Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

One Lord, One Faith, One Body

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; St. Luke 4:14-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into his Body. Amen.

The church in ancient Corinth, the recipient of today’s letter from Saint Paul, was situated in a context not so very different from the Church today in Macon. Corinth was a city divided. The population split along social and economic lines, along religious lines, along ethnic lines. These divisions seeped into the church, where those who had converted from the polytheistic religions of the day clashed with those who had been raised in the Jewish community. These early Christians argued about who was baptized by whom.  They debated whether one could eat meat butchered in pagan temples. They even argued about proper hair length. The rich valued themselves above the poor, so much so that the wealthy, who didn’t have to labor long hours and who would pay for the food and wine used in the Eucharist, would gather before the working class could depart their places of employment, feasting on the bread of life getting drunk on the blood of Christ while leaving only scraps for their poorer siblings. Continue reading “One Lord, One Faith, One Body”

Pass Through the Water

A Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


baptismal-font-ettal
John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Beloved, with whom the Father is well-pleased. Amen.

In his baptism, Christ’s divine identity is unambiguously revealed in glory.

What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.

This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.

He’s not a creature like us, nor adopted by God as the Caesars claim to be. No, Christ is the eternally begotten Son, who existed before all things. Continue reading “Pass Through the Water”

The Sign of the Cross

Question: Why do we make the sign of the cross?

signofthecross
Christ the King Cathedral, Reykjavik, Iceland

The sign of the cross serves as something of a liturgical barometer. Want to know where a parish falls on the scale between “low” and “high” liturgy? Look for how many people make the sign of the cross and how often. On the one side, there are congregations that shy away from the sign of the cross for fear that it’s “too Catholic.” On the other side, there are parishes in which people seem to cross themselves at every turn.

In either case, though, one has to wonder: do the people actually know what it means? If Baptists understood the full implication of the sign of the cross, would they adopt the practice? Have liturgical Christians let the sign of the cross become a mere reflex?

What is this weird hand gesture? How old is this tradition? And what does it all mean?

Short Answer: Tracing the sign of the cross is an ancient physical reminder of our connection to Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Holy Trinity, and God’s blessing.

Continue reading “The Sign of the Cross”

One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith

Question: Ok, so the pastor is throwing water at us. Does that mean we are being re-baptized?

An ordained pastor says a prayer over the water at the Font and then sprinkles people with water? To an outside observer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism might look a lot like the asperges. So is the pastor re-baptizing the congregation?

Short Answer: By no means! Baptism follows a very particular formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”). The grace poured out in that Sacrament is sufficient for a lifetime, and the Church has long held that Baptism is not something that need be repeated — nor can it be repeated. Continue reading “One Baptism: Re-Baptism, the Christian Faith”

Faithful and Fruitful

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: 1 John 4:7-21; St. John 15:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the True Vine. Amen.

The college students were getting ready to deploy to, as their trip leader called it, “the devil’s home turf,” a place of “24/7 spiritual warfare” – that’s right: Daytona Beach. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: to evangelize the heathens of Bike Week and Spring Break, bringing them to a point of decision and “accepting into their heart” Jesus Christ as their “personal savior.” The instructions were clear: start with innocuous questions like, “Who’s the greatest person you know?” or “What’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to you?” If the answer is anything other than “Jesus Christ” or “Getting saved,” it’s time to kick the conversation into high evangelistic gear and lead that person down the so-called Romans Road. Continue reading “Faithful and Fruitful”

Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed

Question: Why is the Pastor throwing water at us at the beginning of the service?

Starting at the Easter Vigil, we have taken up a rite called asperges, in which the pastor and other ministers fling water from the Font into the Assembly. What’s going on here?

The Short Answer: As a way to tangibly remember our Baptism during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Continue reading “Remember Your Baptism: Why We’re Getting Splashed”

Born Again: Belief and Incarnation

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ephesians 2:1-10; St. John 3:14-21


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called us to be born again. Amen.

John 3:16 — this is sort of THE Bible passage for our culture, isn’t it?

How many of you were expected to memorize this at some point growing up? I know I was — it was almost a rite of passage in youth group. And how many of you still have it memorized? In that way, it’s sort of up there with the Ten Commandments.

How many of you have received a tract or a pamphlet with this verse in it? Or seen it on a bumper sticker? On a billboard? A t-shirt? On a sign at a sporting event?

It’s everywhere, isn’t it?  Continue reading “Born Again: Belief and Incarnation”

Jesus Came to…Confront the Powers and Principalities

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. Mark 6:13-29


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to confront the powers and principalities of this world. Amen.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Christ engaged in a struggle with spiritual forces: driving out demons and forgiving sins. Even at the start of tonight’s reading, Jesus and the disciples are performing exorcisms and miraculously healing physical ailments. But then it takes a turn into the political realm.

The political climate in ancient Judea was complicated to say the least. Governed by King Herod the Great and ruled, ultimately, by Rome, the Jewish people had seen their century of relative freedom under the Maccabees fall away. The palace intrigues of the Roman world are famous, retold in Shakespearean tragedies and modern television dramas, but the political scandals of Jerusalem are just as captivating. Herod was nothing short of a monster: he murdered rivals, priests, and even his own wife and children. He utilized a secret police force to suppress opposition. He curried favor with the Roman oppressors to secure his own authority. Continue reading “Jesus Came to…Confront the Powers and Principalities”

Law and the Gracious Covenant

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Text: Exodus 20:1-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who graciously fulfills the Law. Amen.

We call them the Ten Commandments – the ten rules God gave Moses on Mount Sinai after the Exodus. In so many ways, they are close to the heart of the Christian faith. While Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments – love God, love your neighbor – and a new commandment – love one another – it is the Ten Commandments, also called the Decalogue, that became part of the Church’s Catechism.

Show of hands: who memorized the Ten Commandments at some point as a child? And those of you who grew up in the Lutheran faith: how many of you had to memorize Luther’s explanations for each commandment in the Small Catechism as part of confirmation? Continue reading “Law and the Gracious Covenant”