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?”

Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven

A Homily for Vespers on the first Wednesday in Advent

Text: Isaiah 2:1-4


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

We tend to think of Advent as a long countdown to Christmas. That’s what this wreath is all about, right? Light a candle each week, then the big one on Christmas Eve.

That’s the origin of the tradition. We tend to think that Jesus lit candles to mark the days until his birthday and that we’ve done this for thousands of years, but the Advent wreath only dates back to the 19th century when a German pastor working with children.

“Pastor Klaus, Pastor Klaus, is it Christmas yet?”

“Nein! No! Not yet! Stop pestering me!” And so he took a wagon wheel, slapped some candles on it, and told the kids, “Here. We’ll light a candle each day, and when they’re all lit, it’s finally Christmas. So stop asking!” It quickly evolved into the four candles we know today, then moved from the home into the sanctuary.

Or those cute little cardboard calendars that, even though they’re designed for children, I still insist on buying for myself every year: starting on December 1st, you open a small flap and pull out a piece of (admittedly mediocre) chocolate each day until Christmas.

BuzzFeed published an article that really gets to the heart of how we view Christmas. They put forward a list of “crazy German Christmas traditions,” writing: “The so-called Advent Sundays are another great way to get hyped for actual Christmas!”

(As an aside, the same article also lists Christmas Eve services as a “great way to to kill time” “as the local pastor rant[s] about people that only visit the church on Christmas,” so I’m not sure I trust their expertise on Germany, Advent, or Christmas.) Continue reading “Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…”

A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; St. Luke 21:25-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming with power and great glory. Amen.

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today, my friends, because this week hurts. There is no way around it. Yesterday, we commended our brother Bill Moses to God’s care, and many of you have gone by the hospital to say your goodbyes to our sister Anne, who is nearing the hour of death. Sisters and brothers, I am not ashamed to say that I have cried this week.

Two weeks ago, Saint Mark recounted Jesus’ predictions of destruction and chaos, of a world rising up in revolt. Last week, on the Feast of Christ the King, Saint John showed us Christ’s trial before Pilate, a God subject to imperfect human laws, subject to powers and principalities, subject even to death.

And these chaotic scenes resonate deep within us. This week, it has certainly felt like the world was shaking, as though chaos reigned supreme. It has felt as though these things have the final say. Continue reading ““Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…””

What Kind of King?

A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; St. John 18:33-37


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Christ the King, 17th century Greek mosaic

 

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

It’s a bold claim, isn’t it? To stand, bound and on trial, before the imperial governor, the embodied representative of the Roman Empire, and to claim kingship? The Romans had conquered the entire Mediterranean world, from Spain to Turkey, from Tripoli in North Africa up to the limes in Germany, from southern Egypt to as far away as Britain. The Romans had vanquished the fractured Greek rulers and kept the Parthian Empire at bay in Iran. Rome made and broke kings. They commanded entire legions to keep rebellious territories in line. The Romans knew how to shatter the spirit and will of defiant kings and mutinous militias: through the strength of arms and torture. Lay waste to the city, crucify the leaders. Roman authority was rooted in a mighty brutality. Continue reading “What Kind of King?”

Not a Stone Left on Stone

A Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; St. Mark 13:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will topple every stone from its place. Amen.

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Lincoln Memorial

Imagine, if you will, that we have taken a trip to Washington, DC. As we wander around the seat of our national government, we of course marvel at the beautiful neo-classical architecture. DC — ok, well, the heart of DC, not so much the sprawling suburbs — is a well-designed city which draws on the great monuments of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture to communicate our country’s loftiest ideals. The Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials call to mind the Egyptian obelisks, the Roman Pantheon, and the Greek Parthenon. Instead of divine heroes, these monuments stand to elected human leaders, flaws and all. Continue reading “Not a Stone Left on Stone”

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


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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”