A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; St. Mark 4:26-34
Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.
The Kingdom of God, our Lord says, is like a mustard seed. It’s small, insignificant, easy to miss. But plant it in the ground and it will grow and grow and grow until it becomes the mightiest…
Well, that’s different. Uh, Jesus, why not go with the cedars of Lebanon? That’s what Ezekiel did. Those cedars – there’s a mighty plant! Their timbers supplied the navies of the ancient world, the railroads of the Ottoman Empire, and the timbers for the very Temple itself in Jerusalem. The mighty and majestic cedars of Lebanon! Any bird would be lucky to build a nest in their branches!
But our Lord Christ goes for the mighty mustard shrub.
Continue reading “Seeds of Mustard and Kudzu”
A Homily for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Isaiah 25:1-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who prepares a feast for us. Amen.
It’s been sort of like living out Murphy’s Law this year, hasn’t it? If it can go wrong, it probably has. I won’t belabor the point because I think we’re all pretty much tired of 2020’s parade of horribles at this point, but let’s just consider the natural disasters: a string of tornadoes that destroyed one of our companion churches in Nashville, wild fires running the length of the Pacific coast that have sent smoke across the entire lower 48, a hurricane season so active that we’ve run out of names (and then some), a derecho that leveled buildings and destroyed crops across ten states, all of this in the midst of a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a century.
(Any one of these would make for a far-fetched action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a body-builder-turned-scientist racing against time. All of them at once can only be described with a sigh and a bitter remark about what else 2020 might have in store.)
Continue reading “God’s Restoring Judgment”
A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; St. Matthew 14:13-21
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who invites us to dine at the abundant feast. Amen.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.
Some of our kindred in the Church use this verse as a proof-text to explain God’s wrath. We simply cannot understand, they say, how a loving God despises his creation because God is so much loftier than us. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, how many people you fed, how little wrong you did, God still despises your every action unless you’ve prayed a certain way and been baptized by immersion as an adult and attend a specific type of Church. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we simply cannot understand the righteousness of the divine temper tantrum. So stop asking questions.
Continue reading “With No Money, Come and Buy”
A Homily for All Saints’ Day
Texts: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; St. Luke 6:20-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united the saints throughout the ages into the Kingdom of God. Amen.
There’s a musical meme, a centuries-old piece of liturgical hymnody used by composers throughout numerous symphonies and film scores to add an air of foreboding. You’ve heard it, even if you don’t realize it.
It’s popped up in The Shining, Star Wars, and The Lion King. It’s the funeral chant Dies Irae, part of the medieval Requiem Mass for the dead. If you’ve ever heard Mozart’s setting of the Requiem, his take is especially dramatic, full of fury. Continue reading “For All the Saints”
A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost*
Texts: Psalm 113; St. Luke 16:1-13
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who abundantly forgives. Amen.
Our culture loves Robin Hood stories – complicated heroes who break the law to provide for those in need, risking life and limb in epic feats as they serve the poor. We love the stories of the little person triumphing over the wealthy. It’s why we cheer on characters like Bud Fox in 1987’s Wall Street, who even though he has made a fortune for himself by violating financial regulations, decides to use those same underhanded (and illegal) means to win back his father’s respect, rectify the wrong he’s done, and ultimately get one over on the dastardly Gordon Gekko.
We’re just as likely to tell stories of noble outlaws as we are valiant sheriffs. Wall Street wouldn’t have been as good, wouldn’t have bagged Michael Douglas the Oscar for Best Actor, if it had been the story of a by-the-book Securities and Exchange Commission team investigating alleged impropriety at Jackson Steinem. These myths and legends form part of our collective consciousness, our culture’s shared understanding of the world.
And so we lean in a little closer when we hear today’s Gospel lesson – Continue reading “Managing Forgiveness and Favors”
A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: I Timothy 1:12-17; St. Luke 15:1-10
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Good Shepherd who seeks us out and calls us all by name. Amen.
It’s Christmas during one scene in the infinitely-quotable Tom Hanks classic Forrest Gump, and physically and emotionally wounded Vietnam vet Lieutenant Dan angrily asks his former subordinate:
“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”
The kind but simple-minded Forrest responds, with unwitting humor and accidental theological insight:
“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”
Continue reading “Like Found Sheep”
A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Philemon 1:1-21; St. Luke 14:25-33
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who makes us members of a new family. Amen.
Three Sundays ago, we read Christ’s words that he “came to bring fire to the earth,” bringing not peace “but rather division,” rending family against family. Last Sunday, we read about a wedding banquet where the first are sent to places of dishonor and the marginalized are ushered up front to the places of honor. And this Sunday, Christ told the crowds following him that discipleship means hating your family, taking up your cross, and giving up all of your possessions.
And throughout these passages of Gospel that sounds like bad news, you’ve heard me say that this is only Good News because of the overwhelming goodness of the coming Kingdom. It’s not easy, nor is it anything we accomplish apart from the grace of God. Indeed, as ethicists David Gushee and Glen Stassen remind us, “The kingship of God leads to the cross for those who proclaim it and fight for it.” Following Christ will bring us into direct and painful conflict with the powers and principalities of this world as they cling to their violent positions of authority. This coming Kingdom is costly, but in the end, the Triune God will set all things to right.
In the meantime, we are caught in the middle. Continue reading “Philemon and Onesimus, Kindred in Christ”
A Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Text: St. Luke 19:28-40
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the triumphant king. Amen.
A city on the brink.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flood the streets.
Riots are an ever-present danger.
Roman soldiers are on edge, afraid that radicalized zealot might attack at any point.
You can cut the tension Continue reading “Hosanna! Blessed is the King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!”
A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; St. Matthew 2:1-12
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”