To Welcome the Stranger

A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody

Dear friends in Christ,

In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a “sanctuary churchbody.” Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.

When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly’s decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.

Continue reading “To Welcome the Stranger”

Hevel Havalim

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:18-23


melancholia
Melancolia – Albrecht Dürer

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who has conquered the grave and has set us free to be the Kingdom of God erupting forth in this violent, deathly world. Amen.

Know that this is not what I intended to say today. I have an entire other sermon that I will post and make available to y’all online. But as we went to bed in the aftermath of one mass shooting and woke up to reports of another, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to address the news today.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Continue reading “Hevel Havalim”

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.

men of sodom
“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”

Christ Against the Legion

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 3:23-29; St. Luke 8:26-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord who came to set the captives free. Amen.

Imagine it: a man forced to live out among the graves. Not some serene field with polished headstones, but a necropolis – a city of the dead – filled with charnel houses in which the deceased rot, are exhumed, and then re-buried. Not a place in which death and decay are buried beneath the surface of a manicured lawn, but where the dead hide just out of sight and the ugly truth of our mortality fills the air. Where tombs are a family affair and, after a person dies and decays, their bones are pushed further back to make room for the next corpse. A person literally goes to join their ancestors in the ever-growing pile of bones. The tombs are not beautiful, well-maintained historic sites. Instead, they are homes of stench and rot, an unclean place. They are not a place to visit or for an evening stroll to admire the handiwork of centuries-old sculptors on a nice spring day. Rather, they are somewhere to be avoided except to fulfill certain familial obligations.

And in to this horrible setting, enter a person. Continue reading “Christ Against the Legion”

“Tend My Sheep”

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 21:1-19


feed my sheep

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Great Shepherd who sends us out to tend to the flock. Amen.

Christ is risen, has sent Mary to proclaim this Good News, appeared to the apostles, and even to Thomas. So – as many pastors have asked – now what? Or, in concretely Lutheran terms, “What does this mean?” Continue reading ““Tend My Sheep””

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

jacob blessing josephs children
“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

sufferthechildrentocome.jpg

Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Where is your brother?”

Pope Francis’ tenure as the Bishop of Rome has been striking in many ways, but perhaps none more so than his concern for migrants and refugees.

Perhaps it is because Jorge Bergoglio’s family fled fascist Italy. Perhaps it’s because the Pope is from a continent that has seen so many migrants flee violence. Perhaps it is simply the work of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of a bishop. (For my part, I think it is all three.)

Whatever the reason(s), Francis’ time as the heir to Peter has been marked from the very beginning by his love for migrants. His first trip outside of Rome as Pope was to Lampedusa, the Italian island and landing point for many migrants and refugees in peril on the sea.

Some five years after that trip, Francis invited migrants, refugees, and rescue workers to Saint Peter’s for Mass. In his homily, the Pope revisited his sermon from Lampedusa five years ago, the theme of a God who searches us out, asking, “Where are you, Adam?” and “Cain, where is your brother?” It is a question, Francis tells us, directed at us. Where are our siblings, those suffering and in need of God’s loving kindness?

Building on that theme in this year’s sermon, the Bishop of Rome brought in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Addressing the assembled faithful from Spain in his native tongue, Francis says:

I wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my visit to Lampedusa with you, who represent rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea. I thank the rescuers for embodying in our day the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life. To those rescued I reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances that you are fleeing. I ask you to keep being witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing.

#EveryFamilyIsHoly

Under the banner “Every Family is Holy,” Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis has “detained” the Holy Family.

In a timely reminder that Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary fled with our Lord into Egypt as refugees, the Cathedral has placed figures from a nativity scene in a fenced enclosure, similar to the ones used by ICE to detain families. (As an aside, these detention facilities are often run by for-profit companies.)

The priest behind the prophetic action is the Rev. Canon Lee Curtis, one of my classmates at the Candler School of Theology. Even in seminary, Fr. Lee was a constant prophetic voice, a defender of the interconnection between social justice and Christian orthodoxy.

You can learn more about the work of “that church on the circle” in this report from the Indy Star.

Who Eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors?

paolo_veronese_-_feast_in_the_house_of_levi_-_wga24877
The Feast at the House of Levi, Veronese

In the continued saga of the current administration’s immigration policies, restaurants have become places of protest. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have both been confronted with protests while dining out. Secretary Nielsen was jeered by protesters, while Mrs. Sanders was asked to leave the the establishment.

Predictably, this has become “a whole big thing.” Opinions are divided about whether or not these actions were correct. Continue reading “Who Eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors?”