Hosanna! To the Son of David!

A Homily for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Text: St. Matthew 21:1-11


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

In any other year, we would mark today by joining in the crowd’s shouts of Hosanna! with a big parade around the parish, with the joyful waving of palm branches, singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” and we would literally walk into Holy Week.

This year, separated by physical distance, without our footsteps shaking the earth, without the organ leading us in song, without waving palm branches, we remember Christ’s words in Saint Luke’s account: even the stones cry out!

Pause this video! Run outside! Do you hear the breeze? It’s giving glory to God! Do you hear the birds lifting their voice in song? They’re leading the chorus! I know that only a quarter mile or so from where I sit, the stones and the Chattahoochee are joining together as they roar and proclaim the majesty of Christ our King!

But all is not well in Jerusalem. Continue reading “Hosanna! To the Son of David!”

Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees

A Homily for Vespers during the Fifth Week of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 22:23-33


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

Waaaaaay back in the very first season of The Simpsons, young rapscallion Bart badgers his Sunday School teacher with question after question before asking:

Ma’am. What if…your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?

Continue reading “Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees”

Paradise Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; St. Matthew 4:1-11


Grace to you and Peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the temptations of this world that we may overcome this world with him. Amen.

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The Fall, depicted on the door of a confessional in Speyer, Germany

“It was very good.”

That’s how Genesis 1 summarizes life in the first days of Creation.

And Genesis 2 paints us this picture (as translated by Robert Alter):

The Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden…and He placed there the human he had fashioned. And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge…. Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden…. And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a sustainer beside him.’ And the Lord God fashioned from the soil each beast of the field and each fowl of the heavens and brought each to the human to see what he would call it…but for the human no sustainer beside him was found.

The human is put to sleep for a quick operation in which the Lord takes out one of his ribs and uses it to fashion a woman, a fellow human to be the sustainer beside him. Life in this very good garden had only one rule: Eat from any tree except the three of knowledge of good and evil; if you eat that tree, you will be doomed to die.

It should have been so simple. Continue reading “Paradise Lost”

Lost Sheep

A Homily for the First Wednesday of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 18:10-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

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For a few years now, I’ve preached the same sermon at the early service on Christmas Eve – one written by my father some twenty-five years ago. It’s the story of Eliezer the Unreliable, a shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem. And does anyone remember what Eliezer says the number one rule of being a shepherd is?

Never, ever, EVER leave the sheep!

Sheep are dumb! They’re prone to wander into a briar patch and get stuck or walk into a river and drown. Predators might try to eat one for dinner. And of course, sheep are valuable, so shepherds have to protect them from bandits as well.

So tonight, when Jesus brings up the image of a good and trustworthy shepherd, he depicts a person who…

…leaves ninety-nine sheep to search out the one. Continue reading “Lost Sheep”

Rend Your Hearts

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


Grace and Peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who accompanies us through the Lenten wilderness. Amen.

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It was well after midnight my sophomore year of college when I stumbled back into my apartment after hours in the library working on an assignment I was nearly certain I would fail. Exhausted, frustrated, and angry, I dropped my books and my pack, grabbed my shirt and simply pulled, sending buttons and thread flying everywhere. Standing in the doorway, a few shreds of fabric in my hand, I could only muster a sigh. I felt a little bit better, but only for a moment. I quickly collapsed into bed for a few fitful hours’ sleep, still in my undershirt, jeans, and shoes. The next morning, I woke up barely rested, and none the closer to finishing my research paper. Were this a movie, rending my clothes in such a dramatic way would have inevitably led to a breakthrough; as it was, I got a brief moment of catharsis before barely eking out a C+ on the project and in the class and quietly dropping the major.

As overly dramatic as that night may have been, the ritual imagery of Ash Wednesday puts it to shame. Continue reading “Rend Your Hearts”

Trinity Sunday Sermons

Homilies for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

This year, I joined with the saints of Holy Trinity parish in Decatur as my godson was baptized into the Body of Christ. (It was also their patronal feast day and the bishop preached. What a joyous celebration!) In lieu, then, of my normal Sunday sermon, here is a link to my homily from 2018 (Year B) and the full text from 2017 (Year A):

Text: St. Matthew 28:16-20


Grace to you and peace in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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On this Trinity Sunday, we are left scratching our heads, reaching for analogies that always fall short of describing this divine mystery. The Gospel texts for the previous weeks have been not-so-subtly hinting at today’s feast, offering up cryptic descriptions of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are connected: God in Trinity, the Trinity in unity, equal in glory and co-equal in majesty. The Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, the Spirit proceeding from both.

We want it to make perfect sense, to be able to sit down and chart out exactly how the Trinity works, to be able to explain the it to our children, our family, our friends, and even ourselves – and yet this divine mystery frustrates our every attempt at understanding. Every analogy falls short. Continue reading “Trinity Sunday Sermons”

Ashes to Ashes

A Homily for Ash Wednesday

Text: St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to repentance and new life in himself. Amen.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”

“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

“When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.”

We read these words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel every year before we begin our Lenten fast.

Minutes later, we kneel down and receive an ashen cross prominently on our foreheads – an obvious and outward sign that we went to church like good little Christians. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes”

The Lord Revealed

A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; St. Matthew 2:1-12


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes into the midst of us as a radiant and lowborn King. Amen.

As formal as royal events are today, they have nothing on the status of kings in ages past. The further back in history you go, the more power kings and emperors claimed for themselves. We may know a little about folks like Richard the Lionheart or Charlemagne (whose Latin name, Karlus Magnus, means Charles the Great. But of course his full title for use in documents was “Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire.”)

And these medieval kings have nothing on their ancient counterparts.

Consider the heirs of Alexander the Great. When his empire wad divided among five ruling families, they set themselves up as kings and were constantly at war with each other. One such ruler, Antiochus IV, ruled over territory stretching from Judaea to Persia. He claimed the titles Nicator (“the Bringer of Victory”) and Epiphanes (“the Manifestation of God”). He also brought his kingdom to the brink of war, persecuted the people of Judaea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the pagan god Zeus, ultimately setting up the successful Jewish rebellion now observed as Hanukkah – so perhaps he was not so manifestly awesome as he claimed.

Antiochus’ nephew Demetrius I was given the title Soter – Savior. Continue reading “The Lord Revealed”

“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””

Take Up Your Cross, Peter

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9; St. James 3:1-12; St. Mark 8:27-38


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who bids us take up our cross and follow him. Amen.

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Saint Peter by El Greco

Saint Peter is hot-headed and impulsive, eager to step out in faith but fast to fall short, in equal measure profoundly faithful and unruly. And it kind of makes you wonder, given some the guidelines about teachers that James and Isaiah put forward, would either of them have called Peter as a pastor to their congregation?

The readings from Saint James and the prophet Isaiah give us a short glimpse of just some of the requirements for those called to lead God’s people. Teachers should have the ability to sustain the weary with a word, open ears, remain steadfast. They should tame their mouths, uttering blessings rather than curses. And, James is quick to remind us, those called to leadership as teachers “will be judged with greater strictness.”

Impulsive, quick to speak and faster to act, Peter might be exactly the type of person James had in mind when cautioning that not everyone is called to be teachers. Think back to the first two chapters of Saint James’ epistle. What about showing partiality? Peter – and all of the disciples – tend to be obsessed with where they will sit in the Kingdom, hoping for places of honor. Continue reading “Take Up Your Cross, Peter”