Paradise Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; St. Matthew 4:1-11


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the temptations of this world that we may overcome this world with him. Amen.

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The Fall, depicted on the door of a confessional in Speyer, Germany

“It was very good.”

That’s how Genesis 1 summarizes life in the first days of Creation.

And Genesis 2 paints us this picture (as translated by Robert Alter):

The Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden…and He placed there the human he had fashioned. And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge…. Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden…. And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him.’ And the Lord God fashioned from the soil each beast of the field and each fowl of the heavens and brought each to the human to see what he would call it…but for the human no sustainer beside him was found.

The human is put to sleep for a quick operation in which the Lord takes out one of his ribs and uses it to fashion a woman, a fellow human to be the sustainer beside him. Life in this very good garden had only one rule: Eat from any tree except the three of knowledge of good and evil; if you eat that tree, you will be doomed to die.

It should have been so simple. Continue reading “Paradise Lost”

Lost Sheep

A Homily for the First Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 18:10-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

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For a few years now, I’ve preached the same sermon at the early service on Christmas Eve – one written by my father some twenty-five years ago. It’s the story of Eliezer the Unreliable, a shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem. And does anyone remember what Eliezer says the number one rule of being a shepherd is?

Never, ever, EVER leave the sheep!

Sheep are dumb! They’re prone to wander into a briar patch and get stuck or walk into a river and drown. Predators might try to eat one for dinner. And of course, sheep are valuable, so shepherds have to protect them from bandits as well.

So tonight, when Jesus brings up the image of a good and trustworthy shepherd, he depicts a person who…

…leaves ninety-nine sheep to search out the one. Continue reading “Lost Sheep”

Rend Your Hearts

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


Grace and Peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who accompanies us through the Lenten wilderness. Amen.

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It was well after midnight my sophomore year of college when I stumbled back into my apartment after hours in the library working on an assignment I was nearly certain I would fail. Exhausted, frustrated, and angry, I dropped my books and my pack, grabbed my shirt and simply pulled, sending buttons and thread flying everywhere. Standing in the doorway, a few shreds of fabric in my hand, I could only muster a sigh. I felt a little bit better, but only for a moment. I quickly collapsed into bed for a few fitful hours’ sleep, still in my undershirt, jeans, and shoes. The next morning, I woke up barely rested, and none the closer to finishing my research paper. Were this a movie, rending my clothes in such a dramatic way would have inevitably led to a breakthrough; as it was, I got a brief moment of catharsis before barely eking out a C+ on the project and in the class and quietly dropping the major.

As overly dramatic as that night may have been, the ritual imagery of Ash Wednesday puts it to shame. Continue reading “Rend Your Hearts”

The Ordinary Incarnation

A Homily for the Nativity of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:1-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born this night, the Prince of Peace, laying in a manger. Amen.

On the 6th of May 2019, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was born to Prince Harry and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the exclusive Portland Hospital – birthplace of royalty and celebrity. His birth was heralded by a media spectacle as well as illuminations of the London Eye Ferris wheel, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Niagra Falls, and for £125 (just over $160), shoppers could buy the officially-sanctioned souvenir teddy bear. He was baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. This pomp and circumstance in spite of the fact that his parents have opted to raise him a “private” citizen, foregoing the right to pass on one of his father’s hereditary titles.

What else would we expect for the son of a prince? This is precisely the sort of extraordinary attention we reserve for those lofty few, those who will reside in palaces or mansions.

The story of Jesus’ birth is likewise extraordinary, but in a completely different way. Our Lord was born not in some elite hospital nor a palace but in the ancient equivalent of a garage because the house was full.

His parents were not special, neither royalty nor celebrities, not even religious leaders. His father was a craftsman engaged to a young woman. They were from a small town that was often the butt of the joke – one of Christ’s own disciples would snidely ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These blessed parents were far from home because the emperor in Rome decided to flex his political muscle over the farthest reaches of his realm.

The angels herald Jesus’ birth only to a few shepherds out in the fields, and a few foreign astronomers notice a strange star, but that’s about it. Save for his parents, the shepherds, and those magi (who don’t even show up for a few years – but more about that in two weeks), everything about this night seems so extremely ordinary.

This is the story of the Incarnation, the story of God the Son, the Divine Word, the Eternally-Begotten One through whom all things were made, becoming a human, one of us. It’s a night that changed the world, and yet it was so entirely plain.

There’s something unsettling about a God who comes to us in such humble form – born not to a king or emperor but to a craftsman and his fiancée in a far-flung province of an oppressive empire, a God who, like all newborns, cried and soiled himself and woke his holy parents up in the middle of the night. The one who gave us his Body and Precious Blood was fed of his own mother’s body, was entirely dependent on the Blessed Virgin Mary for his being.

We dress this night up with illuminations, festive greenery, and sacred song, but at its core, its is holy because it is common.

The Jesuit priest and gang intervention advocate Father Greg Boyle once remarked,

I think we’re afraid of the incarnation. And part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated, and cost… millions [with a] cast of thousands….

But this is what tonight is all about: God enters the world, shunning the pomp and circumstance of human royalty, foregoing the gold-plating in favor of fragile human flesh. Living among us, he encounters pain and disease, he weeps at the graveside of a dear friend, knows the true anguish of hunger and thirst, and feels the sting of death. Our Savior is one who has gone through the same trials and tribulations as us.

On this night of nights, we remember and give thanks that our Lord blessed us with his presence not by appearing as some sort of angelic being devoid of flesh and bone nor by dwelling in some palace far removed from the pain of common, everyday life but that he lived among us, greeted by working-class shepherds.

He lived under earthly kings. He talked to, healed, touched, and even ate with the religious elite, the enslaved, the sex worker, the tax collector, the occupying soldier, the divorcee, the pure and unclean alike, washing away human distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female,  slave and free, calling all of people to new and everlasting life.

And it is this ordinary-looking child who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, who shall wield all authority on heaven and earth, who will reign with righteousness and justice.

It is this newborn Child who will break the oppressive yoke of sin and death, who will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who will lift up the lowly and topple tyrants from their thrones. It is this crying infant who will taste death but, in dying, destroy the deathly powers of this world.

By taking on humanity, ordinary, fleshy, common humanity, Christ will pull us ordinary, fleshy humans out of the grave and dress us in ever-living divinity.

And on this holy night, my dear friends, as we remember the God who came as an infant, we celebrate also that he left us this Blessed Sacrament, his Body and Blood, as a gift of grace. But even this we have tried to dress up with silver and gold. Again, Father Greg reminds us:

And so we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’s hand, and we’ve replaced it with a chalice, because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup….Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends, and that’s the incarnation.

Our Lord’s presence continues in our midst through the mystery of his Body and Blood made present in ordinary bread and wine. Here, beloved, the miracle of our Lord’s birth continues: a God who came to us as a normal kid comes to us again as an ordinary meal. Here he is, for us, to forgive and bring us into newness of life, to make us the holy Body of Christ.

Amen.

Our Glorious King

A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; St. Luke 23:33-43


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, our King who hung upon the tree of the cross. Amen.

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Christ the King

This is not what we expect from our king.

We turn to our rulers looking for certain things: elegance, a sense of power, safety, a show of force. We expect them to do mighty works. We want them to be great and to make us great.

How odd it is, then, that as we celebrate the reign of Christ our King, we don’t read about his miracles. Or the Transfiguration. Today, there is no holy dove descending from heaven, no voice of God proclaiming:

This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Gone are the crowds that greeted Christ on the streets of Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of: Continue reading “Our Glorious King”

The Kingdom Yet to Come

A Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. Luke 21:5-19


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the coming King. The whole creation trembles at his approach. Amen.

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Recreated Column of Jupiter in Ladenburg, Germany – The original is one of many traces of Rome’s former reach

There was a time when the Roman Empire covered the entire Mediterranean world and beyond – from Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar to the North African coast down to the Sahara, skirting north of the Arabian desert to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, rebuilding the ruined settlements of the Greek world, north over the Alps to the forests of Germany, and even up through France and across Britain into what is today Scotland. This expanse brought with it a sense of hubris: Romans described theirs even before the reign of Julius Caesar as “an empire without end” and their capital as “the eternal city.”

Even still today, tourists can enjoy pasta carbonara while looking out at the Coliseum, stop for gelato on their way to the ancient forum, or even worship in the temple to all the gods, the Pantheon, which still stands to this day as a Christian church. Aqueducts tower over cities in France. The outer limits of the empire still mark antiquarian borders in northern England and through Germany. Continue reading “The Kingdom Yet to Come”

The End is Nigh, But Then…

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Job 19:23-27a; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the source of our eternal comfort and good hope. Amen.

blake the day of judgment
The Day of Judgment by William Blake

The Church in Thessalonica had a problem. They had the same problem the entire Church has faced across the nations and the ages, even to this place today. They had been promised that Christ would return soon and suddenly. But. But then things started going wrong. But then members of the congregation started to die. But then the rumors started: that something worse was coming. Something cataclysmic. But then the panic flooded in.

You’ve felt it, I know. Your skin crawling. The hair on your neck standing on end. That pit in your stomach. The inevitable sinking feeling.

It’s the sensation of your world about to shatter like glass, the realization that there’s no going back to the way things were.

Now, in defense of the Thessalonians, this is kind of Paul’s fault. Continue reading “The End is Nigh, But Then…”

For All the Saints

A Homily for All Saints’ Day

Texts: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; St. Luke 6:20-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united the saints throughout the ages into the Kingdom of God. Amen.

There’s a musical meme, a centuries-old piece of liturgical hymnody used by composers throughout numerous symphonies and film scores to add an air of foreboding. You’ve heard it, even if you don’t realize it.

It’s popped up in The Shining, Star Wars, and The Lion King. It’s the funeral chant Dies Irae, part of the medieval Requiem Mass for the dead. If you’ve ever heard Mozart’s setting of the Requiem, his take is especially dramatic, full of fury. Continue reading “For All the Saints”

The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry

As the Synod on the Amazon came to an end, two big developments have dominated much of the news coverage (admittedly at the expense of other pressing matters both ecological and liturgical). The first has been passed out of the synod in their official write-up: the ordination of married men to the priesthood. The second was discussed but did not come to pass: it was expected the synod might recommend the ordination of women to the diaconate. (An important addendum: reports have circulated that an expanded version of the commission tasked with considering women’s ordination will re-convene following the synod.) Continue reading “The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Day

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has justified us by grace through faith. Amen.

Most of us know this story by now, either from confirmation or history class…especially after the build-up to the five hundredth anniversary festivities two years ago and the Vespers series* we just finished. But once more with feeling: On October 31st, 1517, a German Augustinian friar, deeply disturbed by the sale of indulgences, posted ninety-five theses, or topics for discussion, on the church door in the university city of Wittenberg to spark an academic debate among his fellow scholars. In doing so, Martin Luther launched the Reformation, and the world was forever changed. Of course, the historical reality is much more nuanced than that, with centuries of developments before and after that fateful day, but the October 31st story makes for convenient short hand. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”