From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Seventh 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.

A mediocre tv show or movie might be 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 really good movie or book is worth re-visiting, and a great work is worth returning to 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.

I spent this past week re-reading a book by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times (five?) and with each revisit, new details stick out to me, ways that he sets up themes in the first pages that dominate the rest of the novel. The ways he plays around with genre. The minor turns of phrase in this work that, with a wink and a nod, pop up in what he called his “fictional autobiography” a decade later.

Continue reading “From the Beginning, with the End in Mind”

Groaning for Deliverance

A Homily for Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us the Spirit as an advocate. Amen.

“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

It has certainly felt that way for the past fourteen months – groaning under the weight of our eager expectation for things to return to something that might resemble what we used to call normal. Groaning for relief, for community, for financial relief, for a vaccine. Groaning for family and friends and coworkers and neighbors who have been separated from us, for loved ones who have been on ventilators in the ICU, groaning for relief and healing and hope of life after death. Groaning for three and a half million fellow humans killed by this wretched pandemic. Groaning for deliverance.

Continue reading “Groaning for Deliverance”

But What Is Love?

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Texts: 1 John 5:1-6; St. John 15:9-17


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

What is love?

We talk about it so much. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He told us to love our enemies. On Maundy Thursday, he gave us a new commandment: to love one another, and he said the world will know we are his disciples by our love.

Last week, the First Epistle of John said that God is love.

So. What is love?

What does it mean to love our neighbors and one another, itself a difficult enough task?

Or to love God?

Or, perhaps most difficult of all, to love our enemies?

Does love mean the same thing for the authors of Scripture that it means for our culture today? Consider what we mean when we say we love someone or something – we might mean something along the lines of affection, as for family and friends. Or it might have a physical, romantic component, as with a spouse or partner. But we might also use it to mean we have a preference for a specific food or place.

Without much thought, I might easily say I love hiking, Suzanne, pulled pork, my friends, God, and the German city of Speyer.

Continue reading “But What Is Love?”

The Good Shepherd

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Psalm 23; St. John 10:11-18


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

Every year, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we mark what has come to be called Good Shepherd Sunday – reading through part of John 10. Arguing with a group of Pharisees, Jesus says that he is the shepherd, that the sheep hear hisvoice for they know him (we read that section last year). In today’s text, he clarifies: he is not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd.

Christ isn’t merely some 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 ensnared, 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, to quote Pope Francis, smells like the sheep.

More than that, Christ is the one who lays down his life for the flock.

Continue reading “The Good Shepherd”

The Resurrection – Myth Meets History

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: St. Luke 24:36-48


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

We have spent the past three weeks confronting a radical new ordering of the world recorded in Saint John’s Gospel – beginning on Maundy Thursday with the Last Supper and the new commandment to love one another, followed closely by Good Friday and the entirety of the Passion. Then, on Easter morning, everything changed as we read how Christ appeared in the garden to Mary Magdalene, and then in the upper room to Peter and (most of) the other disciples and, a week later, to Thomas before sending the apostles out with the gift of the Holy Spirit (which we read last Sunday).

Today, we rewind just a little bit and change angles.

We’re reading from Saint Luke rather than John’s Gospel, and we pick up the story late in the day on Easter evening.

Continue reading “The Resurrection – Myth Meets History”

“Mary!”

A Homily for Easter – the Resurrection of our lord

Text: I Corinthians 15:1-11; St. John 20:1-18


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

The world came crashing down on Friday. Expectation had been building for centuries – an anointed one from God, a messiah, would come to liberate the people.

Then entered a wandering preacher from Nazareth with the power to heal the sick, to cast out demons, even to raise the dead; he proclaimed repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the coming Kingdom of God.

Just a week ago, there was a triumphal parade into Jerusalem, with waving palm branches and shouts of Hosanna! Hope abounded.

But it all withered like a cursed fig tree, and by Friday, Jesus was hung upon the cross, another victim of Rome’s brutally efficient crackdown against any would-be rebels.

“It is finished,” Jesus gasped from the cross.

And had the story ended there, with a lynching tree and a sealed tomb, then there is no good news.

If Christ is not raised, there is no hope.

If Christ is not raised, we are still dead in sin.

If Christ is not raised, let’s all just go back to bed.

If Christ is not raised – really, truly, literally, bodily – then it is all utterly meaningless.

Continue reading ““Mary!””

A Holy Seed Among the Rubble

A Homily for the Second Week of Advent

Text: Isaiah 6


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the seed which brings forth new life in the desolation. Amen.

Prophets have a hard job. Think about it: Moses is sent back home to tell the Egyptian royal court – people he likely knew growing up – that the Lord was about to send plagues against them. Samuel’s first task was to tell Eli, his mentor and guardian, that the Almighty had turned his back on him and his sons. Elijah and Elisha both flee for their lives. And so it goes: Isaiah, serving in the temple, is confronted with an overwhelmingly awful (that is, awe-filled) vision of the heavenly throne.

And his first reaction? “Woe is me!” He is keenly aware that he and the entire people of Judah are unworthy and that he was gazing upon the very definition of Goodness, Power, and Might.

And then it got worse. Because then the angels said,

Continue reading “A Holy Seed Among the Rubble”

Grief, Hope, and the Saints

A Homily for All Saints

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; St. Matthew 5:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the first-born from among the dead who calls all the saints into new and everlasting life. Amen.

Grief shows up at the strangest of times, doesn’t it? It sneaks up months after the tears stop, years after the funeral. Sure, there are the occasions we expect to be hard, the anniversaries and holidays. We might brace for how difficult Thanksgiving or a birthday may be, but then grief catches us unawares on a random Tuesday. A simple smell may remind you of your grandparents’ home, and suddenly you remember weeping at the graveside as a child. Or walking through a park, the particular shade of a flower reminds you of your late husband’s favorite shirt, and the pain feels as fresh as the day he died. After a long day, you reach for the phone to call a friend who could always tell a joke to make you smile, was always there to listen to you complain, always offered good advice – only to remember she died three years ago, and all of a sudden, the wound is reopened.

There’s no rhyme or reason for it, nothing you can do to prevent it. Grief is normal, but it feels so isolating and hurts so much. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Pastor, I know it shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time,” but of course it does! And the closer the person was to you, the longer and more painful it will be. Yes, it’s normal, yes, it’s expected, no you shouldn’t just get over it, but it still hurts.

Continue reading “Grief, Hope, and the Saints”

Departed Saints and the Coming Kingdom

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, Who Is, and Was, and Is To Come, the First Born from among the Dead. Amen.

There is no denying it: the days are getting shorter – even if we hadn’t “fallen back” last night. Nature drove this point home rather starkly for a few hundred thousand of us in north Georgia as we spent Thursday without power. By 7, it was dark enough that I was reaching for oil lamps to illuminate the dinner table – a far cry from the long days of summer when Suzanne and I could take long strolls until 9 or 9:30 at night.

For two millennia, the Church has incorporated this natural cycle into our calendar, using the long nights as an expression of our yearning for Christ’s birth and return in glory – the themes of Advent, which we will mark in a month.

Continue reading “Departed Saints and the Coming Kingdom”