Friday, July 30, 2010

Pentecost 10c - conclusion

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

A week from tomorrow I’ll turn 54 which means I’m only one year away from being able to order from the senior citizen menu at I-Hop without having to use a fake ID. I suppose that is the silver lining in my graying beard and even though the teacher insists that everything is meaningless, a stack of pancakes smothered in syrup for pennies on the dollar make life sweet. I think the texts for Pentecost 10c are a little like balancing the inevitable (“Life’s like hour glass glued to the table” Anna Nalick) with qualifying for the senior citizen discount at I-Hop. There is a time for every season in Ecclesiastes and living life as if that were not so is what the teacher pronounces as utterly meaningless. The psalmist trusts that what cannot be done can be done by God and the ransom paid is more than able to redeem one’s life from the grave. Paul exhorts the Colossians to put to death the words and deeds that diminish life and with minds set on things from above live lives worth living. And Jesus telling it like it is to someone in the crowd redirects his greed for what his brother will not share to the brother he shares, for life is about relationship and not the measure of one’s possessions.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pentecost 10c - Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd was trying to triangulate Jesus, who knows a thing or two about healthy relationships between three persons. “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance” sounds like a sibling rivalry with a little history. Who knows, maybe Jesus’ well known tale about two sons and a loving father comes from a chance encounter in the crowd with a real life prodigal. Of course Jesus does not take the bait (he never does) but speaking the truth in love goes to the heart of the matter. You have placed possessions in front of people, which is the definition of greed. To seal the deal he tells the story of a rich man who appears to be acting prudently. Crops not stored properly will quickly turn into cr@p, if you’ll pardon my French. So build bigger barns and enjoy the fruit of your labor, after all that is the reward of hard work and sound investments. But then this is a parable and the details are not to be dissected because it’s all about the punch line and in this case the punch line is a Jesus’ twist on what the Pentecost 10c texts have been teaching all week. You can’t take it with you when you go and living as if you can is foolish. The lesson is for the “someone” in the crowd although we are clearly meant to apply it to our own life. Your brother is more important than dividing the inheritance and the way one is rich toward God has everything to do with the value of our relationships in the here and now, even with brothers who won’t share.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pentecost 10c - Colossians 3:1-11

Life that is not meaningless is the life hidden with Christ which is revealed when life that is meaningless dies. Therefore put to death the earthly things that diminish life on earth; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language, lies and the like. While it sounds like a “just do it” theology, which as we know rarely gets it done, the revealed life depends fully on the One who did it for us so that all the ways we are fond to follow are finally exposed as dead ends. When by putting to death the dead end ways in which we used to live we live the life hidden in Christ and Christ is revealed in us. The revealed life of Christ is not consumed by greed, possessed by passions or divided by discrimination. Just do it? No. It’s been done.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pentecost 10c - Psalm 49

Psalm 49
Psalm 49 continues the theme of Ecclesiastes, namely, no one gets out of here alive. Or as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say, “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, die anyway.” He was also fond of pointing out that despite all the advances in medical science the death rate is still one per person. While that might lead one to despair the Psalmist is confident enough to sing a solution to the riddle. Those whose iniquity brings trouble are not to be feared for even with the wealth of the world at their disposal there is no price that can be paid to purchase a pass on the grave. The wise and foolish, the persecutor and the persecuted will perish together. While that might seem a Pyrrhic victory the psalmist trusts God will do what cannot be done. “God will redeem my life from the grave and will surely take me to himself.” What the psalmist anticipated and what we believe and Walt now gone on to glory knows is that the ransom for human life, the price paid for a pass on the grave was God’s own life and that more than foots the bill.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pentecost 10c - Ecclesiasties 1:1-2; 12-24; 2:18-23

Ecclesiasties 1:1-2:23
The opening words of the teacher, son of David, declare "Meaningless! Meaningless!" If you didn’t get it the first time he leaves no doubt as to what he means "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Most people prefer to sugar coat reality to make it more palatable as in “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Mary Poppins) Or they defy reality as in, "The one who dies with the most toys wins!" (Malcolm Forbes) The teacher prefers to tell it like it is. He hates the things for which he toiled and despairs of his striving under the sun. Even if you work with wisdom, knowledge and skill you can’t take it with you when you go and others will profit from your pain. The one who dies with the most toys still dies. This might lead one to despair of life but that is not what the teacher declares as meaningless. Vanity of vanities is how the old version goes and that puts the emphasis where it belongs. What is meaningless is a sugar coated reality that convinces one circumstances can be controlled, the future can be made secure by the accumulation of wealth or wisdom or that with enough effort chasing after the wind can put the breeze in your pocket. The teacher’s instruction is not that life is meaningless; rather life lived without meaning is vanity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pentecost 9c - conclusion

Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13

Lisa and I had a midweek night out in the stockyards with Pastors John and Kyle and spouses Ruth and Crystal. It turned into a Tim Love tour (Fort Worth’s cowboy celebrity chef) starting at the Love Shack for Amore Caliente (hot love) Burgers, and progressing to the pool table at the White Elephant Saloon and ending with rattlesnake and rabbit sausage and ostrich nachos at Lonesome Dove. Good friends, good food, and country music made for a night when one is grateful for the gifts that God gives. Though Abraham did not go far enough to spare the twin sin cities, the gift of the righteous One when none could be found spares us the same fate. The gift that prompts the psalmist to praise is the big G God who doesn’t act all high and mighty but regards the lowly and protects the poor. The gift of Christ completes all the rules and regulations and requirements of the law so that no record of wrongs stands against us. And the gift of the prayer that begins and ends with the Parent who is “ours” means our asking, seeking, knocking will be answered by the kingdom come in daily bread given and shared, the forgiven forgiving and times of trial overcome. And while it might not seem particularly pious, pastors and spouses playing pool in a saloon is a gift of the kingdom as well, especially when one pastor, who shall remain nameless, makes a pool shot worthy of Minnesota Slim.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pentecost 9c - Luke 11:1-13

Luke 11:1-13
“Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Praying was not new to the disciples who as Jews would have done so religiously three times a day so this request has more to do with Jesus than a lesson in proper prayer posture. It’s like asking for the secret handshake, the visible or in this case, verbal cue that the ones praying belong to the Jesus club. But instead of an exclusive club (we want our own prayer) Jesus begins with a new naming of the God whose name could not be spoken (lest ye die!) as Our Father. Everything that follows, including the parable and the seeking, finding, knocking as well as evil parents knowing the difference between eggs and scorpions, has to do with this naming of God as Father, or better, parent. The “Our Father” is not about gender but genetics. The kingdom come, the asking for daily bread, the being forgiven and forgiving, the temptation from which one is spared all depend on trusting the truth of “Our Father”. And one cannot trust the truth of God as Father unless one acknowledges the Father as “Our” which means we who belong to God belong to each other. (ala Sister Sledge “We Are Family” 1979) When we live “Our” while trusting God as “Father” the kingdom comes, bread is shared, we are forgiven and forgive and the time of trial is not avoided but overcome. And to that let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pentecost 9c - Colossians 2:6-19

The Agony by Theyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988)
The rulers and authorities intended to make a public example of Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But what rulers intended for evil God intended for good and in the ultimate irony the shame of the cross is its glory. Those who killed Jesus according to the demands of the law could not foresee that condemning Christ would in the end fulfill it. We who are not overly concerned with circumcision or keeping kosher or observing festivals must none-the-less admit our tendency to prefer the rules and regulations of religion, if only for the regiment they bring to what otherwise seems too good to be true or too simple to be of much use. Each tradition claims Christ and disagreements about perceived fundamentals of faith lead one to dismiss the other as misguided or misinformed or sadly mistaken. But if God set aside the requirements of kosher and circumcision and Sabbath without a substitution save one, then maybe that’s the only thing we have to hold onto to remain rooted and built up and established in the God who is Love.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pentecost 9c - Psalm 138

The small g gods who covet a capital G will have to listen while the psalmist sings praise of the Lord exalted above all things, especially small g gods. The kings of the earth, accustomed to people bowing down to them, will have to bow down to a higher power and join the song, whether they like it or not. And so you might expect the Lord of all the earth, who puts little g gods in their place and is King above all kings to act the part. But this One who knows no equal, no rival, no one worthy of comparison, regards the lowly, preserves the powerless, and delivers the needy. Therefore the whole heart of the psalmist gives thanks despite walking in the midst of trouble, for the Lord is near and not far off. We too, when strengthened in soul by the steadfast love of the Lord, trust that purposes for us which may or may not be immediately apparent will in fact be fulfilled for the capital G God and the King above all kings hears the words of our mouth and knows the needs of our soul.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pentecost 9c - Genesis 18:20-33

Sodom and Gormorrah by Henry Tanner 1920-4
Abraham does not dispute the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah or the punishment God has planned for the twin sin cities. Abraham’s concern is for the collateral damage caused by God’s righteous wrath which must in his mind include his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. Each proposal preceded by “Far be it from you” asks God to reconsider the just sentence on the wicked for the sake of a diminishing population of righteous. He stops at ten because he either senses he’s gone as far as God will go or he can’t imagine there would be less than ten righteous in the cities on the plain. Unfortunately for the wicked there are only four who are counted righteous, although the character of Lot’s turning back wife turned to salt is questionable. And Lot’s daughters prove to be as sinful as Sodom (Genesis 19:30-36) while Lot drunk in a cave is no saint. So what if no one is righteous? What then? What Abraham didn’t know and we can hardly imagine is that God’s desire was that mercy would triumph over judgment for it is God’s will to be both just and the one who justifies. So since none were found, God in Christ became the One through whom we are counted righteous and who knows, might also be the ones for whose sake the city is spared.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pentecost 8c - Conclusion

Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-29; Luke 10:38-42
I’ve stopped at a Starbucks in Stephenville after four hours of driving to take a break and blog. I’m having a tall Americano no room in honor of Pr. Kyle who overcame a fear of heights on the Leap of Faith. (LoF – while attached to a rope and belayed by a counselor on the ground you climb a really, really tall telephone pole, stand on top of it and then leap off attempting to catch and hold onto a trapeze bar ten feet away.) Pr. Kyle not only climbed the LoF, he caught and held onto the bar and then, just because he could, did a chin up. A legend is born! I was busy riding a worried and distracted bay mare at the time so I didn’t witness the wonder but I imagine there was plenty of laughter when Pr. Kyle’s leap of faith proved fruitful. Not like Sarah’s first laugh, the one she denied for fear, but more like the second laugh that came after labor when God made good on the promise and a cooing Isaac was cradled in Sarah’s arms. Like Psalm 15 the holy hill of confirmation camp is about living a right relationship with God made possible by the One who stood by his oath to save us though it cost him dearly. Like the apostle Paul commissioned to reveal the mystery of God the faith of campers is brought into sharper focus through the ministry of incredibly gifted and dedicated young people who give up their summer to work long hours for little pay because they love the Lord. And finally, we who like Martha are worried and distracted by many things would do well to accept the invitation of Jesus and choosing the better part do more by doing less, which will no doubt require a leap of faith.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pentecost 8c - Luke 10:38-42

Today’s camp theme is Easter. It’s also the day we take the campers on a long trail ride where they will put all the skills they’ve learned in the arena into practice. I’m riding Duce, a young, dun colored mare who is worried and distracted by many things and jumps up and away from the ones that surprise her. But as long as I’m not distracted and reassure her through clear and consistent commands she’ll be fine, even if she is convinced every bush in the hill country hides a potential predator. One of the reasons Martha is worried and distracted is because her sister Mary has left her to do all the work. On the other hand it may be that Martha is worried and distracted by things that are not worthy of worry. All we have to go on is Jesus response which only seems to be more about Mary’s choice than Martha’s demand. In the naming of the better part, the one thing needful, Jesus is inviting Martha to do more by doing less.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pentecost 8c - Colossians 1:15-29

Colossians 1:15-29
The season celebrated at camp last night was Epiphany which had six Sundays this year or so Janelle told the assembled pastors. Pr. Kyle looked it up on his version four iPhone to confirm she was right. You can have as few as four and as many as nine and Transfiguration is always the last one. What did we do before the advent of the iPhone? Epiphany begins with the story of the star and the Magi who followed from afar. Last night the stars were so bright the Magi would have been hard pressed to follow just one. I was reminded of a night sky over Montana some thirty-five years ago when as a camp counselor at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp the seeds of call were planted in me. Who knows what epiphanies happened last night in the hearts and minds of young campers? This morning’s theme was Lent and one of Calvary’s own, Ashley Loest, gave the message and led the morning worship with her “posse” or campers. Serving with another Calvary member, K.J. Lundgren, both young women are, like the apostle Paul, commissioned by the Gospel to be servants of the mysteries of God and through incredible energy and dedication and living faith reveal the God who was pleased to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the cross. The great gift of this week is that some years ago KJ and Ashley were campers at Ebert and to see them serving as counselors is a true joy. The only mystery I need explained is when they became old enough to be camp counselors since I’m quite sure I haven’t aged a bit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pentecost 8c - Psalm 15

I’ve been working with horses all day and really wish the lectionary text was Psalm 32 “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle...” On the other hand I was working with riders just as much and Psalm 15 might be just as applicable. Horses know when riders are nervous or frightened. They can also tell when a rider is not all they claim to be and will test the ability of the over confident as much as the inexperienced. Riding a horse is a relationship of trust and horse and rider are equally important when it comes to abiding in the saddle. Abiding in the tent of the Lord is not a reward for those who walk blamelessly or do what is right. Doing what is right is how you abide in the Lord. Dwelling on the Lord’s holy hill is not a reward for speaking the truth. Speaking the truth is the language of the holy hill where there is no translation for slander and evil. That is because the language of the holy hill is love written by the life of One who stood by his oath, even to his hurt, who offered himself to all of humanity without demanding payment or interest and who though innocent died for those who live by bribes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pentecost 8c - Genesis 18:1-15

Genesis 18:1-15
I’m blogging from Ebert Ranch in the Texas Hill country where Janelle, Pr. Kyle and thirteen of Calvary’s Jr. High Youth will be spending the week. This year’s Confirmation Camp theme is Faith 365 and each day is devoted to a season of the church year. Last night was Advent and involved singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” while waiting and watching “the stars at night are big and bright…” come out one by one. Abraham and Sarah had been waiting a long time for God to make good on the promise of offspring more numerous than the stars. When Sarah heard the promise repeated she laughed to herself because she figured the joke was on her. She didn’t need a mirror to know her body had been passed by the promise too slow in coming due. There are times when wearied by waiting “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” is beyond our ability to believe. When the check is not in the mail, when there is no good news to balance the bad, when bodies are beyond healing or relationships beyond repair we like Sarah might think the joke is on us. But at the end of Sarah’s story God will have the last laugh as she cuddles a cooing Isaac and Abraham rejoices in the gift of the son who will make the starry dream come true. The end of all our stories has been written by the One who came in swaddling cloths and for whom we wait to come again clothed in glory. When we remember the end of the story God has written for us we are able to endure the chapters yet to be written as we wait for the last laugh which God will share with us and the whole creation.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pentecost 7c - Conclusion

Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
I sometimes get a Word doc that was created in Word 2010 and since I’m running an older version the file has to be converted, not a big deal, although my pc also points out that some of the more nifty features might not work because I’m living in the past. The first two lessons for Pentecost 7c have to be converted by the Gospel, no pun intended. The irony is that while the lawyer appears to pass the neighbor test, Jesus and his Samaritan story would be condemned on more than one count by Deuteronomy, a book that holds racial purity as necessary for the bountiful blessings promised by the book. The psalmist would no doubt label Jesus a sinner whose rebellious ways by breaking the Sabbath laws call for instruction in God pleasing piety. But Jesus points to a new reality that has been of old and all the nifty features follow, for God’s heart has always been to rescue humans from the darkness of their own design and transfer them to reign of light and love.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pentecost 7c - Luke 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh 1890
Luke 10:25-37
When parables become proverbial they lose their primary means of instruction which is a classic bait and switch. The lawyer testing Jesus is himself tested by the parable and forced to acknowledge the Samaritan as neighbor, though he can’t bring himself to state it outright. “I suppose it was the one who showed mercy.” On the other hand as long as the Good Samaritan stays a story it hardly matters, even for the lawyer who passed Jesus’ test while failing his own. The “go and do likewise” is the real point of the parable and only makes a difference if those who no longer seek to justify themselves act more like the Samaritan and less like the priest or Levite. Which means we can recast the story with a Lutheran pastor, a medical doctor and a Taliban fighter and unless we “go and do likewise” the parable has no point in being recast or retold. But if in hearing his own voice naming the neighbor the lawyer is moved to act like a priest or Levite who caring more about the bloodied man than remaining ritually pure stop to do what the Samaritan does then the parable is more than just a clever ruse to convict a lawyer. For those justified by Jesus and no longer surprised by the plot twist or fooled by the bait and switch the story is an invitation to “go and do likewise” and in so doing just maybe put the punch back in the parable.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pentecost 7c - Colossians 1:1-14

Paul makes fruit bearing sound easy but truth to be told even if worms and blight don’t destroy fruit fully grown it takes cooperation of sun and soil and water just to get the tree to bud and the bud to flower. The fruit that we enjoy comes from supermarket aisles, washed and polished, neatly displayed and far removed from the labor that produced and packaged what we take for granted. And so the fruit of faith might be better understood if we were closer to its origin which of course is what Paul is praying for. The Colossian Christians have truly comprehended the grace of God which means they understand that the fruit of faith has little to do with them and everything to do with the One who has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of Christ. A life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing, is a life that recognizes and gives thanks for faith fully grown and supermarket ready no thanks to our abilities but wholly dependent on the cooperation of Son and Spirit and Baptismal water.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pentecost 7c - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
The psalmist trusting in the Lord prays for God’s great love and mercy from of old to be remembered so that youthful sin and rebellious ways might be forgotten. While the Lord remembering us in love erases the memory of our rebellion we do not easily forget our own folly or foolishness or willful acts of insolence and indulgence. Memories as fresh as the day they were recorded return accusing and condemning bringing guilt and shame. The enemy that triumphs over me lives in my own heart and mind as I remember what God has forgotten as if God still holds it against me. Forgiveness freely offered is never fully received as long as I continue to hold myself accountable for the sin God forgot long ago. Since the way of the Lord is first and foremost forgiveness the instruction of the sinner begins with trusting the Lord, faithful and loving, and in doing so forgiving self. It does not mean forgive and forget which I think is beyond our ability, or at least mine. What we can do is remember forgiveness whenever we remember what God has forgotten and in so doing be finally free from youthful sins and rebellious ways.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pentecost 7c - Deuteronomy 30:9-14

If the ancestors God delighted in prospering were Abraham, Isaac & Jacob they reaped the benefits of God’s benevolence before the commandments and decrees were written into the book of the law. As it is written, “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) If that was true for them then turning to God with heart, mind and soul is not first and foremost about behavior but belief. As long as we think of observing commands as something we have to do “thou shalt not” will always be too hard and far from us. But Jesus abandoned heaven and for our sake crossed the sea of sin and death to bring the Word, his very presence, near to us. It is the heart drawn to God, the mind mesmerized by love, the soul resting secure in peace that makes observing the commands as close as your own breath. When turning to God for love of Christ compels us observing God’s commands is not something external, something we have to do, but rather an expression of who we are as those who live and breathe the law of love.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pentecost 6c - Conclusion

Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:1-18; Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
Since Pentecost 6c is not particularly patriotic making these texts fit the 4th or vice versa will no doubt appear forced. On the other hand faith and freedom belong together so maybe it won’t be such a stretch. Isaiah’s vision of the comfort of consolation offered at the bosom of Jerusalem reminds me of Lady Liberty whose lamp lifted beside the golden door beckons the homeless, tempest tossed, huddled masses yearning to be free. Psalm 66 remembers the providence of God when the children of Israel between an army and a wet place passed through the waters on foot. We remember our beginnings as a people whose victory over tyranny of king and empire hung in the balance in the winter of ’76 and only by the grace of God has the government of the people, by the people, for the people not perished from the earth. Paul’s word to the Galatians, “you reap what you sow” is the necessary word of caution and correction for each of us and in a larger sense the nation whose greatness is derived from its capacity for goodness. And finally in the Gospel the seventy sent out return rejoicing in their power which is temporary until Jesus points them to a greater truth, that God is the recorder of names in the final kingdom come. We also can become enamored by power and prestige and holding tightly to the temporary miss the eternal truth. Nations rise and fall but the word of the Lord stands forever. And so on this Pentecost 6c 4th I am proud to be American by birth and Texan by choice, but eternally grateful to be a child of God by grace.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pentecost 6c - Luke 10:1-11;16-20

Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
To be sent out with no purse or provisions as lambs into the midst of wolves doesn’t sound so promising unless the success of the mission does not depend on the missionary. In fact, the kingdom of God comes near the house that welcomes peace and the house with the “No Soliciting” sign. Where the kingdom is recognized healing happens. Where it is not recognized the kingdom stands as sentence against the shortsighted as they are left to their own devices which is always less than what the kingdom offers. The dust shaking judgment anticipates the woes in the verses the lectionary leaves out. It is a litany of losers, where even sin city Sodom is better off “in that day” than the cities who choose not to welcome peace. But even those who proclaim peace don’t quite recognize the kingdom come near for they rejoice not in the name of Jesus but in the power they wield with his name. Jesus redirects their joy from submitting spirits to their names written in the final kingdom come. And if the one despised and rejected, the Lamb who led to the slaughter and before his shearers was dumb is the one who writes the names recorded in heaven maybe there is hope even for the litany of losers?