Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter 2 A - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Easter 2 A - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9
There is a stoic tendency in the Christian tradition, as in the proverbial British “stiff upper lip” or the Norwegian mantra “det kan bli verre”. (It could be worse) Or better yet the Black Knight in Monty Python's the Holy Grail. "It's just a flesh wound." So while I agree that various trials can be seen as tests of faith there are times when one is so worn down by trouble one could care less if faith proved less precious than gold. “It is what it is” only works for so long and eventually “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble that multiplies with every passing day. But it is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice, albeit through tears, in the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. Kept for us and not by us this inheritance of hope, if you will, is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means in practical terms we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming our dismal circumstances on the failure of faith. I think stoics live lonely lives even if they show great courage and fortitude. We were created for community, to be like the One we have never seen and yet still love, so that the genuineness of faith is measured in the way we respond to the needs of each other. There are times when various trials could not possibly be any worse which is why we do not suffer them alone.

Thursday, April 20, 2017



 Trinity Lutheran Church, Pottsville, TX

Here's a re-post from 2011. Pauline Hopper was a longtime member of Calvary who I visited in the hospital everyday over the course of a number of weeks. I'd pray with her every visit. She didn't seem to be getting any better so one time when I'd finished praying she looked at me and said, "you're not very good are you." So since Pauline was a country girl I said, "Let me give it another go. Oh Lord, we'd like you to piss or get off the pot. Amen." Wouldn't you know she got better within the week.

Psalm 16
Pauline Hopper went home to heaven this week and the body she inhabited for ninety-one years was laid to rest this afternoon in Pottsville, Texas. The boundary lines have fallen for her in a pleasant place which was cause for our hearts to be glad and our spirits rejoice. That is not to say we gloss over grief or deny the reality of loss and pain. No. What we do is deny death the last word for our loved ones and in celebrating their passing we deny death power over ourselves as well. We do not grieve as those without hope. We will not be abandoned to the shadow existence of Sheol. We will know pleasures forevermore and the fullness of joy in God’s presence. In the meantime funerals remind us that we have been gifted with another day in the land of the living to make the present look a little bit more like the future as we wait for our boundary lines to fall in the most pleasant of places.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter 2 A - Acts 10:22-33

Peter’s Pentecost sermon, addressed to those familiar with the story of salvation, is a fitting text for the first Sunday after Easter. Known by those “in the know” as low Sunday, it is the day when the pews and parking spaces of the faithful are not occupied by the twice a year crowd.  Maybe if the story was more dramatic people would stick around for another round sans trumpets, choirs, lilies and eggs hidden by bunnies, but the truth is the story could not be more out of the box. It was impossible for death to hold him in its power is how Peter puts it and I can’t imagine it gets more dramatic than that. The message has had over two thousand years to mature and so while preachers and every week pew people might be tempted to lament a Sunday with space we might be better served by going back to the beginning when even those who knew the story had to hear it again.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” the law demanded but could not accomplish, even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient, but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human.  Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is to prefer life in the grave which makes no sense. Since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not to escape wrath but to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Re-posted pretty much every year

On the morning of May 25th 2000 I was sitting in my brother’s backyard in Chicago drinking way too much coffee and nervously waiting for inspiration. Months before I promised my dad I’d write a song for my grandmother’s memorial service. At that point all I had was “I hope” which was how Grandma Heinze described faith in Jesus. Not “I hope” as in “I wish” but “I hope” as in “I know.” So with grandma’s faith in Jesus on my mind I waited impatiently for a song that was scheduled to be sung that afternoon. And then I remembered a funeral the week before where I spoke the words of Psalm 118. “There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed" and within ten minutes I had three verses and a chorus in the key of E and a few hours later “Our Hope” was sung as promised. Of all the parts of the funeral liturgy Psalm 118, appointed to be read at the graveside, seems to fly in the face of reason. When it is obvious that our loved one has fallen and is not getting up again we claim that “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.” But that is the way of faith where the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone of “I hope.” Defeat is victory, loss is gain, and sorrow is prelude to joy. While it seems like the truth of “I hope” comes to us as suddenly as it did to me in my brother’s backyard the truth is the only thing sudden about it is that it is the end of waiting. It took Martha sometime to learn the song of Jesus but when she did she sang it with everything she had for her best friend, Jesus. And so like Timothy whose faith first lived in his grandmother Lois the faith of Martha is sung every Easter at Calvary Lutheran, Richland Hills, TX in three verses and a chorus in the key of E. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” It is as radical a statement as a Jew can make, even one who has been hanging out with the wrong crowd for three years. God showing partiality was precious to this people for they were set apart by a law and a land and out of all the nations of the earth they alone were God’s own. But now Peter has the audacity to proclaim God has opened the exclusive country club to anyone in any nation and has waived the application fee. The trouble I have with this text is that Peter (or Luke working off the transcript of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) just redefines God’s partiality. God appeared, not to everyone, but chose witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus and is partial to those who believe their testimony and fear God and do what is acceptable. And further if Paul’s recollection of Peter’s progress in not showing partiality is accurate Peter himself pulls back from eating and drinking with Gentiles because James’s “people” exert partiality pressure. Even the first century church wasn’t completely convinced that God shows “no partiality” only that God was no longer limited to a single nation. Of course partiality is precious to the church of our day as well and we define what is acceptable to God by our doctrine and practice, even excluding brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus because their way of believing is less than Orthodox or Pentecostal or Calvinist or Lutheran or whatever. But if the chosen people were so wrong about God that they killed the anointed One filled with the Holy Spirit by hanging him on a tree maybe our vision is partial as well. What if the cross really does mean God shows no partiality, period, end of sentence? I know the stakes are high and eternal futures are on the line, but if we believed God showed no partiality we wouldn’t either and without rewriting the rules I think that might be acceptable to God.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Sunday of the Passion Year A - Matthew 26:14-27:66

The passion narrative according to Matthew begins with a plot to betray. Conspiracy theorists not withstanding there is no need to speculate on what motivates Judas. He is after all human and motivated by the same demon that possesses the entire race. Judas seeks to turn his intimate knowledge of the prophet into profit. Matthew is the only Gospel that records Judas’s regret and even though he finds no satisfaction in returning ill gotten gain Matthew wants us to know Judas was sorry. Maybe when you betray a close friend, even if it doesn’t lead to crucifixion, nothing short of dying will do, and so his tragic end seems to him the only way to pay, though given the chance Jesus who forgave his enemies surely would have offered the same consideration to one with whom he shared a meal. I hope that when the forever feast happens in the eternal future there will be a place at the table for the one who weakened by greed treated his friend with such contempt. Not because I am some sort of bleeding heart liberal who desperately desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but because if I am honest with myself (and by extension those of you who are reading this) I am more like Judas than Jesus and my only hope is that he will not treat me with the same contempt I have treated him.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Sunday of the Passion Year A - Psalm 31:9-16

Even well meaning, close friends have come to dread asking the psalmist weak with sorrow, consumed by anguish, “how are you?” The answer is always the same. “Not good.” Derided by neighbors, abandoned by friends, surrounded by enemies, as useless as a broken pot, the psalmist is forgotten as one long dead. And then after venting a laundry list of lament there is the word that denies despair the final say and brings some measure of comfort and not a little bit of hope to the psalmist’s desperate existence. But. But I trust in you. Why? Because my times are in your hands. Not the hands of my enemies, even if they manage to take my life. Not the hands of neighbors or friends to whom I have become an object of derision and dread. Not the hands of the sickness that saps my strength or the grief that grips my heart. No. I trust in you for my life is in the hands of your unfailing love that will not abandon me or flee from me in all my distress. Of course the faith that leads the psalmist to declare “But I trust in you” also allows for “But hurry up and help me, O Lord!”

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Sunday of the Passion Year A - Isaiah 50:4-9

The teacher who sustains the weary with a word was himself a student of suffering. Gifted by the Lord God with the teacher’s tongue he endured spitting and insult. He gave his back to the whip and his cheeks to those who pull out the beard. But the word that sustains the weary is not in the suffering itself but in the confidence that despite trouble and trial the Lord God is not far off. Therefore the teacher endures the taunting of those whose power is temporary by trusting that his vindication will have the last word. It is “the Lord God who helps me”. We would prefer not to suffer at all and go to great lengths to avoid it, medicating our pain whenever possible. And the disgrace we experience is not due so much to the actions of others but rather our own rebellious ways. For this reason the innocent teacher was crucified as one guilty so that morning by morning the obedient Word made flesh might sustain all who are wearied by the world or their own rebellious ways. The ones who breathed out threats and violence and consumed by hatred did their best to do him in were in the end taught the lesson of love. The tongue of the teacher, Father, forgive them…” interceded even for his adversaries.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lent 5 A - John 11:1-45

John 11:1-45
Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was after he heard Lazarus was ill and the sisters know it. “If you had been here my brother would not have died” is just a polite way of saying “why didn’t you come when we called?” Mary, the one Jesus commended for choosing the better part, chooses to stay in the house. Martha, the one Jesus said was worried and upset about many things, comes out to see Jesus with one thing in mind. “I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  It is a bold statement of faith even if she cannot imagine how her dead brother could be brought back to life until the “roll is called up yonder.” But that might be beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend even if you believe your friend really is the Messiah. When Jesus calls for Mary it is Martha who goes to get her, no doubt with a few choice words about proper etiquette. Mary runs, but not for joy, and certainly not with the faith of her sister. She won’t even look at Jesus but sobbing vents her anger and her grief and her pain at the feet of her friend who neglected her in the time of her greatest need. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” And Jesus knowing what she says is true, weeps. Known for being the shortest verse in the Bible it may be the most powerful image of the God come down and especially because it is found in John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in control, even on the cross. But here the “in the beginning was the Word” is faced with a friend’s frustration and anger and grief and pain because the “Word made flesh” delaying two days allowed her brother to die. And even though there is a happy ending to what would otherwise be a sad tale I think the image of John’s Jesus weeping is where the healing happens for the losses we experience. It means our sorrow, our suffering, our loss and yes, even our anger does not fall on deaf ears for when Jesus wept God was crying.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lent 5 A - Romans 8:1-11

Mathematical symbol for Therefore (or connect the dots for the Trinity?)
The eighth chapter of Romans begins with a capital T “therefore” that should be underlined, highlighted and printed in bold. Therefore there is no condemnation… which leads Paul to declare by the end of the chapter that he is convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In between the beginning and the end Paul exhorts the Romans to live fully into this new reality. One of the ways we weaken this capital T “therefore” is to think of it only in terms of what we get or maybe what we get away with. “All we like sheep have gone astray” but it’s okay because Jesus paid the price for our wandering ways (what we get away with) so that one day we will go to heaven. (what we get) That way of way of thinking (even if it is biblical) makes the capital T “therefore” all about me, or in your case, you. But God’s plans are for us, and by that God always means more than just you and me as in “God so loved the world…” Secondly by focusing the life of the Spirit on “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home” (as comforting as that may be) we neglect the greater gift. Namely, the life of the Spirit in “there is therefore no condemnation” is for the here and now. God saves us for today so living as those loved by God we set our minds on the Spirit and the gifts the Spirit gives, namely; joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and yes, self control. Therefore in the time between your beginning and your end live the underlined, highlighted, printed in bold life of love confident that nothing, not even our own weak willed ways, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lent 5 A - Psalm 130

Psalm 130
I’ve done my share of out of the depths watching for the morning through a night that refuses to end. It may be the loneliest place on the planet even if you share your bed with someone and therein lies the problem. When I kept silent, as another psalm says, my bones wasted away. The psalmist waiting more than those who silently watch for the morning is not quiet in the night but crying out confesses the iniquity that if the Lord were counting would buckle the knees and make standing impossible. Confession, good for the soul, blesses the body as well and while sleeping like a baby might have to wait for another night a waiting soul quieted by confession hoping in the steadfast love of the Lord is what it means to be redeemed before the dawn.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent 5 A - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The whole house of Israel held captive in Babylon has been living the twenty-seven chapters of judgment God speaks through Ezekiel before getting around to some good news. It’s no wonder Ezekiel doesn’t have an answer to “Mortal, can these bones live?” It’s beyond his ability to imagine dry bones animated by flesh and breath in the same way captivity in Babylon with no end in sight has become the nation’s new normal. But those cut off completely whose hope is lost, long dead and dried up, will be animated by the breath of the Spirit, the irrevocable promise of God. Not even the grave can long hold the people God claims as “mine”. We are not yet a church of dry bones though some suggest we’ve got one foot in the grave. Nor are we held captive, cut off completely with all hope gone. Even so perhaps we are living the judgment brought about by cultural complacency, or entrenched traditionalism or constant re-branding because “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan) The good news that followed judgment was the promise of return and rebirth which breathed new life into captive people so that even the grave could not cut them off completely and destroy all hope. The promises of God are irrevocable and the breath of the Spirit is always blowing somewhere through the people of God to animate the church once again. Listen, then, for the noise and the rattle of bones putting on the sinews and flesh of Gospel for the sake of the world for we are God’s own people, always the same and forever new.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lent 4 A - John 9:1-41

The Pharisees ask Jesus to name the sin responsible for the man’s blindness even though the way they see it the parents are to blame.  Bad things happen to people who do bad things and only a literal reading of Psalm 51, “Behold, I was sinner from my birth” could place the blame on a fetus sinning in utero. Jesus chooses the third way and blames God. I mean if we push the answer to its cynical conclusion the man’s blindness affords Jesus the opportunity to heal him so that God’s work might be revealed in him; though I bet the man would have preferred God gifted sight a little earlier in life. I’ll argue a less cynical and better way to see it is that Jesus rejects sin as cause and effect for the way world works. It is what it is. People are born blind and biology is to blame. And while the physical healing appears to be the place where “God’s works are revealed in him” it is in the transformation of the man who had endured years of condemning comments whispered within earshot that the real miracle of sight takes place. For the first time the question, “whose fault was it?” doesn’t matter and he sees sin for what it is. His own parents having endured the blame for his blindness all these years cannot give thanks for the miracle in front of their very eyes and abandon him for fear of losing even their back seat in the synagogue. The respectable rabbis revile him because the way he received his sight doesn’t fit their view of the world even though they know “If this man was not from God he could do nothing.” With nowhere else to go he finds the only one who will welcome him and seeing clearly for the first time, “Lord, I believe” is where God’s works are revealed in him.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lent 4 A - Ephesians 5:8-14

I don’t think we have to do much soul searching to find out what is pleasing to the Lord in the same way that we know full well the difference between the unfruitful works of darkness and living as children of light. The difficulty is in the doing. Paul himself writing to the Romans laments,”I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) Living as children of the light is not accomplished by our will but by the One whose light shines into the darkness of our soul exposing shameful thoughts, words and deeds. The freedom of life in the light begins by banishing the darkness where we hide from our true self – in the Lord you are light. Like waking from sleep living into our true identity as eternal creatures destined for the light of the eternal future is a moment by moment decision. The good news is God does not abandon us even though we hit the spiritual snooze alarm again and again but waiting patiently continues to call to us, “Sleeper awake!”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lent 4 A - 1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord does not judge by outward appearance or the height of one’s stature even though Samuel feels compelled to tell us Jesse’s youngest son was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes. Maybe his GQ good looks made David the shepherd prone to wander despite the desires of the heart only God could see. He doesn’t suffer Saul’s fate but handsome David, consumed by his passions, doesn’t get away scot-free. The sword of conflict never leaves his house and he will have as many enemies within his own palace as without. So what is it that makes David a man after God’s own heart? Most will quote Psalm 51, his act of poetic contrition after Nathan nails him with a story of rich man who steals a poor man’s perfect lamb. “You are the man!” David, like so many of us, is capable of self deception on a grand scale. When he is confronted by the truth he can no longer hide behind his crown. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is as much an appeal to God’s own heart as it is David’s desperate desire for his heart to return to the relationship he had with God before his weak will threatened to ruin it all. And therein lies our hope. In the cross of Christ we have every reason to trust that God’s heart is inextricably bound to ours and that with or without ruddy good looks our wandering ways cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lent 3 A - John 4:5-42

Nicodemus, hiding from prying eyes, seeking answers, looks for Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman, hiding from judgmental eyes, seeking water, is found by Jesus in the heat of the day. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, doesn’t step out into the open until Jesus is dead. The unnamed woman at the well gains the courage to be exposed as a believer in a single encounter. Of course Nicodemus had a lot to lose while the woman at the well never had anything to begin with. Even so she is just as confused over the meaning of living water as the teacher of Israel was with being born again. But where Nicodemus goes away perplexed everything comes into focus for her when Jesus tells her, “I am he.” She says she came to believe because “he told me everything I had ever done” but I imagine the people of Sychar kept track of her history and reminded her of it on a regular basis. It must be that Jesus told her story differently than the people of Sychar she was avoiding. Jesus knew all the things that labeled her as less than respectable but spoke to her as if none of that mattered. Without knowing it she was drinking deeply at the well of living water. When she realized her thirst was quenched she did what Jesus did. He did not hold her infidelity against her and she did not hold their hatred of her against them but went to find those who made her draw water in the heat of the day with the good news, “everyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again.” No doubt she went back to the man who wasn’t her husband. There were not many options in the first century for a woman married five times. But then the woman who went to the well at noon was not the same woman who came home that night and one hopes the city of Sychar, noticing the difference, was changed as well.    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lent 3 A - Romans 5:1-11

Since it is God’s love that is proved in the death of Christ whatever Paul means by being “saved from the wrath of God” cannot be understood as an angry God needing to be appeased or there will be hell to pay. It just doesn’t follow that a wrathful God initiates the action to be reconciled to us (humanity) while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were God’s enemies, as if God just needed to kill something in order to spare humanity. I know Paul says that the blood of Jesus justifies but the entire religious world of his day practiced ritual sacrifice as a means of motivating the gods or in the case of the Jews, to atone for sin. To be sure there are those who hold to a classic doctrine of atonement where God’s holiness does not allow for mercy without payment due but that seems to make God subject to our religious systems. Again if it is God’s love that is proved surely God is free to forgive with or without the cross. So what is the purpose of Jesus death? I affirm it is for the forgiveness sins but not to appease a wrathful God but rather to transform us so that what Paul preaches in Romans five might be accomplished. Peace with God means we no longer live as God’s enemies but instead our love for God is proved when we boast not in our strength or our piety but in our hope. That hope is not illusory but tested by suffering, proved by enduring, confirmed by our character. It is the way we live the faith that justifies and is the only hope of peace for the humanity God loves.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lent 3 A - Psalm 95

Psalm 95
Those of us who were born into Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pews some sixty years ago will remember Psalm 95 as the Venite in the Order of Matins. It was printed on pages 33 and 34 of The Lutheran Hymnal in such a way that one had to flip back and forth throughout the singing of it. We frowned on user friendly worship in those days. Venite is Latin for “Come” and served as the call to worship, though if I remember correctly we left out the threats at the end where God loathing the “they do not regard my ways” people swore to lead them in circles until every last one of them died in the desert. There is no doubt that the hardening of the heart leads to spiritual cardiac arrest but I have difficulty imaging that God loathes those on spiritual life support. The consequence we suffer for not listening to the Lord’s voice is that we are on our own. That does not mean the “people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” who don’t toe the line suffer the hatred of God. Rather for the sake of “a people whose hearts go astray” the shepherd “was led like a lamb to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7) O come let us worship and bow down for the Lord was put to the test and the proof of God’s intention for every generation of hardened hearts is revealed in the cross.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 3 A - Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7
The congregation of the Israelites is a pain in the Lord’s you know what. And poor Moses standing between this quarrelsome people and a God who when push comes to shove is not to be trifled with no doubt regrets the day he listened to a burning bush. To be fair, dying of thirst in the desert drives people to do all sorts of crazy things including provoking the Lord Almighty with complaints. But even in their desperation they had every reason to trust the Lord for when they complained of hunger manna and quail arrived in time for dinner. But these people have a short memory, forgetting the Lord’s faithfulness in the past in light of their present pressing need. We tend to be more polite in our relationship with the Almighty predicating our “demands” with please, but whether one complains or pleads ultimately the question is the same. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Our dry times of trouble call for patient trust so that our present pressing need does not speak more loudly than the memory of deliverance when in the past “the Lord among us” was like water from the rock.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lent 2 A - Romans 4:1-17

Romans 4:1-17

I wonder what Abraham would think of the three children that name him father. All three claim first born rights that exclude the others even though the middle child was adopted and the youngest was born to Abram’s slave Hagar. Is this what God had in mind? That many nations fathered would include Judaism, Christianity and Islam? And how in the world did a small fortress city at the crossroads of empires (the El Paso of the Middle East as someone once said to me) come to be the center of the spiritual universe? I know Paul does not state it explicitly in chapter four but it would seem to follow that God would desire peace between father Abraham’s children in the city named Yerushalayim (abode of peace). I’m not making any predictions as to how that might happen though the only way I even entertain the hope is because I believe the One who suffered a violent end in the abode of peace can “make all things new”. Therefore what has to be let go for peace to last, even within the adopted child's immediate family, is the notion that whatever God gives us is wages owed for work done. Our temptation is to move faith from the credit column to the debit side of the ledger so that even when we are not doing anything we can claim we did something to guarantee the second child is the only sibling that will receive the inheritance. Faith lets the promise rest on grace, is what Paul writes the Romans, so let’s leave it there and trust that the God who brings life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist will work out the details.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lent 2 A - Psalm 121

                                                          Josef Žáček b. 1951 - Resurrection 1988
Psalm 121 is read at graveside services even though it would seem help from the hills is a little late in arriving. But then funerals are for the living, not the dead. It is the living who struggle to hold onto to “my help comes from the Lord” in the sight of loved ones laid to rest, even when death is a welcome release. To speak of our God who neither slumbers nor sleeps In the face of life’s inevitable end denies death the last word for the deceased as well as those who mourn. There are times, of course, when the ancient words alone fail to help, when desperate prayer is spoken into deafening silence, when the Lord awake seems absent.  It is for those trying times that God gifts us with help closer to home than the hills. Speaking the ancient words of faith together, even with weeping eye and through clenched teeth, keeps us from the evil of hopelessness and in the life of the community our lives are kept.  All of which remembers the help that came from the holy hill of Calvary when the Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps slept in death and three days later rose again so that our final “going out” would  be our forever “coming in”.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lent 2 A - Genesis 12:1-4

Genesis 12:1-4
This is the story of ultimate faith, though to be fair I imagine the opportunity for advancement was limited for Semitic septuagenarians in the land of the Chaldeans. Still it took a leap of faith for Abram to go home and tell Sari to pack the bags and load the camel because God told him he was destined for favored nation status in a “God only knows where” land. So while it is the promised pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that makes the offer tempting it is ultimately Abraham’s trust that God can deliver that gets him to leave the center of civilization to wander the wilderness. Whether he knew it or not God blessed Abraham to be a blessing, even with the caveat about the cursed, since “all peoples will be blessed” would not be “all” without them. When you read the rest of the Abraham story his trust was less than trust-worthy and he did as much maneuvering as following. Of course we do the same and before leaving country, people and home we generally “trust but verify”. In the very end Abraham put his trust where his heart was when with the seed of the promise on the altar of sacrifice and his hand raised to do the unthinkable God intervened and spared the only son. For us it is not a ram but the God of promises who is caught in the thicket on Calvary’s hill and the only Son not spared is cursed so that we might be blessed to be a blessing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lent 1 A

It was right after Jesus’ baptism and The Voice from heaven declaring “You are my beloved Son” that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the time of testing. Famished after fasting, the tempter’s first attempt appeals to Jesus’ stomach. “Turn theses stones into bread” is an appetizing option after forty days and nights without food.  But Jesus is well fed on the word of God and trusting The Voice that declared him The Beloved he is not as hungry as the devil thought. The consummate con man changes tactics and using “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” tempts Jesus to give a demonstration of his trust. This temptation is trickier than it appears because proof negates trust but Jesus knows that testing The Voice denies the truth that he is The Beloved.  Believing the third time’s the charm the devil goes back to the basics and uses the temptation that worked so well in the garden. It is a temptation to take power from The Voice who called him The Beloved even though it appears in bowing down Jesus would have to give power away. But the devil is offering an option, a discount if you will. Bow down on a high mountain or climb a hill to the place called the skull. It’s your choice, Jesus, and don’t let some Voice tell you different. To which Jesus replied, “Nice try.” And the devil said, “damn you” and left knowing he’d have to meet Jesus on the hill and there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to fool the Beloved there. And the angels came smiling, laughing, rejoicing, as Jesus breathed a sigh of relief and rested in their arms.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The fifth chapter of Romans articulates the great reversal we make conditional by claiming it cannot be fully accomplished without our assistance. If Adam’s sin did me in and I had nothing to do with it why does Jesus need my help to undo what Adam did? Some would say that Jesus only covers Adam’s deed (original sin) and therefore I am responsible for what I’ve added to the mix. But if I was flawed from the get go I didn’t stand a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks to get it right and even less of a chance without the benefit of being born to Christian parents in a Christian country in an age when not being Christian was less of an option than it is today.  If you hold onto a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the password to paradise you must accept that the vast majority of humanity that has ever lived suffers eternally in hellish torment beyond what even the most demented human mind can devise.  But if “the free gift is not like the trespass” surely we can trust that in the end Christ is more effective than Adam. So is there no consequence for sin? Of course there is and we live it every day in things done and left undone, in things said and left unsaid. Judgment does not wait for a future day but is present in every word, thought and deed that diminishes the life of love, the life the Creator intended for us. Ultimately the final future belongs to God and if the cross is any indication I’m betting God will be more merciful than you or I. And so we wore ashes yesterday to be reminded that we share Adam’s beginning and his end. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” But we also gathered at the table, “this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you” to be reminded that we are joined to Christ who unlike Adam has no beginning or end. “The free gift is not like the trespass” or in other words grace is more than able to overcome judgment.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lent 1 A - Psalm 32

My guess is that we have all lived through more than a day and night of “when I kept silence my body wasted away.” Of course some are better at holding up under the heavy hand of the Lord than others but sooner or later the soul longs for relief and the confession that is good for the soul also blesses the body. That we resist so long, or at all for that matter, speaks to our stubbornness to submit to a Higher Power and conform our lives to the life of our Lord. But the consequence of silence is that we will be overcome in times of distress and the times of trouble, like the rush of mighty waters, will overwhelm us. The hiding places of our own design are not helpful and the deliverance we experience is an illusion. The “happy are those” only happens through absolute honesty with self and the Lord. However, (and here’s the part I don’t like) the Lord is not silent either but speaks to us through flesh and blood faithful friends we know we can trust to tell us the truth. That’s because we can confess a thousand times over to the Lord and no one’s the wiser. But if we confess what troubles us to a faithful friend our hiding place will be less lonely and the deliverance more permanent.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent 1 A - Genesis 2:15 - 3:21

However you read this story, as literal truth or origin myth, it is spot on about humanity’s fatal flaw. Living in paradise the first humans were not satisfied. The serpent gave voice to the doubts already in their minds about the One who walked and talked with them but withheld one thing from them. It was their lust for the fruit, a delight to the eye and desirable for knowledge, that led them to roll the dice and bet paradise they’d gain more than they would lose. Of we course we know they lost everything except the One who walked with them in the first place. Even though the ultimate consequence of their disobedience is death, God clothes them to cover their shame and protect them from the harsh reality of life outside the walls of paradise. That’s the grace in this story for them and for us.  Despite our rebellious nature, our own lusting after power or possessions, or our devaluation of self through destructive behaviors or relationships, the One we have offended bears the offense of the cross, clothing us in righteousness, so that in our final end we return to that perfect beginning.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Transfiguration Year A - Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew 17:1-9
It’s only been six days since Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” for not understanding picking up the cross as the purpose of Jesus’ life and the only way for disciples to follow. Now blinded by the light Peter wants to stay put and dwell permanently on the mountaintop. It’s the voice, “LISTEN TO HIM” that shuts Peter up and overcome by fear he and his companions faint dead away. It takes the touch and voice of Jesus, “get up and do not be afraid” to wake them and then sworn to secrecy they descend to the less frightening and more familiar places on the plain. It’s a strange story but then that’s the nature of a theophany. The recognizable transfigured into the mysterious as the Jesus who ate and drank with disciples in the valley glows like a nuclear reactor on the mountain top while talking to the long gone law giver and end time prophet about God knows what. So we who are comfortable with “What a friend we have in Jesus” also sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and hold the two in tension. The familiar and friendly Jesus is the One who in the beginning was the Word and in the end will be judge and jury of all. It may be that in our end, when we come face to face with that terrifying reality, we will faint dead away, but then I’m trusting that the Lord Jesus will touch us and “Get up and do not be afraid” will be the only Word we hear.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Transfiguration Year A - 2 Peter 1:16-21

2 Peter 1:16-21
It is a testimony to the conviction of the first disciples that anyone believed what surely must have seemed less of a cleverly devised myth and more just outright nonsense. But people did believe the eyewitness testimony of these Galilean fishermen and then with equal passion proclaimed the crucified and resurrected Jewish peasant preacher Jesus, who they had never seen, to be the Beloved of God and Savior of the world. Whenever we are tempted to despair of the statistical decline of the church we would do well to pay attention to the lamp of their prophetic message which still shines in the darkness of our time; not because we fear some future final judgment but because we are convinced that the same word that captured the imagination of first century people is equally relevant in our own. Perhaps the church grew complacent for a time, satisfied with the status quo, but the prophetic word is always present and just waiting for those who believe to give it voice. So let us pray that the day will dawn and the morning star will rise in our hearts as it did in the disciples and moved by the Holy Spirit we will make known the power and coming of our Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transfiguration Year A - Psalm 2

Psalm 2
Let me start by kissing the Lord’s feet and acknowledge that God is God and I am not, so if God wants to speak with wrath and fury to break the nations and smash the people to pieces that is God’s prerogative. But I have some trouble with this text where God laughs at and then with terrifying fury uses his servant to destroy kings who exalt themselves. That’s because people without power perish right along with princes and the king God set on Zion’s hill broke a long list of nations with an iron rod and spared no one, not even women and children. And secondly it would appear the trembling foot kissers taking happy refuge in the Lord are only doing so to avoid being destroyed themselves, for God’s wrath is quickly kindled if proper respect is not shown. So what do we do with the second psalm? We can say there is truth in these words and there are good reasons to destroy rulers of the earth who exalt themselves. But when it comes to the nature of God this is not the truest word. The truest word about God’s nature is that instead of kissing the Lord’s feet we nailed them to wood and “Father forgive them” was clearly not a second psalm response.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Transfiguration Year A - Exodus 24:12-18


Exodus 24:12-18
In some ways the ancient stories sound odd to modern ears. The glory of the Lord in thick clouds and a devouring fire on the top of the mountain sounds a lot like one of the lightning strikes I heard the other night and even though the closest one may have warranted an “Oh my God!” I understand lightning in scientific terms. The ancients saw God’s hand at work in the timing of what we know as naturally occurring phenomenon. But then we “moderns” often do the same thing by giving extra-ordinary meaning to everyday events as when instead of turning left we turn right and a chance encounter bears blessings. So I guess I’m okay with the children of Israel camped before the mountain giving glory to the Lord for what may well have been Mt. Sinai having a little volcanic hiccup and spewing some smoke. It’s Moses entering the cloud of mountain top devouring fire that defies explanation. He was a reluctant leader in the very beginning and even though barefoot he carried on a conversation with a burning bush he was always looking for a way out. Of course the Lord provided that through signs and wonders, not the least of which was the parting of the sea, but that’s not what Moses had in mind. In some ways God has worn down his reluctant leader so that when summoned to come up to the mountain and camp Moses obeys and does not complain. Maybe a faith that follows without complaining or seeking a way out has less to do with spiritual discipline and more to do with God wearing us down so that like Moses the way out is really the only way in.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Epiphany 7 A - Matthew 5:38-48



Nikolaï Gay (1831-1894)
These are dangerous words and those who attempt to practice them don’t last very long. Evil doers not resisted are free to do evil to those who fail to fight back. Giving away coat and cloak, going the extra mile, giving to everyone who begs or wants to borrow means the giver goes without. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you means they win and you lose and no one wants to be a capital L loser. We’d much rather bring a world of hurt down on the head of those who mess with us and given the opportunity we utterly destroy our enemies and turn the table on those who persecute us making them rue the day they were born. We can always fall back on “saved by grace” and confess like the apostle Paul the good we would do we don’t and the evil we don’t want to do we do, although a more truthful confession is that loving enemies is the last “good” thing we’d ever want to do. Look at what being perfect and forgiving those who “know not what they do” got Jesus. If that’s what perfection leads to I want no part of it and if you are honest neither do you. So let’s resolve to be less than perfect and keep the practice of our faith safely inside the four walls of our sanctuaries and maybe a little charity on the side as long as it doesn’t cost too much and the people who benefit from our generosity are sufficiently grateful. I trust Jesus will understand, after all he’s got to live by his own words and I’m betting I can borrow a little slack and get a free pass on loving my enemies. If that’s a slap in Jesus’ face I’m sorry, but I trust he’ll turn the other cheek. That just sounds wrong doesn’t it? It even makes me uncomfortable and I wrote it, but that’s what we do when we fail to take these words seriously and put them into practice. We call that failure sin and sin is never more deceptive than when it is practiced by the pious who insulate the life of faith from life in the world, the world that Jesus died to save by a perfection that got him punished. So what do we do? Maybe perfection is a process and what I do today is the foundation for what I might do tomorrow and slowly but surely the life of faith has less to do with an hour on Sunday morning, as important as that is to many of us, and more to do with using the other waking hours of the days of our week to practice the perfection of mercy and kindness and love. God knows there are plenty of opportunities in a week to get it right. And all sarcasm aside we do always rely on saved by grace (without slapping Jesus in the face) because Jesus has a robe of righteousness he's dying to give us.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Epiphany 7 A - 1 Corinthians 10-11, 16-23

1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
I am always grateful to God and not a little surprised when the foolish church works in wise ways. It is more often the case that God’s temple is adorned with the architecture of this world, jealously and envy, competition and pride, where each believes their way is the only way. Or in religious terms, the church embracing righteousness lives the law which is secondary at the expense of love which is primary. That being said, unconditional love can be an excuse for excess and the love that comes from God does not last long when consumed by indulgence. Which is why the foundation of faith is not in us or in human leaders or denominational loyalty but is built solely on the foundation of God in Christ becoming one with humanity easily deceived by self, wise in the ways of the world and enamored by futile thoughts. How is it we cannot get this right? How can we who know in our heart of hearts that we depend fully on God’s mercy for ourselves not extend it to others? It could be that we really don’t believe it for ourselves and run from God like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal or like the older brother stay home and work like a slave for that which already belongs to us. But when the party happens and everyone who is invited attends the wise church acts in foolish ways and the grace of God that created such an unlikely gathering makes the future appear in the present and the one thing we get right makes up for all the things we so often get wrong.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Epiphany 7 A - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me your decrees. Give me understanding. Direct me to delight in your commands that my heart might be turned from selfish gain and my eyes from worthless things. Fulfill your promise and take away the disgrace I dread. It would seem the psalmist has firsthand knowledge of the disgrace of selfish gain and worthless things as, perhaps, do we all. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to our own way”  is how the prophet Isaiah describes the time before we came to our senses to see how far we had strayed and in all our longing how secure we might be, if only… That “if only” is the pivotal point of these verses but the whole point is that the psalmist is wholly dependent on God to teach, give, direct, turn, fulfill and take away. Which means the psalmist is wholly dependent on the Lord to turn the course of worthless wanderings into life preserving paths of righteousness. So what part do we play in all of this? The same part the psalmist plays which is to pray the longing of the heart to know and be known by God or to quote a Kris Kristofferson classic, “Lord, help me, Jesus…”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-8
I confess that I am not a big fan of Leviticus. In my less than pious moments I wonder if the Levites wrote all those regulations just to pad their pensions for although they were the tribe that "had no land" they got most of the goods. And I question what seem to be arbitrary laws as I am highly suspicious of the tyranny of religious systems. On the other hand I cannot escape my Augustinian understanding of the depravity of the human creature because I know myself all too well. So what turns out to be saving grace for me in this lesson full of law is the refrain. “I am the Lord your God.” It is not a threat. It’s a promise. It is not conditional. It’s guaranteed. The grace that is found in the whole of scripture is God’s desire to be in relationship with humanity. And like all relationships of significance there are sacrifices made and a joining that calls for compromise. We who are less than perfect are made perfect in God and God who is more than perfect takes on imperfection for the sake of loving us. Martin Luther called it the great exchange. But the part of piety that we often miss entirely is the prominent feature of Leviticus. To be “holy” is all about how we care for others, especially the neighbor, ones in our employ, the poor, the alien, the deaf, the blind because our holiness is about how we care for others in the same way that God’s holiness has everything to do with how God cares for us. So serving the other is serving God and the refrain “I am the Lord your God” is just another way of God saying remember “I love you”.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37
No one can escape this laundry list of sin but those who are angry with brothers and sisters can do so silently, whispering “You fool” under their breath. Those who fail to keep vows to the Lord keep it to themselves and the Lord isn't talking either. Those who look upon another with lust can do so without anyone being the wiser even the one being objectified. But those who carry the certificate of divorce, even when re-married, hear these words of Jesus differently. If Jesus knew the whole story, knew how painful and lonely and hurt I felt, and that I resisted divorce as long as I could because it was the wrong thing I never wanted to do but in the end was the only right thing I could do, what then, Jesus, would you still condemn me? The church throughout the centuries has used these words of Jesus to condemn women, but some men as well, to a life of cut off hands and plucked out eyes demanding they deny themselves rather than divorce the one who beats them every night, or day after day makes them feel stupid or dirty or inadequate or simply unnecessary. We can sanitize these words of Jesus and say he’s speaking in hyperbole. We can say he means what he says and we better get serious about sin or suffer the consequence. Or maybe the anger that destroys relationships, the lust that makes us less than human on both sides of the equation, the dishonesty of vows made and not kept and yes, the promise of the wedding day, so full of hope, so full of joy that ends under the cold hard light of the court is as much hell as anyone needs to know. So is there a day of judgment? Of course there is. And we’re all guilty for the way we have failed to live these words or tried to avoid them or worse, the ways in which we who claim the name of Christ have twisted them. Heaven help us. And of course heaven did, though for Jesus it was hell.