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…”

Brought in by the Water

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who claims us as his own. Amen.

In the German town of Speyer, there is a beautiful old cathedral.

And by old, I mean old.

It was built in the early eleventh century. When it was constructed, the Catholic and Orthodox churches were still united and the Normans had not yet invaded England. The cathedral is extraordinary: it is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site. It is home to relics of beloved saints, to tombs of Holy Roman Emperors, and, out in the plaza in front of the church, there’s a giant wine goblet that is filled so that the town may celebrate every time a new bishop is seated. (We didn’t have one last weekend, sad to say. Perhaps we should have brought that tradition back.) Continue reading “Brought in by the Water”

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 17:5-10


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

“Lord, increase our faith.” How often have we asked for more faith? Those times when we aren’t quite sure that we’ll be able to make it: at the end of the month, when we don’t know how the account balance will cover all of the bills, when the doctor says she’ll call in a few days with the test results, or when a loved one is deployed to a combat zone. For years now, that’s how some of us have felt about the this parish: “Lord, increase our faith…give us something, anything to get us through, to keep our doors open.” As we shuffle through this mortal life, there is no shortage of trials and tribulations when we find our faith not only tested but almost withdrawing, as though it is insufficient for the challenge at hand.

In situations like these, Christ’s words can come off as almost insulting. Continue reading “Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed”

Serving Lazarus, Serving Christ

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 16:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who lifts up the lowly. Amen.

I remember the first time I wore a clerical collar.

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Honestly, even now I feel a bit like a superhero who transforms with a simple change of clothes

Having grown up a Methodist and in the “General Protestant” environs of military chapels, the black and white shirts always had an air of mystery about them. They seemed a bit foreign, of unknown origin. But, at the same time, when I saw one of my dad’s Catholic or Lutheran colleagues in the distinctive black shirt with the flimsy white plastic tab, I knew exactly who I was looking at.

My second year of seminary, after a rough first year of hospital chaplaincy, as I considered dropping out of grad school and the ordination process, I started field ed at a Lutheran church in Decatur and donned the collar. There was something very “official” about it. As though shirt itself granted me authority and confidence. It let the world know WHO I WAS. Continue reading “Serving Lazarus, Serving Christ”

Managing Forgiveness and Favors

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost*

Texts: Psalm 113; St. Luke 16:1-13


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who abundantly forgives. Amen.

Our culture loves Robin Hood stories – complicated heroes who break the law to provide for those in need, risking life and limb in epic feats as they serve the poor. We love the stories of the little person triumphing over the wealthy. It’s why we cheer on characters like Bud Fox in 1987’s Wall Street, who even though he has made a fortune for himself by violating financial regulations, decides to use those same underhanded (and illegal) means to win back his father’s respect, rectify the wrong he’s done, and ultimately get one over on the dastardly Gordon Gekko.

We’re just as likely to tell stories of noble outlaws as we are valiant sheriffs. Wall Street wouldn’t have been as good, wouldn’t have bagged Michael Douglas the Oscar for Best Actor, if it had been the story of a by-the-book Securities and Exchange Commission team investigating alleged impropriety at Jackson Steinem. These myths and legends form part of our collective consciousness, our culture’s shared understanding of the world.

And so we lean in a little closer when we hear today’s Gospel lesson – Continue reading “Managing Forgiveness and Favors”

Like Found Sheep

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: I Timothy 1:12-17; St. Luke 15:1-10


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Good Shepherd who seeks us out and calls us all by name. Amen.

It’s Christmas during one scene in the infinitely-quotable Tom Hanks classic Forrest Gump, and physically and emotionally wounded Vietnam vet Lieutenant Dan angrily asks his former subordinate:

“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”

The kind but simple-minded Forrest responds, with unwitting humor and accidental theological insight:

“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

Continue reading “Like Found Sheep”

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”

A Place of Honor at the Feast

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:6-7; St. Luke 14:1, 7-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who beckons the lowly to places of greater honor. Amen.

Let’s suppose you were to describe Lutheran culture. What is it that sets us apart? Just off the top of my head, I can think of organ music and congregational singing, certainly a big part of our contribution to the wider Church. And there are also foods brought over from the old country, whether it’s lutefisk from our Scandinavian siblings or plantains from our Afro-Caribbean kindred. And food is important, because of course Lutherans love potluck dinners. (If you have a choice at the potluck, go with the plantains, not the lutefisk.) Then there’s that ubiquitous Lutheran trait: sitting in the back of the church.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say Lutheran? I meant Back-Row Baptist. Or Methodist. Continue reading “A Place of Honor at the Feast”

Tradition! Tradition!

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 13:10-17


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who interrupts our world to show us the Kingdom. Amen.

To quote Fiddler on the Roof, “How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!” (Tradition! Tradition!) “Traditions for everything: How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes.”

The musical gets it right. How far may I travel on the Sabbath? There’s a Tradition for that. How shall I pray? There’s a tradition for that. What does this text mean? There’s a tradition for that.

It’s difficult to overstate the centrality of tradition in Judaism. After a fifty-year exile and centuries under successive occupying empires, tradition played the same role it does today: preserving identity.

What does it mean to keep the Torah in Persia? Continue reading “Tradition! Tradition!”

But Rather Division!

A Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Hebrews 11:29-12:2; St. Luke 12:49-56


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses Amen.

Let’s start with that recurring question that pops up time and time again in response to Jesus’ teachings: how is any of this possibly “good news”? Christ says he has come to bring fire to the earth, that he does not bring peace but division, that he will divide family member against family member. This seems more like “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

We might suggest that Jesus is being metaphorical somehow, that there is some less pessimistic meaning hidden in the text, but we see this literal division and violence lived out in the experience of the early Church. Our reading from Hebrews makes pretty clear that the going is gonna get tough. After listing off some folks who managed to escape suffering and oppression, the author quickly notes: Continue reading “But Rather Division!”