Monday, December 31, 2018

Epiphany 1 C - Isaiah 60:1-6

Isaiah 60:1-6The recently released captives who returned to Judah did not find “the ransomed of the Lord shall return unto Zion with singing” (Isaiah 35:10) song upon their return. No doubt it was still a good thing to be free from Babylon’s grasp but “everlasting joy” was in short supply within the ruined walls of Jerusalem. Which meant the promise of God was experienced as both “now” and “not yet”. They were free from captivity but hardly "covered in camels" or well supplied with gold and frankincense. Turns out the light that will rise on Israel will be a long time coming and no one could have fully foreseen that the hopes and fears of all the years would be met in the babe of Bethlehem. Of course the shepherds knew that night but only because the angels told them. And some time later the astrologers from the East will know but only because the star they were following stopped. It is the same for us who live in the now and not yet for we have heard the story and seen the signs that call forth praise for the One who breaks through the thick darkness of our lives. That the dawn of the promise in this life is a guarantee of the glory of the light to come is the hope that sustains us through all our days until the “not yet” is finished and the forever and only “now” begins. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas 1 C - Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2:41-52
Last Sunday night Kyrie Fort Worth decked the halls on the patio our new location, Shaw's Bar and Grill, with Christmas carols as our largest gathering to date met for sacred song, living word and holy meal. We lit candles while singing Silent Night and Happy Xmas (War is Over) and celebrated the birth of the Christ child who grown to preadolescence in this text will cause his parents no small amount of consternation by slipping away unseen to his “Father’s” house. Some might say that a church meeting in plain sight in a bar and grill dishonors the One in whose name we gather and I can understand why that might be said even if I happen to disagree. Granted the house that Jesus identified with his Father was set apart in the same way our houses of worship are easily identified as such and maybe a bar doesn't qualify but then what makes a house a home for the “Father” has little to do with architecture and everything to do with the human heart that meets in the house. So Jesus will return to the same “my Father’s” house twenty years later and over turn tables in the house of prayer that had been turned into a den of thieves. Tables are turned on a Sunday night at Shaw's to remember the God who is present throughout the week in that place because through the Son the Father’s house can be found wherever people of faith gather.   

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas 1 C - Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:12-17


Paul’s fashion advice to the Colossians begins with the remembrance of who they are in Christ. Remember you are chosen by God. Remember you are holy and beloved or in other words remember you are a desirable object of God’s affection. So what to wear? Paul’s list should simplify our selection and would if not for closets filled with thoughts and ways of being that don’t fit or have worn out or were never very attractive in the first place. And cleaning out the closet is painful even when helped by loving admonishment. But in the end cleaning our closets and improving our fashion sense is only possible if we are helped by those who bear with us and forgive us and encourage and compliment us. You look good in kindness.That compassion really sets off the color of your eyes. You make that patience work, girl. So what to wear? Remember to put on Christ and everything else will fit perfectly. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christmas 1 C - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
I once heard a Psalty Kids Praise CD that said when a cow goes moo it’s praising God. I don’t mean to be a naysayer when it comes to animal praise but I think moo means feed me or milk me or maybe both. Granted the animal praise list of Psalm 148 includes cattle and that might support the moo theory of praise but then it also has sea monsters and fruit trees and all the weather conditions a Texan can experience in the same day. So this is not the sort of scripture that one takes literally or over thinks. This is a noisy over the top psalm because the very existence of all that is was commanded and established and fixed in place by God, which is how you make it on the praise the Lord list. So praise is not about the sound you make but about you being made. Which means praising the Lord does not require one’s circumstances to be praiseworthy. So I guess I stand corrected.  Praise can sound like you are hungry or just need to be milked. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas 1 C - 1 Samuel 2:18-26

1 Samuel 2:18-26
This is just the beginning of Samuel’s story but the beginning of the end for Eli. It is a tragic tale of a father who cannot bring himself to do what must be done. His sons have desecrated the sanctuary and have turned the people’s sacrifice into profit for themselves. Eli hears the reports and confronts his sons with their sin but cannot bring himself to condemn them to death which is what the law demands. And so in the end it will be Eli and all of Israel that will have to pay for the sins of the sons. The good news in the story is that God’s gift to the barren Hannah is Samuel who is and will be everything Eli’s sons were not and through his intercession Israel will be saved. It is a story that repeats itself throughout the scriptures and all of human history. The practice of faith meant for blessing becomes instead a source of priestly power or superficial ritualized religion or worse the justification for hatred and violence. But God is always working to turn the curse back into a blessing which is why Hannah is gifted with Samuel who in turn is a gift to Israel. And of course that is the story of Christmas. We, like Eli’s sons have sinned against the Lord in thought, word and deed and cannot intercede for ourselves. But Jesus is and will be everything we are not. And so the gift to Mary becomes a gift for our world as God works to turn the curse into a blessing. But good news for us will be bad news for Jesus who is born to die for us, instead of us, ahead of us so we do not suffer the consequence our sins deserve. I know it might not be such a pleasant way to begin the week of after Christmas but then our sin is the real reason for the season. And in a strange sort of way that really does make for a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent 4 C - Luke 1:39-56

Luke 1:39-56


Mary went with haste to the hill country for good reason. To be unwed and pregnant was not a condition a woman wanted to be found in, especially in a small town where gossip once whispered would grow louder as Mary grew larger. She goes to see Elizabeth, who has had a remarkable conception herself, which may have made her more open to the extraordinary mother and unborn child who greeted her that day. John leaping in her womb prompted an exclamation, which seems to be the proper response to someone leaping in your womb, but this is more than an “Oh my!”  Elizabeth knows that this is one of those moments when heaven and earth meet and all of history pauses to hold its breath as the Holy and Invisible and Immortal is revealed to flesh and blood. And while she proclaims “Blessed are you…” Elizabeth knows that Mary’s blessing is hers as well and one thing leads to another and before you know it there is singing. It is a magnificent song that remembers the promise that God has remembered, to show mercy and strength, to embrace the humble and let the proud be lost in their futile thoughts which is a lonely place to be. Mary sings the powerful brought down and the lowly exalted, the hungry fed and the well fed hungry and in the singing I imagine the two unborn may have done a little leaping. It is lovely thing to imagine, two pregnant women embracing, dancing, singing because while the whole world just kept spinning as if nothing had happened they know the secret about to be revealed in the birth of the child, God with us. But of course as lovely and magnificent as that moment was the song will not be complete until punctuated by a cry of anguish “it is finished.” It is in the finishing that our song begins and the only way to sing it is to enter it, to allow our proud thoughts to be scattered and see that the hungry are well fed and whenever that happens the song goes back to the beginning, My soul magnifies the Lord.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent 4 C - Hebrews 5:5-10

Hebrews 5:5-10“You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings.” Really? Did anyone tell the lambs, doves and cattle? It seems like the covenant set in motion from Sinai was based solely on sacrificing something living so God wouldn't strike the children of Israel dead. There were a few prophets who speaking for God imagined that the sacrifice God really desired was for God’s people to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) but that didn't stop or even slow down the system of sacrifice that, dare I say, the Levites (who have no land) depended on for their sustenance. Jesus came to do God’s will by putting an end to such sacrifice even though it meant the end of him. We don’t kill our pets to appease God but we have own religious systems that like the system of sacrifice allow us to keep God at a safe distance just in case, heaven forbid, we would become more like Jesus because we all know what doing God’s will did to him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Advent 4 C - Psalm 80:1-7

Psalm 80:1-7
The lectionary offers the option of using Mary’s song, “My soul magnifies the Lord..” in place of the psalm, but I think the lament of Psalm 80 helps put both the prophetic word of Micah and its fulfillment in Luke into the proper context; namely God’s response to all that leads one to lament. Lament is the question of the scriptures; “How long, O Lord, will the wicked prosper?” and the cry of the abandoned, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” And so it is for us when in days and nights of questioning, with tears for our bread, when scorned and derided by life’s circumstances, we cry out, how long, O Lord? But there is within lament’s question the anticipation of Mary’s song for “How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” believes there will be a day of restoration. That is what makes Mary’s song magnificent. She and all of Israel have waited for this day not in silence but in complaint and when the silent God who is always present finally speaks through the offspring of Mary’s womb the centuries of lamenting are forgotten in the infant’s cry. For the cry of Mary’s offspring on the cross will be God’s lament whereby we are saved.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Advent 4 C - Micah 5:2-5a

Micah 5:2-5a
The lectionary for Advent 4C begins with verse 2 of Micah chapter 5 and ends before the fifth verse is finished. Maybe because the rest of Micah predicts the “one of peace” who comes from the little clan of Judah will do some damage to the Assyrians “and in anger and wrath execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey.” (5:15) It’s not quite the stuff of Christmas carols but then Micah was written to people who had suffered the kind of carnage that calls for revenge or at the very least the reversal of fortunes. The Christ that was born in “O little town of Bethlehem” is nothing like the Messiah Micah imagined God would send. It will take a prophet like Paul to realize that God chooses what is foolish to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong and that the reversal of fortune that saves the world happens when the “one of peace” dies a violent death.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent 3 C - Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7-18


We don’t hear many “Brood of Vipers” sermons in the Lutheran church. It’s not that we don’t all need and even welcome a stern word now and then it’s just that Lutherans draw the line at being called poisonous reptiles. We’re happy to sing “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” and confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean but call us snakes and we might hiss at you. But with or without the snake reference this may be more of a true word for us than we’d care to admit. While we don’t presume to be children of Abraham we bet on being children of grace and bearing fruits worthy of repentance is more often a postscript than a priority. Like those who came out to be chastised and challenged by John the end of our confession must be “What then should we do?” Of course the question, as important and as necessary as it is, follows God’s answer for Christians of the Lutheran flavor. God’s forgiveness does not depend on our doing; our doing depends on God’s forgiving. True repentance anticipates absolution and in the freedom of forgiveness one cleans out the closet and gives away the extra coat. The good news of John’s exhortation is the end of our comfortable relationship with dishonest ways and vain striving after wealth and power. All of this is made possible by the powerful One who follows, the only anti-venom for a brood of vipers.  

Friday, December 14, 2018

Advent 3 C - Philippians 4:4-7

Philippians 4:4-7


 “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” is a four part round I sang for years at church camp. It's one of those rounds you just keep singing because it has no obvious ending  and though not nearly as obnoxious as “It’s a Small World After All” it can get stuck in your head. Maybe that’s the point of these four verses – not the obnoxious part – but a way of living that gets stuck in your head and has no ending unless you choose to stop. Of course sometimes stopping is a choice made for us as anxiety mounts and prayers spoken into the silence of God defy our ability to understand. But then that is why we have to sing “Rejoice in the Lord always” as a round. Four parts compelling each other to keep singing and you cannot tell who is leading or who is following and every measure has a Rejoice. It is through the prayer of our life together that the peace of God transcends anxious times to guard hearts and minds and keep the song from stopping. So rejoice in the Lord always and again I say Rejoice!  

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent 3 C - Isaiah 12:1-6

Isaiah 12:1-6
Isaiah 12:2-6 is the text for The First Song of Isaiah by Jack Noble White. The first time I heard it was some eighteen years ago at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church when I presided over a funeral for one of their members. The funeral was for a woman who had courageously battled cancer for more years than her original prognosis predicted possible and while we felt a deep sadness at the loss of one so faithful and beautiful and loved, we had a confident hope because of the truth of this scripture set to song. “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in Him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and He will be my Savior.” In this scripture set to song the physical and spiritual weakness of human flesh, the fear, the doubt, the overwhelming sorrow is lifted with the melody as our singing is joined and supported and sustained by an invisible cloud of witnesses for whom the song is more true than we can at present imagine. Surely it is God who saves me… It is a song of defiant faith against all that would wither the soul with doubt and fear.  Surely it is God who saves me… It is a song of courage for times of trial and a song of comfort for times of sorrow. Surely it is God who saves me… a song for all our days until at last we reach the endless tomorrow. Surely it is God who saves me.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent 3 C - Zephaniah 3:14-20

Zephaniah 3:14-20

These are the last verses of the short book of Zephaniah. The rest of the book reads more like the first verse of the prophecy. "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth," declares the LORD. Zephaniah predicts “a day of distress and anguish, of trouble and ruin, of darkness and gloom,” because Jerusalem has become complacent thinking God will do neither good nor evil. In the same way Assyria, that carefree city, “I am and there is none like me” is full of pride. But those who seek humility and righteousness, who accept the Lord’s correction, will sing for joy for they will be renewed in God’s love. The truth of this short book is that both spiritual complacency and spiritual pride are deadly in the life of the believer. We think that nothing we do really matters because God is like the kindly grandparent who might get a little upset but still has milk and cookies for us at bedtime. Or we are full of our own spiritual prowess and piety thinking that we can overcome sin itself and so judge all others accordingly. The woe that complacency and pride visit upon us is the same as the dreadful judgments of Zephaniah. We forget how to sing the song of the heart’s rejoicing and cannot hear the God who longs to exult over us with loud singing. So accept the Lord’s correction this day. Seek after humility and righteousness and sing out loud the song of rejoicing that is in harmony with the Lord.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Advent 2 C - Luke 1:68-79

Luke 1:68-79

The lesson that occupies the place of the psalm this Sunday is Zechariah’s Song and expresses the hopes and dreams of a people who have been waiting forever for their fortunes to change and their ship to come in. Zechariah sings it because he is a new father and his voice which had been taken from him earlier in the chapter has returned and that is reason enough to sing. But it is more than the song of a voice returned or a proud father who has high hopes for his son; no less than a prophet of the Most High! No, it is more than that for in a moment of Holy Spirit joy Zechariah sings the longing of every people oppressed by enemies or hands that hate, the longing of all people who yearn for light to shine in the darkness and the shadow cast by death itself. In that sense it is a song for all of us who are often our own worse enemies. Oppressed by thoughts and deeds that lead us far from God we hear a word of promise that in the mighty Savior floating in Mary’s womb tender mercy will rescue us and guide our hearts and minds in the ways of peace. And that calls for a song.    

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Advent 2 C - Malachi 3:1-4


“Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple” by New Zealand artist Michael Smither, 1972 (Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, New Zealand)

Malachi 3:1-4
The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem have been less than pleasing and have wearied the Lord. Blind, lame and sick animals are substituted for lambs without blemish and the Lord would rather the temple doors be closed and locked than endure the stench of such dishonest offerings. The priests participate and profit from the scheme while the workers are oppressed, widows and orphans are not cared for and the alien is thrust aside. Perhaps it was because God seemed distant and the rules and regulations of the covenant relationship appeared arbitrary and economically oppressive. What’s a blind ram to an invisible God? And so corners are cut and liberties are taken and before you know it the relationship that enriched the people and God has impoverished both. Therefore God will pay a visit to the temple and do some housecleaning. With overturned tables and coins of money changers scattered the refining fire speaks the word of judgment, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers!” Not a week later the fullers’ soap speaks the cleansing word from a hill above the temple, “It is finished.” We who are more like Judah and Jerusalem than we care to admit need to hear the word of the refiner when our offerings are less than the best and corners that count are cut. And like Judah and Jerusalem in days of old our cleansing word will make our offering pleasing to the Lord.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Advent 1 C - Luke 21:25-36

Luke 21:25-36
I’m afraid it may just be hard wired into our anxious DNA to divide the world into those who faint from fear at the end of all things and those who stand up and cheer. While there is no question that Jesus used the language of apocalypse to speak of the end of all time, all the Gospels contain such speeches, how can the Crucified One come back to save a few only to crucify the vast majority of human beings with vengeance? The first time around the Kingdom of God contained some unlikely subjects, such as tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and people of questionable character, so why would they be less welcome the second time around? So I find some comfort that Jesus uses the image of spring to talk about the signs. Despite the roaring of the seas and the signs that make one faint it will be like daffodils that pop up through the snow. Despite the signs in the sky it will be like Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy of Bluebonnet blanketed Texas highways. Maybe the best way to escape all the things that will take place and stand before the Son of Man is to trust that the second coming Christ will be like Jesus the first time around.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Advent 1 C - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13


1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Thessalonians were worried that the day of the Lord had come and gone and they had been left behind or it hadn't come and those who had already died would miss out on the second coming. At any rate, what was lacking in their faith was a confident hope that despite the doubts and fears about the end times their ultimate future was still secure. Sometimes a face to face is the only way to restore confidence and so Paul prays day and night that he might visit those for whom his love abounds. But he had other congregations that demanded his attention and were not nearly as receptive and presumably not as much fun and so it would take some time for his day and night prayer to be answered. In the meantime he writes what is most likely the first letter of the New Testament. To those in doubt he writes encouraging words for abounding love and strengthened hearts that are a word for us as well. May you believe the unbelievable that despite what you know about yourself you will be blameless before the Lord Jesus and the cloud of witnesses that will accompany his return.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Advent 1 C - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
Be mindful of your mercy and your steadfast love but do not remember the sins of my youth. Which is to say, in the forgetting of my sin don’t forget me. It is the prayer of the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and fully aware of his own guilt asks to be remembered. Jesus, remember me when you reach the place where the memory of mercy and the forgetfulness of sin matters the most. It does not mean there are no consequences for the sins of our youth or middle age or even our golden years. We are not as forgetful as God is and the sins of the past and present have a way of accusing us that we are not worthy of God’s forgetting sin and remembering mercy. That is why we lift up our soul to the One who instructs us to forget what has been forgiven and remember the path of what is right which is to remember the consequence of youthful sins long enough so as hopefully not to repeat them.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Advent 1 C - Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah 33:14-16


The days “that are surely coming" seem to have taken a detour or at the very least got stuck in the traffic jam of history. By that I mean that even if you count the Christ as the righteous branch that “sprang up” He did not execute righteousness and justice in the land in any lasting way and Jerusalem was less secure after his coming than it was before his birth. So what do we do with prophecies that leave us wanting more? In theological speech we say the promised fulfillment is “already but not yet” (aka the proleptic reign of God) which might be called the religious version of having your cake and eating it too. But what if the days that are surely coming really came and the only reason we have to add “not yet” to “already” is that we are not willing to live as if “already” trumps “not yet” period end of sentence. What if we have been given everything we need to execute justice and righteousness in the land and make every city live in safety? I’m sure this version of the righteous branch is like sitting on the wrong end of a shaky limb but then I wonder if the Lord expects us to fulfill a few prophecies on our own in the "already" while we wait for the Lord to finish the "not yet" in the day that will surely come. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Christ the King Year B - Daniel 7:1-18

Daniel 7:1-18
The lectionary leaves out the bulk of Daniel chapter seven, including Daniel’s own commentary. “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me and the visions of my head terrified me.” (7:15) There are endless web pages dedicated to the terrifying visions that troubled Daniel’s spirit. They offer detailed explanation of what will be which, truth to be told, only seem to serve the purpose of further troubling and terrifying. If you want to see some interesting art work just do an image search on Daniel 7! But then apocalyptic writings encourage fanciful thinking. Dreams and visions beg for explanation as we are far more curious than the proverbial cat, especially if we think some advantage may be gained in the knowing. But the ultimate purpose of the apocalyptic vision of the future is to provide hope in the present. The simple truth of Daniel is this: the four arrogant kingdoms hell bent on devouring the weak will themselves be devoured and those they threaten will endure. All the hope of the people and nations and languages is in the One presented before the Ancient of Days. Not a talking horn king but the King of Kings who comes not to devour but to bless. This One given dominion and glory and kingship is not arrogant or rude, jealous or boastful, but full of mercy and compassion. Is it necessary then, or even helpful, to speculate as to future applications of Daniel’s dream of kingdoms and talking horns? I don’t think so for when we focus on end times imagination we often neglect to provide in the present for the very people the King of Kings came to save, which makes us more like an arrogant horn than the King we seek to serve. 

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.