The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry

As the Synod on the Amazon came to an end, two big developments have dominated much of the news coverage (admittedly at the expense of other pressing matters both ecological and liturgical). The first has been passed out of the synod in their official write-up: the ordination of married men to the priesthood. The second was discussed but did not come to pass: it was expected the synod might recommend the ordination of women to the diaconate. (An important addendum: reports have circulated that an expanded version of the commission tasked with considering women’s ordination will re-convene following the synod.) Continue reading “The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry”

Tradition! Tradition!

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 13:10-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who interrupts our world to show us the Kingdom. Amen.

To quote Fiddler on the Roof, “How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!” (Tradition! Tradition!) “Traditions for everything: How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes.”

The musical gets it right. How far may I travel on the Sabbath? There’s a Tradition for that. How shall I pray? There’s a tradition for that. What does this text mean? There’s a tradition for that.

It’s difficult to overstate the centrality of tradition in Judaism. After a fifty-year exile and centuries under successive occupying empires, tradition played the same role it does today: preserving identity.

What does it mean to keep the Torah in Persia? Continue reading “Tradition! Tradition!”

Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; St. Luke 12:32-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one we are waiting for. Amen.

Before Father Abraham had many sons, before he was Abraham, when Sarah was known as Sarai, the Lord came to this wandering family and made a promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

And at the time, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to say. Both Abram and Sarai were advanced in age, past their child-bearing years. More than that, they were homeless nomads; who were they that the Lord should take account of them?

As time passed, the divine promise was long-delayed, enough so that Abram and Sarai had reason to doubt. More than that, Abram’s many shortcomings became readily apparent. The family ended up in Egypt, where the Pharaoh took notice of Sarai. Fearing for his own life, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister; for his own safety, he sent her to live in Pharaoh’s palace as a royal spouse. (Oddly, this part of their story didn’t make it into that old VBS song or the Sunday school felt board, and I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Veggie Tales.) Continue reading “Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able”

Migrants in Sodom

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; St. Luke 11:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who teaches us to pray boldly. Amen.

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“The Men of Sodom,” 18th c. Dutch

Many of us may recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s one of those Bible stories that, were it adapted for film, would likely be rated R for its mature subject matter. We read the set-up today, in which the Lord has taken notice of those two cities for their wickedness, remarking “How grave is their sin!” The Almighty determines to send an angelic away team to investigate and take divine action. Meanwhile, Abraham pleads with the Lord, asking that They spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there – even if it’s only fifty people.

Or forty-five.

Forty.

Thirty.

Twenty.

Ten.

If only ten righteous people may be found, would God Almighty set aside Their anger?

Continue reading “Migrants in Sodom”

The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

Continue reading “The Athanasian Creed”

Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 16:9-15


 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sent us faithful witnesses to proclaim the Gospel. Amen.

Question: How many of you attended a church with a woman serving as pastor before you were 18? Show of hands.

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If you grew up in the old LCA or ALC, you wouldn’t have seen a female pastors until after 1970. Even in the theologically diverse realm of “General Protestant” military chapels during the 1990s and early 2000s, while I met the occasional female chaplain, they were far and few between. It wasn’t until I got to college that I joined a ministry with women serving as fully ordained pastors. In fact, when I started seminary in 2010, even though some predecessors of the United Methodist Church began ordaining women in the late 19th century, my class was the first at Candler to be majority-women.

And if we look around the world, we see that women in ministry are the exception, not the rule. Given that half of the world’s Christians are Catholics and that a wide variety of Protestant denominations actively bar women from ordained ministry, the reality is that the majority of Christians have never heard a woman preach in the pulpit.

In other circles of the Church, women are not only kept out of the pulpit but kept off of congregational councils and committees, prohibited from teaching men in Sunday school, confined to “women’s ministries” like wedding planning, and relegated to a “second-class” status. Continue reading “Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us”

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”

Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


In the previous post, we examined Alisa Childers’ claim that progressive Christians ignore Scripture and instead focus on their own preferences to create an ethical framework. We examined the role of Scripture, reason, experience, and Church Tradition in shaping a distinctly Christian ethic. We further considered the distinction between a holistic approach to Christian behavior — that is, a concern for the impoverished, the oppressed, and the marginalized — over and against a narrow focus on what my colleague termed “pelvic issues,” or matters pertaining to human sexuality.

Let us turn now to the elephant in the room. Continue reading “Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality”

Come So Far, So Far To Go

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The Risen Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene

It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.

Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of  our Conference of Bishops.

As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism. Continue reading “Come So Far, So Far To Go”

You Are Not God’s Only Hands

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila

Texts: Romans 8:22-27; St. John 14:1-7


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Great Love. Amen.

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The Transverberation of Saint Teresa, 17th c.

There’s no avoiding this topic, so let’s address it head on, shall we? We all probably know Saint Teresa best for the very intimate description of her ecstatic visions. These charismatic experiences are often understood as having at least some erotic subtext as Teresa wrote about the penetrating love of God. In her own words, Teresa discussed the connection between soul and body, the physical sensation of religious experience, the moan-inducing rapture of divine visions. Her writing is put on stunning and beautiful display in Bernini’s famous statue, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture that more closely resembles two lovers than an angel and a prophet. This perspective is so vital to the Church, to a body with such a long, painful, and complicated history with human sexuality and so often confused about the relationship between spirit and flesh. Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, her colleague who incorporated much of her imagery, offer profound sources for feminist and queer prophets to proclaim a Gospel that is at peace with human sexuality. But there are better and more capable voices than mine to expound on the value of both men and women claiming such intimacy with God. Continue reading “You Are Not God’s Only Hands”