Not a Stone Left on Stone

A Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; St. Mark 13:1-8


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will topple every stone from its place. Amen.

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Lincoln Memorial

Imagine, if you will, that we have taken a trip to Washington, DC. As we wander around the seat of our national government, we of course marvel at the beautiful neo-classical architecture. DC — ok, well, the heart of DC, not so much the sprawling suburbs — is a well-designed city which draws on the great monuments of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman culture to communicate our country’s loftiest ideals. The Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials call to mind the Egyptian obelisks, the Roman Pantheon, and the Greek Parthenon. Instead of divine heroes, these monuments stand to elected human leaders, flaws and all. Continue reading “Not a Stone Left on Stone”

For All the Saints

A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; St. John 11:32-44


all-saints

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

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus should weep?

I have heard some preachers argue that Jesus wept for the doubt he saw displayed around him, that he was crying because those closest to him did not recognize his power to raise the dead, but that’s not what the text says. Martha and Mary express nothing but faith in Christ – faith that he could have healed their brother and faith that he can raise Lazarus even now.

Throughout the Gospels, we have seen him heal many and even, on rare occasion, raise the dead. When he arrived in Bethany, just a few verses before our reading today, he greeted Martha’s great faith with reassurance: Continue reading “For All the Saints”

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

A Homily for Reformation Sunday

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; St. John 8:31-36


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

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Luther Memorial, Worms

About eight years ago, when my parents were stationed in Germany with the US Army, I had the chance to visit them for an entire summer. On my way to seminary as a United Methodist openly flirting with the Lutheran tradition, I jumped at the chance to visit the numerous historical sites affiliated with the Reformation. Over those months, I traveled to Worms (as in, “the Diet of…” and of “Here I stand, I can do no other” fame), Augsburg (as in “Confession of”), and Speyer (lesser known, but no less important – there, Lutheran leaders protested the imperial ban on Luther’s teachings and earned the name “Protestants” – a moniker that seems to have some staying power).

Touring these sites in 2010, I was shocked to see “500th Anniversary” signs everywhere. At first, I was worried that I had somehow missed something – that, despite studying religion and history and being something of a nerd, I had gotten the wrong date fixed in my head, that I had mixed up the year the Reformation began. It was, after all, by my count a full seven years before the big five-oh-oh.

Rest assured: 1517 is actually the correct date. But the German government, recognizing the epoch-defining nature of Luther’s 95 Theses, decided that one day or even a full year were insufficient. They declared 2008 the start of the Luther Decade and began in earnest preparing for the influx of history buffs, theologians, pastors, curious tourists, and faithful pilgrims who would descend upon these German towns to mark half a millennia of the Reformation. Continue reading “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

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Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Are any among you suffering?”

A Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. James 5:13-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will raise us up as we pray. Amen.

“Are any among you suffering?” Saint James asks.

At the risk of offending the author of my favorite epistle, what an idiotically obvious question.

“Are any among you suffering?”

Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. Continue reading ““Are any among you suffering?””

Great Again

A Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 3:13-4:8; St. Mark 9:30-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will make us truly great. Amen.

Do you think Jesus ever turned to the disciples, irritated, and yelled, “What did I just tell you?” Or greet their frequent questions with the same exasperated sigh of a parent who has just been asked for the millionth time why her son couldn’t have a pre-dinner snack?

Last week, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ told his disciples the bad news: the Son of Man would be betrayed, beaten, and brutally murdered. Peter…well Peter didn’t handle the news well. And the bad news kept coming: not only was Jesus going to die, but following him meant taking up a cross as well. To be a disciple is to deny your self. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Continue reading “Great Again”

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”

Nevertheless, She Persisted: The Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 2:10-17; St. Mark 7:24-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to feed the children of God. Amen.

We’ve seen something like this before.

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The Syrophoenician Woman, 17th. century Coptic manuscript

Jesus is staying at a home in the area near Tyre when a woman comes to him, asking that Christ might cast a demon out of her daughter. There’s a familiar pattern for healing stories and exorcisms like this. There will be some little exchange, the disciples will get annoyed, onlookers will scoff at the entire situation, and Jesus will tell the woman that she has great faith and the daughter will made well. Standard enough fare for the Gospels.

We see these healing narratives over and over again. So much so that we get used to them and, to be honest, we stop paying attention until the end. “Oh, hey. Jesus healed the person with…what was it this time? Another leper? Leprosy! Jesus healed the person with leprosy. Yea. Alright.” They get a little boring, we lose focus, and the details often evade us as long as it’s a happy ending.

Usually, any sort of disturbing details are floating just under the surface; they demand a close reading of the text to really get at the real point of the story. But not this time. Today, one point of the story grabs us by the collar and slaps us in the face. A Gentile woman approaches Jesus and she needs help. She follows the social conventions of the day, coming to him in a home and throwing herself at his feet. She’s trying to follow the cultural norms for approaching a teacher with a request. And Jesus of Nazareth compares her to a dog. Continue reading “Nevertheless, She Persisted: The Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman”

Saint James, Law, and Gospel

A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: St. James 1:17-27; St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, our Perfect Law Giver. Amen.

If we’re being honest, we’ve all known someone like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading: quick to chime in with an accusatory question and judging “side-eye.” In contemporary speech, “Pharisee” is synonymous with exactly this type of person, an arrogant and legalistic disciplinarian slavishly devoted to a strict interpretation of the rules quick to render an unrequested verdict.

“Your disciples eat without washing their hands? Bless their hearts.”

“Oh. You let your children watch that movie? Aren’t you worried that it might corrupt their young mind?”

“You listen to that kind of music? I shouldn’t be surprised. ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ as they say.” Continue reading “Saint James, Law, and Gospel”

“Receive What You Are”

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. John 6:56-69


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Living Bread of Heaven. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves in relatively safe territory. Jesus miraculously multiplied a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish to feed over five thousand people, a sign of God’s abiding provision. It’s a familiar story, even if it pushes us to trust in God in a way that not even the disciples Philip and Andrew could.

But as we quickly learned, that was just the prelude, and Saint John’s discourse on bread quickly took a turn towards the obscure. Soon and very soon, Jesus and the Jewish leaders were debating the finer points of Moses, mana, and the Exodus, what it means for bread to come from heaven and give eternal life, and our Lord boldly proclaimed, “I AM the Bread of Life.” And if that wasn’t difficult enough to understand, he then pushed it further, inviting us to feast on his flesh and to drink his blood. Predictably, the Jewish people – for whom cannibalism and consuming blood are decidedly not kosher – were disgusted by this invitation. (And they were not alone: the Romans, too, would later accuse the early Church of practicing cannibalism.)

This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it? Continue reading ““Receive What You Are””