Law and Grace

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 7:15-25a; St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who give us an easy burden and a light yoke. Amen.

“I do not understand my own actions.”

Who among us has not felt like Saint Paul at one point or another? For we do not do what we want – what we really, truly want in our in-most being, to do the will of God, the very end for which we were created.

Oh, we start out with good intent, sure enough.

This is it! This is the time I’m going to hold my temper in check and not yell at the neighbor.

This is the time I’m going to buy that young woman on the street corner a sandwich and tell her about the resources at the shelter.

This is the year I’m finally going to read my Bible every day.

This is it! This time, I’m actually going to join the protests and speak up for justice.

But then we do the thing we hate. Continue reading “Law and Grace”

Fulfilling the Law

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Matthew 5:13-20*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose light shines through us into this world. Amen.

In this season leading up to Lent, we are reading through the first chapter of Christ’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount, his first – and arguably best known – teaching that covers everything from the swearing oaths to anger and violence to instructions on fasting and prayer. Last week, while we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and read from the Gospel according to St. Luke, the lectionary provided a second set of readings including the Beatitudes, that famous list of promised blessings that intros the Sermon on the Mount. This week, our Lord continues as he tells us to be salt and light for the world. Next week, we’ll hear the first in a series of new interpretations of the Mosaic Law as Jesus tells his listeners, “You have hard it said…but I say….”

These passages have been read and re-read so often, have become so familiar that, as with so much in the Gospels, we almost tune them out, hearing only what we think we already know. Continue reading “Fulfilling the Law”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Day

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has justified us by grace through faith. Amen.

Most of us know this story by now, either from confirmation or history class…especially after the build-up to the five hundredth anniversary festivities two years ago and the Vespers series* we just finished. But once more with feeling: On October 31st, 1517, a German Augustinian friar, deeply disturbed by the sale of indulgences, posted ninety-five theses, or topics for discussion, on the church door in the university city of Wittenberg to spark an academic debate among his fellow scholars. In doing so, Martin Luther launched the Reformation, and the world was forever changed. Of course, the historical reality is much more nuanced than that, with centuries of developments before and after that fateful day, but the October 31st story makes for convenient short hand. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; St. Luke 12:32-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one we are waiting for. Amen.

Before Father Abraham had many sons, before he was Abraham, when Sarah was known as Sarai, the Lord came to this wandering family and made a promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

And at the time, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to say. Both Abram and Sarai were advanced in age, past their child-bearing years. More than that, they were homeless nomads; who were they that the Lord should take account of them?

As time passed, the divine promise was long-delayed, enough so that Abram and Sarai had reason to doubt. More than that, Abram’s many shortcomings became readily apparent. The family ended up in Egypt, where the Pharaoh took notice of Sarai. Fearing for his own life, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister; for his own safety, he sent her to live in Pharaoh’s palace as a royal spouse. (Oddly, this part of their story didn’t make it into that old VBS song or the Sunday school felt board, and I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Veggie Tales.) Continue reading “Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able”

Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Colossians 1:15-28


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The chains of Saint Paul, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn, through whom all things were made and by whom all things are renewed. Amen.

We’re reading the words of a man about to die.

The lectionary is taking us through Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. This short series began last week and will continue through the next two Sundays, taking only a few verses out of this short book (it’s only four chapters) and scattering them over the course of (roughly) a month. Reading the letter this way, it’s difficultto pick up the flow of the argument.

So, let’s start with the context: it’s important to remember we are reading the words of an imprisoned saint facing death. Recalling the stories told in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own writings, we know that he was accustomed to hardship and repeated arrest, but after traveling the Roman world and proclaiming the Gospel, he was eventually arrested one final time in Jerusalem and shuffled between different Judaean cities as he was tried by various officials. As a Roman citizen, he exercised his right to appeal his arrest to the Emperor. The trip from Judaea to Rome was long and arduous, including shipwrecks, hunger, and months in detention between legs of the journey. He spent years imprisoned in Rome before ultimately being taken outside the city walls and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Today’s Epistle lection is among the final surviving words of someone on death row.

And what do we read? A glorious hymn of praise giving all honor to Christ. Continue reading “Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not”

The Good Samaritan

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Saint Luke 10:25-34


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to love our neighbor. Amen.

As the camera pans over a model of a small town, complete with a little red trolley, the familiar tune plays, and we zoom in on a single house. Fred Rogers enters the door, changing from his suit jacket into that ubiquitous cardigan and, with just a hint of flash, tosses off his dress shoes and replaces them with sneakers. All the while, he cheerfully sings:

Fred_Rogers,_late_1960s
Fred Rogers during the 1960s

It’ s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

And he finishes, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

For decades, we welcomed Mr. Rogers into our homes, but he made it feel as though he were welcoming us. For thirty minutes at a time, he talked to generations of kids about feelings, letting us know that it was important to love ourselves and to be kind to others, that it was ok to be scared or sad sometimes, teaching us about the world – but it was almost as though he was learning with us. At his core, Mr. Rogers believed that children should be treated with respect and dignity, just as any adult, and it shows in his work – he was never condescending but instead reached children on their level. For those of us in the audience, he treated us like neighbors. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan”

Eat. Drink. Love One Another.

A Homily for Maundy Thursday

Texts: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; St. John 13:1-7, 31b-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave unto us a new commandment: love one another. Amen.

It’s been quite a week – the turmoil has been steadily building since Sunday. We saw Jesus enter into Jerusalem during what must have been the city’s most chaotic time, just before Passover as pilgrims from across the world flood into the holy city, in a political rally that set Rome’s teeth on edge. The soldiers were sharpening their spears already on Sunday, and the tension has only grown.

After the Triumphal Entry, the Gospels show us a more confrontational Christ: cursing fig trees, turning over the money changers’ tables in the Temple, openly arguing with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, preaching more apocalyptic sermons, even predicting the destruction of the Temple, that jewel in Jerusalem’s crown, that staple of Judean identity. The religious leaders must be furious – if this upstart rebel isn’t silenced, the Romans will see to it that the Temple actually is torn down.

It’s just in the past few days that the plot to kill Jesus finally came together, coming to a head yesterday. Last night, on Spy Wednesday, we read that missing portion of tonight’s text, in which Judas Iscariot went out to betray Jesus.

In the midst of so much chaos, Jesus sat down with his closest disciples for a meal. Continue reading “Eat. Drink. Love One Another.”

The Prodigal Son

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who welcomes the sinner and invites them into the banquet. Amen.

I have some good news: we are more than halfway through Lent. In three weeks, we will gather to proclaim that Christ is risen, and our fasting will turn to feasting.

As we enter the home stretch, it’s important to remember that we don’t fast during Lent simply because God wants us to give up coffee or dessert or some little vice or because skipping that hamburger on Friday earns God’s love. Rather, Lent is a time of preparation; around the Church, people are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Holy Baptism or to re-affirm their baptismal vows, and the fasting is a traditional way to remember our dependence upon the Lord, to remember our need for God’s redeeming grace poured out in these waters. Our fasting is a way of both supporting these new Christians and preparing to renew our own baptismal vows at Easter.

As we gather to break our fast and enjoy both the Resurrection and that first sip of beer or that first bite of chocolate, we will also celebrate that our family has grown. Across the Church catholic, we are going to gain thousands of new sisters and brothers in Christ. At Easter, as we celebrate Christ’s Passover from death to life, our newest kindred will pass through the waters, dying and rising with the Living Christ.

At this feast, we’ll welcome in a lot of infants and children, and Christ’s Church will grow. Some will be people who grew up outside the faith and who are responding for the first time to the Gospel of our Lord. Such a joyous occasion. There will be people transferring from one congregation to another, renewing their baptismal vows as they live anew into who God has called us to be. After gathering around the Font, the Church will move on to the sacramental banquet, the great meal of thanksgiving as we celebrate that the Almighty has redeemed the sinner and rescued us from the power of sin, the devil, and Death. And what a tremendous time it is to rejoice with these newest sisters and brothers as we gather with them for the first time around the Heavenly Feast.

But then there will be the people it’s harder to welcome – those who put the whole notion of grace and forgiveness to the test Continue reading “The Prodigal Son”

Who Am I To Judge?

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Advent

Text: St. John 8:12-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the light of the world. Amen.

Early in his tenure as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis was asked about gay priests serving in the Catholic Church, and his answer set the tone for his first few years as pontiff. He asked,

Who am I to judge?

The response, marking slight but highly visible departure from the answers of his predecessors, was widely reported and oft-quoted. Nearly six years later, this single off-the-cuff remark continues to shape they way many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, understand the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio.

In-character as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” Stephen Colbert responded with his trademark satirical shock: Continue reading “Who Am I To Judge?”

So Shall Your Descendants Be

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who conforms us to his glory. Amen.

What made Abram so special?

This wandering Aramean frequently gets a one-on-one audience with the Almighty. Why?

Three chapters before today’s lection, the Lord calls to Abram, telling him to take his nephew and his wife and move across the barren desert to Canaan. God pledges, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great….”

Shortly thereafter, Abram – having left Canaan for Egypt to avoid a famine and fearful for his own life – gives his wife Sarai to Pharaoh. Abram didn’t even make it a full chapter before he decided to sell someone out to save his own skin; he’s not exactly a stand-up guy. Nevertheless, Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, delivers God’s blessing to Abram. Today, as we read, the Lord again appears to Abram and promises that Abram and Sarai, who are aging rapidly, childless, and anxious about their legacy, will produce a family that outnumbers the stars in the heavens.

abrahmic covenant

This blessing reassured, Abram and Sarai settle down, trust in the Lord, and live happily ever after.

Continue reading “So Shall Your Descendants Be”