“Am I Not Free?”

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

Text: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sets us free. Amen

Over the past several weeks, as we’ve read from Gospel According to Saint Mark about the early days of Christ’s ministry, the lectionary has also been working its way through key passages of Saint Paul’s first epistle to the Church in Corinth. Throughout, Paul has addressed a key message of the Christian faith: that through Christ, we are set free. Continue reading ““Am I Not Free?””

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?

Continue reading “One With Authority”

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:

Continue reading “Smells Fishy”

Speak, O Lord

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: I Samuel 3:1-20; St. John 1:43-51


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

In seminary, my Old Testament professor would almost always open class with a devotional prayer, and almost always that prayer was a contemporary song based on a passage of Scripture, and almost always one of two songs in particular: “Thy Word” by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith (inspired by Psalm 119) or “Speak, O Lord” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, which is largely inspired by today’s reading from First Samuel.

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory

We were encouraged to sing along with this prayer, and I have to say, I did not care for it the first time. Or the second. Or the third. By the fourth time, I rolled my eyes. By the time my roommate started singing it in the living room, I would turn up the volume of the television to drown it out. But, what can I say, it did eventually start to grow on me – sappy piano melody and all – and now I can’t read the words Eli handed to Samuel without thinking of Dr. Strawn and a hundred seminarians singing along.

Continue reading “Speak, O Lord”

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.

Continue reading “Epiphanies, Divine and Evil”

The Glory of the Lord, Written in Capital Letters

A Homily for the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Texts: Exodus 24:12-18; St. Matthew 17:1-9


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

“The mountains are calling and I must go…” John Muir’s words, written nearly 150 years ago while in exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains, are just as relatable in this year of our Lord 2020 as they were in 1873. For Muir, and for all of us who feel the call to walk the woods, time in the mountains provided insight into the God who laid the foundations of the earth. Reflecting on his time in Yosemite and the majestic expanse of the Mountain West, he wrote:

The glory of the Lord is upon all His works, but here, in this place of surpassing glory, the Lord has written in capitals.

This rugged man of the woods is certainly not alone – even to this day, many Christians of diverse traditions use the term “mountaintop experience” to describe intense encounters with the Triune God, whether it’s the sublime beauty of a national park calling us into deeper relationship with the Creator of the Universe, feeling the Spirit move anew while singing an ancient and well-loved hymn, or simply a tranquil moment lying in bed during the dark of the night, finding our hearts resting for just a brief instant in God’s peace. These moments are life-changing and hold a sort of fascination; in these experiences, something holy, what philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto called the mysterium tremendum, calls to us and holds our attention even as we struggle to comprehend.

Saints throughout the ages have summitted mountains to encounter the majestic mystery who is the Holy One of Israel. Throughout Scripture, prophets and patriarchs have been summoned to climb into God’s presence. Abraham and Isaac ascended Mount Moriah to make an offering to the Lord, and it was there that God stilled Abraham’s hand while also providing a ram to take Isaac’s place on the altar. According to Jewish tradition, this is the same mountain where the Temple was built centuries later, where Jews today still flock to pray at its foundation.

Moses, leading the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Law. On this sacred summit, as we just read, the glory of God was so overwhelming as to forever change Moses’ appearance, his face reflecting the divine light of God’s most holy majesty for the rest of his years. (To this day, Christian monks maintain a 1,700-year old monastery on this holy peak that they might encounter God like the great lawgiver before them.) And after forty years wandering in the wilderness, Moses climbed Mount Pisgah, where he was blessed to see the Land of Promise, though he knew he would not get there with his people.

Elijah, fleeing threats from Ahab and Jezebel, ascended Mount Horeb like Moses before him, and there God promised to appear before the prophet, coming forth not in mighty earthquake, roaring wind, nor blazing fire but in the sacred sound of sheer silence.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as he has promised divine blessing upon the oppressed and the marginalized and as he has offered a new interpretation of the Law, calling us into a community defined by a sacrificial love for God, neighbor, and enemy.

And the very night before he died, his life once more under threat, the Rev. Martin Luther King, that great prophetic martyr of the 20th century, echoed the life of Moses and the prophetic voices of old, saying:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

It was from this mountaintop that Rev. King encouraged striking sanitation workers in Memphis and their supporters to cast their gaze beyond the world as it appears today and behold the coming new creation: the Promised Land and the new Jerusalem – but also a new Atlanta, a new Memphis, a new South built not on the shackles of slavery and the racism of Jim Crow but on the vision Christ put forward in the Sermon on the Mount, where true equality begets Beloved Community.

And yet again today, just days before we enter into the Lenten wilderness, we find Christ calling us to another mountaintop. At this point in the story, Simon has hit one of the highest points in his time with the Lord – he has proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Christ has in turn given Simon a new name: Peter, the rock, a foundational stone in the Church. But immediately after, Simon Peter hit one of his lowest lows: Jesus began to explain that he would suffer in Jerusalem and even be crucified. Peter didn’t take the news well and tried to correct Jesus, earning himself another nickname. Within one chapter, he goes from being “the Rock” to “Satan.”

So it is that, six days later, we find Jesus leading Simon Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop where suddenly Christ is transfigured. His entire body, even his clothes, radiate the glory of the Eternally-Begotten Son as Moses and Elijah stand on either side of him, and a voice rolls down as thunder from heaven, repeating the words we heard at the beginning of this season:

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!

In this instant, the disciples glimpse the full glory of the coming of the Lord written in capital letters, a moment where heaven erupts visibly on earth. They have been to the mountaintop and seen the one who sits enthroned in the New Jerusalem, the very one who will lead God’s people through the grave into the Promised Land.

Peter has the same response as anyone who has been to the mountaintop: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Please, let us stay, if only for a few moments more. The world down in the valley is not nearly so majestic, and yes, maybe it reflects the glory of its Creator, but that glory is hard to see through all the sinful greed, hatred, and violence. We know what’s waiting for us just off the mountain, when we once more enter into the Lenten Wilderness marked by that ashen reminder of our mortality. Once we leave this summit, it’s back into the barren desert where sin and death destroy, where prophets are made into martyrs, where tyrants rule by the power of the sword. Once we come down from this place, we will re-enter the ordinary world where our best intentions fall short and where we will go back to laboring for a Kingdom we may not see fully realized. Outside these walls, there are hungry mouths to be fed, captives to be set free, powers and principalities to be toppled, and racial division to be overcome; outside these walls, a holy but difficult mission awaits us.

But here, in this holy moment, we can rest in the assurances of God as we gaze out at the Promised Land and behold the glory of God. So yes, please, we would like to stay a bit longer before returning to the world with difficult days ahead, knowing that we are called back into to the challenging work of proclaiming the Good News in thought, word, and deed.

Today we are on the mountaintop, and the glory of God is written before us in capital letters. If we have eyes to see, we may glimpse the coming of the glory of the Lord. Today, the Transfigured Christ is pointing us toward the Promised Land, and Lord knows it is good for us to be here. Soak it in, shout out your Alleluias, and rest easy for a moment. Let this experience hold your fascination, change you forever, and strengthen you and set you free from fear.

But we cannot stay. Something even better awaits us, and now we have to make our way through Lent to Jerusalem. There is difficult but holy work to be done. The Wilderness is calling and we must go.

Amen.

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”

Fulfilling the Law

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Matthew 5:13-20*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose light shines through us into this world. Amen.

In this season leading up to Lent, we are reading through the first chapter of Christ’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount, his first – and arguably best known – teaching that covers everything from the swearing oaths to anger and violence to instructions on fasting and prayer. Last week, while we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and read from the Gospel according to St. Luke, the lectionary provided a second set of readings including the Beatitudes, that famous list of promised blessings that intros the Sermon on the Mount. This week, our Lord continues as he tells us to be salt and light for the world. Next week, we’ll hear the first in a series of new interpretations of the Mosaic Law as Jesus tells his listeners, “You have hard it said…but I say….”

These passages have been read and re-read so often, have become so familiar that, as with so much in the Gospels, we almost tune them out, hearing only what we think we already know. Continue reading “Fulfilling the Law”

A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations

A Homily for the Presentation of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:22-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light to guide the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.

Ok, I lied.

Kind of.

A few weeks ago, I told you Epiphany is the end of the Christmas season, which it is – but also sort of isn’t. Continue reading “A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations”

Come and See

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. John 1:29-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

Last week, I mentioned that Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord mark not only an end of Christmas but also the start of Christ’s public ministry. Jesus was born, yes, but as both the Nicene Creed and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby attest, while we might like the Christmas Jesus best, Jesus did grow up. He wasn’t always an “eight pound six ounce newborn infant.”

Continue reading “Come and See”