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”

“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him even unto Jerusalem. Amen.

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””

Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; St. John 10:22-30


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

We’ve been dropped at the end of a familiar story: “I am the Good Shepherd,” says our Lord. (Indeed, this is Good Shepherd Sunday, and over the three years of the lectionary cycle, we make our way through the entirety of this extended metaphor. This time last year, we read that more famous portion of the text.) The Lord is our shepherd – not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd. Christ isn’t some mere hired hand who runs off at the first sign of trouble but rather the very one who seeks out the lost sheep, who wades into the swift waters to rescue the drowning, who crawls through the briar patch to free the ensnarled, who fights off bandits and wrestles wolves to save the lambs. Far from the clean-faced and bed-sheet-clad shepherds of modern Nativity plays, Christ is the shepherd who smells like the sheep and lays down his life for the flock.

Hearing this imagery, the crowd is… Continue reading “Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice”

The Tomb is Empty!

A Homily for Easter

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; St. Luke 24:1-12


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the victorious one who has conquered the grave. Amen.

Friday looked like the end. The week had been pure chaos. It started with the triumphal entry, with all of Jerusalem in turmoil, before descending into confrontation and betrayal, one last supper, the arrest and sham trial, the torture and the cross, death and the tomb.

We’ve all been there, caught in the violence and chaos of this world. We know what it feels like to stand near the foot of the cross – in the jail, at the hospital bedside, in the funeral parlor, on that unexpected phone call at early dawn while it is still dark. We’ve stood at the graveside, thinking, knowing, feeling that this is the end – that the world has irreparably changed. Continue reading “The Tomb is Empty!”

For All the Saints

A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; St. John 11:32-44


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

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus should weep?

I have heard some preachers argue that Jesus wept for the doubt he saw displayed around him, that he was crying because those closest to him did not recognize his power to raise the dead, but that’s not what the text says. Martha and Mary express nothing but faith in Christ – faith that he could have healed their brother and faith that he can raise Lazarus even now.

Throughout the Gospels, we have seen him heal many and even, on rare occasion, raise the dead. When he arrived in Bethany, just a few verses before our reading today, he greeted Martha’s great faith with reassurance: Continue reading “For All the Saints”

From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Mark 6:14-29


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who claims those whom the world has rejected. Amen.

To my mind, one of the most satisfying feelings in the world is re-visiting a story and making new connections. I’m sure many of you have a favorite book or movie: one to which you return frequently and are always surprised to find some new detailed contained within suddenly grab your attention.

A good tv show or movie is worth watching once. We all know what a beach read is – a bargain book that you take with you on vacation. It might be worth reading once while listening to the waves and trying to keep an eye on the dog or the kids.

But a truly great movie or book is worth revisiting time and time again. Each time through, some new detail emerges, a new theme grabs your attention. The second, third, tenth time through, you’re still catching subtle foreshadowing, shades of irony, jokes that are set up three episodes before the payoff, plot lines discretely seeded in the first pages that culminate in the final chapters. Notes that start subtly but soon dominate the score, meaningful echoes that play out at different levels. Continue reading “From the Beginning, with the End in Mind”

The Good Shepherd

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; St. John 10:11-18


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

goat.jpgThroughout Scripture, shepherds lead Israel. Jacob and Moses both work as shepherds for their wives’ families, and David was a shepherd for his father before becoming king. In our Psalm today, it is the Lord who is our shepherd, tending to our care, providing for our every need, protecting us from dangers, toils, and snares. This motif has long been a central image of the Church. Our oldest depictions of Christ aren’t of our Savior suffering on the cross or rising from the tomb but carrying a sheep across his shoulders, with a shepherd’s crook in hand.

 

While we tend to reduce this image to idyllic pastoral scenes of fluffy white lambs and shepherds wearing clean robes while walking gently alongside the flock or lounging on a lush green hillside, the truth was certainly more rough-and-tumble. Not only did shepherds end up smelling like their flock, but they also had to be willing to fight off attackers: bandits and wild animals. Shepherding was hard, dangerous work, not the stuff of elementary school Nativity plays. Continue reading “The Good Shepherd”

The Already and the Not-Yet: Easter People In-Between

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Texts: Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; St. Luke 24:36b-48


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has conquered the grave and will come again in victory to raise us up. Amen.

Christ is risen. Our Lord is victorious over Death. So why does Death still pack such a punch? Continue reading “The Already and the Not-Yet: Easter People In-Between”

Pope Francis: The Stones Cry Out!

From Pope Francis’ homily on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”… It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?

Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.

And from his homily preached at the Great Vigil of Easter:

It is the silent night of those disciples who are disoriented because they are plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that “this is the way things have always been done”. Those disciples who, overwhelmed, have nothing to say and end up considering “normal” and unexceptional the words of Caiaphas: “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50).

Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40) and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: “He is not here, for he has been raised” (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.

Read the entire text for both sermons at Whispers in the Loggia.