The Prodigal Son

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who welcomes the sinner and invites them into the banquet. Amen.

I have some good news: we are more than halfway through Lent. In three weeks, we will gather to proclaim that Christ is risen, and our fasting will turn to feasting.

As we enter the home stretch, it’s important to remember that we don’t fast during Lent simply because God wants us to give up coffee or dessert or some little vice or because skipping that hamburger on Friday earns God’s love. Rather, Lent is a time of preparation; around the Church, people are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Holy Baptism or to re-affirm their baptismal vows, and the fasting is a traditional way to remember our dependence upon the Lord, to remember our need for God’s redeeming grace poured out in these waters. Our fasting is a way of both supporting these new Christians and preparing to renew our own baptismal vows at Easter.

As we gather to break our fast and enjoy both the Resurrection and that first sip of beer or that first bite of chocolate, we will also celebrate that our family has grown. Across the Church catholic, we are going to gain thousands of new sisters and brothers in Christ. At Easter, as we celebrate Christ’s Passover from death to life, our newest kindred will pass through the waters, dying and rising with the Living Christ.

At this feast, we’ll welcome in a lot of infants and children, and Christ’s Church will grow. Some will be people who grew up outside the faith and who are responding for the first time to the Gospel of our Lord. Such a joyous occasion. There will be people transferring from one congregation to another, renewing their baptismal vows as they live anew into who God has called us to be. After gathering around the Font, the Church will move on to the sacramental banquet, the great meal of thanksgiving as we celebrate that the Almighty has redeemed the sinner and rescued us from the power of sin, the devil, and Death. And what a tremendous time it is to rejoice with these newest sisters and brothers as we gather with them for the first time around the Heavenly Feast.

But then there will be the people it’s harder to welcome – those who put the whole notion of grace and forgiveness to the test Continue reading “The Prodigal Son”

Who Am I To Judge?

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Advent

Text: St. John 8:12-20


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

Early in his tenure as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis was asked about gay priests serving in the Catholic Church, and his answer set the tone for his first few years as pontiff. He asked,

Who am I to judge?

The response, marking slight but highly visible departure from the answers of his predecessors, was widely reported and oft-quoted. Nearly six years later, this single off-the-cuff remark continues to shape they way many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, understand the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio.

In-character as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” Stephen Colbert responded with his trademark satirical shock: Continue reading “Who Am I To Judge?”

The Tower of Siloam, a Fig Tree, and the Problem of Pain

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-9; St. Luke 13:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who tends to us as a loving gardener, that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance. Amen.

tower of siloam
The Tower of Siloam, 18th c. Dutch engraving

A few weeks ago, storms ravaged several towns in Alabama and though that same system passed through Macon, our members escaped unharmed. Is it because we are somehow more highly favored than our neighbors across the state line?

Today, we gather to worship without fear of violence – a small comfort that, after repeated attacks in Egypt, the Coptic Christian community lacks, and after years of war and racist attacks, and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in New Zealand, many Muslims are reminded that they lack. Is it because God loves us more?

As we speak, large portions of the Midwest are covered by surging flood waters. It has claimed human lives and devastated entire farming communities. And yet our weather here in Macon has been impeccable. Is it because we are blessed while those in Nebraska are cursed?

We could spend years upon years listing all of the ways in which this world is simply not fair, the resources unevenly allotted to one nation rather than others, the tragedies that have befallen one community but not the next, the violence that plagues one region while others live in peace, and still, after those innumerable decades, we would have barely scratched the surface of life’s injustices. Continue reading “The Tower of Siloam, a Fig Tree, and the Problem of Pain”

The Sabbath Sets Us Free

A Homily for the Second Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. John 5:1-18


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

What comes to your mind when I say “blue laws?” Usually, banning the sale of alcohol on Sunday, right? Maybe laws about hunting and car sales, but most of us think about those laws that kept the beer aisle in Georgia grocery stores dark on Sunday until about eight years ago (depending on which county you lived in).

These laws date back to a time when Sabbath observance was serious business – in this country, most famously in Puritan New England. Shops were closed and work was strictly prohibited. More than working, though, New England’s blue laws targeted anything that would distract from the Lord’s Day – even punishing public displays of affection. Continue reading “The Sabbath Sets Us Free”

So Shall Your Descendants Be

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who conforms us to his glory. Amen.

What made Abram so special?

This wandering Aramean frequently gets a one-on-one audience with the Almighty. Why?

Three chapters before today’s lection, the Lord calls to Abram, telling him to take his nephew and his wife and move across the barren desert to Canaan. God pledges, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great….”

Shortly thereafter, Abram – having left Canaan for Egypt to avoid a famine and fearful for his own life – gives his wife Sarai to Pharaoh. Abram didn’t even make it a full chapter before he decided to sell someone out to save his own skin; he’s not exactly a stand-up guy. Nevertheless, Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, delivers God’s blessing to Abram. Today, as we read, the Lord again appears to Abram and promises that Abram and Sarai, who are aging rapidly, childless, and anxious about their legacy, will produce a family that outnumbers the stars in the heavens.

abrahmic covenant

This blessing reassured, Abram and Sarai settle down, trust in the Lord, and live happily ever after.

Continue reading “So Shall Your Descendants Be”

Born Again

A Homily for the first Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. John 2:23-3:15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to be born of water and the Spirit. Amen.

What does Jesus mean by “born again”?

In common usage, this phrase ranks up there with (and is often seen as synonymous with) “evangelical” as a term to distinguish between types of Christians. “Well, you have your Catholics, your mainline, and your ‘born-again evangelicals.’”

Here in the South, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask, “Have you been born-again?” or “Tell me about when you were born-again.” I would wager that most everyone here has been asked this question – as surely as you’ve been asked which SEC team you root for. Continue reading “Born Again”

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

jacob blessing josephs children
“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

Ashes to Ashes

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Text: St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to repentance and new life in himself. Amen.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.”

We read these words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel every year before we begin our Lenten fast.

Minutes later, we kneel down and receive an ashen cross prominently on our foreheads – an obvious and outward sign that we went to church like good little Christians. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes”

“It Is Good for Us to Be Here”

A Homily for the Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Exodus 34:29-35; St. Luke 9:28-36


transfig

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Transfigured Son, the Chosen One. Amen.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Have you ever seen so something so beautiful that it overpowered you and fascinated you to the point that you couldn’t pull yourself away? Maybe you were standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, watching the dawn break over the ocean, seeing the Rocky Mountains glow in the lays rays of the setting sun.

Or perhaps something very ordinary appeared more vibrant than ever before – a spring flower covered by a March snow, every last flake reflecting the sun’s brilliance. Maybe a flash of lightning illuminated your lawn in some new way. Or even more simply, it could have been the smile on your friends’ newborn child or looking up on a cloudless day to take sudden notice of just how blue the sky really is.

This is the sublime – a display so beautiful that it overpowers us, gives us a sense of just how big and intricate the cosmos really are, and holds us in place, demanding our attention. It’s so powerful want to fall on your knees, with our face on the ground, in sheer awe – and yet so transfixing you can’t take your eyes off the scene.

In these moments, you want to stay as long as you can, to let this moment overwhelm your senses, to take in every last ray of light, to remember every faint fragrance, to feel the gentle breeze, so that you can remember it all and escape back to that moment in the future. Continue reading ““It Is Good for Us to Be Here””

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”