Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas 1 B - Galatians 4:4-7

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, 1609
Galatians 4:4-7
The fullness of time is the pregnant pause in the history of humanity where God, born of Mary, inhabits human flesh only to be worn out like a garment on the cross and be re-robed in resurrection. It is usually lost on people of relative power and prestige – even the 99% enjoy some of the benefits of capitalism – that the Galatians were slaves or women without any rights or privileges. Galatians 4:7 is a big deal to those who have less than nothing. I think we treat it as a birth right and fully expect all the privileges associated with the royalty of the righteous. So maybe the lesson to be learned from this text is that we who hear it as a given realize we have siblings who have trouble believing it and therefore we need to hear it for ourselves as a gift and not a given. And if we act as if we are surprised and delighted by such a gift of grace maybe they will be as well.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas 1 B - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is an all inclusive “Praise the Lord!” song but unless “Sweet Jesus!” or other less pastor- like expletives count as praise, I’ve not appreciated the song of tempestuous wind doing God’s will on Mustang Island, TX. But maybe that’s the point the psalmist wants to make. Even the things we think of as less than praiseworthy when they address us – fire, hail, creepy things, sea monsters – have to bend the knee, albeit a fin in the case of sea monsters, to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.  Sun, moon, stars, mountains, hills, all creatures great and small, all of creation praises God because “the Lord has raised up strength for the people.” But here’s the thing even the creative psalmist could not imagine. God’s strength was made manifest in weakness. The praise of the princes, at least a Procurator named Pilate and a High Priest named Annas, was to silence God’s strength by nailing Jesus to a tree but even the grave itself was compelled to praise the One it could not hold. We are also compelled to praise the one we cannot contain or confine in our holy houses of wood and stone, theologies and rituals. That’s because God is always coming to us in new and surprising ways, not unlike a tempestuous wind that long ago blew through a house depositing fire on the heads of young men and maidens so they could praise God in languages they had never learned.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 1 B - Isaiah 61:1-10 - 62:3

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
It is hard to imagine righteousness and praise springing forth on a cold and cloudy day in Fort Worth, Texas but then I imagine it was just as difficult for the “captives returned unto Zion” to find reason to rejoice when they first saw the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem. That is what makes the words of the prophet so powerful. We tend to keep silent in times of suffering – stiff upper lip and all that - but Isaiah sings with his whole being of what will be in the midst of what is. Not for his own sake but for the sake of those who cannot sing, who have no hope, who lament of life itself and long for the grave, if only to swallow up their sorrow. But Isaiah’s faith has the audacity to believe the ruins will be rebuilt, the city that is a byword among the nations will be made great and the whole world will be blessed by the beauty of their story. Their story is our story for once we were no people, condemned and cut off, but now we are God’s own people, holy and dearly loved. So do not be silent in the midst of difficult days but rather sing the sing of salvation in such a way that others will be compelled to join the song, or at least hum along.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Advent 4 B - Romans 16:25-27

Romans 16:25-27
The secret kept hidden for long ages but now disclosed never-the-less remains a mystery. God in human flesh, not just as a disguise for the Divine but the Holy “in, with and under” the profane; the immortal, invisible, God only wise born into the little Lord Jesus who cried for Mary’s milk before he fell asleep on the hay. A mystery, yes, but not one beyond our ability to comprehend for it was love that came down and graced our world with beauty and truth and wherever compassion and mercy are made known God is fully present. But humans prefer gods of fire and smoke, of rigid rules and regulations, and by that I mean gods who are more predictable and in many ways more easily manipulated. This God brings about the obedience of faith by entering our reality, the good, the bad and the mundane. So that if we truly want to be about what God is about we have to be more connected to each other and not just the ones who are like us. Touch the leper. Eat with the tax collector. Welcome the sinner. The reverse is true as well as Jesus let a woman scorned touch his feet with tears and another quench his thirst and still another clutch his robe. He called dim disciples to follow him and deposited the kingdom into their hands. In the end a friend kissed him into captivity and he died for a world that continues to betray him. The mystery held secret throughout the ages is not such a mystery after all. God loves, period, end of sentence.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:46-55

The “great thing God has done for me” made Mary great with child without her betrothed's participation or consent. That is not normally a cause for rejoicing even if the child hidden in her secret place (though not for long) was the Messiah. Let’s be clear, Mary was not a member of the ruling class and the “servant Israel” of whom she sings was hardly a significant player on the world’s stage. But Mary is naturally naïve and believes in, or at least hopes for, the promise of God come true. And come to think of it even the secular songs of this season seem wonderfully naïve in a world so full of woe. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” There is more power in hope than in any other human emotion save love, although they are so closely related as to almost be the same thing. And miracles, like songs that imagine God come down to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry with good things, do not need to be fully realized to be more than true. When Mary’s boy was full grown the mighty she imagined cast down from their thrones lifted her son up on a cross until crying out in agony he breathed his last and was sent empty away. But death could not still the song she sung when he moved in her womb and the refrain of His resurrection was just the prelude to the chorus that is sung even now in eternity. The Lord has done great things indeed.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 4 B - 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
David may believe his desire to upgrade God from tent to temple is all about God but truth is David is embarrassed Israel’s God is housed in such a humble abode. More to the point, such a humbly housed God is a poor reflection on the new king on the block which is why David needs God to move uptown into a temple of gold and stone and cedar. We lust after bigger buildings and consider churches that house ten thousand more significant than "two or three gathered in my name" who love the Lord with their whole lives. The church may be built to glorify God but it magnifies the power and prestige of the humans that build it. If bigger is better why did God choose a manger in a stable and an unwed teenage girl to birth the Messiah into a world that would despise his teaching so much it would attempt to shut him up by nailing him to wood? That is not to say we shouldn't aspire to worship in beautiful spaces or upgrade existing spaces but only if that leads to the upgrade God desires most; a permanent dwelling place in the human heart.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Advent 3 B - John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6-8, 19-28
Not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet (Jeremiah not Mohamed) John is just a voice that makes straight the way for someone else. Of course that someone else is the Messiah pointed to by Elijah and the promises God made to Abraham and confirmed through the prophet. So called prophets in our day and age are always pointing to this or that but most often proclaim themselves and make a pretty good living at it. But John in his camel hair cloak (not cashmere) eating locusts and honey, baptizing with water, knows he is the prologue to a greater story that we find out later even he doesn’t fully understand. "Are you the one or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) That is good news for those of us who stand in John’s shadow and point to the one we are unworthy to speak for or about. In the light of that thought I suppose I would be more likely to remain silent except that the sandals John felt unworthy to untie were not ashamed to walk the earth we tread and in the end were removed so that feet nailed to wood might reveal the true nature of God.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent 3 B - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
I don’t know about you but there are very few things I do that can be followed by “always” or “unceasing” or “in all circumstances”; except sin, of course, but maybe that doesn’t count because it comes so naturally. I’m actually a little suspicious of those who claim to live this text and that behind all the smiles and the God is so good alleluias are lives of utter desperation wrapped in praise the Lord pastels. (BTW this is not an autobiographical post. I look best in Advent blue.) Rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Really? Isn’t that called denial? There are times when the most faithful response is a lament that curses the darkness. Which is why God’s will cannot be that we manage this on our own but rather depend fully on the One who sanctifies and keeps us sound in every and all circumstances. So rejoicing can happen even when we have every reason to weep and giving thanks can take place even when we have every reason to lament and prayers can happen always because the “Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) Not denial but acceptance that even in the worst of times the promise of God to be present is more than enough reason to give thanks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 3 B - Psalm 126

Psalm 126
The first four verses of Psalm 126 remember the dream come true as exiles returned home and mouths were filled with laughter and tongues tingled with joy. When the memory of the moment is recounted the psalmist is glad indeed. But apparently those fortunes have been spent and in the same way that the dry wadis of the Negev wait for the spring rain the psalmist asks that the past be repeated in the present. Restore our fortunes like the watercourses of the Negev so that tears sown in sorrow will reap songs of joy. Faith remembers the joy of the past in order to endure the pain of the present by hoping in the promise of the future. You might be in a time of waiting and if so need to remember the times when rejoicing came easily and if you cannot perhaps there is someone who can do it for you. Which is why if you are so gifted as to be in a laughter, tongue tingling time of being glad indeed, give thanks to the Lord and do what you can to share your sheaves of joy with those who weep.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent 3 B - Isaiah 61:1-11

Isaiah 61:1-11
Isaiah 61 is the measure of whether one has been anointed by the spirit of the Lord or not. Good news for the oppressed not narrow views that suppress life and love; healing words that bind up the broken hearted not harsh speech that hurts; liberating words that free one from the fear that God is not ultimately and completely “for us.”  It does not mean there are no words of correction or constraint. Just the opposite. Right behavior flows from right relationship and right relationship flows from unconditional love. Or as Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out all fear” When we live more fully into the unconditional love of God we are less likely to withhold love from others or ourselves which may actually be the harder of the two. The brokenhearted healed, the ones who mourn comforted, the faint of spirit made strong, are all signs of the Spirit whose speech blesses the world with light and love and liberty so that the good news for the oppressed is just as good for the oppressor.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent 2 B - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which (because of Jesus) will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that shouts of victory will drown out cries of lament. But the end of the salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have otherwise been a tragic tale the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of Jesus' death that forgave our sin. So we, who benefit from John’s prophecy and baptized by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death, walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and as unyielding as the ones they walked but because the Good News has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15
So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while the rest of the world is toast when the thief in the night day of the Lord arrives as a not so good surprise. Even if we are confident of our reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who are not intimate with the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove-tail with our own or at least for the “none” that we know which is why waiting patiently is not the same as passively waiting

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent 2 B - Psalm 85

We could all use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness which is always an attitude before it shows up as a behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is a welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when thwey are anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent 1 B - Mark 13:24-37

2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I’m hoping that means that despite the description of the sun darkened, the stars falling, the heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare. 

Advent 1 B - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended to and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts like patience and forbearance and long suffering and is not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus who, as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.