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”

Sons of Thunder

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 53:4-12; St. Mark 10:35-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who allots us a portion with the great. Amen.

“Can you do me a favor?”

That question always gives me pause.

“What do they want? How much time will this require? What am I about to get myself in to?”

In my mind’s eye, I picture someone asking for the keys and title to my car or my ATM PIN or holding up a mask and asking me to help knock over the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

“Can you do me a favor?”

Knowing that I’m being ridiculous and just a bit paranoid, I wonder, “Can I really take that chance?” And so I respond, half-jokingly, “Maybe…”

Invariably the request in mundane. “Grab me a cup of coffee while you’re up?”

Enter the sons of Zebedee.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s where I would pause. Not a favor. No, they’re hinting at something far beyond that.

What does Jesus think? Does he see what’s coming? Does he see the hesitation in their eye, that James is fidgeting nervously and John, though he’s doing all the talking, is avoiding eye contact with the other disciples? Is that why he is so coy in his response? Is that why he asks what they want before agreeing to it? Or does he want to force them to say it aloud themselves? Continue reading “Sons of Thunder”

Great Again

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 3:13-4:8; St. Mark 9:30-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will make us truly great. Amen.

Do you think Jesus ever turned to the disciples, irritated, and yelled, “What did I just tell you?” Or greet their frequent questions with the same exasperated sigh of a parent who has just been asked for the millionth time why her son couldn’t have a pre-dinner snack?

Last week, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ told his disciples the bad news: the Son of Man would be betrayed, beaten, and brutally murdered. Peter…well Peter didn’t handle the news well. And the bad news kept coming: not only was Jesus going to die, but following him meant taking up a cross as well. To be a disciple is to deny your self. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Continue reading “Great Again”

Take Up Your Cross, Peter

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9; St. James 3:1-12; St. Mark 8:27-38


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who bids us take up our cross and follow him. Amen.

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Saint Peter by El Greco

Saint Peter is hot-headed and impulsive, eager to step out in faith but fast to fall short, in equal measure profoundly faithful and unruly. And it kind of makes you wonder, given some the guidelines about teachers that James and Isaiah put forward, would either of them have called Peter as a pastor to their congregation?

The readings from Saint James and the prophet Isaiah give us a short glimpse of just some of the requirements for those called to lead God’s people. Teachers should have the ability to sustain the weary with a word, open ears, remain steadfast. They should tame their mouths, uttering blessings rather than curses. And, James is quick to remind us, those called to leadership as teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.”

Impulsive, quick to speak and faster to act, Peter might be exactly the type of person James had in mind when cautioning that not everyone is called to be teachers. Think back to the first two chapters of Saint James’ epistle. What about showing partiality? Peter – and all of the disciples – tend to be obsessed with where they will sit in the Kingdom, hoping for places of honor. Continue reading “Take Up Your Cross, Peter”

Saint James, Law, and Gospel

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 1:17-27; St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our Perfect Law Giver. Amen.

If we’re being honest, we’ve all known someone like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: quick to chime in with an accusatory question and judging “side-eye.” In contemporary speech, “Pharisee” is synonymous with exactly this type of person, an arrogant and legalistic disciplinarian slavishly devoted to a strict interpretation of the rules quick to render an unrequested verdict.

“Your disciples eat without washing their hands? Bless their hearts.”

“Oh. You let your children watch that movie? Aren’t you worried that it might corrupt their young mind?”

“You listen to that kind of music? I shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ as they say.” Continue reading “Saint James, Law, and Gospel”

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”