Friday, July 20, 2018

Lectionary 16 B - Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

Mark 6:30-3453-56
The people of Gennesaret recognize Jesus because the Gerasene demoniac is in his right mind and wearing clothes and won’t stop talking about the One who set him free from the chains of insanity. (Mark 5:1-20) My guess is only the swine headers are sorry to see Jesus again. The apostles sent and returned have also experienced rock star status and along with Jesus are no longer anonymous. Of course it is not a good thing to have no leisure (even to eat) but it might be nice to be known once and awhile as a disciple of the Christ. We don’t have to have Holy Spirit power to heal or the ability to teach with wisdom and authority. The command of Christ is to love one another as we have been loved and love will get you noticed if we love consistently and without reservation. Even a chance encounter with a stranger affords us the opportunity to be friendly or generous or welcoming and although we might not see the result there is healing in a smile or a gesture of kindness. We have spent a good bit of time practicing the faith in and with the faithful. It’s time to get in our boats, so to speak, and cross to the other side, which today might mean the Starbucks across the street from the sanctuary. I wonder if anyone would recognize us? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lectionary 16 B - Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22
I've read this passage more times than I can remember and have always celebrated it as good news and of course it is. But then I am a “citizen with the saints” who otherwise would have been an alien and a stranger cut off from the covenant with no hope and without God. I imagine it was read differently by those who saw the “dividing wall” as faithfulness and not hostility, who waxed poetic about the perfect law that revives the soul and makes the simple wise. (Psalm 19:7) Truth is even the apostle Paul resisted the new arrangement with violence, breathing “murderous threats” (Acts 9:1) against those who claimed the Christ as Messiah and Lord.  Years after Paul breached the wall the commonwealth of Israel was expelled from the household of God by the aliens and strangers who erected a new wall of hostility. I’m guessing God hoped for a different outcome but like the “in the beginning” gone wrong in the garden this was a moment when all the possibilities of the perfect future were available in the present and humans chose to remain mired in the past. That does not mean we need to stay there. We can embrace this text from the other side of history and tear down the walls we have erected. We can stop defining “us” by denigrating “them”. We can choose to be people who proclaim peace to all who have been exiled to “far off” and by living the hope of the future be ourselves a holy “dwelling place for God.” 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lectionary 16 B - Psalm 23

Psalm 23


I have had more than one sheep and quite a few shepherds, albeit of the German, Australian and Belgium variety, but then “the Lord is my shepherd” wasn’t thinking of a dog to get the job done. No, “the Lord is my shepherd” isn’t limited to a pastoral landscape or agrarian lifestyle. That may be why a culture specific song speaks to every time and place. We all know the valley of the shadow and have felt its cold grip about our necks. We have been surrounded by enemies who overturn our tables and drain our cups to the dregs. Goodness and mercy have fled away and our heads have been anointed with scorn. The psalm is not spoken to those who lie on beds of ease or rejoice as in days of comfort. There is a reason the 23rd psalm follows the 22nd cry of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” For “the Lord is my shepherd” speaks as a finale to those who have walked through “the valley of the shadow”. Not that the rest of us can’t sing the song. It’s just that to fully appreciate the tune requires a minor key before the chord can be resolved. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Lectionary 16 B - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
It appears that the days that “are surely coming” still haven’t arrived as the righteous Branch raised up for David was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53) and crucified by the sheep he came to shepherd. Of course the righteous Branch was resurrected and the remnant gathered on Pentecost would proclaim the reign of the righteous Branch from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth. Unfortunately the empire figured out assimilation was the best way to stamp out the Holy Spirit fire as the remnant tempted by the power of ruling did not remain true to the righteous Branch. And so even if there are days of righteousness and justice and wise dealings they don’t last as one tyrant is overthrown only to be replaced by another. So what shall we say about this promise as yet unfilled? Well maybe Jeremiah’s idea of what the Branch would accomplish and God’s “plans to prosper… with a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) were not exactly the same thing. In the temporal realm branches raised up are not like the capital B branch that comes humble and riding on a donkey and in the grand scheme of things we should not look to small b Branches to be anything more than twigs. We are citizens of a realm that exists simultaneously in the finite present and the infinite future and as such are free like Jeremiah to speak truth to “the powers that be” without counting the cost even if the cost is a cross. In that way the days that “are surely coming” have already arrived and are still pending as we work to transform what is into what will be, even while we wait with eager expectation the day when “they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” will have fully come.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Mark 6:14-29

Mark 6:14-29
It is a gruesome story and a sad end for the Baptizer who made straight the way in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. I know Stephen is the first martyr of the church but John is the first one to die for the cause. That’s not to say he fully understood it even if in baptizing Jesus he recognized the one who was greater than he. While in prison John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another. Jesus sent them back to tell John “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5) Maybe Jesus’ response emboldened John to continue to be a voice in the wilderness, albeit confined in Herod’s prison, calling on “that fox” (Luke 13:32) to get out of the hen house. But then John was not a “reed shaking in the wind” or one destined to wear fine clothes. (Matthew 11:7) He was born to be a prophet and “more than a prophet” but like so many prophets before him he paid the price for speaking the truth to power. Jesus will have his own day in court when the crowd demands its due and the prophet from Galilee suffers the same fate as those who went before him. The difference is that the Word made flesh could not be silenced, even by the grave. And John the baptizer was blessed to know he was included in the answer that Jesus sent him. We stand in that prophetic tradition as those called to speak the truth and not count the cost for the answer sent to John includes us. The dead are raised.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Ephesians 1:3-14


Ephesians 1:3-14
Chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the earth” is a long time to be loved. But we were destined for adoption for the good pleasure of God’s will. That means we are the object of God’s eternal affection so that love lavished upon us has as much to do with God’s desire to love as to be loved in return. It is a mutually pleasing arrangement. God gifts us with glorious grace and we live for the praise of God the giver’s glory. The mystery of God’s will made known to us through the apostle Paul is that God is somehow incomplete or unfulfilled without us. And we are less than we were destined to be without God. The church has not always done justice to describing this reciprocal relationship, casting God as a stern judge who merely puts up with us or excusing continued rebelliousness on our part by a cheap grace that that does not count the cost of our redemption to the Christ. But when we understand ourselves to be dearly loved children we can no more be afraid of God’s wrath than a child laughing while bouncing on the knee of a devoted parent. And in the same way we live to make God laugh with pure delight and joy just as we desire to please a beloved parent. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
Because steadfast love and faithfulness embrace righteousness and peace are bold to come out of the closet and engage in PDA (public display of affection) so that faithfulness springs forth and the righteousness of heaven rains down upon the earth. But before these delightful verses the psalmist pleads for God’s displeasure to be put away and God’s anger to dissipate so that the people might be revived. Therefore the most important verse of the psalm is verse 8. “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying…” Revival happens when God responds to the people’s pleading and they listen and act on what they hear. Then the righteousness that springs forth to be kissed by peace is found in acts of kindness and mercy that mimic the ways of the Lord. And like a sweet embrace or a passionate kiss the world blushes at first but in the end is blessed by the PDA of God's faithful people.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Amos 7:7-15

Amos 7:7-15
There comes a time when the harsh word is the only word left to speak for one cannot forever endure those who continually abandon the truth and expect no consequence for living the lie. And so the Lord hijacks Amos from dressing vines to speak a harsh word against Jeroboam and the vineyard that is “my people Israel.” Even if the Lord is merciful and slow to anger there comes a day when the steadfast love of the Lord is compelled to say to the wicked, “Thy will be done.” There is a loss for God as well, like a parent of wayward child or the partner of an unfaithful spouse, as the Lord goes into exile and all the hopes and dreams begun in the rescue from Egypt – I will be your God and you will be my people – are for naught. But God’s anger does not burn eternally as God’s desire for intimacy cannot withstand exile forever. Long after Israel is abandoned and Judah is exiled and returned God will write a new covenant on the hearts of humans. The true nature of God will be revealed in the living and dying and rising of Jesus who creates for himself a people to bear witness to the grace of God. The desert will bloom like the Texas Hill Country after a rain and the dry land will rejoice and the people will prosper not because we abandon rebellious ways but because God refuses to abandon us.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - 2 Corithians 12:2-10

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Power made perfect in weakness” is not a pleasant sort of life even if Paul is content to boast of his long list of calamities. Indeed it would seem that the thorn in his flesh is the least of his worries. But then the lesson to be learned is that the ability to endure all things does not come from a position of strength as if all one had to do was double down on spiritual steroids or stoically channel your inner Norwegian - if you happen to be Lutheran. No. It is grace that allows weakness to be strength. That means one can be content and still lament of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” (aka - channeling the inner Dane) It means that even though you pray for what you want (three or more times if you like) there comes a day when you accept what is and there is some measure of contentment in acceptance. But that is not the end of the story. The grace that is sufficient points us to the “things that are not to be told” so that the future balm for present woes might be applied to the wounds made by thorns in the flesh. In that way “my grace is sufficient for you” transcends whatever keeps us from being too elated in the present with the promise of whatever waits for us in the paradise that only “God knows”.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - Psalm 123

Psalm 123
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we have had more than enough contempt from the proud and those who are at ease except that in our context “we have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo) Not that we are the “indolent rich” only that in comparison with the vast majority of those who inhabit the planet we have won the lottery a few times over. So if we were to translate the lament of the psalm it might be that we have had more than enough of lusting after the lifestyle of the rich and famous (Robin Leach) Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or competing to be the “winner is the one who dies with the most toys.” When with eyes lifted up to the heavens we search for God’s mercy we are set free from the allure of possessions and the siren song of power. In that way we have had more than enough of the ways of this world and long for the day when with eyes lifted up we shall see the salvation of the Lord.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel 2:1-5
This is not the sort of job description one wants to receive but then it seems to be the prophet’s lot. Ezekiel is sent to speak truth to a nation of obstinate and stubborn rebels. Isaiah is sent to a people “ever hearing but never understanding… ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Isaiah 6:9) Jeremiah is made to be a “fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall” to stand against the kings of Judah, the officials, the priests and the people of the land. (Jeremiah 1:17) I’d prefer to be a kinder, gentler prophet like the “Comfort, comfort, ye my people” Isaiah (40:1) or the “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord” Jeremiah. (29:11-13) But it appears healing words cannot not be heard unless harsh ones till the soil of stubborn souls in the same way that the “Thus says the Lord” truth to be told about us makes us receptive to the good news of the Gospel. “Come let us reason together. Though your sins are scarlet they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18) Bad news becomes good news when we receive the corrective word of the Lord as an invitation and not condemnation. Or as Ezekiel will say later  "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ” (33:11)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Lectionary 13 B - Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5:21-43

It is a story of two women healed (even if one is girl). Both are anonymous – one named by a condition – the other by a relationship. The bleeding woman is as dead as Jairus’ daughter will soon be. She is cut off from the community by her unending flow and has been impoverished by physicians whose skills have failed her. She would have been invisible to those who did not know her and those who did would have shrunk back for fear of contact contamination. In her desperation she doesn’t care. “If I but touch the hem of his robe…” I imagine through twelve years of bleeding she’s had faith in other options. The reputation of the Mayo Clinic of her time, a perfect sacrifice offered in the Jerusalem temple, the dedication of her first born if God made it possible, etc. etc. That is until they failed to live up to her hope. That means the faith of this moment has less to do with her and everything to do with the One in whom she has placed her trust. The faith that follows and is more remarkable than a desperate act is that after having been made well she is free to walk away without anyone being the wiser but instead steps forward and admits to touching a man in public while she was bleeding and that Jesus did what no one else had been able to do in twelve years of trying. The daughter of Jairus has been alive as long as the woman has been bleeding. Her father shows the same sort of courage born of desperation that the woman did. No doubt members of the synagogue have heard of the Galilean preacher and wonder if their leader has lost his mind but Jairus believes Jesus is his and his daughter’s only hope. Even when the dreadful news reaches Jairus he listens to Jesus (who by the way is now unclean by virtue of the woman’s touch) and no doubt urges him on, “hurry then!” Jesus passing through the wailing crowd, ignoring the ridicule of their prognosis, takes the hand of “the little girl” and speaks life into her dead body.  So it will be with us, maybe in the here and now if God chooses to gift us with healing of earthly aliments but most certainly in the life to come when with our hand in his he will say, “get up!” And so we shall. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lectionary 13 B - 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
The context for this portion of the Corinthian correspondence is the collection for the saints in Jerusalem who were suffering extreme poverty during an extended famine. The fundraising has stalled and the weekly installments (1 Corinthians 16:2) have come up short. I image there were a good number of wealthy Corinthians who used the occasion to point out the foolishness of selling all your possessions and holding everything in common. (Acts 2:44-45) Paul, ever the pragmatist, appeals to their pride, the very thing he has previously argued against. But maybe this is where the thirteenth chapter of his first letter “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels and have not love I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal” is wedded to the words of Jesus’ half-bother James. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed, “but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-17) If we have been made rich by the poverty of Christ how can we not be generous toward the needs of others? Paul would not have said it that way, maybe because he couldn’t see grace in the law, but James, who as blood kin is closer to Jesus, states the obvious. Faith without works is no faith at all. Maybe that is why James sounds more like his half-brother Jesus than Paul does. If someone is hungry give them food. If someone is thirsty give them something to drink. If someone is naked clothe them. If someone is in prison visit them. If someone is without shelter house them. If your brothers and sisters in Jerusalem are in need, do whatever you can do to help them. It's a no-brainer. But Paul would clean it up a bit and say, in doing so you will excel in the generous undertaking of doing for others as has been done for you. Which means, "Just do it." 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lectionary 13 B- Psalm 30

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 knows a thing or two about suffering. Enemies threatened. Health was lost. The mouth of the grave was wide open. The night was filled with weeping. But Psalm 30 sings of sorrow from the perspective of deliverance. You lifted me up. You restored my health. You denied death its due. You met me in the morning with joy. That is good news for anyone on the other side of trouble. The question is this; can we sing the song of deliverance before the song of suffering is stilled? Or better yet, can we praise God from the pit of no profit and declare God’s faithfulness when our throats are as dry as dust? The answer might be in verse six. “While I felt secure I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed’.” And subsequently God’s face was hidden and fear filled the vacancy. That does not mean we live anticipating trouble. It means even in times of calm we count on God, and more than that, we believe God is not absent when enemies surround, vitality is sapped, death beckons, and weeping fills the night. It is because Jesus was surrounded by enemies, pierced by nail and thorn in hand and foot and forehead, and after descending to the grave broke free from death's grip, that we are confident, even when all of life is dressed in sackcloth and wailing, that we are destined for an eternity of dancing dressed in garments of joy. That will be when the song without ceasing is fully sung. In the meantime if all we can do is hum a few bars of the forever song it will be enough to get us through the night of weeping until we are welcomed by the eternal morning of joy. `

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lectionary 13 B - Lamentations 3:22-33

Lamentations 3:22-33
Lamentations is not the happiest book in the Bible. It may be the most honest. The good news is that honesty does not need to be happy and that is comforting, at least to the degree we accept what it says as true. So Lamentations can proclaim God’s never ceasing love and mercies while keeping the parenthesis in place -(there may yet be hope) vs. 29. Wes Word, a Fort Worth, TX singer songwriter, sings it this way, “Tomorrow is just another yesterday – don’t worry ‘cause it’s all over soon.” I suppose you could hear that as a depressing commentary on life but when you wed it to his comment “we are the community we create” it is really an invitation to live fully into the day that exists between tomorrow and yesterday. So we wait quietly (or maybe not so quietly) for the Lord to act trusting that in the life between the forever tomorrow and all our yesterdays the community God has created in the Christ, through us, for the world is abiding grace, confident hope, enduring love.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lectionary 12 B - Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41
It was Jesus’ idea to sail across the lake but it was the disciples who took him in the boat “just as he was.” It’s an odd thing to say but perhaps explains why Jesus is sleeping in the stern while the disciples struggle to keep the boat from sinking. Just before setting out to sea Jesus was teaching all day. Before that he was hemmed in by crowds trying to touch him for healing. He was “outed” as the “Son of God” by demonic spirits and at the same time accused by Pharisees of being in league with the devil. And to top it off his own mother told him to stop acting like a lunatic. No wonder he needed a nap. But “just as he was” is more than a reference to how he was at that moment. Jesus is the “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations” (Job 38:4) and yet cannot keep his eyes open in the center of a cyclone. He is weakened and wearied by wearing human flesh, not as a garment one can take off and send to the cleaners, but real life flesh and blood, skin and bone, muscle and sinew, organs and beating heart. When the storm causes the disciple’s courage to melt away and they “stagger and reel like drunkards at their wit’s end” (Psalm 107:27) they wake the One “just as he was” to question his motives and ability. “Don’t you care..?” means they want and need him to be more than “just as he was.” Maybe we do as well? Perhaps we’d prefer a superman Jesus who swoops in to save us or a supermarket Jesus who provides for all our needs or a problem solving Jesus who resolves all our dilemmas. I’m not saying Jesus doesn’t save or provide or address dilemmas. Jesus stills the storm for the disciples and for us is a very present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46) But an equal if not greater truth is that Jesus became just as we are so that we might become just as he was. Or better, maybe it means we can be like Jesus and be “just as we are” at the same time? Frail and foolish and yet filled with faith that on a good day might even still a storm or two for people who are perishing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lectionary 12 B - 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
If the contentious Corinthians were not the proverbial “thorn” in Paul’s flesh they were certainly a pain in the you know what. And yet his heart “wide open” is willing to endure ridicule and rejection for the sake of these people puffed up with pride who have accepted the grace of God in vain. Not that Paul is not without fault. Lord knows he can be arrogant and rude but in this case I believe he is genuine in his affection and his desire that the grace of God overcome the obstacle the Corinthian Christians have put in its way. That’s because unity within the body of Christ is essential to the mission of the church. So it is with us when relationships within the body of Christ are strained and divisions and dissent cause us to close our hearts to one another. But if we recognize that today is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation, then the temporal matters over which we might argue lose their import and we are able to live the freedom found in the grace of God. That means we live today in the way we will when all things are made new. There will be no divisions in the forever future. The vast multitude of every race and language will sing the same song and eat from the same table on the holy mountain and no one will be greater or less than anyone else. The church is meant to be a reflection of that future so that those outside the church will come to believe that the Lord has listened to them as well and the acceptable time is always now, the day of salvation always available.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lectionary 12 B - Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Psalm 107:1-323-32
Psalm 107 is a long song that details the troubles the people of God get into when they rebel against God’s commands. They wandered in desert wastelands, were imprisoned in darkness, afflicted with sickness and set adrift on stormy seas. But when they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow then they cried out to the Lord and every time they did the Lord delivered them. We might not be set adrift on the sea but we experience times when we stagger and real like drunkards and all our skill is to no avail. When hope hangs on by a thread we cry out to the Lord in our distress and whether the storm is stilled or we are, the truth is God is always present with steadfast love and wonderful works that are worthy of thanks and praise. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lectionary 12 B - Job 38:1-11

Job 38:1-11
After 37 chapters Job finally gets his day in the celestial court although after God’s opening argument Job surrenders and cops a guilty plea, “Surely I’ve spoken of things too great for me to understand.” (Job 42:3) God’s “where were you…” might mean the question is not even ours to ask. It certainly means God doesn’t have to answer our “why?” We, like Job, his wife and his friends, would prefer a more predictable process where we can explain and in that sense control what happens to us. At the very least being the cause of what happens to us means we have someone to blame and in a weird way there is some comfort in that. But when life (i.e. God) refuses to play by any rules we can identify or codify we are tempted to complain bitterly like Job does while protesting his innocence, or hold onto our theologies more tightly like his friends do, or take Job’s wife’s advice and “curse God” (Job 2:9) and let ourselves and faith die. But I think living “I have spoken of things too great for me to understand” allows us to face circumstances beyond our control with a faith that depends fully on the One who was there when the foundations of the earth were laid. And the reason we can live without question or answer is because the God revealed in the cross asked the question for us “My God! My God! Why have forsaken me?” and answered it in “It is finished.” That does not mean we live through sorrow and pain as a prelude to the hymn of heaven but rather that we sing the forever future song in the face of the “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 6:17) of this life even when they are heavy and drawn out and we must sing through gritted teeth and weeping eye.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lectionary 11 B - Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4:26-34
I think explaining a parable is like repeating the punch line of a joke and asking “get it?” It never works quite as well because it loses the element of surprise. And so without explaining it I think a parable of the kingdom is like the kingdom in that it is plainly stated and yet remains hidden. It is fully visible in unselfish acts and deeds of kindness that sprout from hearts and minds animated by the wind of the Spirit, especially when like a seed that sprouts it appears out of the dry soil of everyday lives. And yet a good bit of the time it is barely perceived in the same way we have a dream that upon waking lingers for a moment before being erased from our conscious memory. That is because our part is simply to participate in what already is. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray the reign of God come down wherever and whenever and for whatever reason God so chooses so that we can live it. That happens when human beings get caught up in the mystery of God’s acting out in our world and begin to act and speak in ways that mimic what God does which is always about life and love. When we participate in what already is the branches of mercy are extended well beyond anything we could imagine or manufacture or explain. Surprise!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lectionary 11 B - 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Before you get overly concerned (and therefore less than confident) with “all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ” read on to verse 14. “The love of Christ urges us on….” When we are motivated by fear of punishment or desire for reward we do not live the life of love even if we are as obedient as is humanly possible. If your first thought upon reading that is that I’m am trying to excuse disobedience you are still thinking in terms of judgment. There is no freedom in that dynamic and therefore no Gospel. Every religion invented by humanity works on the principle of reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. But if we regard Jesus “no longer from a human point of view” – the innocent One died for the guilty multitude - a new creature is born who for the sake of God lives the life of love for others for the sake of love which is to say, God, who BTW is love. Now there may eternal consequences for choosing to live otherwise (there are without doubt terrible temporal consequences) but thinking that the sum total of the Christian life is to get to heaven or avoid hell is equally damning because in the end it’s all about you and that means even your act of "love" is self-serving. So let’s leave the future in God’s hands and trust that in Christ everything has indeed been made new for only then can we be “always be confident.” 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lectionary 11 B - Psalm 92

Psalm 92:1-4; 12-15
Psalm 92 is listed as a song for the Sabbath day but it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord every day, morning, noon and night. Or as pop culture icon Spongebob Squarepants sang in Attitude of Gratitude. “Oh, I’ve got a whole new attitude, a life-time subscription to gratitude…I’m grateful for the life I am living, who knows how long I will have it...” Now you can’t artificially manufacture such an attitude but you do have the option to decide to live each moment as best you can considering each breath we take is a gift which is how we manage to bear fruit even in our old age. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lectionary 11 B - Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel 17:22-24
The prophet Ezekiel imagines the Lord as the One who provides shade and shelter and sustenance for all creatures great and small. More to the point, the Great I AM is not far off and removed but intimately involved in the process of planting the noble cedar that produces boughs and fruit. “I myself will take a sprig…” I will set it out...” I will break off a tender one…” I myself will plant it…” In the same way the trees of the field recognize their vitality is determined by the Great “I will accomplish it.” The tall and green tree is brought low and made dry as the dry and low tree is made green and tall. Not as a preference but as God’s prerogative so that all will have to acknowledge that God is the master of seed and sun and soil and moisture.  Of course many a North Texan would prefer God dry up every last cedar in sight, especially when the wind blows and the pollen count goes through the roof. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Lectionary 10 B - Mark 3:20-35

Mark 3:20-35
So much for family values! It is clear from the scriptures that Jesus raised a ruckus and people have been trying to quiet him down ever since. It’s not hard to do. Jesus isn’t around to object to whatever we claim WWJD. Even the church has a vested interest in the status quo, especially where pensions and tax breaks for the clerical class are concerned. But Jesus was a radical for his time and place and upset everyone, even disciples who followed and a family who failed to understand. That’s because Jesus was living the limitless future in the far too constrained present where risking radical love gets you crucified. So how might we be brother and sister and mother to Jesus in our time and place? It might be by giving away more than you hold onto or acting with more grace, thinking with less judgment, loving with fewer restrictions. That being said, just getting push back for one’s beliefs is not proof that you and Jesus are on the same page. But if we transform lives like Jesus did – fishermen who become fearless preachers, tax collectors who stop cheating, women who are welcomed as leaders, or a Pharisee (Nicodemus) who born from above steps out of the shadows – you can bet eternity we are doing the will of God.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lectionary 10 B - 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 is found in the occasional services book and is suggested for use in times of illness or when one is near death. I tried to read these words to a friend and colleague at Harris Hospital in July of 2007 a few days before he died. I don’t know what I was thinking. His “slight and momentary affliction” was neither slight nor momentary and witnessing his body wracked in pain mocked these words meant for comfort. As I began to sob uncontrollably Pastor Tom stopped me with a hand on my shoulder and despite the obvious pain he was enduring said, “It’s alright Phil. The gospel I’ve preached my whole life was good enough for me then and it’s good enough for me now. I’m not afraid. And when I get there I’ll mention your name.” I can never read these verses without thinking of that day and I’m grateful for the grace extended to me by one who was infinitely more courageous and faithful than I am which is why I’m glad Saint Tom intercedes for me even now though he might need to do more than mention my name. Just sayin. Then again Jesus is the One who did the heavy lifting for both St. Tom and me so that even our “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” moments are ultimately slight and momentary. So I guess I'll see you when I get there, Tom. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lectionary 10 B - Psalm 130

Psalm 130
I’ve kept watch for more than one morning and the coming day is always too slow to dawn. That is the nature of waiting while crying from the depths of guilt, or worse, shame. But the psalmist trusts that the sins that are continually accusing us are not counted by the Lord which is why waiting can be endured with hope that with the light of each new day the sins of the past are erased from God’s memory. That is because the steadfast love of God is expressed in plenteous redemption which means there is no limit to the depths God will go to hear and answer our cry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Lectionary 10 B - Genesis 3:8-15

Genesis 3:8-15
The story of our beginning does not have to be literally true to tell the truth about us. We, like our first parents, would not be satisfied with paradise if there was one tree we are not allowed to touch. And so they believed the lie and acted on it thinking that the One who created them and provided for them was too good to be true. We’ve been living the lie ever since trapped in self-serving ways that are self-destructive, blaming each other and everyone else when we are the ones who are responsible for our own folly. Of course when paradise was lost to the ones created in God’s image it was lost to God as well for when the first humans were cast out of the garden the mercy of God was this – God went with them.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17
The truth of “God so loved the world…” is diminished if we add conditional clauses that limit the ability of the wind of the Spirit to blow wherever it chooses. In the same way we demean the sacrifice of “he gave his only Son” by insisting that the Spirit wind of God’s love must blow everywhere for everyone. We do not know the magnitude or the limitations of God’s mercy although to insist on a verbal confession of a personal relationship and a particular way of being baptized would seem to usurp God’s prerogative to do whatever God pleases. And if the life of Jesus gives us any clue it would seem that the only people who should be concerned are the very religious people – in Jesus’ day Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law. The good news for those of us who are blessed to believe and those who do not is that the wind of the Spirit blows where it will and if the cross is any indication of God’s intent it will be a mighty merciful wind indeed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Romans 8:12-17

Romans 8:12-17
I will admit I’m in hock to the flesh and cannot conceive a payment plan that will get me out of debt anytime soon. Based on Paul’s struggle in the previous chapter “I do not understand what I do…” (7:15 ff) my guess is that Paul was paying down his debt his whole life as well. But putting to death the deeds of the body is not as much about freedom from the flesh as it is trusting that even while we are in the flesh our cry “Abba! Father!” is heard no matter what. Like paying a mortgage on a house we get to live in even though the bank holds the note. But unlike human lenders the Lord doesn’t evict us if we miss a payment and truth to be told the permanent dwelling is already deeded to us as well because of the down payment Jesus made on our behalf. So we are debtors but in debt forever to Christ and gladly so.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Psalm 29

Psalm 29
Hills skipping and mountains bucking are not that pleasant when one is in close proximity. In the same way we prefer our forests leafy green as opposed to stripped bare. But the Lord enthroned above the flood is imagined by the psalmist in ways that strike terror into human hearts so that God’s glory is matched strength for strength with the little g gods who are compelled to ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. For our part we count on God’s voice to be reduced to a whisper when our name is called so that the God who bursts forth in lightning blasts might bestow on us the blessing of peace.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year B - Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah 6:1-8
The call story of the prophet Isaiah is filled with fanciful details that defy explanation. The hem of the Lord “high and lifted up” fills the temple which must mean the rest of the Lord is seated on the patio? Why do the seraphim need two wings to hide their faces and two wings for their feet when they only need two to fly? And burning coals do serious damage to lips so that one might forgo forgiveness for lack of lip balm. All of that is to say the vision is like a dream and full of bizarre imagery to elevate the high and lifted up Lord beyond this mortal coil and usher us into the mystery of God who is beyond knowing. “Woe is me!” is the proper thing to say in the sight of such power. Which means the enthusiasm of “Here am I. Send me” should have waited for a moment to hear what follows. "I’m sending you to people ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving. Make their hearts dull, their ears heavy, their eyes shut until their cities are laid waste." To which the more appropriate response might be “Woe is me” if not for the faithfulness of the Lord who upholds those who are sent and preserves those who willing. Here am I. Send. Me. Even so. Oy Vey.

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.