“Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…”

A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; St. Luke 21:25-36


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming with power and great glory. Amen.

I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today, my friends, because this week hurts. There is no way around it. Yesterday, we commended our brother Bill Moses to God’s care, and many of you have gone by the hospital to say your goodbyes to our sister Anne, who is nearing the hour of death. Sisters and brothers, I am not ashamed to say that I have cried this week.

Two weeks ago, Saint Mark recounted Jesus’ predictions of destruction and chaos, of a world rising up in revolt. Last week, on the Feast of Christ the King, Saint John showed us Christ’s trial before Pilate, a God subject to imperfect human laws, subject to powers and principalities, subject even to death.

And these chaotic scenes resonate deep within us. This week, it has certainly felt like the world was shaking, as though chaos reigned supreme. It has felt as though these things have the final say. Continue reading ““Heaven and earth will pass away, BUT…””

What Kind of King?

A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; St. John 18:33-37


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Christ the King, 17th century Greek mosaic

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our coming King. Amen.

It’s a bold claim, isn’t it? To stand, bound and on trial, before the imperial governor, the embodied representative of the Roman Empire, and to claim kingship? The Romans had conquered the entire Mediterranean world, from Spain to Turkey, from Tripoli in North Africa up to the limes in Germany, from southern Egypt to as far away as Britain. The Romans had vanquished the fractured Greek rulers and kept the Parthian Empire at bay in Iran. Rome made and broke kings. They commanded entire legions to keep rebellious territories in line. The Romans knew how to shatter the spirit and will of defiant kings and mutinous militias: through the strength of arms and torture. Lay waste to the city, crucify the leaders. Roman authority was rooted in a mighty brutality. Continue reading “What Kind of King?”

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


all-saints

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”

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”

“Receive What You Are”

A Homily for the Fourteenth 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 Living Bread of Heaven. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves in relatively safe territory. Jesus miraculously multiplied a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish to feed over five thousand people, a sign of God’s abiding provision. It’s a familiar story, even if it pushes us to trust in God in a way that not even the disciples Philip and Andrew could.

But as we quickly learned, that was just the prelude, and Saint John’s discourse on bread quickly took a turn towards the obscure. Soon and very soon, Jesus and the Jewish leaders were debating the finer points of Moses, mana, and the Exodus, what it means for bread to come from heaven and give eternal life, and our Lord boldly proclaimed, “I AM the Bread of Life.” And if that wasn’t difficult enough to understand, he then pushed it further, inviting us to feast on his flesh and to drink his blood. Predictably, the Jewish people – for whom cannibalism and consuming blood are decidedly not kosher – were disgusted by this invitation. (And they were not alone: the Romans, too, would later accuse the early Church of practicing cannibalism.)

This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it? Continue reading ““Receive What You Are””

Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6: 35, 41-51


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us the Bread of Heaven, his flesh. Amen.

I have to admit it: I’m disappointed. The facts of history are not nearly as interesting as the legends.

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Zwingli

During the early days of the Reformation, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss theologian, were at odds with each other over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Those of you who studied the Catechism as part of your Confirmation will well remember what Luther wrote: the Sacrament is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Zwingli, by comparison, said that the bread and wine merely represent the Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, that Holy Communion is nothing more than a memorial.

To unite the disparate factions in the face of imperial pressure, Prince Phillip of Hesse brought the two feuding theologians together to the city of Marburg for a conference to hash out their differences. Continue reading “Bread of Life, Flesh of Christ”

The Bread of Life

A Homily for the Eleventh 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.

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Loaves and Fish, Church of the Multiplication

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! Continue reading “The Bread of Life”

“What are they among so many people?”

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:1-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who abundantly provides for our every need. Amen.

Last week, the lectionary did something a little weird: it skipped over the main event. Remember, if you will, the disciples came back from their big trip and the crowds swarmed around them; so many people flooded the area that the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.” To get away from the people, Jesus and the disciples sailed to a secluded place, and the crowds followed them. Even though the throngs put a damper on the whole “quiet spiritual retreat,” Saint Mark said Jesus had mercy on the crowd because “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” and then…nothing happened. The text skipped forward something like twenty verses and the disciples were back in a boat! It left us with a big unanswered question: what happened?!?! What did it look like for Jesus to shepherd the flock, to “have compassion on” the crowd?

Today, Saint John chimes in sort of like Paul Harvey: “And now…the rest of the story.” Continue reading ““What are they among so many people?””

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”