The Tower of Siloam, a Fig Tree, and the Problem of Pain

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-9; St. Luke 13:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who tends to us as a loving gardener, that we may bear fruit worthy of repentance. Amen.

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The Tower of Siloam, 18th c. Dutch engraving

A few weeks ago, storms ravaged several towns in Alabama and though that same system passed through Macon, our members escaped unharmed. Is it because we are somehow more highly favored than our neighbors across the state line?

Today, we gather to worship without fear of violence – a small comfort that, after repeated attacks in Egypt, the Coptic Christian community lacks, and after years of war and racist attacks, and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in New Zealand, many Muslims are reminded that they lack. Is it because God loves us more?

As we speak, large portions of the Midwest are covered by surging flood waters. It has claimed human lives and devastated entire farming communities. And yet our weather here in Macon has been impeccable. Is it because we are blessed while those in Nebraska are cursed?

We could spend years upon years listing all of the ways in which this world is simply not fair, the resources unevenly allotted to one nation rather than others, the tragedies that have befallen one community but not the next, the violence that plagues one region while others live in peace, and still, after those innumerable decades, we would have barely scratched the surface of life’s injustices. Continue reading “The Tower of Siloam, a Fig Tree, and the Problem of Pain”

Pass Through the Water

A Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


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John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Beloved, with whom the Father is well-pleased. Amen.

In his baptism, Christ’s divine identity is unambiguously revealed in glory.

What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.

This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.

He’s not a creature like us, nor adopted by God as the Caesars claim to be. No, Christ is the eternally begotten Son, who existed before all things. Continue reading “Pass Through the Water”

The Lord Revealed

A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; St. Matthew 2:1-12


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes into the midst of us as a radiant and lowborn King. Amen.

As formal as royal events are today, they have nothing on the status of kings in ages past. The further back in history you go, the more power kings and emperors claimed for themselves. We may know a little about folks like Richard the Lionheart or Charlemagne (whose Latin name, Karlus Magnus, means Charles the Great. But of course his full title for use in documents was “Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire.”)

And these medieval kings have nothing on their ancient counterparts.

Consider the heirs of Alexander the Great. When his empire wad divided among five ruling families, they set themselves up as kings and were constantly at war with each other. One such ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over territory stretching from Judaea to Persia. He claimed the titles Nicator (“the Bringer of Victory”) and Epiphanes (“the Manifestation of God”). He also brought his kingdom to the brink of war, persecuted the people of Judaea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the pagan god Zeus, ultimately setting up the successful Jewish rebellion now observed as Hanukkah – so perhaps he was not so manifestly awesome as he claimed.

Antiochus’ nephew Demetrius I was given the title Soter – Savior. Continue reading “The Lord Revealed”

Unto Us a Child Is Born

A Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; St. Luke 2:1-20


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born to us this night in the city of David. Amen.

Tonight marks the turning of the age. Tonight, of all nights, God steps into human history as one of us, and everything changes. The Son of God, the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ will live among us. He’ll walk the dusty highways. He’ll be baptized and tempted in the wilderness. He’ll call disciples and teach. He’ll perform wondrous acts, turn water into wine, feed the multitudes, calm the storms, and walk on water. He’ll cast out demons, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, heal the lepers, and even raise the dead. He’ll enter Jerusalem in triumph and institute the Sacrament of his presence at the Altar for us. He’ll be handed over, tried, bound, and crucified. He’ll descend into hell and rise again victorious. And in his glorious Resurrection, he’ll open to us the way of everlasting life. Alleluia! Amen!

But all of this will come later. Tonight’s miracle is enough: the Divine Word which is with God and is God from the beginning, the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, through whom all things were made — is born in Bethlehem. Tonight, God becomes one of us. Continue reading “Unto Us a Child Is Born”

“On That Day…”

A Homily for Wednesday the Third Week in Advent

Text: Isaiah 11:10-16


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A time is coming. That’s what we’ve been reading about for the past several weeks. The end of the age. The apocalypse. The eschaton. The parousia. The last day. We’ve heard of dire warnings, and we’ve been waiting for “doom or a breakthrough from heaven.”

The doom part is easy to imagine. We experience so much of that in our daily lives and in the newspapers. Look at Yemen, at Syria, at South Sudan, at the internment camps on our own southern border, the drug crisis overwhelming our populations, the ever-worsening predictions about our climate. These crises and many more are seemingly omnipresent. Continue reading ““On That Day…””

How Long, O Lord?

A Homily for Wednesday in the Second Week in Advent

Text: Isaiah 6


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“How long, O Lord?”

This is the Advent question.

For kids, it’s “How long until Santa gets here?”

For retail workers, I would assume, it’s, “How long until long hours, the massive crowds, and the constant barrage of unending pop Christmas music stops?”

For most of us, it’s “How long until Christmas?” The wreath, remember, is little more than a count-down clock, a 150-year old tradition to keep incessant questions at bay.

But the Great Tradition is more concerned with another question, the one that Isaiah asks: How long until the Lord’s coming? During Advent, we sit and wait — not just to prepare our hearts and minds for the Feast of the Nativity on the twenty-fifth of December, but even more so for an event completely outside of our control on a date as yet unknown: the last day when Christ shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Continue reading “How Long, O Lord?”

Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven

A Homily for Vespers on the first Wednesday in Advent

Text: Isaiah 2:1-4


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We tend to think of Advent as a long countdown to Christmas. That’s what this wreath is all about, right? Light a candle each week, then the big one on Christmas Eve.

That’s the origin of the tradition. We tend to think that Jesus lit candles to mark the days until his birthday and that we’ve done this for thousands of years, but the Advent wreath only dates back to the 19th century when a German pastor working with children.

“Pastor Klaus, Pastor Klaus, is it Christmas yet?”

“Nein! No! Not yet! Stop pestering me!” And so he took a wagon wheel, slapped some candles on it, and told the kids, “Here. We’ll light a candle each day, and when they’re all lit, it’s finally Christmas. So stop asking!” It quickly evolved into the four candles we know today, then moved from the home into the sanctuary.

Or those cute little cardboard calendars that, even though they’re designed for children, I still insist on buying for myself every year: starting on December 1st, you open a small flap and pull out a piece of (admittedly mediocre) chocolate each day until Christmas.

BuzzFeed published an article that really gets to the heart of how we view Christmas. They put forward a list of “crazy German Christmas traditions,” writing: “The so-called Advent Sundays are another great way to get hyped for actual Christmas!”

(As an aside, the same article also lists Christmas Eve services as a “great way to to kill time” “as the local pastor rant[s] about people that only visit the church on Christmas,” so I’m not sure I trust their expertise on Germany, Advent, or Christmas.) Continue reading “Doom or a Breakthrough From Heaven”

For All the Saints

A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; St. John 11:32-44


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus should weep?

I have heard some preachers argue that Jesus wept for the doubt he saw displayed around him, that he was crying because those closest to him did not recognize his power to raise the dead, but that’s not what the text says. Martha and Mary express nothing but faith in Christ – faith that he could have healed their brother and faith that he can raise Lazarus even now.

Throughout the Gospels, we have seen him heal many and even, on rare occasion, raise the dead. When he arrived in Bethany, just a few verses before our reading today, he greeted Martha’s great faith with reassurance: Continue reading “For All the Saints”

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”

“Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures”

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4; Isaiah 11:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, through whom all things were made. Amen.

Saint Francis was born to into a wealthy merchant’s family in the Umbrian region of what is today Italy. In his youth, he was known for lavish spending, but after a very public falling out with his father, Francis renounced his family name and his inheritance for a life of poverty.

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Saint Francis preaches to the Wolf of Gubbio

In 1209, Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor, a group of wandering preachers known for their devotion to poverty and the poor that continues his ministry across the world today. This group of men and women became fools for Christ, living lives of radical reliance on the alms of stranger and deep trust that God would provide. And yeah, at times their actions seemed incredibly foolish. Not only did Francis give up a fortune, he was also known for his preaching – to people, to birds, to a wolf. That’s why we remember him by blessing animals – Francis taught about the interdependence of all creation.

What is it that animates saints like Francis of Assisi? Continue reading ““Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures””