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.