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.

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

Continue reading “So Shall Your Descendants Be”

Born Again

A Homily for the first Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. John 2:23-3:15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to be born of water and the Spirit. Amen.

What does Jesus mean by “born again”?

In common usage, this phrase ranks up there with (and is often seen as synonymous with) “evangelical” as a term to distinguish between types of Christians. “Well, you have your Catholics, your mainline, and your ‘born-again evangelicals.’”

Here in the South, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask, “Have you been born-again?” or “Tell me about when you were born-again.” I would wager that most everyone here has been asked this question – as surely as you’ve been asked which SEC team you root for. Continue reading “Born Again”

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

jacob blessing josephs children
“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

Ashes to Ashes

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Text: St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to repentance and new life in himself. Amen.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.”

We read these words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel every year before we begin our Lenten fast.

Minutes later, we kneel down and receive an ashen cross prominently on our foreheads – an obvious and outward sign that we went to church like good little Christians. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes”

Jesus Came to…Redeem the World

A Homily for the Final Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. Mark 12:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to redeem the world. Amen.

Over these Lenten Wednesdays, we’ve heard the stories of Christ’s ministry throughout the Gospel according to Saint Mark – the various teachings and miraculous deeds and simple gestures that defined so much of Christ’s ministry. Continue reading “Jesus Came to…Redeem the World”

RNS: Anti-Semitism and the Passion

The Church has a long and tragic history of anti-Semitism, and sadly the Lutheran tradition has played a large role in that story. From Luther’s own writings to Lutherans’ abject failure to oppose Hitler (the responses ranging from mere complicity to out-right collaboration), we need to reckon with and repent of our racism.

As we head in to Good Friday and turn our attention increasingly to the Passion narratives, especially Saint John’s, we are also entering a trying time for ant-Semitism. Saint John often used “the Jews” as a short-hand for religious leaders, especially the chief priests; as we read this story aloud on Good Friday, many will wince at the implications. The Jewish people in Europe were often charged with, and frequently attacked over, the charge of deicide, or the murder of God. For the Church to fully and humbly repent, it is vital that we put John’s language into its full and historical context.

To that end, I commend to your attention Rabbi A. James Rudin’s recent article over at the Religion News Service. The rabbi offers a brief history of Passion plays, their unfortunate anti-Semitic connections, and contextualizes the role of the chief priest as a Roman puppet. As we retell the story of Christ’s crucifixion, Rabbi Rudin reminds us, we must place the blame squarely upon the oppressive hand of the Roman Empire and their agents.

Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days

Lent is nearly over; Holy Week, having just started, will soon be wrapping up. We are approaching the holiest days of the Christian year: the Paschal Triduum, the Great Three Days. After forty days wandering through the wilderness, and a week in Jerusalem, we have reached the most sacred time: the three-day long period leading up to the Great Vigil of Easter. During this time, we hit our spiritual low point followed almost immediately by our highest; we mark our most solemn fast followed by our most joyous feast.

Over these three days, we gather to worship through prayer, singing, the reading of Scripture, and the celebration of the Sacraments. We gather, depart, and gather again. The three primary services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil just after sundown on Holy Saturday form one complete liturgy.  Continue reading “Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days”

Jesus Came to…Welcome the Children

A Homily for the Fifth Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. Mark 10:1-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

The end of tonight’s Gospel reading is one of those that we just sort of let roll over us without ever really thinking about. It’s pretty self-explanatory, right?

You can almost hear the studio audience say, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church. Continue reading “Jesus Came to…Welcome the Children”

Know the Lord: Exile and the Covenant

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; St. John 12:20-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the covenant even when all hope seems lost. Amen.

Things had looked so promising just a short time ago. King Josiah was on the throne and Judah was turning again to the Lord as the king and priests worked for justice, piety, and reform. The book of Deuteronomy, telling again of God’s Law, had been discovered. Josiah was a new David – but better! It seemed as though the people, from the king to the priests down to the humblest of farmers, would finally keep their end of the covenant God had made with Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and David – the covenant that had been broken in every generation. Judah would finally know God. Maybe – just maybe – Judah would avoid the fate of their northern neighbor, Israel, that had been destroyed by the Assyrians a century before. Judah had barely survived then.

But now! Maybe now they would know peace and tranquility! Continue reading “Know the Lord: Exile and the Covenant”

Jesus Came to…Work Wonders

A Homily for the Fourth Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. Mark 8:11-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to work wondrous miracles. Amen.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about our Lenten readings is the sort of haphazard way in which texts are put together. Our Sunday lectionary readings tend to focus on short chunks. We see a single thought or event play out, maybe even skipping over verses to smooth things out; Jesus does one or two related things, and there ends the reading. The daily lectionary, though, follows a different pattern: it flows over two years rather than three and moves day-to-day rather than week-to-week, which means it covers more ground in a single go. And sometimes the result can leave us wondering. Continue reading “Jesus Came to…Work Wonders”