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””

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”

Trinity and Liberation

A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; St. John 3:1-17


Grace to you and Peace in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

To what can we compare the Most Blessed Trinity?

God’s existence as three persons united into one being is perhaps the most confusing belief in the Christian faith. The Church spent its first four centuries arguing about it, trying to figure out which understanding is the most faithful, and many of those ancient debates have re-occurred throughout the ages. Entire libraries worth of text have been published just to explain this one doctrine, but understanding remains elusive. When we try to explain our belief in the Trinity to our friends, to our children, to ourselves, we reach for analogies. “The Trinity is sort of like…uh…hm…an egg, a clover, a flame, a human, a hand,” we say, before trying to draw out similarities between an eternal God and something infinitesimally small. Continue reading “Trinity and Liberation”