Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Not well.

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

What Would Jesus Do? What Can We Do?

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: I Corinthians 12:1-11; St. John 2:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who has called and equipped us for ministry. Amen.

Does anyone remember those WWJD? bracelets that were so popular in the 90s and 2000s? They came in a ton of different colors and, for most of my childhood, they were everywhere. Yes, we all wore them in youth group – and it became a point of pride to show how dirty yours was after years of church rafting trips and Christian rock concerts.

And who remembers what the letters WWJD stood for? “What would Jesus do?”

These bracelets – and later, t-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces, signs, and hats were supposed to be both an outward witness, a way of starting conversations about the faith, and also a reminder to the wearer to follow Christ.

So…you’re at a wedding, and they run out of drinks. What’s your move? Well, “What would Jesus do?”

Turn water into wine! Someone want to give it a go?

Continue reading “What Would Jesus Do? What Can We Do?”

Now What? The Church Gets to Work

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has ascended into heaven and sends us out as apostles. Amen.

“In those days,” our reading from Acts begins.

What days? The days immediately after the Ascension. On Thursday, we read the tail end of Saint Luke’s Gospel – forty days after the Resurrection, Christ leads the disciples out to Bethany where he blesses them as he ascends to the right hand of the Father. The disciples go back to Jerusalem where, as Luke tells us, “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” And Luke begins his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, with the same scene – Jesus ascending and the disciples staring up in amazement – as if to say, “Well now what?”

Continue reading “Now What? The Church Gets to Work”

Worship on a Wilderness Road

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; St. John 15:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who abides with us. Amen.

It’s not an ideal situation, that’s for sure. If I were to sit down and plot it out, for maximum impact, it’s not how I would draft it. (Probably why nobody’s asked me to add to the canon yet.) But here it is: the first conversion of a Gentile to the Christian faith recorded in Acts. To be certain, Christ’s ministry attracted Gentile attention (the Syrophoenician woman in Mark and Matthew, and in Luke the Gerasene demoniac and the Roman centurion). But today, we see the Church for the first time open its arms to someone born outside the heirs of Abraham.

That’s a controversial enough proposition – it raises quite a few arguments in chapter 10 and again in chapter 15. But add to that the setting – outside of Jerusalem, with just a few people, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip – and it becomes downright odd. Up to this point, the Church’s ministry has been dominated by stirring speeches to large crowds (like Peter on Pentecost or Stephen as he’s martyred). It’s just a normal day on a road in the wilderness.

Continue reading “Worship on a Wilderness Road”

Smells Fishy

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Saint Mark 1:14-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us into ministry and sends us out into the world. Amen.

Something kind of weird happened last week on the internet – yes, weird even by internet standards. For a few days, everyone was very into sea shanties, those nineteenth century rhythmic work songs sung by sailors. They’re designed to be sung in a group, with a sort of call-and-response style between verse and chorus; with the advent of smartphone-based recording and editing apps, people across the world were able to easily sing together even in the midst of a pandemic, singing songs about friendship (“Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate”), the connection between crew and ship (“Leave Her, Johnny”), and the urge to go home (“Row, Me Bully Boys”).

The sudden interest in sea shanties came about when people started sending around videos of the song “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, and the best version is a nurse riding in the car as his brother blasts the shanty over the stereo, singing along.  The song plays a few times as the video goes, and with each pass, the man goes from casting side-eyed, annoyed glances at his sibling to digging the song to singing along to adding his own harmonies. (Watch the original TikTok video here.)

And yeah, it’s a pretty great song. (It’s been stuck in my head for about a week now.)  It tells of an epic struggle of a whaling ship, the Billy of Tea, off the coast of New Zealand as they harpoon a right whale, intending to tow it back to land – but the whale has different plans, pulling the ship and several smaller boats along:

Continue reading “Smells Fishy”

On the Anniversary of My Ordination

A Homily for the Ordination of a Presbyter by the Rev. Mitchell Lewis*

Texts: 1 Peter 5:1-4; St. John 21:15-19


I am Andrew’s father, a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia Conference. And I appreciate Bishop Gordy allowing me to stand in this pulpit tonight as you prepare to set Andrew apart for the work of a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

When Andrew was 2 years old, I began a 27 year career as an Army chaplain, from which I’ve just retired. So you can do the math. My first assignment was at Fort Leonard Wood, and we took Andrew to a Lutheran preschool in St Robert, Missouri. I’m not sure if that started him down the road to Wittenberg or not.

Throughout his life, Andrew sat under all sorts of preaching and teaching in chapel worship and youth groups. He heard Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, non-Denominational evangelicals, parachurch groups, and so forth. The Army chaplaincy is a real smorgasbord of Christian religion. And there was a point, when I was assisting a Lutheran congregation on post, that Andrew probably heard the phrase “simul justus et peccator” every Sunday.

Continue reading “On the Anniversary of My Ordination”

“More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic

Question: What exactly do you do?

A while back, I wrote on the work clergy do behind the scenes: sermon writing, liturgical prep, home visits, and more.

As you might imagine, a lot of that has changed during the ongoing pandemic. Sure, there are still sermons to write and pastoral care to be done. At its most basic level, ministry goes on.

But the daily work of ministry? It’s different. In the ELCA, we call pastors “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” — but right now, the Word is proclaimed through a camera lens, and we’ve had difficult (at times, contentious) discussions about what Sacramental ministry looks like when the Church is meeting in cyberspace.

So what is it I’m doing now that I’m not behind the Altar and can’t climb into the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

Continue reading ““More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic”

Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways

A Homily for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Text: St. Luke 1:57-80


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Ecce Agnus Dei: John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Ettal, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a mighty Savior raised up for us from the House of David. Amen.

 

What can we say about John the Baptist, that wild man of the wilderness? He who ate locusts and wild honey, wearing ragged clothes?

It’s a bit unusual to encounter outside of Advent and Christmas – our lectionary cycle usually gives him a Sunday or two in December as the forerunner of the Messiah and then a few weeks later, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, recalling when John baptized his younger cousin in the river Jordan. But why now, almost exactly six months away? Continue reading “Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways”

GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 6:1-16; St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Preachers, myself included, like to give the disciples a hard time. You’ve heard me say this before – that Peter, James, John, and the other nine so often miss the point of what’s really going on. Jesus says one thing, and the Twelve immediately do just the opposite – often to comedic effect.

Silly sons of Zebedee, don’t you realize that the first will be last and the last will be first?

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Preachers @ Saint Peter

But here’s the catch: from a human point of view, the Twelve really do have reason to boast. Continue reading “GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!”

Decline and Resurrection

News broke a few months ago that the religiously unaffiliated now make up about a quarter of the US population. New Gallup research suggests that religious people with no congregational membership make up another quarter of the population. Put another way, nearly half of the American population lacks a congregational affiliation. Whether they identify with a faith tradition or not, they may as well be “Nones.” Continue reading “Decline and Resurrection”