A Place of Honor at the Feast

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:6-7; St. Luke 14:1, 7-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who beckons the lowly to places of greater honor. Amen.

Let’s suppose you were to describe Lutheran culture. What is it that sets us apart? Just off the top of my head, I can think of organ music and congregational singing, certainly a big part of our contribution to the wider Church. And there are also foods brought over from the old country, whether it’s lutefisk from our Scandinavian siblings or plantains from our Afro-Caribbean kindred. And food is important, because of course Lutherans love potluck dinners. (If you have a choice at the potluck, go with the plantains, not the lutefisk.) Then there’s that ubiquitous Lutheran trait: sitting in the back of the church.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say Lutheran? I meant Back-Row Baptist. Or Methodist. Continue reading “A Place of Honor at the Feast”

Tradition! Tradition!

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 13:10-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who interrupts our world to show us the Kingdom. Amen.

To quote Fiddler on the Roof, “How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!” (Tradition! Tradition!) “Traditions for everything: How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes.”

The musical gets it right. How far may I travel on the Sabbath? There’s a Tradition for that. How shall I pray? There’s a tradition for that. What does this text mean? There’s a tradition for that.

It’s difficult to overstate the centrality of tradition in Judaism. After a fifty-year exile and centuries under successive occupying empires, tradition played the same role it does today: preserving identity.

What does it mean to keep the Torah in Persia? Continue reading “Tradition! Tradition!”

But Rather Division!

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Hebrews 11:29-12:2; St. Luke 12:49-56


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses Amen.

Let’s start with that recurring question that pops up time and time again in response to Jesus’ teachings: how is any of this possibly “good news”? Christ says he has come to bring fire to the earth, that he does not bring peace but division, that he will divide family member against family member. This seems more like “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

We might suggest that Jesus is being metaphorical somehow, that there is some less pessimistic meaning hidden in the text, but we see this literal division and violence lived out in the experience of the early Church. Our reading from Hebrews makes pretty clear that the going is gonna get tough. After listing off some folks who managed to escape suffering and oppression, the author quickly notes: Continue reading “But Rather Division!”

Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; St. Luke 12:32-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one we are waiting for. Amen.

Before Father Abraham had many sons, before he was Abraham, when Sarah was known as Sarai, the Lord came to this wandering family and made a promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

And at the time, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to say. Both Abram and Sarai were advanced in age, past their child-bearing years. More than that, they were homeless nomads; who were they that the Lord should take account of them?

As time passed, the divine promise was long-delayed, enough so that Abram and Sarai had reason to doubt. More than that, Abram’s many shortcomings became readily apparent. The family ended up in Egypt, where the Pharaoh took notice of Sarai. Fearing for his own life, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister; for his own safety, he sent her to live in Pharaoh’s palace as a royal spouse. (Oddly, this part of their story didn’t make it into that old VBS song or the Sunday school felt board, and I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Veggie Tales.) Continue reading “Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able”

That Could Be Enough

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:13-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who blesses us with more than enough. Amen.

I didn’t want to listen at first. My sister told me to. My brother-in-law told me to. And eventually I was pressured into it. Suzanne gave in and then got me hooked. Three years ago, we started listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton. (Yes, this sermon will be full of references and quotes, which is about what it’s been like to live in the Lewis household for the past three years.) It tells the story of an orphan “dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor” who “grow[s] up to be a hero and a scholar” and traces this oft-neglected Founding Father as he goes from a “young, scrappy, and hungry” immigrant to war hero, cabinet member, and political wunderkind. From drinking in rowdy pubs with other young leaders in the American Revolution to the climatic duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton is determined to “rise up” and leave behind a legacy.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, though, young, cocky, womanizing Alexander Hamilton meets one Eliza Schuyler at a winter’s ball. From a prominent and wealthy New York family, she is “never…the type to try and grab the spotlight.” And as Hamilton’s quest to “fly above [his] station after the war” inevitably gets him into trouble, he returns home to his pregnant wife, who tells him: Continue reading “That Could Be Enough”

Hevel Havalim

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:18-23


melancholia
Melancolia – Albrecht Dürer

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who has conquered the grave and has set us free to be the Kingdom of God erupting forth in this violent, deathly world. Amen.

Know that this is not what I intended to say today. I have an entire other sermon that I will post and make available to y’all online. But as we went to bed in the aftermath of one mass shooting and woke up to reports of another, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to address the news today.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Continue reading “Hevel Havalim”

Migrants in Sodom

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; St. Luke 11:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who teaches us to pray boldly. Amen.

men of sodom
“The Men of Sodom,” 18th c. Dutch

Many of us may recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s one of those Bible stories that, were it adapted for film, would likely be rated R for its mature subject matter. We read the set-up today, in which the Lord has taken notice of those two cities for their wickedness, remarking “How grave is their sin!” The Almighty determines to send an angelic away team to investigate and take divine action. Meanwhile, Abraham pleads with the Lord, asking that They spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there – even if it’s only fifty people.

Or forty-five.

Forty.

Thirty.

Twenty.

Ten.

If only ten righteous people may be found, would God Almighty set aside Their anger?

Continue reading “Migrants in Sodom”

The Good Samaritan

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Saint Luke 10:25-34


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

As the camera pans over a model of a small town, complete with a little red trolley, the familiar tune plays, and we zoom in on a single house. Fred Rogers enters the door, changing from his suit jacket into that ubiquitous cardigan and, with just a hint of flash, tosses off his dress shoes and replaces them with sneakers. All the while, he cheerfully sings:

Fred_Rogers,_late_1960s
Fred Rogers during the 1960s

It’ s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

And he finishes, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

For decades, we welcomed Mr. Rogers into our homes, but he made it feel as though he were welcoming us. For thirty minutes at a time, he talked to generations of kids about feelings, letting us know that it was important to love ourselves and to be kind to others, that it was ok to be scared or sad sometimes, teaching us about the world – but it was almost as though he was learning with us. At his core, Mr. Rogers believed that children should be treated with respect and dignity, just as any adult, and it shows in his work – he was never condescending but instead reached children on their level. For those of us in the audience, he treated us like neighbors. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan”

GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 6:1-16; St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Preachers, myself included, like to give the disciples a hard time. You’ve heard me say this before – that Peter, James, John, and the other nine so often miss the point of what’s really going on. Jesus says one thing, and the Twelve immediately do just the opposite – often to comedic effect.

Silly sons of Zebedee, don’t you realize that the first will be last and the last will be first?

20190708_160147
Preachers @ Saint Peter

But here’s the catch: from a human point of view, the Twelve really do have reason to boast. Continue reading “GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!”

“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him even unto Jerusalem. Amen.

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””