Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

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Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures”

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4; Isaiah 11:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, through whom all things were made. Amen.

Saint Francis was born to into a wealthy merchant’s family in the Umbrian region of what is today Italy. In his youth, he was known for lavish spending, but after a very public falling out with his father, Francis renounced his family name and his inheritance for a life of poverty.

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Saint Francis preaches to the Wolf of Gubbio

In 1209, Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor, a group of wandering preachers known for their devotion to poverty and the poor that continues his ministry across the world today. This group of men and women became fools for Christ, living lives of radical reliance on the alms of stranger and deep trust that God would provide. And yeah, at times their actions seemed incredibly foolish. Not only did Francis give up a fortune, he was also known for his preaching – to people, to birds, to a wolf. That’s why we remember him by blessing animals – Francis taught about the interdependence of all creation.

What is it that animates saints like Francis of Assisi? Continue reading ““Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures””

Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye

I’ve long wondered how fundamentalists justify certain stances. I can only conclude that it’s because they take Scripture literally but not seriously.

Consider this past week’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Fundamentalists often use this as a text to support their evidence for the Dante-esque vision of hell as eternal conscious torment in a burning lake. And indeed, that description is in the text as plain as day: a place of unquenchable fire and gnawing worms. In his essay on the matter in Four Views on Hell, SBTS professor Denny Burk points to precisely this passage in Mark 9 as proof of his argument that hell “is an experience of judgment that has no end.” Continue reading “Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye”

“Any Mixture of Error”

I spend a lot of time around self-described fundamentalists — perhaps because I live in the Southeast, in the land of Southern Baptist churches. One of the defining doctrines of the modern SBC (and of fundamentalism in general) is their belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture; this tenant is spelled out in the first article of the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith:

It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. [Emphasis added.]

It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a new position, dating back less than two centuries, and it would not come to dominate the Southern Baptist Convention until a concentrated campaign called a “resurgence” by its champions (men like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson) and a “takeover” by its detractors.

Scripture, according to fundamentalist Baptists, must be absolutely and in all ways true otherwise it is worthless. Continue reading ““Any Mixture of Error””

“Are any among you suffering?”

A Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. James 5:13-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will raise us up as we pray. Amen.

“Are any among you suffering?” Saint James asks.

At the risk of offending the author of my favorite epistle, what an idiotically obvious question.

“Are any among you suffering?”

Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. Continue reading ““Are any among you suffering?””

Great Again

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 3:13-4:8; St. Mark 9:30-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will make us truly great. Amen.

Do you think Jesus ever turned to the disciples, irritated, and yelled, “What did I just tell you?” Or greet their frequent questions with the same exasperated sigh of a parent who has just been asked for the millionth time why her son couldn’t have a pre-dinner snack?

Last week, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ told his disciples the bad news: the Son of Man would be betrayed, beaten, and brutally murdered. Peter…well Peter didn’t handle the news well. And the bad news kept coming: not only was Jesus going to die, but following him meant taking up a cross as well. To be a disciple is to deny your self. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Continue reading “Great Again”

Immoral Majority

Our modern political era can easily be traced back to a single heinous decision: when the newly-resurgent fundamentalist movement within Christianity decided to seek political power through an alliance with the Republican Party.  The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, a historian and Episcopal priest, gave a concise and well-researched presentation on the history of this movement that is well worth viewing.

The Moral Majority has been defined by its rigid defense of one particular sexual ethic. For over forty years now, pastors have taken to the pulpit and warn their flocks about the dangers of  the Gay Agenda™ and women’s rights. In the 1990s, these same leaders decried one Bill Clinton for repeated allegations of sexual harassment and an affair with a White House intern. Bill Clinton’s actions, these pastors said, disqualified him from holding elected office.

In 2016, these very same pastors were presented with a presidential candidate who bragged about committing sexual assault. Donald Trump has reveled in his numerous affairs and he faces at least one law suit for sexual harassment. The Moral Majority has embraced Donald Trump like it has no other president — not George W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan, and certainly not the famously devout Jimmy Carter. Continue reading “Immoral Majority”

Take Up Your Cross, Peter

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9; St. James 3:1-12; St. Mark 8:27-38


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who bids us take up our cross and follow him. Amen.

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Saint Peter by El Greco

Saint Peter is hot-headed and impulsive, eager to step out in faith but fast to fall short, in equal measure profoundly faithful and unruly. And it kind of makes you wonder, given some the guidelines about teachers that James and Isaiah put forward, would either of them have called Peter as a pastor to their congregation?

The readings from Saint James and the prophet Isaiah give us a short glimpse of just some of the requirements for those called to lead God’s people. Teachers should have the ability to sustain the weary with a word, open ears, remain steadfast. They should tame their mouths, uttering blessings rather than curses. And, James is quick to remind us, those called to leadership as teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.”

Impulsive, quick to speak and faster to act, Peter might be exactly the type of person James had in mind when cautioning that not everyone is called to be teachers. Think back to the first two chapters of Saint James’ epistle. What about showing partiality? Peter – and all of the disciples – tend to be obsessed with where they will sit in the Kingdom, hoping for places of honor. Continue reading “Take Up Your Cross, Peter”

“Additional Duties as Required”

Question: What exactly do you do?

Most parishioners see their clergy for two hours once a week. What is it that we do with the rest of our week? What do pastors do when they aren’t in the pulpit? What do deacons do when they’re not setting the Altar?

As one person asked me, “What is ‘work’ for you?”

I’ve gotten this question from a lot of people — but strangely never any members of my own parish. It’s almost as though folks are nervous to ask their own pastors but really, really want to know.

Before we dive in, though, some caveats:

  • Every pastor or deacon will have a different answer based on areas of expertise,  theological perspective, and setting. Someone called to  youth and family ministry will answer differently from a solo pastor who will answer differently from someone on a synod/diocesan staff. An Episcopal priest will have a different answer from a United Methodist elder. A priest serving in downtown Manhattan will divide their time differently from the pastor serving three churches in rural South Dakota.
  • I serve a part-time call. This necessitates that I delegate more work than a full-time pastor or deacon.
  • I’ve been at this for just about a year now. I bet I’ll have a different answer in a year and in five years and in a decade and when I retire. Or at least, I’ll probably have different wording.

So, what is it that I do when I’m not in the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

Continue reading ““Additional Duties as Required””