“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?”

No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13

Question: How are we to understand Romans 13?

This text has been in the headlines a lot over the past few weeks following the Trump Administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

In response to the vocal  and unified religious opposition against family separation, Attorney General Sessions cited the Epistle to the Romans, specifically directing his comments to “our church friends”:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later echoed the Attorney General’s remarks:

I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.

For what it’s worth, here’s the relevant text from Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

So how do we understand Romans 13? Does it give governments carte blanche to act without opposition from the Church?

Short Answer: To again quote Saint Paul, “BY NO MEANS!” Continue reading “No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13”

United Methodists File Charges Against AG Sessions

Some six hundred members of the United Methodist Church have submitted a petition to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought under church discipline for his part in the on-going zero-tolerance immigration policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents. The group, made up of both clergy and lay persons, accuse Sessions of child abuse, among other things.

While “church discipline” varies greatly from denomination to denomination, the United Methodist has a complex system in which members of the denomination are subject to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the Church’s primary governing document. (The Discipline is part statement of faith, part canon law.) In the UMC, such disciplinary actions start with pastoral conversations at a local level. Usually, they also end at the local level. However, on very rare occasions, they may result in a church trial and possibly expulsion from the denomination.In a quote to the United Methodist News Service, the pastor who started the petition says:

I hope his pastor can have a good conversation with him and come to a good resolution that helps him reclaim his values that many of us feel he’s violated as a Methodist….I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.

The Rev. William Lawrence, a Methodist historian, says that he has never heard of similar charges moving beyond the local level.

The bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, of which Session’s home parish is a part, has publicly criticized the policy forcibly separating immigrant families, saying in part:

I implore Congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families. Changes to these laws need to be addressed starting today. Let us join our voices in prayer for the separated families, for those working to end this injustice and for our nation’s leaders.

I, for one, pray that the Attorney General hears the cries of the immigrants and the Church’s prophetic voice, that he feels his heart strangely warmed, and falls on his knees in repentance.