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.