Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; St. John 11:1-45


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

As we enter into the Valley of Dry Bones, it’s not difficult to feel Ezekiel’s sense of desperation. He is a Judahite sent into exile, a priest who has heard of the Temple’s destruction, a prophet striving to make sense of why the Lord would abandon the Chosen People and let the Land of Promise fall into such ruin.

This morning’s imagery, the bones stripped bare by decay and rot, provides a vivid image of the doubt and fear Ezekiel and the other exiles felt. Staring out over the wasteland of a battle lost long ago, asked if these bones might live again, you can almost hear the defeat in Ezekiel’s voice:

O Lord God, you know.

His same resignation is on the lips of the rest of the exiles and those still living in the smoldering waste left behind in Judah. They cry out: Continue reading “Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs”

Blind, but Now I See

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ephesians 5:8-14; St. John 9:1-41


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World who restores sight to the blind. Amen.

I’m not afraid of the dark, generally speaking. But on two separate occasions, I’ve been in a cave where the tour guide shut off the lights for us to see how dark it truly is deep under the earth’s surface: once in the paved tunnels of Wind Cave National Park, accompanied by an experienced ranger, and the other time on in the narrow, damp, muddy caverns under the mountains of eastern Tennessee on a spelunking trip with a high school youth group.

And both times were utterly terrifying. I could see, and then I was blind.

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Cave wit No Light (Artist’s Approximation)

Once the last photons disappeared, it was as though the entire world had been horrifyingly unmade. Suddenly, one entire sense was wiped out. With no fixed objects to look at, I was so disoriented that even the slightest tilt of the head or a subtle shift of balance was nauseatingly dizzying.

When the lights came on, I felt safer – but still not safe. I spent the long trips back to the earth’s surface still terrified that some accident might plunge us back into the void and that this time, we would be stuck in the inky abyss. Continue reading “Blind, but Now I See”

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Rivers of Living Water

A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent III

Text: St. John 7:14-31, 37-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sates our thirst. Amen.

Tonight, we find ourselves back in time: we’re exactly one chapter earlier than we were last Wednesday, when Jesus was confronted by an angry mob preparing to stone a woman caught in adultery. (For more on the relationship between these two episodes, check out last week’s sermon.)

It’s the Feast of Booths, and Jesus is on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, a city packed to overflowing with worshipers flocking to the Temple. In the turmoil of such a crowded city, the religious leaders are on a sharp lookout for anyone who may be stirring up trouble or fomenting insurrection, lest a riot bring about a violent crackdown from the Roman troops. And Jesus, they worry, is exactly that type of dangerous revolutionary.

What we see throughout chapter seven is an extended series of encounters with the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the Temple guards, debating the Law of Moses and the very nature of Truth itself. Continue reading “Rivers of Living Water”

Water From the Rock of Our Salvation

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; St. John 4:5-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Fount of Living Water. Amen.

After years of slavery in Egypt, after ten horrifying plagues, after the Passover and the hurried escape, after passing on dry land through the sea while the pursuing army was drowned, the Hebrews have been liberated!

And their cry goes up: Ashira l’Adonai – now what? Continue reading “Water From the Rock of Our Salvation”

Has No One Condemned You?

A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent II

Text: St. John 7:53-8:11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes bringing life rather than condemnation. Amen.

We begin this evening in media res, in the middle of the story – or at least at the tail-end of one just before the next installment. This isn’t by accident.

Throughout the seventh chapter of Saint John, Christ is back in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths (one of the three major pilgrimages in Second Temple Judaism), and as so often happens, his teaching brought him into direct and public confrontation with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. While he’s teaching in the Temple, Jesus told the Temple, “…none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking to kill me?” Or, put another way, If I must die to fulfill the Law, what must happen to you? Continue reading “Has No One Condemned You?”

Born Again From Above

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: St. John 3:1-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who gives us new birth. Amen.

Nicodemus - John 3:1-21
Nicodemus

Evening has fallen over Jerusalem, and the cool air of the spring night is settling in. The city is packed to overflowing for Passover feast, and this metropolis is in even more of an uproar after a wandering preacher from Nazareth entered the Temple to drove out the animals and money changers using an improvised whip. And yet this same preacher has attracted a large following. As St. John phrased it just a few verses before our Gospel reading, “…many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.”

So it is that, as we read, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a religious leader among the Judeans, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness. It might be a stretch to suggest he “believed in [Jesus’] name,” but he is definitely curious. “Rabbi,” he says, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God” because how else could anyone work such miraculous signs?

Which brings us up to the more familiar part of the story… Continue reading “Born Again From Above”

Christ the Deacon

A Homily, delivered to the Deacons of the ELCA’s Region 9

Texts: Philippians 2:5-13; St. John 13:1-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve. Amen.

On Maundy Thursday, 2013, Francis, then the newly elected Bishop of Rome, celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The time came for the foot-washing rite, and the new pope removed his chasuble before adjusting his stole, setting it on his left shoulder, crossing his chest, and hanging at his right hip. (I would say that the symbolism was obvious, but I didn’t notice he was essentially vested as a deacon until Deacon Adrainne Gray posted about it on social media.)

More than the stole, Francis also dramatically expanded the ritual to include women for the first time in the Vatican’s recorded history. Both of these are habits Francis developed during his time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and every year in his papacy, he has extended the rite to include more and more people on the margins of the Church: women, inmates, home-bound elders, and even Muslim refugees. Continue reading “Christ the Deacon”

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”

Babel, Undone

A Homily for Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21


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El Greco’s Pentecost, 1596

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends the Holy Spirit upon us that we may be one. Amen.

Confession time: I’m not good with languages. My pronunciation is terrible, I have no ear for accents, and, worst of all, I don’t devote the time to studying them that proficiency demands. It’s a shame, too, because I’ve always actually really liked languages, especially the history of how they evolve and borrow from one another. Over the past twenty years, I’ve studied French in middle school, Spanish in high school, German in college, and Greek and Hebrew in seminary.

In fact, I took a full two years of German in college. When my parents were stationed there my senior year, I excitedly went to visit them in Heidelberg, and I was confident that my semesters of anguish would producing stunning results. First night in country, we went out to eat at a local restaurant; I placed my order in my most polished Deutsch:

Ich moechte einmal Radler und ein Jaegerschnitzel bitte.

…only for the waiter to respond in perfect – but frustrated – English. So much for that idea. Continue reading “Babel, Undone”