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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17What good is it my sisters and brothers if you supply the bodily needs of those who are hungry and do not wish them well by warming them with the sharing of peace? What good is that? I’m taking some liberties with the word from James but only because there is a tendency for well-meaning people to provide for people in need without ever getting to know or appreciate the person in need. Calvary’s participation in the Room in the Inn ministry attempts to meet both the relational and physical needs of the guests who spend the night in our family life center and if you ask them I think they appreciate the relational aspect as much as the physical. Case in point; Pastor Phil’s eggs to order are an often mentioned breakfast with the RITI crowd but others provide wonderful egg casseroles with the same ingredients so I think the difference must be in the ability to choose. There is a huge difference between eating from a predetermined menu and having a choice, especially when most decisions in your day to day are determined by someone else. The homeless need help, no doubt, but I think what they long for is dignity and that doesn't come to anyone as charity. It can only be found in true friendship and genuine love that looks past possessions or lack thereof to value another person as a human being created in the image of God. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Psalm 146

The Lord does not operate in a vacuum and the vision cast by the psalm cannot be realized without corrective lenses. In the real world the oppressed do not see justice without assistance and the hungry are not fed without being invited to dinner. The only praise of the Lord that makes a difference to the Lord is the praise that makes a difference to those the Lord loves; the blind, the prisoner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the ones bowed down by the weight of the world. In the meantime the wicked would helped by those who love the Lord when they are reminded that the only hope they have is that the Lord will revive them once their plans perish.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lectionary 23 B - Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35
Isaiah 35 begins with the parched land rejoicing and ends with the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion with song as they are overtaken by joy and gladness. In the in-between are feeble hands and weak knees and fearful hearts that long for redemption. But since the chapter begins and ends with a promise Isaiah can say, “Be strong” to the feeble and weak and fearful of heart instead of “suck it up”. The ability to “be strong” comes from anticipating the promise as if it already was so that hands and knees become steady even when the ground is shaking. The blind are still blind. The deaf still cannot hear. The lame still limp and the dumb are still speechless. It is as simple and as difficult as that because we are more accustomed to “suck it up” than “be strong” or perhaps think they are the same thing and therefore are always running too fast in the present for the future promise to catch up with us. But when God’s ultimate vision becomes our eternal imagination the future bursts into the present like a rainstorm in the desert and the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame leap and the dumb shout for joy. What will be already is when by faith we stop “sucking it up” and allow the future gladness to overtake us. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lectionary 22 B - Mark 7:1-23

Mark 7:1-23
Thank God we’re back to the Gospel of Mark. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into gluten free Gospels but five weeks of bread, even from heaven, is more than I can stomach. Okay, that might be a little over the top for a lectionary based joke but I don’t think the lectionary needs five weeks to deal with John chapter six. Be that as it may it turns out the Gospel lesson for this week still has something to do with food and the rituals that surround it. I find it noteworthy that things necessary for survival, the very act of eating and drinking, take on additional layers of meaning. But maybe that is the point. Things basic but necessary are always more than ordinary. Many of us are far removed from the production of sustenance, let alone the lack of it, so that we can grab a burger from In and Out (after waiting in a long line of course) and think nothing of the sun and soil and rain and crops and cattle and rancher and farmer and slaughter house and silo and purchaser and packager and shipper and cook and wait staff that eventually put burger on bun with fries on the side. Being disconnected with what goes in (the ordinary act of eating) is not that different from being disconnected with what comes out. (LOL) I don’t mean to be crude, even though I think Jesus did. He was far more pointed than our piety allows us to be. That’s because all our piety tends to limit the mercy of God in the same way all our mercy tends to limit the piety of God.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Lectionary 22 B - James 1:17-27

Lisa and Josh and 100 bales of hay
James 1:17-27
Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw” for its less than solid declaration of the Gospel but every time I read it I hear Jesus speaking. I bet that’s because James knew his half-brother better than Luther did even if Luther had the apostle Paul to tell him what he needed to know. (Luther was born again while reading Romans and practically gushes over Galatians) That might be why James reads more like Jesus in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount than Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Of course we Lutherans tend to read everything through the Pauline lens but that being said we’d be well served to apply the lesson of James to the way we live the Gospel. A person who participates in House for All Sinners and Saints suggested that the link to the tab “what we believe” should be “come see what we do” and if you look at it that way the epistle of straw is the brick and mortar of the Gospel house. “So be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” (James 1:22) sounds a lot like “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20) 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Lectionary 22 B - Psalm 15

Psalm 15
So I guess verse 5a (do not lend money at interest) means all the bankers are out of luck when it comes to real estate on the holy hill. I’m not a Hebrew history scholar but I’m willing to bet very few people lent anything without expecting something in return so either the holy hill is a vacant lot or there must be another way to walk blamelessly. I think the key verse might be 4c (who stand by their oath even to their hurt) Walking blamelessly and doing what is right while speaking heartfelt truth and not slander is a way of living and being that considers the needs of friends and neighbors and the needy to be as great as one’s own. The reason those who do these things are never moved is because they embody the heart and soul and will of God. From the very beginning God refused to abandon those who were made in the image of God even though they chose to abandon God. That oath led God to the “hurt” of the cross and if there is interest owed on the loan of his life we certainly can’t pay it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Lectionary 22 B - Deuteronomy 4:1-9

Deuteronomy 4:1-9
It sounds fairly straightforward. Obey and live or don’t and die. For a while it was as simple as that. But then the wise and discerning people figured out that going through the motions worked just as well so that much later God speaking through the prophet Isaiah will lament, “these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (29:13) Maybe it was the do or die that confused them. That’s not the best basis for a relationship. Oh, of course there are consequences and rewards in any relationship but what God earnestly desired were people whose hearts were close because they wanted to be close; because they remembered they were slaves in Egypt and God heard their cry; because they remembered God led them through the waste land and did not abandon them though they continually complained; because they remembered the first sight of the land flowing with milk and honey. It turns out the burden God bears is the not so wise and discerning forgetful people God loves. And so God continually reworks what the relationship is supposed to look like – dumbing it down if you will. Like the prophet Micah speaking for God - how about if all you do is act justly; love mercy, and walk humbly with me. Would that work for you?  (6:8) Jesus reduces the whole of scripture and the 613 mosaic laws to two - love God and love neighbor. Now if we could do that we’d really be wise and discerning and I bet folks would notice. So take care and watch yourselves in such a way that you remember to love the God you cannot see as best you can and maybe love the neighbor you can see, even a little better.  

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lectionary 21 B - John 6:56-69

John 6:56-69
By the end of chapter six the five thousand fed on loaves and fishes have gone home and “many of his disciples” desert him. Only the Twelve are left and as usual Peter gives voice to what they’re thinking. They have come to accept what the crowds cannot and because they believe Jesus is the Holy One of God they aren’t turned off by his “eat my flesh and drink my blood” talk. I don’t think they understand what he is saying any better than those who declare it to be “a hard teaching”, but then accepting doesn’t require understanding. Not that they don’t have limits to what they will accept as in Peter’s “God forbid it!” when Jesus says he will suffer and die and rise again. And when the mob comes to the garden to grab Jesus the Twelve (minus one) find another “to whom shall we go” place to hide until the risen Jesus breaks in on their pity party to prove with nail scarred hands that death itself has died. But for now they are the ones enabled by the Father to believe. We too have been enabled by Spirit filled words to believe what we cannot fully understand and only dimly perceive, that all our best hopes and dreams for the here and now and the forever future are found in the Holy One of God. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Lectionary 21 B - Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20
Being strong in the Lord is not the same thing as being strong. In fact the only way to be strong in the strength of the Lord is to let go of whatever strength you think you might have. Even the self discipline of daily devotionals or spending time in the word and worship can get in the way of surrendering self-sufficiency in order to pick up what God would have us put on. Don’t get me wrong. Acts of piety are helpful but they are not the source of strength that allows one to stand against all that is against us. So the first piece of armor to put on is the belt of truth because everything else attaches to it. We admit the truth about ourselves (that we are our own worst enemies) while confessing the truth about God, who dies so that enemies might be called friends. The breastplate of righteousness cannot be attached to dishonesty therefore our admission and confession makes a place for being right with ourselves and God. The mission of the church is often mired in mud and would have the world worship at its altar but the truth of the Gospel compels feet to go to proclaim peace to those who would never darken the door of our sanctuaries. The shield of faith allows us to live with all that threatens without being threatened by those very same things. And heads fitted firmly with salvation means the “here and now” is fully fitted with the “there and then” which is to say we live the forever future in the present whenever we think of ourselves as eternal creatures.  

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lectionary 21 B - Psalm 34:15-22

Psalm 34:15-22
Psalm 34 declares that even the name of those who do evil will be blotted out from the face of the earth while the Lord will remember the brokenhearted and save those whose spirits are crushed. Of course broken hearts are often brought about by those who do evil and as the prophet Habakkuk points out the wicked prosper long enough for the righteous to wonder why. (Habakkuk 1:1ff) But the psalm declares it is the very act of evil that slays the wicked while those who patiently endure troubles (albeit while crying out for help) will be rescued from whatever condemnation is reserved for those who oppose the way of righteousness. While we might interpret this psalm as being willing to wait for the scales of justice to ultimately and finally balance the equation between good and evil the psalmist sings of justice in the present tense and will not stand idly by while the wicked prosper. That means Psalm 34 might respond to Habakkuk’s question, “How long, O Lord, will the wicked prosper?” with a defiant, “no longer.” And so we live the future, which is the present tense of Psalm 34, whenever we tip the scales of justice in the favor of the troubled while setting our face (and our energy and resources) against those who do evil. The petition, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” has as much to do with our will as God’s.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Lectionary 21 B - Joshua 24:1-18

Joshua 24:1-18
“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other god’s” turns out to not be too far from them at all. In the future the prophets speaking for God will lament, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13) I suppose after forty years in the wilderness you’ll say anything to get some relief in the Promised Land. I’ve read the Old Testament more times than I can count and far be it from me to find times these people pledging faithfulness made good on the promise. Oh there are times they listen to what the Lord is saying (as for me and my house we will serve the Lord) and experience blessing, but the land promised (albeit taken violently from others) is ultimately divided between two kingdoms who hate each other more than they fear their enemies. I think the truth of the scriptures is that it doesn’t sugar coat the story of the people of God who turn out to be just as unfaithful as everyone else. But in the same way that the scripture speaks the truth about us it reveals the unique nature of our God.  Every other god would visit vengeance on promises made but not kept.  This God declares through the crucified and risen Christ, “far be it from me” to forsake you. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lectionary 20 B - John 6:51-58

John 6:51-58
This is the Gospel of John’s take on what Jesus meant the meal to be. More than just a ritualized remembrance, the living bread from heaven is the life of God in bread baked and grape fermented that at the same time is the real flesh and blood of Jesus.  When she was young and her brother younger still, Michaelann told Austin, “I know it tastes like bread but it’s really Jesus’ body” to which he replied, “Ewwwww.” (and rightly so) That’s the trouble with texts that want to be taken literally and figuratively at the very same time. It is bread but it is really Jesus body. It is wine but it is really Jesus’ blood. Or we might just as easily say it is Jesus’ body but it is really bread. Or it is Jesus’ blood but it is really wine. The Lutheran take on what Jesus meant the meal to be proclaims the paradox and accepts both statements to be true at the very same time. And in the very same way, the simple meal of bread and body, wine and blood, transcends time and space so that joined with Christ we are united with those who are and those who were and those who will be. That is how the forever future feast is fully found in our present even as we remember the past, “in the night in which he was betrayed Jesus took bread…”  It tastes familiar, like the things of the earth we eat at home, but as the bread we will eat in heaven it declares what no eye has seen, no ear heard, no mind conceived…. (1 Corinthians 2:9) 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lectionary 20 B - Ephesians 5:15-20

Ephesians 5:15-20
If the days were evil when the apostle Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians what are they now?  Truth is every age competes in the evil age idol contest and seems to believe their days are more evil than the ones that came before. There was at least one moment in history when a good number of Christian people thought the world was getting better and better, but that dream died in the trenches of World War One and the church has never fully recovered its optimism for the kingdom come on earth. So should we occupy the street corners and the air waves with doom and gloom and prepare for the worst, declaring our age to be the evil age idol contest winner? I think that would be unwise. If anything is evil it is living comfortable lives singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves while others suffer and we do nothing about it. If we understand what the will of God is we will sing the song sung among ourselves as loudly as we are able outside the confines of the church. We sill sing the song of suffering that declares evil cannot overpower it; the song of hope that dares evil to defy it; the song of redemption that challenges evil to limit it. The “making melody to the Lord in our hearts” is the song the world needs to hear and if we sing it clearly and with compassion we might, by God’s grace, lose the evil age idol contest.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lectionary 20 B - Psalm 34:9-14

Psalm 34:9-14
Pleasure and prosperity come from pursuing peace. We tend to equate pleasure and prosperity with possessions, or at least enough resources to live free from want. But it seems no matter how much one has there is always room in our wanting for just a little more. Those who seek the Lord and live in reverent fear – which simply means acknowledging that God is God and we are not – lack nothing that is good. That is not to say life is free of difficulties but rather one’s perspective changes about the transitory nature of the pleasure the world pursues when one is seeking the peace that passes human understanding. To turn from evil and do good is to be at peace with God and self and neighbor which is as good as good gets. L'chaim! To life!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lectionary 20 B - Proverbs 9:1-6

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom is a feminine noun in Hebrew and what she offers, along with wine and bread and roasted meat, is order. The book of Proverbs is dedicated to the premise that the world is ordered along predictable paths and Wisdom knows the rules for living that will make life follow the rules. The book of Ecclesiastes begs to differ and calls that sort of wisdom "vanities of vanities" but that is a lesson for a different day. So let’s just say that laying aside immaturity, even when the world is not orderly and predictable, is a good thing and leads one to live through less than predicable times in a more orderly fashion. Which is to say a more faithful way – and on that I believe Ecclesiastes and Wisdom would agree.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Lectionary 19 B - John 6:35, 41-51

John 35:41-51
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” It is a legitimate question for those in the crowd “who knew Jesus when” even if they have followed him across the lake expecting to see something more. Of course they didn’t ask any questions when the meager meal was multiplied into a feast for five thousand plus (and twelve doggie bags besides). Everyone likes a magic trick and even if you ask to see it again (but more slowly) you can suspend disbelief for the thrill of the illusion or in this case your fill of fish sandwiches. But when the magician claims a higher status than “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat – presto - oops wrong hat!”” (Bullwinkle Moose) objections soon follow. After all a good trick accomplished with mirrors is one thing; claiming to be the trick is quite another. “I am the bread of life come down from heaven” is a bigger trick than the crowd can believe or even understand. But then are we any different? We live comfortably within the confines of our religious systems that determine WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) on the basis of personal preference or denominational bias or desire to demonize whoever is not like us. Is it any wonder the world has wearied of the Christian trick and has determined we follow Jesus to feed our belly or ease our conscience or maintain the status quo? But there are moments when we are so captured by the mystery of the bread of life from heaven that we change the way we distribute that bread in the world. Since Jesus claims to reflect the will of the One he calls the Father then God the Father is no different from God the Son and “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (even though they appeared to know exactly what they were doing) is a bigger deal than feeding five thousand with a few loaves and a couple fish.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Lectionary 19 B - Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Falsehood is a hard thing to put away since it is so deceptive and evil speech often comes out of our mouths masquerading as "truth" spoken to neighbor. (The proverbial log in our own eye that is blind to everything except the speck of sawdust in the eye of the other – Matthew 7:3) So we need to make an effort to “put away” what comes naturally and “imitate” what does not. Maybe if we were painfully aware that in grieving others we grieve the Holy Spirit of God we would make every effort to imitate God for God’s sake. (That is if we love God.) So being angry without sinning means we do not nurse resentment or wrap ourselves in indignation as if it were a comforter but seek to resolve whatever grievances we have against each other for the sake of God. And if as beloved children we are truly members of one another then we cannot be whole without forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. So loving the other for God’s sake turns out to be a very good thing for us as well and since we are most often motivated by self interest... forgiving others may be the best way of being selfish.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Lectionary 19 B - 1 Kings 19:4-8

1 Kings 19:4-8
Elijah is despairing under the solitary broom tree because Queen Jezebel is determined to kill him, which makes sense because Elijah killed all her prophets and burned up the altar of Baal with fire from on high. (1 Kings 18) Of course Elijah despairing means he doesn’t believe God is able to repeat the feat and his fear of Jezebel is more present than his faith in God. I’ve not called down fire from heaven to consume a wet sacrifice or slain any prophets of Baal but I will admit to failing faith in the face of circumstances that make me forget God’s faithfulness. What is forgotten in those circumstances is that faith is not about our ability to believe. When Elijah is ready to lie down and die God is not and so God provides what is necessary for the journey that would otherwise be too much for Elijah. So it is with us on this journey of life that would be too much for us were it not for God who gifts us with companions, like a cake cooked on hot stones, who warm our way and give us courage to face each new day with confidence that we will have the strength to meet whatever challenge lies ahead of us. In the end faith trusts that God’s faithfulness is all that is necessary for the forty days and nights of however long our life lasts until we will reach the promised mount of God. (Isaiah 25:6)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Lectionary 18 B - John 6:24-35

John 6:24-35
John is the only Gospel that details the aftermath of the multiplying feast. The people (well fed) are apparently not satisfied with leftovers (12 baskets of barley loaves) and so chase after Jesus to see what is on the breakfast menu. Jesus rightly calls them out when they ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” which means, “Have you baked the bagels and cured the lox?” But Jesus should not be surprised at their desire to be fed on the cheap as we all enjoy a happy hour now and then. That is to say we’d all like to be taken care of, provided for, live in the lap of luxury, etc. etc. etc. But Jesus would have us look beyond what is to what will be so that the work of God, believing Jesus was sent as the sign of what will be and already is, means we no longer lust after that which cannot satisfy. “You wanted breakfast?” Jesus asks. “How about a feast that never ends?”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Lectionary 18 B - Ephesians 4:1-16

Ephesians 4:1-16
Living “a life worthy of the calling” is often understood in terms of personal piety reflected in a disciplined life especially as it relates to resisting behaviors identified as the ways of the world. But the apostle Paul defines a “life worthy of the calling” in ways that relate to living in relationship with others. Living in “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” cannot be accomplished unless one bears with those whose life is less than one’s own “holier than thou” or on the flip side bearing with those whose life is “holier” than you are or care to be. The point is patience is not necessary when others are as you are and there is no need for humility or gentleness or making any effort at all when the bond of peace does not require negotiation. But then we tend to “speak the truth in love” loudly without first quietly growing up in every way into Christ so the truth spoken has little to do with love and everything to do with pride or prejudice or one’s own particular point of view. But when “each part is working properly” those who are patient assist those who require patience (and vice versa) to grow and in doing so all are built up in love. Easier said than done, which is why one must make “every effort.” 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lectionary 18 B - Psalm 78:23-29

Psalm 78:23-29
Not satisfied with water from the rock the children of Israel wondered aloud about the ability of God to provide meat and make bread. (78:20) God was furious (78:21) and yet responded to the people’s complaint with quail and manna. They ate and were filled for God gave them what they craved. Of course at the time what they craved was anything that would satisfy their hunger. It would not be long before they tired of quail and complained about the detestable manna. I remember a night at our ministry to the homeless - Room in the Inn - where one of our guests offered a prayer before dinner and gave thanks for the goodness of the Lord with whom all things are possible and without whom nothing can be accomplished. It was a profound and yet simple prayer of faith and thanksgiving for the everyday miracle of God with us and the warmth of friendship. Our guests continually tell us how much they appreciate Calvary and that our Room in the Inn has serious street cred. I don’t think it’s the food or the accommodations as good as they are. I think it’s the hospitality and the genuine love expressed through smiles and conversations and generosity of spirit. It could be getting eggs to order for breakfast. :) Choices are important and lend dignity to those who for whatever reason depend on charity. When it comes right down to it that is what we crave and that is what God provides whenever God’s heart is expressed through human hands. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Lectionary 18 B - Exodus 16:2-15

Exodus 16:2-15
Those who complain in the wilderness, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt” forget the family members who never made it out of Egypt and that the Egyptians didn't need the Lord’s hand to help kill them. But then we tend to reconstruct the difficult days of the past in the light of present troubles thinking that what was was not as bad as what is even though what is and what was are often the same thing. Dying at the hands of the Egyptians or of starvation in the wilderness is still dead. It is to God’s credit that this constant complaining does not lead God to “walk like an Egyptian” (The Bangles) and be done with the whole assembly. It is a preview of God’s struggle with a people whose “love is like the morning mist.” (Hosea 6:4) The God who provides manna and quail to ungrateful people will continue to give them bread to eat, even if it is the bread of tears, in the hope that they will recognize that freedom in the wilderness is better than slavery in Egypt. God’s hope for us is that in following the way of the Lord we would prefer to live in radical freedom, no matter how difficult it is, than to dwell in the comfortable prisons of our own design.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Lectionary 17 B - John 6:1-21

John 6:1-21
The feeding of the five thousand is found in every Gospel which means it was a big deal to the early church. My guess is it was the Galilean Woodstock of sorts (without the music and drugs) so that it occupied the popular imagination and even those who were nowhere near the mountain that day wished they were until the five thousand magically multiplied and everyone claimed to have been there for a bite of fish and a morsel of bread. Well, maybe not, but it really was a big deal. In fact those who actually were there ran around the lake to meet Jesus (who walked across) thinking that the one who provided supper might also make them breakfast. (John 6:26) Of course we do the same thing when with limited vision we value temporal needs over eternal truths. Not that God is disinterested in our everyday. But the miracle of the story is that God takes what is and multiplies it into what can be. We are tempted to tell the crowd to go away which devalues both our own resources and the multiplying effect of faith. But the story of the first century Galilean Woodstock is that what appeared to be too little was more than enough.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lectionary 17 B - Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21
If we are able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus we have a clue as to what God can accomplish beyond the limitations of our imagination. Far too often we turn this all surpassing power into a temporal wish list thinking that what we ask is what God will provide. I think the clue to what God is about is in the “far more abundantly” clause of the contract rooted and grounded in love. Our vision is limited at best and more often than not myopically distorted so that what we want, need, or desire has little to do with the love that surpasses knowledge. But if we take our cues from Christ we might begin to understand that what God intends to accomplish is for us to act “far more abundantly” than we otherwise would so that every family in heaven and earth might experience the benefits of God’s grace.

Lectionary 17 B - Psalm 145:1018

This is from July 2012 but given the high heat and lack of rain it seems worthy of a repost.

Psalm 145:10-18
"The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord" especially if those eyes run cattle or grow cotton in Texas. We've had more than one cotton farmer and cattle rancher in the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area Parish Lay Academy and I've always thought they have more to tell us about faith than we could possibly teach them. I’d like rain now and then so I don’t have to water my lawn but they pray for rain to sustain their livelihood and then endure week after dry week moisture laden clouds that pass over them with nary a drop. I wonder how they can hold on to the notion of a benevolent God when their crops are shriveled or when they have to sell their breed stock to save the farm that can’t survive without water no matter what they do. But then we of the wired world weary if our 4G slows down to 2G or heaven forbid, doesn't “G” at all. The closer you are to the land the more dependent you are on things you can’t control and the more we understand that there are things we depend on that we can’t control the more our eyes look to God.  It might not make it rain and it certainly won’t make our 4G download faster but as my cotton farming friends have taught me it will uphold you when you fall and sustain you when you are bowed down. Our eyes look to you, O Lord.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Lectionary 17 B

2 Kings 4:42-44
Twenty loaves of barley and unnumbered fresh ears of grain that feed a hundred foreshadow a boy with five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand. Theologians apply eschatological significance to the feeding stories recorded in the Bible but they might not need to do that if we were more familiar with hunger. A good number of us are well fed enough to diet. But in these stories God provides real food not as some future kingdom come down but as a real need satisfied by real food in the real here and now. Again some make sense of these stories by saying the real miracle is in the sharing and not some magical multiplying of meager resources but however you do the math the meal was enough that the satisfied multitude asked for doggie bags. I’ve been on the receiving end of such sharing and it does not discount the miraculous moving of God to multiply what is not into what can be and in that miracle we are always well fed. 

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?