A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

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“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”

Gone Fishin’

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 5:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to fish for people. Amen.

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Miraculous Catch of Fish, 17th cent. Italy

When I was younger, I loved fishing. Or at least, I thought so.

On summer days, my sister and I would hop in the truck with our grandpa and drive out to a local pond to try our hand. Even in the July Georgia heat, we would beg and beg and beg to go fishing. Mind you, neither my sister nor I were very good at it; my sister recalls that we went fishing more than we went catching. And like any small child at the pond, we were loud, quick to pester each other and unlikely to leave our lines in the water for even a second before re-casting. But my grandpa was never one to scold us for our impatience or being loud enough to scare away every fish within five miles. And growing up, our Gospel reading today connected  with those memories of summer days with grandpa, sitting under the tree. Fishing for people? Sounds great. Continue reading “Gone Fishin’”

Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

One Lord, One Faith, One Body

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; St. Luke 4:14-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into his Body. Amen.

The church in ancient Corinth, the recipient of today’s letter from Saint Paul, was situated in a context not so very different from the Church today in Macon. Corinth was a city divided. The population split along social and economic lines, along religious lines, along ethnic lines. These divisions seeped into the church, where those who had converted from the polytheistic religions of the day clashed with those who had been raised in the Jewish community. These early Christians argued about who was baptized by whom.  They debated whether one could eat meat butchered in pagan temples. They even argued about proper hair length. The rich valued themselves above the poor, so much so that the wealthy, who didn’t have to labor long hours and who would pay for the food and wine used in the Eucharist, would gather before the working class could depart their places of employment, feasting on the bread of life getting drunk on the blood of Christ while leaving only scraps for their poorer siblings. Continue reading “One Lord, One Faith, One Body”

Pass Through the Water

A Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


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John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Beloved, with whom the Father is well-pleased. Amen.

In his baptism, Christ’s divine identity is unambiguously revealed in glory.

What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.

This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.

He’s not a creature like us, nor adopted by God as the Caesars claim to be. No, Christ is the eternally begotten Son, who existed before all things. Continue reading “Pass Through the Water”

The Little Boy Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:41-52


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us as both a child and a savior. Amen.

What was our Savior like as a child? Beyond the carol’s claims of “no crying he makes”?

We see shockingly little of Christ’s early life. Mark and John completely omit our Lord’s childhood. Matthew gives a quick over-view in only a chapter and a half. Luke packs it all – from birth to age thirty – into one chapter, fifty-two verses – much of which focuses on the first few days of his life and the people around him rather than on Jesus himself. All of the material we have is laden with symbolism: the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt as refugees only to return safely in a re-creation of the Exodus. Jesus presented in the Temple, greeted with prophetic excitement as Anna and Simeon proclaim that this child is the one they’ve been waiting for. Today, St. Luke builds on his already-rich imagery, telling us that the Holy Family was pious, and that Mary and Joseph observed Passover with the traditional pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. In a foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection, Jesus disappears for three days before being returned safely.

But today, beneath the symbolism, we also see an important – no, a vital part of Jesus’ life. We see something incredibly normal. Yes, this reading is set 2,000 years ago, and yes, it is full of vibrant imagery, but it also contains a very human moment. It’s a scene that has undoubtedly played out in nearly every family over the centuries. Continue reading “The Little Boy Lost”

Unto Us a Child Is Born

A Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; St. Luke 2:1-20


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born to us this night in the city of David. Amen.

Tonight marks the turning of the age. Tonight, of all nights, God steps into human history as one of us, and everything changes. The Son of God, the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ will live among us. He’ll walk the dusty highways. He’ll be baptized and tempted in the wilderness. He’ll call disciples and teach. He’ll perform wondrous acts, turn water into wine, feed the multitudes, calm the storms, and walk on water. He’ll cast out demons, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, heal the lepers, and even raise the dead. He’ll enter Jerusalem in triumph and institute the Sacrament of his presence at the Altar for us. He’ll be handed over, tried, bound, and crucified. He’ll descend into hell and rise again victorious. And in his glorious Resurrection, he’ll open to us the way of everlasting life. Alleluia! Amen!

But all of this will come later. Tonight’s miracle is enough: the Divine Word which is with God and is God from the beginning, the Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, through whom all things were made — is born in Bethlehem. Tonight, God becomes one of us. Continue reading “Unto Us a Child Is Born”

My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Text: The Magnificat


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who places in our hearts songs of praise. Amen.

The Lord, the Mighty One, the God of Israel, has done great things. In ages past, the Lord appeared to Abram and Sarai, who were beyond childbearing years. To them, the priest-king of Salem declared:

Blessed be Abram by God Most high,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High….

After these things, the Lord made a promise to Abram and Sarai: their descendants would outnumber the stars in the night sky, and through this family, God would bless the world. Imperfect though they were, Abraham and Sarah bore children, and their family — small at first — began to grow.

When the heirs of this family found themselves living in slavery in Egypt, a desperate mother sent her child adrift in a drastic ploy to save his life. The Lord kept watch over this child, protected him as he floated among the predators in the Nile, and after he grew into a man with a short temper and a stutter, called Moses forth to lead the people out of slavery, across the sea on dry foot, and into the wilderness where God renewed the promise made to Abraham. As they led the Hebrews into freedom, Moses and his sister Miriam sang out: Continue reading “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord”

Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; St. Luke 3:7-18


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who stands ready with the winnowing fork in his hand. Amen.

We’re over halfway through Advent — we’ve made it to the third Sunday, sometimes called Gaudete Sunday, or “Rejoice!” Sunday. In many parts of the Church, they’re lighting the odd candle out, a rose candle that stands out like a sore thumb among the purple and blue. Some parishes are even hanging up rose-colored paraments, and a few lucky priests are wearing rose vestments. I’ve even been told that somewhere, someone can somehow differentiate between rose and pink.

It’s a festive, jolly time of year! It’s time to rejoice, to deck the halls, to go out caroling, to feast on all sorts of sweets, and to raise a hearty glass of wassail or gluehwein. As many of you know, I’m fairly rigid about the liturgy, which means I’m hesitant to celebrate Christmas before we arrive at the 25th, but I do want to join in the seasonal festivities.

To that end, I’ve endeavored to write a few Advent carols rooted in this year’s lectionary readings; here’s a fun one based on the first Sunday’s Gospel: Continue reading “Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!”