The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem have been less than pleasing and have wearied the Lord. Blind, lame and sick animals are substituted for lambs without blemish and the Lord would rather the temple doors be closed and locked than endure the stench of such dishonest offerings. The priests participate and profit from the scheme while the workers are oppressed, widows and orphans are not cared for and the alien is thrust aside. Perhaps it was because God seemed distant and the rules and regulations of the covenant relationship seemed arbitrary and economically oppressive. What’s a blind lamb to an invisible God? And so corners are cut and liberties taken and before you know it the relationship that enriched the people and God has impoverished both. Therefore, God will pay a visit to the temple and do some housecleaning. With overturned tables and coins of money changers scattered the refining fire speaks the word of judgment, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers!” Not a week later the fullers’ soap speaks the cleansing word from a hill above the temple, “It is finished.” We who are more like Judah and Jerusalem than we care to admit need to hear the word of the refiner when our offerings are less than the best and corners that count are cut. When we listen God will hear and the offering of relationship restored will be pleasing to us and the Lord.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
I’m afraid it may just be hard wired into our anxious DNA to divide the world into those who faint from fear at the end of all things and those who stand up and cheer. While there is no question that Jesus used the language of apocalypse to speak of the end of all time, all the Gospels contain such speeches, how can the Crucified One come back to save a few only to crucify the vast majority of human beings with vengeance? The first time around the Kingdom of God contained some unlikely subjects, such as tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and people of questionable character, so why would they be less welcome the second time around? So I find some comfort that Jesus uses the image of spring to talk about the signs. Despite the roaring of the seas and the signs that make one faint it will be like daffodils that pop up through the snow. Despite the signs in the sky it will be like Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy of Bluebonnet blanketed Texas highways. Maybe the best way to escape all the things that will take place and stand before the Son of Man is to trust that the second coming Christ will be like Jesus the first time around.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
The Thessalonians were worried that the day of the Lord had come and gone and they had been left behind or it hadn’t come and those who had already died had missed the boat. At any rate what was lacking in their faith was a confident hope that despite their present circumstances of wondering when the day would come their future was still secure. Sometimes a face to face is the only way to restore confidence and so Paul prays day and night that he might visit those for whom his love abounds. But he had other congregations that demanded his attention, like the Corinthians who were not nearly as receptive and not as much fun and so it would take some time for his day and night prayer to be answered. In the meantime, he writes what is most likely the first letter of the New Testament. To those in doubt he writes encouraging words for abounding love and strengthened hearts that are a word for us as well. May you believe the unbelievable that despite what you know about yourself you will be blameless before the Lord Jesus and the cloud of witnesses that will accompany his return.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Be mindful of your mercy and your steadfast love and do not remember the sins of my youth although in the forgetting of my sin please don’t forget me. It is the prayer of the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and fully aware of his own guilt asks to be remembered. Jesus, remember me when you reach the place where the memory of mercy and forgetfulness of sin matter the most. It does not mean there are no consequences for sins of our youth or middle age for that matter. We are not as forgetful as God and sins of the past and present have a way of accusing us that we are not worthy of God’s forgetting what troubles us most. That is why we lift up our soul to the One who instructs us to forget what has been forgiven and remember the path of what is right which is to remember the consequence of youthful sins long enough so as not to repeat them.
Monday, November 23, 2015
The days are surely coming is a promise that the time of waiting will one day be over and the long expected Savior of the nations will finally come. And while we’ve seen and celebrate the Righteous Branch born in a stable, crucified on a cross, raised on the third day we still wait for something more, when what is old will become new and what is broken will be made whole. Sorrow will turn to joy, wailing into dancing, and death itself will be swallowed up by life that is unending. In the meantime, we anticipate that day best by putting on the future in the present through acts of kindness and mercy by living in love. The day that is surely coming came for Calvary member Raye Ann Sievers last Tuesday. If anyone lived the future in the present it was Raye Ann. While we often speak of those who have died in way that make them out to be better than they were that is not possible when we remember Raye Ann. Not that she wasn’t a sinner. But her light and love will be sorely missed by those who were blessed to be in her presence. And while Raye Anne was obviously not The Righteous Branch she was so clearly connected to Christ as to embody all the ways in which we are blessed by One whose life is our righteousness. Raye Ann’s day of waiting is done and while ours continues her way of waiting inspires us to work for truth and justice and love until at last we join Raye Ann and all the saints in the place of perfection.
Friday, November 20, 2015
“What is it you have done?” It could have been the name calling. You brood of vipers. You white washed tombs. You blind guides. It could have been the consistent breaking of Sabbath laws. It could have been the incident in the temple. Or we could take Caiaphas at his word, “it is better that one man dies for the people than the whole nation perishes." Fear is a powerful motivator and even a nation under Roman occupation seeks at all costs to hold onto the illusion of being in control. But Jesus is doing something else. If we take him at his word, He lays down his life only to take it up again to draw all people to himself because the world will perish unless this one man dies. Of course we who are on the side of truth for all sorts of practical reasons are still tempted to make Jesus’ kingdom look more like Pilate’s. But the greater truth of this Christ who is the King, handed over to a puppet politician by self-righteous religious rulers, is that he dies for them as well. Talk about going rouge. That really is a kingdom from another place.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The letter that vividly describes a violent and final end for so many begins rather nicely for the seven churches. Of course this good beginning was written to seven churches facing an even more imminent end themselves. That is helpful to remember because I don’t think we can fully comprehend what the word from the One who is and was and is to come meant to the rightful recipients of John’s letter. I think I know what we’ve done with it and even though the best-selling series Left Behind was red hot I think God might put it in the lukewarm category for God's sake. So how do we hear a word for us even though it is clearly addressed to them? First of all, one does not need to be persecuted or enslaved by temporal powers in order to desire freedom. We are all in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. And while some may face an imminent end all of us face an inevitable one and can find comfort that the first born from the dead opens a way for those who will follow. And finally the promise of Jesus’ coming on the clouds, whether one wails or not, is a promise that our violent wounding world will come to an end and a world of peace and joy and love will take its place. And that is good news indeed.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
The Lord is more majestic than roaring floods or mighty waters or the crashing waves of the sea. That is because God exists outside the boundaries of our imagination and is always greater than any image we employ, even rising floods and mighty waters and majestic waves. The psalmist celebrates the awesome power and strength of God and while that is certainly true, more often than not the rising floods and noisy waters and crashing waves of life need a God who is a little more accessible than the One who was “established from old” and “majestic on high”. It is through the “less than” image of the One familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53) that the God far off draws near to us; the floods subside, the thunder of the waters is quieted, the waves slow to a gentle swell and the Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise inhabits human flesh. That is the sure decree we can trust and the holiness we can touch. That is to say it is in the God who is “less than” that we experience the God who is “greater than” anything we could imagine.
Monday, November 16, 2015
“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me and the visions of my head terrified me.” There is endless commentary and web pages dedicated to the terrifying visions that prompted Daniel’s troubled spirit offering detailed explanation of what will be although a good deal of it seems dedicated to further troubling and terrifying. If you want to see some interesting art work just do an image search on Daniel 7! But then apocalyptic writings seem to encourage fanciful thinking. Dreams and visions beg for explanation for we are far more curious than the cat especially if we think some advantage may be gained in the knowing. But the ultimate purpose of this apocalyptic vision is to provide a message of hope. The simple truth of Daniel is this: the four arrogant kingdoms hell bent on devouring will themselves be devoured and those they threaten will endure. For all the hope of the people and nations and languages is in the One presented before the Ancient of Days. Not a talking horn king but the King of Kings who comes not to devour but to bless. This One given dominion and glory and kingship is not arrogant or rude, jealous or boastful, but full of mercy and compassion. Is it necessary then, or even helpful, to speculate as to future applications of Daniel’s dream of kingdoms and talking horns? I don’t think so for when we focus on end times imagination we often neglect the real needs in the present and the very people the King of Kings came to save which makes us more like an arrogant horn than the One we seek to serve.
Friday, November 13, 2015
I imagine years later upon reading the Gospel of Mark the unnamed disciple was relieved he remained anonymous. After all moments before he asked his question Jesus had elevated an invisible widow and two small copper coins above offerings of excess from those who, like large stone buildings, made themselves hard to ignore. Of course we too are enamored by an impressive edifice of flesh or stone, more often than not our own. But the temple was more than just an extraordinary piece of architecture. In the mind of the people it was the only place where heaven and earth met, where the Holy consecrated the profane, where the presence of God hidden behind a curtain kept watch over Israel. The temple had become more important to the faith than the One it was built to house and so Jesus directed the disciple to look more closely. Do you see…? God does not dwell in a house made by human hands but in the heart of a widow. It is a word for us who might be impressed by stone structures of denominations or distressed at their current decline. Do you see…? It applies to the beginnings of the birth pangs as well which might indeed be cause for alarm but for the promise at the end of this chapter “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not.” Do you see…? It is a question for all who are alarmed by personal conflicts within and without, by divisions, by everyday disruptions that make one hunger for something stable and trustworthy. Do you see…? It is in this different way of seeing that God is found for when it appeared all was lost for Jesus all in fact was won. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” is the prelude to “It is finished” as the pangs of the old, as alarming as they may be, anticipate the birth of something new. Do you see?
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds… It reminds me of “I double dare you” on the grade school playground although that usually involved provoking one another to dangerous deeds that were never very good and certainly not well thought out. The Greek word is paroxysm, which means a sharpening. The only other time the word is used is for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that resulted in their parting company. So we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds with the same intensity as a sharp disagreement. This won’t be easy for Lutherans because we prefer a politer approach that includes the magic word “please” or “If it’s not too much trouble…” If that doesn’t work, we still don’t provoke. We motivate one another the old fashioned way aka Lutheran guilt. But the provocation in these passages is based on confidence, full assurance and unwavering hope in the faithfulness of God. The provocation to love is a response to God’s love, as good deeds are a response to the good deed done for us by Jesus who has opened a new and living way into heaven itself. Now that sounds like something that might motivate a Lutheran. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and do some good deeds today. I double dare you.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
This is a psalm of confidence as opposed to a confidence psalm. By that I mean the psalmist is confident in God who counsels and makes one secure and promises eternal pleasures while those who run after other gods reap the rewards of a Ponzi scheme. The only thing multiplied by their investment is sorrow. The other gods of psalm 16 are the Canaanite deities like Ba’al. I’m confident that the worship of Ba’al is not a great temptation today but running after other gods still is. Martin Luther defines other gods like this: “whoever trusts and boasts great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor has also a god...” So when we run after possessions or power or prestige or pleasure we do so at the expense of our investment in the One who makes the heart glad and the tongue rejoice and the body rest secure. The other gods call us to run after them while the true God pursues and precedes us for God’s promise is backed by the security of the One who abandoned to the grave made death obedient to Him. It is because God is ahead of us in death and behind us in life that we with the psalmist can say we will not be shaken. So make a wise investment today, stop running after other gods and let the Lord catch up to you.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The trouble with writing a daily lectionary based blog is you can’t pick the easy scriptures or avoid the more difficult ones. So let me say that doom and gloom scriptures with everlasting judgment trouble me even if I count myself as one whose name is “found written in the book”. Of course there are plenty of scripture passages that will support the idea that the chance of being one of the “wise shiny ones” is akin to winning the lottery which is even more troubling because I never win anything. Later verses in the 12th chapter of Daniel are considered by some to be the key to unlocking the riddle of the time of tribulation in the Book of Revelation where most people have a losing lottery ticket and are left behind. That is not to say God cannot do whatever God wants even sentence the whole lot of us to shame and everlasting contempt. But in light of the cross I find that unlikely and the cross is the key to unlocking the mystery of scripture. There are certainly things worthy of judgment and I count myself guilty on all counts but as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say judgment is a penultimate word, or the word that comes before the ultimate word. For Christians of the Lutheran persuasion the ultimate word is always the cross which is a word of mercy expressed fully by God’s self-sacrifice for wise and foolish alike. The truth of Daniel is more apparent in its immediate context. It is a word for persecuted people held captive in a foreign land where more than one of their loved ones are sleeping in the dust. It is a promise that the scales of justice will be balanced and despite a time of unprecedented anguish deliverance will have the final say. Does it mean that everyone will shine and no one will be eternally ashamed? I don’t know, but God does and somehow knowing that the God of the cross has the final say makes even doom and gloom scriptures less troubling.
Friday, November 6, 2015
As one who walks around in a long robe once a week and sits up front in the sanctuary and at the head of the pot luck table and is often greeted in public with a nod and a “Morning, Father” I must admit there is some truth to Jesus’ description of “pastored up” pride. The designation (in some Lutheran circles) of “Herr Pastor” did occur without cause. That being said there is also a great sense of humility that comes from being “a steward of the mysteries of God” by bearing the burdens of God’s people “not because you must but because you are willing” (ordination vows) because no one takes those vows without repeating the refrain “…and I ask God to help me”. The only help (and hope) of the poor widow comes from God as she is neglected by the institution that required her copper coins (the temple tax) even though support for widows and orphans and the poor and "the sojourner in your midst" was required of the institution as a reminder that “once you were slaves in the land of Egypt”. Maybe the greater condemnation received by the outwardly pious and proud is that when the doors of the banquet of the future are closed to them the widow at the head table will ask Jesus to let them sit next to her. And maybe Jesus will ask, “are you sure?” And she’ll say, “Yes, and I ask God to help me.”
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Once for all, that is the way the writer of Hebrews describes the sacrifice of Jesus. Instead of the high priest repeating the sacrifice time and time again with the blood of bulls or lambs or doves Jesus’ blood is once for all. While that is something I know and believe I will have to admit that when it comes to my own sin I operate more like the high priest than Jesus. And I’m not even a very efficient high priest for often the sins of the past haunt my present and I find I have to offer the sacrifice of guilt or shame time and time again. As much as we might struggle with forgiving others it is forgiving ourselves that presents the bigger challenge. When Martin Luther felt the pangs of guilt and shame for sins of his past or present he would exclaim “I am baptized” to be reminded that he was loved by God and forgiven of sins past, present and future. So if you are troubled today by the sins of the past and tempted to offer the sacrifice of guilt one more time take these words to heart. Once for all.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
This psalm begins with a double dose of praise and rightly so. While the plans of princes perish with them the Lord is forever. That is good news for those who would never make it on the palace guest list. The oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner, the blind, those bowed down, the stranger, the widow and the orphan are the ones God seeks and saves. So why is it that the plans of princes and power appeal to us? After all this is not the only scripture that reveals God is opposed to the proud and favorable towards paupers. It should be even more obvious when we tell the story of Jesus the prince of peace born into poverty who calls fisher folk to follow. So what does it mean for us? First of all we might look to find ourselves on the guest list and even if we can't say that justice has literally been denied us we do experience oppression and hunger and captivity. And knowing that God provides for our need we might be more willing to work for those who really are denied justice. We might remember that people living all around us depend on the kindness of others for daily bread. We might remember that visiting the prisoner is in some way freeing for us as well. And when our plans look more like God's and less like the plans of princes our lives will echo the psalm. Praise the Lord!
Monday, November 2, 2015
This always reminds me of a fairy-tale fable where the poor farmer shares his last meal with a stranger who turns out to be a prince who then rewards the farmer for his generosity. I suppose this story is just as surprising in that the widow is a foreigner who owes no allegiance to the Jewish prophet Elijah. She has accepted the grim reality that awaits her and her son and is convinced they both will die of starvation. But in Elijah's "do not be afraid..." she hears something to convince her that giving away the little she has will not simply hasten the inevitable. While we are not facing starvation we do experience times of spiritual, emotional or physical famine and resigned to our fate give up any hope that help will come in time. A loss of employment, or health, or relationships or struggling with more bills at the end of the month than income at the beginning we find ourselves in need of the same words, "Do not be afraid..." I'm not suggesting there is a magic pot that won't run out of whatever it is we need but there is a place where courage and strength to overcome can be found, a place where the cup is never empty and the plate is always full and it is never too late to hope in the promise of God. When we come to the table of grace, the meal of mercy, there is refreshment for weary and weak souls that are replenished in the sharing.