Rest & Freedom

A Homily for the Second Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. John 5:1-18


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sets us free. Amen.

What comes to your mind when I say “blue laws?” Usually, banning the sale of alcohol on Sunday, right? Maybe laws about horse racing, hunting, and car sales (and, according to one unconfirmed urban legend, sodas, which through a bizarre bit of marketing and legal loop holes, birthed the ice cream Sundae) but most of us think about those laws that kept the beer aisle in Georgia grocery stores dark on Sunday until about a decade ago (depending on which county you lived in).

These laws date back to a time when Sabbath observance was serious business – in this country, most famously in Puritan New England. Shops were closed and work was strictly prohibited. More than working, though, New England’s blue laws targeted anything that would distract from the Lord’s Day. (This even became a plot point in the novel Johnny Tremain.) The Massachusetts Bay colony enshrined in law:

Continue reading “Rest & Freedom”

Father Abraham

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: Genesis 17:1-1, 15-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the everlasting covenant. Amen.

Do you remember the song “Father Abraham”? It was a mainstay of both Sunday school and VBS for decades – and though the language is a bit dated, it goes something like this:

Father Abraham
Had many sons
Many sons had father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

It’s a song about the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abram that we read today:

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

The “many sons” (though it might better be understood as “many descendants” or, to fit the cadence of the song, “many heirs”) are the multitude of nations, including the family lines of Moses, Joshua, David, and through David, our Lord Jesus Christ.

But the song, short as it is, leaves out a lot of the story, so here are a few extra verses:

Continue reading “Father Abraham”

Born Again

A Homily for Evening Prayer in the First Week of Lent

Text: St. John 3:1-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who by his death gives us rebirth. Amen.

If you spend much time in the South, you will inevitably be asked, “Have you been born again?” For some of our kindred in the Church, this is the single most important question to ask someone, and they have their own ready answer; they can point to a specific event on a specific day when they were born again – even if they grew up in the Church, even if there was never a time they didn’t believe. It’s a not-uncommon talking point, often accompanied by some form of testimony ready to be shared at a moment’s notice, be it with a close friend or a new acquaintance, at church, at a dinner party, or on a random street corner. It’s a staple of contemporary Christian culture to the point that it has become a sort of short-hand of a large chunk of Protestants: “born-again Christians.”.

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Temptation in the Wilderness

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: I Peter 3:18-22; St. Mark 1:9-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Obedient One. Amen.

Driven into the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River, our Lord Christ was tempted by Satan. We read this story every year, and it has undoubtedly become familiar, but take a moment to let the weight of it fully sink in. Compare it to the images of Christ we normally see in art – standing upright, placid, above it all, suspiciously clean for someone living in an without running water in the home. The world around him may be in chaos – people with unclean spirits, suffering from various ailments, hungry, thirsty, or on a boat tossed about by the sea – and yet the Son of God remains calm and composed.

But today, we go from the manifestation of his glory at the Jordan to, just a couple of verses later, alone and isolated, confronting Satan and facing down temptation. It stands as a stark reminder that yes, he is the Son of God, the Beloved, but he is also human – all too human. The source of our strength knew frailty. The one who unites us in community knew isolation. The one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets knew the tempting pull of sin.

Continue reading “Temptation in the Wilderness”

Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees

A Homily for Vespers during the Fifth Week of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 22:23-33


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

Waaaaaay back in the very first season of The Simpsons, young rapscallion Bart badgers his Sunday School teacher with question after question before asking:

Ma’am. What if…your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?

Continue reading “Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees”

Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; St. John 11:1-45


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

As we enter into the Valley of Dry Bones, it’s not difficult to feel Ezekiel’s sense of desperation. He is a Judahite sent into exile, a priest who has heard of the Temple’s destruction, a prophet striving to make sense of why the Lord would abandon the Chosen People and let the Land of Promise fall into such ruin.

This morning’s imagery, the bones stripped bare by decay and rot, provides a vivid image of the doubt and fear Ezekiel and the other exiles felt. Staring out over the wasteland of a battle lost long ago, asked if these bones might live again, you can almost hear the defeat in Ezekiel’s voice:

O Lord God, you know.

His same resignation is on the lips of the rest of the exiles and those still living in the smoldering waste left behind in Judah. They cry out: Continue reading “Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs”

Let It Be with Me

A Homily for the Annunciation of the Lord

Text: St. Luke 1:26-38


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-Begotten Son. Amen.

There’s a day that will be here before we know it: November 1st. The Halloween candy will be moved to a discount bin and in its place, stores will be putting out Christmas decorations. Clergy Twitter will invariably foam at the mouth as we (rightly) point out that it’s All Saints’ Day and that we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.

But tonight, thanks to some overlapping cycles of the liturgical calendar, in the tail-end of Lent, we’re already looking forward towards the Feast of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. (Before COVID foiled this and many other plans, we were going to be singing that wonderful Basque carol tonight, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came.”)

The Nativity of our Lord and the holy feasts related to it are a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ, true God from true God, the Only-Begotten Son, through whom all things were made, became truly human – so fully human that he knew the pain of hunger, the temptation of sin, and even the sting of death.

But nine months before his birth in royal David’s city, on this day near the end of March, we take a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

It is Mary who, through her body, fed and nourished the one who gave us his own Body and Blood as a holy meal to sustain and nourish us. It is Mary who, in the waters of birth, delivered the one who gives us new birth through water and the Spirit.

Like the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in ages past, God promises Mary a child – but unlike Hannah, Mary has not been trying to conceive. For the Blessed Virgin, pregnancy carries with it not only the risk of medical complications in a world with low standards of health care and high mortality rates for both mother and child but also the risk of societal shaming for being with child (and the underlying assumption of how that child came to be) before marriage. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew reveals Joseph’s concern: that while he wanted to spare Mary the scandal of conceiving out of wedlock, he also intended to divorce her – until an angel convinced him otherwise.

Despite these risks – despite the fact that the Mother of our Lord was likely barely a teenager and even more likely terrified of what Gabriel had to say, that her Son would lay claim to the throne of David, bringing him and all of Judea into conflict with Rome and its legions – Mary answered the Lord’s call with these simple words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And here is really the center of this entire feast: in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, gods had children with human women through acts of abduction and  sexual violence. But the God of Israel, the One who has elected Israel from among the nations, the One who looks with favor upon the lowly and casts down the mighty, acts only with the Blessed Virgin’s knowing consent.

God’s covenant to bless the whole world through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants rests on the shoulders of a young woman who is willing to bear the Only-Begotten into the world.

Listen, dear ones, and hear what God is asking of you, the role our Lord has called you to play in this covenant. And despite all fears, tribulations, and threats, know this: You, too, are highly-favored, and the Lord is with you.

Amen.

Blind, but Now I See

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ephesians 5:8-14; St. John 9:1-41


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World who restores sight to the blind. Amen.

I’m not afraid of the dark, generally speaking. But on two separate occasions, I’ve been in a cave where the tour guide shut off the lights for us to see how dark it truly is deep under the earth’s surface: once in the paved tunnels of Wind Cave National Park, accompanied by an experienced ranger, and the other time on in the narrow, damp, muddy caverns under the mountains of eastern Tennessee on a spelunking trip with a high school youth group.

And both times were utterly terrifying. I could see, and then I was blind.

cave
Cave wit No Light (Artist’s Approximation)

Once the last photons disappeared, it was as though the entire world had been horrifyingly unmade. Suddenly, one entire sense was wiped out. With no fixed objects to look at, I was so disoriented that even the slightest tilt of the head or a subtle shift of balance was nauseatingly dizzying.

When the lights came on, I felt safer – but still not safe. I spent the long trips back to the earth’s surface still terrified that some accident might plunge us back into the void and that this time, we would be stuck in the inky abyss. Continue reading “Blind, but Now I See”

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Rivers of Living Water

A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent III

Text: St. John 7:14-31, 37-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sates our thirst. Amen.

Tonight, we find ourselves back in time: we’re exactly one chapter earlier than we were last Wednesday, when Jesus was confronted by an angry mob preparing to stone a woman caught in adultery. (For more on the relationship between these two episodes, check out last week’s sermon.)

It’s the Feast of Booths, and Jesus is on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, a city packed to overflowing with worshipers flocking to the Temple. In the turmoil of such a crowded city, the religious leaders are on a sharp lookout for anyone who may be stirring up trouble or fomenting insurrection, lest a riot bring about a violent crackdown from the Roman troops. And Jesus, they worry, is exactly that type of dangerous revolutionary.

What we see throughout chapter seven is an extended series of encounters with the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the Temple guards, debating the Law of Moses and the very nature of Truth itself. Continue reading “Rivers of Living Water”

Water From the Rock of Our Salvation

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; St. John 4:5-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Fount of Living Water. Amen.

After years of slavery in Egypt, after ten horrifying plagues, after the Passover and the hurried escape, after passing on dry land through the sea while the pursuing army was drowned, the Hebrews have been liberated!

And their cry goes up: Ashira l’Adonai – now what? Continue reading “Water From the Rock of Our Salvation”