“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


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

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””

Christ Against the Legion

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Galatians 3:23-29; St. Luke 8:26-39


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord who came to set the captives free. Amen.

Imagine it: a man forced to live out among the graves. Not some serene field with polished headstones, but a necropolis – a city of the dead – filled with charnel houses in which the deceased rot, are exhumed, and then re-buried. Not a place in which death and decay are buried beneath the surface of a manicured lawn, but where the dead hide just out of sight and the ugly truth of our mortality fills the air. Where tombs are a family affair and, after a person dies and decays, their bones are pushed further back to make room for the next corpse. A person literally goes to join their ancestors in the ever-growing pile of bones. The tombs are not beautiful, well-maintained historic sites. Instead, they are homes of stench and rot, an unclean place. They are not a place to visit or for an evening stroll to admire the handiwork of centuries-old sculptors on a nice spring day. Rather, they are somewhere to be avoided except to fulfill certain familial obligations.

And in to this horrible setting, enter a person. Continue reading “Christ Against the Legion”

Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 16:9-15


 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sent us faithful witnesses to proclaim the Gospel. Amen.

Question: How many of you attended a church with a woman serving as pastor before you were 18? Show of hands.

saint lydia

If you grew up in the old LCA or ALC, you wouldn’t have seen a female pastors until after 1970. Even in the theologically diverse realm of “General Protestant” military chapels during the 1990s and early 2000s, while I met the occasional female chaplain, they were far and few between. It wasn’t until I got to college that I joined a ministry with women serving as fully ordained pastors. In fact, when I started seminary in 2010, even though some predecessors of the United Methodist Church began ordaining women in the late 19th century, my class was the first at Candler to be majority-women.

And if we look around the world, we see that women in ministry are the exception, not the rule. Given that half of the world’s Christians are Catholics and that a wide variety of Protestant denominations actively bar women from ordained ministry, the reality is that the majority of Christians have never heard a woman preach in the pulpit.

In other circles of the Church, women are not only kept out of the pulpit but kept off of congregational councils and committees, prohibited from teaching men in Sunday school, confined to “women’s ministries” like wedding planning, and relegated to a “second-class” status. Continue reading “Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us”

Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 11:1-18; St. John 13:31-35


peters vision windo
Peter’s Vision, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has given us a new commandment. Amen.

“Love one another.” Such a simple, straightforward commandment. And yet like all of God’s Law, this one convicts us of our own sinful shortcomings, revealing how rarely we live into the life that our Lord intends for us. It seems odd that the lectionary should place this passage on Maundy Thursday and then, this year, bring it back around so quickly. It’s been, what, a month since we read it last?

But perhaps there’s some wisdom in this: to keep this perfect Law ever before us, a reminder of our need for God’s forgiving grace and a guide of how Christ intends for us to live in response to our redemption. As if to say, “On Maundy Thursday, you were forgiven your sin, given the new commandment, and fed with the Bread of Life. Let’s check back in. How have y’all done living into the gracious new life of Christ?” Continue reading “Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery”

“Tend My Sheep”

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 21:1-19


feed my sheep

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Great Shepherd who sends us out to tend to the flock. Amen.

Christ is risen, has sent Mary to proclaim this Good News, appeared to the apostles, and even to Thomas. So – as many pastors have asked – now what? Or, in concretely Lutheran terms, “What does this mean?” Continue reading ““Tend My Sheep””

Of Anointing and Suffering

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Philippians 3:4b-14; St. John 12:1-8


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

What does it mean to share in Jesus’ suffering?

How do we share in his death?

The Church has spent the past two thousand years asking this question. As soon as the ink was dry on Paul’s letter, someone asked,

Now what? What am I supposed to do?

Over the centuries, we’ve come up with some pretty weird answers. Continue reading “Of Anointing and Suffering”

I Am the Bread of Life

A Homily for the Fourth Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. John 6:27-40


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

“Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

That’s a bold claim, but it’s one most of us don’t fully appreciate.

Most of us have never known the level of want and hunger that plagued our ancestors, that haunts parts of our world today, that some of our neighbors here in Macon wrestle with. Most of us have not missed a meal for lack of food. Between advances in food preservation, transit, and economic growth over the past seventy five years, most Americans have been spared that level of persistent hunger. Continue reading “I Am the Bread of Life”

Who Am I To Judge?

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Advent

Text: St. John 8:12-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the light of the world. Amen.

Early in his tenure as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis was asked about gay priests serving in the Catholic Church, and his answer set the tone for his first few years as pontiff. He asked,

Who am I to judge?

The response, marking slight but highly visible departure from the answers of his predecessors, was widely reported and oft-quoted. Nearly six years later, this single off-the-cuff remark continues to shape they way many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, understand the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio.

In-character as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” Stephen Colbert responded with his trademark satirical shock: Continue reading “Who Am I To Judge?”

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; St. Luke 4:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who walks with us through the wilderness and gives us the strength to endure. Amen.

Who are you? Where do you come from? Or, as they might say on the Gulf coast, “Who’s ya mama ‘n’ ‘em?”

We’ve seen an explosion of folks trying to answer these questions in recent years.  As our society becomes more mobile and transient, people have left their old homesteads behind and, with them, a large part of their identities. Gone are the close-knit extended families gathered together at every major holiday, fading are the traditional recipes handed down from grandparent to parent to child, few are the churches where four generations still sit together in the same pew, and many “been in my family for generations” farms and houses have long since been sold.

Instead, we see families uprooted and replanted in the suburbs and revitalized, gentrified inner city apartment buildings.

As so many traditional identity markers fade, the internet has stepped in to make genealogical research easier to find out who you are. Sites like Ancestry.com allow you to reconstruct your family tree, and commercial genetic testing services offer to unpack your exact family origins. Now you can get a graph telling you what percentage Welsh, West African, or Estonian you are – perhaps down to the specific village.

jacob blessing josephs children
“Jacob’s Blessing” — Matthias Laurenz Gräff

Continue reading “A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor”

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”