Law and Grace

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 7:15-25a; St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who give us an easy burden and a light yoke. Amen.

“I do not understand my own actions.”

Who among us has not felt like Saint Paul at one point or another? For we do not do what we want – what we really, truly want in our in-most being, to do the will of God, the very end for which we were created.

Oh, we start out with good intent, sure enough.

This is it! This is the time I’m going to hold my temper in check and not yell at the neighbor.

This is the time I’m going to buy that young woman on the street corner a sandwich and tell her about the resources at the shelter.

This is the year I’m finally going to read my Bible every day.

This is it! This time, I’m actually going to join the protests and speak up for justice.

But then we do the thing we hate. Continue reading “Law and Grace”

Division and Unity

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 6:1b-11; St. Matthew 10:24-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united us into one body.

If I may summarize last week’s Gospel reading:

Congratulations, apostles! You’ve just won a no-expenses paid vacation to the small towns dotting the Judaean countryside! You’ll confront demonic powers that seek to destroy you, and while there, you’ll be handed over, beaten, flogged!

This week, it continues: Continue reading “Division and Unity”

Sheep Among Wolves

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 5:1-8, St. Matthew 9:35-10:23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the one who strengthens us to endure until the end. Amen.

We are justified, Paul tells us, by grace through faith in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. But to what end? In this season after Pentecost, reading the Epistle to the Romans in light of Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles, and last week’s Trinity Sunday command for the Church to go forth, what does our salvation really mean?

It’s not some object to be put up on a shelf like a trophy in order that we might boast about how special we are. Rather, in Christ’s death, we are invited to live into the peace of the coming Kingdom, a restored creation. In our justification, we are given the grace to be the people God created us to be, to live the lives that our Lord always intended for us. Continue reading “Sheep Among Wolves”

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.

confessional - expulsion from garden
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”

A House Divided, A Body United

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: I Corinthians 3:1-9*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us through his Crucifixion into one Body. Amen.

“A House Divided.”

It’s the source of turmoil, of angst, of in-fighting, and sometimes of hurtful words you wish you could take back.

You know what I’m talking about.

You’ve seen the license plates: “A House Divided” between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Continue reading “A House Divided, A Body United”

The End is Nigh, But Then…

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Job 19:23-27a; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the source of our eternal comfort and good hope. Amen.

blake the day of judgment
The Day of Judgment by William Blake

The Church in Thessalonica had a problem. They had the same problem the entire Church has faced across the nations and the ages, even to this place today. They had been promised that Christ would return soon and suddenly. But. But then things started going wrong. But then members of the congregation started to die. But then the rumors started: that something worse was coming. Something cataclysmic. But then the panic flooded in.

You’ve felt it, I know. Your skin crawling. The hair on your neck standing on end. That pit in your stomach. The inevitable sinking feeling.

It’s the sensation of your world about to shatter like glass, the realization that there’s no going back to the way things were.

Now, in defense of the Thessalonians, this is kind of Paul’s fault. Continue reading “The End is Nigh, But Then…”

Philemon and Onesimus, Kindred in Christ

A Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Philemon 1:1-21; St. Luke 14:25-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who makes us members of a new family. Amen.

Three Sundays ago, we read Christ’s words that he “came to bring fire to the earth,” bringing not peace “but rather division,” rending family against family. Last Sunday, we read about a wedding banquet where the first are sent to places of dishonor and the marginalized are ushered up front to the places of honor. And this Sunday, Christ told the crowds following him that discipleship means hating your family, taking up your cross, and giving up all of your possessions.

And throughout these passages of Gospel that sounds like bad news, you’ve heard me say that this is only Good News because of the overwhelming goodness of the coming Kingdom. It’s not easy, nor is it anything we accomplish apart from the grace of God. Indeed, as ethicists David Gushee and Glen Stassen remind us, “The kingship of God leads to the cross for those who proclaim it and fight for it.” Following Christ will bring us into direct and painful conflict with the powers and principalities of this world as they cling to their violent positions of authority. This coming Kingdom is costly, but in the end, the Triune God will set all things to right.

In the meantime, we are caught in the middle. Continue reading “Philemon and Onesimus, Kindred in Christ”

Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Colossians 1:15-28


saint pauls chains
The chains of Saint Paul, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn, through whom all things were made and by whom all things are renewed. Amen.

We’re reading the words of a man about to die.

The lectionary is taking us through Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. This short series began last week and will continue through the next two Sundays, taking only a few verses out of this short book (it’s only four chapters) and scattering them over the course of (roughly) a month. Reading the letter this way, it’s difficultto pick up the flow of the argument.

So, let’s start with the context: it’s important to remember we are reading the words of an imprisoned saint facing death. Recalling the stories told in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own writings, we know that he was accustomed to hardship and repeated arrest, but after traveling the Roman world and proclaiming the Gospel, he was eventually arrested one final time in Jerusalem and shuffled between different Judaean cities as he was tried by various officials. As a Roman citizen, he exercised his right to appeal his arrest to the Emperor. The trip from Judaea to Rome was long and arduous, including shipwrecks, hunger, and months in detention between legs of the journey. He spent years imprisoned in Rome before ultimately being taken outside the city walls and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Today’s Epistle lection is among the final surviving words of someone on death row.

And what do we read? A glorious hymn of praise giving all honor to Christ. Continue reading “Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not”

The Good Samaritan

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Saint Luke 10:25-34


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to love our neighbor. Amen.

As the camera pans over a model of a small town, complete with a little red trolley, the familiar tune plays, and we zoom in on a single house. Fred Rogers enters the door, changing from his suit jacket into that ubiquitous cardigan and, with just a hint of flash, tosses off his dress shoes and replaces them with sneakers. All the while, he cheerfully sings:

Fred_Rogers,_late_1960s
Fred Rogers during the 1960s

It’ s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

And he finishes, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

For decades, we welcomed Mr. Rogers into our homes, but he made it feel as though he were welcoming us. For thirty minutes at a time, he talked to generations of kids about feelings, letting us know that it was important to love ourselves and to be kind to others, that it was ok to be scared or sad sometimes, teaching us about the world – but it was almost as though he was learning with us. At his core, Mr. Rogers believed that children should be treated with respect and dignity, just as any adult, and it shows in his work – he was never condescending but instead reached children on their level. For those of us in the audience, he treated us like neighbors. Continue reading “The Good Samaritan”

GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 6:1-16; St. Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out with authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Preachers, myself included, like to give the disciples a hard time. You’ve heard me say this before – that Peter, James, John, and the other nine so often miss the point of what’s really going on. Jesus says one thing, and the Twelve immediately do just the opposite – often to comedic effect.

Silly sons of Zebedee, don’t you realize that the first will be last and the last will be first?

20190708_160147
Preachers @ Saint Peter

But here’s the catch: from a human point of view, the Twelve really do have reason to boast. Continue reading “GO! in peace. Serve the Lord!”