To Forgive

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 18:15-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has called the entire Church. Amen.

“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

If these words sound familiar, it’s because we’ve read them before – and recently. It was two weeks ago, when Simon confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” and Jesus bestowed on him a new name: Peter, the rock, and promised him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (This, by the way, is why Saint Peter is so often depicted in pop culture as pearly-gatekeeper, a sort of celestial maître’ d, checking off whatever fictitious character happens to find themselves knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door.)

Continue reading “To Forgive”

Crumbs From an Overflowing Table

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.

Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.

The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.

In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.

This sort of back-and-forth was still a live question in Jesus’ day. First-century Judea was home to Jews but also Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and others, and had Gentile neighbors in every direction. Continue reading “Crumbs From an Overflowing Table”

Sinking Beneath the Waves

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 14:22-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heaven Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks across the face of the deep. Amen.

Preachers and the folks who write Bible study curriculum have gotten a lot of mileage out of this story, reading it in completely opposite ways.

Some have criticized Simon Peter for his doubt, spending page after page tsk-tsking Peter for his fear, for his lack of trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” and authors, safe in their armchairs far away from the crashing waves, have taken this as an opportunity to rake poor Simon over the coals. He’s supposed to be the rock upon which the Church is built, but he sinks like a stone. Continue reading “Sinking Beneath the Waves”

With No Money, Come and Buy

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; St. Matthew 14:13-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who invites us to dine at the abundant feast. Amen.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.

Some of our kindred in the Church use this verse as a proof-text to explain God’s wrath. We simply cannot understand, they say, how a loving God despises his creation because God is so much loftier than us. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, how many people you fed, how little wrong you did, God still despises your every action unless you’ve prayed a certain way and been baptized by immersion as an adult and attend a specific type of Church. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we simply cannot understand the righteousness of the divine temper tantrum. So stop asking questions.

Continue reading “With No Money, Come and Buy”

Mustard, Yeast, and Kudzu

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 8:26-39; St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who gives us faith like a mustard seed. Amen.

Small things become big things. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. A little bit of yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread. Mmmmm. Bread. Especially with some spicy brown mustard and, while we’re at it, a slice of good cheese. Toss the whole thing in the oven to make it toasty and melty. You’re making me hungry, Jesus. Bring on the appetizers of the Kingdom of God.

We understand these parables. Right?

Continue reading “Mustard, Yeast, and Kudzu”

Pulling Up Weeds

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 8:12-25; St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Merciful One who sows good seed. Amen.

One day during my childhood, while we were living in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was surprised to see small, colorful pebbles laying in the flowerbed outside our house. What could they possibly be? (I’m not even sure I knew the word “fertilizer” at that age.) And, at least as I remember it now, a week or so later, the same flowerbed had small shoots of green emerging from the soil.

Aha! So those small pebble-looking things were seeds! (Wrong.) But what were they growing? I reached down, grabbed the greenery, and yanked. Low and behold, it was attached to a bulb! Those small seeds had grown into something bigger than my fist! (Wrong again.) Amazed, I took my discovery in to show my mother, who was horrified that I had uprooted her one of her new tulips.

Continue reading “Pulling Up Weeds”

Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will not cut us off but instead delivers us from the thorns. Amen.

Imagine walking along any street in the Georgia summer. The cicadas are calling from the trees; pine towers overhead while magnolia limbs hang low, diving into the dirt and erupting out again. The humidity presses in around you, reminding you of the promised blast of air condition and tea when you get home. You pass an empty lot, erupting in deep green that covers last square inch, climbing up the trees, covering the abandoned shed, threatening to crush it under the unbearable weight.

For the farmers listening to Jesus, thorny weeds threatened to choke out their crop. For farmers living in the southeast, the threat is kudzu.

How lush the hillside covered in this once-heralded vine appears at first glance! But it has that look of uncanny uniformity, every leaf looking exactly the same, choking out any other grass, bush, shrub, or tree that ever took root in that same soil. Continue reading “Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth”

Law and Grace

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 7:15-25a; St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who give us an easy burden and a light yoke. Amen.

“I do not understand my own actions.”

Who among us has not felt like Saint Paul at one point or another? For we do not do what we want – what we really, truly want in our in-most being, to do the will of God, the very end for which we were created.

Oh, we start out with good intent, sure enough.

This is it! This is the time I’m going to hold my temper in check and not yell at the neighbor.

This is the time I’m going to buy that young woman on the street corner a sandwich and tell her about the resources at the shelter.

This is the year I’m finally going to read my Bible every day.

This is it! This time, I’m actually going to join the protests and speak up for justice.

But then we do the thing we hate. Continue reading “Law and Grace”

How Long? Not Long

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Psalm 13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who strengths us to endure the trials and tribulations of this world. Amen.

“How long, O Lord?” the psalmist asks.

It’s the cry of the elect throughout the ages.

“How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Continue reading “How Long? Not Long”

Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways

A Homily for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Text: St. Luke 1:57-80


baptismal-font-ettal
Ecce Agnus Dei: John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Ettal, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a mighty Savior raised up for us from the House of David. Amen.

 

What can we say about John the Baptist, that wild man of the wilderness? He who ate locusts and wild honey, wearing ragged clothes?

It’s a bit unusual to encounter outside of Advent and Christmas – our lectionary cycle usually gives him a Sunday or two in December as the forerunner of the Messiah and then a few weeks later, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, recalling when John baptized his younger cousin in the river Jordan. But why now, almost exactly six months away? Continue reading “Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways”