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”

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”

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”