Rest & Freedom

A Homily for the Second Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. John 5:1-18


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

What comes to your mind when I say “blue laws?” Usually, banning the sale of alcohol on Sunday, right? Maybe laws about horse racing, hunting, and car sales (and, according to one unconfirmed urban legend, sodas, which through a bizarre bit of marketing and legal loop holes, birthed the ice cream Sundae) but most of us think about those laws that kept the beer aisle in Georgia grocery stores dark on Sunday until about a decade ago (depending on which county you lived in).

These laws date back to a time when Sabbath observance was serious business – in this country, most famously in Puritan New England. Shops were closed and work was strictly prohibited. More than working, though, New England’s blue laws targeted anything that would distract from the Lord’s Day. (This even became a plot point in the novel Johnny Tremain.) The Massachusetts Bay colony enshrined in law:

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Be Not Afraid; Let It Be

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; St. Luke 1:46b-55; St. Luke 1:26-38


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King. His advent is close at hand. Amen.

After weeks of waiting, we’re almost there. The anticipation has been building for a while now. The tree is up – and depending on your family traditions, it has been for weeks. The plans have been made. Hopefully, there are only a few last-minute gifts or groceries to buy. All four candles are lit, and even those of us in the self-appointed “Advent Police” are getting antsy.

Can I listen to Christmas carols yet…maybe just one. And maybe I can just lift the box under the tree and try to guess what’s in it. Now hand me some egg nog.

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An Earth-Shaking Advent

A Homily for the First Sunday in Advent

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; St. Mark 13:24-37


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Son of Man who comes on clouds descending. Amen.

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has come and gone, neighborhoods are decorated with festive greenery (I noticed last weekend that Mercer Village and Downtown already had their lights up). Starbucks has been using their seasonal green and red cups for weeks now. And from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas Day, countless radio stations will be playing an amalgamation of actual carols, kitschy seasonal songs from the 1950s, and old wintertime standards that for some reason have come to be associated with Christmas. (Rudolph is hardly sacred music, and surely “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is just as apt in January as it is in December, but I digress.)

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What Kind of King?

A Homily for Christ the King

Texts: Ephesians 1:15-23; St. Matthew 25:31-46


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Lord and King, ruler of Heaven and Earth. Amen.

Let’s step back a few weeks in the lectionary – about five weeks ago, which is around three chapters before today’s reading. Some Pharisees and supporters of King Herod come to Jesus with a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus asks to see a Roman coin and says, “Whose image is this, and whose titles?”

Picture it: a silver coin a little smaller than a quarter with the rough image of the emperor stamped into it – and not one but several titles surrounding the rim. Throughout the empire, images of Caesar proclaimed his glory through a series of lofty names:

Princeps Civitatis – First Among the Citizens
Princeps Senatus
– First Among the Senators
Pontifex Maximus – the Chief Priest of the Roman Imperial Religion
Imperator – the Conqueror
Pater Patria – Father of the Nation
Divi Filius – the Divine Son
Augustus
– the Exalted

This is how the emperors saw themselves – and made sure their subjects saw them this way too. From temples and government buildings to the very coins in used to buy bread and wine, the empire proclaimed Caesar’s glorious lordship far and wide.

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Freedom and the Theology of the Cross

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, and from the Holy Spirit who has called and renewed the Church throughout the ages. Amen.

Were we able to pluck Martin Luther from the 1500s and drop him into a car in our parking lot or in front of a computer screen today to worship with us, I doubt he would recognize what we are doing here today: broadcasting the service over the radio into people’s cars? While others watch a pre-recorded service on YouTube? First we’d have to explain what a camera is, what a microphone does, the basics of both radio waves and the internal combustion engine, what a computer is, and how a network of various wires connects almost the entire globe.

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Crumbs From an Overflowing Table

A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 15:21-28


Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.

Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.

The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.

In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.

This sort of back-and-forth was still a live question in Jesus’ day. First-century Judea was home to Jews but also Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and others, and had Gentile neighbors in every direction. Continue reading “Crumbs From an Overflowing Table”

With No Money, Come and Buy

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; St. Matthew 14:13-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who invites us to dine at the abundant feast. Amen.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thus saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.

Some of our kindred in the Church use this verse as a proof-text to explain God’s wrath. We simply cannot understand, they say, how a loving God despises his creation because God is so much loftier than us. It doesn’t matter how good you may be, how many people you fed, how little wrong you did, God still despises your every action unless you’ve prayed a certain way and been baptized by immersion as an adult and attend a specific type of Church. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we simply cannot understand the righteousness of the divine temper tantrum. So stop asking questions.

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