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”

Come to the Wedding Feast

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. John 2:1-11


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

As I leave my late twenties and enter my early thirties, I seem to be in that age where most of my peers are getting married. In the past three years, weddings have become the most regular feature of my social life. My sister and both my brothers-in-law have gotten married, as have some of my closest friends. As a pastor, I’ve only had the honor of officiating at one, but what a great wedding it was when nearly a year ago, we gathered here in this space to celebrate with Charlie and Judith as they joined together in holy matrimony.

And yes, weddings are great because they are a celebration of romance, a worship service in which the Church proclaims the value of romantic love and human families – even when that family is as simple as two people giving themselves to each other.

But of course, there’s more to them than that: part of what makes weddings so much fun is the after-party, the reception. There’s often music and dancing – I have no rhythm, but I will dance wildly, even until I have blisters on my heels. It’s a chance to dress up to the nines: suit and tie, or even a tuxedo, a nice dress or a full-length formal gown.

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Your humble author, new bride, friends, and family dancing the night away in July 2013

Continue reading “Come to the Wedding Feast”

“Receive What You Are”

A Homily for the Fourteenth 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 Living Bread of Heaven. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves in relatively safe territory. Jesus miraculously multiplied a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish to feed over five thousand people, a sign of God’s abiding provision. It’s a familiar story, even if it pushes us to trust in God in a way that not even the disciples Philip and Andrew could.

But as we quickly learned, that was just the prelude, and Saint John’s discourse on bread quickly took a turn towards the obscure. Soon and very soon, Jesus and the Jewish leaders were debating the finer points of Moses, mana, and the Exodus, what it means for bread to come from heaven and give eternal life, and our Lord boldly proclaimed, “I AM the Bread of Life.” And if that wasn’t difficult enough to understand, he then pushed it further, inviting us to feast on his flesh and to drink his blood. Predictably, the Jewish people – for whom cannibalism and consuming blood are decidedly not kosher – were disgusted by this invitation. (And they were not alone: the Romans, too, would later accuse the early Church of practicing cannibalism.)

This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it? Continue reading ““Receive What You Are””

Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6: 35, 41-51


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us the Bread of Heaven, his flesh. Amen.

I have to admit it: I’m disappointed. The facts of history are not nearly as interesting as the legends.

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Zwingli

During the early days of the Reformation, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss theologian, were at odds with each other over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Those of you who studied the Catechism as part of your Confirmation will well remember what Luther wrote: the Sacrament is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Zwingli, by comparison, said that the bread and wine merely represent the Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, that Holy Communion is nothing more than a memorial.

To unite the disparate factions in the face of imperial pressure, Prince Phillip of Hesse brought the two feuding theologians together to the city of Marburg for a conference to hash out their differences. Continue reading “Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ”

The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Eleventh 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.

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Loaves and Fish, Church of the Multiplication

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! Continue reading “The Bread of Life”

“What are they among so many people?”

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:1-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who abundantly provides for our every need. Amen.

Last week, the lectionary did something a little weird: it skipped over the main event. Remember, if you will, the disciples came back from their big trip and the crowds swarmed around them; so many people flooded the area that the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.” To get away from the people, Jesus and the disciples sailed to a secluded place, and the crowds followed them. Even though the throngs put a damper on the whole “quiet spiritual retreat,” Saint Mark said Jesus had mercy on the crowd because “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” and then…nothing happened. The text skipped forward something like twenty verses and the disciples were back in a boat! It left us with a big unanswered question: what happened?!?! What did it look like for Jesus to shepherd the flock, to “have compassion on” the crowd?

Today, Saint John chimes in sort of like Paul Harvey: “And now…the rest of the story.” Continue reading ““What are they among so many people?””

From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Eighth 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.

To my mind, one of the most satisfying feelings in the world is re-visiting a story and making new connections. I’m sure many of you have a favorite book or movie: one to which you return frequently and are always surprised to find some new detailed contained within suddenly grab your attention.

A good tv show or movie is 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 truly great movie or book is worth revisiting 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. Continue reading “From the Beginning, with the End in Mind”

Francis On Corpus Christi: “Live Eucharistically”

This past Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, not commonly observed outside the Roman Rite (owing to debates on how to understand “real presence” in the Sacrament), but one on which Pope Francis offers profound this profound reflection on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist:

As he did with his disciples, so too today Jesus asks us, today, to prepare. Like the disciples, let us ask him: “Lord, where do you want us to go to prepare?” Where: Jesus does not prefer exclusive, selective places. He looks for places untouched by love, untouched by hope. Those uncomfortable places are where he wants to go and he asks us to prepare his way. How many persons lack dignified housing or food to eat! All of us know people who are lonely, troubled and in need: they are abandoned tabernacles. We, who receive from Jesus our own room and board, are here to prepare a place and a meal for these, our brothers and sisters in need. Jesus became bread broken for our sake; in turn, he asks us to give ourselves to others, to live no longer for ourselves but for one another. In this way, we live “eucharistically”, pouring out upon the world the love we draw from the Lord’s flesh. The Eucharist is translated into life when we pass beyond ourselves to those all around us.

Read the full homily and some background on this year’s procession at Whispers in the Loggia.

Update: For more on the Feast of Corpus Christi and the practice of Eucharistic Adoration in the Lutheran Rite, consult Fr. Frank Senn’s writings here and here. And a special thanks to the Rev. Robb Harrell for reminding me of Fr. Senn’s work on the matter.