Sinking Beneath the Waves

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 14:22-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heaven Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks across the face of the deep. Amen.

Preachers and the folks who write Bible study curriculum have gotten a lot of mileage out of this story, reading it in completely opposite ways.

Some have criticized Simon Peter for his doubt, spending page after page tsk-tsking Peter for his fear, for his lack of trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” and authors, safe in their armchairs far away from the crashing waves, have taken this as an opportunity to rake poor Simon over the coals. He’s supposed to be the rock upon which the Church is built, but he sinks like a stone. Continue reading “Sinking Beneath the Waves”

Pulling Up Weeds

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 8:12-25; St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Merciful One who sows good seed. Amen.

One day during my childhood, while we were living in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was surprised to see small, colorful pebbles laying in the flowerbed outside our house. What could they possibly be? (I’m not even sure I knew the word “fertilizer” at that age.) And, at least as I remember it now, a week or so later, the same flowerbed had small shoots of green emerging from the soil.

Aha! So those small pebble-looking things were seeds! (Wrong.) But what were they growing? I reached down, grabbed the greenery, and yanked. Low and behold, it was attached to a bulb! Those small seeds had grown into something bigger than my fist! (Wrong again.) Amazed, I took my discovery in to show my mother, who was horrified that I had uprooted her one of her new tulips.

Continue reading “Pulling Up Weeds”

Law and Grace

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 7:15-25a; St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who give us an easy burden and a light yoke. Amen.

“I do not understand my own actions.”

Who among us has not felt like Saint Paul at one point or another? For we do not do what we want – what we really, truly want in our in-most being, to do the will of God, the very end for which we were created.

Oh, we start out with good intent, sure enough.

This is it! This is the time I’m going to hold my temper in check and not yell at the neighbor.

This is the time I’m going to buy that young woman on the street corner a sandwich and tell her about the resources at the shelter.

This is the year I’m finally going to read my Bible every day.

This is it! This time, I’m actually going to join the protests and speak up for justice.

But then we do the thing we hate. Continue reading “Law and Grace”

Division and Unity

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 6:1b-11; St. Matthew 10:24-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united us into one body.

If I may summarize last week’s Gospel reading:

Congratulations, apostles! You’ve just won a no-expenses paid vacation to the small towns dotting the Judaean countryside! You’ll confront demonic powers that seek to destroy you, and while there, you’ll be handed over, beaten, flogged!

This week, it continues: Continue reading “Division and Unity”

Sheep Among Wolves

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 5:1-8, St. Matthew 9:35-10:23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the one who strengthens us to endure until the end. Amen.

We are justified, Paul tells us, by grace through faith in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. But to what end? In this season after Pentecost, reading the Epistle to the Romans in light of Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles, and last week’s Trinity Sunday command for the Church to go forth, what does our salvation really mean?

It’s not some object to be put up on a shelf like a trophy in order that we might boast about how special we are. Rather, in Christ’s death, we are invited to live into the peace of the coming Kingdom, a restored creation. In our justification, we are given the grace to be the people God created us to be, to live the lives that our Lord always intended for us. Continue reading “Sheep Among Wolves”

Paradise Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; St. Matthew 4:1-11


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the temptations of this world that we may overcome this world with him. Amen.

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The Fall, depicted on the door of a confessional in Speyer, Germany

“It was very good.”

That’s how Genesis 1 summarizes life in the first days of Creation.

And Genesis 2 paints us this picture (as translated by Robert Alter):

The Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden…and He placed there the human he had fashioned. And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge…. Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden…. And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him.’ And the Lord God fashioned from the soil each beast of the field and each fowl of the heavens and brought each to the human to see what he would call it…but for the human no sustainer beside him was found.

The human is put to sleep for a quick operation in which the Lord takes out one of his ribs and uses it to fashion a woman, a fellow human to be the sustainer beside him. Life in this very good garden had only one rule: Eat from any tree except the three of knowledge of good and evil; if you eat that tree, you will be doomed to die.

It should have been so simple. Continue reading “Paradise Lost”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Day

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has justified us by grace through faith. Amen.

Most of us know this story by now, either from confirmation or history class…especially after the build-up to the five hundredth anniversary festivities two years ago and the Vespers series* we just finished. But once more with feeling: On October 31st, 1517, a German Augustinian friar, deeply disturbed by the sale of indulgences, posted ninety-five theses, or topics for discussion, on the church door in the university city of Wittenberg to spark an academic debate among his fellow scholars. In doing so, Martin Luther launched the Reformation, and the world was forever changed. Of course, the historical reality is much more nuanced than that, with centuries of developments before and after that fateful day, but the October 31st story makes for convenient short hand. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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

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Luther Memorial, Worms

About eight years ago, when my parents were stationed in Germany with the US Army, I had the chance to visit them for an entire summer. On my way to seminary as a United Methodist openly flirting with the Lutheran tradition, I jumped at the chance to visit the numerous historical sites affiliated with the Reformation. Over those months, I traveled to Worms (as in, “the Diet of…” and of “Here I stand, I can do no other” fame), Augsburg (as in “Confession of”), and Speyer (lesser known, but no less important – there, Lutheran leaders protested the imperial ban on Luther’s teachings and earned the name “Protestants” – a moniker that seems to have some staying power).

Touring these sites in 2010, I was shocked to see “500th Anniversary” signs everywhere. At first, I was worried that I had somehow missed something – that, despite studying religion and history and being something of a nerd, I had gotten the wrong date fixed in my head, that I had mixed up the year the Reformation began. It was, after all, by my count a full seven years before the big five-oh-oh.

Rest assured: 1517 is actually the correct date. But the German government, recognizing the epoch-defining nature of Luther’s 95 Theses, decided that one day or even a full year were insufficient. They declared 2008 the start of the Luther Decade and began in earnest preparing for the influx of history buffs, theologians, pastors, curious tourists, and faithful pilgrims who would descend upon these German towns to mark half a millennia of the Reformation. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

You Are Not God’s Only Hands

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila

Texts: Romans 8:22-27; St. John 14:1-7


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Great Love. Amen.

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The Transverberation of Saint Teresa, 17th c.

There’s no avoiding this topic, so let’s address it head on, shall we? We all probably know Saint Teresa best for the very intimate description of her ecstatic visions. These charismatic experiences are often understood as having at least some erotic subtext as Teresa wrote about the penetrating love of God. In her own words, Teresa discussed the connection between soul and body, the physical sensation of religious experience, the moan-inducing rapture of divine visions. Her writing is put on stunning and beautiful display in Bernini’s famous statue, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture that more closely resembles two lovers than an angel and a prophet. This perspective is so vital to the Church, to a body with such a long, painful, and complicated history with human sexuality and so often confused about the relationship between spirit and flesh. Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, her colleague who incorporated much of her imagery, offer profound sources for feminist and queer prophets to proclaim a Gospel that is at peace with human sexuality. But there are better and more capable voices than mine to expound on the value of both men and women claiming such intimacy with God. Continue reading “You Are Not God’s Only Hands”

No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13

Question: How are we to understand Romans 13?

This text has been in the headlines a lot over the past few weeks following the Trump Administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

In response to the vocal  and unified religious opposition against family separation, Attorney General Sessions cited the Epistle to the Romans, specifically directing his comments to “our church friends”:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later echoed the Attorney General’s remarks:

I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.

For what it’s worth, here’s the relevant text from Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

So how do we understand Romans 13? Does it give governments carte blanche to act without opposition from the Church?

Short Answer: To again quote Saint Paul, “BY NO MEANS!” Continue reading “No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13”