A Good Shepherd in the Lenten Wilderness

A Homily for the Fifth Wednesday in Lent

Text: Saint John 10:1-18


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

When we think of tonight’s Gospel text, we only hear five words: “I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s such a familiar text, connected with so many rich symbols, memorialized in stained glass and paintings. But we must keep reading to really and truly understand what Christ is getting at. The Good Shepherd, Christ tells us, is the one who lays down his life for the sheep – a very real possibility for those charged with caring for such valuable commodities. Hired hands may turn and flee in the face of danger, but a good shepherd will risk it all to save the flock, even if it means doing battle with thieves and wrestling with wolves.

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Hope in the Ruins

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; 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 scroll we now call  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, and a century later, Josiah ascended to the seat of his ancestor David, a righteous heir to shepherd the people!

And it lasted – that time of hope and fidelity – for a while.

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Bread of Life

A homily for the fourth week of Lent

Text: St. John 6:27-40


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

One year, one week, and two days. That’s how long it has been since we last gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Macon.

Fifty-three some-odd weeks of spiritual hunger.

And this as the economic recession from the pandemic has launched millions of people into poverty, emptied grocery store shelves of the staples, shuttered some food pantries and stretched others to the breaking point.

Over a year of increasing physical hunger.

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Lift High the Cross (and the Snake)

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; St. John 3:14-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who brings life everlasting. Amen.

John 3 is undoubtedly one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible – up there with Psalm 23 or I Corinthians 13 (the love chapter read at so many weddings). Jesus’ exchange with Nicodemus gives us both the phrase “born from above,” or more commonly translated as “born-again” (we read that section around this time last year, and during midweek prayer a few weeks ago) and the verse so famous that it has become its own cliché: John 3:16. Our familiarity with that verse from today’s Gospel might only be matched by how strange John 3:14 is: a serpent lifted up in the wilderness? What?

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Trembling Before a Righteous Judge

A Homily for the Third Week of Advent

Text: St. John 8:12-20


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

Growing up, I loved seeing the rather gruesome carvings that decorate the facades of many large European churches. Weird little kid that I was, one of my favorite themes was the Final Judgment: Christ sits enthroned, orb and scepter in hand, looking out at all who dare to come to the cathedral, as angels escort the Faithful into paradise and (here’s the part I really liked), the condemned are taken to places of torment, skeletons with pitchforks prod cauldrons full of sinners, and all manner of infernal punishments play out in stone. The sculptures are nothing if not vividly haunting.

These carvings capture a key turn in this evening’s readings:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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?

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