Smells Fishy

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Saint Mark 1:14-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us into ministry and sends us out into the world. Amen.

Something kind of weird happened last week on the internet – yes, weird even by internet standards. For a few days, everyone was very into sea shanties, those nineteenth century rhythmic work songs sung by sailors. They’re designed to be sung in a group, with a sort of call-and-response style between verse and chorus; with the advent of smartphone-based recording and editing apps, people across the world were able to easily sing together even in the midst of a pandemic, singing songs about friendship (“Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate”), the connection between crew and ship (“Leave Her, Johnny”), and the urge to go home (“Row, Me Bully Boys”).

The sudden interest in sea shanties came about when people started sending around videos of the song “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, and the best version is a nurse riding in the car as his brother blasts the shanty over the stereo, singing along.  The song plays a few times as the video goes, and with each pass, the man goes from casting side-eyed, annoyed glances at his sibling to digging the song to singing along to adding his own harmonies. (Watch the original TikTok video here.)

And yeah, it’s a pretty great song. (It’s been stuck in my head for about a week now.)  It tells of an epic struggle of a whaling ship, the Billy of Tea, off the coast of New Zealand as they harpoon a right whale, intending to tow it back to land – but the whale has different plans, pulling the ship and several smaller boats along:

Continue reading “Smells Fishy”

Epiphanies, Divine and Evil

A Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Acts 19:1-7; St. Mark 1:4-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will reveal all things. Amen.

Our Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized by John, and as he came out of the water, “the heavens were torn apart.”

Saint Mark, usually so direct and terse, here is very descriptive. The heavens are not merely opened, as in Matthew or Luke’s telling, but rent asunder. In this moment, the glory of God is revealed, the barrier between the sacred and profane ruptures, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of the Father declares Christ’s true identity: the Son, the Beloved One, with whom his Father is well-pleased.

In his baptism at the Jordan, we see the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of his glory and his divine nature as the Son of God.

And at the Font, we see a little epiphany – the line between death in the waters and new life in Christ is torn apart when our Heavenly Father claims us as adopted children, anointing us with the Holy Spirit and oil.

Oh, that all such epiphanies were so glorious. But too often, when things are torn apart, we see only the sinful and violent chaos of this world.

Continue reading “Epiphanies, Divine and Evil”

Prepare Ye

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Texts: Isaiah: 40:1-11; St. Mark 1:1-8


Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will lead us on the way of the Lord through the wilderness to the Kingdom of God. Amen.

As the house lights dimmed, the spot hit the back of the theater and my classmate belted out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” as he processed down the center dressed like John the Baptist – or rather, like John the Baptist as imagined by a Broadway producer in the late 60s. The tempo picked up and other cast members danced their way onto the stage. The Leavenworth Senior High fall musical for 2004 – a production of 1971’s Godspell – was, by most accounts a smashing success.

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An Earth-Shaking Advent

A Homily for the First Sunday in Advent

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; St. Mark 13:24-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Son of Man who comes on clouds descending. Amen.

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has come and gone, neighborhoods are decorated with festive greenery (I noticed last weekend that Mercer Village and Downtown already had their lights up). Starbucks has been using their seasonal green and red cups for weeks now. And from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day, countless radio stations will be playing an amalgamation of actual carols, kitschy seasonal songs from the 1950s, and old wintertime standards that for some reason have come to be associated with Christmas. (Rudolph is hardly sacred music, and surely “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is just as apt in January as it is in December, but I digress.)

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“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…””

Not a Stone Left on Stone

A Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; St. Mark 13:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will topple every stone from its place. Amen.

lincoln-monument
Lincoln Memorial

Imagine, if you will, that we have taken a trip to Washington, DC. As we wander around the seat of our national government, we of course marvel at the beautiful neo-classical architecture. DC — ok, well, the heart of DC, not so much the sprawling suburbs — is a well-designed city which draws on the great monuments of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture to communicate our country’s loftiest ideals. The Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials call to mind the Egyptian obelisks, the Roman Pantheon, and the Greek Parthenon. Instead of divine heroes, these monuments stand to elected human leaders, flaws and all. Continue reading “Not a Stone Left on Stone”

Sons of Thunder

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 53:4-12; St. Mark 10:35-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who allots us a portion with the great. Amen.

“Can you do me a favor?”

That question always gives me pause.

“What do they want? How much time will this require? What am I about to get myself in to?”

In my mind’s eye, I picture someone asking for the keys and title to my car or my ATM PIN or holding up a mask and asking me to help knock over the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

“Can you do me a favor?”

Knowing that I’m being ridiculous and just a bit paranoid, I wonder, “Can I really take that chance?” And so I respond, half-jokingly, “Maybe…”

Invariably the request in mundane. “Grab me a cup of coffee while you’re up?”

Enter the sons of Zebedee.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s where I would pause. Not a favor. No, they’re hinting at something far beyond that.

What does Jesus think? Does he see what’s coming? Does he see the hesitation in their eye, that James is fidgeting nervously and John, though he’s doing all the talking, is avoiding eye contact with the other disciples? Is that why he is so coy in his response? Is that why he asks what they want before agreeing to it? Or does he want to force them to say it aloud themselves? Continue reading “Sons of Thunder”

Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

sufferthechildrentocome.jpg

Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Any Mixture of Error”

I spend a lot of time around self-described fundamentalists — perhaps because I live in the Southeast, in the land of Southern Baptist churches. One of the defining doctrines of the modern SBC (and of fundamentalism in general) is their belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture; this tenant is spelled out in the first article of the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith:

It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. [Emphasis added.]

It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a new position, dating back less than two centuries, and it would not come to dominate the Southern Baptist Convention until a concentrated campaign called a “resurgence” by its champions (men like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson) and a “takeover” by its detractors.

Scripture, according to fundamentalist Baptists, must be absolutely and in all ways true otherwise it is worthless. Continue reading ““Any Mixture of Error””