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.