Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Righteous Judge. Amen.
Growing up, I loved seeing the rather gruesome carvings that decorate the facades of many large European churches. Weird little kid that I was, one of my favorite themes was the Final Judgment: Christ sits enthroned, orb and scepter in hand, looking out at all who dare to come to the cathedral, as angels escort the Faithful into paradise and (here’s the part I really liked), the condemned are taken to places of torment, skeletons with pitchforks prod cauldrons full of sinners, and all manner of infernal punishments play out in stone. The sculptures are nothing if not vividly haunting.
These carvings capture a key turn in this evening’s readings:
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Power and Wisdom of God. Amen.
“The cross is foolishness,” says Saint Paul. Or perhaps we should translate the Greek a little more closely and let the full, insulting weight sink in: the phrase is literally μωρὸν (moron). The cross is moronic. It’s a jarring phrase.
More jarring? The Roman reaction to crucifixion. One ancient piece of graffiti found in Rome mocks Christians for their mornic deity: A man stands at the foot of a cross as a donkey-headed person is crucified. The image is accompanied with the words “Alexamenos worships his god.”
It’s difficult for us to conceive of such an insulting view of the crucifixion because, for centuries, the cross has been glorified in paintings, turned into jewelry crafted out of precious metal, and decorated buildings across the world. And the images we do have often clean up the scene, presenting an idealized vision of Jesus. (So often, the expression on Christ’s face is calmer and less panicked than the grimace I make when my annual flu shot.)
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 horse racing, hunting, and car sales (and, according to one unconfirmed urban legend, sodas, which through a bizarre bit of marketing and legal loop holes, birthed the ice cream Sundae) but most of us think about those laws that kept the beer aisle in Georgia grocery stores dark on Sunday until about a decade 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. (This even became a plot point in the novel Johnny Tremain.) The Massachusetts Bay colony enshrined in law:
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the everlasting covenant. Amen.
Do you remember the song “Father Abraham”? It was a mainstay of both Sunday school and VBS for decades – and though the language is a bit dated, it goes something like this:
Father Abraham Had many sons Many sons had father Abraham I am one of them And so are you So let’s just praise the Lord.
It’s a song about the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abram that we read today:
As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
The “many sons” (though it might better be understood as “many descendants” or, to fit the cadence of the song, “many heirs”) are the multitude of nations, including the family lines of Moses, Joshua, David, and through David, our Lord Jesus Christ.
But the song, short as it is, leaves out a lot of the story, so here are a few extra verses:
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who by his death gives us rebirth. Amen.
If you spend much time in the South, you will inevitably be asked, “Have you been born again?” For some of our kindred in the Church, this is the single most important question to ask someone, and they have their own ready answer; they can point to a specific event on a specific day when they were born again – even if they grew up in the Church, even if there was never a time they didn’t believe. It’s a not-uncommon talking point, often accompanied by some form of testimony ready to be shared at a moment’s notice, be it with a close friend or a new acquaintance, at church, at a dinner party, or on a random street corner. It’s a staple of contemporary Christian culture to the point that it has become a sort of short-hand of a large chunk of Protestants: “born-again Christians.”.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Obedient One. Amen.
Driven into the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River, our Lord Christ was tempted by Satan. We read this story every year, and it has undoubtedly become familiar, but take a moment to let the weight of it fully sink in. Compare it to the images of Christ we normally see in art – standing upright, placid, above it all, suspiciously clean for someone living in an without running water in the home. The world around him may be in chaos – people with unclean spirits, suffering from various ailments, hungry, thirsty, or on a boat tossed about by the sea – and yet the Son of God remains calm and composed.
But today, we go from the manifestation of his glory at the Jordan to, just a couple of verses later, alone and isolated, confronting Satan and facing down temptation. It stands as a stark reminder that yes, he is the Son of God, the Beloved, but he is also human – all too human. The source of our strength knew frailty. The one who unites us in community knew isolation. The one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets knew the tempting pull of sin.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Transfigured Lord, the Beloved. Amen.
Today is the feast of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Lent.
Ooooooooor is it?
Bear with me for just a moment as I let my liturgical nerd out. Lent begins on Wednesday, forty(ish) days before Easter. It’s been that way for centuries, in the Roman Catholic Church, and later in the Lutheran tradition and the Anglican Communion.
But the Transfiguration isn’t nearly so universal – sure, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans all celebrate the feast, but it doesn’t enjoy the same steady and agreed-upon date in the kalendar. If you ask a Catholic or an Episcopalian when the Transfiguration is celebrated, they’ll point you to a day (not always a Sunday) in early August, and if you grew up using the old red Lutheran hymnal of the 1950s (or, going back even further, the old black hymnal from 1918), there’s a decent chance you might not even remember celebrating the Transfiguration – because we used to observe it in August as well, if a congregation paid any attention to it at all. (Oh how often we skip over feasts that don’t fall on a Sunday! But that’s a lament for a different time, perhaps for after we get Sundays themselves back to normal.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sets us free. Amen
Over the past several weeks, as we’ve read from Gospel According to Saint Mark about the early days of Christ’s ministry, the lectionary has also been working its way through key passages of Saint Paul’s first epistle to the Church in Corinth. Throughout, Paul has addressed a key message of the Christian faith: that through Christ, we are set free. Continue reading ““Am I Not Free?””→
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to proclaim his authority. Amen.
A prophet like Moses. It’s quite a promise for the people so recently rescued from slavery and following the law-giver through the wilderness.
Here he is: their great liberator who has worked mighty deeds in the name of the Lord. How excited the people must have been to hear that there would be more prophets like Moses. And today, we know their names: starting with Joshua, followed by the likes of Deborah, Hannah and her son Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, to name but a few.
These people were not mere fortune tellers, as we think of prophets in modern days, but rather these are the ones who give voice to God’s divine message of redemption and liberation. What a relief it must have been to hear that God will continue to speak to the people.
But this promise is not entirely good news. It comes with a warning: false prophets will arise and attribute to God that which the Lord has not said. These lying prophets are both a curse and accursed, speaking deception and oppressing the people. These liars will “presume to speak for the Lord” while serving only their own interests.
How do we know who’s who? When a prophet proclaims, “Thus says the Lord,” how do we know they are speaking truly? How do we discern the good from the bad?
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us into ministry and sends us out into the world. Amen.
Something kind of weird happened last week on the internet – yes, weird even by internet standards. For a few days, everyone was very into sea shanties, those nineteenth century rhythmic work songs sung by sailors. They’re designed to be sung in a group, with a sort of call-and-response style between verse and chorus; with the advent of smartphone-based recording and editing apps, people across the world were able to easily sing together even in the midst of a pandemic, singing songs about friendship (“Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate”), the connection between crew and ship (“Leave Her, Johnny”), and the urge to go home (“Row, Me Bully Boys”).
The sudden interest in sea shanties came about when people started sending around videos of the song “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, and the best version is a nurse riding in the car as his brother blasts the shanty over the stereo, singing along. The song plays a few times as the video goes, and with each pass, the man goes from casting side-eyed, annoyed glances at his sibling to digging the song to singing along to adding his own harmonies. (Watch the original TikTok video here.)
And yeah, it’s a pretty great song. (It’s been stuck in my head for about a week now.) It tells of an epic struggle of a whaling ship, the Billy of Tea, off the coast of New Zealand as they harpoon a right whale, intending to tow it back to land – but the whale has different plans, pulling the ship and several smaller boats along: