The sermon that began so well has taken a turn for the worse and Jesus has no one to blame but himself. Somewhere in the well speaking and amazement his gracious words have taken on an edge and the home town crowd is not amused. At first glance it looks like Jesus is provoking without provocation. So maybe Luke the historian left out some details. Maybe there’s a heckler in the last pew or shouts of “prove it” when Joseph’s boy claims his real father is a higher power. On the other hand Jesus is not doing something here that he won’t do elsewhere and for the next three years a lot of places will begin to feel just like home. Before we judge the home town crowd too harshly we might ask ourselves what words of Jesus might prompt us to do him in? Given our ability to rationalize hard sayings and contain the difficult in dogmatic boxes it’s more likely that nothing Jesus’ says can upset us very much unless of course it’s about someone else. Then we puff up with self righteous pride and use Jesus’ words to throw the less pious or too pious or not pious enough off the hill upon which our rigid theologies are built. The word of Jesus is that God stepped outside the boundaries of God’s own people to bless a foreigner and an oppressor. In the same way God will not be contained within our constructs of who is deserving and who isn't who belongs and who doesn't and even who is saved and who isn't because that right belongs to the One who climbed another hill and didn't come down until he was finished.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
It doesn't matter if your language is laced with love if your words fall on deaf ears. Forty years later St. Clement begins his letter to the same congregation “My dear friends, take care to do good and virtuous deeds in unity before him, and be citizens worthy of him; or his many good works towards us may become a judgment on us all” and ends it with “let us not be in two minds, and let us have no doubts about his excellent and glorious gifts.” It sounds like the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are still drowning out patience, kindness and rejoicing in the right. It is a sad commentary on the church that conflict comes so easily to those the living God has loved into being, but maybe that is because knowing in part and seeing dimly lends itself to limited love. But if with our limited vision we fix our eyes on the limitless One who emptied himself, taking on the servant’s form, suffering the criminal’s death then insisting on one’s own way is much harder to do. In the shadow of the cross the love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures moves the mountain of arrogant pride and selfish ambition so that faith, hope and love abide in us. I think in that moment we know all there is to know and see face to face the one who died so that love would never end.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Jeremiah in the Pit by Marc ChagallPsalm 71
We will only recite the first six verses of Psalm 71 but I bet Jeremiah knew the whole psalm by heart. It is a good psalm to know, especially when you've been thrown down a well and left for dead and maybe have begun to doubt the promise of your call, “they shall not prevail against you.” So it is not a psalm to be recited lightly. No. This is a psalm that is cried, or shouted, or groaned in silence. This is a cry for help in a time of trouble, a desperate plea for providence when enemies, the wicked, the unjust, the cruel are prevailing against you with a vengeance. It is not a psalm one wants to recite for real so we will chant the appointed six verses and move on to the epistle. But there are those, too numerous to number, for whom these words are more than a liturgical element in a Sunday service. Maybe those of us who live in warmth and comfort and safety, blessed by lives of relative ease, could speak this psalm on their behalf. Maybe in the polite chanting of six verses we could remind God and ourselves of the desperate plight of peoples oppressed by war and famine and disease and earthquake and flood in places where the wicked and the cruel and the unjust are free and the innocent are enslaved. And maybe in our remembering we to whom much has been given will live up to much being required and not wait for God to act but do what we were created to do, act on God’s behalf which, of course, is how God answers a plea for help.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Jeremiah by Marc Chagall -1956Jeremiah 1:14-21
This is not the kind of call a prophet wants to receive. Given a choice a prophet, or a pastor for that matter, would prefer visions with a happier ending and keep the wickedness and judgments to a minimum. That is because truth telling is never easy for the one who has to tell it or for the ones who have to hear it. So while it might be good news that they will not prevail against Jeremiah the bad news is they will try. In the end Jeremiah will die in obscurity and
will receive the judgment he foretold. So where is the good news for those of
us who prefer fairy tale endings over tragedy? As difficult as it may be to
tell or hear it, the good news is in the truth telling itself. That is because
truth is always good news even when it is bad. It is only when we tell and hear
the truth about ourselves; that we have exchanged the truth for a lie to chase
after idols of our own design and worship at the altars of our ego that we have
any hope of finding our way back to the greater Truth. The greater truth is
that Jeremiah comes before Jesus. In the end Jesus will die in agony and we
will escape the judgment we deserve for sin could not prevail against his
sacrifice. When God does the telling there is pardon after judgment, return
after exile, life in death and even the tragedy has a fairy tale ending. Judah
Sunday, January 27, 2013
We went to the Fort Worth Stock Show Friday night to see Mustang Magic. These are wild Mustangs who are given to trainers for 100 days to get ready for auction. There is a DVD in Redbox, Wild Horse Wild Ride that follows a few of the trainers through the 100 days with their wild rides. The highlight of the night was meeting and talking to Wylene Wilson who is a little wild herself. The key to training is trust that translates to confidence for horse and rider. Not that I’m going to stand on Seraphina or pull a tarp over her head while I’m in the saddle like Wylene does. The lessons for Epiphany 3c are about trust that translates to confidence. The captives "returned unto Zion" trust that God is rejoicing in them and so they are confident that the future holds promise and not curse. The psalmist trusts the perfect law of the Lord and is confident that God can save him from hidden faults and presumptuous sins. The gifts given by the Spirit are for the building up of the body which promotes a confident trust in God and in the members of the body. And in the Gospel we are called to trust the ways of God and confidently follow by announcing good news to the poor, sight for the blind, release for the captive and freedom for the oppressed.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Jesus ends his preaching tour of Galilee in the synagogue of his bar mitzvah. The standing room only crowd has gathered in eager expectation of seeing the hometown boy made good and Jesus does not disappoint. He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and finds the words of promise that were the hope of those who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept. The same words that had become the longing of the oppressed under the new management of Rome. For a moment between the reading and the sermon there was silence, every eye fixed, every breath held, every ear attentive. As soon as he spoke, “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” the spell was lifted and in the verses that follow the SRO crowd rejects the promise fulfilled and things turn ugly. But in the pregnant pause before he spoke, where anything and everything is possible, the scripture was fulfilled. Maybe that is where freedom and recovery and restoration are real for us as well. When in silent expectation hope is not diminished by attempts to rationalize or explain. Such waiting faith believes God is intimately aware of our deepest need. Waiting faith believes the good news of grace for those impoverished, held captive by circumstance beyond their control, blinded by sin and oppressed by fear. We hold onto such hope with radical trust that the proof is not in the pudding but in the hope that the promise is as good as it sounds.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Maybe Paul never looked into a mirror that wasn't dim (1 Corinthians 13:12) because although the nose might be necessary more often than not the eyes think it’s too big. Truth is most people can find fault with one body part or another and wish the weaker parts could be dispensed of more easily. And on the flip side - thinking of oneself as Adonis means Narcissus is not far behind. It may be that judging oneself either too harshly or inaccurately is where mistreatment of the body begins and why these words of Paul have too often fallen on deaf ears. When we cannot recognize our own worth we are blind to the worth of others. But if I see myself through the eyes of Christ as worthy of God’s affection and choose to live into that identity then I believe it becomes more difficult to deny others the same honor. And so each member values the other because each member is valued by Christ. To dishonor the other, to think or speak ill of them, to plot and plan and even pray for their downfall is to scorn Christ himself. In the end it is God who is grieved and injured when the body behaves badly towards itself. But it was the grief of God over a creation gone horribly wrong that led Christ to the cross. In love that is the still more excellent way his body was broken to make ours whole and his death is our life. So treat yourself well today for your body belongs to Christ. And remember that the body part that had the nerve to sit in your pew last Sunday is dear to the heart of Christ as well.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
I've been attending yoga classes for a few years and if it weren't for the mirrors around the room I’d think I was quite good at it. That’s because the pose often feels more right than it looks. So while I am pretty good at breathing and can nail the Shavasana (the corpse pose) I need to see myself in the mirror to straighten my back on a deep forward bend or really sit into my chair or sink my head below my shoulders to get my doggie facing down. Of course the mirror can’t do it all and I don’t need to look at my reflection to know my crow pose is never going to get off the ground. The perfect law of the Lord is more than a list of do’s and don’ts. If it were then we could detect our hidden faults and check them off one by one. But as it is we are guilty not only of the hidden but the obvious or as another version states, “presumptuous” sins. And so the law of the Lord is like a mirror revealing our spiritual posture. There are corrections we can make once warned but that only gets us so far, which is why we need a Rock and Redeemer to revive the heart of our Shavasana.
Monday, January 21, 2013
The exiles, including the lay reader's nightmare list of names in the omitted verses, have returned from captivity to begin the slow process of rebuilding Jerusalem which includes reestablishing the rituals of the faith community. Outside the gate the preachers preach and the people respond with liturgy, Amen, Amen, lifting hands and bowing down. But when the ritual reading is explained and the people understand they begin to weep and wail and mourn. They weep because they know who they are in the light of the law and how they have grieved the One who brought them out of exile. They weep because they are afraid that God knows what they know. But there is another lesson to learn and if they had seen it coming they would have laughed out loud and shouted alleluia. God is not grieved. God is not angry. God is not weeping. This is God’s day of rejoicing and it is because of them. Surprise! So dry your eyes and wash your face. Break out the bubbly and forget your diet for a day for you are the joy of the Lord and that is your strength. That is a good lesson for us as well. As long as we think of the joy of the Lord as an emotion we have or can get we will inevitably end up weakened and weeping. But since the joy of the Lord is the Lord's joy over us it is constant and can never be diminished or depleted and therein lies our strength. In God’s joy we endure. In God’s joy we persevere. In God’s joy we hope. And yes, in God’s joy we rejoice. The only thing to do with that kind of strength is to share with those who have nothing prepared because, of course, that is what God has done for us.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
So far (knock on wood and wash your hands) I have avoided the flu. I get the flu shot every year, mostly because I have a weekly Bible study with Dr. Bob at Harris hospital and the flu shot is just a syringe away. I also wash my hands religiously, maintain a moderate exercise program (for a fanatic) get plenty of sleep, eat an apple a day and drink enough water to warrant a restriction in a drought. You can read about flu prevention (here) not that anything will guarantee a flu free season but “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” (Benjamin Franklin) The land of Israel could not prevent captivity but the prophet Isaiah imagines a time of wellness when the land deserted will be a delight. The psalmist sings of the Lord who saves humans and animals and shields them from harm. Paul reminds the Corinthians, whose pride has made the body of Christ weaker, that the gifts of God are for the building up of the body. And even though flu prevention includes reducing alcohol consumption Jesus gladdens the wedding at Cana by turning water into the fruit of the vine – which in moderation has medicinal properties for the heart. L’chaim!
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The wine has run out and with one more “l’chaim” the guest’s goblets will go dry and the party will be over ahead of schedule. Mary is determined to do something about it and counting on those things she has treasured in her heart she gets Jesus to serve the good wine before his time. John records this as the first sign of many and even though the other Gospels remember more pressing first signs, like healing diseases and casting out demons, turning water into wine is the sign for the time to come. It might not seem so in a world where more important things than wine run out, where a surplus of sorrow and suffering beg God to heal and exercise evil before filling the carafe with Cabernet But the miracle of water into wine is more than a story of good timing for a worried wine steward and it is Mary who gives it to us. Like Jesus in the garden she asks for what she wants and accepts his rebuff. In the same way Jesus will ask for what he wants, “Take this cup from me” but accept “Thy will be done.” And so Jesus in faith will leave the garden for the cross and Mary, with every reason to believe the answer is no, tells the servant, “Do whatever he tells you.” She has no idea what he will do but believes he will do something. Faith in the face of jugs gone dry is what is called for in the face of circumstances that drain reserves, sorrow that consumes joy, questions empty of answers, which is why water into wine is a sign of the time to come. Without knowing how or when we believe God will do something like Isaiah imagined; a feast of rich food and fine wine for all people where God will dine on death for when Jesus' time finally came the One who asked for the cup to be taken from him is the One who filled it.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“I do not want you to be uniformed, brothers and sisters.” I imagine that line didn't go over so well with the sisters and brothers in
. They imagined themselves not only
very well informed but well endowed, thank you very much. But like noisy gongs
and clanging cymbals they were all show and no substance and the gifts meant to
bless and unite were used to curse and divide. But then pride always corrupts
the good gifts of God and blinds the puffed up to their spiritual poverty.
Divisions follow as one claims spiritual superiority over the other and the
church that is the body of Christ performs communal amputation upon itself. It
is a sad state of affairs that despite centuries of being informed, congregations
continue to be led astray by idols that make a lot of noise but cannot speak
the language of love. Being informed is not enough, just like knowing something
is a good thing to do doesn't necessarily lead one to embrace a healthy diet
and exercise. But sometimes the mind informs the heart and heart knowledge
leads to repentance which is able to heal divisions within the body of Christ
as Spirit activated spiritual gifts are put to their proper use. Of course it
is never that neat or easy but the good news is that after centuries of
informing people who prefer idols that make a lot of noise the church is still
here, the Gospel is still being proclaimed and Spirit hasn't given up
activating gifts for the common good. Corinth
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
You save humans and animals alike. While we depend on God to do the first, Lisa and I have been helping God do the latter for some time. We haven’t limited ourselves to cute animals either and share our TV room with a homeless possum and a pair of orphaned squirrels. God saves in that way as well. Salvation is not only for the cute and cuddly. All people are invited to take refuge. All people are invited to the feast of abundance. All people are invited to drink from the
’s delights. That
is because the steadfast love of God extending to the heavens, stretched above
the clouds, plunging to the depths of the ocean has no limit. We are the ones
who qualify and quantify love by making a list and checking it twice to exclude the
naughty and welcome the nice. It is our capacity for love that is limited, not
God’s. And it is that same limited capacity for love that leads some to leave
the invitation unopened or discard it as irrelevant. But God’s love remains
steadfast waiting to save those whose eyes have grown accustomed to darkness imitating light. But God’s waiting is rewarded when our
capacity to love becomes more like God’s and in living limitless love with
upright hearts we become part of the saving for someone else. river
Monday, January 14, 2013
The people to whom these words are addressed have grown weary of hope. They were promised a return to
with singing but when they got home the only song they could sing was a lament
and Lord knows they know that song by heart. The burning sand has dried up the
promised pool, the haunt of jackals is still just as dangerous and the ruins they
will have to rebuild are inhabited by hostile residents. It will take more than
hope to make Zion
hospitable to the prophet’s vision. And maybe that is how hope works. We might
prefer the fairy tale close your eyes, click your heels three times and no
place turns into home, but truth is hope just gets us to believe again that not
all the songs we will sing will be in a minor key. And so the forsaken who have
returned to a desolate land change their tune and start singing as those who
are the delight of the Lord in a land that is married. But what if the
prophet’s vision is beyond our ability to hope? Truth is all the visions of the
future are beyond our ability to hope which is why God sings lead. For Jerusalem ’s sake I will not
keep silent. Zion
Friday, January 11, 2013
The Baptism of Our Lord affords us the liturgical opportunity to remember our baptism which is a good thing to do. It’s not like being re-baptized, which we would say is not such a good thing even if you were only sprinkled when you were so young you thought it was just another bath. At least that’s true for Lutherans who believe baptism is about God and not the believer because the baptism comes before the believing. Of course we baptize big people who know what’s going on but like Cornelius in Acts who spoke in tongues before he and his whole household was baptized sometimes with God the cart shows up before the horse. So this Sunday those of us who can’t remember the day we were “saved” will remember that we are baptized which is the same thing. Martin Luther thought that was such a good idea we should do it every morning, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. That’s because “I am baptized” remembers God’s Word through Isaiah, I have called you by name you are mine. “I am baptized” hears the Voice in the terrifying and terrible as strength and peace. “I am baptized” claims the promise that like Peter and John in Samaria someone laid hands on us and we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. And finally “I am baptized” means we are marked with the cross of Christ and forever joined to the crowd of witnesses because being baptized joins us to the death of Christ so that we might share in the life of Christ. So remember your baptism even if at the time you thought it was just another bath.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
It was a time of expectation, like when the planets line up in a way they haven’t for a long time and won’t ever again in one’s lifetime, which of course must mean something. In that kind of time a voice crying in the wilderness attracts attention and even casual conversations end up speculating about cosmic events. Most of the time “the time” does not live up to the expectation but this time the expectation couldn't live up to the time. They expected a Messiah like John, even though he told them he wasn't him. But with speeches full of fire, with clothes, diet and personal hygiene like the prophets of the past he was a figure to behold. And so the people heard his hell fire brimstone exhortation as good news and in the verses that precede these change their ways to escape the wrath that is to come. No wonder Jesus gets lost in the crowd. He can’t follow that sort of act and unless you were close enough to hear the voice or happened to be looking when the dove landed he would have looked like one of the crowd dipping in the
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
The Word of God spent some time in Samaria and promised a thirsty woman that there would be a day when Samaritans and Jews and all true worshipers would worship God in spirit and in truth. And when He spoke the truth about her she came to believe he was the Truth and the whole village followed suit. As Jesus ascended he told the disciples they would be witnesses in
and the ends of the earth. It took things turning ugly in Jerusalem to get the
believers to hit the road which is how Philip came to spend some time in a
Samaritan city. Through signs and wonders and proclamation the Truth came again
to Samaria and
the whole city rejoiced and was baptized and the church sent Peter and John to
seal the deal. It took truth telling in the first instance and persecution in
the second to bring the Word to the Samaritans in a way that led to the gift of
the Spirit and maybe that is true for us as well. First the truth about
ourselves; we are thirsty for something more but satisfy ourselves with
something less until we are truly parched. And like the persecution that
scattered the believers we are driven by the knowledge of our need to renounce
all that draws us away from God and so be refreshed by the Water of Life, the
Spirit of Truth. Samaria
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The voice of the Lord is LOUD. Glory! Many people experience God in the beauty of nature; sunsets, mountain tops, misty lakes at dawn and the like. Such things are generally experienced in solitude and bring a sense of peace and contentment. I’m not sure I would equate the blessing of peace with a voice that strips a forest bare. But the psalmist imagines the glory and splendor of God in the terrible and terrifying. Making Lebanon skip like a young bull is just a poetic way of saying earthquake and flashing fire doesn't need to strike twice to get you diving for cover. This image of a terrible and terrifying God evokes praise not only from nature but from the heavenly beings who know a thing or two about terrifying and maybe that is the point. This voice cannot be ignored or denied and all the forces of the universe are obliged to respond. But for those who belong to the Voice hearing God in the terrible and terrifying means the terrible is less terrifying for God present in the whirlwind and the earthquake is our strength and peace. And when from the cross God cried out with a loud voice even death had to sit up and take notice and admit it was finished. And that is a blessing of peace indeed. Glory!
Monday, January 7, 2013
|Marie Talbot 1953-2012|
This promise of God was penned by the prophet Isaiah to the captives who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept while their tormentors called for them to sing glad songs of Zion. And so these promises of security are spoken to those who know the threat of waters that rise and flames that burn bright. They have lost hope of going home and their only comfort is in the thought of revenge upon the children born to the Babylonians. (Psalm 137) But the promise of the One who formed them is that they will not be abandoned to captivity for the God who heard their cries in the past has heard them in the present. They will not be overwhelmed or consumed by the things that threaten them because they are precious, honored, loved, desirable objects of the Holy One’s affection. Truth is what we experience in this life is often beyond our ability to tread water or shield ourselves from searing heat but then the word of God is to not be afraid despite all that threatens. I think that means we do not believe the water of difficulty will have the last word for us even if we drown or that the fire of suffering will consume us. We are already eternal creatures known by name and treasured possessions of the God who exists in the past-present-future. So we endure in the midst of captivity and overcome all that would cause us to doubt our treasured status.
Friday, January 4, 2013
We still have lights on our house and a Christmas tree in our living room. Come Monday we’ll have to put it all away since Sunday is the twelfth day of Christmas which is the official end to the season that begins before Thanksgiving. Of course we've been known to leave our tree up until it becomes a fire hazard but that’s not because we like Christmas so much as we like to burn the tree in our chiminea and a dry tree makes more sparks. Of course we’re not the only ones who notice a dry tree burning in a backyard which is why we had a visit from the Richland Hills fire department who nicely but firmly suggested that next time we put our tree on the curb like everyone else. The Lord is like a bright light arising on the dark night of the captive’s return promising better days ahead. The justice and righteousness of God is given to the king so he can be a light shining on the poor and oppressed and not just a light unto himself. Paul, the very least of the apostles, is a bright light none-the-less so that the Ephesians will understand the grace that has been given them. And the wise men from the East who do not know the Lord follow the bright light anyway and lo and behold find the creator of the stars in the most unlikely of places.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
The men from the east may have been wise in the way of stars but they were not so smart when dealing with kings. You don’t ask a king where his replacement has been born, especially if the boy wasn't born to the queen in the palace. By all accounts Herod had a paranoid personality and the question puts him in self preservation mode (something he has done very well in the past) and all of Jerusalem is scared of a frightened Herod. The babes in Bethlehem have more to fear. They just don’t know it yet. But Rachael's wailing won't happen until the wise men give their gifts to the baby who escapes and the wise men being warned in a dream depart by the back door. In many ways it is a very human story, not like the angels we have heard on high that the shepherds see. Astrologers seeing planets line up in a new way are driven to investigate and naively ask people in power questions that should not be asked which almost always leads to bloodshed for the little and the lowly. It’s not a very merry Christmas story when you think of it that way but then God chose to enter the life of the world as a baby with no home and a king with no throne. That the wise men would worship a poor child in a no account town means they trusted the signs in the heavens and believed someone or something wanted them to follow. Either way the sign in heaven led them to a place on earth where God could be found. We are signs on earth that point to a place in heaven that is at its best a vision for all people of perfect peace and irresistible love that makes angels sing and wise folk rejoice.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Paul calls himself the “very least of all the saints” even though he will tell the Corinthians he worked harder than any of the apostles and in his letter to the Galatians even question the authority of the big three, Peter, James and John, those “reputed to be pillars”. But then one can hardly imagine the church surviving let alone expanding without a person like Paul. The same traits that made him a formidable foe to the fledgling faith made him the fanatical convert to the mystery of Christ made known through revelations. His love for the Lord he formerly persecuted was expressed through an unmatched intellect, a stoic personality and an obstinate nature. And maybe it takes a “chief of sinners though I be” to really appreciate with boldness and confidence the access to God carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. So God uses Paul’s weakness to make the Gentile church strong and his foolishness to make the Gentiles wise to the eternal purpose of God. While we can’t claim to be on par with Paul it might be a good thing for us to accept that God finds our whole being (the good, the bad, and the in-between) useful for making known the mystery of God to the present day gentiles to whom we have been sent.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
The righteous flourish and peace is found in abundance when people in power care for the poor and the oppressed and those who have no helper. It is a clear indication of how differently God views the hierarchy of the human community. The king is given God’s justice and righteousness to provide for those who cannot repay by showing compassion to the lowly poor and preserving the life of the needy. Those who claim the name of the King of Kings would do well to note the nature of Jesus’ reign. The song that announces his conception sings of the mighty brought down and the lowly lifted up; the hungry filled with good things and the rich sent empty. It is more than pretty poetry penned by the prophet Isaiah. The blood of those subjected to oppression and violence is precious in God’s sight and their cries ascend to the heavens and do not fall on deaf ears. In the epiphany story the kings of Tarshish and Sheba and Seba (or their emissaries) came to Bethlehem expecting to find the King of the Jews. That they recognized him in such humble surroundings must mean they looked at the world a little differently on their way home. So it is for us who have encountered the Christ and seek to honor him on our journey home. Or as Matthew will say in his Gospel, “When I was hungry you gave me food….”