Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Epiphany 5 A - Psalm 112

Psalm 112
Psalm 112 might be titled the “early to bed early to rise makes one healthy wealthy and wise” psalm. But it might also merit a Gospel title as in “to whom much is given much is required.” (Luke 12:48) So even if the psalm sees a direct correlation with “delight in the Lord’s commands” and “wealth and riches are in their houses” the righteousness of those well off comes from being gracious and merciful, honest and generous, by distributing freely to the poor and conducting their affairs justly. So their hearts do not skip a beat when evil tidings come knocking for they are secure in the knowledge that the Lord is infinitely more generous than they are. So I guess the best title for Psalm 112 might be from Romans 14:8. "Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” However, if those who revel in verse three forget the responsibility of verse four and five while completely ignoring the duty of verse nine then the more appropriate word about wealth is from Jesus. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24

Monday, January 30, 2017

Epiphany 5 A - Isaiah 58:1-12

Isaiah 58:1-12
I’m not a big fan of the theological conditional clause “If” which is why I lean towards the Lutheran understanding of saved by grace and even more to Karl Barth’s way of hoping that God’s ultimate plan is the salvation of all people. But then this text is not about eternal consequences and/or rewards just yet. This conditional clause is about the consequences of ignoring God’s “if” in the here and now as imagined by the prophet Isaiah long ago. The consequence of not sharing our bread with the hungry poor is that the poor go hungry. The consequence of not bringing the homeless into our house is that they have no shelter. The consequence of not clothing the naked is that they have no clothes. The consequence of a blanket ban of refugees is that refugees are held captive or worse lose their lives to the violence that they are desperate to escape. You get the picture. The consequences of our inaction are borne by those we refuse to help, house, clothe, feed or welcome into the land of the free. But we suffer the unseen consequence as the life we think the Lord loves, namely ours, is not known by the Lord which makes all our fasting foolish and our claim to be followers of Jesus a mockery of the One we say we love and serve. But on the reverse side of the conditional clause if we heed the call to meet the needs of the lost and the least and the refugee we will be what we thought we were all along, namely, Christ like.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Epiphany 4 A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
Those of us who have been forever contaminated by close contact to Monty Python’s movie “Life of Brian” are no longer able to listen to or read these verses without thinking of the line “blessed are the cheese makers.” I’ll risk an explanation for those of you who are still pure of heart. In the movie those who are on the edge of the large crowd are having trouble hearing Jesus so one of them asks, “What was that?” The response is, “I think it was blessed are the cheese makers” which in turn prompts the response, “What’s so special about the cheese makers?” I don’t think many outside the church are offended by Life of Brian and probably laugh during it unless they find British humor too British. But I bet a good number of Christians think a movie that makes fun of the sacred story is nothing short of blasphemy. So is it? I don’t think so and here’s the why. Satire cannot exist in a vacuum. The reason Monty Python is able to play games with these powerful words of Jesus is because those who follow Jesus have failed to live them. The movie is not a satire of Jesus but of us. To quote another Python-ism, “It’s a fair cop.” 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Epiphany 4 A - 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

I've spent significant time, energy and resources learning the proper way to talk about this foolish message. It seems ironic to me that maybe a good bit of theology or God talk (theos=God logos=word) is about making the foolish message sound wise. By that I mean (you see how it happens) religious professionals (or is that the professionally religious) carefully define this foolishness so as to fit it into an orthodox box lest we sound silly and stray into heresy. Don’t get me wrong, how we talk about God matters but the cross is not a theological construct. It is a sadistic instrument of torture conceived by the wise and powerful human mind. And in Jesus God decided foolishly in weakness to die on one. I think I’ll stop and stay with that thought for awhile before dressing up the ugliness of the cross in carefully constructed theologizing. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Epiphany 4 A - Psalm 15

Psalm 15
These are not requirements for entering the tent of the Lord but a description of what happens to those who the holy hill their home. Ones who slander and do evil to friends, despising their neighbors, who charge for favors and take bribes to pervert justice, prefer mansions in the valley to a tent on the hill. Doing what is right and speaking the truth from the heart, walking the blameless way, is produced by close proximity to the One who pitches the tent in the first place. It is not a heavenly hill, but it is none-the-less a “hill far away”. The One who really was blameless stood by his oath to save and in his suffering death made the hill where the wicked had their way, holy. There is a transformation then which takes place when one consistently sees the sunrise from that Holy Hill and days are spent not in pursuing selfish desire but in sacrificial love, as in standing by an oath, even when it hurts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Micah 6:1-8 - Epiphany 4 A

The controversy God has with the people of Micah’s time is that they prefer ritual righteousness to righteous acts, though truth to be told they’re wearied by rituals as well. God takes Israel to court to work out a settlement to renew the covenant and get Israel back on a payment plan. The surprise is that the sacrifice for the sin of soul will not be more of the same, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, or God forbid, the first born fruit of one’s body. Instead the righteous rituals of the new deal will be to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The difference is ritual righteousness; sacrifices that take the place of or pay the penalty for the sin of the soul can be and are often superficial. Offering at the altar might cost the pocketbook and take some time but ultimately nothing has to change. You pay the fine, take the points on your driver’s license and still ignore the speed limit. (except on 820 in Hurst, TX just north of exit 22) But if the sacrifice for the sin of soul is to do justice the soul that oppresses is healed. If it is to love kindness the soul that is mean is mended. If it is to walk humbly with God the arrogant soul far from the Lord is restored to a right relationship. That doesn’t mean the sin sick soul can’t turn Micah 6:8 into a slogan and stamp it on t-shirts and hats and posters and coffee mugs and bumper stickers and like wearing a WWJD bracelet feel good about taking a stand while not doing a damn thing to do what God demands and make a difference in this world. Truth is this remedy for the sin of the soul is a cure but few are willing to swallow the pill for fear it will mean a significant lifestyle change, which of course it will, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Epiphany 3 A - Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23
I understand the sentimental attachment Christians have to this call story but truthfully it is not a positive metaphor for evangelism. Fishers of people might be quite happy with the idea that God uses them to catch people for Christ but being caught by those who “fish for people” means the “fished” are ensnared in a net or deceived by a lure or hooked by bait none of which paints the process of conversion in a positive light. More than that there is no life for the fish once caught as living outside their watery world is not an option. Granted I might be overthinking the metaphor. Maybe what Jesus was saying to those fisher folk stripped down and sweating is that getting people to accept Jesus as “God with us” is not that different from sweating over nets and dragging one’s livelihood from the Sea of Galilee. Which means we do what we can do with what we’ve been given. There will be those who object to any effort we make as a violation of their territorial waters of secularism or outright unbelief but truth is we have no reason or right to fish in those waters anyway. What we can and must do is fish every day in daily waters calm or stormy. But not with net or lure or bait but with all our heart, mind and soul so that those who object to the arrogance of the church are won over by the humility of Christianity. We love others so that others will love Christ even though we have all learned the language of love as a foreign tongue.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Okay, so I got ahead of myself last week and skipped over Paul’s introductory remarks about sanctified saints enriched in speech and knowledge to get to the conflict I knew was coming. It is amazing how many Spirit filled, stockings stuffed with manifest gifts, Bible believing Christians who know the Corinthian correspondence chapter and verse miss Paul’s point altogether. On the other hand I remember when the wind of the Spirit rocked my world and set me on fire for the Lord. I scorched more than a few friends and neighbors with my new found personal relationship with Jesus piety. There’s nothing worse than a reformed sinner who only remembers the moment of conversion and forgets how many conversions it took to get one to finally stick. But then the Corinthians are not so much reformed back-sliders as they are religious junkies who revel in the novelty of ecstatic speech and hedonistic excess justified by grace gone wild. And even though Chloe’s people report some follow Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or Christ, truth is the Corinthians are following their own desires. Preferring the tongues of angels they neglect the language of love and empty the cross of its power because they trust their own wisdom and manufacture whatever truth suits their fancy. This is the week of prayer for Christian unity and yet divisions in Christendom continue to be common as those destined to spend significant time together in eternity can’t seem to set aside the petty differences of the present to be the one in Christ people, by the grace of God, they were meant to be. Instead the church puffed up with pride, thinking its primary purpose to be the sole gate keeper to heavenly bliss, has finally reaped the reward of its arrogance and become irrelevant to those who know what legitimate love looks like without any help from the church, thank you very much. If those inside the church can’t get along with each other why would anyone outside the church want to “come and see”? We spend a lot of time and effort defining ourselves by what divides us. I belong to Luther. I belong to Calvin. I belong to Wesley. I belong to Rome. I belong to Canterbury. And yes, I belong to Christ. But the foolish message of the cross is that in Christ we belong to each other.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Epiphany 3 A - Psalm 27

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
The confidence celebrated in Psalm 27 is not due to the absence of things of which one might rightly be afraid. In fact the psalmist anticipates a day of trouble and even now is surrounded by enemies. So this is not a “you’ve got to accentuate the positive eliminate the negative” sort of psalm. That denial of true trouble cannot long withstand the onslaught of all that destroys hope and robs us of well being. But I believe it to be true that songs sung and music made in the midst of trouble, even through clenched teeth and weeping eye, diminish the darkness and encourage confidence, for in the light and salvation of the Lord we see the sanctuary of hope and gaze upon the beauty of peace that is the face of Christ. One my favorite songs of the monastic community in Taize, France is Nada te turbe. “Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God will never go wanting. God alone fills us.” It is the way of faith to remember when in the past God our helper lifted our head above all that troubled, all which frightened, so that when we experience difficult days in the present we can by memory sing the song that anticipates the time of rejoicing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Isaiah 9:1-4
This seems a timely text for a day that remembers the light that dawned in this country when the voice of a 20th century prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., called for the yoke of burden to be lifted from the shoulders of African Americans and the rod of oppression that kept them enslaved to systems which denied them denied basic civil rights to be broken. I hope that no matter where we stand on the political spectrum we can agree that denying people equal access to seats on a bus or at a lunch counter or the right to vote or what school one can attend based on the color of one’s skin violates the very principles upon which this country was founded. And therefore no matter what we might think of Dr. King I hope we can acknowledge he was a man of great courage and conviction whose commitment to justice changed our country for the better. But of course that’s not what Isaiah had in mind when he penned this prophecy as the “he” who brought the land of Zebulun and Naphtali into contempt was the same “he” who would later make glorious their way to the sea. What seems ironic to me, in light of my introductory remarks, is why these two tribes were brought into contempt in the first place. When the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were given the prettiest land in Palestine they didn’t obey God’s command and kill the resident Canaanites but lived among them, which meant at some point a Zebulun Romeo fell in love with a Canaanite Juliet and that is certainly not kosher. Of course that’s not the reason the Assyrians brought anguish to these two lands, that happens much later, but it would seem that the very thing that Dr. King preached about after having “been to the mountaintop” is at odds with God’s demand for racial purity in the conquest of the original Promised Land. But then the prophet who penned the prophecy could not fully foresee the future that was being promised. The great light that would shine over deep darkness did not come from Jerusalem but from the land corrupted by Romeo and Juliet’s romance. The “he” that would make glorious the way of the sea and would lift the yoke of burden and break the rod of the oppressor would do so not by ethnic cleansing but by bearing the anguish of the cross on his shoulders banishing the deep darkness of death with the light of resurrection dawn. So maybe it is a timely text for a 20th century prophet who knew himself to be a sinner but by the grace of God a saint as well, a man who like most prophetic voices resisted the call at first but once claimed by the vision did not withdraw even when he knew it would lead to his death.

Friday, January 13, 2017

How is “Rabbi, where are you staying?” an answer to “What are you looking for?” unless of course what the two disciples are looking for is a place to stay. In that case “Come and see” is exactly what they want to hear and before you know it at least one of the two disciples of John the Baptist, namely Andrew, has moved in with Jesus and found a spot on the couch for his brother Peter as well. Six chapters later Andrew will find a boy whose mother packed him a sack lunch and bring him to Jesus and Jesus will turn the boy’s five small barley loaves and two sardines into a feast for more than 5000. That’s what happens when “Where are you staying?” is really “Can we come with you?” and “Come and see” is really “Follow me.” It’s not any different today, although the Gospel makes everything except the crucifixion sound easier than it really was. Andrew leaves the familiar to follow the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and Simon, whose name means “to hear”, listens to his brother without any evidence that what Andrew is saying is true and subsequently becomes Peter “the “rock” on whose confession the church is built, though that will get him crucified just like Christ he confesses. I do not believe God orchestrates all the details of our lives, but like the two disciples of John I do believe God can be found in the timing of chance encounters and overheard conversations that lead those of us who have found a dwelling place in the Christ to step out of our comfort zone and for a moment be Andrew inviting those who God has put in our path to “Come and see.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Epiphany 2 a - 1 Corinthians 1:1-

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The opening verses to the Corinthian correspondence follow the Pauline pattern of over the top thanks for the faithful (the letter to the Galatians being the exception) before getting down to the heart of the matter. “I hear there are quarrels among you…” (1:11) While Paul might not always haven “given thanks” for his brothers and sisters in Corinth he did have affection for them and hoped that they might live more fully into the gifts God had given them. To our great benefit his struggle with those puffed up with pride produced “Love is patient and kind…” which is as good a prose as has ever been penned. The foundation upon which 1 Corinthians 13 “love is” depends is the faithfulness of God who called the Corinthians into fellowship (1:9) and enriched them with gifts so that they might be a blessing to each other and subsequently the world. We might lament of all the ways in which the church has not lived out the grace of its calling but I think a better approach is to marvel at the ways the church works despite its being led by and inhabited by less than perfect people. So we should not be surprised that the Corinthians coveted the gifts without giving credit to the giver. Or that the Galatians gave up the radical freedom of the Gospel for the familiar security of the law. We should be surprised that despite our failings we will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, which might mean we try harder in the here and now to live into our inheritance.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Epiphany 2 A - Psalm 40:1-11

Psalm 40:1-11
I don’t mean to question the psalmist’s recollection but most people don’t wait patiently while sinking in a slimy pit. Of course when one has been rescued and is standing on a rock with a new song to sing the days of desperation might be remembered as patient waiting rather than a daily struggle to hold on to hope. But then maybe the psalmist’s patient waiting is not meant to be in the style of Norwegian stoicism or the British stiff upper lip. No, the psalmist’s cry from the mud and mire was loud and long enough for the Lord to finally hear. If that is true than patient waiting is not silent but is making the Lord your trust even when there is no end in sight and you can’t sink any lower in the pit of circumstances that have conspired against you. Patient waiting means continually crying out until the Lord’s ear is inclined in your direction. And when at last one is rescued the crying out in desperate days becomes a new song of salvation and we tell the glad news of deliverance for the sake of those who are still waiting for a firm place to stand.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Epiphany 2 A - Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1-7
“You are my servant” is a dialogue between the “Holy One” and the “polished arrow” who wonders aloud if it was all for nothing. “I have labored in vain…” The one hidden away in the quiver is only as good as the One who draws the bow which is why the arrow expresses confidence in the archer. “My cause is with the Lord…” Even so the plan for vindication before kneeling kings and prostrated princes would not be without pain. God does not work outside the boundaries of our human experience and chooses to use what is weak to shame the strong and what is foolish to confound the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27) That is not to say God’s way of working does not have real life human consequences and for no fault of their own the lives of the “deeply despised” lit up the night skies of Auschwitz; but then that is why God was nailed to wood and died screaming like a wounded animal. You want pretty? Go somewhere else. God does not offer solutions to human savagery that deny human free will to act in ways that are less than human. In the end humans are responsible for what happens in this world. Salvation is revealed when you and I recognize it is not too light a thing for us to be servants who make a choice for a different world. It might mean crucifixion. No. It will certainly mean crucifixion. But then in the dialogue between what is and what will be crucifixion always anticipates resurrection. “Is it too light a thing that you should be my servant…” 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord Year A - Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 3:13-17
Matthew’s version of Jesus’ baptism has more dialogue than Mark or Luke but all three end in the same way. God declares Jesus the beloved Son with something like a dove coming out of heaven to “alight” on him after which Jesus is driven (Mark) or led (Matthew, Luke) into the wilderness to be tested, tried and/or tempted for forty days. The point is not to be missed. Jesus baptism is followed by forty days of fasting followed by three temptations that target the very words that sustained Jesus through the forty days. “You are my beloved Son.” Our baptisms are intended to give us the same confidence so that like Jesus being tempted after suffering solitary silence in the wilderness we might declare, “I am baptized!” as a statement of defiance against all that would make us believe we are less than loved. It doesn't mean all will go well with us in our everyday but rather that we might claim the promise of the future; “Do not fear. I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) in the present. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The promise of God that operates outside of human institutions allows those of us who were baptized before our ability to remember to none-the-less name the day we were saved as the moment when the Spirit of God alighted upon us and declared us beloved. But that is only because In the end “I am baptized” is not about our decision but rather God’s declaration, “You are my beloved.” 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” I don’t think we can truly understand the magnitude of that statement. Everything Peter had been taught about God would have led him to believe the opposite. God is very particular about who is acceptable and punishes those who are not, showing partiality to one people, out of all the people in the world, as a treasured possession. “I will be your God and you will be my people. You don’t get any more partial that that. Even Jesus came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, or so Peter heard him say on more than one occasion.  But all that changes when Peter is led by the Spirit to the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and sees the Spirit fall upon the Gentiles in the same way it fell upon the disciples the day of Pentecost. And so Peter, who was pleased to be one to whom God was partial, enters the house of Cornelius and eats and drinks with “goyim” and that is definitely not kosher. I wonder what sacred cows we would give up if like Peter we came to a new understanding and the God we thought we knew by living inside our religious box told us to eat and drink with those who color outside the lines because God is not as partial as we are.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord Year A - Psalm 29

You might want to “ascribe to the Lord” from a distance when the Lord’s voice breaks cedars and makes oaks whirl while the wilderness shakes and the land of Lebanon skips like a calf. It does seem odd that after a good number of verses detailing natural disasters brought about by the Lord’s loud voice the same Lord is asked to bless the people with peace. On the other hand I’ve been known to head outside to experience a Texas size thunderstorm for the sheer thrill of it. So maybe the psalmist doesn’t head for the storm shelter because being familiar with the Lord makes it all less frightening even when the sky lights up like the fourth of July and the wind whips up a “Somewhere over the Rainbow” tornado. Or it could just be poetry, like Earth and All Stars (ELW 731) and the psalmist was just taking literary liberty with some lovely language about the Lord’s voice making the Weather Channel’s top ten list.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord Year A - Isaiah 42:1-9

Isaiah 42:1-9
It is a vision offered to a people whose strength like a bruised reed was close to breaking, whose hope like a dimly burning wick was all but quenched. Sitting in the darkness of captivity they might have preferred a servant with a little more chutzpah. Instead the chosen servant, in whom the Lord’s soul delights, will quietly bring forth justice by revealing the Lord’s righteousness, opening the eyes blind to the new thing that is freedom for those held prisoner to sorrow and suffering. It is declared before it springs forth so that those who grow faint and are nearly crushed will trust again that even in the deepest darkness there is a light that shines in the heart that hopes in the Lord. They didn’t have too long to wait before this word was literally true for them and released from the dungeon of Babylon they returned unto Zion with singing. The One who we identify with this “servant song” will still take a few centuries to spring forth but in the end he will accomplish more than the captives could have ever imagined for Jesus growing faint, crushed by the weight of the cross, cries out with a loud voice, “It is finished” and so it is. Then what are we waiting for if Isaiah’s vision has been fulfilled? Could it be that we are the ones called in righteousness that God is waiting on to be a light to the nations, sight for the blind, release for the prisoners, to faithfully bring forth justice in the earth? Talk about chutzpah.