What Kind of King?

A Homily for Christ the King

Texts: Ephesians 1:15-23; St. Matthew 25:31-46


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord and King, ruler of Heaven and Earth. Amen.

Let’s step back a few weeks in the lectionary – about five weeks ago, which is around three chapters before today’s reading. Some Pharisees and supporters of King Herod come to Jesus with a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus asks to see a Roman coin and says, “Whose image is this, and whose titles?”

Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:

Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens
Princeps Senatus
– First Among the Senators
Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion
Imperator – the Conqueror
Pater Patria – Father of the Nation
Divi Filius – the Divine Son
Augustus
– the Exalted

This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.

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Grief, Hope, and the Saints

A Homily for All Saints

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; St. Matthew 5:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the first-born from among the dead who calls all the saints into new and everlasting life. Amen.

Grief shows up at the strangest of times, doesn’t it? It sneaks up months after the tears stop, years after the funeral. Sure, there are the occasions we expect to be hard, the anniversaries and holidays. We might brace for how difficult Thanksgiving or a birthday may be, but then grief catches us unawares on a random Tuesday. A simple smell may remind you of your grandparents’ home, and suddenly you remember weeping at the graveside as a child. Or walking through a park, the particular shade of a flower reminds you of your late husband’s favorite shirt, and the pain feels as fresh as the day he died. After a long day, you reach for the phone to call a friend who could always tell a joke to make you smile, was always there to listen to you complain, always offered good advice – only to remember she died three years ago, and all of a sudden, the wound is reopened.

There’s no rhyme or reason for it, nothing you can do to prevent it. Grief is normal, but it feels so isolating and hurts so much. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Pastor, I know it shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time,” but of course it does! And the closer the person was to you, the longer and more painful it will be. Yes, it’s normal, yes, it’s expected, no you shouldn’t just get over it, but it still hurts.

Continue reading “Grief, Hope, and the Saints”

I Go…Or, I Want To…

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; St. Matthew 21:23-32


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the truly obedient Son. Amen.

In my mind, I am amazing. No, really, I’m studious, disciplined, innovative, and generous. In my imagination, I wake up every morning at 5:30 to pray, exercise, and study. I stick to a mostly-vegetarian diet. I’m quick to give away money to anyone in need, ready to stand out on the street protesting for justice, and then I spend my evenings quietly reading while drinking tea.

Or at least, I will. Starting just after this next episode. Or tomorrow. Ok, when we get to Advent and start the new liturgical year: consider it a resolution.

The truth is, despite my best intentions, I stay up too late re-watching the same tv shows I’ve already seen five times, which means I’m definitely not up at 5:30. Despite the large number of prayer books on my shelf, the only times I’m able to really stick with the Daily Office are when I’m on retreat. And I never happen to have that spare single dollar bill on me to give to those in need.

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Grace Isn’t Fair

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Jonah 3:10-4:11; St. Matthew 20:1-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unfairly pours out divine grace upon us. Amen.

“Life isn’t fair.”

Someone has probably said that to you – at least once – at some point during your life. Maybe a parent, a teacher, a coworker. It’s practically a cliché at this point; as someone complains about the injustices of the world, be they minor or major, to tell them, “Life’s not fair.” As if to say, “Welcome to the club, bub,” or “Deal with it,” and end the conversation there.

How unfair the Gospel may seem sometimes.

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To Forgive

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 18:15-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has called the entire Church. Amen.

“…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

If these words sound familiar, it’s because we’ve read them before – and recently. It was two weeks ago, when Simon confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” and Jesus bestowed on him a new name: Peter, the rock, and promised him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (This, by the way, is why Saint Peter is so often depicted in pop culture as pearly-gatekeeper, a sort of celestial maître’ d, checking off whatever fictitious character happens to find themselves knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door.)

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Crumbs From an Overflowing Table

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.

Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.

The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.

In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.

This sort of back-and-forth was still a live question in Jesus’ day. First-century Judea was home to Jews but also Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and others, and had Gentile neighbors in every direction. Continue reading “Crumbs From an Overflowing Table”

Sinking Beneath the Waves

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 14:22-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heaven Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks across the face of the deep. Amen.

Preachers and the folks who write Bible study curriculum have gotten a lot of mileage out of this story, reading it in completely opposite ways.

Some have criticized Simon Peter for his doubt, spending page after page tsk-tsking Peter for his fear, for his lack of trust. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” and authors, safe in their armchairs far away from the crashing waves, have taken this as an opportunity to rake poor Simon over the coals. He’s supposed to be the rock upon which the Church is built, but he sinks like a stone. Continue reading “Sinking Beneath the Waves”

Mustard, Yeast, and Kudzu

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 8:26-39; St. Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


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

Small things become big things. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. A little bit of yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread. Mmmmm. Bread. Especially with some spicy brown mustard and, while we’re at it, a slice of good cheese. Toss the whole thing in the oven to make it toasty and melty. You’re making me hungry, Jesus. Bring on the appetizers of the Kingdom of God.

We understand these parables. Right?

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Pulling Up Weeds

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 8:12-25; St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Merciful One who sows good seed. Amen.

One day during my childhood, while we were living in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was surprised to see small, colorful pebbles laying in the flowerbed outside our house. What could they possibly be? (I’m not even sure I knew the word “fertilizer” at that age.) And, at least as I remember it now, a week or so later, the same flowerbed had small shoots of green emerging from the soil.

Aha! So those small pebble-looking things were seeds! (Wrong.) But what were they growing? I reached down, grabbed the greenery, and yanked. Low and behold, it was attached to a bulb! Those small seeds had grown into something bigger than my fist! (Wrong again.) Amazed, I took my discovery in to show my mother, who was horrified that I had uprooted her one of her new tulips.

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Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will not cut us off but instead delivers us from the thorns. Amen.

Imagine walking along any street in the Georgia summer. The cicadas are calling from the trees; pine towers overhead while magnolia limbs hang low, diving into the dirt and erupting out again. The humidity presses in around you, reminding you of the promised blast of air condition and tea when you get home. You pass an empty lot, erupting in deep green that covers last square inch, climbing up the trees, covering the abandoned shed, threatening to crush it under the unbearable weight.

For the farmers listening to Jesus, thorny weeds threatened to choke out their crop. For farmers living in the southeast, the threat is kudzu.

How lush the hillside covered in this once-heralded vine appears at first glance! But it has that look of uncanny uniformity, every leaf looking exactly the same, choking out any other grass, bush, shrub, or tree that ever took root in that same soil. Continue reading “Of Thorns, Kudzu, and Wealth”