Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Easter 7a - Psalm 68:1-0

Psalm 68:1-10
I wonder if the apostle Paul thought about Psalm 68 when he wrote to the Romans, “...while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled through the death of the Son…” It’s a little different than, “may you blow your enemies away like smoke.” That’s not to say God grants pardon without purpose or that the rebellious don’t experience some measure of life as sun scorched land. David suffered loss of relationships and peace for his many sins despite his “man after God’s own heart” status but God never drove him away or melted him like wax before a fire. Perhaps it is because God’s deepest desire beyond being parent to the orphan, defender of the widow, family for the lonely, pardon for the prisoner, provider for the poor is to be reconciled to enemies.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Easter 7a - Acts 1:6-14

Acts 1:6-14
I am comforted by the thought of an eternal future where finally free of all that diminishes life we will live fully into the hopes and dreams and desires of God. But when the faith we preach is more about eternal reward than temporal reality the question might be asked of us, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Like most things Lutheran we do better when we balance what will be with what is. So we count on a day of redemption, but it is not why we love the Lord. It is for the here and now that we believe despite the gold standard of the Protestant work ethic, namely delayed gratification. Rather we, like the first disciples, are told to leave the mountain and go home because there is much to be done. Living the future in the present is to be devoted to the kind of constant prayer that spends more time on its feet than on its knees. And while hands clasped together might be more pious, hands open wide for service are more helpful.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Easter 6a - conclusion

Our son Joshua graduates from Birdville High School on Sunday. He has two tests today and then he’s done and I’m not sure how it happened. Not that he graduated. He’s a smarty boy. It just seems he’s grown up all of a sudden. But that’s the way it is with life changes. You think you have all the time in the world but the clock’s been ticking and even when you know it’s coming when the alarm goes off it’s always a surprise. Paul surprises the folks in Athens by naming the unknown God and even if most of them hit the snooze at least two woke up to the new reality that in Jesus God has been made known. The psalmist is rejoicing that the time of testing is over and invites everyone to the “let me tell you what God has done for me” party.  Peter’s people, schooled in the resurrection, are to always be ready to give a reason for the hope they have but in such a way that others might actually hear what they have to say. And in the Gospel Jesus lets the disciples in on what’s coming next so that they will know the truth when they see it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Easter 6a - John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21
I’m hoping “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” is based on a sliding scale otherwise most of us are toast. And of course the Father sending the Advocate to be with us forever is out of the question if the Spirit’s coming is based on merit. Without revealing any details, and as long as hating and lust violate commandments five and six, I believe I’ve broken all ten. Maybe you have as well which means we can’t treat this text literally because we who do not keep commandments really do love Jesus and believe he lives in us, at least as a frequent guest if not a permanent resident. So if being “loved by my Father” is more than a reciprocal arrangement based on how well we keep the commandments, especially the most difficult one to love our enemies, then “I will not leave you orphans” really is good news.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Easter 6a - 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 Peter 3:13-22
Baptism, which Peter calls an appeal to God for a good conscience, has been the source of division in the church even though both those sprinkled as infants or dunked as adults claim to be baptized into one body. But since there are no step by step instructions in the scriptures as to when, where or how much water to use it’s been left to the church to fill in the blanks, which always means the body of Christ takes a beating. The adult dunkers dismiss the infant sprinklers baptism as invalid because of not enough water and besides babies can’t believe. The infant sprinklers defend themselves saying the adult dunkers are all wet and miss the anecdotal evidence in the scripture of whole households baptized or the meaning of Jesus’ command, “Let the little children come unto me.” I believe all of our rules and regulations surrounding this ritual miss the point that Peter is making.  Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, which is the opposite of a guilty one. A conscience free from guilt and the only thing that brings one to God is Christ dying once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Baptism is a sign, not the source of salvation. And if there was any doubt as to the extent of God’s mercy even the spirits in prison who were baptized in the flood – a little too much water if you ask me – get paroled.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Easter 6a - Psalm 66:8-20

Psalm 66:8-20
This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm that remembers times of trouble. But not just any trouble, like waking up to a hot water heater leaking trouble that complicates life and blows budgets. It’s not like trouble you see coming but can’t stop from stepping in and making a mess of things. No. This is “God tested us” trouble. You put us in prison. You loaded burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads (presumably on horseback). Refined like silver, passed through fire and water, the God tested psalmist declares, “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” I think we heard it and it didn’t sound very praiseworthy. But then the people who penned and first sang the psalms gave God glory for everything, good, bad or otherwise. If we apply this psalm to our time the tornado that destroyed Joplin was a test. You flattened our homes. You smashed our cars. You killed our loved ones. You refined us like silver? I have trouble with that. Not because God can’t do whatever God wants. God is God and we are not. But if the cross is how God chooses to be known then “God tested us” does not come as twisters or tsunamis for in the cross of Christ the love of God is tested and through the empty tomb found more true than all the things that trouble us. What then of God testing? It is the cross for us as well. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) And so we pray for the people of Joplin and provide for them out of our abundance for in service to others the sound of praise is heard.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Easter 6a - Acts 17:22-31

Acts 17:22-31
A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow this god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be a measure of his success. A good number of people in our time prefer God remain unnamed even if they might go to God in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up even in decidedly secular societies. The God not served by human hands still desires humans to search and perhaps groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves a lot up to chance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed, and Jesus asked God to forgive even those who nailed him naked to wood, maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died to be found.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Easter 5a - conclusion

NPR interviewed a farmer in Louisiana whose entire farm is now under water. “It’s a 12,000 acre lake” is how he described it. He was hoping for a bumper crop and after the spring planting told his wife that barring some unforeseen natural disaster this was the year they had been waiting for to set their financial house in order. The commentator asked if he had knocked on wood and he laughed. Then he said, “I’m pretty much of a micro manager when it comes to farming but this is out of my control. Times like this you just have to trust in a benevolent God who loves you.” Contrast that with the Save the Date folks who are counting on the rapture to whisk them away tomorrow while the vast majority of humans, including their own family members are left to fend for themselves while the world is destroyed after which they’ll spend eternity burning in hell. We’ll know by midnight tomorrow if they are right but I can’t help but believe it’s the farmer who is more faithful to the God I know in Jesus. “My times are in your hands” is how David sang it in Psalm 31. Stephen lived it even as he was being murdered, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit and don’t hold my death against them.” Peter’s people created by God’s mercy lived it in the marvelous light of “the Lord is good.” And it is only because our times are in the hands of a benevolent God who loves us that hearts remain untroubled even when your entire corn crop is under water.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Easter 5a - John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” does not deny things that hurt the heart. That is why it is followed immediately by “believe in God, believe also in me.” An untroubled heart is not an act of strength or stone faced stoicism. It is as the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, a transformation brought about by the renewing of the mind. Even so “How can we know the way” and “Show us the Father” are legitimate questions and if disciples who saw “face to face” asked them how much more should we “who see as through a mirror dimly” be allowed times of questioning. Jesus didn’t say it explicitly but I’m certain it was part of the plan that when he went off to design dwelling places he meant the disciples to wait together so that hearts might help each other beat as one. “Do not let” does not lead to troubles magically disappearing and long days and sleepless nights still wear down the body and the mind but believing the God of the cross has prepared a place of peace and comfort that comes with the Christ to hearts gathered as one is comfort for the afflicted and rest for the weary.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Easter 5a - 1 Peter 2:2-10

Longing for spiritual milk is a good thing if those well fed on faith do not withhold mercy from those who are less than conscientious about their spiritual diet. If mercy made us God’s people then the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God is not a piety that isolates but a radical inclusion in the same way that Jesus ate and drank with undesirables. That being said Jesus ate and drank with purpose that those who are starving for lack of real relationship with the God calling them out of darkness might be bathed in marvelous light. The spiritual house is only as sturdy as its weakest stone, therefore “encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Easter 5a - Psalm 31:1-5; 15-16

Psalm 31
“My times are in your hands” is true whether one acknowledges it or not. We were born without being consulted and no matter the manner of our end there is only one way out. Living in-between birth and death we are continually pursued by all manner of enemies that mean to do us harm and sooner or later catch up with even those who live as they say, a charmed life. Resistance is futile and denial of death leads one to act in ways that may in fact hasten one’s demise. But to say “into your hands I commit my spirit” in the midst of life means the in-between time that we are given belongs to the One whose unfailing love is a refuge, a rock, a fortress. I can live fully into the limitations of my life because the God I trust is limitless. I can be honest about my fear of traps set for me and confess my love of traps I set for myself. The freedom found in the faithful God who dying our death denied death the last word is that we can let go of holding so tightly onto our times and in doing so live them more fully, more honestly, more faithfully. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Easter 5a - Acts 7:55-60

Acts 7:55-60
The end of Stephen’s story is but the beginning for a young man named Saul. The first great persecution broke out as soon as Stephen “fell asleep” and Saul, who may have been a little too zealous even for the religious leaders who killed Christ, is sent to fight the good fight in Damascus. Of course it is on the road that Saul, full of hatred, has his own experience of God’s glory and soon afterwards Paul, “full of the Holy Spirit” is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The truth is if Stephen had not been so vocal in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9) he could have gone on serving tables while the apostles taught (Acts 6:2-5) and the yet unnamed body of believers might have been happy to stay in Jerusalem waiting for the Lord’s return. Unfortunately for Jerusalem Titus Flavius Caesar arrives first. In a strange twist of fate, which is often how the Holy Spirit works, the stoning of Stephen is the spark that fans the flames of Pentecost and the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria will soon reach “the ends of the earth” just as Jesus told them they would. That’s the way it is with us when content to sit and wait something happens to get us moving and motivated, even when running away from something is really running towards something else.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Easter 4a - conclusion

The website that hosts Living the Lectionary was down this morning and had been for about 24 hours. The BlogSpot twitter sphere is awash with apologies and promises that they are making progress and will have it fixed soon.  Meanwhile in the real world it’s a lovely morning in North Texas so perhaps this is a sign to shut down my pc and sit outside with my Grande Americano (no room) in a mug.  The lessons for Easter 4a are all about an alternate lifestyle, at least in the sense that the abundance of the life in Christ is measured differently than the one in the wired world. For the first Christians it was an abundant life together where the story of Jesus was shared in community that with glad and sincere hearts worshipped and prayed together. David, who knows a thing or two about sheep, imagines himself shepherded through this life by the Lord, provided for and protected even in the valley of the shadow, until the house of the Lord is his forever home.  For the people who read Peter’s letter the abundant life meant trusting the shepherd and guardian of their souls and following Jesus come what may, even if that meant sharing his suffering. And in the Gospel the abundant life is found in the shepherd and gate for the sheep who calls each one by name and provides for each the rich pasture of peace.

Easter 4a - John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10

“With you, O Lord” is one of my favorite songs from the Taize community in France. “With you, O Lord, is life in all its fullness and in your light we shall see true light.” There comes a moment in the repeated singing of this simple phrase when the song is more true for me than all the things that tend to diminish the abundant sufficiency of  “with you, O Lord.” By that I mean the seeking after vain illusions where life is measured by one’s possessions or accomplishments or status and on the flip side the devaluation of life that inevitably follows such seeking. Or life in that lonely place where putting on a happy face and keeping busy hides the deep pain or shame or sorrow that despite the practiced skill in hiding it from others is somehow always present with you.  The thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy does so by deception. The reason it works so well is because we are so good at it ourselves. All this less than sufficient life comes at the expense of significant relationships, most notably the one where “with you O Lord is life in all its fullness”. The good news is that the One who came that “they might have life and have it abundantly” continues to open the gate and call out our names.  Sometimes in ways we can recognize and respond to and other times when reaching the bottom the only way out is up we determine to do that which we’ve always known was in our best interest. No matter how it happens this abundant life is measured not by possessions but by peace. That peace within when even all around is not anticipates the day when life in all its fullness won’t only be experienced in moments of Spirit gifted clarity or conscience but in the fullness of forever. In the meantime there are places we can go to enter the place of peace in the present. A warm embrace, an act of kindness, forgiveness asked for and received or the sound of laughter or a song in the sanctuary sung again and again and again until it is as true as your heart always knew it was meant to  be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Easter 4a - 1 Peter 2:19-25

1 Peter 2:19-25
We might bemoan the decline of the church but look on the bright side; no one is beating us up for professing Christ. It could be that the early Christians attracted more attention by the way they lived and the message they proclaimed even though the letters of Peter encourage them to fly under the radar, while always being ready to give a reason for the hope they have albeit with gentleness and respect. We’ve become increasing irrelevant to our society, unless you happen plaster your prediction of the rapture on billboards or decide to burn a Koran on the church lawn. Then even NPR gives Christians air time. In stage and screen religious folks are generally portrayed as bigots or idiots or well meaning but misguided do-gooders. Some of the criticism is well deserved and if we have become irrelevant it is no one’s fault but our own. This age is no more or less corrupting than any other as human nature has remained unchanged from the beginning.  So rather than blame others or beat up on ourselves or bury our heads in the hymnal perhaps we should rejoice and endure, suffering  for  doing right which is to follow in the steps of Jesus. To follow Jesus is to leave the safety of the sanctuary and seek out the woman at the well and eat at the home of the tax collector and critique even the most sacred symbols of our faith in order to heal on the Sabbath and overturn tables in the temple even if it gets us crucified. We do not engage the world to warn it of impending doom or because we need more people in the pews to pay the bills or to impose our morality or piety on others. It is because we are convinced that the God come down in Jesus Christ God has destroyed death once and for all, by his wounds we have been healed, which means love wins.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter 4a - Psalm 23

Bette Schweitzer walked through the valley of the shadow of death last night. Blanche Krey followed early this morning. Family and friends walked with them as far as the living are permitted to go without passing over. Both received and welcomed words of assurance in the commendation of the dying and trusting in the promise of comfort they feared no evil, confident that in the moment family and friends would be forced to let go God would not.  Birthed into the eternal future, welcomed by overwhelming love, surrounded by joy and peace beyond our ability to imagine, they have joined the saints in light at the table God prepares in the presence of death itself.  The promise of the future holds as much hope for the living as is does for the dying. Even in the midst of sorrow and grief God provides green pastures and still waters to revive souls worn down so that when our time comes we too might walk through the valley of the shadow without fear and bathed in light everlasting be greeted by those who have gone on before.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Easter 4a - Acts 2:42-47

In the first days of the church everyone got along so well they spent “much time together” at temple and table and shared all their possessions without complaining or comparing contributions to the common pot. The people of Jerusalem looked upon them kindly and with glad and generous hearts the church grew by leaps and bounds and everyone lived happily ever after. It would be nice if it were so but then this would be just another fairytale with a make believe happy ending. Instead this is a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times who overcame incredible odds. Persecution from without and divisions from within followed quickly and the letters of Paul detail the cultural and religious difficulties of grafting Gentiles onto the Jewish vine. The faith we profess survived because of their devotion, despite overwhelming difficulty, to the story of Jesus that they were willing to die for, the community challenged to model the message by loving each other deeply from the heart, the meal that was the center of worship and daily prayer for all people. When these four marks of the faith are forgotten or neglected the church inevitably loses its way. We find ourselves in an extraordinary time where the church is called to embody the word as the early church did. To be devoted to the simple truth of the Gospel, “God so loved the world…”; to the fellowship where when one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice; to the communal gathering that celebrates the feast of the future in the present, and to a life of prayer that translates hearts that love into hands that serve. I don’t know if that means we’ll increase in numbers day by day but I am confident we will make a difference in the world and maybe that’s more important than filling pews with people.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Easter 3a - Conclusion

Easter 3a will take a back seat to Mother’s Day this Sunday but the lessons don’t have to. The roots of Mother’s Day in this country go back to Julia Ward Howe who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic but lamenting the carnage of the War Between the States called for an international Mother’s Day to promote peace and celebrate motherhood. “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage, For caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” The cause was taken up by Anna Jarvis to fulfill her mother’s dream of a memorial Mother’s day to recognize the role of mothers in the family, church and community as bringers of peace and harmony. The day was born in some ways out of the pain of loss and dedicated to put an end to injustice, violence and hatred. “The promise is for you and your children” is how Peter puts it in his first sermon. Jesus done in by violence and hatred has been resurrected as God’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace. The Psalmist’s lament choked by the cords of death is transformed into thanksgiving because the Lord heard and delivered him from destruction. Loving deeply from the heart is how we endure our time of exile, not in fear and foreboding but in anticipation of the day when the perishable puts on the imperishable. And Cleopas and friend are given a new hope that cannot disappoint when Jesus disappears into bread and “He is risen!” means everything has changed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Easter 3a - Luke 24:13-49

Luke 24:13-49
“We had hoped…” is how Cleopas and friend express the deep disappointment at what could have been but wasn’t. To have come so close to realizing the dream, all Jerusalem shouting as Zion’s King entered the city just as Zechariah prophesized, made it all the more difficult. Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, clearing the temple of corruption, shutting up Pharisees and Sadducees and self righteous big wigs with clever answers to tricky questions, in deed and word set the city on edge with expectation.  But people in power don’t give up that easily and while Jesus may speak mightily it turns out he’s a pushover and his followers are no match for a coup accomplished in the middle of the night. They woke to find the one who would redeem Israel already condemned and nailed to a Roman cross along with all their hopes for Zion. Heads hung in sorrow, Cleopas and friend head home to Emmaus only to meet a clueless stranger who turns out to know more about the story than they do. Hearts burning within them they don’t want the conversation to end and pressing him to stay sit down to dinner. But then the stranger does something oddly familiar and before they can say a word Jesus vanishes into the breaking and blessing and passing of bread. Take and eat suddenly means more than it did on Thursday night and without waiting for morning they rush back to join the chorus, “The Lord has risen!” This is a story for all who live in that place of deep regret, of hopes and dreams dashed, of disappointments that weigh heavily on the heart and cause heads to hang in sorrow. For in the oddly familiar Jesus appears to us at table when bread broken is a sign of the promise fulfilled and anticipated.  Jesus appears to us when walking together on the long journey home “Lo I am with you always” makes our hearts burn within us because it is truer than we can ask or imagine or believe.  And in the “necessary suffering” the God far off has come near so that all suffering and sorrow and yes, even death itself, might one day disappear.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Easter 3a - 1 Peter 1:17-23

1 Peter 1:17-23
Harold Camping of Family Radio believes the rapture will take place on May 21st, 2011 and has multiple billboards declaring “Save the Date!” Meanwhile the mission and message of Jesus, “I have come that they might have life” is left behind. The spirit of the Lord resting upon Jesus and passed to God’s people is to preach good news to the poor, release the prisoner, proclaim recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4:18) To live in reverent fear during our time of exile is not to circle the wagons and get ready for Armageddon – even if you spend significant time, energy, and billboards to invite others into the circle out of concern for their eternal destiny. To live in reverent fear is to love deeply from the heart and even though the passage from Peter would seem to limit genuine mutual love to those whose souls are purified by obedience to the truth, the one who said “I am the truth” also said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter 3a - Psalm 116

Psalm 116
I find “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice” most comforting when followed by “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the faithful.” Truth is if God healed all who cried out “save my life!” the planet would be crowded beyond capacity. So while we pray for healing, even when the pangs of death surround our loved one, we offer the sacrifice of praise no matter what happens because we believe “whether we live or whether we die we belong to the Lord.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Easter 3 A - Acts 2:36-46

“What should we do?” It is the question of our lives and even if it is not on the same level as what should we do about crucifying the Lord and Messiah of God, the answer we arrive at matters. It may be the appropriate question for this day when even patriotic people rejoicing in the death of an evil person struggle because of Jesus’ command to love and pray for enemies. It is the question for relationships gone sour. It is the question for lives diminished by loss and pain and sorrow and grief. It is a question that continues to be asked and maybe never finds a fully satisfactory answer. That those who hear Peter ask it is significant. They were the keepers of the covenant and the people of the plan and yet it was their piety that drove them to kill the promise because he did not fit the pattern of what the law demanded. And so the rule breaker was done away with and the only wrinkle in the plot was that he came back and his foolish followers wouldn’t stop talking about him. So saving oneself from a corrupt generation cannot be about adherence to the law, obeying the rules, toeing the line, following the straight and narrow. It must be about whatever Jesus did. Like forgiving those who put hammer to nail and fastened his hands and feet to wood? What shall we do with that? It may be that despite Peter’s concrete answer we all need to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) trusting that in Jesus “what should we do” is a moot question.