I Am the Bread of Life – A Difficult Teaching

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:56-69


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.

A man, let’s call him Rob, walks into his pastor’s office one day. “Pr. Linda, I’ve got a question. Every Sunday, you say that bread has become the Body of Christ, but how…”

Pr. Linda excitedly cut him off. “Rob, that’s a great question – one Christians have been debating for almost our entire history.” Pr. Linda, being something of a scholar, gives Rob the whirlwind tour of Eucharistic theology throughout church history.

It’s a great tour; she hits all the high points – Ambrose and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Zwingli and the Marburg Colloquy, Calvin. She makes sure to start with Aristotelian metaphysics before delving in to the Synoptic Gospels and I Corinthians and checking in on the relevant liturgical texts from the Didache, Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the Apostolic Tradition of Pseudo-Hippolytus, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Anaphora of Addai and Mari all the way through to the Roman Missal promulgated after Vatican II, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and of course Evangelical Lutheran Worship. She quotes extensively from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and both the Small and Large Catechism. She even mentions Berengar of Tours and Paschasius Radbertus! When was the last time you heard a pastor cite to Berengar and Paschaisus?

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Eat My Flesh

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:51-58


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.

Let’s pretend, just for a few seconds, that while we might be familiar with some or most of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we’ve never read any of the Gospels or the Epistles. We’ve gone to worship at the Temple, where we’ve sacrificed animals and consumed their flesh, but we’ve never celebrated Holy Communion with bread and wine.

And so it is that we arrive, with a few thousand of our closest friends, around a wandering Nazarene preacher who miraculously feeds the entire crowd with only a few loaves and fish. Just like Moses! And Elijah! And Elisha! Surely God is at work!

And then he starts to speak: Whoever comes to me will never go hungry! Will never go thirsty!

For people familiar with hunger – whether in first century Judaea or twenty-first century Macon – that is quite a promise! No wonder people flocked to Jesus! Not only did he promise that his followers would never go hungry, he also demonstrated his ability to keep that promise!

No wonder the crowd responded, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

But then comes the twist. It’s the twist we see coming because we’re reading this after Maundy Thursday, after the Church took this teaching to heart, after we made this teaching “the source and summit” of our weekly worship. But to the crowd that day? Oh, to the crowd that day, this twist is among the most shocking things they’ll ever hear:

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The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; St. John 6:34-35


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.

When last we saw Jesus, he was taking a leisurely stroll across the waves after feeding the five thousand. According to Saint John’s account, Jesus had taken the disciples to a remote location, but the crowds followed them, as they are wont to do. With a sly look, Jesus asked the disciples where they could find food to feed five thousand people; Philip pragmatically pointed out that six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed so many people, and Saint Andrew found a kid with five loaves and some fish – before quickly reminding our Lord that such a small meal was nothing compared to the size of the crowd. Of course that didn’t stop Jesus: he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it out to eat. And not only did it feed the entire multitude but they had twelve massive baskets of large chunks left over. As Jesus retreated further away from the now-sated crowds and his disciples sailed back across the lake (with Jesus miraculously following on foot), the multitudes were left with a burning question. They gave chase, and this is where we pick up today: the people have once again pressed in around our Lord and the disciples, and the people want to know what all this means!

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From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Mark 6:14-29


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who claims those whom the world has rejected. Amen.

A mediocre tv show or movie might be worth watching once. We all know what a “beach read” is – a bargain book that you take with you on vacation. It might be worth reading once while listening to the waves and trying to keep an eye on the dog or the kids.

But a really good movie or book is worth re-visiting, and a great work is worth returning to time and time again. Each time through, some new detail emerges, a new theme grabs your attention. The second, third, tenth time through, you’re still catching subtle foreshadowing, shades of irony, jokes that are set up three episodes before the payoff, plot lines discretely seeded in the first pages that culminate in the final chapters. Notes that start subtly but soon dominate the score, meaningful echoes that play out at different levels.

I spent this past week re-reading a book by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times (five?) and with each revisit, new details stick out to me, ways that he sets up themes in the first pages that dominate the rest of the novel. The ways he plays around with genre. The minor turns of phrase in this work that, with a wink and a nod, pop up in what he called his “fictional autobiography” a decade later.

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Seeds of Mustard and Kudzu

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; St. Mark 4:26-34


Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.

The Kingdom of God, our Lord says, is like a mustard seed. It’s small, insignificant, easy to miss. But plant it in the ground and it will grow and grow and grow until it becomes the mightiest…

…shrub.

Well, that’s different. Uh, Jesus, why not go with the cedars of Lebanon? That’s what Ezekiel did. Those cedars – there’s a mighty plant! Their timbers supplied the navies of the ancient world, the railroads of the Ottoman Empire, and the timbers for the very Temple itself in Jerusalem. The mighty and majestic cedars of Lebanon! Any bird would be lucky to build a nest in their branches!

But our Lord Christ goes for the mighty mustard shrub.

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Where are you?

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Genesis 3:8-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who searches for us even in our sin. Amen.

Put yourself in Eden, just for a moment. Imagine being our first parents in the Garden.

Up until just a few moments ago, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. All of creation was perfect, just as it was meant to be. The cosmos were very good.

Then the serpent came along and made some empty promises. It started out with a bite – it was only a bite! – how did it end up like this? Perfection is starting to unravel. You and your spouse had literally been made for each other – book ends of creation, crafted from soil and bone in the likeness of God. But now suspicion and blame is creeping in. And even though you’ve never covered your body before, you’re suddenly filled with a sense of shame and an urge to get dressed – if only someone would invent clothing!

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Love, Service, and a Meal

A Homily for Maundy Thursday

Texts: I Corinthians 11:23-26; St. John 13:1-17, 31-35


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who loving nourishes us with his Body and Blood. Amen.

Cast your mind back, if you will, to just before the beginning of Lent – roughly two months ago, on Transfiguration Sunday. Simon Peter, James, and John climb the mount with our Lord and behold the revelation of his glory as Jesus stands, radiant, talking with Moses and Elijah. Do you remember Saint Peter’s response?

He wants to stay, to build shelters for Christ, the Law Giver, and the Prophet. “Lord,” he says, “it’s good for us to be here.”

How much more so do you think he felt that during the Last Supper?

After the emotional high of entering the city in triumph, things had taken a turn. Suddenly, Jesus was in direct confrontation with the religious, economic, and political powers. He had turned over the money changers’ tables in the Temple, had debated with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and his teachings have taken a turn for the apocalyptic. If the Romans hadn’t been paying attention to this Nazarene preacher before, then the parade into the city and the scene in the Temple had surely drawn unwanted attention from Roman soldiers.

Maybe Peter and the other disciples felt the tension, or maybe they were too caught up in the excitement. But had he known everything that was about to happen – the tears in Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest, the sham trial, his own denial, the torture, the cross – how much more would he have begged Jesus to stay at the table, tearfully pleading, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.”

Let us stay at this last supper. Let us eat, drink, and be merry. Don’t go unto dark Gethsemane, Lord, because the soldiers are waiting there for you. But here – it’s good for us to be here.

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Hope in the Ruins

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; St. John 12:20-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the covenant even when all hope seems lost. Amen.

Things had looked so promising just a short time ago.

King Josiah was on the throne and Judah was turning again to the Lord as the king and priests worked for justice, piety, and reform. The scroll we now call  Deuteronomy, telling again of God’s Law, had been discovered.  Josiah was a new David – but better!

It seemed as though the people, from the king to the priests down to the humblest of farmers, would finally keep their end of the covenant God had made with Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and David – the covenant that had been broken in every generation. Judah would finally know God.

Maybe – just maybe – Judah would avoid the fate of their northern neighbor, Israel, that had been destroyed by the Assyrians a century before.

Judah had barely survived then, and a century later, Josiah ascended to the seat of his ancestor David, a righteous heir to shepherd the people!

And it lasted – that time of hope and fidelity – for a while.

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Bread of Life

A homily for the fourth week of Lent

Text: St. John 6:27-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.

One year, one week, and two days. That’s how long it has been since we last gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Macon.

Fifty-three some-odd weeks of spiritual hunger.

And this as the economic recession from the pandemic has launched millions of people into poverty, emptied grocery store shelves of the staples, shuttered some food pantries and stretched others to the breaking point.

Over a year of increasing physical hunger.

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God’s Restoring Judgment

A Homily for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Isaiah 25:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who prepares a feast for us. Amen.

It’s been sort of like living out Murphy’s Law this year, hasn’t it? If it can go wrong, it probably has. I won’t belabor the point because I think we’re all pretty much tired of 2020’s parade of horribles at this point, but let’s just consider the natural disasters: a string of tornadoes that destroyed one of our companion churches in Nashville, wild fires running the length of the Pacific coast that have sent smoke across the entire lower 48, a hurricane season so active that we’ve run out of names (and then some), a derecho that leveled buildings and destroyed crops across ten states, all of this in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century.

(Any one of these would make for a far-fetched action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a body-builder-turned-scientist racing against time. All of them at once can only be described with a sigh and a bitter remark about what else 2020 might have in store.)

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