Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Christ the King Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

Psalm 90:1-7 I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) As a child it seemed to me a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than singing the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when our everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us for when push comes to shove we would prefer not to be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves which would be pleasing to shepherd and sheep alike. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Matthew 25:14-30

The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he did not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. On the other hand the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own rebellious will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did by investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lectionary 33 A - Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah is very popular with the "Save Fort Worth" people that sometimes spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Thessalonians were worried that those who died before Jesus returned would be left behind. Paul assures them that God has everything under control and whether one is awake or asleep at the time of Jesus’ coming their hope of salvation is secure. I don’t believe Paul is any more informed than I am about the details and even though he shares his version of the timeline his point is verse 18. “Encourage one another with these words.” The words he meant as encouragement are that those who have died will be included in the future final feast. We don’t worry about the same thing as the Thessalonians as we trust that our loved ones are already with the Lord. We even imagine how they are spending their time. Grandpa's gone fishing. Unfortunately these encouraging words have been used to support a less than encouraging theology where a select few are caught up in the clouds (rapture) while the vast majority of people are left behind to endure horrors beyond imagination, although humans are pretty good at imaging and inflicting horrors on each other. I think the true horror is that rapture theology makes the God of grace look like every other god humans have created in their own image. So maybe the encouraging word for us – who no longer worry about where our loved ones are – is that a God who would suffer and die for humanity is not a God who thinks like we do.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Psalm 70

Psalm 70
The psalmist hopes that his rescue would be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lectionary 32 A - Amos 5:18-24

Amos 5:18-24
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those” becomes “blessed are you” when you live the Beatitudes. By that I mean the “rejoice and be glad” and not the "persecuted for righteousness sake". In our everyday the "blessed are you" has a tough time overcoming the literally persecuted. But the “blessed are you” is and was an invitation of what we are to be because it is a promise of what will be. That does not deny “persecuted for righteousness sake” as a reality. That’s pretty much a promise too. But to look beyond being poor in spirit, meek and mourning, starving for justice means one is a merciful, pure in heart peacemaker. As far as Jesus is concerned that is blessed indeed.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Feast of All Saints Year A - 1 John 3:1-3

1 John 3:1-3
The hope that purifies is that we are what God says we are, beloved children. I know the analogy to human parenthood falls short of the glory of God but when I consider that God loves me in the way that I love my children, Joshua and Mary Ruth, I am purified from all that would make be believe I am less than I am; a beloved child of the creator of the universe. The love God has for us cannot be limited by all the things said and unsaid, done and left undone that limit our response to that love, in the same way that not a day goes by when I don’t marvel in the miracle and give thanks for the gift of my children. That is the hope that purifies, God giving thanks to God for the miracle and gift of a child that is you.