Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - Luke 10:17-20

Luke 10:17-20
I wish my demons submitted to me but I’ll confess it’s more often the other way around. My guess is there are times you might make the same confession as well. It is not so much a question of if but when, even for the best of us. That’s because demons aren't as obvious as snakes and scorpions waiting to be stepped on. (Not that they sit still mind you – shiver!) Rather those things done to us and those things we've done to ourselves and those things we've done to others hunker down in the recesses of our mind and work their will quite unnoticed doing their dirty deeds in secret so that we fail to see we act out of the injury of our past as if it were our only option in the present. But when someone gifts us through friendship or insightful wisdom or enduring love with what is our God given authority to name the damaging darkness within us and expose it in the light we return to our true self with joy. It’s not as easy as all that of course. We still have to be willing to listen to the friend or counselor or lover and act on what they can see which unfortunately is our blind spot. I hate that but at the same time thank God because I know I am better for it. So rejoice even if your demons have you in a death grip because in the end we have a Friend, Counselor, Lover, and Savior who has given us to each other for better or for worse in the here and now and in the forever future has written our names in heaven in the indelible ink of His own blood.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12
Why doesn't God just dispatch the dragon? I mean if God is God and there is no other then the dragon is just another lizard and God could squash it like a bug, if you’ll pardon the mixed zoological metaphors. And if there is no room in heaven once the battle is won why not cast the dragon somewhere where no further harm can be done instead of just making him really, really angry and setting him loose on the earth? And by the way even a short time on a planet with a pissed off dragon is way too much time. But then this is Christian mythology and as such not meant to make sense in a literal fashion. The point of these few verses and indeed the whole book of Revelation is that the cosmic battle of the pre-creation past anticipated the cosmic battle on Calvary which insured that in the final future good triumphs over evil because love is stronger hate. That means in the present we do not live in fear of the Dragon but by faith in Jesus who did not cling to life even in the face of death on a cross. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Feast of Saint Michael and all the angels - Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22

Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22
Saint Michael and all the angels “bless the Lord” because they obey God’s spoken word and do whatever God tells them. We are reminded to bless the Lord for all the benefits God gives us even though we do not obey God’s spoken word and resist doing whatever God tells us. But God still satisfies us with good things like forgiveness and healing and redemption and love and mercy and ultimately life beyond the boundaries of this temporal existence. That is because God is mindful of us, made a little lower than the angels, (Psalm 8) and has crowned us with the glory and honor of being called children of God. When we remember that benefit the voices of our souls and all that is within us joins the vast angelic host to bless the Lord and the Lord is blessed indeed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
My favorite angel movie is “Michael” starring John Travolta and rightly so since it was filmed in Texas. (Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Corn Hill, county roads near Walburg and the iconic Gruene Hall no less!) Michael, the Great Prince and protector of God’s people in Daniel’s vision has nothing in common with the vacationing come to earth one last time Travolta version but then most of our imaginings take liberties with whatever God had in mind when angelic beings were created. Close proximity to the real deal causes fear and trembling while Travolta’s less than angelic Michael smokes cigarettes, smells like fresh baked cookies and drives women wild. On the other hand he gives up the last of his allotted miracles to bring a dead dog back to life and what’s not angelic about that? Truth is we lose sight of God’s purpose when we focus on the details (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?) or try to figure out from Daniel’s dream what time the end time will begin. I dare say the world has experienced times of anguish “such has never occurred” a thousand times over with no end in sight and some are experiencing “such has never occurred” even as I type these words. But the chief of princes is not dispatched for a last hurrah on earth or to deliver a message of doom and gloom. No. Michael is sent to proclaim the good news of deliverance to desperate people in the same way the angelic chorus sang over a barn in Bethlehem, “Peace on earth. Good will to those with whom God is pleased.” But because I've loved and lost multiple dogs I choose to believe God might also like the version of Michael where Sparky barks again as much as I do.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pentecost 18 C - Luke 16:1-13

I don’t know what Jesus was thinking as friends made by dishonest wealth are more than likely “friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) and one wonders what sort of eternal home they own. But that’s the problem with this parable. It doesn’t fit any of the familiar parable patterns where the characters are clearly defined and the conclusions to be drawn are obvious. In this case compound cheating with interest is commended and the children of light are encouraged to imitate the children of this age. But maybe we are not to put much stock in the master’s admiration of the dishonest steward, after all the steward is still without employment and there is no guarantee that the friends gained by dishonesty will prove trustworthy. What if we are not meant to put this story into a neat parable package that can be filed away and forgotten? Maybe the point of the parable is in the unsettling nature of it and the lesson to be learned is that it reveals the truth about our attempt to serve two masters by neither hating wealth nor fully loving God.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pentecost 18 C - 1 Timothy 2:1-7

1 Timothy 2:1-7
Can we make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for a king, or in our time elected officials, while at the same time engaging in the time honored American tradition of treating those voted into high positions with disdain or outright contempt? The first Christians had no such choice. The kings and people in high places for whom they were urged to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were actively seeking to put them into the low place of the grave and frankly their most ardent prayer was simply to be left alone. The wisdom of this pastoral letter is not about temporal politics but eternal destiny. God’s most ardent desire is for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If our practice of politics contradicts a quiet and peaceable life then we are to choose godliness and dignity above partisan positions for the sake of the One who gave himself as a ransom for all. Even so this text does not prohibit passionate engagement in the political process. It just reminds us that what is right and acceptable is to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for the ones we want out of high places, keeping in mind that God passionately loves the person we might disagree with as a politician.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pentecost 18 C - Psalm 113

Psalm 113
It is hard to sing this psalm if your home is still on the ash heap. That is the reality we dare not discuss when praising the Lord depends on the Lord providing because truthfully the poor vastly outnumber the princes and “the prince and the pauper” only happens in Hollywood movies. That is not to say God does not provide only that psalms such as this state the hope of the future in present terms as if “this time on” and “forevermore” were the same thing. So what does that mean for princes and the poor in the here and now? If God’s plan for the future is that the poor and princes dine together then praising the Lord depends on what we do as much as what God provides.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pentecost 18 C - Amos 8:4-7

Amos 8:4-7
How you hear this text depends on which side of the bed you rise as some who lie on beds of ease truly care about those who never will. But Amos has harsh words for those who consider their place of privilege a right and sing idle songs without considering the songs of lament sung by others. So what you have is not as important as what you do with it or as Jesus will say, to those whom much is given much is required. That is not to say there is something God pleasing about being poor or that pleasing God makes one rich. God exists beyond the economic, racial, and gender lines we draw. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28) Rather God cares about everyone in the human family and will do whatever it takes for us to do the same.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pentecost 17 C - Luke 15:1-10

I wonder if there was someone in the grumbling crowd who thought the carpenter from Nazareth would make a lousy shepherd. No one leaves the ninety-nine to fend for themselves in the wilderness to search for the one who is lost unless you don’t mind losing at least a few of the ninety-nine. But then with Jesus the point is always in the punch line. There is rejoicing in finding the one who is lost. So Jesus will lose more than a few Pharisees and scribes in order to find a lost tax collector or sinner. But that isn't the point either is it? I don’t believe Jesus is being sarcastic when he refers to Pharisees and scribes as righteous. No. If he meant to criticize he’d call them a brood of vipers or white washed tombs. Here he acknowledges the hard work of righteous piety that requires no repentance but in typical Jesus fashion I think it is a set up for what comes next. The story that follows the lost sheep and the coin is the one about two lost sons and a waiting father. The hard working stay at home first son who doesn't realize all the father has is already his and the lost and found younger son who didn't know what he had until he’d left it all behind. It is for these two lost children that Jesus comes. The righteous Pharisee who works so hard for what is free and the tax collector who gives away everything of value to get what is worthless. But of course the point is in the punch line and when the righteous ninety-nine find the lost sinner and the lost sinner finds the righteous ninety-nine then both are found by God because there is as much joy in being found as in finding.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pentecost 17 C - 1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17
Ignorance is a bliss I cannot claim when it comes to receiving God’s mercy. As we confess on Ash Wednesday, “I have sinned by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault” so it is for the other 364 days of the year. We sin on purpose and the only ignorance we can claim is that our most grievous sin masquerades as self-righteousness. Maybe the “utmost patience” of God extended to us is greater than what Paul, the blasphemer, persecutor and man of violence claims for himself. If so it would be the first time Paul gave room for anyone else to be foremost. I’m just saying.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pentecost 17 C - Psalm 51:1-10

King David did not pen Psalm 51 without persuasion. It’s not that he didn't know what he had done. He just thought he'd gotten away with it. It began when glancing over the balcony he caught sight of Bathsheba bathing and “look don’t touch” was not enough to satisfy his lust. But his sweet emotion soon turned sour when “the rabbit done died” (Aerosmith) and the consequence of his carnal knowledge with another’s wife threatened to show. As with most people in power honesty is the last option to be exercised so the offense is compounded as Uriah the righteous husband refusing to cooperate is killed to protect the throne. David might have been able to live with the lie for a long time, most of us can, were it not for the prophet Nathan who tells the story of a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb and King David unaware that he is the subject of the story demands the death of the offender. “You are the man” is the end of Nathan’s sermon and the beginning of David’s confession. “Against you only have I sinned” might appear to put Bathsheba into the backseat again, save for the understanding that violating the sanctity of another human being is always a crime against the One to whom all life is precious. That might be the one thing that David gets right and in the end makes him the man after God’s own heart. If our confession acknowledges God as the one we wrong when we harm another, including self, maybe the only persuasion we need in order to be honest with ourselves and others is the desire to return to the God who “cherishes our original innocence” (Erik Johansson) and wants nothing more than to continually create in us clean hearts.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pentecost 17 C - Exodus 32:7-14

Exodus 32:7-14
God might be regretting the promise made to Abraham right about now and in a more irreverent moment one might even imagine the Lord uttering Homer Simpson’s exclamation of resignation… D'oh!!! In the end the Lord’s mind is changed to protect the Lord’s name and preserve the promise to the dysfunctional patriarchal family tree so that the disaster visited upon the stiff necked people won’t turn the Lord into the subject of an Egyptian joke. It is a very human image of God that any loving parent of a willfully disobedient child might recognize. God is stuck with these people brought out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched hand and throughout the wilderness wandering will have to be talked down from the precipice of hot wrath burning against ungrateful people again and again. No other God puts up with such disrespect or is as long suffering as the God of Israel. I wonder if through the changing of the mind God’s mind becomes fixed to forgive in a far more dramatic way when disaster visited upon the Christ means God’s mind cannot be moved away from mercy no matter how many golden calves are created by God’s own people. Oh but surely there is a consequence for worshiping false idols? Of course there is. The idol you worship is false. Or in other words; you can’t get milk or mercy from a golden calf.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pentecost 16 C - Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25-33
It is obvious to me, as it should be to you, that we do not take these words of Jesus literally or if we do we don’t literally live them. I don’t have a lot of possessions but I lock my house when I’m not there to make sure they don’t walk away. The commandment with a promise of long life commands honor for father and mother which seems to contradict the command to hate mom and dad. And the only cross I have is the one I wear around my neck as the life size version is hard to find and more difficult to carry. It is fair to say that Jesus used shock theology to challenge the religious leaders of his day but this word was spoken to the crowds that wanted to hear him and were willing to follow, at least as long as there was a fish fry at the end the speech. (The feeding of the five thousand – Luke chapter 9) So Jesus may just be culling the herd as they say in Texas. But if that is the case the herd has taken over the hen house. So we largely ignore or simply spiritualize these hard sayings which allows us to continue to go wherever we want while claiming to follow Christ. So what can we do? I suggest we take Jesus at his word and like the king with the smaller army ask for terms of peace from the King of Kings. The terms of peace always favor the more powerful but in this case the One who is mighty became weak so that the weak might become strong. It might sound like a Lutheran solution to a difficult passage but then Luther may have understood this text in a way that is instructive for us. “Were they to take our house, goods, fame, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom’s ours forever.” (A Mighty Fortress) It comes down to loving Jesus more than anyone or anything else and if we love Jesus above all we possess all we need to be a disciple.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pentecost 16 C - Philemon

At some point during its history the church decided a short personal correspondence was worth including in the collection that would become the New Testament. Maybe even a laundry list signed by the apostle Paul would have made the cut. Who knows? Its inclusion in the lectionary means that people in the pew rediscover it every three years. Onesimus, the runaway slave, will be put to death unless Paul can persuade Philemon to pardon him. He uses all his powers of persuasion, including some that border on the manipulative, but in the end appeals to his relationship with Philemon. Paul loves Onesimus as a child and Philemon as a brother and does not want to lose either one. The happy ending is that Philemon forgives Onesimus and welcomes him into his household as a brother and Paul breathes a sigh of relief. But it is more than just an interesting story with a happy ending. Lives were hanging in the balance. Onesimus will be put to death. Philemon will lose a relationship with Paul whose ministry changed Philemon’s life. Paul will lose a child and a brother. It is the stuff of our stories where one family member pleads for the sake of another that a relationship restored might bring refreshment. It is the stuff of God’s story where the Son is sent to bring back all who have run away that the family circle will be unbroken in the here and now and in the forever home. Maybe Philemon is where the Bible’s rubber hits the road and the master forgiving the slave because he loves Jesus as much as he owes the apostle is why the little letter belongs in the Book.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pentecost 16 C - Psalm 1

Psalm 1 
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)

I’m blogging late today because I got up very early in the morning to drive to Houston. I had a date with the loveliest little girl, Allyson Josephine Morbach, who cooed when I cradled her and seemed as delighted with me as I was with her.  Allyson is the 3 month old granddaughter of Calvary members Joe and Kathy Morbach. Allyson’s parents, Ed and Nikki, had planned on having Allyson baptized this Sunday at Calvary but Allyson was born with what is commonly called “blue baby syndrome” and tomorrow will have open heart surgery at Children’s Medical Center to correct the problem. Other than objecting to blood being drawn (who doesn’t?) she was as pleasant as could be and even at three months possesses a personality that will no doubt do some future heart healing for others. So I spent some time talking with Ed and Nikki – incredible, loving parents btw – about this and that and then because there was a sink in the room and there was nothing to prevent us (Acts 8:36) we baptized Allyson into the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We didn’t baptize her because we were worried about Allyson’s future, as if baptism was some kind of insurance policy for salvation. We did it because the water and the word are a visible sign of God’s promise to all the baptized, “I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) We did it because the water and the word reminds anxious parents and grandparents and a pastor whose heart has been been captured by a cuddle of the promise “God with us” whether surgery is involved or not. More than that we did it so that Allyson Josephine, reborn today on the 20th floor of Children’s Medical Center, Houston, TX could put her little roots down into streams of living water. Tomorrow we will trust the gifts of the medical team at Children’s and the prayers of the faithful and the mercy of God so that Allyson will grow into the life of the Spirit poured out upon her today - the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God’s presence. And so we welcome, Allyson Josephine, into the Lord’s family and look forward to the life she will live delighting in Lord. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pentecost 16 C - Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
If it were as simple as choosing between life and death, prosperity and adversity we’d all be “living large.” But to choose life and prosperity is to choose obedience and that is the deal breaker. The children of Israel about to enter the land will all voice their choice for life and promise to obey, (Joshua 1) but God knows better and has already predicted the inevitable. “…these people will soon prostitute themselves to foreign gods... they will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.” (Deut. 31:16) So why make the offer if you know the people won’t be able to afford the payments? I think there must be an eternal optimism in the heart of God, an undying hope; or maybe it is just the unconditional commitment of a tough love parent who is willing to suffer silently while waiting for the day when adversity brought about by disobedience will bring the rebellious child back to the bargaining table. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be scarlet they shall be white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Of course even that turns out to be a temporary fix for fickle creatures who are not inclined to obey anyone save their own self interest. So when the options were exhausted God sat down at the table and chose death so that the calamity visited upon the Christ might be our prosperity. How can you say no to such a thing? Choose life this day for God has already taken death off the table.