Thursday, May 25, 2017

John 17:1-11
It is a shame we haven’t lived the prayer of Jesus, “so that they may be one” in a way the world can see. Instead the church that Jesus prayed to be protected from the world might need to be protected from itself as denominations and non-denominations (which have become denominations unto themselves) divide and disagree to protect thought and word despite the fact that their deeds are often less than pure. And truth to be told even those who elevate unity above all else live less of it than they like to believe.  But then the people who were present as Jesus prayed didn’t do much better. Certain men from James, the brother of the Lord, criticized Peter (the Rock no less) for eating with non-Jews and he withdrew from doing what he knew was right. Paul didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure with the Jerusalem triad, those “reputed to be pillars” and his letters detail the difficulty believers had in making “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So I suppose we should not be surprised when the ways of the world creep into the culture of the church. That doesn’t mean we can’t live more fully into Jesus’ prayer even while remaining loyal to the denominational lines we love. If we understood being one as singing together in harmony then every note in the Christian chorus has a place in the choir and as long as we don’t insist on our note being the best perhaps the world would hear a different tune coming out of the church and want to listen or maybe even sing along.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Easter 7 A - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

1 Peter 4:12-14 5:6-11
In the middle of these passages about fiery ordeals and insults and roaring lions on the prowl is the passage that makes standing firm possible. “Cast all your anxieties on God who cares for you.” The ability to “cast” depends on trusting God cares for us despite all that tends to increase anxiety. For Peter’s people it was organized persecution intent on stamping out the followers of the crucified and now reportedly resurrected Jewish rebel. Our anxieties are not produced by persecution but that doesn’t mean we do not experience them as fiery ordeals or roaring lions. Relationships gone sour, jobs lost or threatened, more bills than income at the end of the month, cells that rebel and multiply, fears without and within, all of it produces anxiety that steals our sleep and colors our world in shades of gray until we despair of life itself. To lay the blame on lack of faith merely adds to the anxious list which is why Peter reminds his people “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” To humble oneself is to admit you can't go it alone which is why we’re in this thing together. Anxiety is diminished when shared as God intended casting cares on Christ to be a communal exercise. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easter 7 A - Psalm 68

Psalm 68:1-10

I wonder if the apostle Paul thought about Psalm 68 when he wrote to the Romans, “...while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled through the death of the Son…” It’s a little different than, “may you blow your enemies away like smoke.” That’s not to say God grants pardon without purpose or that the rebellious don’t experience some measure of life as sun scorched land. David suffered loss of relationships and peace for his many sins despite his “man after God’s own heart” status but God never drove him away or melted him like wax before a fire. Perhaps it is because God’s deepest desire beyond being parent to the orphan, defender of the widow, family for the lonely, pardon for the prisoner, provider for the poor is to be reconciled to enemies.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 7 A - Acts 1:6-14

Acts 1:6-14
I am comforted by the thought of an eternal future where finally free of all that diminishes life we will live fully into the hopes and dreams and desires of God. But when the faith we preach is more about eternal reward than temporal reality the question might be asked of us, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Like most things Lutheran we do better when we balance what will be with what is. So we count on a day of redemption, but it is not why we love the Lord. It is for the here and now that we believe despite the gold standard of the Protestant work ethic, namely delayed gratification. Rather we, like the first disciples, are told to leave the mountain and go home because there is much to be done. Living the future in the present is to be devoted to the kind of constant prayer that spends more time on its feet than on its knees. And while hands clasped together might be more pious, hands open wide for service are more helpful.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Easter 6 A - John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21
I’m hoping “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” is based on a sliding scale otherwise most of us are toast. And of course the Father sending the Advocate to be with us forever is out of the question if the Spirit’s coming is based on merit. Without revealing any details, and as long as hating and lust violate commandments five and six, I believe I’ve broken all ten. Maybe you have as well which means we can’t treat this text literally because we who do not keep commandments really do love Jesus and believe he lives in us, at least as a frequent guest if not a permanent resident. So if being “loved by my Father” is more than a reciprocal arrangement based on how well we keep the commandments, especially the most difficult one to love our enemies, then “I will not leave you orphans” really is good news.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Easter 6 A - 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 Peter 3:13-22
Baptism, which Peter calls an appeal to God for a good conscience, has been the source of division in the church even though both those sprinkled as infants or dunked as adults claim to be baptized into one body. But since there are no step by step instructions in the scriptures as to when, where or how much water to use it’s been left to the church to fill in the blanks, which always means the body of Christ takes a beating. The adult dunkers dismiss the infant sprinklers baptism as invalid because of not enough water and besides babies can’t believe. The infant sprinklers defend themselves saying the adult dunkers are all wet and miss the anecdotal evidence in the scripture of whole households baptized or the meaning of Jesus’ command, “Let the little children come unto me.” I believe all of our rules and regulations surrounding this ritual miss the point that Peter is making.  Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience which is, of course, the opposite of a guilty one. A conscience free from guilt, and the only thing that brings one to God, is Christ dying once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Baptism is a sign not the source of salvation. And if there was any doubt as to the extent of God’s mercy even the spirits in prison who were baptized in the flood – a little too much water if you ask me – get paroled.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Easter 6 A - Psalm 66:8-20

Psalm 66:8-20
This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm that remembers times of trouble. But not just any trouble, like waking up to a hot water heater leaking trouble that complicates life and blows budgets. It’s not like trouble you see coming but can’t stop from stepping in and making a mess of things. No. This is “God tested us” trouble. You put us in prison. You loaded burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads (presumably on horseback). Refined like silver, passed through fire and water, the God tested psalmist declares, “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” I think we heard it and it didn’t sound very praiseworthy. But then the people who penned and first sang the psalms gave God glory for everything, good, bad or otherwise. If we apply this psalm to our times a tornado is a test. You flattened our homes. You smashed our cars. You killed our loved ones. You refined us like silver? I have trouble with that. Not because God can’t do whatever God wants. God is God and we are not. But if the cross is how God chooses to be known then “God tested us” does not come as twisters or tsunamis for in the cross of Christ the love of God is tested and is more true than all the things that trouble us. What then of God testing? It is the cross for us as well. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) And so we pray for the people of Joplin and provide for them out of our abundance for in service to others the sound of praise is heard.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 6 A - Acts 17:22-31

Acts 17:22-31
A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow this god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be a measure of his success. A good number of people in our time prefer God remain unnamed even if they might go to God in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up even in decidedly secular societies. The God not served by human hands still desires humans to search and perhaps groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves a lot up to chance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed, and Jesus asked God to forgive even those who nailed him naked to wood, maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died to be found.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” does not deny things that hurt the heart. That is why it is followed immediately by “believe in God, believe also in me.” An untroubled heart is not an act of strength or stone faced stoicism. It is as the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, a transformation brought about by the renewing of the mind. Even so “How can we know the way” and “Show us the Father” are legitimate questions and if disciples who saw “face to face” asked them then how much more should we “who see as through a mirror dimly” be allowed times of questioning. Jesus didn’t say it explicitly but I’m certain it was part of the plan that when he went off to design dwelling places he meant the disciples to wait together so that hearts might help each other beat as one. “Do not let” does not lead to troubles magically disappearing and long days and sleepless nights still wear down the body and the mind but believing the God of the cross has prepared a place of peace and comfort that comes with the Christ to hearts gathered as one is a sure and certain comfort for the afflicted and real rest for the weary.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Easter 5 A - 1 Peter 2:2-10

Longing for spiritual milk is a good thing if those well fed on faith do not withhold mercy from those who are less than conscientious about their spiritual diet. If mercy made us God’s people then the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God is not a piety that isolates but a radical inclusion in the same way that Jesus ate and drank with undesirables. That being said Jesus ate and drank with purpose so that those who are starving for lack of real relationship with the God calling them out of darkness might be bathed in marvelous light. The spiritual house is only as sturdy as its weakest stone, therefore “encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Easter 5 A - Psalm 31

Psalm 31
“My times are in your hands” is true whether one acknowledges it or not. We were born without being consulted and no matter the manner of our end there is only one way out. Living in-between birth and death we are continually pursued by all manner of enemies that mean to do us harm and sooner or later catch up with even those who live as they say, a charmed life. Resistance is futile and denial of death leads one to act in ways that may in fact hasten one’s demise. But to say “into your hands I commit my spirit” in the midst of life means the in-between time that we are given belongs to the One whose unfailing love is a refuge, a rock, a fortress. I can live fully into the limitations of my life because the God I trust is limitless. I can be honest about my fear of traps set for me and confess my love of traps I set for myself. The freedom found in the faithful God who dying our death denied death the last word is that we can let go of holding tightly onto our times and in doing so live them more fully, more honestly, more faithfully. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Easter 5 A - Acts 7:55-60

Acts 7:55-60
The end of Stephen’s story is but the beginning for a young man named Saul. The first great persecution broke out as soon as Stephen “fell asleep” and Saul, who may have been a little too zealous even for the religious leaders who killed Jesus, is sent to fight the good fight in Damascus. Of course it is on the road that Saul, full of hatred, has his own experience of God’s glory and soon afterwards Paul, “full of the Holy Spirit” is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The truth is if Stephen had not been so vocal in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9) he could have gone on serving tables while the apostles taught (Acts 6:2-5) and the yet unnamed body of believers might have been happy to stay in Jerusalem waiting for the Lord’s return. In a strange twist of fate, which is often how the Holy Spirit works, the stoning of Stephen is the spark that fans the flames of Pentecost and the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria will soon reach “the ends of the earth” just as Jesus told them they would. That’s the way it is with us when, content to sit and wait, something happens to get us moving and motivated, even when running away from something is really running towards something else.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Easter 4 A - John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10“With you, O Lord” is one of my favorite songs from the Taize community in France. “With you, O Lord, is life in all its fullness and in your light we shall see true light.” There comes a moment in the repeated singing of this simple phrase when the song is more true for me than all the things that tend to diminish the abundant sufficiency of  “with you, O Lord.” By that I mean the seeking after vain illusions where life is measured by one’s possessions or accomplishments or status and on the flip side the devaluation of life that inevitably follows such seeking. Or life in that lonely place where putting on a happy face and keeping busy hides the deep pain or shame or sorrow that despite the practiced skill in hiding it from others is somehow always present with you. The thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy does so by deception. The reason it works so well is because we are so good at it ourselves. All this less than sufficient life comes at the expense of significant relationships, most notably the one where “with you O Lord is life in all its fullness”. The good news is that the One who came that “they might have life and have it abundantly” continues to open the gate and call out our names.  Sometimes in ways we can recognize and respond to and sometimes when reaching the bottom the only way out is up we determine to do that which we’ve always known was in our best interest. No matter how it happens this abundant life is measured not by possessions but by peace. That peace within when even all around is not anticipates the day when life in all its fullness won’t only be experienced in moments of Spirit gifted clarity or conscience but in the fullness of forever. In the meantime there are places we can go to enter the place of peace in the present. A warm embrace, an act of kindness, forgiveness asked for and received or the sound of laughter or a song in the sanctuary sung again and again and again until it is as true as your heart always knew it was meant to  be.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

1 Peter 2:19-25
We might bemoan the decline of the church but look on the bright side; no one is beating us up for professing Christ. It could be that the early Christians attracted more attention by the way they lived and the message they proclaimed even though the letters of Peter encourage them to fly under the radar while always being ready to give a reason for the hope they have albeit with gentleness and respect. We’ve become increasing irrelevant to our society, unless you happen to plaster your prediction of the rapture on billboards or decide to burn a Koran on the church lawn. Then even NPR gives Christians air time. In stage and screen religious folks are generally portrayed as bigots or idiots or well meaning but misguided do-gooders. Some of the criticism is well deserved and if we have become irrelevant it is no one’s fault but our own. This age is no more or less corrupting than any other as human nature has remained unchanged from the beginning.  So rather than blame others or beat up on ourselves or bury our heads in the hymnal perhaps we should rejoice and endure, suffering for doing right which is to follow in the steps of Jesus. To follow Jesus is to leave the safety of the sanctuary and seek out the woman at the well and eat at the home of the tax collector and critique even the most sacred symbols of our faith in order to heal on the Sabbath and overturn tables in the temple even if it gets us crucified. We do not engage the world to warn it of impending doom or because we need more people in the pews to pay the bills or to impose our morality or piety on others. It is because we are convinced that the God come down in Jesus Christ God has destroyed death once and for all and by his wounds we have been healed which means love wins.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Easter 4 A - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The promises of Psalm 23; green pastures, still waters, soul restored, right paths followed, comfort and confidence in death’s dark valley, a feast in front of foes, head anointed with oil, cup overflowing, goodness and mercy and a home in the house of the Lord all happen in the statement of surrender, "the Lord is my shepherd." The second statement “I shall not want” happens because of the first. Of course surrendering and not wanting does not come naturally to us. The story of “the fall” is all about humans not being satisfied with paradise and because the fruit was pleasing to the eye and useful for knowledge attempting an upgrade from creature to creator introduced the virus that infects us all today. We infect this psalm with that virus when we turn the shepherd into a service provider of green pastures and still waters or even the forever home in the Lord’s house. But to surrender to the shepherd is to be satisfied with creature status and trust that the one who comforts us through the valley of the shadow of whatever threatens us knows the way. That means green pastures can exist where there is no grass and still waters can be in the middle of a rushing river and the right path is the one we’re on even as the feast is as much for the foe as it is for us. And when we submit to the Shepherd "with us" in every and all circumstances we slow down so goodness and mercy can catch up with us and the forever house of the Lord can be our home today.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Easter 4 A - Acts 2:42

In the first days of the church everyone got along so well they spent “much time together” at temple and table and shared all their possessions without complaining or comparing contributions to the common pot. The people of Jerusalem looked upon them kindly and with glad and generous hearts the church grew by leaps and bounds and everyone lived happily ever after. It would be nice if that were so but then this would be just another fairy tale with a make believe happy ending. Instead this is a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times who overcame incredible odds. Persecution from without and divisions from within quickly followed the windy day of Pentecost and the letters of Paul detail the cultural and religious difficulties of grafting Gentiles onto the Jewish vine. But the faith we profess survived because of their devotion, despite overwhelming difficulty, to the story of Jesus. The faith we profess survived because they modeled the message by loving each other deeply from the heart. The faith we profess still gathers around the meal that was the center of their worship. The faith we profess is still the one that called them to daily prayer for all people. When these four marks of the faith are forgotten or neglected the church inevitably loses its way. We find ourselves in an extraordinary time where the church is called to embody the story of Jesus in the same way the early church did. To be devoted to the simple truth of the Gospel, “God so loved the world…”; to be devoted to the fellowship where when one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice; to be devoted to the communal gathering that celebrates the feast of the future in the present; to be devoted to a life of prayer expressed by hearts that love and hands that serve. I don’t know if that means we’ll increase in numbers day by day but I am confident we will make a difference in the world and maybe that’s more important than filling pews with people.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Easter 3 A - Luke 24:13-49



Luke 24:13-49
“We had hoped…” is how Cleopas and friend express the deep disappointment at what could have been but wasn’t. To have come so close to realizing the dream, all Jerusalem shouting as Zion’s King entered the city just as Zechariah prophesied, made it all the more difficult. Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, clearing the temple of corruption, shutting up Pharisees and Sadducees and self righteous big wigs with clever answers to tricky questions, in deed and word set the city on edge with expectation.  But people in power don’t give up that easily and while Jesus may speak mightily it turns out he’s a pushover and his followers are no match for a coup accomplished in the middle of the night. They woke to find the one who would redeem Israel already condemned and nailed to a Roman cross along with all their hopes for Zion. Heads hung in sorrow, Cleopas and friend head home to Emmaus only to meet a clueless stranger who turns out to know more about the story than they do. Hearts burning within them they don’t want the conversation to end and pressing him to stay sit down to dinner. But then the stranger does something oddly familiar and before they can say a word Jesus vanishes into the breaking and blessing and passing of bread. Take and eat suddenly means more than it did on Thursday night and without waiting for morning they rush back to join the chorus, “The Lord has risen!” This is a story for all who live in that place of deep regret, of hopes and dreams dashed, of disappointments that weigh heavily on the heart and cause heads to hang in sorrow. For in the oddly familiar Jesus appears to us at table when bread broken is a sign of the promise fulfilled and anticipated.  Jesus appears to us when walking together on the long journey home “Lo I am with you always” makes our hearts burn within us because it is truer than we can ask or imagine or believe.  And in the “necessary suffering” the God far off has come near so that all suffering and sorrow and yes, even death itself, might one day disappear.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice” is comforting because of the verse that follows. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the faithful.” Truth is if God healed all who cried out “save my life!” the planet would be crowded beyond capacity. The Lord, gracious and merciful, protects the unwary and lifts up those who are brought down so that even when the pangs of death surround our loved ones we are the ones who are lifted up by the promise the apostle Paul declares; “whether we live or whether we die we belong to the Lord.” Which means in every and all circumstances we lift up the cup of salvation trusting that one day we will walk with those we love in the land of the forever living. Praise the Lord.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Easter 3 A - Acts 2:36-46

“What should we do?” It is a legitimate question even if Peter gives what may be the wrong answer. "Repent and be baptized." Now I have nothing against repenting. God knows I do it all the time. And I have nothing against being baptized even if I was too young to agree to mine. But if the "what should we do" question is really just more of the same for the people who ask it ( and us for that matter) then the preaching of Peter on that Pentecost morning misses the point of the Friday we call Good. By that I mean if "what shall we do" is done to get God to do something in return then we might as well go back to being kosher. The people who asked "what should we do" were the keepers of the covenant and the people of the plan and yet it was their piety that drove them to kill the promise because Jesus did not fit the pattern of what the law demanded. And so the rule breaker was done away with and the only wrinkle in the plot was that he came back to life and his foolish followers wouldn’t stop talking about him. So saving oneself from a corrupt generation cannot be about adherence to the law, obeying the rules, toeing the line, following the straight and narrow. It must be about whatever Jesus was about. Like forgiving those who put hammer to nail and fastened his hands and feet to wood? What shall we do with that? It may be that despite Peter’s concrete answer we all need to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) trusting that in Jesus “what should we do” is a moot question because Jesus did it all.


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!”