Friday, September 29, 2017

Pentecost 26 A - Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32 
The chief priests and elders of the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place by Jesus’ question but will come up with a third option by the Friday we call “Good”. But then Jesus knew along that “crucify” would be the only possible answer for the powers that be once they were pushed into a corner from which there was no escape. Stuck between the way of God we are unwilling to follow and the way of the world we are reluctant to resist the third way is the only option for us as well. Crucify God and maybe this time the persistent question will stay dead and we’ll be done with it. But like Jesus on the third day crucifixion is the beginning not the end. What needs to die is the part of us that is like the son in the parable who says “yes” but lives “no” so that the part of us that rises is like the son who said “no” but is finally free to live “yes”.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pentecost 26 A - Philippians 2:1-13

Philippians 2:1-13
The whole of the scriptures is expressed in Philippians 2:5-11 and if all we had was this ancient hymn it would be enough to reveal the mind of the Divine. In Jesus it is God who is emptied into all of humanity and in servant form suffers a dreadful death designed by the children created in God’s own image. How is it possible that the church has such a sordid history of not finding any consolation in this expression of ultimate love, no compassion, no sympathy, demanding that like minds be bound by hard cover catechisms where right belief matters more than loving fellow believers let alone the world Jesus died to save? The promise is that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that the Jesus emptied, serving, suffering and dying for creatures who could care less was what God was about all along. Being of like mind means we are to be like Jesus who never met a sinner he didn’t love to death.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lectionary 26 A - Psalm 25:1-9

Psalm 25:1-9
David trusts that the rebellious sins of his youth will not be remembered by the Lord and I have no doubt that the same applies to the sins of one’s middle age as well. That is because the Lord, who is our all day long hope, does not need to be prompted to remember great mercy and love for that is the character of the One who erases the record of everything about us that makes mercy necessary. Now if only we could do the same for others, and God help us, for ourselves. But the truth about us is that shame is our constant companion and we live with the memory of rebellious ways and youthful sins, revisiting ancient history as if it happened yesterday. So maybe the instructions sinners need most is a lesson on forgiveness where charity begins at home.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lectionary 26 A - Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32

Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32
Apparently the prophet is not familiar with family systems theory. The sins of the parents are always visited upon the children and sour grapes do not grow sweeter with more time on the vine. We are all shaped by our past and not in control of our future which makes our present an unpredictable place. So what if we were to say we are not responsible? I didn’t choose my family of origin and even though they did the best they could they carried with them the same sort of things that have made me less than I desire to be. And I say that from the perspective of having loving parents; kind, decent people who none-the-less lived their brokenness in ways they did not like. Heaven help the children that welcome death because they live in hell. So are the ways of the Lord unfair? Of course they are. That is why the Lord bound by our past with no pleasure possible died naked and alone nailed to a piece of wood in order to secure a future for us where the life of the parent and the child would not be subject to the corruption inherent in our DNA.

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.