Friday, January 29, 2016

Epiphany 4 C - Luke 4:21-30

Luke 4:21-30
The sermon that began so well has taken a turn for the worse and Jesus has no one to blame but himself. Somewhere in the well speaking and amazement his gracious words have taken on an edge and the home town crowd is not amused. At first glance it looks like Jesus is provoking without provocation. So maybe Luke the historian left out some details. Maybe there’s a heckler in the last pew shouting “prove it” when Joseph’s boy claims his Father is a higher power. On the other hand, Jesus is not doing something here that he won’t do elsewhere and for the next three years a lot of places will react in the same way. Before we judge the home town crowd too harshly we might ask ourselves what words of Jesus might prompt us to do him in? It is more likely that given our ability to rationalize his hard sayings and contain his difficult teachings in dogmatic our ire is almost always directed away from ourselves. Then we puff up with self-righteous pride and use Jesus’ words to throw the less pious or too pious or not pious enough off the hill upon which our rigid theologies are built. But the word that Jesus brings is that God stepped outside the boundaries of God’s own people to bless a foreign widow and an Assyrian general. In the same way God will not be contained within our constructs of who is deserving and who isn’t, who belongs and who doesn’t and even who is saved and who isn’t because that word belongs to the One who climbed a hill in Jerusalem and didn’t come down until he was finished.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Epiphany 4 C - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
It doesn’t matter if your language is laced with love if your words fall on deaf ears. And if Paul’s second letter to the conflicted Corinthians is any indication they were not convinced by this still more excellent way. Forty years later St. Clement begins his letter to the same congregation “My dear friends, take care to do good and virtuous deeds in unity before him, and be citizens worthy of him; or his many good works towards us may become a judgment on us all” and ends it with “let us not be in two minds, and let us have no doubts about his excellent and glorious gifts.” It sounds like the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are still drowning out patience, kindness and rejoicing in the right. It is a sad commentary on the church that conflict comes so easily to those the living God has loved into being but maybe that is because knowing in part and seeing dimly lends itself to limited love. But if with our limited vision we fix our eyes on the limitless One who emptied himself, taking on the servant’s form, suffering the criminal’s death, then insisting on one’s own way is much harder to do. In the shadow of the cross the love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures moves the mountain of arrogant pride and selfish ambition and then faith, hope and love really does abide in us. I think in that moment we know all there is to know and see face to face the One who died that love would never end.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Epiphany 4 C - Psalm 71:1-6

Psalm 71:1-6
We will only recite the first six verses of Psalm 71 but I imagine Jeremiah knew the whole psalm by heart. It is a good psalm to know especially when you’ve been thrown down a well and left for dead and maybe have begun to doubt the promise of your call, “they shall not prevail against you.” So it is not a psalm to be recited lightly. No, this is a psalm that is cried, or shouted, or in silence groaned. This is a cry for help in a time of trouble, a desperate plea for providence when enemies, the wicked, the unjust, the cruel are prevailing with a vengeance. It is not a psalm one wants to recite for real so we will chant the appointed six verses and move on to the epistle. But there are those, too numerous to number, for whom these words are more than a liturgical element in a Sunday service. Maybe those of us who live in warmth and comfort and safety, blessed by lives of relative ease, could speak this psalm on their behalf. Maybe in the polite chanting of six verses we could remind God and ourselves of the desperate plight of peoples oppressed by war and famine and disease and earthquake and flood in places where the wicked and the cruel and the unjust are free and the innocent are enslaved. And maybe in our remembering we, to whom much has been given, will live up to much being required of us and not wait for God to act but do what we were created to do, act on God’s behalf which, of course, is how God answers a plea for help.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Epiphany 4 C - Jeremiah 1:4-19

Jeremiah 1:4-19
This is not the kind of call a prophet wants to receive. Given a choice a prophet, or a pastor for that matter, would prefer visions with a happier ending and keep the wickedness and judgments to a minimum. That is because truth telling is never easy for the one who has to tell it or for the ones who have to hear it. So while it might be good news that they will not prevail against Jeremiah the bad news is that they will try. In the end Jeremiah will die in obscurity and Judah will receive the judgment he foretold. So where is the good news for those of us who prefer fairy tale endings over tragedy? As difficult as it is to tell it or hear it, the good news is in the truth telling itself. That is because the truth is always good news even when it is bad. It is only when we tell and hear the truth about ourselves; that we have exchanged the truth for a lie to chase after idols of our own design and worship at the altars of our ego that we have any hope of finding our way back to the greater Truth. And when the greater Truth does the telling there is always pardon after judgment, return after exile, life in death and even the tragedy has a fairy tale ending.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Epiphany 3 C - Luke 4:14-21

Luke 4:14-21
Jesus ends his preaching tour of Galilee in the synagogue of his bar mitzvah. The standing room only crowd has gathered in eager expectation of seeing the hometown boy made good and Jesus does not disappoint. He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and finds the words of promise that were the hope of those who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept. The same words that had become the longing of the oppressed under the new management of Rome. For a moment between the reading and the sermon there was silence, every eye fixed, every breath held, every ear attentive. As soon as he spoke, “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” the spell was lifted and in the verses that follow the SRO crowd rejects the promise fulfilled and things turn ugly. But in the pregnant pause before he spoke, where anything and everything is possible, the scripture was fulfilled. Maybe that is where freedom and recovery and restoration are real for us as well. When in silent expectation hope is not diminished by attempts to rationalize or explain. Such waiting faith believes God is intimately aware of our deepest need. Waiting faith believes the good news of grace for those impoverished, held captive by circumstances beyond their control, blinded by sin and oppressed by fear. We hold onto such hope with radical trust that the proof is not in the pudding but in the hope that the promise is as good as it sounds. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epiphany 3 C - 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Maybe Paul never looked into a mirror that wasn’t dim because while the nose might be necessary more often than not the eyes think it is too big. Truth is most people can find fault with one body part or another and wish the weaker parts could be dispensed of more easily. And on the flip side thinking of oneself as Adonis means Narcissus is not far behind. It may be that judging oneself either too harshly or inaccurately is where the mistreatment of the body begins and why these words of Paul have too often fallen on deaf ears. When we cannot recognize our own worth we are blind to the worth of others. But if I see myself through the eyes of Christ as worthy of God’s affection and choose to live into that identity then I believe it becomes more difficult to deny others the same honor. And so each member values the other because each member is valued by Christ. And to dishonor the other, to think or speak ill of them, to plot and plan and even pray for their downfall, is to scorn Christ himself. In the end it is God who is grieved and injured when the body behaves badly towards itself. But it was the grief of God over a creation gone horribly wrong that led Christ to the cross. In the love that is the “still more excellent way” his body was broken to make ours whole so that the death of Christ would be our life. So treat yourself well today for your body belongs to Christ. And remember that the body part that had the nerve to sit in your space last Sunday is dear to the heart of Christ as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Epiphany 3 C - Psalm 19

I’ve practiced yoga quite a bit and if it weren’t for the mirrors around the room I’d think I was quite good at it. That’s because the pose often feels more right than it looks. So while I am pretty good at breathing and I can nail the Savasana or corpse pose I need to see myself in the mirror to straighten my back on a deep forward bend or really sit into my chair or sink my head below my shoulders and get my doggie down. Of course the mirror can’t do it all and I don’t need to look in the mirror to know my crow pose is never going to get off the ground. The perfect law of the Lord is more than a list of do’s and don’ts. If it were then we could detect our hidden faults and check them off one by one. But as it is we are all guilty not only of the hidden but the obvious as well or as another version states, presumptuous sins. And so the law of the Lord is like a mirror revealing our spiritual posture. There are corrections we can make once warned but that only gets us so far, which is why we need a Rock and Redeemer to revive the heart of our Savasana.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Epiphany 2 C - John 2:1-11

John 2:1-11
The wine has run out and with one more “l’chaim” the guest’s goblets will go dry and the party will be over ahead of schedule. Mary is determined to do something about it and counting on those things she has treasured in her heart she gets Jesus to serve the good wine before his time. John records this as the first sign of many and even though the other Gospels remember more pressing first signs, like healing diseases and casting out demons, turning water into wine is the sign for the time to come. It might not seem so in a world where more important things than wine run out, where a surplus of sorrow and suffering beg God to heal and exercise evil before filling the carafe with Cabernet. But the miracle of water into wine is more than a story of good timing for a worried wine steward and it is Mary who gives it to us. Like Jesus in the garden she asks for what she wants and accepts his rebuff. In the same way Jesus will ask for what he wants, “Take this cup from me” but accept “Thy will be done.” And so Jesus in faith will leave the garden for the cross and Mary, with every reason to believe the answer is no, tells the servant, “Do whatever he tells you.” She has no idea what he will do but believes he will do something. Faith in the face of jugs gone dry is what is called for in the face of circumstances that drain reserves, sorrow that consumes joy, questions empty of answers, which is why water into wine is a sign of the time to come. Without knowing how or when we believe God will do something like Isaiah imagined; a feast of rich food and fine wine for all people where God will dine on death for when Jesus' time finally came the One who asked for the cup to be taken from him is the One who filled it. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Epiphany 2 C - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
"I do not want you to be uniformed, brothers and sisters." I imagine that line didn’t go over so well with the sisters and brothers in Corinth. They imagined themselves not only very well informed but well endowed, thank you very much. But like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals they were all show and no substance and the gifts meant to bless and unite were used to curse and divide. Pride always corrupts the good gifts of God and blinds those who are puffed up to their spiritual poverty. Divisions follow as one claims spiritual superiority over the other and the church that is the body of Christ performs communal amputation upon itself. It is a sad state of affairs that despite centuries of being informed congregations continue to be led astray by idols that make a lot of noise but are mute when it comes to the language of love. So being informed is not enough, just like knowing it is a good thing to do doesn’t necessarily lead one to a healthy diet and regular exercise. But sometimes the mind informs the heart and that knowledge leads to repentance which heals divisions within us as the Spirit activates spiritual gifts for the healing of the body of Christ. Of course it is never that neat or easy but the good news is that after centuries of informing people who prefer idols that make a lot of noise the church is still here, the Gospel is still being proclaimed and the Spirit hasn’t given up activating good gifts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Epiphany 2 C - Isaiah 62:1-5

The people to whom these words are addressed have grown weary of hope. They were promised a return to Zion with singing but when they got home the only song they could sing was a lament and Lord knows they knew that song by heart. The burning sand has dried up the promised pool, the haunt of jackals is still just as dangerous and the ruins they will have to rebuild are inhabited by hostile residents. It will take more than a fairy tale ending to make Jerusalem hospitable to the prophet’s vision. And maybe that is how hope works. We might prefer a close your eyes click your heels three times and no place turns into home but the greater truth is that hope gets us to believe that not all the songs we will sing will always be in a minor key. And so the forsaken who have returned to a desolate land change their tune and start singing as those who are the delight of the Lord in a land that is married. But what if the prophet’s vision is beyond our ability to hope? Truth is all the visions of the future are beyond our ability to hope which is why God sings lead. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Epiphany 1 C - Nehemiah 8:1-0

The exiles, including the lay reader's nightmare list of names in the omitted verses, have returned from captivity to begin the slow process of rebuilding Jerusalem which includes reestablishing the rituals of the faith community. Outside the gate the preachers preach and the people respond with liturgy, Amen, Amen, lifting hands and bowing down. But when the ritual reading is explained and the people understand they begin to weep and wail and mourn. They weep because they know who they are in the light of the law and how they have grieved the One who brought them out of exile. They weep because they are afraid that God knows what they know. But there is another lesson to learn and if they had seen it coming they would have laughed out loud and shouted alleluia. God is not grieved. God is not angry. God is not weeping. This is God’s day of rejoicing and it is because of them. Surprise! So dry your eyes and wash your face. Break out the bubbly and forget your diet for a day for you are the joy of the Lord and that is your strength. That is a good lesson for us as well. As long as we think of the joy of the Lord as an emotion we have or can get we will inevitably end up weakened and weeping. But since the joy of the Lord is the Lord's joy over us it is constant and can never be diminished or depleted and therein lies our strength. In God’s joy we endure. In God’s joy we persevere. In God’s joy we hope. And yes, in God’s joy we rejoice. The only thing to do with that kind of strength is to share with those who have nothing prepared because, of course, that is what God has done for us.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord Year C - Luke 3:15-22

It was a time of expectation like when the planets line up in a way they haven’t for a long time and won’t ever again in one’s lifetime which of course must mean something. In that kind of time a voice crying in the wilderness attracts attention and even casual conversations end up speculating about cosmic events. Most of the time the time does not live up to everyone’s expectation but this time the expectation couldn’t live up to the time. They expected a Messiah exactly like John even though he told them he wasn’t the One. But with speeches full of fire, with clothes, diet and personal hygiene like the prophets of the past he was a figure to behold. And so the people heard his hell fire brimstone exhortation as good news and in the verses preceding these change their ways to escape the wrath that is to come. No wonder Jesus gets lost in the crowd. He can’t follow that sort of act and unless you were close enough to hear the voice from heaven or happened to be looking when the dove landed Jesus would have looked like one of the crowd dipping in the Jordan hoping to come up clean. But if you were listening and looking your expectation would have been met by something you never could have expected. Though the voice declared him the beloved Son he was baptized like one of the crowd. That’s why expectation can never live up to incarnation which in the end burns our chaff and saves our wheat.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord Year C - Acts 8:14-17

The Word of God spent some time in Samaria and promised a thirsty woman there would be a day when Samaritans and Jews and all true worshipers would worship God in spirit and in truth. And when He spoke the truth about her she came to believe he was the Truth and the whole village followed suit. As Jesus ascended he told the disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. It took things turning ugly in Jerusalem to get the believers to hit the road and so Philip came to spend some time in a Samaritan city. Through signs and wonders and proclamation the Truth came again to Samaria and the whole city rejoiced and was baptized and the church sent Peter and John to seal the deal. It took truth telling in the first instance and persecution in the second to bring the Word to the Samaritans in a way that led to the gift of the Spirit and maybe that is true for us as well. First the truth about ourselves; we are thirsty for something more but satisfy ourselves with something less until we are parched. And like persecution that scattered the believers we are driven by the knowledge of our need to renounce all that draws us away from God and so be refreshed by the Water of Life, the Spirit of Truth.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord Year C - Psalm 29

The voice of the Lord is LOUD. Glory! Many people experience God in the beauty of nature; sunsets, mountain tops, misty lakes at dawn and the like. They are generally experienced in solitude and bring a sense of peace and contentment. I’m not sure I would equate the blessing of peace with a voice that strips a forest bare. But the psalmist imagines the glory and splendor of God in the terrible and terrifying. Making Lebanon and Sirion skip like a young bull is just a poetic way of saying earthquake and flashing fire doesn’t need to strike twice to get you diving for cover. This image of a terrible and terrifying God evokes praise not only from nature but from the heavenly beings who know a thing or two about terrifying and maybe that is the point. This voice cannot be ignored or denied and all the forces of the universe are obliged to respond. But for those who belong to the Voice hearing God in the terrible and terrifying means the terrible is less terrifying for the God present in the whirlwind and the earthquake is our strength and peace. And when from the cross God cried out with a loud voice even death had to sit up and take notice and admit it was finished. And that is a blessing of peace indeed. Glory!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Baptism of Our Lord Year C - Isaiah 43:1-7

Isaiah 43:1-7
This promise of God was penned by the prophet Isaiah to the captives who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept while their tormentors called for them to sing glad songs of Zion. And so these promises of security are spoken to those who know the threat of waters that rise and flames that burn brightly. They have lost hope of going home and their only comfort is in the thought of revenge upon the children born to the Babylonians. (Psalm 137) But the promise of the One who formed them is that they will not be abandoned to captivity for the God who heard their cries in the past has heard them in the present. They will not be overwhelmed or consumed by the things that threaten them because they are precious, honored, loved, desirable objects of the Holy One’s affection. What we experience in this life is often beyond our ability to tread water or shield ourselves from searing heat but then the word of God calls us to not be afraid despite all that threatens. I think that means we do not believe the water of difficulty will have the last word for us even if we drown or that the fire of suffering will consume us. We are already eternal creatures known by name and treasured possessions of the God who exists in the past-present-future. So we endure in the midst of captivity and overcome all that would cause us to doubt our treasured status.