Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Easter 6 C - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
The psalmist was a having a good day when Psalm 67 was written. Not like the day “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me” Psalm 22 was penned. That both praise and lament are sung in the same song book is a testament to the truth telling of the Psalter for life is both blessing and bust. There is a tendency in the American mega-denomination to attribute only glory to God and prosperity to God’s people who invest wisely and often. But the graciousness of the crucified God is to be present in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy. The blessing of the crucified God is to shine the light of God’s face into the darkness of our lives when forsakeness has sapped our strength and doubt overshadowed our hope. The way of the crucified God and the saving power made known to the nations is justice for the oppressed, freedom for the captive, good news for the poor. When the blessing of God is no longer seen as a right for the righteous then equity among the peoples will be established and the increase of the earth will not be hoarded or squandered but freely shared. And that will be a good day indeed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Easter 6 C - Acts 16:9-15

Acts 16:9-15

Even though Paul and his companions do enter Europe Through the Back Door® the Acts 16 travelogue would be more interesting if National Public Radio Travels with Rick Steves had recorded it. Luke, on the other hand, is more interested in conversion than conversation about where to dine and recline, though he could not possibly foresee how Europe would both shape and be shaped by Christianity. And so when one considers how the faith will one day be expressed in crown and cathedral it is worth noting that it begins with a woman named Lydia, who is not to be confused with the tattooed lady of the song. She was a convert to Judaism without a place to worship because Philippi must not have had the ten men necessary to start a synagogue. It would not have mattered if there were a hundred women worshipers of God without ten men the Mosaic law's requirement for starting a synagogue could not be met, so shall we gather at the river became her place of prayer. On the other hand there may have been a hundred synagogues in Philippi but not one of them would welcome a woman who dealt in an industry that boiled Mollusks to dye the cloth reserved for the rich and famous. So stuck between a rock and hard place she is eager to receive the faith that declared there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. When the church is more conversant in who is worthy to dine and recline than the language of conversion we would do well to note that while the man of Macedonia called for help, it was Lydia who came to the rescue and started the church Paul prayed for and praised for its partnership in the Gospel.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Easter 5 C - John 13:31-35

John 13:31-35
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another." You would think the church could get this one right. After all love is what we preach and teach and claim to believe in the pulpit and in the pew. In fact if there is anything we should be able to get right it is this simple command. Love one another. Just do it. It's not rocket science. Of course that would mean the "one another" we are commanded to love would have to be a little more loveable or in other words a little more like us or better, more like me. It is a sign of our sinfulness that loving one another is contingent on conforming to my way or the highway. But in "love one another as I have loved you" we are called to conform to the selfless way of Jesus whose love was made visible in death to rescue those who refused to be loved. So if we do not love one another it is because we do not love Jesus for we cannot love Jesus without loving the "one another" Jesus died to love. That is not to say love is an invitation to be abused. You can love from a distance. But to look upon the "one another" as those loved by Christ means we see the other as Christ does. Therefore love one another as I have loved you means love Jesus in the unreasonable other. Love Jesus in the selfish other. Love Jesus in the spiteful other. Love Jesus in the weak willed and untrustworthy other. Then others will know that we are disciples of Jesus for we love one another, for Jesus' sake, so that others will love Jesus. None of which can happen unless you love the Jesus in you. So I guess in that way it really is all about me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Easter 5 C - Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6
No sea on the new earth? And here I was planning on boogie boarding my way through at least half of eternity. Some read this word literally and explain that the "no sea" on the new earth is to accommodate the vast multitude too great to count. But that misses the point of the vision. The sea represents the chaos that existed before creation when the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. God's spirit hovered over the water and in the word "Let there be…" order is called forth and chaos is contained. In this creation account the chaos that threatens is not the sea (which is good news for me.) It is death, for mourning and crying and pain and tears caused by loss can make our lives formless and empty and dark. So the new thing that God is doing here is no different from the first thing God did. In Christ crucified and risen God creates order out of chaos, life out of death, joy out of sorrow, laughter out of tears. I suppose that should enough but I'm halfway hoping for a new sea with really big waves and the ability to walk on water so I can boogie without the board.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Easter 5 C - Psalm 148

Psalm 148

The praise the Lord list is all inclusive even though not everyone on the list gets along. Wild animals eat cattle, kings make war on princes, fire and hail and wind do damage to fruit trees and of course sea monsters are not called monsters for being friendly to sailors. I don’t think the point is that if the all inclusive list spent more time praising the Lord they would spend less time preying on one another. You can over think a psalm in the same way that the marriage of melody and lyric loses something when the words of a song are over analyzed. So let’s just say the symphony of the all inclusive praise psalm is the song of everything all at once exalting the name of the Lord which is a joyful noise to the Lord (even if the sound a sea monster might terrify us).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Easter 5 C - Acts 11:1-18

I think I might just have to remain kosher if the Lord told me to eat reptiles even if rattlesnake does taste like chicken. Of course the come down on a sheet menu is really just a set up for what comes next. Three gentiles come a calling and Peter goes to their house which is like eating shrimp on the Sabbath. The categories of clean and unclean are designed to keep one group pure by profaning the other. It begins with keeping oneself separate and while segregation will satisfy for a time eventually violence is the final solution. In the vision of the sheet the future imagined by God is revealed where distinctions of clean and unclean and everything in between is erased from the human vocabulary. The prophet Isaiah sees it as the sheet that covers the nations, hatred, violence, pride leading to prejudice, lifted in favor of forever feasting. To be faithful to the future is to follow it in the present so as not to hinder God. Paul will say it this say it this way. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free because in Christ God declares there is no distinction. So, while you certainly may decline the rattlesnake appetizer, loving neighbor as self is not optional on the Christian menu.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Easter 4 C - John 10:22-30

John 10:22-30

In light of the bombing in Boston and the explosion in West, Texas the Gospel assigned to lectionary preachers “I give them eternal life and nothing can snatch them out of my hands” could not be more contextual. It reminds me that the Word written down so long ago speaks as a living word in every age. The sudden and violent nature of these events snatched loved ones from the midst of life in the cruelest fashion but then even deaths for which we wait arrive suddenly in the end. The promise to those who hear the Shepherd’s voice is that this life does not end in abandonment but continues on into a forever future that unfolds in ways we can only dimly imagine. One still hopes for a peaceful passing with friends and family walking up to the very edge to bid Godspeed, but no matter how we cross over the promise from “the Father and I are One” remains. Nothing can snatch you from the hands and heart of Jesus. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Easter 4 C - Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17
The promise to the white robed ones before the throne describes the great ordeal our faith forebears suffered. Indeed, when we make this portion of the letter a prophecy of the imagined future we dishonor the real people who went without food and water as they suffered the scorching sun and the heat of the day. They were mostly slaves and women, the least and the left behind, which is why using the testimony of their tribulation in best selling books and cheesy DVDs by the rich and powerful insults the real people to whom these words were written. Their tears will be wiped away and though we might have much to make us weep the great multitude come out of the great ordeal does not include us. It is not to say we are left out because we happen to live in a time when the empire embraces the church without trying to strangle it. It just means we can't read about those persecuted and ultimately killed for the faith and make it about us. What is about us, persecuted or not, is that the Lamb at the center of the throne is the Shepherd of every nation and tribe and people and language which means leaving anyone behind is the last thing on the Lord's mind.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Easter 4 C - Psalm 23

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia
Psalm 23

We spoke the 23rd psalm yesterday at the funeral service of Calvary member Vernon Johnson. In some ways it has become a fixture of the funeral liturgy and rightly so. The image of peaceful pastures and still waters and a forever dwelling place in the house of the Lord is fitting for a funeral as the familiar words rarely fail to provide comfort. We didn't know that the shadow of the valley of death would be cast over Boston later that day in a way that seems especially cruel and demonic. Not that other acts of indiscriminate violence are not equally evil only that to attack an event that has so much of the beauty and nobility of the human spirit attached to it heightens the heartbreak and tragedy. So what comfort can “the Lord is my shepherd” provide in such circumstances? It should not escape our attention that “the Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1) comes directly after “my God, my God why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1). If the scriptures did not graphically and truthfully acknowledge the depths of despair that we experience the rod and staff could not offer any comfort in the valley of the shadow of all the deaths we suffer. As it is God in Jesus suffered a cruel and violent death at the hands of enemies and defeated their evil schemes by refusing to lie quietly in the grave. Despite the darkness of the shadow death did not have the last word for Jesus and it will not have the last word over us. Goodness is stronger than evil. Life is stronger than death. As for those who serve death and perpetrate such heinous acts as the bombing in Boston they will one day enter the valley of the shadow themselves and I doubt the rod and staff will offer much comfort. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Easter 4 C - Acts 9:36-43

Acts 9:36-43

Peter, the fisherman turned physician, may have been the rock upon which the church was built, but Tabitha was the one who made it work. Devoted to acts of charity, she takes Jesus’ at his word about the least of these, “when I was naked you clothed me” and does something about it. Her handiwork in the hands of weeping widows is a testimony to her devotion and remembered well for the good she did Tabitha will be missed. But this is a resurrection story and so like Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter Tabitha will live to sew again. Luke tells the story as if a person coming back to life when called by name and told to get up happens all the time, even though miracles tend to demand attention and get it. People like Tabitha, devoted to good works and acts of charity, do not draw attention to themselves and maybe that makes her life of service more of a miracle than sitting up at Peter’s command. The miracle of the church is that despite all of its drawing attention to itself, mostly for the wrong reasons, it still has a Tabitha or two quietly going about being church. A resurrection story is always more about this life then whatever comes next and though we might long for the day when we hear that final “get up” the world would be well served, and maybe even resurrected, by a church devoted to good works and acts of charity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easter 3 C - John 21:1-19

John 21:1-19

By the third appearance the disciples have gone back to what they know. “I’m going fishing,” is what you do when your world has been turned upside down and inside out and even though you've come through without a scratch you retreat to the security and comfort of the familiar. The rhythm of casting out and hauling in, casting out and hauling in, casting out and hauling in, even if you don’t catch anything, is simple and satisfying and safe. But Jesus just can’t leave them alone and appearing again turns the catch into an object lesson. Cast on the other side even though you've been fishing all night with nothing to show for it. Recognition comes with the catch. John wants us to know there were 153 large fish but the more important detail is that the net isn’t torn which is just another sign that what you should expect in the new reality is the unexpected. After breakfast it’s Jesus who goes fishing for the answer that is really a confession. “You know I love you” three times on the beach reverses the three “I do not know the man” in the courtyard and the curses Peter called down upon himself are lifted with the charge to feed and tend and feed . His fishing days are over and what will become familiar in following Jesus will be suffering and death. God still interrupts the familiar of our everyday with the extraordinary chance encounters that after the fact are encounters clearly not by chance. In all this we are invited along with Peter to stretch out our hands and be bound to something beyond our own doing and in that even the familiar is always something new.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Easter 3 C - Revelation 5:11-14

Revelation 5:11-14

I remember the sound of angels singing in our backyard years ago. They must have been around three and five at the time and they were singing “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!” That’s the only part they knew so they just sang it over and over again. Maybe that’s the only part we need to know when it comes right down to it. The Lamb who was slain is worthy and has won the victory over death so that songs of rejoicing might spring forth from children and angels alike. To that the living creatures say Amen which means Let it be so. To live into let it be so is to invite the future into the present so that we hear and sing the song in our everyday. Granted it is more difficult when life is anything but playful. In those times the invitation is a prayer and this is the feast is sung through clenched teeth. Which is why it is the only thing we need to know. Despite all the difficulties of the day the battle is done, the final victory won. One day the feast of victory will be for all of us as children playing and singing this is the feast over and over again and the sound of suffering and sorrow will be stilled. And so the memory of angels singing in the backyard in the past enters the present of this morning so that one is reminded of the future. Amen. Let it be so.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Easter 3 C - Psalm 30

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 is a song of deliverance sung in the key of joy. Rescued from the foe, helped by healing, brought back from the depths of the pit the psalmist has seen it all and is glad that the day of refreshment has finally dawned. But the worst of what was is perhaps understated. “When you hid your face I was dismayed.” Weeping through the night watches the psalmist is clothed in the sackcloth of God’s absence and the moment of God’s anger seems to last a lifetime. Crying into that silence for help the psalmist is not above making a deal. “What good am I to you dead?” When the morning of deliverance comes the rejoicing is unrestrained and one jumps for the joy of it, for even if silence and sorrow and suffering are remembered the new dawn trumps whatever one went through to see the sun rise.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Easter 3 C - Acts 9:1-20

Acts 9:1-20
Saul may be the one blinded but Ananias is the one who wants to make sure God sees clearly. "Here, I am Lord" is followed quickly by a just in case you don't know "Lord, I've heard of this man…" According to Luke's tale all Ananias needs is a little more information to call Saul brother but I image he had an exit strategy when he headed down Straight Street in Damascus. Even so his only scene in the Gospel is a story of faith that makes Paul's story possible as his baptizing "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me" means Paul can suffer for "the sake of the name" which in turn makes the name of Jesus known. Ananias could have said send someone else but he didn't and his act of obedience opened the eyes of Paul and the eyes of countless generations who would read Paul's letters. Maybe God seeing clearly is how we receive our sight. Here I am Lord.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Easter 2 C - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter 2 C - Revelation 1:4-8

Revelation 1:4-8
We leave the letter to the seven churches behind when we translate it too quickly to a prophetic word about our time or anytime to come for that matter. Not that it is without a current or a future context. It's just that making it all about our time - or a time to come - does not do justice to John or those long gone who suffered tribulation in real time. John is as much a pastor as he is a prophet and his people are being put upon by the powers that be while he is exiled and far from the parishes that are his charge. In the spirit of the Lord he shares a vision where "goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death." (Desmond Tutu) Those who in our time have profited off this pastoral / prophetic work have missed the point. Endurance is not about escape. It comes from courage that engages the world as it is so that by the witness of perseverance the world might be convicted and given the chance to become what it was meant to be.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Easter 2 C - Psalm 150

Psalm 150

Psalm 150 is the alternate psalm for Sunday. It’s a noisy praise the Lord psalm and if you were at Calvary on Easter it should bring to mind cymbals and tympani and brass that made our singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” rise to new heights. Or the strings and woodwinds that brought “Because He Lives” to life. Now I know the human voice can make a joyful noise all by itself – I've been to a Church of Christ service – but when it comes to noise the voice can’t compete with a clanging cymbal. The mighty deeds and surpassing greatness of God calls for an orchestra and everything that breathes as well. So if our praise of God is to be worthy of notice, as I suggested yesterday, we’ll have to make some noise. Not clanging cymbals alone, which Paul tells the Corinthians are as useless as noisy gongs without the melody of love, but grateful for God’s goodness and moved by mercy our praise should be a symphony of serving. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter 2c - Acts 5:27-41

Acts 5:27-41

For a group of guys who didn't get it in the Gospels the disciples got going pretty quickly in the book of Acts. With a sound like the rushing of the wind and tongues of flames on their heads and languages not their own they were transformed from confused followers into bold witnesses who rejoiced that they were considered worthy of persecution. How do we enter such a text given that the message which caused such a stir has settled down to become the status quo? It may be that Gamaliel’s advice, ignore them and they’ll go away, accomplished what the Pharisees desired. The church becomes irrelevant to the culture when it is indistinguishable from it. I’m not nostalgic for the days when the Gospel attracted persecution but I would like to rejoice in being worthy of attention. If we tell the truth the journey of the last four days was mostly about us, the respectable church goers, and for many of our neighbors and co-workers and friends and even family it was just another weekend. If Monday happens right on schedule and holy week like Christmas is carefully wrapped and put back on the shelf until next year it will be just another, albeit it busy weekend for us well. But if we were to do something worthy of attention today, speak and act as those who have something worth living and saying, then like disciples we would rejoice in being followers who take the lead.