Friday, September 22, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is a contradiction of the more common kingdom where fair play is measured by survival of the fittest and the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. The all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who sat around all day. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a full day’s pay for the last hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something no one ever does. And if we are not outright envious of God’s generosity we are at least stingier than Jesus when it comes to the “kingdom come” where last and first are reversed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Philippians 1:20-30



Philippians 1:20-30
To live is Christ. To die is gain. We tend to believe these two statements in reverse. To live is gain. To die is Christ. Life is held onto as long as humanly possible and death is only welcome when life itself has become intolerable. Or when living a life worthy of the calling is a means to an end. In other words one believes in order to receive a reward (heaven) and avoid punishment (hell). But if the life that is worthy of the calling is the end itself then the gain is the privilege of believing in Christ and sharing his sufferings which means death is just joining more fully with the Christ that is already fully joined to us. The point is that the two are so closely related as to be the same. To live is Christ. To die is Christ. The gain is the same.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm 145:1-8
“One generation commends your works to another” is the way the faith has been passed down through the ages so that the ancient story of mighty acts and awesome works is not lost. More than a myth the ancient story is retold in the living language of the generation entrusted to bear it into the infinite future. Granted, the “passing on” generation always hopes that their way of telling the story will be as enduring as the story itself and that the generation “receiving” the gift will not throw away the wrapping it came in. But the truth is our way of understanding “the Lord gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” is the same for every generation, even if it’s shared on a Kindle instead of a scroll.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah 4:1-11  
Debate about the Book of Jonah is often focused on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine but believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the hot sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger, or smaller, than ours.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Romans 14:1-12

Romans 14:1-12
I think vegetarians might have a quarrel or two with the apostle Paul over who is the weaker brother or sister, after all it's not easy to be vegetarian at a Texas BBQ joint. Thank God for pickles! Of course vegetarians take a little bit of ribbing in Texas but maybe not the same as in the early church where “you are what you eat” were fighting words. Centuries of animosity between Jew and Gentile did not disappear overnight. If anything the differences that could largely be avoided through segregation were now inescapable. So Paul reminds them that they are no longer defined by their personal piety for they all belong to the Lord who welcomes Jew and Gentile alike. That is the part we miss when we elevate one form of piety above another without recognizing that the only question that matters is does it please the Lord. Of course what really pleases the Lord is when we live in harmony with one another which in the end is the highest form of praise. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Psalm 103:1-13

Psalm 103:1-13
This is a “bless the Lord, O my soul” psalm for all who are weighed down by the debt of their sin and held captive by the bill come due that cannot be repaid. That is not to say we do not need to hear God’s accusing voice or consider the anger of the Lord. No, our rebellious ways grieve God in the same way that a child’s willful act of disobedience troubles a parent. But God has determined to put aside righteous wrath in favor of mercy and compassion for God’s own sake because God’s soul is blessed when ours are set free. That is not to say IT does not mean we are set free to continue grieving God and add to our deficit.  As the apostle Paul says it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). The gift of beginning each day with “bless the Lord, O my soul” is to be embraced by the steadfast love that knows no limits remembering anew the benefits that bless us and heal us from the dis-ease of our sin. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lectionary 24 A - Genesis 50:15-21

This is the happy ending to a story of sibling rivalry that led to violence and treachery and a father’s broken heart. It is as much our story as it is theirs. Like Jacob favoring Joseph because he grieves the death of Joseph’s mother Rachael we often do not anticipate the chain of events that follow in the wake of our grief. While Joseph can’t be blamed for being thrown down the well it was his boasting that pushed his brothers over the edge. We often speak in ways unbecoming without considering others. The violence and deceit that broke Jacob’s heart is the tragic consequence of jealously unchecked. This is our story as from Cain and Abel to the present human beings would seem to be predisposed to violence. But the happy ending is our story as well. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons before he dies and maybe repents of that colored coat and the misery it brought. Joseph humbled by his journey from favored son to slave to master of Egypt’s grain surprises his fearful brothers and the family torn apart by deceit is restored in shared tears. It might read like a fairy tale but the truly happy ending to this story flows from a Father’s broken heart over his children’s warring madness who showing no favorites takes on the form of a servant to suffer the harm of the cross in order to preserve more than just “a numerous people.” It is God’s hope that knowing what we know we would be more inclined to live the end of story than the part of the story that comes more naturally to us.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20
The Matthew 18 step by step process for promoting harmony in the church is often cited but rarely followed, at least not in the order Jesus intended. More often than not we stop speaking to the one who has offended us while “venting” to one or two others who then spread it around the church until it gets back to the source of the sin. Along the way some will side with the sinner and the church becomes embroiled in a conflict that was originally a private matter between two people. Meanwhile the pagans and tax collectors look on and laugh and wonder why in the world anyone would want to belong to such a dysfunctional family. But maybe that is where the trouble starts for us. We all say the church is made up of sinners but then seem surprised when members of the church sin against each other. Let’s just own our dysfunctional family status and agree that conflict in the church is the inevitable result of putting sinners in the same pew and expecting them to get along without telling the truth to each other. But Jesus hopes that his love for us will lead to our loving him and our loving him will inevitably lead to loving the other sinners in the room enough to do a difficult thing. The reason you go in private to the one who has sinned against you is because you love Jesus and Jesus loves the dysfunctional family that bears his name.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It is not a debt we care to own up to as loving neighbor as yourself is not as sweet as it sounds. First of all we hardly love ourselves, although we like ourselves well enough to fulfill desires as if they were needs. We almost always neglect the “neighbor” as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan and avoid contact with them when we can. We don’t even fully love those who love us, withholding a certain amount of capital in reserve, fearful that full commitment may lead to personal bankruptcy. That’s the truth. Fear drives the process and love demands more than anyone is willing to pay. If it came easy we’d be better at it and the Bible wouldn’t have to talk about it so much. But as it is we are reluctant to love fully especially when it means we have to sacrifice time or energy or pay real dollars on the debt. There are some who recklessly disregard conventional wisdom and even if they had a rainy day fund would have spent it long ago on the needs of others. We call them saints and most of them are dead or in prison or live in ways the rest of us do not care to live by, thank you very much. They do inspire us, though, don’t they? Maybe enough to put ourselves on a payment plan to pay down the debt of love we can never repay for the Jesus who inspires saints to live with and love neighbors not like themselves died to save us all and has already paid the debt the law demanded.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
The way of the Lord is life in all its fullness but it doesn’t come naturally. Our hearts are more inclined to unjust gain and the falsehood of fooling ourselves with excuses. That is why the psalmist prays to be taught the ways of the Lord and led in the paths of righteousness and so be turned from falsehoods that promise much but deliver nothing. The Lord’s reproach is the truth about us, which is a good enough reason to dread it, but there is life on the other side of a just judgment which is why in our inmost being we long for the law of the Lord that is life.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lectionary 23 A - Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-11
God gives Ezekiel an incentive to warn the wicked, “you will surely die” by tying the prophet’s fate to speaking the difficult word of warning. The “prophetic” voices of our time need no such encouragement to preach against wicked behavior. Many of them make a lucrative career out of warning others although they spend most of their time preaching to the choir. There are some who risk ridicule by standing on street corners warning wicked movie goers and diners of the error of their ways, although personally I think they are misrepresenting the Jesus who ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. The trouble is warnings fall on deaf ears without the benefit of a meaningful relationship and party poopers on street corners have little chance of saving anyone, save those who already considered themselves to be saved. But the Lord’s lament, “as surely as I live I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is not the same as “turn or burn” even as the warning “why will you die?” is not as much a threat as it is an invitation to live. That is because the Jesus who spent a good bit of time cavorting with sinners decided dying for them was the only way the wicked and the ones who warn them would have a chance to live.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Matthew 16:21-28

Peter thinks “the rock” upon which the church will be built should have a say so about its foundation and undergoing great suffering and death is not a part of Peter’s plan for the Messiah. You would think “and on the third day be raised” might make a difference, but it doesn’t. He’s a Galilean fisherman sailing in uncharted waters. He has witnessed miraculous healing and feedings and the transfiguration and even though the wind and waves freaked him out and made him sink he walked on water. When he gets the promotion from “one of the twelve” to CEO he’s already cashed in the keys of the kingdom and is looking forward to living large. The rebuke must have come as a surprise with the “blessed are you” ringing in his ears and while the Gospels do not record his immediate response his later denial in the courtyard would indicate that the “and on the third day be raised” still hadn’t sunk in.  It is true for us as well. We do not wish sorrow away by the power of positive thinking. We cannot revise reality by saying the half empty glass is half full. Half full is the same as half empty in that there is 50 % less to drink. And of course we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. No. The suffering is great. The death is real. Which is why only “and on the third day be raised” can address the very things to which Peter, and we ourselves, say, “God forbid it, Lord!” The power of the resurrection is that it is the only thing that can deny death the last word about us which is why we dare to lose our lives before death can speak. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Romans 12:9-21

This is Paul’s flesh and blood bullet list for the life of spiritual worship that is a holy and acceptable living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) It is a renewed mind conformed to the way of Christ and not the pattern of this world. But the living sacrifice life is a delicate balancing act. If we hold too fast to what is good haughtiness follows on its heels. If we do not hold fast enough we cling to what is evil and neglect what is good. My former LA Fitness Yoga instructor, Aubree, says that balance is an illusion that the body is always making adjustments to maintain. I say when you’ve worked at it as long as Aubree the illusion is reality and when she stands on one foot with the other behind her head (Natarajasana) one cannot tell the difference between a thousand tiny adjustments and standing perfectly still. So it is with the practiced life of faith that depends on Christ to make adjustments to our natural tendency toward pride, envy, arrogance and greed so we might be conformed to the pattern of Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to grasp. (Philippians 2:6) The life of faith balances an otherwise unstable world by rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, greeting strangers as friends, and treating the lowly like the mighty and the mighty like the lowly, though truth is all are loved equally by the Lord. So even if you waver in your life of faith dancers pose God is none-the-less pleased with the effort.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lectionary 22 A - Psalm 26:1-6

Psalm 26:1-6 
David may have penned the psalm but Jesus is the one who embodied it. His blameless life was cut short by wicked evil doers whose deceit did not triumph for the glory of the Lord, high and lifted up on the cross, was vindicated by the empty tomb. But what of David singing this psalm having raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah? (There is no choice when the king commands you come to his bed or tells you go to the front lines of the battle) Maybe the testing and the trying and the proving of David’s heart and mind is in the nature of his life which might have remained “blameless” as a simple shepherd but was destined for tragedy as a king. When by the prophet’s ploy “you are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) God confronts David’s deceit and hypocrisy David does not defend himself but rather relies fully on the unfailing love of God who is just in judging and right in pronouncing guilt. Maybe in showing undeserved mercy to David God also repents of plucking a ruddy young lad out of a pastoral existence and sending him to slay a giant in the armor of his best friend’s father whose throne he will one day steal. I should quit before I entertain any more heresy but the good news is this; if God forgives David, who showed evil doers a thing or two about being wicked, then there is hope for the rest of us who rely on the one who led a blameless life on our behalf, Jesus Christ out Lord

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pentecost 22 A - Jeremiah 15:15-21

The merrymakers do not want to hear what Jeremiah has to say and even he is getting tired of being a party pooper. The word that was the joy and delight of his heart has gone missing like a brook whose waters dry up in the summer heat. Mocked and discounted as a crazy old coot he lashes out at the Lord who has laid on him the weight of righteous indignation. But the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has reached the limit of patience with the protesting prophet and reminds Jeremiah of his place, albeit with a promise. They will turn to you if you turn back to me. No one wants to be a Jeremiah but sometimes we have to tell a difficult truth and not count the cost even if in truth telling we are accused of being false. How then do we know the difference between a precious word and one that is worthless? The worthless word lets us be even if that means we are left to be less than we were meant to be. The precious word leads to life even if it is preceded by a word of a necessary death which no one welcomes but for which one will be eternally grateful.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lectionary 21 A - Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20
The church has been working diligently to accomplish what Jesus promises will forever frustrate the gates of Hades. It is at once a sign of our brokenness and God’s graciousness that we survive despite all our efforts over the ages to demolish the rock upon which we stand, namely the confession of faith that the way of Jesus is the way of God. The truth is you and I, who make up the institution of the church, liberal and conservative and everything in-between, thrive in the shadow of Hade’s gates.  We have overcome the command to be set apart by the overwhelming desire to fit in, replacing the message of peace with rationalizations for war, the plight of the poor with the gospel of prosperity, unity with division, godliness with greed and love with law. But God is not contained in the cathedrals of stone or doctrine or personal piety we have constructed to diminish a grace that defies our desire to disregard it. No. When God confers the keys of the kingdom on the church and declares it to be as solid as a rock it is only because God cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades or the hell on earth we seek to establish.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lectionary 21 A - Romans 12:1-8

The pattern of this world is etched into our DNA which is why conformity with it comes so naturally. Even self-sacrifice and the renewing of the mind can mimic the world’s pattern when pride in personal piety leads us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and less of others than sober judgment allows. But when motivated by the mercies of God the sacrifice of a contrite heart is holy and acceptable and capable of being transformed into something similar to Christ. To be like Christ is to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others without immediately judging them or on the flip side coveting them. Not all members of the body have the same function but all are necessary and of infinite value to the whole because all are loved equally by God. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28
I wonder if the Canaanite woman was present when Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and then chided the disciples for being slow to understand. If so it may be that Jesus is the object of his own lesson. In the past I’ve preached desperation as the woman’s motivation. She is a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon and she will not be denied even if it means being called a dog. That may still be true but it seems ironic then that the lesson Jesus wants the disciples to understand is the one she leads Jesus to learn. After all, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” are the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth. So unless you believe it is not slander to call a desperate mother a dog based on her ethnicity Jesus is as slow as his disciples to fully comprehend the implications of his own words. But before I delve any deeper into blasphemy, what if God in trying to move us beyond ethnic divisions and inbred racism is willing to become a living parable? The Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin in the way this teacher of Israel embodies the prejudice of God’s chosen people destined to be a light to the Gentiles but instead is hell bent on their extermination. And so Jesus in welcoming the woman is the vision of Isaiah 56 in flesh and blood. The foreigner and the outcast and yes, even the eunuchs, all have a seat at the table where previously they begged for crumbs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
The blessings of God are not always measured by the earth bringing forth increase even though God surely knows our need. On the other hand God has given us the ability to feed everyone on the planet even though at present a good portion of the planet’s human population is often at risk of food shortage if not outright starvation. This is exacerbated by the inhumanity bred by hatred and violence that seems to be hard wired into the human DNA. God must surely lament the nations that beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears. Those who love peace and desire the ways of a merciful God of saving health to be known on the earth are faced with the difficult decision to wage war to establish peace. There are no easy answers in the here and now but in light of absolute evil it would seem that the only way God can guide the nations on earth is if the ones who commit heinous atrocities against the innocent are defeated. But even if whatever the current crisis is averted or resolved and the innocent find a momentary respite the only way Psalm 67 will be fully realized is when the ancient prayer of the church, “Come, Lord Jesus” is answered.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Lectionary 20 A - Isaiah 56:1-8

Isaiah 56:1-8
The lectionary cut out the verses of Isaiah 56 that instruct eunuchs not to say “I am just a dry tree” (v.3) but rather rejoice that they shall not be “cut off” from the Lord. (v.5) Instead they will be given a place within the house of the Lord that will be better than having sons and daughters. The Mosaic law makes no such exception as males emasculated by crushing or cutting "may not enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1) Isaiah died long before the provider of the promise was born into human flesh and even if Isaiah had been around he would have been surprised. The One who carried the promise wasn’t castrated but he was cut off by his own people. He wasn’t a foreigner but he was considered an outcast. His death at the hands of the chosen and his resurrection orchestrated by God made possible the promise that restores those castrated by the Law of Moses to the new reality where foreigners have a home and divisions are erased and outcasts are included so that the house of God might be a place of prayer for all people.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Romans 11:1-229-32
The irrevocable gifts and calling of God is Paul’s conclusion to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for “his kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2) Even though the Christ Paul professes was rejected by those who are imprisoned in disobedience, God will in the end be merciful to all of them. It is a daring statement that we diminish when we qualify it based on our limited knowledge. The point is the cross confirms the covenant and unlike people who God laments “honor me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) the promise from God’s lips and the love of God’s heart is one in the same.  If Paul believes God’s mercy extends to descendants of Abraham who do not confess Christ we might even dare to hope God’s mercy extends to those for whom we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish trusting that in the end mercy trumps judgment. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
The psalmist gives thanks for deliverance in the days of trouble and though it might sound like a prayer “Do not forsake the work of your hands” the psalmist already anticipates the purpose of the Lord being fulfilled. That is because the Lord on high bends down to whisper peace to the lowly but laughs out loud at the antics of the arrogant. For in days of trouble, when surrounded by enemies and weakened by strife the cry of the needy will not fall on deaf ears for the love of the Lord is steadfast and endures forever. Therefore the little g gods will have to listen while the lowly praise the Big G God on high and the kings of the earth hearing the song will come down from their thrones and join the choir.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lectionary 19 A - Isaiah 51:1-6

Isaiah 51:1-6
The ransomed of the Lord returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35) but their songs were soon silenced by the harsh reality of cities laid waste by war and neglect and the hostility of homesteaders reluctant to make room for the recently released. The ransomed of the Lord, wearied by the frustrations presented by freedom, were tempted to change their tune like their ancestors wandering in the wilderness and longed to return to the relative comfort of captivity. In the midst of this crisis of identity God reminds them of the past and makes promises for the future to restore in them hope for the present. With eyes lifted to the same stars Abraham could not count they are reminded of their humble beginnings and comforted with songs of deliverance that promise a forever future of joy and gladness. Remembering God’s past faithfulness while anticipating God’s future providence is the song of forever freedom and the way we overcome whatever troubles, whatever frightens, whatever might lead us to become comfortable with captivity.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
“When Jesus heard this he withdrew to a lonely place…” What Jesus heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod. Overcome by grief Jesus needs to get away. And maybe the Messiah also realized John’s violent death meant his days were numbered as well and the powers that be would not be satisfied stilling the voice of the Baptist but would come for the One who John claimed was “greater than me.” But Jesus can’t get away for long as the crowds clamor for more miracles, more entertaining parables, more in your face confrontations with Pharisees and temple big wigs. Compassion for the crowd calls him out of his own need for healing. The disciples short on vision and compassion would send the crowds away to fend for themselves in villages already closed for the night but Jesus has one more trick up his sleeve and multiplying a meager meal makes a feast of five loaves and two fish. If Jesus is the self expression of God’s personality then this is not a God who demands payment upfront but whose own need for solitude and quiet and healing can be interrupted by crowds well fed who not long from now will forsake “hosanna” for “crucify”.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Romans 9: 1-5

Romans 9:1-5Despite Paul’s difficulties with his own people at whose hands he was stoned, beaten, whipped, imprisoned etc. he would still be willing to trade heaven for hell for their sake. Evangelism motivated by great sorrow and unceasing anguish with a willingness to be completely cut off from Christ for the sake of someone else embodies the mind and heart of Christ. He was cut off from the land of living, despised and rejected, a man of sorrow and familiar with grief for the sake of those who betrayed, denied, mocked and crucified him. Too often we act out of spiritual superiority, protecting sacred cows, human institutions and traditions, or our own personal piety etched in stone which even when practiced with all good intentions still obscures the simple truth that the faith is mostly about mercy and a relationship with Christ is worth sharing simply for the sake of the relationship itself.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Desires can be tricky, especially when having them fulfilled turns out to not be desirable at all. But the desires the Lord fulfills are not like the desires that promise much and deliver little, that satisfy self at the expense of others, that cost more than they are worth. The desire the Lord fulfills satisfies fully, for the deepest desire is to have the kind and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love Lord near to us. In times of plenty and in times of want, when having fallen we need to be upheld or bowed down we need lifting up, the Lord opens wide the nail scarred hands that could not be destroyed by the wicked to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And as with most things good and noble and praiseworthy our desires and the Lord’s are the same for the deepest desire of the Lord is simply to be near us.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Lectionary 18 A - Isaiah 55:1-5



Isaiah 55:1-5
Isaiah encourages recently released captives, who doubt the promises that motivated them to leave Babylon, to hope in an offer they should remember. Rebuilding the ancient ruins will not be an easy task but the same promise that delivered them through the wilderness the first time around will deliver them now. Those who had nothing then were given everything so those who have nothing now should expect the same. But you don’t have to be poor to be thirsty as even those who have money to spare often find themselves lacking the peace and comfort riches promise to afford. So we find in this word a promise to which we who have never known captivity in Babylon come running to the Holy One of Israel who offers water, bread, wine and milk that is not restricted to a single nation but is a witness to all people. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Matthew 13:31-3344-52
Despite the disciple’s “Yes”, what we understand about “all these things” is that we don’t really understand the kingdom. That is not to say we don’t know how to package new treasures in old packages and keep the kingdom safely within the boundaries of what we know, which usually means we make the kingdom of heaven conform to the kingdoms we create in our own image, That is true for Christians on both sides of the aisle, those who make social justice the defining characteristic as well as those who see the kingdom through the prism of personal piety. Truth is the kingdom cannot be contained by human constructs and like a mustard seed produces more than one could image or like yeast works unseen or like a hidden pearl waits to be found.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - Romans 8:26-39

 Romans 8:26-39
“All things work together for good” is a bold statement in light of the laundry list of laments that follows. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and being killed all day like sheep led to slaughter sounds like bearing the cross on steroids. I don’t think “all things work together for good” means we should attach some deeper meaning to the suffering that is part and parcel with the human condition. Troublesome times come to the faithful and unfaithful alike but for those who love God all things work together for good because of the “no separation clause” of the covenant. The good for which all things work together is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That means God cannot be separated from our suffering and endures hardship, distress, persecution, famine, etc, right along with us. We don’t desire difficult days or rejoice in our sufferings but we do find great courage and strength and enduring hope that even death cannot destroy the relationship we have with the One who sighs deeply for and with us.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - P{salm 119:129-136

Psalm 119:129-136
I think the psalmist weeps because the nature of God’s statues is not understood. They are not meant to be burdensome or arbitrary or restrictive of liberty. They are wonderful because they enrich relationships within the human community which is the way that both God and the community is blessed. The law of the Lord is about living with each other in peace and harmony, celebrating the good gifts of life, while together enduring difficulties with dignity and patience and enduring hope. A community living in the light of the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, is redeemed from human oppression which is self centered and judgmental, quick to anger and consumed by hatred. But even the secret sins we keep politely hidden diminish relationship and rob us of the joy of living the freedom the law offers. So the psalmist praying for mercy and panting for the commands of the Lord weeps streams of tears for those who do recognize the gift that God offers in the law.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lectionary 17 A - 1 Kings 3:5-12

1 Kings 3:5-12
It is a smart prayer for a boy who doesn’t know how to come or go and one wonders how he thought to pray it. You would expect him to pray for the death of his enemies since the boy had so many. And a long life generally follows praying a shorter life for one’s enemies. Riches almost always makes it to the top of the wish list and despite his estimation of God’s people as great a little extra cash is always appreciated. God is surprised and certainly quite pleased that this second son of Bathsheba and David’s badly begun union turns out to be a king worthy of the title. God grants Solomon understanding and a discerning mind and all the rest as well and for a time there really is no king like him. Unfortunately for Israel and I suppose for God as well, Solomon gives up on the gift of discernment in favor of the counsel of foreign wives and the golden age of Israel ends with a kingdom divided between warring sons. It is the stuff of Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedies and more times than we care to admit our own tales of fortune and folly. It will take a long time but there will be a king who eclipses Solomon and all his splendor. He will never know riches and his life will be cut short by his enemies but in the end his poverty is our wealth and his death and resurrection the only hope for friend and enemy alike.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43



Matthew 13:24-3036-43
The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by them. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds as well as wheat. In the end the job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming good and evil us and them might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are weed and wheat, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Romans 8:12-25

The sufferings of the present may not be worth comparing with the glory of the future but when subjected to futility we groan as in labor and waiting patiently is not as easy as Paul would make it seem. Which is why we are in debt to hope, charging to the future what we cannot afford in the present so that these bodies, decaying day by day, might anticipate the forever future banquet long before the party has started. The nature of faith is to look past the present difficulties without denying that they cause us to groan by keeping our eyes on the prize which is the day when sorrow and sighing will flee and groaning will cease. In the meantime we wait with eager expectation, albeit patiently, by going deeper in debt to hope.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Psalm 86:11-17

The psalmist looks to the Lord, gracious and full of compassion, in the face of violent people intent on doing bodily harm. Maybe it’s not such a good thing that God is slow to anger and full of kindness when the arrogant rise up against you. One might be better served by a great God of might to smite the evil doers. But then all that is needed is a sign of God’s favor that those who hate will be put to shame, which truth to be told, is where redemption begins for us as well. Not the kind of shame that leads to destructive behavior or self loathing. No, it is the sign of God’s favor that exposes the self that is less true than the self on the other side of shame. Arrogance is shamed by humility, violence by peace, hatred by love so that the wicked forsake their ways and set their eyes on the Lord. There is only one sign that can accomplish such things, the sign upon which the child of the Lord’s handmaid was crucified.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lectionary 16 A - Isaiah 44:6-8


The God of Israel is throwing it down in the deity ring. The first, the last, there is no other like me, is laying claim to big G god status. Even though the golden age of Solomon was not solid 14 K and compared to the great civilizations of history hardly merits mention, the Word of the Lord declares otherwise. The One who says “there is no other” is telling the truth. Maybe the proof is that today we praise the God of Israel and not the gods of Assyria or Babylon or Rome. The word for the small and of no account is “do not be afraid” which is the way that this God is like no other. Small g gods are magnified by great civilizations. The big G god magnifies a nation and people of no account.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lectionary 15 A - Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Matthew 13:1-918-23
Good soil does not happen by itself and even without the effort of cultivation is the result of flood or glacier or volcanic eruption. Something happens to make good soil. Hard path and rocky ground and thorn infested field take heart. It’s not your fault. Of course we all hope we are good soil, hearing and understanding and producing bumper crops. But if you are like me you have good soil days and bad, times of rejoicing in the word and times of spiritual drought, times of inner peace and contentment and times when choked by cares and concerns you’re doing well to just get out of bed. The good news is that the seed is sown despite the state of our soil. That’s because the consistent sower sows seed as if seeds were grown on trees and doesn’t seem to understand or care about the economics of agriculture. You don’t waste seed where it doesn’t have a prayer to produce. Some would rename this parable the parable of the soils but I think it’s still all about the sower who recklessly scatters the seeds of hope and peace and love and life everywhere, no matter what, and hopes that on good days or bad, we’ll do the same.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Even John who “came neither eating nor drinking” wondered about his cousin Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) but then Messiahs are held to higher standards than mere mortals. The people who institutionalized the Exodus, ritually recounting God’s intervention through plagues and parted sea, expected the great I AM to show up in the same way the second time round, but the mold of the Passover was broken by the perfect Lamb who turns out to be a drinking man, friend of tax collectors and sinners. Oh vey! What was God thinking? It is clear that in Jesus God is operating outside the religious box of his day, which should give the wise and intelligent of our time reason enough to rethink the ways we try to make the one accused of being a glutton and drunkard more respectable. Not that wisdom is vindicated by excess in food or drink but rather in extravagant hospitality that befriends even those who burdened their own people for a profit or whose lifestyle made them ritually clean. There is no where God will not go to invite the weary and heavy burdened to come and find rest and in doing so hopes Pharisees of every generation will do the same.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Romans 7:13-25

Romans 7:13-25
Ignorance is bliss and if not for the law we would be blissfully ignorant of sin. As it is the law makes us painfully aware of sin’s death grip around our lives as we with Paul lament “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But this confession is not the conclusion of the matter as if we were given a spiritual loophole for bad behavior. That is because Paul is not primarily concerned with the actions of the body but rather the inclination of the heart. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) is how God describes those who hide evil intent behind the mask of outward piety. Since the locus of the rebellious nature of the human being is a refusal to be fully human (and by that I mean to be satisfied being a creature without lusting after Creator status) then Paul’s cry, “wretched man that I am” is far more serious than simple behavior modification can resolve.  So where does that leave us? Some would say it leaves us in the lurch and we’ll live our whole lives struggling with temptations beyond our ability to control which in the end leads one to despise God or despair altogether. No. The conclusion of the matter comes in the verses that follow, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) We do not have to pay our way by penance or accept the way we are is the way we always will be or reject the system as a set up. The resolution of “wretched man that I am” is “there is now no condemnation” which is blissfully, a change of heart.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Psalm 145:8-14

Psalm 145:8-14
If all of the Lord’s works praised and the faithful ones blessed and those who fell down looked to be lifted up the Lord wouldn’t need to be nearly as gracious and compassionate and slow to anger. As it is even the Lord’s own people push the Lord to the limit as if "slow to anger" did not have a tipping point. That doesn’t mean the Lord is stuffing until one day even the Almighty can’t help but vent all over creation. No, it means the Lord’s nature as gracious and compassionate is infinitely more patient with us than we are with each other or ourselves for that matter. The gracious and compassionate nature of the Lord overflows in steadfast love that will not abandon us despite our fickle nature and willful ways. So does the Lord have a tipping point? Not in the way that we do but there comes a time when the Lord leaves us to the destructive works of our hands and minds, a spiritual timeout if you will, until lost and alone, bowed down by the burden of our pride or malice or greed or envy or apathy or lust we turn back to the Lord and experience again the steadfast love that upholds and lifts us up.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lectionary 14 A - Zechariah 9:9-12

Zechariah 9:9-12
On the day that Jesus rode Zechariah’s vision into Jerusalem the daughters of Zion shouted “Hosanna!” and for a moment the prisoners of Roman rule and Pharisaical piety were released and returned to the stronghold of hope. A week later the triumphant and victorious king was humbled by the cross and the only blood of the covenant to be seen was his. But then kings riding on donkeys are consistently cut down by chariots drawn by war horses and humility is not the chief characteristic of one who commands nations to “study war no more”. What the dominions and the daughters could not imagine was that war horses and battle bows and the bars of the waterless pit could not contain this king who, breaking free from the grip of death, became for us the stronghold of hope to which we return again and again. If you trust in power you will be disappointed. If you trust in wealth you will be corrupted. If you trust in self you will be deceived. To be a prisoner of hope is to held captive to a vision of a king who is more humble than we are.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lectionary 13 A - Psalm 89

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18Psalm 89 is a love song to the Lord written by Ethan the Ezrahite, a cymbal player in Solomon’s temple band. His hymn of rejoicing was penned during Israel’s golden age even though it anticipates Solomon’s kingdom split between the lines his sons established, neither of which would last forever. The Northern Kingdom fell first never to rise again and while the Southern Kingdom survived captivity it would never again know the glorious days of Solomon’s reign. The portions of the psalm that we don’t read promise punishment when the children of Israel forsake the law and violate the covenant. Even so God promises never to remove steadfast love from Israel or be false to God’s faithfulness to Judah. When “I could sing of your love forever” is based on human kingdoms and thrones established by the strength of sword and shield, even if the glory is given to God, the song is less than praiseworthy. To trust in God’s faithfulness forever is to sing, “I love you, Lord” when the enemy is at the gate and the city is overthrown and the temple is burned to the ground. That is true for us as well who love the Lord in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. If we claim God’s love for us is unconditional then it follows that our love for God must be as well.