession of”), and Speyer (lesser known, but no less important – there, Lutheran leaders protested the imperial ban on Luther’s teachings and earned the name “Protestants” – a moniker that seems to have some staying power).

Touring these sites in 2010, I was shocked to see “500th Anniversary” signs everywhere. At first, I was worried that I had somehow missed something – that, despite studying religion and history and being something of a nerd, I had gotten the wrong date fixed in my head, that I had mixed up the year the Reformation began. It was, after all, by my count a full seven years before the big five-oh-oh.

Rest assured: 1517 is actually the correct date. But the German government, recognizing the epoch-defining nature of Luther’s 95 Theses, decided that one day or even a full year were insufficient. They declared 2008 the start of the Luther Decade and began in earnest preparing for the influx of history buffs, theologians, pastors, curious tourists, and faithful pilgrims who would descend upon these German towns to mark half a millennia of the Reformation. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

Sons of Thunder

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 53:4-12; St. Mark 10:35-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who allots us a portion with the great. Amen.

“Can you do me a favor?”

That question always gives me pause.

“What do they want? How much time will this require? What am I about to get myself in to?”

In my mind’s eye, I picture someone asking for the keys and title to my car or my ATM PIN or holding up a mask and asking me to help knock over the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

“Can you do me a favor?”

Knowing that I’m being ridiculous and just a bit paranoid, I wonder, “Can I really take that chance?” And so I respond, half-jokingly, “Maybe…”

Invariably the request in mundane. “Grab me a cup of coffee while you’re up?”

Enter the sons of Zebedee.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s where I would pause. Not a favor. No, they’re hinting at something far beyond that.

What does Jesus think? Does he see what’s coming? Does he see the hesitation in their eye, that James is fidgeting nervously and John, though he’s doing all the talking, is avoiding eye contact with the other disciples? Is that why he is so coy in his response? Is that why he asks what they want before agreeing to it? Or does he want to force them to say it aloud themselves? Continue reading “Sons of Thunder”

You Are Not God’s Only Hands

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila

Texts: Romans 8:22-27; St. John 14:1-7


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Great Love. Amen.

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The Transverberation of Saint Teresa, 17th c.

There’s no avoiding this topic, so let’s address it head on, shall we? We all probably know Saint Teresa best for the very intimate description of her ecstatic visions. These charismatic experiences are often understood as having at least some erotic subtext as Teresa wrote about the penetrating love of God. In her own words, Teresa discussed the connection between soul and body, the physical sensation of religious experience, the moan-inducing rapture of divine visions. Her writing is put on stunning and beautiful display in Bernini’s famous statue, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture that more closely resembles two lovers than an angel and a prophet. This perspective is so vital to the Church, to a body with such a long, painful, and complicated history with human sexuality and so often confused about the relationship between spirit and flesh. Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, her colleague who incorporated much of her imagery, offer profound sources for feminist and queer prophets to proclaim a Gospel that is at peace with human sexuality. But there are better and more capable voices than mine to expound on the value of both men and women claiming such intimacy with God. Continue reading “You Are Not God’s Only Hands”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

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Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures”

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4; Isaiah 11:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, through whom all things were made. Amen.

Saint Francis was born to into a wealthy merchant’s family in the Umbrian region of what is today Italy. In his youth, he was known for lavish spending, but after a very public falling out with his father, Francis renounced his family name and his inheritance for a life of poverty.

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Saint Francis preaches to the Wolf of Gubbio

In 1209, Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor, a group of wandering preachers known for their devotion to poverty and the poor that continues his ministry across the world today. This group of men and women became fools for Christ, living lives of radical reliance on the alms of stranger and deep trust that God would provide. And yeah, at times their actions seemed incredibly foolish. Not only did Francis give up a fortune, he was also known for his preaching – to people, to birds, to a wolf. That’s why we remember him by blessing animals – Francis taught about the interdependence of all creation.

What is it that animates saints like Francis of Assisi? Continue reading ““Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures””

“Are any among you suffering?”

A Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. James 5:13-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will raise us up as we pray. Amen.

“Are any among you suffering?” Saint James asks.

At the risk of offending the author of my favorite epistle, what an idiotically obvious question.

“Are any among you suffering?”

Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. Continue reading ““Are any among you suffering?””

Great Again

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 3:13-4:8; St. Mark 9:30-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will make us truly great. Amen.

Do you think Jesus ever turned to the disciples, irritated, and yelled, “What did I just tell you?” Or greet their frequent questions with the same exasperated sigh of a parent who has just been asked for the millionth time why her son couldn’t have a pre-dinner snack?

Last week, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ told his disciples the bad news: the Son of Man would be betrayed, beaten, and brutally murdered. Peter…well Peter didn’t handle the news well. And the bad news kept coming: not only was Jesus going to die, but following him meant taking up a cross as well. To be a disciple is to deny your self. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Continue reading “Great Again”

Take Up Your Cross, Peter

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9; St. James 3:1-12; St. Mark 8:27-38


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who bids us take up our cross and follow him. Amen.

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Saint Peter by El Greco

Saint Peter is hot-headed and impulsive, eager to step out in faith but fast to fall short, in equal measure profoundly faithful and unruly. And it kind of makes you wonder, given some the guidelines about teachers that James and Isaiah put forward, would either of them have called Peter as a pastor to their congregation?

The readings from Saint James and the prophet Isaiah give us a short glimpse of just some of the requirements for those called to lead God’s people. Teachers should have the ability to sustain the weary with a word, open ears, remain steadfast. They should tame their mouths, uttering blessings rather than curses. And, James is quick to remind us, those called to leadership as teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.”

Impulsive, quick to speak and faster to act, Peter might be exactly the type of person James had in mind when cautioning that not everyone is called to be teachers. Think back to the first two chapters of Saint James’ epistle. What about showing partiality? Peter – and all of the disciples – tend to be obsessed with where they will sit in the Kingdom, hoping for places of honor. Continue reading “Take Up Your Cross, Peter”

Nevertheless, She Persisted: The Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 2:10-17; 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.

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The Syrophoenician Woman, 17th. century Coptic manuscript

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. Today, one point of the story grabs us by the collar and slaps us in the face. A Gentile woman approaches Jesus and she needs help. She follows the social conventions of the day, coming to him in a home and throwing herself at his feet. She’s trying to follow the cultural norms for approaching a teacher with a request. And Jesus of Nazareth compares her to a dog. Continue reading “Nevertheless, She Persisted: The Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman”