Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lectionary 22 A - Matthew 16:21-28

Matthew 16:21-28
Peter thinks “the rock” upon which the church will be built should have a say so about its foundation and Jesus’ prediction of undergoing great suffering and death is not a part of Peter’s plan. You would think “and on the third day be raised” might make a difference but it doesn't. He’s a Galilean fisherman sailing in uncharted waters. He has witnessed miraculous healing and feeding and the transfiguration and until the wind and waves freaked him out he even walked on water. When he gets the promotion from “one of the twelve” to CEO he’s already cashed in the keys of the kingdom and is looking forward to living large. The rebuke must have come as a surprise with the “blessed are you” ringing in his ears and while the Gospels do not record his immediate response Peter’s denial in the courtyard would indicate that the “and on the third day be raised” still hadn't sunk in.  It is true for us as well. We do not wish sorrow away by the power of positive thinking. We cannot revise reality by saying the half empty glass is half full. Half full is the same as half empty in that there is 50 % less to drink. And of course we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. No. The suffering is great. The death is real. Which is why only “and on the third day be raised” can address the very things to which Peter and we ourselves say, “God forbid it, Lord!” The power of the resurrection is that it is the only thing that can deny death the last word about us which is why we dare to lose our lives before death can speak a word. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lectionary 22 A - Romans 12:9-21

Romans 12:9-21
We celebrated the life of Wendy Lee Tedmon this morning at Calvary. It was a grand gathering of friends and family for a beautiful service of moving tributes and inspiring music. Even so we all felt the weight of Wendy's sudden and untimely passing. “Weep with those who weep” was the collective experience even when we were laughing. I am not generally given to coarse or crude language but there was no polite way to say what I believe we were all feeling so I began my homily in a way I believe Wendy Lee would have approved. “This sucks. Totally” There it is plain and simple. I think heaven should have waited for Wendy no matter how good it might be. We do not do ourselves any favors by sugar coating the truth of loss by looking for silver linings or minimizing grief by placating ourselves with thoughts of the deceased being better off even if they are because we sure as hell are not. That is not to say that we are overcome by the evil that robs parents of a grown child, a husband of a wife, children of a mother, siblings and connected family of their loved one or friends of a delight filled life. We rail against the darkness, albeit it with clenched teeth and weeping eye, because we believe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has exposed death as an illusion and therefore we are able to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering and connect ourselves constantly to the Holy Mystery through prayer. So despite this devastating loss we are inspired to do what Wendy Lee did her with her life. She sang hope into despair, joy into sorrow, faith into doubt and through her life and in her death all who were blessed by her will honor her memory by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) Godspeed Wendy Lee. You will be missed but by the grace of God you will be always present. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lectionary 22 A - Psalm 26:1-8

Psalm 26:1-8
David may have penned the psalm but Jesus is the one who embodies it. His blameless life was cut short by wicked evil doers whose deceit did not triumph for the glory of the Lord, high and lifted up on the cross, was vindicated by the empty tomb. But what of David singing this psalm late in life having raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah? (There is no choice when the king commands you come to his bed or go to war) Maybe the testing and the trying and the proving of David’s heart and mind is in the nature of his life which might have remained “blameless” as a simple shepherd but was destined for tragedy as a king. When by the prophet’s ploy “you are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) God confronts David’s deceit and hypocrisy he does not defend himself but rather relies fully on the unfailing love of God who is just in judging and right in pronouncing guilt. (Psalm 51) Maybe in showing undeserved mercy to David God also repents of plucking a ruddy young lad out of a pastoral existence and sending him to slay a giant in the armor of his best friend’s father whose throne he will one day steal. I should quit before I entertain any more heresy but the good news is this; if God forgives David, who showed evil doers a thing or two about being wicked, then there is hope for the rest of us who rely on the one who led a blameless life on our behalf, Jesus Christ out Lord. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lectionary 22 A - Jeremiah 15:15-21

Jeremiah 15:15-21
The merrymakers do not want to hear what Jeremiah has to say and even he is getting tired of being a party pooper. The word that was the joy and delight of his heart has gone missing like a brook whose waters dry up in the summer heat. Mocked and discounted as a crazy old coot he lashes out at the Lord who has laid on him the weight of righteous indignation. But the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has reached the limit of patience with the protesting prophet and reminds Jeremiah of his place, albeit with a promise. They will turn to you if you turn to me. No one wants to be a Jeremiah but sometimes we have to tell a difficult truth and not count the cost, even if in truth telling we are accused of being false. How then do we know the difference between a precious word and one that is worthless? The worthless word lets us be even if that means we are left to be less than were meant to be. The precious word leads to life and even though preceded by a word of necessary death (which of course no one welcomes) is still a word for which one is ultimately grateful.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lectionary 21 A - Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20
At first glance it appears as if “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) has been transferred via the Galilean fisherman (on this rock I will build my church) to an institution where men in robes are the gate keepers. But if the “keys of the kingdom” are synonymous with the cross of Christ there is no door they will not open. After all the One who was crucified forgave those who did the dirty deed (Luke 23:34) even if truth to be told they knew damn well what they were dong. So if we interpret Jesus’ words in light of the cross we will loose love and bind hatred. We will loose inclusion and bind intolerance. We will loose fairness and bind prejudice. When we stand on the rock of Peter’s confession the church is on solid ground. Therefore the good news for an anxious church is that the gates of Hades will not shut our doors. The good news for the gates of Hades is that the gates of Heaven will remain open.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lectionary 21 A - Romans 12:1-12

The pattern of this world is etched into our DNA which is why conformity with it comes so naturally. Even self-sacrifice and the renewing of the mind can mimic the world’s pattern as when pride in personal piety leads us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and less of others than sober judgment allows. But when motivated by the mercies of God the sacrifice of a contrite heart is holy and acceptable and capable of being transformed into something similar to Christ. To be like Christ is to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others without immediately judging them or on the flip side coveting them for oneself. Not all members of the body have the same function but all are necessary and of infinite value to the whole because all are loved equally by God. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lectionary 21 A - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
The martyrdom of James Foley would make it appear as if the haughty have a free hand to do whatever they like and that God’s ears are deaf to the cries of the lowly. But then the wicked have always had their way in the days of trouble even as the souls of the lowly are strengthened in those days to endure the onslaught of evil. It is because our God revealed in suffering and grief (Isaiah 53:3) overcame death itself that we deny the ways of death the last word. Even though we would wish for a long life free from trouble we are not ultimately overcome by adversity for the God who lived our life and died our death is more than able to deliver us with steadfast love. In the end I believe the wicked will be confronted by their disregard for the sanctity of life in a way that will be as much a hell for them as the one they perpetrated for others on earth. Even so I want to believe that “mercy tempers justice” (The Merchant of Venice - Shakespeare) and that God will put the haughty in the same room as the lowly and for God’s sake the two will become the children of God they were always meant to be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lectionary 21 A - Isaiah 51:1-6

Isaiah 51:1-6
The ransomed of the Lord returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35) but their songs were soon silenced by the harsh reality of cities laid waste by war and neglect and the hostility of homesteaders reluctant to make room for the recently released. The ransomed of the Lord, wearied by the frustrations presented by freedom, were tempted to change their tune like their ancestors wandering in the wilderness and long to return to the relative comfort of captivity. In the midst of this crisis of identity God reminds them of the past and makes promises for the future to restore in them hope for the present. With eyes lifted to the same stars Abraham could not count they are reminded of their humble beginnings and comforted with songs of deliverance that promise a forever future of joy and gladness. Remembering God’s past faithfulness while anticipating God’s future providence is the song of forever freedom and is the way we overcome whatever troubles, whatever frightens, whatever might lead us to become comfortable with captivity.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lectionary 20 A - Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28
I wonder if the Canaanite woman was present when Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and then chided the disciples for being slow to understand. If so it may be that Jesus is the object of his own lesson. In the past I've preached desperation as the woman’s motivation. She is a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon and she will not be denied even if it means being called a dog. That may still be true but it seems ironic then that the lesson Jesus wants the disciples to understand is the lesson she leads Jesus to learn. After all, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” are the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth. So unless you believe it is not slander to call a desperate mother a dog based on her ethnicity Jesus is as slow as his disciples to fully comprehend the implications of his own words. But before I delve any deeper into blasphemy what if God in trying to move us beyond ethnic divisions and inbred racism is willing to become a living parable? The Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin in the way this teacher of Israel embodies the prejudice of God’s chosen people who were always meant to be a light to the Gentiles but instead became hell bent on their exclusion. And so Jesus in welcoming the woman embodies the vision of Isaiah 56 in flesh and blood. The foreigner and the outcast and yes, even the eunuchs, have a seat at the table where previously they begged for crumbs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lectionary 20 A - Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
The irrevocable gifts and calling of God is Paul’s conclusion to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for “his kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2) Even though Paul, like the Christ he professes, have both been rejected by those who are imprisoned in disobedience Paul none-the-less proclaims that in the end God will be merciful to all. It is a daring statement that we diminish when we qualify it based on our limited knowledge. The point is the cross confirms the covenant and despite the unfaithfulness of God’s people who “honor me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) the promise from God’s lips and the love of God’s heart is one in the same. If Paul believes God’s mercy extends to descendants of Abraham who do not confess Christ we might even dare to hope God’s mercy extends to those for whom we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish trusting that in the end mercy trumps judgment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lectionary 20 A - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
The blessings of God are not always measured by the earth bringing forth increase even though God surely knows our need. On the other hand God has given us the ability to feed everyone on the planet even though at present a good portion of the planet’s human population is often at risk of food shortage if not outright starvation. This is exacerbated by the inhumanity bred by hatred and violence that seems to be hard wired into the human DNA. God must surely lament the nations that are only glad when singing with joy they beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. Those who love peace and desire the ways of a merciful God of saving health to be known on the earth are faced with the difficult decision to wage war to establish peace. There are no easy answers in the here and now but in light of the absolute evil that has engulfed Syria and Iraq it would seem that the only way God can guide the nations on earth is if the ones who are presently committing such heinous atrocities against the innocent are defeated. But even if the current crisis is averted or resolved and the innocent find a momentary respite the only way Psalm 67 will be fully realized is when the ancient prayer of the church, “Come, Lord Jesus” is answered.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lectionary 20 A - Isaiah 56:1-8

Isaiah 56:1-8
The lectionary cut out the verses of Isaiah 56 that instruct eunuchs not to say “I am just a dry tree” (v.3) but rather rejoice that they shall not be “cut off” from the Lord. (v.5) Instead they will be given a place within the house of the Lord that will be better than having sons and daughters. The Mosaic law makes no such exception as males emasculated by crushing or cutting "may not enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1) Isaiah died long before the provider of the promise was born into human flesh and even if Isaiah had been around he would have been surprised. The One who carried the promise wasn’t castrated but he was cut off by his own people. He wasn’t a foreigner but he was considered an outcast. His death at the hands of the chosen and his resurrection orchestrated by God made possible the promise that restores those castrated by the Law of Moses to the new reality where foreigners have a home and divisions are erased and outcasts are included so that the house of God might be a place of prayer for all people.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lectionary 19 A - Matthew 14:22-33

I’m a little reluctant to argue against the Holy Scriptures but it seems to me a little faith goes a long way if it gets you to step out of a perfectly good boat in a storm. On the other hand what’s a little wind, even a strong one, when you are already walking on water? Maybe that’s the point. A little faith can get you out of the boat but it can’t keep you from sinking. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and suddenly the “Rock” was sinking like a stone. It is true for us as well when after a little while of enduring the storms of life, sorrow, pain, or loss, the winds and waves of unrelenting grief lead us to doubt the goodness and the grace of God and we sink into the depths of despair. But in those times faith can cause one to cry out “Lord, save me!” so even when we are sinking a little faith goes a long way.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lectionary 19 A - Romans 10:5-15

Romans 10:5-15
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek…” is as radical a statement as any Paul made. Israel was a nation specifically set apart to be God’s own people. The psalmist declares “God has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation…” (Psalm 147:19-20) They were distinct from other people through adherence to the Mosaic Law, through a restrictive diet, by the practice of circumcision. They were warned repeatedly to remain pure to avoid the ruin of the nation, by God’s own hand no less! But now Paul declares the “new thing” that was promised through the prophet Jeremiah that even he could not have anticipated. The law that set Israel apart has itself been set aside for the sake of nations long denied equal access to the God of Israel. In Jesus Christ “God come down” the Word is as close as our own breath and the beating of our own heart. Of course we have made new distinctions; defining exactly how someone must “call on the name of the Lord to be saved” or what must be believed in order to qualify as one who will not “be put to shame.” Maybe we need an equally radical expression of the grace of God who apparently after a thousand years or so with Israel was willing to be less exclusive when it came to who qualifies as “my people.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lectionary 19 A - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
There is no peace when righteousness is held captive to self and salvation is defined by doctrines devoid of compassion or mercy. Salvation near to you is near to me for the way faithful people turn their hearts to God is to turn their hearts and hands towards their neighbor. You cannot love God without loving your neighbor. Or as Jesus will say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)  So when steadfast love and faithfulness meet together righteousness and peace engage in PDA (public display of affection) and the people prosper. All this is made possible by Jesus, betrayed by a friend with a kiss, who by his death and resurrection became the righteousness that goes before the Lord so that in “Peace be with you” faithfulness might spring up in the most unexpected of places, the human heart. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lectionary 19 A - 1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19:9-18
In the previous chapter of 1 Kings, before the “very zealous for the Lord” Elijah crawled into the cave, he called down fire from heaven on wet wood that consumed both altar and sacrifice in a flash.  So why is he hiding in the hills? Maybe the “very zealous for the Lord” is not as zealous as he claims to be? So instead of fire and smoke on mountain God speaks in a still, small voice, a whisper on the wind, to still the heart of the very zealous but fearful prophet. So it is with us who may have seen and believed the wonder of the Lord before but in a current crisis doubt that lightning can strike the same place twice. A still small voice, a whisper on the wind, calls to us to come out of hiding, to come out of fear, to come out of fretful forecasts of gloom and doom and believe that the Lord knows our need and will provide.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lectionary 18 A - Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
“When Jesus heard this he withdrew to a lonely place…” What Jesus heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod. Overcome by grief Jesus needs to get away. And maybe the Messiah also realized John’s violent death meant his days were numbered as well and the powers that be would not be satisfied stilling the voice of the Baptist but would come for the One who John claimed was “greater than me.” But Jesus can’t get away for long as the crowds clamor for more miracles, more entertaining parables, more in your face confrontations with Pharisees and temple big wigs. Compassion for the crowd calls him out of his own need for healing. The disciples short on vision and compassion would send the crowds away to fend for themselves in villages already closed for the night but Jesus has one more trick up his sleeve and multiplying a meager meal makes a feast of five loaves and two fish. If Jesus is the self expression of God’s personality then this is not a God who demands payment upfront but whose own need for solitude and quiet and healing can interrupted by crowds well fed who not long from now will forsake “hosanna” for “crucify”. 

Lectionary 18 A - Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9:1-5
Despite Paul’s difficulties with his own people at whose hands he was stoned, beaten, whipped, imprisoned etc. he would still be willing to trade heaven for hell for their sake. Evangelism motivated by great sorrow and unceasing anguish with a willingness to be completely cut off from Christ for the sake of someone else embodies the mind and heart of Christ. He was cut off from the land of living, despised and rejected, a man of sorrow and familiar with grief for the sake of those who betrayed, denied, mocked and crucified him. Too often we act out of spiritual superiority, protecting sacred cows, human institutions and traditions, or personal piety etched in stone which even when well intentioned obscure the simple truth that the faith is mostly about mercy and a relationship with Christ is worth sharing for the sake of the relationship itself. 

Lectionary 18 A - Psalm 145

Psalm 145
Desires can be tricky, especially when having them fulfilled turns out to not be desirable at all. But the desires the Lord fulfills are not like the desires that promise much and deliver little, that satisfy self at the expense of others, that cost more than they are worth. The desire that the Lord fulfills satisfies fully for the deepest desire, whether we know it or not, is to have the kind and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love Lord near to us. In times of plenty and in times of want, when having fallen we need to be upheld or bowed down need lifting up, the Lord opens wide the nail scarred hands that could not be destroyed by the wicked to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And as with most things good and noble and praiseworthy our desires and the Lord’s are the same for the deepest desire of the Lord is simply to be near us.

Lectionary 18 A - Isaiah 55:1-5

Isaiah 55:1-5
Isaiah encourages recently released captives, who doubt the promises that motivated them to leave Babylon, to hope in an offer they should remember. Rebuilding the ancient ruins will not be an easy task but the same promise that delivered them through the wilderness the first time around will deliver them now. Those who had nothing then were given everything so those who have nothing now should expect the same. But you don’t have to be poor to be thirsty as even those who have money to spare often find themselves lacking the peace and comfort riches promise to afford. So we find in this word a promise to which we who have never know captivity in Babylon come running to the Holy One of Israel who offers water, bread, wine and milk and is not restricted to a single nation but is a witness to all people.