Friday, February 26, 2010

Lent 2c - Conclusion

Genesis 15:1-18; Ps. 27; Philippians 3:14-41; Luke 13:31-35

If we didn’t know the end of the story we might have been as concerned for Jesus’ safety as the Pharisees and like the disciples abandon him when a mob breathing violence made good on Herod’s threat. But we do know the end of the story and so did Jesus. He knew the beginning as well. Remembering the promise he made to Abraham, answering the cry of the waiting Psalmist, he set his face towards the prophet killing city so that he could transform Paul’s body of humiliation, and everyone else’s as well, into the body of his glory. So tell that fox, Jesus says, that the door to the hen house is open but instead of a free meal deal it’s you who will be surprised that this mother hen is no chicken. As Abraham’s promised offspring, chicks under the wing, living between the beginning and the end, we fear no fox as we press on towards the heavenward call (or cluck?) of Christ.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lent 2c - Luke 13:31-35

Luke 13:31-35

If the Pharisees, who know a thing or two about plotting to kill Jesus, are concerned maybe Jesus should pay attention. After all the only hope a hen has is in hiding and praying the fox isn’t as crafty as, well, a fox. And although the lament of Jesus, “how often I have longed...” ends with a word of judgment, “have it your way” the image of Jesus as chicken should do more than cause us to chuckle. It is always surprising to me, and not a little troubling, that we often miss all the ways in which God’s self revelation sets aside what we think of as God like qualities for the less than majestic and powerful. None are more striking than Jesus as mother hen and Herod as fox. But then if we miss the most obvious, God choosing to die exposed and shamed, hanging naked between common criminals then I suppose it follows that we would gravitate towards what our youth and family director Janelle might call a Big Dog God for that’s what we think we need to send foxes into hiding. To be gathered under the wings of Jesus is to accept God as God chooses to be revealed which is always different from what we expect and when gathered under those wings we get it, we begin to look less like foxes and more like chickens.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lent 2c - Philippians 3:14 - 4:1

On Saturday morning at the Cowtown Marathon in downtown Fort Worth I am pressing on toward the goal of anything under a 26:04 5K, my best time to date. I won’t win a prize because there are people in my age bracket who show off by running the Cowtown as if it were a race. But then they’ll be beat by 8th grade Calvary member Molly who’ll run faster than everyone else as well. Pressing on towards the prize requires desire and will power and physical fitness which doesn’t happen overnight. The apostle Paul had more than a little practice pressing on as many pressed in on him for his holding fast to heavenly citizenship. It may be that without opposition it is more difficult for us to keep spiritually fit as minds set on earthly things dull our desire, sap our will power and weaken our resolve. So what are we to do? Stand firm in the Lord, Paul would say, but that doesn’t mean stand still. Someone said to me it was easier for her to give up things in Lent because she thinks about Jesus death more and giving up something you like seems the least you can do. So too our pressing on begins with eyes, not on the prize but on what made the prize possible. "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith" or so goes another Biblical running text. So if you have taken that first step to be more spiritually fit during Lent don’t let yourself go just because Easter rolls around. The race isn’t over until you cross the finish line, even if Molly gets there first.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent 2c - Psalm 27

If you ask me this psalm asks too much. No Fear might work as a bumper sticker for a pick up truck but I’m afraid I would experience more than a little fear if evildoers sat down to dine on me. And while the adversaries and foes stumble and fall in verse two they are back on their feet breathing violence in verse twelve. Even the Lord’s face is hidden and to the psalmist cast off and forsaken the light of salvation should seem dim and distant. Which is why the psalm needs to begin where it ends, waiting. Wait for the Lord; be strong for the Lord is your light and salvation. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage for the Lord is the stronghold of your life. So is that it? We just grit our teeth and bear whatever life throws at us or take a deep breath and go to our happy place when all around is chaos? No. Confident waiting hope does not depend on our own strength or ability to endure. It depends fully on the One who has prepared a place for us and has himself waited through all this psalm asked him to endure. Surrounded by enemies, forsaken by family and friends, accused falsely by witnesses breathing violence he was forsaken even by God. But for the joy set before him Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice as his head crowned with thorns was lifted up above the enemies he was dying to forgive. And dying our death he became our life so that our waiting would not be in vain. No Fear? Maybe so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lent 2c - Genesis 15:1-18

I imagine PETA members would object to this text as in “I’d rather go childless than cut an animal in two” and I might be inclined to join them. The Bible contains a lot of material that I find odd and even offensive and when I read stories like this I can’t imagine God needs to be so dramatic just to make a promise. So if we were to demythologize this story, or take out the bits that don’t fit our view of what is real and what is not, what would be the harm? Maybe it is in making the mysterious less so. We need the mystery for the part of this story that is real to us when like Abraham we find ourselves between what is and what we hope and pray will be. If we have worked out all the details, made God fit our way of thinking, determined what is and what isn’t what do we do when we don’t fit God’s way of being? Abraham’s faith reckoned to him as righteousness, or right relationship with God, depends on believing the promise when the promise is not yet. It means trusting God is present when all evidence would indicate God is not. Faith lives between what is and the hoped for, between the revealed Word, the Bright Morning Star, and the mystery of God invisible yet present. So Abraham believed what he knew could not be and we are the offspring he was promised, counted among the stars he could not number.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent 1 c - Conclusion

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91; Romans 10:5-15; Luke 4:1-13

The lessons for Lent 1C do not seem to have a central theme, or at least at first glance. The Old Testament gives instructions for the ritual of bringing first fruits. The Psalm is a promise of providence despite the terror of the night and dangers of the day. The epistle is an assurance that the name of Jesus is more than able to save. And the Gospel recounts Jesus overcoming temptation in the wilderness. It’s as if the lectionary people, whoever they are, just opened the Bible at random and picked whatever popped up. But at second glance the epistle speaks of the word of God that is always near to you for one does not live by bread alone. The first fruits ritual recognizes that God is the one who gave you the land flowing with milk and honey, therefore worship the Lord your God and serve only him. And while the devil uses the words of the psalm to tempt Jesus, Jesus is the one who believes the promise of providence without needing proof. So when in doubt remember the answer is always Jesus who in this case ties everything together quite nicely on Lent 1C.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent 1c - Luke 4:1-13

Luke 4:1-13
Country singer Lari White sings a song about temptation but she doesn’t need any help from the devil. “Lead me not into temptation I already know the road all too well. Lead me not into temptation I can find it all by myself.” Of course she’s singing about a “good looking thing” that caught her looking at him, but she’s the one who will tell him to “just get thee behind me and I’ll show you the way.” That is true for us as well. We know the road all too well and despite the best of intentions make choices based on our hunger, whatever need real or imagined, that demands to be filled. We believe the lie because it promises much and even though the lie never delivers we are willing to take whatever crumbs it offers. Tempted to live for self we turn stones into bread but are hungry still. Lusting after power and wealth and possessions we sell our soul but are hungry still. And when in the practice of our faith we look for proof of God in emotional experiences or carefully constructed theologies, or lives of rigid rules with self righteousness as our reward we find we are hungry still. That is the truth about us and the first step in a different direction is admitting we know the old road all too well. Honesty stills the voice of our hunger, whatever need real or imagined that demands to be filled, so that we hear the voice of Jesus singing a different song from another road that will one day be the only one we know. So hear the voice of Jesus say, “Just get thee behind me and I’ll show you the way.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent 1c - Romans 10:5-15

Romans 10:5-15

Calvary’s Director of Youth and Family Ministry, Janelle, is always saying my feet would feel neat if I got a pedicure. I tell her I’m a guy and guys don’t do neat feet. Besides, I preach every week so according to the Bible my feet are just fine, thank you very much. But as pretty as the feet of the preacher may be the beautiful thing in this text is that there is no distinction between one foot and the other. The Jew and the Greek stand on the same Word. The generous Lord is Lord of all who call. With that in mind I had the distinct pleasure of preaching at a wedding to a couple who are “in the choir” so to speak, while some of their friends who are not listened in. Is there a distinction between those who can sing the song by heart and those who hearing the song, maybe for first time, just like the sound of it? Maybe if the Lord is really generous calling on the Lord doesn’t mean knowing how to pronounce the Lord's name. Maybe calling on the Lord is a heart or mind or spirit just longing for the song it doesn’t know how to sing and the Lord does the rest. I don’t know, but the better part of me hopes so. Of course the better part of me has such a hope only because I confess with my lips and believe in my heart the One who has the authority to do the rest. For while he washed his disciples feet his feet were put to shame by the nail and in the end those feet bearing the scars of suffering raised from the dead will have the final say. In the meantime I’m grateful I know the name and hopeful that others hear it through my neat feet – with or without a pedicure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent 1c - Psalm 91

Psalm 91
I can’t read Psalm 91 without humming “On Eagles Wings” and rightly so. This is a psalm that has to be sung in the same way as a child I sang “I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus” walking down our basement stairs in the dark. The snare of the fowler, deadly pestilence, terrors at night, arrows by day and the charge of the light brigade can only be faced by a chorus like, “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings.” And while it is true that the way out is up, it takes some going through before the Lord can be the wind beneath your wings. That is what songs and pslams like this are for, the going through times. Such songs and psalms encourage the heart in the dark and difficult, strengthen the spirit in the unpredictable and unnerving, restore hope in the face of despair, faith in times of doubt. The only thing better than a song sung in such times is a song sung together. One day when raised on eagle’s wings, borne on the breath of dawn, shining like the sun we find ourselves held in the palm of God’s hand we’ll sing a new song with a chorus that never ends. In the meantime this one will see us through.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent 1c - Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Lent has always been my favorite season of the church year. I attribute it to being fed a steady diet of sad country western songs as a child and having a fondness for hymns in minor keys. Or maybe it was that all the effort put into Lent, the shrouded cross, the purple banners, the symbols of pain and suffering just made church more interesting. I do know I first came to love Jesus during Lent because the story was so sad and Jesus did it for me, though I’m sure as a child I didn’t understand why. That is what is happening in this text. The giving of first fruits is connected to the story of Israel’s beginning so they will understand why they offer first fruits at all. We were treated harshly in Egypt but God heard our voice and saw our affliction and did something about it and so we do something in return. That distinction, the doing something in return, is what makes this a story of grace and not just paying for a piece of property. It is the gift of freedom, land flowing with milk and honey, which prompts giving something to the gift giver. Like the children of Israel we were in bondage to sin but God heard our voice and saw our affliction and did something about it. So in the giving up or the taking on, the effort put into Lent, we give something to the gift giver and enter more fully the sad story with a happy ending.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Transfiguration c - Luke 9:28-43

Luke 9:28-43
The lectionary allows the option of including the verses that describe what happens when Jesus comes down the mountain and while it might appear to be two different stories they belong together. The transfigured Jesus talking with the law giver and the end of all things prophet is sent to be with and bear the faithless and perverse generation. “How long…” is a lament not a rebuke and has more to do with Jesus than the perverse generation for Jesus knows he will be with this perverse generation until he bears their perversity in his own person. How do you give up glory when you know that? You do it for a father who cries out “Teacher, I beg you…” You do it for an only child convulsed and mauled and beaten by a demon. You do it for well meaning but ineffective disciples. You do it because that is what love is. The beloved only Son is convulsed and mauled and beaten and killed for the faithless and perverse of every generation, every last one of us. If the disciples want to stay on the mountain and bask in the glory how much more so Jesus who has every reason to stay and doesn’t.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transfiguration c - 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

When Paul writes to the Romans of his kindred according to the flesh his sorrow is unceasing and his anguish great. So much so he would gladly himself be cut off from Christ, go back behind the veil as it were, if it meant the children of Abraham would see clearly. The hope that makes Paul bold is a confidence that the freedom of the Spirit will work its will, even on those whose minds are hardened and vision veiled. Changed from glory into glory they will one day with unveiled faces gaze upon the glory that is the Lord. That is the ministry of mercy that makes Paul’s heart beat faster. And that is why we do not lose heart when friends or spouses or children or parents, our kindred according to the flesh, are veiled to the freedom in which we live. If one day we are blessed to see them gifted by sight it will not be by cunning or changing the Word to fit the world, but by living what we believe. We renounce the shameful things that promise much and deliver nothing and live the gift of freedom that is the law of love. We trust in hope that the glory to be revealed is bigger and better and more inclusive than we can imagine. For the open statement of the truth is that we love others so others will love Christ who has always loved them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Transfiguration c - Palm 99

The psalm begins as one might expect. The Lord who is King, enthroned above angelic beings, terrifying in their own right, causes people to tremble as the earth quakes. Before the Lord who is exalted over everyone and everything, praise is not an option. Kings of the human variety, with far less power and majesty, tend to magnify themselves at the expense of their subjects. Not so with the Holy God, the lover of justice, who hears the cries of those who pleading for mercy receive forgiveness. But we might pause before we shout alleluia, for while the Holy One forgives the wrongdoer the wrongdoing must be avenged. Like it or not that’s the way equity is established. And as difficult and painful as that is, living outside the boundaries of God’s decrees is more so. The trouble is we always seem to find ways to bear the unbearable and tolerate the painful. So the Holy God who knew no wrong becomes a wrongdoer and is avenged with a vengeance. In that avenging of wrongdoing is our salvation and God’s hope that one day we will love justice as much as God does.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Transfiguration c- Exodus 34:29-35

Exodus 34:29-35
This is a strange story, but then the Bible is no stranger to strange stories. A burning bush, a plague or ten, fire and smoke on a mountain, a glowing face; the Holy shows up and things happen that can’t be explained and people change. That’s the whole point of a theophany or a close encounter of the Holy kind. You are supposed to change and people are supposed to notice. But we tend to take the unknowable, indefinable, indescribable and contain the Holy in a nice neat dogmatic box. Like the veil that hid the effect of the Holy on the less than, all our musings on the mystical are ways we come to God on our own terms. With the effect of Holy on the less than hidden behind the veil we can keep our religion hidden less we practice it and people notice. But when in an encounter of the Holy kind we catch a glimpse such that we see as we are seen, and know as we are known, if only for a moment, then like Moses we are changed and people are supposed to notice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Epiphany 5c - Conclusion

I'm posting this from American Airlines flight 460 non stop to Columbus, Ohio currently at 30,000 feet. How cool is that!

Isaiah “Here I am send me” speaks to a people who are dull, deaf, and blind. Paul writes to a people who should know better but act in ways that demonstrate they don’t. The disciples leave their boats to go fishing for people but won’t really get started until tongues of fire get them warmed up. And the psalmist anticipates that the way of the Lord will work its will and all the kings of the earth will join the song of praise. Like Isaiah we are sent to speak to a world dulled by distractions, deaf to the Word that is Love and blind to the Holy that longs to be known. With Paul we remind brothers and sisters divided to live the law of love because the story is best told when it is lived. Like the disciples we are not very good at fishing until something happens to us and the voice of the Lord that speaks in unexpected ways tells us to fish in the cafeteria. And so we join the psalmist in singing praise to God for all our speaking, and pleading and fishing anticipates the day when the little g gods will be stilled by the song that never ends.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Epiphany 5c - Luke 5:1-11

Five years ago I started a lunch hour Bible study in the professional building on the campus of Harris Methodist in the office of Dr. Bob Machos. Dr. Bob is a well known and respected internist but when in causal elevator conversation I mention his name and the Bible in the same sentence I almost always have to repeat myself. “Yes, it’s that Dr. Bob. No really. Dr. Bob Machos.” We’ve worked verse by verse through the New Testament and the first three books of the Old but it’s always been a small group of Calvary members meeting behind closed doors. Last week we learned that holding a Bible study in the office was no longer something we would be allowed to do as it may offend patients or staff to have people walking through the office with a Bible. So after five years we have to move. Now at this point many Christians become militant, as if this were some sort of persecution or declare this to be another sign the country is going to hell in a hand basket or claim the first amendment and vow to fight for their rights. But the truth is we’d been fishing for five years behind closed doors and while we have been blessed we hadn’t caught anyone. Last week through nervous corporate officers Jesus told us to cast our nets on the other side of the building. That is how God works and why we respond not with anger or resentment but with joy for I am convinced that out in the open the opportunities for us to be amazed will break our nets and sink our boat. So like the disciple who gets a new name when he leaves everything to follow I’m going to give my friend a new name badge to wear while we fish for people in public. Pretty soon no one will be surprised to see Bible Study Bob casting a net every Tuesday at 12:30 PM in the Harris Methodist Fort Worth CafĂ©. Let the fishing begin!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Epiphany 5c - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul’s defense of his ministry has always seemed a little defensive to me. He claims to be the least but believes himself to be the best. And while he gives credit to the grace of God working in him that implies the other apostles have less of whatever makes Paul more. But then he is a man of passion and contends for the faith with the same zeal with which he persecuted it. The Corinthians are no strangers to passion either. Speaking in the tongues of humans and angels they have divided the body of Christ and given themselves over to spiritual excess or perverted the freedom of the Gospel in lustful pursuits. Confident in their own wisdom they neither respect nor appreciate Paul or each other for that matter and are not afraid to say so. How is it that a faith that celebrates the ultimate act of sacrificial love sacrifices love so quickly? It is human pride and selfishness that turns good news into bad and resurrects what Christ was raised to destroy. But even when church conflict is so commonplace as to be the norm and we think it a miracle when the church actually is what it claims to be the story keeps getting told. Jesus died for sin, was buried and was raised on the third day. You can check the scriptures if you like. As long as the story is told the church has reason to hope that the grace of God was not given in vain.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Epiphany 5c - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
This is a psalm with high hopes. All the kings of the earth will sing of the ways of the Lord, despite the lyrics “he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away” for kings, or queens for that matter, are not generally addressed as “your lowliness.” But they have been humbled by the words of God’s mouth and so they join the psalmist in praising God and even the little g gods have to listen to the song. In the Large Catechism Martin Luther defines a god as anything or anyone “upon which you set your heart and put your trust.” The pantheon of little g gods, wealth or ability or intellect or religious pedigree, etc. would prefer to stop up their ears and ours to the sound of the song of praise to the big G God. In times of trouble when souls grow weak they sing their own song offering comfort or escape in the small g god of indulgence or denial. But little g gods always disappoint for only a big G God can save us from ourselves and fulfill the high hopes of the psalm. Humbled by the words of God’s mouth who hears our cry for help, preserved and delivered in the day of distress, God’s purpose is fulfilled for us. And that is the highest hope, that in spite of our addiction to little g gods the big G God sang for us the endless song of enduring, steadfast love and invites us to join the chorus.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Epiphany 5c - Isaiah 6:1-13

Isaiah 6:1-13
The lectionary gives the option of stopping after verse six and maybe Isaiah would have preferred to end with “Here am I; send me!” as well. Despite his enthusiasm the people to whom he is so anxious to go will be dull, deaf and blind and won’t begin to listen until it is too late. The exile is inevitable and the destruction will be total because they were a people of unclean lips who didn’t know or wouldn’t admit that they were lost. There is no turning, no confession; no cry of “Woe is me!” to move the Lord of Hosts to mercy. But in a far away land they will come to their senses and the prophet’s voice will be heard and understood by the stump that is the seed. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” We would do well to listen for when with unclean lips we claim the grace of God without confessing, “Woe is me!” we are dull, deaf and blind and exiled from inhabiting forgiveness. It is the hallmark of the Lutheran expression of the faith that the Law and the Gospel work together as the Law exposes who we are so the Gospel can reveal who God is. From the stump that is the seed will come the One who high and lifted up will cry out “Woe is me” for the world. Confession is the only response when with dull senses we finally understand the truth about ourselves and hear the cry from the throne of the cross and see the agony he endured that our guilt would depart and our sin be blotted out. Woe is me.