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!”

Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able

A Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; St. Luke 12:32-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one we are waiting for. Amen.

Before Father Abraham had many sons, before he was Abraham, when Sarah was known as Sarai, the Lord came to this wandering family and made a promise:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

And at the time, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to say. Both Abram and Sarai were advanced in age, past their child-bearing years. More than that, they were homeless nomads; who were they that the Lord should take account of them?

As time passed, the divine promise was long-delayed, enough so that Abram and Sarai had reason to doubt. More than that, Abram’s many shortcomings became readily apparent. The family ended up in Egypt, where the Pharaoh took notice of Sarai. Fearing for his own life, Abram asked his wife to pose as his sister; for his own safety, he sent her to live in Pharaoh’s palace as a royal spouse. (Oddly, this part of their story didn’t make it into that old VBS song or the Sunday school felt board, and I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Veggie Tales.) Continue reading “Look to the Heaven and Count the Stars, If You Are Able”

To Welcome the Stranger

A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody

Dear friends in Christ,

In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a “sanctuary churchbody.” Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.

When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly’s decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.

Continue reading “To Welcome the Stranger”

That Could Be Enough

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:13-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who blesses us with more than enough. Amen.

I didn’t want to listen at first. My sister told me to. My brother-in-law told me to. And eventually I was pressured into it. Suzanne gave in and then got me hooked. Three years ago, we started listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton. (Yes, this sermon will be full of references and quotes, which is about what it’s been like to live in the Lewis household for the past three years.) It tells the story of an orphan “dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor” who “grow[s] up to be a hero and a scholar” and traces this oft-neglected Founding Father as he goes from a “young, scrappy, and hungry” immigrant to war hero, cabinet member, and political wunderkind. From drinking in rowdy pubs with other young leaders in the American Revolution to the climatic duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton is determined to “rise up” and leave behind a legacy.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, though, young, cocky, womanizing Alexander Hamilton meets one Eliza Schuyler at a winter’s ball. From a prominent and wealthy New York family, she is “never…the type to try and grab the spotlight.” And as Hamilton’s quest to “fly above [his] station after the war” inevitably gets him into trouble, he returns home to his pregnant wife, who tells him: Continue reading “That Could Be Enough”

Hevel Havalim

A Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio

Texts: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; St. Luke 12:18-23


melancholia
Melancolia – Albrecht Dürer

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who has conquered the grave and has set us free to be the Kingdom of God erupting forth in this violent, deathly world. Amen.

Know that this is not what I intended to say today. I have an entire other sermon that I will post and make available to y’all online. But as we went to bed in the aftermath of one mass shooting and woke up to reports of another, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to address the news today.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Continue reading “Hevel Havalim”

Migrants in Sodom

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; St. Luke 11:1-13


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who teaches us to pray boldly. Amen.

men of sodom
“The Men of Sodom,” 18th c. Dutch

Many of us may recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s one of those Bible stories that, were it adapted for film, would likely be rated R for its mature subject matter. We read the set-up today, in which the Lord has taken notice of those two cities for their wickedness, remarking “How grave is their sin!” The Almighty determines to send an angelic away team to investigate and take divine action. Meanwhile, Abraham pleads with the Lord, asking that They spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there – even if it’s only fifty people.

Or forty-five.

Forty.

Thirty.

Twenty.

Ten.

If only ten righteous people may be found, would God Almighty set aside Their anger?

Continue reading “Migrants in Sodom”

“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”