Philemon and Onesimus, Kindred in Christ

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Philemon 1:1-21; St. Luke 14:25-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who makes us members of a new family. Amen.

Three Sundays ago, we read Christ’s words that he “came to bring fire to the earth,” bringing not peace “but rather division,” rending family against family. Last Sunday, we read about a wedding banquet where the first are sent to places of dishonor and the marginalized are ushered up front to the places of honor. And this Sunday, Christ told the crowds following him that discipleship means hating your family, taking up your cross, and giving up all of your possessions.

And throughout these passages of Gospel that sounds like bad news, you’ve heard me say that this is only Good News because of the overwhelming goodness of the coming Kingdom. It’s not easy, nor is it anything we accomplish apart from the grace of God. Indeed, as ethicists David Gushee and Glen Stassen remind us, “The kingship of God leads to the cross for those who proclaim it and fight for it.” Following Christ will bring us into direct and painful conflict with the powers and principalities of this world as they cling to their violent positions of authority. This coming Kingdom is costly, but in the end, the Triune God will set all things to right.

In the meantime, we are caught in the middle. Continue reading “Philemon and Onesimus, Kindred in Christ”

A Place of Honor at the Feast

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:6-7; St. Luke 14:1, 7-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who beckons the lowly to places of greater honor. Amen.

Let’s suppose you were to describe Lutheran culture. What is it that sets us apart? Just off the top of my head, I can think of organ music and congregational singing, certainly a big part of our contribution to the wider Church. And there are also foods brought over from the old country, whether it’s lutefisk from our Scandinavian siblings or plantains from our Afro-Caribbean kindred. And food is important, because of course Lutherans love potluck dinners. (If you have a choice at the potluck, go with the plantains, not the lutefisk.) Then there’s that ubiquitous Lutheran trait: sitting in the back of the church.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say Lutheran? I meant Back-Row Baptist. Or Methodist. Continue reading “A Place of Honor at the Feast”

Tradition! Tradition!

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 13:10-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who interrupts our world to show us the Kingdom. Amen.

To quote Fiddler on the Roof, “How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!” (Tradition! Tradition!) “Traditions for everything: How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes.”

The musical gets it right. How far may I travel on the Sabbath? There’s a Tradition for that. How shall I pray? There’s a tradition for that. What does this text mean? There’s a tradition for that.

It’s difficult to overstate the centrality of tradition in Judaism. After a fifty-year exile and centuries under successive occupying empires, tradition played the same role it does today: preserving identity.

What does it mean to keep the Torah in Persia? Continue reading “Tradition! Tradition!”

But Rather Division!

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Hebrews 11:29-12:2; St. Luke 12:49-56


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses Amen.

Let’s start with that recurring question that pops up time and time again in response to Jesus’ teachings: how is any of this possibly “good news”? Christ says he has come to bring fire to the earth, that he does not bring peace but division, that he will divide family member against family member. This seems more like “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

We might suggest that Jesus is being metaphorical somehow, that there is some less pessimistic meaning hidden in the text, but we see this literal division and violence lived out in the experience of the early Church. Our reading from Hebrews makes pretty clear that the going is gonna get tough. After listing off some folks who managed to escape suffering and oppression, the author quickly notes: Continue reading “But Rather Division!”

Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; St. Luke 12:32-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one we are waiting for. Amen.

Before Father Abraham had many sons, before he was Abraham, when Sarah was known as Sarai, the Lord came to this wandering family and made a promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

And at the time, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to say. Both Abram and Sarai were advanced in age, past their child-bearing years. More than that, they were homeless nomads; who were they that the Lord should take account of them?

As time passed, the divine promise was long-delayed, enough so that Abram and Sarai had reason to doubt. More than that, Abram’s many shortcomings became readily apparent. The family ended up in Egypt, where the Pharaoh took notice of Sarai. Fearing for his own life, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister; for his own safety, he sent her to live in Pharaoh’s palace as a royal spouse. (Oddly, this part of their story didn’t make it into that old VBS song or the Sunday school felt board, and I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Veggie Tales.) Continue reading “Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able”

That Could Be Enough

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:13-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who blesses us with more than enough. Amen.

I didn’t want to listen at first. My sister told me to. My brother-in-law told me to. And eventually I was pressured into it. Suzanne gave in and then got me hooked. Three years ago, we started listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton. (Yes, this sermon will be full of references and quotes, which is about what it’s been like to live in the Lewis household for the past three years.) It tells the story of an orphan “dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor” who “grow[s] up to be a hero and a scholar” and traces this oft-neglected Founding Father as he goes from a “young, scrappy, and hungry” immigrant to war hero, cabinet member, and political wunderkind. From drinking in rowdy pubs with other young leaders in the American Revolution to the climatic duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton is determined to “rise up” and leave behind a legacy.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, though, young, cocky, womanizing Alexander Hamilton meets one Eliza Schuyler at a winter’s ball. From a prominent and wealthy New York family, she is “never…the type to try and grab the spotlight.” And as Hamilton’s quest to “fly above [his] station after the war” inevitably gets him into trouble, he returns home to his pregnant wife, who tells him: Continue reading “That Could Be Enough”

Hevel Havalim

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:18-23


melancholia
Melancolia – Albrecht Dürer

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who has conquered the grave and has set us free to be the Kingdom of God erupting forth in this violent, deathly world. Amen.

Know that this is not what I intended to say today. I have an entire other sermon that I will post and make available to y’all online. But as we went to bed in the aftermath of one mass shooting and woke up to reports of another, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to address the news today.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Continue reading “Hevel Havalim”

Migrants in Sodom

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; St. Luke 11:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who teaches us to pray boldly. Amen.

men of sodom
“The Men of Sodom,” 18th c. Dutch

Many of us may recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s one of those Bible stories that, were it adapted for film, would likely be rated R for its mature subject matter. We read the set-up today, in which the Lord has taken notice of those two cities for their wickedness, remarking “How grave is their sin!” The Almighty determines to send an angelic away team to investigate and take divine action. Meanwhile, Abraham pleads with the Lord, asking that They spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there – even if it’s only fifty people.

Or forty-five.

Forty.

Thirty.

Twenty.

Ten.

If only ten righteous people may be found, would God Almighty set aside Their anger?

Continue reading “Migrants in Sodom”

Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Colossians 1:15-28


saint pauls chains
The chains of Saint Paul, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn, through whom all things were made and by whom all things are renewed. Amen.

We’re reading the words of a man about to die.

The lectionary is taking us through Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. This short series began last week and will continue through the next two Sundays, taking only a few verses out of this short book (it’s only four chapters) and scattering them over the course of (roughly) a month. Reading the letter this way, it’s difficultto pick up the flow of the argument.

So, let’s start with the context: it’s important to remember we are reading the words of an imprisoned saint facing death. Recalling the stories told in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own writings, we know that he was accustomed to hardship and repeated arrest, but after traveling the Roman world and proclaiming the Gospel, he was eventually arrested one final time in Jerusalem and shuffled between different Judaean cities as he was tried by various officials. As a Roman citizen, he exercised his right to appeal his arrest to the Emperor. The trip from Judaea to Rome was long and arduous, including shipwrecks, hunger, and months in detention between legs of the journey. He spent years imprisoned in Rome before ultimately being taken outside the city walls and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Today’s Epistle lection is among the final surviving words of someone on death row.

And what do we read? A glorious hymn of praise giving all honor to Christ. Continue reading “Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not”

The Good Samaritan

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Saint Luke 10:25-34


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to love our neighbor. Amen.

As the camera pans over a model of a small town, complete with a little red trolley, the familiar tune plays, and we zoom in on a single house. Fred Rogers enters the door, changing from his suit jacket into that ubiquitous cardigan and, with just a hint of flash, tosses off his dress shoes and replaces them with sneakers. All the while, he cheerfully sings:

Fred_Rogers,_late_1960s
Fred Rogers during the 1960s

It’ s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

And he finishes, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

For decades, we welcomed Mr. Rogers into our homes, but he made it feel as though he were welcoming us. For thirty minutes at a time, he talked to generations of kids about feelings, letting us know that it was important to love ourselves and to be kind to others, that it was ok to be scared or sad sometimes, teaching us about the world – but it was almost as though he was learning with us. At his core, Mr. Rogers believed that children should be treated with respect and dignity, just as any adult, and it shows in his work – he was never condescending but instead reached children on their level. For those of us in the audience, he treated us like neighbors. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan”