2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I’m hoping that means despite the description of the sun darkened, the stars falling, the heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended to and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts, like patience and forbearance and long suffering; not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus who, as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The psalmist does not stop talking to God even when fed on the bread of tears or drinking from the bowl of weeping. When life laughs at us and circumstances conspire to mock our hopes and dreams we tend to turn away and wonder what good is God. But I suspect the psalmist gives voice to what we know deep down – in the end there is nowhere else to go. “Stir up your strength and come to help us” and the repeated refrain, “Restore us, O God” are prayed with a confident hope that God hears the prayer even if God’s anger “fumes” over things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. We know what the psalmist did not; the One at the right hand of God is the confident hope of all prayer. He was made strong for God's sake though that strength was made perfect in weakness and in the darkness of his death we see the light of our salvation.
Monday, November 24, 2014
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” but not today, thank you. I know there are those who look forward to the second coming but I hope the second coming comes long after I am gone. It’s not that the planet and its people wouldn't welcome something better than what we presently endure; it’s just that the peaceable kingdom doesn't arrive, well, very peaceably. So we remind God, who often seems silent and hidden until push comes to shove “we are all the work of your hand” so “now consider; we are all your people.” But God is always present where judgment and mercy meet. We acknowledge that in our present condition we are not all we were meant to be or want to be or could be but even so God is forever connected to us as potter to clay, parent to child. So whenever God tears opens the heavens and comes down we pray that God remembers we are the works of God’s hands and so remain connected to God forever.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
The sheep didn't recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned stranger but they provided help anyway. The goats didn't recognize Jesus either but it sounds like if they had they would have done something about it. That’s why this text is not about works righteousness and neither the reward nor punishment is about what you do or don’t do. It is about who you are because “being” and “doing” is the same thing. The sheep were motivated by the obvious need of others and did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Jesus hidden in the sick and isolated. For whatever reason the goats were not motivated by the obvious need of others and so did nothing to help the Jesus hiding in plain sight. So if you see this text as primarily about gaining reward or avoiding punishment you've missed the point and perhaps the Jesus hiding in the needs of others. It should not come as a surprise to those who claim Christ as King that God is interested in the welfare of those who live on the margins, after all Jesus was born into poverty and died a naked, thirsty stranger imprisoned by nail and wood.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) It was a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first of song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder and butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us for when push comes to shove we would prefer not to be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the stray, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair they would be well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope and no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves which would be pleasing to shepherd and sheep alike.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he did not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. On the other hand the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own rebellious will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did by investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
"Thief in the Night"1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Therefore encourage one another” seems uncharitable at best given the impending doom everyone except the Thessalonians will experience when the “will come as a thief in the night” comes as a day of the Lord from hell. Surprise! And doesn’t the idea of an eternal from the beginning plan to make the biggest surprise of human history sudden destruction bother you? Even the most vicious small g god humans have invented can do that. So what if the surprise “thief in the night day of the Lord” is mercy not judgment? And staying sober is living in the light of radical love, the kind of eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners life that got Jesus killed so that the destiny of humanity would be salvation and not wrath. Now that would be a surprise, wouldn't it?
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Psalm 90:1-8, 12
The Lord “our refuge from one generation to another” also knows our secret sins. No wonder the psalmist rightly fears God’s indignation. We prefer anonymity where sins are concerned and even though we suspect others are as consumed by sin as we are we like to believe no one suspects the same of us. But the Lord knows the things we hide even from ourselves. The memories that still make us shudder with shame. A lifetime of things done and left undone, said and left unsaid set before the Lord in whose anger “all our days are gone and our years come to an end like a sigh.” But the truth about us is not as great as the truth about God “our refuge” who knowing us full well still satisfies us in the morning with unfailing love teaching us the gift of each day so that our hearts weighed down by sin might be lightened by wisdom. And if by God's unfailing love we were made more wise we would no doubt spend less time with secret sins and more time dwelling with the Lord.
Monday, November 10, 2014
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah is very popular with the “Save Fort Worth” people that sometimes spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice? And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.
Friday, November 7, 2014
I think the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids should be called the parable of the tardy groom. And what about the bride waiting at the altar? I bet she was more than a little upset. “Midnight? Really?” Of course none of that is the point of the parable, well, except the tardy part. Mathew’s community is wondering what happened to Jesus. After all he said “this generation shall see my return” (Matthew 24:34) and that generation is almost all dead by the time this parable is written down. So the point of the parable is verse 13 and none of the details really matter except as a promise and on the flip side a warning. If you are awake and waiting faithfully you are wise and it doesn't matter how long it takes for the groom to arrive because your invitation is as good as gold. But if you grow tired of waiting and doubt the promise you are foolish and your lamp will go out and you’ll be left in the dark. So what does it mean for us over 2000 years later? I suppose the message is the same since we neither know the time or the date of Jesus’ return. But maybe more importantly the message is for us to use our waiting time wisely as Jesus will say at the end of this chapter. “When I was hungry you fed me, in prison you visited me, naked you clothed me, a stranger you welcomed me, thirsty you gave me drink.” We don’t just sit around in the glow of our lit lamps and sing Kum by Yah. We wait by living into the charge that is given to the baptized when the baptismal candle is presented. “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So let’s get busy waiting.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
The Thessalonians were worried that those who died before Jesus returned would be left behind. Paul assures them that God has everything under control and whether one is awake or asleep at the time of Jesus’ coming their hope of salvation is secure. I don’t believe Paul is any more informed than I am about the details and even though he shares his version of the timeline his point is verse 18. “Encourage one another with these words.” The words he meant as encouragement are that those who have died will be included in the future final feast. We don’t worry about the same thing as the Thessalonians trusting that our loved ones are already with the Lord. We even imagine how they are spending their time. Grandpa's gone fishing. Unfortunately these encouraging words have been used to support a less than encouraging theology where a select few are caught up in the clouds (rapture) while the vast majority of people are left behind to endure horrors beyond imagination, although humans are pretty good at imaging and inflicting horrors on each other. I think the true horror is that rapture theology makes the God of grace look like every other god humans have created in their own image. So maybe the encouraging word for us – who no longer worry about where our loved ones are – is that a God who would suffer and die for humanity is not a God who thinks like we do.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
The psalmist hopes that his rescue would be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.
Monday, November 3, 2014
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?