I Am the Bread of Life – A Difficult Teaching

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:56-69


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

A man, let’s call him Rob, walks into his pastor’s office one day. “Pr. Linda, I’ve got a question. Every Sunday, you say that bread has become the Body of Christ, but how…”

Pr. Linda excitedly cut him off. “Rob, that’s a great question – one Christians have been debating for almost our entire history.” Pr. Linda, being something of a scholar, gives Rob the whirlwind tour of Eucharistic theology throughout church history.

It’s a great tour; she hits all the high points – Ambrose and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Zwingli and the Marburg Colloquy, Calvin. She makes sure to start with Aristotelian metaphysics before delving in to the Synoptic Gospels and I Corinthians and checking in on the relevant liturgical texts from the Didache, Saint Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the Apostolic Tradition of Pseudo-Hippolytus, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Anaphora of Addai and Mari all the way through to the Roman Missal promulgated after Vatican II, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and of course Evangelical Lutheran Worship. She quotes extensively from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and both the Small and Large Catechism. She even mentions Berengar of Tours and Paschasius Radbertus! When was the last time you heard a pastor cite to Berengar and Paschaisus?

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Eat My Flesh

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:51-58


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

Let’s pretend, just for a few seconds, that while we might be familiar with some or most of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we’ve never read any of the Gospels or the Epistles. We’ve gone to worship at the Temple, where we’ve sacrificed animals and consumed their flesh, but we’ve never celebrated Holy Communion with bread and wine.

And so it is that we arrive, with a few thousand of our closest friends, around a wandering Nazarene preacher who miraculously feeds the entire crowd with only a few loaves and fish. Just like Moses! And Elijah! And Elisha! Surely God is at work!

And then he starts to speak: Whoever comes to me will never go hungry! Will never go thirsty!

For people familiar with hunger – whether in first century Judaea or twenty-first century Macon – that is quite a promise! No wonder people flocked to Jesus! Not only did he promise that his followers would never go hungry, he also demonstrated his ability to keep that promise!

No wonder the crowd responded, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

But then comes the twist. It’s the twist we see coming because we’re reading this after Maundy Thursday, after the Church took this teaching to heart, after we made this teaching “the source and summit” of our weekly worship. But to the crowd that day? Oh, to the crowd that day, this twist is among the most shocking things they’ll ever hear:

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The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; St. John 6:34-35


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

When last we saw Jesus, he was taking a leisurely stroll across the waves after feeding the five thousand. According to Saint John’s account, Jesus had taken the disciples to a remote location, but the crowds followed them, as they are wont to do. With a sly look, Jesus asked the disciples where they could find food to feed five thousand people; Philip pragmatically pointed out that six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed so many people, and Saint Andrew found a kid with five loaves and some fish – before quickly reminding our Lord that such a small meal was nothing compared to the size of the crowd. Of course that didn’t stop Jesus: he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it out to eat. And not only did it feed the entire multitude but they had twelve massive baskets of large chunks left over. As Jesus retreated further away from the now-sated crowds and his disciples sailed back across the lake (with Jesus miraculously following on foot), the multitudes were left with a burning question. They gave chase, and this is where we pick up today: the people have once again pressed in around our Lord and the disciples, and the people want to know what all this means!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Come Out From Behind Your Locked Doors

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 20:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Risen One who has set us free for the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today opens on a scene that, until last year’s pandemic Easter, was unfamiliar to most us: in the midst of our Easter joy, as we celebrate these great fifty days, we enter a room full of fear. The disciples, in the wake of the Crucifixion, are huddling in a locked apartment, hiding out of sight. They saw what happened to Jesus, and they are terrified that it might happen to them – that Jewish zealots and Roman soldiers might come after them as well, that they may be forced to bear their own crosses. They have heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony, that Christ is risen, but we can see their doubt. Picture their faces: jumping at every sound, the pit sinking in their stomach every time they hear a group of pilgrims walk by, every time a band of soldiers marches by. In the midst of Passover, the disciples are holed up in Jerusalem, afraid that the crowds outside might turn against them.

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“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.

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Breathed His Last

A Homily for Good Friday

Text: Isaiah 52:13-52:12; St. John 18:1-19:42


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

On Sunday, the disciples marched in a parade into the city, full of hopeful expectation: the Messiah, David’s greater Son, entering into the holy city at Passover! The Kingdom was at hand! It was all so glorious!

But over the course to the week, the disciples watched their hope wither like a cursed fig tree. It all unraveled so quickly: The confrontations in the Temple. The plot to arrest Jesus. At dinner last night, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him – and then Judas just got up and left.

And then Jesus told Peter that he, the Rock, would crack under the pressure. And then comes the garden, and they can’t even stay awake.

Then comes the sham trial, and only a few of the disciples follow – and Peter, standing around the fire, denies that he even knows his Lord.

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