From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Seventh 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.

A mediocre tv show or movie might be 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 really good movie or book is worth re-visiting, and a great work is worth returning to 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.

I spent this past week re-reading a book by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times (five?) and with each revisit, new details stick out to me, ways that he sets up themes in the first pages that dominate the rest of the novel. The ways he plays around with genre. The minor turns of phrase in this work that, with a wink and a nod, pop up in what he called his “fictional autobiography” a decade later.

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The Prophet in the Hometown

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5; St. Mark 6:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out as prophets proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Amen.

No prophet ever, upon receiving God’s call, jumped for joy. “Woohoo! I get to speak truth to power and tell the people how their actions have afflicted our Lord! Where’s the King? I wanna go tell him his actions cause God grief. But first, let me go tell the landowners that the Lord plans to cut them down. I wonder, when I flee into exile, if I’ll go longer without food or water. I can’t wait to find out.”

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Little Child, Get Up

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; St. Mark 5:21-43


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who call us to get up from our deathbeds. Amen.

Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine what the woman in today’s Gospel story endured because we have all, at some point, suffered from some illness that took a physical, emotional, and social toll on us – even something as common as a cold can knock you out for a few days, depriving you of sleep and shutting you off from friends and family. But I dare say almost all of us have more experience than that – is there any among us who has not received that fateful call from the doctor that the test results came back and it’s not good news? Or spent years watching a loved one slowly fade? To place ourselves in her shoes is less a matter of imagination and more about remembering that time in our own lives.

The text tells us she “endured much under many physicians” and “spent all that she had” – and still only grew worse. It’s an all-too-common story.

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Calm in the Storms

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Job 38:1-11; St. Mark 4:35-41


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calms the tumultuous storms. Amen.

What shall we say about Job? This novella is one of those books in the canon of Scripture we tend to ignore. Sure, we might make passing reference to it, but we often keep it – and its tragic events – at an arm’s length.

Here’s a quick summary to jog your memory:

118-job_hears_of_his_misfortunes
Job Hears of His Misfortune, Gustave Doré

Job is doing quite well for himself, living the dream life. He’s wealthy, his estate boasting a thriving herd of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. His large family gets along, dining with each other frequently. The prologue tells us “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” To borrow a phrase from social media, he was #blessed.

Cut to the heavenly court, where the Accuser wanders in and strikes up a wager with God: Job is only pious because his life is perfect. But would he remain faithful if his posh life were taken away? What follows is a series of tragedies that in short order leave Job bankrupt, alone, covered in sores, sitting in an ash heap, waiting for death, using a broken vase as a backscratcher, as his wife tells him to just give up.

Sitting alone among the ruin, Job’s “friends” – though I use that term lightly – wander by to tell him it must all be his fault.

And it’s at this point that we all remember why we ignore this depressing section of the Bible. We’re not even at chapter three yet, folks.

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Seeds of Mustard and Kudzu

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; St. Mark 4:26-34


Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.

The Kingdom of God, our Lord says, is like a mustard seed. It’s small, insignificant, easy to miss. But plant it in the ground and it will grow and grow and grow until it becomes the mightiest…

…shrub.

Well, that’s different. Uh, Jesus, why not go with the cedars of Lebanon? That’s what Ezekiel did. Those cedars – there’s a mighty plant! Their timbers supplied the navies of the ancient world, the railroads of the Ottoman Empire, and the timbers for the very Temple itself in Jerusalem. The mighty and majestic cedars of Lebanon! Any bird would be lucky to build a nest in their branches!

But our Lord Christ goes for the mighty mustard shrub.

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Temptation in the Wilderness

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: I Peter 3:18-22; St. Mark 1:9-15


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Obedient One. Amen.

Driven into the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River, our Lord Christ was tempted by Satan. We read this story every year, and it has undoubtedly become familiar, but take a moment to let the weight of it fully sink in. Compare it to the images of Christ we normally see in art – standing upright, placid, above it all, suspiciously clean for someone living in an without running water in the home. The world around him may be in chaos – people with unclean spirits, suffering from various ailments, hungry, thirsty, or on a boat tossed about by the sea – and yet the Son of God remains calm and composed.

But today, we go from the manifestation of his glory at the Jordan to, just a couple of verses later, alone and isolated, confronting Satan and facing down temptation. It stands as a stark reminder that yes, he is the Son of God, the Beloved, but he is also human – all too human. The source of our strength knew frailty. The one who unites us in community knew isolation. The one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets knew the tempting pull of sin.

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One With Authority

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; St. Mark 1:21-28


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to proclaim his authority. Amen.

A prophet like Moses. It’s quite a promise for the people so recently rescued from slavery and following the law-giver through the wilderness.

Here he is: their great liberator who has worked mighty deeds in the name of the Lord. How excited the people must have been to hear that there would be more prophets like Moses. And today, we know their names: starting with Joshua, followed by the likes of Deborah, Hannah and her son Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, to name but a few.

These people were not mere fortune tellers, as we think of prophets in modern days, but rather these are the ones who give voice to God’s divine message of redemption and liberation. What a relief it must have been to hear that God will continue to speak to the people.

But this promise is not entirely good news. It comes with a warning: false prophets will arise and attribute to God that which the Lord has not said. These lying prophets are both a curse and accursed, speaking deception and oppressing the people. These liars will “presume to speak for the Lord” while serving only their own interests.

How do we know who’s who? When a prophet proclaims, “Thus says the Lord,” how do we know they are speaking truly? How do we discern the good from the bad?

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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:

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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.

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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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