Not One Stone

A Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Mark 13:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming again in glory. Amen.

Rome. The Eternal City.

It sounds like the tagline for a fantastic tourism ad campaign. Or maybe like it was written by some 19th century Romantic, as though Percey Shelley coined the phrase in writing to Keats. Or perhaps it’s some medieval papal propaganda, as though Boniface IX granted Rome the title to spite those antipopes in Avignon?

The moniker actually dates back much, much further. The Roman poet Tibullus first called Rome Urbs Aeterna in the first century while the empire was still pretending to be a republic. The city was already seven centuries old. And this before Octavian became the Augustus and built his palatial estate on Palatine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus, before Vespasian ordered the construction of the Colosseum, and before the Arch of Titus was built, dedicated “to the divine Titus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian.” This arch celebrates the Roman military defeat of Jewish rebels, the ransacking of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.

Arch of Titus, Rome

Wandering around the city even in our current age, a student might gaze from the Colosseum past the Arch of Titus towards August’s palace and say, “Look, teacher! What large stones and what large buildings!”

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Dogs at the Table

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 2:1-17; St. Mark 7:24-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to feed the children of God. Amen.

We’ve seen something like this before.

Jesus is staying at a home in the area near Tyre when a woman comes to him, asking that Christ might cast a demon out of her daughter. There’s a familiar pattern for healing stories and exorcisms like this. There will be some little exchange, the disciples will get annoyed, onlookers will scoff at the entire situation, and Jesus will tell the woman that she has great faith and the daughter will made well. Standard enough fare for the Gospels.

We see these healing narratives over and over again. So much so that we get used to them and, to be honest, we stop paying attention until the end. Oh, hey. Jesus healed the person with…what was it this time? Another leper? Leprosy! Jesus healed the person with leprosy. Yea. Alright. They get a little boring, we lose focus, and the details often evade us as long as it’s a happy ending.

Usually, any sort of disturbing details are floating just under the surface; they demand a close reading of the text to really get at the real point of the story.

But not this time.

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Saint James, Law, and Gospel

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 1:17-27; St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our Perfect Law Giver. Amen.

If we’re being honest, we’ve all known someone like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: quick to chime in with an accusatory question and judging “side-eye.” In contemporary speech, “Pharisee” is synonymous with exactly this type of person, an arrogant and legalistic disciplinarian slavishly devoted to a strict interpretation of the rules quick to render an unrequested verdict.

“Your disciples eat without washing their hands? Bless their hearts.”

“Oh. You let your children watch that movie? Aren’t you worried that it might corrupt their young mind?”

“You listen to that kind of music? I shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ as they say.”

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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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