An Incarnate Ascension

A Homily for the Ascension of our Lord

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; St. Luke 24:44-53


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, who ascended into heaven and will return again on the last day. Alleluia. Amen.

Forty days after the Resurrection, after having walked the earth – an assurance that the Resurrection is a physical, bodily event, that we too shall be raised not just as disembodied spirits floating in the air but in a real, fleshy way – our Lord ascended. And this too was a physical event; just as he stepped down from heaven and became Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking on humanity in its fullness, so too did he ascend in his incarnate body.

It must have been quite a sight to behold, the Son of Man taken away on the clouds.

If this were a movie, the music would swell. We’d get tight shots of the apostles’ faces as they watch. John would have a serene look of contentment, Peter would cry a little, Thomas would look on in wonder. And then, just as the score reached its crescendo, Christ would disappear into the clouds and we would have a hard cut to black, a title card, and the credits.

The end.

But this isn’t a movie, and this isn’t the end of the story. Continue reading “An Incarnate Ascension”

Breaking Bread

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: St. Luke 24:13-35


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who is known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

Chuck Reese, editor of the magazine The Bitter Southerner, once said:

When a small town community in the South prepares to come together to honor someone who has passed away, something clicks in the brains of the community’s cake bakers. They get to thinkin’. They remember li’l acts a’ kindness done for them by the departed. They remember what she loved ta eat. The li’l things she said ta them o’r the supper table. And then they take all that information and bake the exactly right cake. And the cake stands on the table a’ the funeral home kitchen not merely as solace for the grieving, but as a tribute to the one who’s gone away.

In the South, food is not just something we eat. Continue reading “Breaking Bread”

Let It Be with Me

A Homily for the Annunciation of the Lord

Text: St. Luke 1:26-38


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-Begotten Son. Amen.

There’s a day that will be here before we know it: November 1st. The Halloween candy will be moved to a discount bin and in its place, stores will be putting out Christmas decorations. Clergy Twitter will invariably foam at the mouth as we (rightly) point out that it’s All Saints’ Day and that we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.

But tonight, thanks to some overlapping cycles of the liturgical calendar, in the tail-end of Lent, we’re already looking forward towards the Feast of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. (Before COVID foiled this and many other plans, we were going to be singing that wonderful Basque carol tonight, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came.”)

The Nativity of our Lord and the holy feasts related to it are a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ, true God from true God, the Only-Begotten Son, through whom all things were made, became truly human – so fully human that he knew the pain of hunger, the temptation of sin, and even the sting of death.

But nine months before his birth in royal David’s city, on this day near the end of March, we take a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

It is Mary who, through her body, fed and nourished the one who gave us his own Body and Blood as a holy meal to sustain and nourish us. It is Mary who, in the waters of birth, delivered the one who gives us new birth through water and the Spirit.

Like the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in ages past, God promises Mary a child – but unlike Hannah, Mary has not been trying to conceive. For the Blessed Virgin, pregnancy carries with it not only the risk of medical complications in a world with low standards of health care and high mortality rates for both mother and child but also the risk of societal shaming for being with child (and the underlying assumption of how that child came to be) before marriage. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew reveals Joseph’s concern: that while he wanted to spare Mary the scandal of conceiving out of wedlock, he also intended to divorce her – until an angel convinced him otherwise.

Despite these risks – despite the fact that the Mother of our Lord was likely barely a teenager and even more likely terrified of what Gabriel had to say, that her Son would lay claim to the throne of David, bringing him and all of Judea into conflict with Rome and its legions – Mary answered the Lord’s call with these simple words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And here is really the center of this entire feast: in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, gods had children with human women through acts of abduction and  sexual violence. But the God of Israel, the One who has elected Israel from among the nations, the One who looks with favor upon the lowly and casts down the mighty, acts only with the Blessed Virgin’s knowing consent.

God’s covenant to bless the whole world through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants rests on the shoulders of a young woman who is willing to bear the Only-Begotten into the world.

Listen, dear ones, and hear what God is asking of you, the role our Lord has called you to play in this covenant. And despite all fears, tribulations, and threats, know this: You, too, are highly-favored, and the Lord is with you.

Amen.

A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations

A Homily for the Presentation of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:22-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light to guide the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.

Ok, I lied.

Kind of.

A few weeks ago, I told you Epiphany is the end of the Christmas season, which it is – but also sort of isn’t. Continue reading “A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations”

The Ordinary Incarnation

A Homily for the Nativity of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:1-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born this night, the Prince of Peace, laying in a manger. Amen.

On the 6th of May 2019, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was born to Prince Harry and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the exclusive Portland Hospital – birthplace of royalty and celebrity. His birth was heralded by a media spectacle as well as illuminations of the London Eye Ferris wheel, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Niagra Falls, and for £125 (just over $160), shoppers could buy the officially-sanctioned souvenir teddy bear. He was baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. This pomp and circumstance in spite of the fact that his parents have opted to raise him a “private” citizen, foregoing the right to pass on one of his father’s hereditary titles.

What else would we expect for the son of a prince? This is precisely the sort of extraordinary attention we reserve for those lofty few, those who will reside in palaces or mansions.

The story of Jesus’ birth is likewise extraordinary, but in a completely different way. Our Lord was born not in some elite hospital nor a palace but in the ancient equivalent of a garage because the house was full.

His parents were not special, neither royalty nor celebrities, not even religious leaders. His father was a craftsman engaged to a young woman. They were from a small town that was often the butt of the joke – one of Christ’s own disciples would snidely ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These blessed parents were far from home because the emperor in Rome decided to flex his political muscle over the farthest reaches of his realm.

The angels herald Jesus’ birth only to a few shepherds out in the fields, and a few foreign astronomers notice a strange star, but that’s about it. Save for his parents, the shepherds, and those magi (who don’t even show up for a few years – but more about that in two weeks), everything about this night seems so extremely ordinary.

This is the story of the Incarnation, the story of God the Son, the Divine Word, the Eternally-Begotten One through whom all things were made, becoming a human, one of us. It’s a night that changed the world, and yet it was so entirely plain.

There’s something unsettling about a God who comes to us in such humble form – born not to a king or emperor but to a craftsman and his fiancée in a far-flung province of an oppressive empire, a God who, like all newborns, cried and soiled himself and woke his holy parents up in the middle of the night. The one who gave us his Body and Precious Blood was fed of his own mother’s body, was entirely dependent on the Blessed Virgin Mary for his being.

We dress this night up with illuminations, festive greenery, and sacred song, but at its core, its is holy because it is common.

The Jesuit priest and gang intervention advocate Father Greg Boyle once remarked,

I think we’re afraid of the incarnation. And part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated, and cost… millions [with a] cast of thousands….

But this is what tonight is all about: God enters the world, shunning the pomp and circumstance of human royalty, foregoing the gold-plating in favor of fragile human flesh. Living among us, he encounters pain and disease, he weeps at the graveside of a dear friend, knows the true anguish of hunger and thirst, and feels the sting of death. Our Savior is one who has gone through the same trials and tribulations as us.

On this night of nights, we remember and give thanks that our Lord blessed us with his presence not by appearing as some sort of angelic being devoid of flesh and bone nor by dwelling in some palace far removed from the pain of common, everyday life but that he lived among us, greeted by working-class shepherds.

He lived under earthly kings. He talked to, healed, touched, and even ate with the religious elite, the enslaved, the sex worker, the tax collector, the occupying soldier, the divorcee, the pure and unclean alike, washing away human distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female,  slave and free, calling all of people to new and everlasting life.

And it is this ordinary-looking child who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, who shall wield all authority on heaven and earth, who will reign with righteousness and justice.

It is this newborn Child who will break the oppressive yoke of sin and death, who will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who will lift up the lowly and topple tyrants from their thrones. It is this crying infant who will taste death but, in dying, destroy the deathly powers of this world.

By taking on humanity, ordinary, fleshy, common humanity, Christ will pull us ordinary, fleshy humans out of the grave and dress us in ever-living divinity.

And on this holy night, my dear friends, as we remember the God who came as an infant, we celebrate also that he left us this Blessed Sacrament, his Body and Blood, as a gift of grace. But even this we have tried to dress up with silver and gold. Again, Father Greg reminds us:

And so we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’s hand, and we’ve replaced it with a chalice, because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup….Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends, and that’s the incarnation.

Our Lord’s presence continues in our midst through the mystery of his Body and Blood made present in ordinary bread and wine. Here, beloved, the miracle of our Lord’s birth continues: a God who came to us as a normal kid comes to us again as an ordinary meal. Here he is, for us, to forgive and bring us into newness of life, to make us the holy Body of Christ.

Amen.

Our Glorious King

A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; St. Luke 23:33-43


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, our King who hung upon the tree of the cross. Amen.

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Christ the King

This is not what we expect from our king.

We turn to our rulers looking for certain things: elegance, a sense of power, safety, a show of force. We expect them to do mighty works. We want them to be great and to make us great.

How odd it is, then, that as we celebrate the reign of Christ our King, we don’t read about his miracles. Or the Transfiguration. Today, there is no holy dove descending from heaven, no voice of God proclaiming:

This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Gone are the crowds that greeted Christ on the streets of Jerusalem with palm branches and shouts of: Continue reading “Our Glorious King”

The Kingdom Yet to Come

A Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. Luke 21:5-19


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the coming King. The whole creation trembles at his approach. Amen.

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Recreated Column of Jupiter in Ladenburg, Germany – The original is one of many traces of Rome’s former reach

There was a time when the Roman Empire covered the entire Mediterranean world and beyond – from Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar to the North African coast down to the Sahara, skirting north of the Arabian desert to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, rebuilding the ruined settlements of the Greek world, north over the Alps to the forests of Germany, and even up through France and across Britain into what is today Scotland. This expanse brought with it a sense of hubris: Romans described theirs even before the reign of Julius Caesar as “an empire without end” and their capital as “the eternal city.”

Even still today, tourists can enjoy pasta carbonara while looking out at the Coliseum, stop for gelato on their way to the ancient forum, or even worship in the temple to all the gods, the Pantheon, which still stands to this day as a Christian church. Aqueducts tower over cities in France. The outer limits of the empire still mark antiquarian borders in northern England and through Germany. Continue reading “The Kingdom Yet to Come”

For All the Saints

A Homily for All Saints’ Day

Texts: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; St. Luke 6:20-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united the saints throughout the ages into the Kingdom of God. Amen.

There’s a musical meme, a centuries-old piece of liturgical hymnody used by composers throughout numerous symphonies and film scores to add an air of foreboding. You’ve heard it, even if you don’t realize it.

It’s popped up in The Shining, Star Wars, and The Lion King. It’s the funeral chant Dies Irae, part of the medieval Requiem Mass for the dead. If you’ve ever heard Mozart’s setting of the Requiem, his take is especially dramatic, full of fury. Continue reading “For All the Saints”

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 17:5-10


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us faith the size of a mustard seed. Amen.

“Lord, increase our faith.” How often have we asked for more faith? Those times when we aren’t quite sure that we’ll be able to make it: at the end of the month, when we don’t know how the account balance will cover all of the bills, when the doctor says she’ll call in a few days with the test results, or when a loved one is deployed to a combat zone. For years now, that’s how some of us have felt about the this parish: “Lord, increase our faith…give us something, anything to get us through, to keep our doors open.” As we shuffle through this mortal life, there is no shortage of trials and tribulations when we find our faith not only tested but almost withdrawing, as though it is insufficient for the challenge at hand.

In situations like these, Christ’s words can come off as almost insulting. Continue reading “Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed”

Serving Lazarus, Serving Christ

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 16:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who lifts up the lowly. Amen.

I remember the first time I wore a clerical collar.

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Honestly, even now I feel a bit like a superhero who transforms with a simple change of clothes

Having grown up a Methodist and in the “General Protestant” environs of military chapels, the black and white shirts always had an air of mystery about them. They seemed a bit foreign, of unknown origin. But, at the same time, when I saw one of my dad’s Catholic or Lutheran colleagues in the distinctive black shirt with the flimsy white plastic tab, I knew exactly who I was looking at.

My second year of seminary, after a rough first year of hospital chaplaincy, as I considered dropping out of grad school and the ordination process, I started field ed at a Lutheran church in Decatur and donned the collar. There was something very “official” about it. As though shirt itself granted me authority and confidence. It let the world know WHO I WAS. Continue reading “Serving Lazarus, Serving Christ”