Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - John 16:1-15

John 16:1-15
The Spirit as Advocate contends for us to prove the world’s ways will not be the way for us. That is because the Spirit convicts the less than satisfactory definition of sin as the things we do proving that what is made manifest in behavior always begins in belief. But then those who think right often do not act in right ways which means righteousness “being made right with God”  can only be directed from God towards us and not vice versa. And judgment is reserved for the one who is the parent of lies and deceives us at every turn even if “every single one of us (has) the devil inside” (INXS) Jesus may have many things left to say that none of us can bear but this much is true, the “God so loved the world” Jesus makes it possible for the world to welcome the truth telling Spirit who will reveal the love of God while exposing deceitful ways.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Romans 8:22-27

Romans 8:22-27
When inward groaning anticipates the cry of new birth the joy anticipated is the hope that endures. Even in our weakness, when confused and conflicted our patience wears thin and we know not what to pray, God intercedes for us. Sighs too deep for words match our need breath for breath so that fed by the first fruits of the Spirit our hearts are lifted from despair. In that way the future adoption that is the redemption of our mortal bodies can be known in the present even as a kick in the womb allows expectant parents to imagine the life of the new born they await. Here and not yet – that is the nature of this pregnant pause before we know fully the full fruit of the eternal tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Psalm 104:24-35

Psalm 104:24-35
Psalm 104:20 is the basis of the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer of the Cursillo movement. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth…” The Spirit filled community (aka the church in all its various forms) is created to renew whatever portion of the face of the earth on which it is found. That means the heart kindled with love seeks to refresh the weary with refuge and replenish the hungry with good things even as we care for “all creatures great and small” and the habitats that support them. So the song we sing to the Lord as long as we live is best expressed when the words of our mouth are confirmed by the work of our hands. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost Year B - Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21
It is a lay lector’s nightmare lesson and even those who wear the collar tread lightly in the linguistic territory of “Phrygia and Pamphylia.” But then the confusion of language has spawned more trouble than mispronunciations and the divisions that begin with the inability to understand what the other is saying are too often translated into the universal language of bigotry and violence. In whatever way we understand the historical Day of Pentecost the meaning could not be clearer. The lines of language that divide were erased by the “Spirit poured out on all flesh.” Of course the language that was understood on that day was discounted as tongue tied drunkenness but there was a moment when the confusion of the Tower of Babel was reversed and suddenly every tongue was translated into the powerful deed of God that is the cross of Jesus Christ. It didn’t take long for the universal language of mercy to be confused and confined and the ability to speak in tongues became more important than understanding what was said. But the Day of Pentecost was not about speaking in tongues. It was about declaring the powerful deeds of God in ways that people could understand no matter where they came from or what language they spoke.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Easter 7 B - John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19
If you’ve read the other Gospels you might agree that John’s Jesus is less than human or if you won’t go that far at least will acknowledge that no one in real life makes speeches like the Jesus in John. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true just that John remembers a different Jesus than Matthew or Mark or the “orderly Gospel” historian Luke. But the purpose of John’s Gospel could not be more clearly stated. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30) So all this “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” makes as much sense as “I am the walrus goo goo g’joob”. (The Beatles) unless you understand that in believing what cannot be fully understood, that the “in the beginning” Word became flesh and dwelt among us, means the beginning and the ending can be fully known in the present in such a way that the joy of the future is fully realized in the here and now. I know it might sound like a less melodic version of goo goo g'joob, but truth is if we would live today as if the forever tomorrow was already here our present might actually begin to look like God’s future.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Easter 7 B - 1 John 5:9-13

1 John 5:9-13
To have the Son of God means the Son of God has you. Human testimony would have the Son by tradition or dogma or piety without being possessed by the "lay down one’s life for one’s friends - no greater love than this” Son . (John 15:13) The testimony of God is this – “not that we loved God but that God loved us …” (1 John 4:10) If God gave up all to possess us then maybe the reverse is true as well. We lay down our life to open ourselves to the life of the Son not by self-discipline but by self-sacrifice that would give up even the Son and eternal life as well for the sake of someone else. But how can that testimony be true if the scripture doesn’t spell it out clearly in black and white, cross the t’s and dot the i’s, sign on the dotted line? That is a human testimony question. The love of God is pretty simple. God gave up life for love because two millennium of law didn’t produce the desired result – a people whose heart was God’s heart, who loved as God loves. Two millennium later God’s life and love is still in jeopardy as the cradle of Christ (the church) argues over the color of the comforter. The love of God is color blind and cares more about the child than the comfort of the crib which means eternal life is not the prize for having the Son – having the Son in the same way the Son has you is already life that is eternal.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Easter 7 B - Psalm 1

Like a Tree Planted by the River by Donald Simpson
Psalm 1
We know the counsel of the wicked is nothing but trouble and lingering in the way of sinners is a dead end street and the seat of the scornful is uncomfortable at best but still we listen and linger and pull up a chair. Even those who delight in the perfect law of the Lord, the counsel of love, the way of righteousness, the mercy seat of peace, can find themselves listening and lingering and longing for that which in the end withers the soul and saps the spirit. But then the tree doesn’t plant itself by streams of water and so we, too, depend on the One who creates and cultivates a right spirit within us – sometimes with refreshment and sometimes with reprimand - always intending to bring new life to dead limbs as the prosperity of hope enriches impoverished faith to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy…” (Philippians 4:8) Uproot us, Lord, from complacency and plant us by streams of living water that flow from the perfect law of love.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Easter 7 B - Acts 1:15-26

Acts 1:15-26
If the church had continued the practice of casting lots for leaders you can bet it wouldn’t have taken long for someone to load the dice. After all choosing church leaders is too important to be left up to chance and after all doesn’t the Almighty help those who help themselves? So choosing a replacement for Judas would seem to require at least an endorsement and a position paper and a speech to the delegates. But then Joseph and Justus (aka Barsabbas and Matthias) were not random candidates. They were companions of Jesus from the baptism to the ascension and reliable witnesses to the resurrection. Given that they both met the standard set by the selection committee the choice by lots means they were equally acceptable and choosing by chance removes ego from the equation. Since the ego of candidates and constituents almost always leads to conflict it’s not such a bad idea. Could we do the same thing today? Of course we could, but I’m sure someone would object.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Easter 6 B - John 15:9-17

John 15:9-17
It is significant that this “status update” from servant to friend occurs in the Gospel of John. After all Jesus’ status was updated from mostly “Messiah” in the synoptic Gospels to “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) So the God of Sinai (fire and smoke on the mountain don’t come near lest ye die) is now revealed as the Word made flesh. Since true friendship does not operate as a hierarchy, Jesus’ statement is as radical as anything uttered in the scriptures. We are on a first name basis with the God whose name could not be spoken. The flip side of this new arrangement is that our continuing in the ways of our first parent’s garden rebellion is even more damaging to ourselves and the God come near who is our friend. Friendship can only endure so much before the one whose heart is open to the other is hurt in such a way that the real benefit of friendship, “my joy in you that your joy may be complete” is exhausted. Not that God abandons us but “I’ve got friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) is not nearly as friendly as it sounds and Jesus desires a relationship that blesses Jesus as much as it blesses us. Nothing blesses Jesus more than when you and I, and everyone else for that matter, friend each other in ways that go beyond “likes” on a page. Jesus' joy can only be as complete as our joy. Which means my joy can only be complete when your joy is complete and your joy can only be complete when my joy is complete and all our joy begins and ends with acting more friendly towards the One who chose us, aka the Word made Friend.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Easter 6 B - 1 John 5:1-6

1 John 5:1-6
The way faith conquers the world is not made manifest in the way the world attempts to conquer faith. Despite the apparent militancy of “Onward Christian Soldiers” the way of faith “is not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6) That is why the victory of faith often appears as defeat. “We preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) But it is a “magnificent defeat” (Friederich Buechner) that the world cannot see or understand and which the world cannot ultimately overcome. “Were they to take our house, goods, fame, child or spouse; though life be wrenched away; they cannot win the day; the kingdom ours forever.” (Martin Luther) The faith that conquers the world is not a panacea for the pain and suffering experienced by one who is on the losing end of Luther’s list of things to be taken away. No. Faith is often pushed to the limit and indeed beyond. But though the blood lust of the wicked may hold the field today the final outcome has been predetermined and the faith that is tried in the here and now will triumph in the forever tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Easter 6 B - Psalm 98:1-9

Psalm 98:1-9
A new song of marvelous things means before there was this song there were times less praiseworthy. Singing the rejoicing refrain is preceded by times of lament. Righteousness revealed means there was a time when it was hidden. “You turned my wailing into dancing” is how Psalm 30 describes the reversal of fortune. At the dawn of the new day the long night is forgotten so that even the sound of crashing sea and rushing rivers are in harmony with harps and trumpets and human voices. The good news for those still waiting for steadfast love and faithfulness to be revealed is that God gives us each other so that my new song can be heard in your time of silence and when life conspires to still the song in my heart perhaps you will be in a place to sing me into a marvelous new day. In that way the song never ends and at the same time is always new.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Easter 6 B - Acts 10:44-48

Acts 10:44-48
Acts chapter ten begins with God telling Peter that shellfish is now in season and he is free to eat whatever he wants. To which Peter replies, “Heaven forbid!” which is the proper response when one is tempted by all manner of culinary delights denied to kosher Jews for almost two thousand years. But God insists that Peter sit down and dine and before you know it Peter is acting like Jesus and eating and drinking with tax collectors (aka Romans) and sinners (aka Gentiles). “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” is true for all manner of animals as well as people so that Peter, who often appears dumb as rock, suddenly perceives that God shows no favoritism, which is shocking given the restricted relationship God demanded from the children of Israel. That is not to say the early church welcomed the new neighbors with open arms. Even Peter had to defend his Acts chapter 10 actions to James and John and the rest and if you believe Paul’s account in Galatians 2 Peter didn’t do so well and began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of the circumcision group”. The church has been declaring clean and unclean ever since making what is binding arbitrary (the law of love) and what is arbitrary binding (the love of law). I wonder what acts of God might astound us in this day and age so that we ask the question, “What is to prevent us from suspending the rules we have come to rely on and welcome the new thing God is doing?” Heaven knows.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Easter 5 B - 1 John 4:7-21

1 John 4:7-21
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” You would think the church could get this right since the command to love is the foundation of our faith. Some say the reason the church is in decline today is because those on the outside have finally figured out that the petty jealousies and judgmental attitudes that have come to characterize so many Christian communions are a direct contradiction to the teaching of Jesus. Individual Christians and whole communities elevate their particular doctrines or preferences to the denial of the one law that is in fact binding. Even Unitarians fight over doctrine for God’s sake!  But “the commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” So what can we do that we have not done already? Maybe we should stop doing what we’ve been doing and learn the lesson of love so that “as he is, so we (will be) in this world. I know it is passé but for all the hype around WWJD bracelets and bumper stickers there is only one answer to the question "What Would Jesus Do?" and it is what Jesus did - Love.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Easter 5 B - Psalm 22:25-31

Psalm 22:25-31
Psalm 22 begins not with praise, but lament. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” In the verses that follow human suffering is spelled out in detail. “My heart melts like wax within me… all my bones are out of joint… a band of dogs surround me… they pierce my hands and feet!“ Insults and mocking and spitting accompany the abuse heaped upon the one who cries out by day with no answer, at night with no rest. Yet this “man of constant sorrow” trusts that the God far off will come near and even if going down to the dust is his destiny praise will spring forth from the grave. Some might call that a fool’s hope and be more inclined to go with Job’s wife’s advice, “Curse God and die.” But then the people yet unborn would not know the sacred story of the God who came so near to humanity as to wear our flesh and die our death so that we might live God’s life.  And so we proclaim and so you believe, “The Lord has acted.” Thanks be to God.  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Easter 5 B - Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40
The Ethiopian eunuch was well respected in the court of Candice but in Jerusalem he was denied access to the temple of the faith he was so anxious to understand. Cut off from the people of God by race and circumstance he none-the-less worshiped the God whose holy word branded him unclean. It is no surprise then that one so excluded would be drawn to the suffering servant described by Isaiah and wonder if the word about the prophet or someone else might also be a word for him. So God sends Philip the Greek to evangelize the African official into the faith of Jesus the suffering Jew. Irony is not lost on the Lord. Truth is the eunuch already had all the faith he needed and indeed was the one who asked the question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Unfortunately the church has more often than not excluded those who in the church’s estimation are lacking without allowing that God is more than able to compensate for whatever we are without.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Easter 4 B - John 10:11-18

John 10:11-18
I had a Rambouillet lamb named Louie who grew up to be a sheep so tame as to be a nuisance. I’m not sure the Good Shepherd analogy works when the lamb won’t leave you alone and even the wolf retreats from the constant bleating for treats. On the other hand we are a lot like Louie bleating for treats as if all our Good Shepherd has to do is take care of our every need. But then this text is about the Shepherd and not the sheep and whatever it is we do or say or need doesn’t much matter as the Good Shepherd cares for us by giving and or withholding which in a strange way is still a form of giving. Unfortunately we, like Louie, are often tame to the way of faith so as to be a nuisance to ourselves and everyone else. The good news is that the Shepherd’s life is laid down and picked up to break through our “tameness” and give us a new lease on life which is a treat in and of itself. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." Settle down Louie.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Easter 4 B - 1 John 3:16-24

If my mind could convince my heart of the surpassing greatness of God’s goodness maybe it would stop condemning me. But then maybe the purpose of the condemning heart (aka conscience) is to get the mind to pay attention to what the hands are doing or the mouth is saying. Word and speech and truth and action are to work together for the common good which includes our own. That is because when we please God by helping others we are gifted with the Spirit of a quiet heart, a peaceful mind, a mouth full of praise and hands that help.  Martin Luther said it this way “A Christian is a child of the Holy Spirit, an heir of eternal life, a companion to the holy angels, a ruler of the world, and a partaker of God’s divine nature. A Christian is a wonder of the world, a terror to Satan, an ornament of the church, a desirable object of heaven with a heart full of fire, with eyes full of tears, with a mouth full of supplications and with hands full of good works.” That says it all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Easter 4 B - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
Souls are restored when guided along right pathways even if it takes a rod and staff to get us there. That’s because we can get lost in the shadow valleys of this world where the lines between right and wrong are obscured by selfish desire and sinful pride. Truth is our sight can adjust to low light and we grow accustomed to being less than we were meant to be and before you know it we can’t tell the difference between a green pasture and a desert. But the Lord like a shepherd does not abandon us to our wandering ways but prods us with the rod of the Law even as the staff of the Gospel frees us to live into peaceful places of soul refreshing rest.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Easter 5 B - Acts 4:5-12

Acts 4:5-12
The same Peter who cowered in the courtyard and wept bitterly because of it has become the rock who will not back down even when confronted by the powers that be who “crucified Christ”. But that is what resurrection can do to you that the cross cannot. I don’t mean that we neglect the mandate to preach Christ crucified. We wouldn’t pay attention to this Galilean prophet if after being as dead as you and I will one day be he hadn’t walked out of the tomb. The Romans crucified Jews all the time. But as a good friend and colleague once pointed out to me that our focus on the cross can obscure the point of the resurrection. We are meant to be transformed into resurrection people even if the cross is the way we get there. The cross accuses and convicts and like Peter brings bitter tears – and rightly so. But on the third day those who cower in courtyards of their own design are to walk out of tombs of shame and guilt to live as people set free from sin and death once and for all. It doesn’t mean we stop sinning or falling short of all we will one day become. It does mean we recognize that confession is for the amendment of our sinful life and act accordingly.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Easter 3 B - Luke 24:36-48

Luke 24:36-48
“Peace be with you” doesn’t do the trick. “Look at my hands and feet” doesn’t dispel disbelief. Even touch me and see doesn’t get a “My Lord and my God!” But eat a piece of broiled fish and maybe the impossible will seem more plausible to doubting disciples. In the everyday necessity of nourishment the crucified, dead and buried Messiah is accepted as really resurrected. It is the final and most intimate act of the incarnation that the One who rose beyond the boundaries of death and life entered this realm again to share a morsel with those still bound by mortality so that seeing would be believing. In that sense “have you anything here to eat?” might be the most grace filled words ever spoken by Jesus.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Easter 3 B - 1 John 3:1-7

1 John 3:1-7
There is no way around it. Since we all sin we are all guilty of lawlessness even though in the love the Father has lavished upon us we are children of God now and when Jesus is revealed we will be like Him. That means even as children of God by virtue of our rebellious nature we do not abide in God or know God or see God. But then John will go on to say, “This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us…” (1 John 4:10) So the ultimate consequence of our lawlessness is that God loves those who do not love in equal measure but who purify themselves with the hope that when we do see Him as He is Jesus will not see us as we are but what we were always meant to be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Easter 3 B - Psalm 4

Psalm 4
When we love illusions and seek after lies we lose sleep even if we pass out in the process. Like a good magic trick we ask to see it again and again, albeit more slowly this time. But we never quite catch the sleight of hand or see the trap door in action until it’s been sprung. That dishonors God’s glory because living the lie devalues our own being. God’s desire is to do wonders in and through and with us so that gladness of heart is our everyday experience even when we are in distress. I would hope the answer to “how long will you dishonor my glory” is not “as long as I have breath in my being” but even if it is I trust that the wonder God can do in and through and with us is no magic trick.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Easter 3 B - Acts 3:12-19

Acts 3:12-19
The scene that precedes this speech to the people is the healing of the lame man. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) I’m sure there were some in the crowd who had not called out “crucify” and so can hardly be held responsible for killing the “Author of life”. And even if Peter claims it as Gospel truth that Pilate never intended on letting the peasant preacher go free Jesus was far too disruptive to peace in Judea which made him far too dangerous to Pilate and hence to Rome. Furthermore Peter and all the disciples deserted Jesus in his most desperate hour. But maybe Peter has forgotten his curses in the courtyard? Then again being Holy Spirit anointed with fire and tongues and preaching on Pentecost and being God’s agent for “lame man walking” might mean you forget “I once was blind” because “now I see.” We all act in ignorance even though we claim to know the truth which we easily trade for the lie because we can’t tell the difference. The place of peace is a balancing act of absolute responsibility and perfect freedom which is often expressed as self-righteousness in the case of the former and the habits of hedonism in the case of the latter. It might sound as if we are between a rock and a hard place. But true peace is in recognizing our limitations. Some repent of trying to control everything. Others repent of being controlled by anything. No matter what side of the equation you find yourself on the path to peace is to repent and turn to God who is more than able to overcome our lameness. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter 2 B - Psalm 133

Psalm 133
In three short verses Psalm 133 states the obvious and makes me wonder why the church doesn’t pursue unity with more purpose. Instead of pouring the precious oil of peace on each other we heap insults on each other's heads and draw theological lines in the sand staining the collar of our robes with division. You might expect this of the more strident traditions but even the Unitarians, or so I’m told, don’t always get along. Go figure. The fragrant extravagance of good and pleasant unity imaged by the psalmist is the blessing that falls from heaven and unity is bestowed from above whenever it is understood from below as the very essence of what it means to claim Christ as Lord.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter 2 B - Acts 4:32-35

Acts 4:32-35
When believers are of one heart and mind there are no needy persons among them because believers are of one heart and mind. When hearts and minds go their own way members who withhold are struck down dead (Ananias and Sapphira) and widows who speak Greek are denied food for speaking Greek. (Acts 6) It should be of some comfort to us that those who witnessed the resurrected Christ are subject to the same folly as those of us who have no hope of seeing, let alone touching, nail scarred hands and spear pierced side. Or maybe it should be a cause for concern for us that even those who witnessed the resurrected Christ continued to operate as if he were still dead. Oy Vey!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year B - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“I would remind you brothers and sisters, of the good news…” is a recurring theme of the Corinthian correspondence. Divided loyalty (I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I follow Paul, I follow Christ) leads them to argue over minor matters, treat the body of Christ with contempt by making a mockery of the unifying meal, and neglect the greater gift of love in favor of flashier outward signs. The good news reminder shouldn’t be lost on us who have received and now stand in Paul’s proclamation. The Christ who appeared to the long list of witnesses and lastly to Paul has appeared to us whenever in the face of death, our own or the death of those we love, we believe life will have the last word. And reminded that the last word belongs to the life of Christ means every word belongs to Christ which clearly includes those we speak to each other.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Feast of the Resurrection Year B - Psalm 118

The Lord is the psalmist’s strength and song because in the “day that the Lord has made” the right arm of the Lord has acted valiantly. But what about the days when “the Lord punished me sorely” and the only place left to go was to be handed over to death?  If every day is a day the Lord has made then the Lord is my strength and my song even in the days that are dark. The promise of what will be is believed because of what has been so that in times of being “sorely punished” one can still hear the echoes of rejoicing and trust they will return. Even the stone rejected cried out in anguish, “My God, My God” before attaining chief cornerstone status. And because the Lord himself was “punished sorely” but not handed over to death forever we can give thanks to the Lord even when our song of salvation is a lament.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Feast of the Resurrection - Acts 10:34-43

God’s “no partiality” is still particular even if the promise to Jews was extended to Gentiles. That doesn’t mean the nature of the arrangement wasn’t radically changed. God cut circumcision, the signature sign of the covenant, along with the restricted diet, the observance of days, the sacrifices, etc. But the new “no partiality” is still only shown to those who fear God and do what is right. That means in the most important way nothing has changed in that fearing God and doing what was right was always what God had in mind, even if those who lived the outward signs failed to embrace the inward ways. God desires relationship not sacrifice. So how do we who are the recipients of the new “no partiality” repay the favor? I’m afraid we write new rules and make our peculiarities particular to God. Who knows if the God who gave up kosher to include those who preferred pork might also give up all things for the sake of those God always intended to include in the “no partiality” covenant. Who knows? What we do know is that God determined to die, hung on a tree, for the sake of those who could care less and maybe that is proof enough that God is partial to those who show no partiality.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Feast of the Passion Year B - Philippians 2:5-11

I cannot say equality with God is something I would let go of and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either. And if I found myself on other side of the Divine I would not choose the cross as my exit strategy. So God is not like me although God hopes in not being like me I might want to be more like God – “Let this mind be in you.” If God were a gambler we would clearly be the long shot but then again God is “all in” and has nothing to lose except his life – which in the end turns out to be the winning hand. So I guess “let this mind be in you” means be like God and risk everything on a losing hand.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Sunday of the Passion Year B - Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:9-16
Psalm 31 is the song of sorrow for the multitudes who suffer strength-failing sighs and waste away with grief. Scorned by enemies and abandoned by friends they are forgotten like the long dead though they live in plain sight. We should take note that in the Christ God chose to embody this psalm instead of “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46) even though in the end every knee will bow and every tongue be silenced, except to declare Jesus is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11) The story of the passion, from palm fronds raised in praise to the palms of his hands pierced by nails, is the story God chose to incarnate. I know in light of what I’ve written the old saying attributed to Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” might be apropos but I think comfort might be its own affliction when God so clearly identifies with the opposite. So I will confess that even my “worst of times” would be the “best of times” for those who “are as useless as a broken pot” and the only hope I have is that God does not hold the affliction of my comfort against me. But then “to whom much is given much is required” means those afflicted with plenty are called by Christ to use their “much is given” to comfort those who are afflicted by want and thereby enter Psalm 31 with those who really live it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Passion Sunday Year B - Isaiah 50:4-9


James, the brother of the Lord, presumes teachers will be judged more strictly for no other reason than that they presume to be teachers. (James 3:1) No one received a harsher or less deserved judgment than his half brother, the one given “the tongue of the teacher” who did not hide his face from insult and spitting. But the lesson the teacher learned "morning by morning" was not sufficient to sustain his life when at the third hour he was stripped naked and nailed to wood. Of course it was because in faithfulness he gave his back to those who struck him and his cheek to those who pull out the beard that the Word made flesh was not put to shame even when subjected to a cruel and unjust death. This is the mystery of God becoming one with all that has gone so horribly wrong with the creation so that the creator is crucified by those created in the image of God. And the final irony is that he is killed for being more righteous than the religion he comes to redeem. If that were the end of his story the story of the world’s suffering would have no end, but since his end is our beginning the weary world will be sustained by the word that even death could not silence.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lent 5 B - John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33
“We wish to see Jesus.” My grandmother, Lillian Smith, saw Jesus at the foot of her bed a few nights before she died. Her dog Julie was there too. If that mean little Schnauzer can get into heaven there’s hope for everyone. I’m just saying.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lent 5 B - Hebrews 5:5-10

Hebrews 5:5-10
I’ve started and restarted this post a dozen times trying to say something about Melchizedek but truth is he’s just a bit player in the Bible and most of what is said about him is speculation. It may be that I just don’t want to talk about learning obedience from suffering, but that is really the point of this passage. During the days of our lives we experience suffering, both our own and the pain and sorrow of those connected to us. But submission to suffering does not mean grin and bear it since fervent cries and tears are anything but silent. Jesus' obedience is not about being stoic but about being steadfast. He did not cease in crying out and it was obedience unto death that made him perfect. Hebrews is the letter that contains descriptions of Jesus like “since the children have flesh and blood he shared their humanity” (2:14) and “he was tempted as we are in every way, yet without sin” (4:15) and “he suffered death…so he might taste death for everyone.” (2:9) The point of all this is that we who are flesh and blood, tempted in every way, with our days numbered, can hope our fervent cries and tears will be heard from the one who can save us from our death. Not because Jesus is like Melchizedek but because Jesus was like us and one day we will be like him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lent 5 B - Psalm 51:1-12

All sin is “against you only” which means the careless ways we think and talk about our neighbor are careless thoughts and words directed towards God. It means neglecting the needs of others neglects the needs of God. Injustice tolerated or promoted denies God justice. Love withheld from one another is love withheld from God. The trouble is God’s ways are absolute and we live in shades of grey. "Bones crushed" might question whether God is justified when judging given that we did not choose to be born to mothers who without choosing were also conceived in sin. But God’s judgments are right since even the best among us appear to be unable to overcome the sin that comes naturally and therefore no one lives the joy of salvation without assistance from the Almighty. So by grace God’s face is turned away from sin while God’s countenance gazes on contrite hearts with tender mercy. Grace recreates hearts, purifies minds and grants willing spirits so that kind thoughts, words and deeds directed towards others are kind, thoughts and deeds directed towards God.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lent 5 B - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days “that are surely coming” have been coming for a long time unless you believe they have already come, in which case “know the Lord” might mean a good number of us already do, even if it appears we don’t. By that I mean some believe as if they know the Lord but behave as if they don’t and others who behave as if they know the Lord believe in ways that indicate they don’t. We can’t seem to agree on what “know the Lord” means and even the cross becomes a subject for debate. Does the cross only dot the i but we still need to cross the t? Or is the free gift of grace truly free? I don’t know for sure but I can tell you this in all honesty. I need “the day is surely coming” to be true for me right now because I remember my sins everyday and I am sure to believe I am damned if God does as well.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lent 4 B - John 3:14-21

Hezekiah broke the bronze serpent into pieces (2 Kings 18:3-4) because the people were burning incense to it which you might have done as well if as a child you were told the boogie man story of deadly vipers in the desert. But in the Gospel of John God repeats the feat in a time when the poison of complaining was the contagion of religious ritual where hearts were far from God while lips piously offered praise. Our worship is idolatrous when it fails to understand God prefers real relationships to mindlessly repeated rituals or when our professed love of God does not translate into a life lived for the neighbor which is the way we love the world God so loved. Anything less turns the cross into just another snake on a pole where darkness masquerades as light. But whereas the image Moses fashioned became something that needed to be broken into pieces it is the Son of God “high and lifted up” that breaks us so that we might be refashioned to love the light and live the life that is eternal in our everyday.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lent 4 B - Ephesians 2:1-10


Most of my following “children of wrath” ways have been lived at my own expense though I won’t deny there has been collateral damage. But that is to be expected when one is driven to satisfy the cravings of the flesh with its thoughts and desires. The trouble is transgressions and sins can be easily identified in wanton ways but are not so easy to detect when hidden behind walls of self-righteous piety. To be saved by grace means those who know they are far from God and those who think they share the corner office with the Almighty occupy the same room, which is to say, the place we neither design nor control and where all are welcome because God loves people we don't. So the truth that escapes us time and again is that the One who could return wrath for wrath is rich in mercy but only as a remedy and not as an excuse. What God believes, even if we don’t, is that love is the way wrathful hearts are warmed and hardened hearts are softened so that we all become as merciful as the one who created both.