Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lectio nary 33 B - Mark 13"1-8

Mark 13:1-8

I imagine upon reading the Gospel of Mark the unnamed disciple was glad he remained anonymous. Only moments before the disciple exclaimed “Look teacher!” Jesus had elevated an invisible widow and two small copper coins above the offerings of excess from those who, like large stone buildings, made themselves hard to ignore. Of course we too are enamored by an impressive edifice of flesh or stone, more often than not our own. But the temple was more than just an extraordinary piece of architecture. In the mind of the people it was the only place where heaven and earth met, where the Holy consecrated the profane, where the presence of God hidden behind a curtain kept watch over Israel. The temple had become more important to the faith than the One it was built to house and so Jesus directed the disciple to look more closely. Do you see…? God does not dwell in a house made by human hands but in the heart of a widow. It is a word for those who might be impressed by stone structures of denominations or distressed at their possible demise. Do you see…? It applies to the beginnings of the birth pangs as well, which might indeed be cause for alarm but for the promise at the end of this chapter “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not.” Do you see…? It is a question for all who are alarmed by personal conflicts within and without, by divisions, by everyday disruptions that make one hunger for something stable and trustworthy. Do you see…? It is in this different way of seeing that God is found for when all appeared lost for Jesus all in fact was won. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” is the prelude to “It is finished” in the same way that the birth pangs, as alarming as they may be, anticipate the advent of something new. Do you see?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lectionary 33 B - Hebrews 10:11-25

Hebrews 10:11-25

"Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…" It reminds me of “I double dare you” on the grade school playground although that usually involved provoking one another to dangerous deeds that were never very good and certainly not well thought out. The Greek word is paroxysm, which means a sharpening. The only other time the word is used is for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that resulted in their parting company. So we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds with the same intensity as a sharp disagreement. This won’t be easy for Lutherans because we prefer a more polite approach that includes the magic word “please” or “If it’s not too much trouble…” If that doesn't work we still don’t provoke. We motivate one another the old fashioned way aka Lutheran guilt. But for the writer of Hebrews provocation is based on confidence, full assurance and unwavering hope in the faithfulness of God. The provocation to love is a response to God’s love, as good deeds are a response to the good deed done for us by Jesus who has opened a new and living way into heaven itself. Now that sounds like something that might motivate a Lutheran. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and do some good deeds today. I double dare you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Lectionary 33 B - Psalm 16

Psalm 16

“I have no good apart from you” while those “who choose another god multiply their sorrows.” I’m afraid we often turn “I have no good apart from you” into “another god.” By that I mean we build walls around the boundary lines of the “pleasant places” so that we become the landlords of the Lord’s lot and deny others the grace we freely accept for ourselves. That doesn't mean there are not drink offerings that should not be drunk or names of false gods that are better not uttered. But if we listen to the instruction of the Lord and obey the counsel of the Christ our delight and fullness of joy will lead us to care for those who have chosen to go down to the pit in such a way that they might choose to step out of the Sheol of their own design and onto to the path of life that is the light and love of the Lord. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lectionary 33 B - Daniel 12:1-3

Daniel 12:1-3
The only trouble with writing a lectionary based blog is you can’t avoid difficult passages. So let me say first that doom and gloom scriptures with everlasting judgment trouble me even if I count myself as one of the wise. And there are plenty of scripture passages that will support the idea that the chance of being one of the wise shiny ones is akin to winning the lottery which is even more troubling because I never win anything. Later verses in the 12th chapter of Daniel are considered by some to be the key to unlocking the riddle of the time of tribulation in the Book of Revelation where the vast majority of people hold a losing lottery ticket and are left behind. That is not to say God cannot do whatever God wants, even sentence the whole lot of us to shame and everlasting contempt. But in light of the cross I find that unlikely and for me the cross is always the key to unlocking the mystery of scripture. There are certainly things worthy of judgment and I count myself guilty on all counts, but as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say judgment is a penultimate word, or the word that comes before the ultimate word which is the cross which is grace and mercy and God’s self-sacrifice for wise and foolish alike. The truth of Daniel is more apparent in its immediate context. It is a word for persecuted people held captive in a foreign land and more than one of their loved ones are sleeping in the dust. It is a promise that the scales of justice will be tipped in their favor and despite a time of unprecedented anguish deliverance will have the final say. Does it mean that everyone will shine and no one will be eternally ashamed? I don’t know, but God does and somehow knowing that the God of the cross has the final say makes even doom and gloom scriptures less troubling.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Lectionary 32 B - Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44
As one who walks around in a long robe once a week and sits up front in the sanctuary and at the head table and is often greeted in public with a nod and a “Morning, Father” I must admit there is some truth to Jesus description of “pastored up” pride. The designation (in some Lutheran circles) of “Herr Pastor” did not come about without cause. That being said there is also a great sense of humility that comes from being “a steward of the mysteries of God” and bearing the burdens of God’s people “not because you must but because you are willing” (ordination vows) because no one takes those vows without repeating the refrain “…and I ask God to help me”. The only help (and hope) of the poor widow comes from God as she is neglected by the institution that requires her copper coins (the temple tax) even though support for widows and orphans and the poor and "the sojourner in your midst" was required of the institution as a reminder that “once you were slaves in the land of Egypt”. Maybe the greater condemnation received by the outwardly pious and proud is that when the doors of the banquet of the future are closed to them the widow at the head table will ask Jesus to let them sit next to her. And maybe Jesus will ask, “are you sure?” And she’ll say, “Yes, and I ask God to help me.” 

Lectionary 32 A - Hebrews 9:24-28

Hebrews 9:24-28Jesus’ “once for all” is a done deal, a fait accompli, and yet our religious practices are such that the once would appear to not be enough, or if it is, it is not for all. Even if all we add is “eager waiting” Jesus self-sacrifice is not “once for all” self-sufficient in and of itself. That is not to say “eager waiting” is not important, only that it adds nothing to what the Christ has done “once for all”. Otherwise we are just another version of the high priest putting Christ into play week after week, day after day, by the sacrifice we make for ourselves or require of others. But if God has determined to do what we could not by replacing the blood of bulls and lambs and doves with God’s own life then God no longer needs to be appeased (if indeed God ever did) and we are free to live as those loved by God. If our piety reflected that truth we would be more like Jesus and less like high priests.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Lectionary 32 B - Psalm 146

Psalm 146
I don’t know how it happens but sometimes the lectionary and the events of the day or week line up in ways that are ironic if not prophetic. “Do not put your trust in princes…” might be both for an Election Day. I want to quickly point out that “princes” is plural which means it is a bipartisan critique on those “in whom there is no help.” It is because their breath is as fleeting as ours so that whether one lives in a red state or a blue we all occupy the same place when the earth reclaims us as its own and mortal plans perish. There are no partisan politics six feet under. Dead is dead. Not a very comforting thought. On the other hand there is a prince who can help, whose plans do not perish, who is worthy of trust. The plan of this prince is justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind. To lift up those bowed down and watch over the stranger and the widow and the orphan while bringing the ways of the wicked to naught. It appears from the scriptures that God’s very nature is to care for those the world despises or ignores so that the banquet hall of the forever future feast will be filled with those who like Lazarus at the rich man’s gate had no place at the table in this life. That is not a political agenda as God’s vision is not a party platform. It is how God ushers the future into our present so that whenever and wherever mercy, love and peace are found the joys of heaven are known. We who have been claimed by Christ are free to vote today for whatever prince we want but our trust can only be in the Prince of Peace whose plans will never perish and whose faithfulness is forever. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lectionary 32 B - 1 Kings 17:8-16

1 Kings 17:8-16

This always reminds me of a fairy-tale fable where the poor farmer shares his last meal with a stranger who turns out to be an enchanted prince who then rewards the farmer for his generosity. I suppose this story is just as surprising in that the widow is a foreigner who owes no allegiance to the Jewish prophet Elijah. She has accepted the grim reality that awaits her and her son and is convinced they both will die of starvation. But in Elijah's "do not be afraid..." she hears something to convince her that giving away the little she has will not simply hasten the inevitable. While we are not facing starvation we do experience times of spiritual, emotional or physical famine and resigned to our fate give up any hope that help will come in time. A loss of employment, or health, or relationships or struggling with more bills at the end of the month than income at the beginning we find ourselves in need of the same words, "Do not be afraid..." I'm not suggesting there is a magic pot that won't run out of whatever it is we need but there is a place where courage and strength to overcome can be found, a place where the cup is never empty and the plate is always full and it is never too late to hope in the promise of God. When we come to the table of grace, the meal of mercy, there is refreshment for weary and weak souls that are replenished in the sharing.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6
Here at the end of John’s dream (which is really just the beginning) the God far off, who came so close to the creation in the Christ as to die our death, moves in with mortals. In that day the city of peace, Jerusalem, finally lives into its name as tears are wiped away by God’s own hand and death is dealt with once and for all. Those who first heard the promise of John’s vision were able to endure all that causes mourning and crying and pain by holding onto the hope that they would be rescued and their persecutors crushed. The persecution of loss and pain and sorrow we experience is no less real, even if we are not put upon for proclaiming the faith, which means their hope is our hope and that one day God will move in to stay and death will be crushed once and for all. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Psalm 24

Psalm 24
Calvary member Bill Mooney ascended the hill of the Lord on Tuesday. His hands were made clean and his heart was made pure by the King of Glory to whom he lifted up his soul. He now stands in the holy place and gazes upon the face of God having received the promised blessing of peace forevermore from the God of his salvation. For his wife, Mary, and the friends and pastor who walked with him as far as the living are permitted to go his passing is bittersweet because our lives are still lived in the womb of the temporal while he has been birthed into the eternal. But since we belong to “the company of those who seek him” we are assured that the ancient gates will be lifted up for us when we ascend the hill of the Lord to stand beside the saints in the holy place. Until it is our time to climb we pray Godspeed to Bill and rejoice that he has joined the saints in light and waits for us to take our place at the forever feast. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Feast of All Saints Year B - Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah 25:6-9
Isaiah imagines all peoples have a reservation at the feast of rich food, fine wine and choicest meats. Of course the Moabites will be trodden on like straw in the dung (vs.10) but then how can one rejoice in deliverance unless someone else is damned? Truth is the needy poor are first on the guest list of “all peoples” (25:4) but before we venture into class warfare it turns out the strong and ruthless also recognize God’s goodness, albeit because God makes the fortified city a ruin. In the end death is the great equalizer and it doesn't matter if you are a princess or a pauper when death comes to your door. The good news for everyone of every class is that when God hosts the banquet all people feast on fine things while God dines on death. In the here and now it would seem that if the feast of fat things is to be filled then those who "have" will have to share with those who "have not" (James 2:14-17) so that our faith in the ultimate future is not dead on arrival in the present. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Reformation - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
Outside the city made glad by streams from the river the Lord of Hosts was led like a lamb to the slaughter. The "Refuge and Strength" that comes to those who are in trouble was himself in need of help but there was none to be found. On the day the voice of the “be still and know that I am God” was silenced the earth quaked and darkness descended on the earth and the curtain that hid the habitation of the most high was torn and two. If that were the end of the story there would be no help for us when morning dawns but as it is the earth could not contain the one who created the heavens and the morning that dawned on him was resurrection for us all. Our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of trouble, is in our confidence that if we have died with Christ we shall also rise with him and therefore we will not fear when the ground of our lives gives way. There may yet be a day when God causes wars to cease and the human race sings “ ain't gonna study war no more” but in these days the help we receive is that God stills our souls and calms our fears even though kingdoms totter and nations make noise.  

Monday, October 22, 2018

Reformation - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Every now and then the prophet Jeremiah was given a good word to speak and that makes the promise of “the days are surely coming” noteworthy. Even so none of the people to whom these words were written saw the day that would surely come. They died in the land of their enemy sitting by the waters of Babylon weeping the songs of Zion. Or they were the remnant who returned home only to find ruins not easily rebuilt and vineyards destroyed difficult to replant. But because “the days are surely coming…” was believed despite sour grapes setting teeth on edge it was more than just a fairy tale ending for a people plucked up and broken down. Believing the promise was the difference between giving up or going on, between living in spite of or dying because of, and whether they knew it or not it is what it means to know the Lord. And so it is for us who endure hardship and persevere through difficult days knowing in part and seeing dimly all the while waiting for another day that will surely come, when we will catch up with the least and the greatest who have gone on ahead of us and know the Lord fully for they see Him face to face.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45
“When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” presumably because the ten were sorry they hadn't been as bold as the two. All twelve imagined the cup was power and the baptism the laurel wreath of victory but Jesus is destined to be enthroned on a cross and the places on the right and left of that throne were reserved for criminals. Jesus stills the sons of thunder with the promise that they will drink the cup of suffering and be baptized with death without getting anything in return except the promise that being first for the follower of Jesus is like being last in the ways of the world. In so many ways that lesson has been lost on the church as the places of honor are reserved for those who “pastored up” say the prayer or for big box church rulers who drive Mercedes and live in Mc-Mansions provided by people who like the widow with a mite can hardly afford to tithe. Thank God that the “ransom for many” serves and saves in ways that go beyond the limited understanding of the two and the ten and the church so that Jesus is proclaimed despite our propensity to translate the Gospel into ways that make us great.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5:1-10
I’m not a high priest but I suppose according to the writer of Hebrews I qualify as one chosen to be “put in charge of things pertaining to God” so as to “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” Of course the people of God at Calvary are neither ignorant nor wayward. If you want to read some ignorant and wayward ideas just Google Melchizedek. The trouble with obscure Biblical characters is that people feel free to fill in the blanks. Can anyone say Jabez? What we do know is that Mel, the King of Salem, blessed Abram with bread and wine after Abram’s victory over the Elamites and Abram introduced the tithe – although the passage could be read in such a way that it could be King Mel who gave the tithe to Father Abe. (Genesis 14:18-20) That would be an interesting twist. What if in dealing with a wayward and ignorant humanity it is Jesus, the King of Peace, who gives the tithe to us? Except he didn’t just give ten percent but with loud tears and cries gave his whole life so as to deal gently with those who dealt cruelly with him. Maybe we need to do more than tithe as well?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Psalm 91:9-16

Psalm 91:9-16
I’m not sure I want to trample a great lion or tread on a cobra but I suppose it’s better than the alternative. On the other hand I wouldn't mind keeping ahead of harm and being satisfied with a long life. As for disasters coming near my tent I've experienced that on Mustang Island more than once and trust me life is not a beach when your tent is shredded by 40 mph winds. But whether we are fully satisfied or barely getting by the refuge of salvation is always available for those who love the Lord and call upon the goodness of God to grace every day with confident hope. As members of the body of Christ we participate in that process by guarding one another’s faith and with hands of kindness and mercy lifting one another up, acting as angels of a sort, for those whose feet are slipping.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Lectionary 29 B - Isaiah 53:4-12

Isaiah 53:4-12
Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant seems to indicate God does not deal with transgressions the same way we do. We hold onto grudges and make people pay for momentary slights and hardly ever forgive unless we are sure the offending party is sufficiently sorry. God in Jesus does what no one expects by entering into and bearing the pain that must grieve God the most; the beautiful and terrible human mind that imagines and constructs ways to maximize pain and shame while delaying death as long as possible. But God picks up the pain of all of our inhuman history and bears the suffering we consider a sign of God's judgment or bad karma or rotten luck so as to bring peace to all including those who could care less about anyone else. So aren't there consequences for transgressions? In this life the consequence is found in the transgression itself. A life of corruption can never relax. A life of violence is never safe. A life of excess is never satisfied. But the poor and the put upon and those who bear the brunt of the transgressions of others wait for another day and in that day – if we can believe the scriptures – the last will be ushered in ahead of the first. Whether they are also gatekeepers remains to be seen. If they are I hope they are as merciful as the God who let them cut in line ahead of us. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31
The rich young man’s wealth and life-long obedience to the law means he has every reason to believe his eternal life inheritance is in the bank and yet he still asks the question, “what must I do?”  The disciples who don’t understand his question or Jesus’ response for that matter have their deposit in the same account. If he’s not in the money what hope do we have? Even their response “we have left everything…” is a way of gaming the “what must I do” system so that God has to pay out on whatever winning hand we think we have. But “for God all things are possible” means we have nothing to do with whatever God has decided is possible for God to do which of course is all things including the unthinkable. God can give eternal life to whomever God pleases to give it to. But that also means God can withhold eternal life from whomever God chooses to withhold it. Truth is God can do whatever God wants to do. Of course in the cross we see the One who was obedient since the beginning give up all he had for the sake of a world impoverished by sin which might lead one to believe the love God has for the human family makes the question “what must I do?” meaningless. That doesn’t mean obedience to the commandments or giving up everything for the sake of the poor are not desirable things to do only that in God’s way of gaming there are no winning tickets to eternal life except Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Hebrews 4:12-16

Hebrews 4:12-16
The first humans hid in the bushes when after eating the forbidden fruit they suddenly realized they were naked. The writer of Hebrews understands what the first couple found out pretty quickly. “There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation” (Bob Marley – One Love) So if all is laid bare and exposed to the One to whom we all will have to give account how is it that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness? Of course the answer we know by heart is Jesus because Jesus knows a thing or two about being stripped naked. But to trust Jesus so completely as to be comfortable being exposed before the “one to whom we must render an account” is something else entirely. In many ways we are still hiding but now it is behind the bushes of religious rules and regulations that clothe us with respectability. I’m not saying piety doesn't have a prominent place in the life of faith, but there really is “no hiding place” when even the most pious (in the best sense of the word) are guilty of thoughts and intentions of the heart far removed from rigtheousness. If I can be totally honest with you (which is as close to naked as we come with each other) my greatest fear is that my current confidence in God’s grace will fail me in the time of my ultimate need i.e. my last breath when all pretensions are put aside and things done and left undone can never be corrected and we have to take the last step of life alone, even if we are surrounded by those who love us and wish us well. The only way I know how to deal with that nagging doubt is to believe God is more interested in honesty than piety. And so I hold fast to the confession that I am afraid and trust that the living and active two edge sword of the scripture is truer than I am able to believe – Jesus sympathizes with my weakness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm 90:12-17

The last lesson we seem to learn is to number our days aright since we act as if we have an infinite supply. “Bet your bottom dollar the sun will come up tomorrow…” There is a wisdom to be gained in living each day as if it were your last but only if you choose to make your last day worth living and not an excuse for excess. Of course you’d think the psalmist crying out, “Turn, O Lord, how long?” might wish for fewer days rather than a long life of suffering but instead there is a confidence that steadfast love in the morning will satisfy. When the balance sheet of life is tallied there will be cause for rejoicing in the Lord whose favor rests upon the children of God despite the difficulty of any particular day. So we number our days not to keep count but to make each day count more. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lectionary 28 B - Amos 5:6-15

Amos 5:6-15There is no mistaking the economic element in the prophet Amos’s description of sin. Those who rule the house of Joseph despise the truth and hate the one who exposes them as lovers of the lie. They trample the poor and take what little the poor have in order to plant pleasant vineyards and build houses of hewn stone. They take bribes and neglect the needy. They love evil and hate good and their mockery of justice leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the righteous. So “the prudent will keep silent in such a time” presumably because their words fall on deaf ears, or worse, they’ll be heard and despised for telling the truth. So do the ancient words of Amos have anything to say to us in our time? I’m not saying, which some may take as saying too much.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16

When the disciples ask Jesus about this matter he invokes the “thou shall not…” to what Moses permits so that the hypocrisy of the Pharisee test might be exposed. The secondary law that is a concession to the hardness of the human heart is easily coerced so that the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is corrupted. That does not mean the “from the beginning of creation” purpose of God is not in place when the one flesh of marriage is separated, only that like so many other things about our present circumstance, divorce is not what God intended. The second half of this week’s lectionary might seem unrelated but like the perfect law corrupted, the human heart hardens the gift of the kingdom of God into something we earn or deserve and God is obliged to provide. So a little child is the image the Almighty chooses to take up so that the hardness of the human heart might be softened in the same way that Jesus takes little children into his arms and blesses them.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Hebrews 1:1-42:5-12

If “in these last days” Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the very imprint of God’s very being” then God (in Jesus) was, for a little while, lower than the angels as well. By that I mean Jesus cannot taste death for everyone while the one Father who sanctifies remains separate. Even if we reduce the relationship of the inner workings of the mystery of the Trinity to something a little lower, like human parent and child, God experiences the death Jesus drinks. More to the point, it is not just any death that Jesus tastes. He does not die in his sleep. The cancer doesn’t get him. He doesn’t drop dead of a heart attack. It isn’t an accident. Crowned with thorns, stripped naked and nailed to wood Jesus’ death is as creative as humans can get when it comes to inflicting shame and pain on one another. And given that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, knew our nature from the beginning… (in subjecting all things to them God left nothing outside their control)  it was not only fitting but really the only option that salvation for savages such as ourselves should come through suffering. And by that I mean Jesus descends into our corruption and rises above our much lower status so that we might ascend above and beyond our beginnings to become like the pioneer of our salvation. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lectionary 27 B - Psalm 8

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 marvels that the “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name” is mindful of mortals. I suppose it does beg the question since within the human community the mighty generally despise the lowly. There are exceptions, of course, but when there is only so much wealth and power to go around human beings tend to hold onto whatever they have. Not so with the majestic name that is above all names. God in Jesus enters the human story as a baby born to an unwed mother and a confused carpenter in a country occupied by a foreign power.  God in Jesus is the opposite of what we would expect. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by humans, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) So while the psalm imagines God’s mindfulness as crowning mortals with glory and honor and giving them dominion over every living thing God determines to elevate us by being brought very low and dying on the cross the death of a criminal. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…”

Monday, October 1, 2018

Genesis 2:18-24
The trouble in paradise comes in chapter three but in the beginning everything was perfect. The “one flesh” couple lived without fear or guilt or shame or any of the ways of being and doing and thinking that rip one flesh apart and cause untold heartache. But once the two lusted after the forbidden fruit and crossed the line between creature and creator they no longer felt comfortable in their own skin. Relationships between helpmate partners have never been the same despite the fairy-tale optimism of happily ever after. Not that helpmate partners cannot be “one flesh” in a way that benefits both. It just takes more clinging to each other than we may care to or are able to do. So going back to the beginning is helpful. Not the first blush of love, although that is very nice, but the beginning of this story. It was not good for the first human to be alone and so God gave us the gift of the other who can be “one flesh” with us. If we think of ourselves as taken out of and given to each other we might cling to one another in ways that make the best parts of the fairy-tale come true.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50

I’d rather not give up my hand, foot or eye even if the consequence of keeping what causes me to sin is hellish. That’s the literal truth of this passage and one that is not that hard to understand. Giving up what causes us to sin is as difficult as cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye. The fact that the text makes us uncomfortable is a good indication that we know we have grown accustomed to stumbling through life and are not all that anxious to do the painful but necessary work of removing from our being the thoughts, words and deeds with which we harm ourselves and others and ultimately offend the Lord.  But when the word of the Lord salts us with fire we hear both the truth about our faltering footsteps and the invitation to be free from whatever impedes peace within ourselves and one another and the Lord. Which is how law and gospel works, or in other words, what sounds like bad news is actually good news.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lectionary 26:6 - James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20

I am confident Elijah was a human being but I’m not so sure about “quite like us.” On the other hand he was fully dependent on God for rain or lack thereof in the same way that those who suffer pray and the cheerful rejoice. There may be some who think it is the prayer of the righteous that determines the outcome but I prefer to believe the “powerful and effective” nature of the prayer has more to do with the persistence of prayer in the face of circumstances beyond our ability to control. We know that we were not meant to live forever in bodies of flesh and blood and bones and so the healing that happens in the temporal is not nearly as “powerful and effective” as the healing that allows one to take life as it comes without being overcome by whatever one must endure. So Elijah was indeed just like us, even though some folks in West Texas might like to have his ability to make it rain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Psalm 19:7-14

Psalm 19:7-14We tend to think of the law as limiting, maybe for good reasons, but restrictive none-the-less. The psalmist sees the law as the kind of freedom that revives, rejoices and enlightens. That is because the law of the Lord reveals the truth about the One who desires all good things for us including clearing us from hidden faults, which may not be all that pleasant per se (there is a reason our faults prefer to be hidden) but it is certainly a good thing to know oneself well enough to avoid being dominated by errors that are not easily detected.  So when we embody the perfect law of the Lord we live the love of the Lord which Jesus said is what the law and the prophets is all about. Love God. Love others. Such words and thoughts of the heart are always pleasing to the Lord, our rock and redeemer.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lectionary 26 B - Numbers 11:4-29

Numbers 11:4-29
The children of Israel, fairly well fed on manna and quail, weep in the wilderness because they long for the days when they imagine they dined with dignity. Truth is the Egyptians stopped giving them straw to make bricks so it is unlikely their task masters gave them fish to eat “for nothing”. We tend to color the past in ways that fill in the blanks of our present complaints. Sometimes we imagine the past better than it could have been. Often we imagine it worse than it was. But either way we are not satisfied with whatever is and therefore long for what never was. And so the children of Israel throw a tantrum and Moses becomes despondent and the Lord becomes very angry and the dysfunctional Exodus family tries to figure out how to live together in the desert when no one is happy. When the very angry Lord calms down the despondent Moses is instructed to share the load and the solution to the people’s displeasure is the Spirit of the Lord resting upon the seventy appointed along with two others who were not approved which is often how God acts because the Spirit of the Lord cannot be contained or easily explained. The person who is most moved is Moses which means he will refrain from complaining, “why have you treated your servant so badly?” at least for the time being and get back to leading which is what God called him to do. And the children of Israel will quiet down and be grateful they have something to eat, even if it is “what is it” (manna) and a small bird with not much meat. As a side note I recently had a Veal stuffed Quail with New Zealand Elk tenderloin with blueberry gastrique at Next Bistro that was very tasty though I doubt it would have made the Exodus kosher manna menu. Too bad. So sad.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37
On Christmas Eve 1988 I worshiped at the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool, England. I sat somewhere in the middle of what is the second longest cathedral in the world that houses the largest pipe organ in the United Kingdom. The organ lived up to its reputation while over a thousand voices sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” and choirs and cantors and canons processed down the center aisle with considerable pomp and circumstance. At the very end of the liturgical parade, resplendent in garments of gold and crowned with jeweled miter while leaning on an ornate shepherd’s crook, the bishop of Liverpool walked with a small child in his arms. I don’t mean to speak poorly of the church, and truth is December 24, 1988 might be my favorite Christmas Eve service ever, but I’m guessing the bishop of Liverpool carrying a borrowed baby is not what Jesus meant by “whoever wants to be first must be last…” I’m just saying. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - James 3:13-4:8

James 3:13-4:8
If it were as easy as James makes it sound “submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” the devil would be forever on the run. But then it’s the first part “submit yourselves to God” that is the most difficult to do which is why we are always dealing with “the devil inside.” (INXS) We might be tempted to think God holds back until we act “draw near to God and God will draw near to you” which is why submitting to God would seem to be all about us. But if submitting to God is predicated on the belief that God gifts us with wisdom from above then what we become in submitting is what God already is – “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” and the devil cannot long endure such good gifts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Psalm 54

Psalm 54 
The lectionary often skips over verses that call for the destruction of enemies even if there is good reason for enemies to be destroyed. Repaying evil with evil doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of following the Christ who instructs disciples to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute them. There is good reason to follow Christ in a world where pious people believe acting in ruthless ways to defend the honor of a prophet is justified. But the psalmist does not advocate for actively striking his enemies and even though his prayer is not for their welfare he leaves vindication in the hands of the Lord. (Romans 12:19) That is because “vindicate me” assumes that the psalmist is in relationship with the Lord and that in their rising against the righteous the ruthless are rising against God as well and God is more than able to defend God's honor, thank you very much. We can and should pray for the ruthless to experience consequences for what they have done to others if for no other reason than to spare the innocent from the designs of the insolent. But in the spirit of the Christ we might also pray that the ruthless be freed from the ways of deceit and violence for their own sake for a merciless life hell bent on the destruction of others will reap what it sows. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lectionary 25 B - Jeremiah 29:18-20

Jeremiah 11:18-20 
Jeremiah gives voice to the cry and complaint of the un-numbered and un-named throughout human history who led to the slaughter have looked to God, (or anyone who will listen) for help. But help does not always arrive in a timely fashion as Jeremiah himself will find out when his story of lament and complaint ends in silence. Despite all indications to the contrary we believe justice will have its day and the cause of the righteous will be upheld by the God who judges the heart and the mind. However, it may be that we who pray forgiveness for things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid, who have waited for God to act on behalf of those who suffer while God waited for us to act, will be judged equally guilty. “It was the Lord who made it known to me” means we are God’s agents of mercy and justice in a world that devises evil schemes against the weak and powerless. Too often Christian backs bristle at slights against the practice of our individual piety while the plight of those literally “led to the slaughter” hardly registers a reaction. Granted, the world will not conform to the kingdom of God and works against the principles of God’s reign, but when we are silent in the face of suffering we acquiesce to the evil schemes that would cut off the word of life from the land of the living.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38 
If Jesus thought of his generation as adulterous and sinful what would he say of ours? I know there are a number of well-meaning people of faith who think we've gone to hell in a hand basket and fear it’s fixin’ to get worse. But since the rebellion in the garden there has never been a time in human history when we have not been an adulterous and sinful generation. That doesn't mean there are not degrees of separation when it comes to what was meant to be and what is. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens) Peter publicly confesses the Christ; “you are the Messiah” and then privately rebukes Jesus when Jesus defines what it means to be Messiah in a way that does not conform to Peter’s preconceived notion. Messiahs are not meant to undergo great suffering and be killed, even if they promise to rise again. If Peter missed the Messiah boat before the resurrection we are more likely to do so on the other side of the empty tomb and so cast Jesus in our own image of power and glory. No one is ashamed of a mighty Messiah coming in majesty to smash the enemies of God to pieces. But if we preach Christ crucified, the King of Glory is never far removed from the place where the world was saved. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was God’s design that the Messiah should be stripped naked and nailed to wood by religious authorities and Roman soldiers so that the Jewish rabbi from the Gentile region of Galilee could change all our ideas about power and prestige. Our problem is that we belong to an adulterous and sinful generation that holds onto to this life with a death grip and denies everything except ourselves believing we understand the divine mind when truth to be told we remain mired in human thinking.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12James does not mean to discourage “my brothers and sisters” to become teachers, nor does he expect them to be perfect, he just wants them to be aware that teachers (and preachers) are held to a higher standard by virtue of the task they have taken on. I’ve had some great teachers in my life but one of my favorites was Miss Kruse. She was my fifth grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Illinois and years later I had the great gift of being her student teacher. She was a remarkable educator, well ahead of her time, but more importantly she embodied this text. I imagine there were days that were more difficult for her to be gracious and kind but as far as I could tell her way of being was her way of saying. That is, you cannot simply decide to be more disciplined in your speech while harboring anger and resentment in your heart. In the same way springs of water draw from what is down deep and not from what is on the surface. So if Miss Kruse is the bar for who should presume to teach we should all look for some other work. But because Christ is the well she drew from we can all tap into the same source and be as gracious and kind, not that we will ever be as remarkable.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Psalm 116

Psalm 116:1-9
Do we love the Lord because we are heard or are we heard because we love the Lord? It sounds like the psalmist would opt for the former but then there are plenty of passages (including this week's Gospel) that lean toward the latter. I’m going to do the Lutheran two-step and say it is both and. We love the Lord because the cords of death that choked the life out of us have been loosened. But then we wouldn’t have called on the name of the Lord in our anguish and distress if we didn’t trust the Lord to hear. And trust is just a five letter word for love. The Lutheran song is that the Lord loves us regardless of whether we love the Lord or not (the melody of grace) but maybe the Lord is equally adept at dancing the both and two step as well. The Lord answers because we love the Lord and the Lord loves because we ask. Grace certainly exists apart from the call and response relationship of love but it is not nearly as noticeable as when our faith two steps with the Lord.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lectionary 24 B - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9
The word that sustains the weary is that the teacher knows a thing or two about suffering. He has endured far more than verbal ridicule and yet morning by morning remains confident of God’s presence and help. It is one thing to suffer and quite another to suffer alone. That is a disgrace the teacher could not long endure which is how laments become songs of praise even when one continues to suffer at the hands of the unjust. The teacher who endured the cross for the sake of the world is more than able to sustain us with a “morning by morning” word of peace that surpasses the world’s ability to understand. Therefore, like the One who teaches us, we do not turn back or rebel against difficult things done for the sake of the weary. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37
It is a difficult story to deal with if you wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called the desperate woman a dog. She didn't object to the insult because her daughter was possessed and there was nowhere else to go for help. Jesus recognizes the kind of need that leads one to bow down low and accept ridicule and insult for the sake of someone you love and so he banishes the demon from her daughter. The second story is similar as the deaf man with slurred speech is helped by those who beg Jesus to heal their friend. Spit and speech (Ephphatha!) do what doctors could not. Astounded beyond measure the crowds marvel at everything done well. Jesus' “everything done well” won’t be remembered when he is accused of being in league with the devil he dispossessed from the desperate woman's daughter. (Matthew 9:34) And it won’t be long before people hurl more than insults at him as they strip him naked and nail him to wood. But when the world is possessed and you have nowhere else to go you’ll go to the cross to save those you love.