Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lent 3 C - Luke 13:1-9

Luke 13:1-9
There is no cause and effect between sin and a tragic death... but if you don't repent you'll suffer a tragic death. It seems as if Jesus' answer to why bad things happen to people raises more questions, but maybe that is the point. Jesus challenges the need for a reason for why bad things happen because for us even a bad reason is more comforting than no reason at all. But then we have been curious from creation and like the first humans we are not willing to live with God knowing something we don't, even it means getting kicked out of the garden. And so we keep trying to put the puzzle together, even though a good number of the pieces are missing. Jesus would have us live into God's answer to Job's why? "I'm not telling, but trust me anyway." The answer that wants us to live with the question is like a fig tree that has had enough time to get busy doing what fig trees are meant to do but has not. Cutting it down to make room for another is the correct answer to three years of wasted waiting. But the gardener wants the owner to live with the question, "will it produce?" another year and while we would rush to the yes or no end of the parable I think as with most parables we too are supposed to live with the question, which, of course, is God's answer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent 1 C - 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

1 Corinthians 10:1-17
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, or in other words, “you better not shout, you better not pout, you better not cry, I’m telling you why…” What do we do with Paul’s warning, or veiled threat, depending on which side of the line you are standing? I suppose the first thing we have to ask ourselves is do we believe what Paul is saying? That 23,000 fell in a day for getting up from the table to play and others putting Christ to the test had good reason to fear snakes, while still others should have kept their mouths shut and their complaints to themselves. And further that this is a Divine object lesson to keep the Corinthians, and us I suppose, from making the same mistake and suffering a similar fate? From the perspective of God’s grace these verses carry less weight than the “still more excellent way” of the thirteenth chapter of this same letter but they cannot and I might add, dare not be dismissed so easily. The reason being, as Paul will tell the Romans, is that God has determined to be both just and the one who justifies. There will be a reckoning and therefore a pardon will be necessary for whether we think we are standing or not we have all fallen into temptation and are without exception guilty. To think or claim otherwise is to engage in theological immorality by testing the grace of God without accepting the consequence of sin or acknowledging the cost to Christ. In spite of our weakness God is faithful and the strength to be tested is not our will power but whether we endure our falling by trusting the way out God has provided.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Psalm 63:1-8

Psalm 63:1-8
I'm sitting on the second floor of the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago welcome center. There's a plaque on the wall dedicated to The Reverend Doctor John Tietjen "who in the midst of strife and conflict advocated the unifying power of the Gospel..." John was the pastor of Trinity Church, Fort Worth when I first came to Calvary Lutheran and I was blessed to know him as a mentor, colleague and friend. Sometimes in the watches of the night when your soul thirsts and your flesh faints God is found through the wise council or loving care of a fellow pilgrim. Maybe God always refreshes us in that way so that even years later you remember a word spoken or an embrace shared and like a drink of water in a weary land your troubles seem less troubling and your burdens are more bearable. John lives where the saints of God rejoice eternally but on this cold Chicago day he's visited this pilgrim for a moment with warm memories that have brightened my spirits and refreshed my soul.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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

Philippians 3:14 - 4:1

Pressing on towards the prize requires desire and will power and physical fitness which doesn't happen overnight. The apostle Paul had more than a little practice pressing on as many pressed in on him for his holding fast to heavenly citizenship. It may be that without opposition it is more difficult for us to keep spiritually fit as minds set on earthly things dull our desire, sap our will power and weaken our resolve. So what are we to do? Stand firm in the Lord, Paul would say, but that doesn't mean stand still. Pressing begins with our sight, not on the prize but on what made the prize possible. "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith" or so goes another Biblical running text. So if you have taken that first step to be more spiritually fit during Lent don’t let yourself go just because Easter rolls around. The race isn't over until you cross the finish line.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lent 2 C - Psalm 27

Psalm 27"One thing I ask of the Lord...." If you ask me this psalm asks too much. “No Fear” might work as a bumper sticker for a pick up truck but I’m afraid I would experience more than a little fear if evildoers sat down to dine on me. And while the adversaries and foes stumble and fall in verse two they are back on their feet breathing violence in verse twelve. Even the Lord’s face is hidden and to the psalmist, cast off and forsaken, the light of salvation should seem dim and distant. Which is why the psalm needs to begin where it ends. Waiting. Wait for the Lord; be strong for the Lord is your light and salvation. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage for the Lord is the stronghold of your life. So is that it? We just grit our teeth and bear whatever life throws at us or take a deep breath and go to our happy place when all around is chaos? No. Confident waiting hope does not depend on our own strength or ability to endure. It depends fully on the One who has prepared a place for us and has himself waited through all this psalm asked Him to endure. Surrounded by enemies, forsaken by family and friends, accused falsely by witnesses breathing violence he was forsaken even by God. But for the joy set before him Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice as his head, crowned with thorns, was lifted up above the enemies he was dying to forgive. And dying our death he became our life so that our waiting would not be in vain. No Fear? Maybe so.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lent 2 C - Genesis 15:1-18

Genesis 15:1-18

I'm not sure I'd care to pass through half a heifer even if the birth of the promised heir depended on it. The Bible contains a lot of material that I find odd or even offensive and when I read stories like this I can’t imagine God needs to be so dramatic just to make a promise come true. So if we were to demythologize this story, or take out the bits that don’t fit our view of what is real and what might not be quite the way it reads, what would be the harm? Maybe it is because we need the bits “beyond our knowing”  so that we can live more fully the part of this story that is real to us - when we like Abraham find ourselves between what is and what we hope will be. If we have worked out all the details, made God fit our way of thinking, what do we do when we don’t fit God’s way of being? Abraham’s faith reckoned to him as righteousness, or right relationship with God, depends on believing the promise when the promise is not yet. It means trusting God is present when all evidence would indicate that God is not. Faith lives between what is and what is hoped for, between the revealed Word and the mystery of the Word invisible yet somehow present. So Abraham believed what he knew could not be and we are the offspring he was promised, counted among the stars he could not number. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent 1 C - conclusion

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lent 1 C - Luke 4:1-13

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent 1 C - Romans 10:8b-13

Romans 10:8b-13

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Romans 10:15) My “beautiful feet” were freezing this morning at 6 AM at the Trinity Railway Express station in Richland Hills, TX as we offered the imposition of ashes to commuters. It was our third year to venture out in the predawn to remind anyone who cared to listen that they were dust and to dust they would return. That doesn't sound like good news and it wouldn't be if the ashes were imposed in any shape other than a cross. But since the announcement of our mortality is accompanied by the sign of the cross that could not conquer the Christ the good news about Jesus “He is Risen” allows us to hear the bad news about ourselves “to dust you shall return. "No one who believes in him will be put to shame" therefore the grave can do no harm to us. At noon time we were imposing ashes in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth where a young waitress at the Flying Saucer entered the ancient Christian ritual by saying to Intern Ethan, “ash me”. Imagine that. Good news indeed.   

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lent 1 C - Psalm 91

Psalm 91

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lent 1 C - Deuteronomy 26:1-11

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)
The lectionary allows the option of including the verses that describe what happens when Jesus comes down the mountain and while it might appear to be two different stories they belong together. The transfigured Jesus talking with the law giver and the end of all things prophet is sent to be with and bear the faithless and perverse generation. “How long…” is a lament not a rebuke and has more to do with Jesus than the perverse generation, for Jesus knows he will be with this perverse generation until he bears their perversity in his own person. How do you give up glory when you know that? You do it for a father who cries out “Teacher, I beg you…” You do it for an only son convulsed and mauled and beaten by a demon. You do it for well meaning but ineffective disciples. You do it because that is what love does. The beloved only Son is convulsed and mauled and beaten and killed for the faithless and perverse of every generation, every last one of us. If the disciples want to stay on the mountain and bask in the glory how much more so Jesus who has every reason to stay in the booth Peter offers to build but chooses to come off the mountain instead.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
When Paul writes to the Romans and thinks of his “kindred according to the flesh” his sorrow is unceasing and his anguish is great. So much so he would gladly be cut off from Christ and go back behind the veil, as it were, if it meant the children of Abraham would see clearly. The hope that makes Paul so bold is a confidence that the freedom of the Spirit will work its will, even on those whose minds are hardened and whose vision is veiled. Changed from glory into glory they will one day with unveiled faces gaze upon the glory that is the Lord. That is the ministry of mercy that makes Paul’s heart beat faster. And that is why we do not lose heart when friends or spouses or children or parents, our kindred according to the flesh, are veiled to the freedom in which we live. If one day we are blessed to see them gifted by sight it will not be by cunning or changing the Word to fit the world, but by living what we believe. We renounce the shameful things that promise much and deliver nothing and live the gift of freedom that is the law of love. And we trust that the glory to be revealed is bigger and better and more inclusive than we can imagine. For the open statement of the truth is that we love others so others will love Christ who has always loved them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - Psalm 99

Psalm 99

The Lord is enthroned above angelic beings, terrifying in their own right, and the mere thought of the Holy One causes people to tremble as the earth quakes. Before the Lord, who is exalted over everyone and everything, praise is not an option. You will be still and know that I am God. Kings of the human variety, with far less power and majesty, tend to magnify themselves at the expense of their subjects. Not so with the Holy God, the lover of justice, who hears the cries of those pleading for mercy and grants forgiveness. That doesn't mean forgiving wrongdoing is the end of the matter. The equity of justice is that the scales are balanced and righteousness is established when the forgiven responds to the debt forgotten with hearts of thankfulness and “go and sin no more” acts of repentance. The Holy One becomes unholy so that the unholy ones will become Holy. So while the cross is forgiveness once and for all it is also God’s hope that in the shadow of the cross we will love justice as much as God does. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Feast of the Transfiguration Year C - Exodus 34:29-35:

Exodus 34:25-39

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

Friday, February 1, 2013

Epiphany 4c - conclusion

The lessons for Epiphany 4c remind me of one of those questions on a standardized test. Which of the following four items does not belong to the group? The obvious answer is C or 1 Corinthians. The messenger Jeremiah is blamed for the message. The psalmist is threatened by the wicked, unjust and cruel. And Jesus, the home town prophet, is treated as being too big for his britches. The epistle with its poetic description of a still more excellent way seems too sweet to belong. But if you place “Love is gentle and kind” in the context of the conflicted Corinthian congregation it belongs with Jeremiah and the Psalmist and Jesus. Love that bears, believes, hopes and endures is not sentimental but suffering. Love that does not insist on its own way is emptied of power to take on the form of a servant. Love that keeps no records of wrongs forgives those who “know not what they do” even when they do it on purpose. Love that never ends dies that others may live. So if C is understood in the context of conflict then it belongs with A,B, & D the answer is E or none of the above. And Love will tell you if you really want to pass the test… Go and do likewise.