Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6

Here at the end of John’s dream (which is really just the beginning) the God far off, who came so close to the creation in the Christ as to die our death, moves in with mortals. In that day the city of peace, Jerusalem, finally lives into its name as tears are wiped away by God’s own hand and death is dealt with once and for all. Those who first heard the promise of John’s vision were able to endure all that causes mourning and crying and pain by holding onto the hope that they would be rescued and their persecutors crushed. The persecution of loss and pain and sorrow we experience is no less real, even if we are not put upon for proclaiming the faith, which means their hope is our hope and that one day God will move in to stay and death will be crushed once and for all. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Feast of All Saints Year b - Psalm 24

Psalm 24
JD Bailey ascended the hill of the Lord yesterday afternoon. Michael Laursen made his ascent this morning. Their hands were made clean and their hearts were made pure by the King of Glory to whom they lifted up their souls. They now stand in the holy place and gaze upon the face of God having received the promised blessing of peace forevermore from the God of their salvation. For the family and friends who walked with them as far as the living are permitted to go their passing is bittersweet because our lives are still lived in the womb of the temporal while they have been birthed into the eternal. But since we belong to “the company of those who seek him” we are assured that the ancient gates will be lifted up for us when we ascend the hill of the Lord to stand beside them in the holy place. Until our time to climb we pray Godspeed to JD and Michael and rejoice that they have joined the saints in light and wait for us to take our place at the forever feast. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Feast of All Saints Year b - Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah 25:6-9
Isaiah imagines all peoples have a reservation at the feast of rich food, fine wine and choicest meats. Of course the Moabites will be trodden on like straw in the dung (vs.10) but then how can one rejoice in deliverance unless someone else is damned? Truth is the needy poor are first on the guest list of “all peoples” (25:4) but before we venture into class warfare it turns out the strong and ruthless also recognize God’s goodness, albeit because God makes the fortified city a ruin. In the end death is the great equalizer and it doesn't matter if you are a princess or a pauper when death comes to your door. The good news for everyone of every class is that when God hosts the banquet all people feast on fine things while God dines on death. In the here and now it would seem that if the feast of fat things is to be filled then those who "have" will have to share with those who "have not" (James 2:14-17) so that faith in our ultimate future is not dead in the present. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reformation Sunday - Conclusion

A Martin Luther Quote for Reformation Sunday

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36

Freedom: i.e. "the power to determine action without restraint." Even in a nation founded on the principle of freedom we are constrained by laws that limit our power to determine action. But then personal freedom, to do and say and act as I desire, is ultimately a selfish ambition that in some ways denies others their freedom to do say and act as they like. So Jesus is not speaking about personal freedom to do and say and act as we desire. He is speaking of a freedom that changes the way we understand our relationship with God. The Jews “who had believed in him” were still depending on their connection with Abraham to claim their non-slave status as God’s own people even while their land was occupied by the Roman Empire. The freedom Jesus offers is summed up in the idea that those who believe have passed from death to life. (John 5:24) No one is more free than the one who by believing can confess “whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8) trusting that “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. (Romans 8:38-39) Here’s the twist. Being made free by the Son makes you the slave of all. (John 13:12-17) Go figure. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

Romans 3:19-28

It is God’s righteousness that matters because none are justified in God’s sight without the divine forbearance that passes over the sins of the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Faith in Jesus matters as well because without it there is no reason to be confident. However, when Jesus is reduced to a private password for paradise then faith becomes another version of the law and it is the work of faith that saves one from “the wrath that is to come” and not the grace of God. But if faith proves “in the present time” that God determines what “the future time” will be then our hope is in divine forbearance rather than retribution. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reformation Sunday - Psalm 46

Psalm 46

Outside the city made glad by streams from the river the Lord of Hosts was led like a lamb to the slaughter. The "Refuge and Strength" that comes to those who are in trouble was himself in need of help but there was none to be found. On the day the voice of the “be still and know that I am God” was silenced the earth quaked and darkness descended on the earth and the curtain that hid the habitation of the most high was torn and two. If that were the end of the story there would be no help for us when morning dawns but as it is the earth could not contain the one who created the heavens and the morning that dawned on him was resurrection for us all. Our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of trouble, is in our confidence that if we have died with Christ we shall also rise with him and therefore we will not fear when the ground of our lives gives way. There may yet be a day when God causes wars to cease and the human race sings “ ain't gonna study war no more” but in these days the help we receive is that God stills our souls and calms our fears even though kingdoms totter and nations make noise.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34

I shudder whenever someone says “the days are surely coming” because it sounds like whatever is coming is bad news. But Jeremiah, the bad news prophet, is talking about a good news day that is “surely coming” where “know the Lord” will be in human DNA. Of course the “surely coming” days still seem to be a long way off and in the waiting time children continue to suffer for sins of parents and covenants are broken before the ink dries on the dotted line. But we who wait in expectant hope of the good news day that will surely come have the advantage of knowing the future will not be like the present no matter what the bad news prophets of our day may say. That means in some ways we already know the Lord which means the day that is surely coming has already arrived.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pentecost 21b - conclusion

This conclusion to the texts for Pentecost 21b comes after the fact but maybe that is how it should be given all I've done in the last three days. I preached and taught at the lay academy; presided for Via de Cristo and Kyrie, Fort Worth, led music for the church picnic and Kyrie, and served three different meals to large groups. The point of which is that none of it would have been possible without a whole host of saints who serve Christ by helping me get more done in a weekend than is humanly possible.That’s not to say I’d care to repeat these three days anytime soon, (and I dare say neither would they) but having accomplished so much in such a short time does give some satisfaction when the day is done. So the suffering servant of Isaiah will see the vindication he is waiting for. The Psalmist will be lifted up by unseen angels because the Lord loves him. The Son made perfect by suffering will make peace for people as the source of eternal salvation. But the two who tried to get ahead of the ten are sent to end of the line because that’s the place of honor in the kingdom of God. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pentecost 21b - Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45

“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” presumably because the ten were sorry they hadn't been as bold as the two. All twelve imagined the cup was power and the baptism the laurel wreath of victory but Jesus is destined to be enthroned on a cross and the places on the right and left of that throne were reserved for criminals. Jesus stills the sons of thunder with the promise that they will drink the cup of suffering and be baptized with death without getting anything in return except the promise that being first for the follower of Jesus is like being last in the ways of the world. In so many ways that lesson has been lost on the church as the places of honor are reserved for those who “pastored up” say the prayer or for big box church rulers who drive Mercedes and live in Mc-Mansions provided by people who like the widow with a mite can hardly afford to tithe. Thank God that the “ransom for many” serves and saves in ways that go beyond the limited understanding of the two and the ten and the church so that Jesus is proclaimed despite our propensity to translate the Gospel into ways that make us great.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pentecost 21b - Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5:1-10
I’m not a high priest but I suppose according to the writer of Hebrews I qualify as one chosen to be “put in charge of things pertaining to God” so as to “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” Not that the people of God at Calvary are ignorant or wayward. So in not exactly the same way as my being called to the ministry of word and sacrament, Jesus is called to bear the burdens of the ignorant and the wayward and the otherwise by living our life and dying our death and rising beyond anything we can imagine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pentecost 21b - Psalm 91:9-16

Psalm 91:9-16

I’m not sure I want to trample a great lion or tread on a cobra but I suppose it’s better than the alternative. On the other hand I wouldn't mind keeping ahead of harm and being satisfied with a long life. As for disasters coming near my tent I've experienced that on Mustang Island more than once and trust me life is not a beach when your tent is shredded by 40 mph winds. But whether we are fully satisfied or barely getting by the refuge of salvation is always available for those who love the Lord and call upon the goodness of God to grace every day with confident hope. As members of the body of Christ we participate in that process by guarding one another’s faith and with hands of kindness and mercy lifting one another up, acting as angels of a sort, for those whose feet are slipping.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pentecost 21b - Isaiah 53:4-12

Isaiah 53:4-12
Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant seems to indicate God does not deal with transgressions the same way we do. We hold onto grudges and make people pay for momentary slights and hardly ever forgive unless we are sure the offending party is sufficiently sorry. God in Jesus does what no one expects by entering into and bearing the pain that must grieve God the most; the beautiful and terrible human mind that imagines and constructs ways to maximize pain and shame while delaying death as long as possible. But God picks up the pain of all of our inhuman history and bears the suffering we consider a sign of God's judgment or bad karma or rotten luck so as to bring peace to all including those who could care less about anyone else. So aren't there consequences for transgressions? In this life the consequence is found in the transgression itself. A life of corruption can never relax. A life of violence is never safe. A life of excess is never satisfied. But the poor and the put upon and those who bear the brunt of the transgressions of others wait for another day and in that day – if we can believe the scriptures – the last will be ushered in ahead of the first. Whether they are also gatekeepers remains to be seen. If they are I hope they are as merciful as the God who let them cut in line ahead of us. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pentecost 20b - conclusion

The Red River Rivalry was a rout for the third straight year and then Jeter breaks his ankle in the Yankees loss to Detroit making for a sad day in the Heinze household. It’s enough to make me stay in bed this morning but that’s not an option for the preacher on Sunday. So I think I’ll use the words of the prophet to say something about the arrogant and the psalm about learning to number your days because you never know when diving for a ground ball will end your post season play. I could also point out from the Hebrews lesson that the Lord sympathizes with losers. And maybe the rich young man’s question “what must I do to be saved?” could apply to the Longhorn’s season. But I think instead I’ll preach the Good News that God is bigger than our rivalries and more important than any game – of course, I’m still going to pray we beat Oklahoma next year. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pentecost 20b - Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31

Maybe if we don’t ask the rich young man’s question, “what must we do to be saved” we don’t have to apply Jesus’ answer, “give everything away and follow me.” But then there is always a nagging doubt that Jesus says what he means and means what he says and the rich will have a hard time finding a hole in the kingdom gate big enough to squeeze through. So what if we just divest ourselves of ten percent and give the poor the proceeds from a garage sale of the stuff we haven’t used in years? Peter feels like he’s done that and more, "we've left everything and followed you” but then he didn't have much to begin with so he thinks giving away the little he had will boost his bottom line. Jesus' answer to Peter is that the balance sheet will not be all that pretty as persecutions are the gate of the kingdom come. This is the problem with both the question, “what must I do to be saved” and the answer, "do this". I do not think Jesus answered the question the rich young man asked. He was responding to the nagging doubt the young man had that despite keeping all the commandments from his youth and being rewarded with riches he needed something more. The trouble for him is that getting more involved having less. The trouble for Peter is that having less involved giving more.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pentecost 20b - Hebrews 4:12-16

Hebrews 4:12-16

The first humans hid in the bushes when after eating the forbidden fruit they suddenly realized 
they were naked. The writer of Hebrews understands what the first couple found out pretty quickly. “There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation” (Bob Marley – One Love) So if all is laid bare and exposed to the One to whom we all will have to give account how is it that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness? Of course the answer we know by heart is Jesus because Jesus knows a thing or two about being stripped naked. But to trust Jesus so completely as to be comfortable being exposed before the “one to whom we must render an account” is something else entirely. In many ways we are still hiding but now it is behind the bushes of religious rules and regulations that clothe us with respectability. I’m not saying piety doesn't have a prominent place in the life of faith, but there really is “no hiding place” when even the most pious (in the best sense of the word) are guilty of thoughts and intentions of the heart far removed from perfect. If I can be totally honest with you (which is as close to naked as we come with each other) my greatest fear is that my current confidence in God’s grace will fail me in the time of my ultimate need i.e. my last breath when all pretensions are put aside and things done and left undone can never be corrected and we have to take the last step of life alone, even if we are surrounded by those who love us and wish us well. The only way I know how to deal with that nagging doubt is to believe God is more interested in honesty than piety. And so I hold fast to the confession that I am afraid and trust that the living and active two edge sword of the scripture is truer than I am able to believe – Jesus sympathizes with my weakness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pentecost 20b - Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm 90:12-17

The last lesson we seem to learn is to number our days aright since we act as if we have an unlimited supply. “Bet your bottom dollar the sun will come up tomorrow…” There is a wisdom to be gained in living each day as if it were your last, but only if you choose to make your last day worth living and not an excuse for excess. Of course you’d think the psalmist crying out, “Turn, O Lord, how long?” might wish for fewer days rather than a long life of suffering but instead there is a confidence that steadfast love in the morning will satisfy. When the balance sheet of life is tallied there will be cause for rejoicing in the Lord whose favor rests upon the children of God despite the difficulty of any particular day. So we number our days not to keep count but to make each day count more. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pentecost 20b - Amos 5:6-15

Amos 5:6-15

There is no mistaking the economic element in the prophet Amos’s description of sin. Those who rule the house of Joseph despise the truth and hate the one who exposes them as lovers of the lie. They trample the poor and take what little the poor have in order to plant pleasant vineyards and build houses of hewn stone. They take bribes and neglect the needy. They love evil and hate good and their mockery of justice leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the righteous. So “the prudent will keep silent in such a time” presumably because their words fall on deaf ears, or worse, they’ll be heard and despised for telling the truth. So do the ancient words of Amos have anything to say to us in our time? I’m not saying, which some may take as saying too much.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pentecost 19b - conclusion

We have two baptisms and a reaffirmation of faith today. The first will happen at the 11 AM service at Calvary when Holden Rouze is baptized in the midst of the Calvary congregation by his father Pastor Kyle. I’ll ask Kyle and Crystal the questions about instructing Holden in the Christian faith since it would be a little weird for Pastor Kyle to answer his own questions. The second baptism and reaffirmation will take place this evening at Kyrie, Fort Worth. Kyrie meets from 5-7 every Sunday in Zio Carlos Magnolia Brew Pub. Liz will reaffirm her faith and we will baptize her infant son Adam. This will be our second baptism at Kyrie but the first infant baptism. Some might object to baptisms in brew pubs or wonder how the promise to bring the child to the services in God’s house can be accomplished in a pub but I think “where two or three are gathered there I am in the midst of them means “let the little children come unto me” happens wherever Jesus is. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pentecost 19b -Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16

When the disciples ask Jesus about this matter he invokes the “thou shall not…” to what Moses permits so that the hypocrisy of the Pharisee test might be exposed. The secondary law that is a concession to the hardness of the human heart is easily coerced so that the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is corrupted. That does not mean the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is not in place when the one flesh of marriage is separated, only that like so many other things about our present circumstance, divorce is not what God intended. The second half of this week’s lectionary might seem unrelated but like the perfect law corrupted, the human heart hardens the gift of the kingdom of God into something we earn or deserve and God is obliged to provide. So a little child is the image the Almighty chooses to take up so that the hardness of the human heart might be softened in the same way that Jesus takes little children into his arms and blesses them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pentecost 19b - Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

If “in these last days” Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the very imprint of God’s very being” then God (in Jesus) was, for a little while, lower than the angels as well. But that I mean Jesus cannot taste death for everyone while the one Father who sanctifies remains separate. Even if we reduce the relationship of the inner workings of the mystery of the Trinity to something a little lower, like human parent and child, God experiences the death Jesus drinks. More to the point, it is not just any death that Jesus tastes. He does not die in his sleep. The cancer doesn’t get him. He doesn’t drop dead of a heart attack. It isn’t an accident. Crowned with thorns, stripped naked and nailed to wood Jesus’ death is as creative as humans can get when it comes to inflicting shame and pain on one another. And given that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, knew our nature from the beginning… (in subjecting all things to them God left nothing outside their control)  it was not only fitting but really the only option that salvation for savages such as ourselves should come through suffering. And by that I mean Jesus descends into our corruption and rises above our much lower status so that we might ascend above and beyond our beginnings to become like the pioneer of our salvation. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pentecost 19b - Psalm 8

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 marvels that the “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name” is mindful of mortals. I suppose it does beg the question since within the human community the mighty generally despise the lowly. There are exceptions, of course, but when there is only so much wealth and power to go around human beings tend to hold onto whatever they have. Not so with the majestic name that is above all names. God in Jesus enters the human story as a baby born to an unwed mother and a confused carpenter in a country occupied by a foreign power.  God in Jesus is the opposite of what we would expect. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by humans, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) So while the psalm imagines God’s mindfulness as crowning mortals with glory and honor and giving them dominion over every living thing. God determines to elevate us by being brought very low and dying on the cross the death of a criminal. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pentecost 19b - Genesis 2:18-24

Genesis 2:18-24

The trouble in paradise comes in chapter three but in the beginning everything was perfect. The “one flesh” couple lived without fear or guilt or shame or any of the ways of being and doing and thinking that rip one flesh apart and cause untold heartache. But once the two lusted after the forbidden fruit and crossed the line between creature and creator they no longer felt comfortable in their own skin. Relationships between helpmate partners have never been the same despite the fairy-tale optimism of happily ever after. Not that helpmate partners cannot be “one flesh” in a way that benefits both. It just takes more clinging to each other than we may care to or are able to do. So going back to the beginning is helpful. Not the first blush of love, although that is very nice, but the beginning of this story. It was not good for the first human to be alone and so God gave us the gift of the other who can be “one flesh” with us. If we think of ourselves as taken out of and given to each other we might cling to one another in ways that make the best parts of the fairy-tale come true.