Thursday, March 22, 2018

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

Passion Sunday Year B - Isaiah 50:4-9

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lent 5 B - John 12:20-33

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lent 5 B - Hebrews 5:5-10

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lent 5 B - Psalm 51:1-12

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lent 5 B - Jeremiah 31:31-34

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lent 4 B - John 3:14-21

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lent 4 B - Ephesians 2:1-10

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lent 4 B - Psalm 107

Psalm 107 is a long song that describes the rebellious ways of God’s people. It is something most of us don't like to acknowledge but the truth is our life of faith is not consistently faithful. Like the children of Israel described in Psalm 107 we wander in the wilderness and sit in darkness and are rebellious and fearful and wicked and then in the end are humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow brought about by the paths we choose to walk. When all else fails we turn back to the Lord who is good and whose mercy endures forever. But then we grow comfortable and complacent and conceited and find ourselves back in the dark places we had hoped never to inhabit again. The good news is that God’s goodness endures forever even when our faithfulness does not so that when we again tire of "the high cost of living ain’t half the cost of living high” (Jamey Johnson) wicked ways the God whose love endures forever is waiting to bind up our broken hearts and set our captive souls free. Maybe this time we’ll have learned our lesson and stay put – but I wouldn’t count on it and I bet God doesn’t either.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Lent 4 B - Numbers 21:4-9

Numbers 21:4-9
If the Lord could talk to Moses through a burning bush, beat the great and powerful Oz (Pharaoh) at his own game and part the Red Sea with an upraised arm and a stick you’d think the Lord could come up with a better menu than manna three times a day seven days a week. I’m just saying. And even if the recently freed slaves complained about the Sinai Diet © while waxing nostalgic about the meal package in Egypt I think getting bit by vipers is overkill for what comes naturally to human beings. When push comes to shove heaven knows we will blame or complain. Then again if God could get the children of Israel out of jail free with "a mighty word and an outstretched arm" they should have trusted that manna was just the appetizer for a Promised Land happy meal of milk and honey. Maybe that is true for us as well. Times of trouble, as difficult as they are to bear, are in the end still temporary and call for trust that the God who provided in the past is more than able to get us through the present while we journey towards the promised future. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lent 3 B - John 2:13-25

"Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple" by New Zealand artist Michael Smither, 1972 (Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, New Zealand)
John 2:13-25
“What a friend we have in Jesus…” doesn’t harmonize very well with John’s whip wielding, table tipping, Jesus gone wild. But then this temple tantrum is about more than just bake sales and Starbucks in the narthex. In three and a half years Jesus has had plenty of reasons to react with all consuming zeal towards those who opposed his message but other than some name calling, “you brood of vipers” Jesus shows great restraint. Even on the cross, where you or I might be tempted to cuss, Jesus forgives. So why does Jesus call out the dove sellers and go ballistic in the temple mall? “Zeal for your house will consume me” is what the disciples remember later but in the heat of the moment I imagine even some of his followers might have thought he went too far. The temple sacrifices prescribed by law were about avoiding the jealous God “who visits punishment on the children for the sins of the parents” by obeying the God who shows steadfast love towards generations that keep the commandments. But Jesus objects to the house’s profit margin and not just because his Father holds the mortgage. No. This is about a human institution masquerading as a holy one and making monetary demands in the name of God. “Stop bringing me meaningless sacrifices” is how God speaks about the system through the prophet Isaiah. “Love justice, act with kindness, walk humbly with your God” is what God requires according to Micah. In the end it will be the human house that consumes Jesus with blood thirsty zeal. “Crucify!” What they couldn’t see coming was that consuming Jesus on the cross was the way God would make our human houses holy.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Lent 2 B - Romans 4:13-25

Romans 4:13-25
Abraham “is the father of us all” is how Paul puts it. Three faiths claim what Paul proclaims. Father Abraham and Mother Sarah birthed Judaism through Isaac. Islam’s claim came through Ishmael, the son of Sarah’s slave. And Christianity only got included by adoption. I wonder if God intended us to consider the children of the father of many nations as extended family. I don’t mean all branches of the family tree are able to hope against hope as the adopted children do. The legitimate children depend on who they are and what they do to be acceptable in the God of Abraham’s sight while we who didn’t have a prayer to be included recognize (I hope) our fortunate son and daughter status is due to what has been done for us. Therefore we hope against hope because truth is we were as good as dead before the mercy and grace of God appeared in the Christ, who was handed over to death for our rebellion and raised for our justification.  Given the grace extended to us there may be room within our faith tradition to embrace the entire human family as brothers and sisters and work towards the good of all so that the faith of the adopted child becomes the way the other children of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar can also hope against hope and be reconciled to Abraham's God by the only legitimate Son who is Abraham’s Lord.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lent 2 B - Psalm 22:23-31

Psalm 22:23-31
The Gospels only record Jesus crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) but I imagine he recited the rest of Psalm 22 under his breath. That is because His cry of dereliction was for our deliverance as "the people yet unborn" would hear the proclamation; “The Lord has acted!” But I wonder if it wasn’t for himself as well. Hanging naked, bleeding, dying while the multitudes mocked him Jesus sought out the psalm that both spoke to his agony “a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet; all my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.” (vs. 16, 17) and strengthened his resolve “the Lord does not despise or abhor the poor and the Lord’s face is not hidden from them; when they cry out, the Lord hears them.” So it is with us when faced with suffering and sorrow beyond our ability to bear. Just like Jesus we pour out our complaints to God trusting God hears us so that commending our spirits into God’s tender mercy we are confident God will deliver on the promise of peace in the here and now and the forever future.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lent 2 B - Genesis 17:1-16

Genesis 17:1-16
Ninety-nine is not too old for a new life and a name change, though Abraham might have preferred to be circumcised as an infant. I’m just saying. Of course Abraham wouldn’t be the father of many nations without Sarah and even if Isaac is named for her laughing at the thought of a child in her golden years it should be noted that Abraham laughed out loud at the thought as well. But that’s the way it is when you’ve spent a lifetime waiting for a promise to come true only to be disappointed time and again. And I imagine it became more difficult after Hagar bore Ishmael for then there was no doubt as to who was to blame for Sarah’s barren womb. But somehow through all the years Abraham and Sarah endured the sideways glances and whispered comments for the sake of the promise they barely believed. When the promise came true they were just as surprised as everyone else and we are as blessed by their laughing as their believing for if God allows room for disbelief in the mind of father Abraham and mother Sarah perhaps our believing has room for the doubtful laugh.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lent 1 B - Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15

When immediately after hearing “You are my Son, the Beloved” you are driven into the wilderness where Satan and the wild beasts hold sway the temptation is to doubt one’s “Beloved” status. Satan doesn’t have to do much more than ask the question in the same way Satan asked the first humans, “Did God really say…?” The question sowed doubt in their minds and it may have in the Beloved’s as well. But where the first humans gave doubt its due, the Beloved let the voice “You are my Son” speak louder than his hunger or the tempter’s deceit or the wild beasts in the wilderness. We are tempted in the same way when we find ourselves driven into the wilderness of circumstances beyond our control or difficulties created by our own design. Doubting our “beloved” status leads us to live in ways that devalue self and others so that we buy the lie and lose the paradise of peace and joy and love. The good news is that Jesus abandoned paradise to live in the wilderness of our world so that in "the kingdom of God has come near" we might repent and believe the Good News. We are loved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lent 1 B - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
“Do not remember the sins of my youth” is the psalmist 's plea to God to not remember the sins the psalmist cannot forget. It is often true for us as well. The sins of the past haunt the present and color the future a darker shade of grey. Even those of us who claim that grace abounds and that God forgives and forgets find ourselves mired in the mud of the past where we willfully stepped off the path of the Lord and rejected the ways that were made known to us. But God, mindful of mercy, is always present to shed light on that which we prefer to hide so that in the confession of regret and guilt and shame God might make “a new beginning from the ashes of our past.” (We Are Baptized in Christ Jesus by John Yilvisaker) When God instructs sinners in the way the first lesson is that whoever we were and whatever we may have done or left undone has been forgotten and no longer defines our present or predicts our future for when we put on Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lent 1 B - Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis 9:8-17
It is not stated plainly but I think “never again” carries with it a certain amount of regret. Or if not regret at least a determination that extinguishing all life on the planet earth by drowning is not the final solution to the reality of evil. Our time is no more or less evil even if the scripture states that in Noah’s time “the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11)  Surely there were innocent children in Noah’s age?  And what of the multitude of animals that didn’t win the two by two lottery? The evil of every age has always presented the righteous with a dilemma. Isn’t flooding the earth and killing every living creature on it as evil as whatever prompted such a response? That is why in an equally evil age God remembered the covenant and chose to do the dying himself rather than making the whole world the scapegoat for sin. Not as an excuse for evil but an invitation for the righteous to live in such a way that invites others to climb aboard the ark of salvation that is life in the Lord. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Transfiguartion Year B - 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I think sometimes the minds of unbelievers see the Gospel more clearly than those who have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Of course they don’t know what they are saying or doing is what the Gospel is all about and in that sense they are near sighted and in need of the Christian lens. It is only because the image of God lived and died in the flesh that you and I dare to believe and proclaim that God is desperately and ultimately in love with the people who inhabit this planet. The god of this world that blinds the minds of unbelievers and believers alike also inhabits human flesh, namely yours and mine. You don’t need to look any farther than the human heart to find the devil inside. (INXS) But the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” is more than able to overcome our love of sinning in all its devious forms so that what we become is the lens through which unbelievers might be able to see the Christ.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Transfiguration Year B - 2 Kings 2:1-14

2 Kings 2:1-14It is a strange story of whirlwinds and water partings and pregnant pauses – “Yes, I know: be silent." But when the moment comes Elisha sees the chariots and cries out, “Father! Father!” both for Elijah’s passing and the promise “if you see me… it will be granted." Tearing his clothes is a break with his past as picking up the mantle is embracing his future. The passing of the mantle is what the church has been doing for thousands of years. In many ways we inherit a double portion of what has been before as we build on the foundation of everyday prophets, saints and sinners, all the way back to the first witnesses of the resurrection. Even in this time of uncertainty and decline the story of “God with us” is more than able to preserve the traditions of the past while propelling us into the uncharted future. Even so some garments will be left behind having served their purpose. But when we invoke the name of the God of those who gifted us with their prophetic spirit the waters blocking our way will part and the church will cross over into God’s forever future. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Epiphany 5 B - 1 Corinthains 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it’s a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. I’m not confessing.  I’m just asking the question. But truth is according to all sorts of surveys we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil is out to get us, we can get there without any help, thank you very much. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a demanding profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (at least in the way the world measures it) and more recently diminished respect so that the clerical collar is often an object of ridicule in the wider culture. But there is a greater truth and that is that the obligation to proclaim cannot be escaped and “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we can be better on both sides of the pew by being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Epiphnay 5 B - Psalm 147

The God of abundant power, who can hurl down hail like crumbs and whip up a winter storm on a whim, is the same God who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. This God does not delight in the things that we might and although I love my strong horse Seraphina and always hope for a personal best time when I run a 5K we’d do well to pay attention to the things God cares about. God delights in those who hope in the steadfast love that speaks peace to Jerusalem. Even though the God come down was cast out by his own people (who knew his ordinances) God did not deal with them as any other nation for the One cast out by Israel was to be the blessing to every people and every nation. To fear God, then, is to be people who care for the weak and weary and work for peace while singing praise to the gracious God of infinite patience.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Epiphany 5 B - Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah 40:21-31
“Why do you say, my way is hidden from the Lord?” is the complaint of a person wearied by life’s demands. And having been “told from the beginning” is little help when all the indicators point to an absent Almighty. For the children of Israel it was captivity that wore them down so that they “sat by the waters of Babylon and wept” while wishing violence on the offspring of their oppressors. (Psalm 137) Our captivity is closer to home where loss of job or health or spouse saps our spirit so that we lament, “My cause is disregarded by God.” But the prophet speaks into their despair to remind them of what they have always known, the God of Jacob and Israel is a God of the living and not the dead, a God of infinite strength and beauty who cares for the powerless and will one day set them free. The promise is for us as well. The way out is always through. Waiting in hope for the Lord increases the power of the faint and renews the strength of the weary so that we are able to run the course set before us and claim the prize of the heavenward call of Christ.(Philippians 3:14)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - Mark 1:21-28

Mark 1:21-28
Speaking as a scribe – with an unclean spirit - I‘m not sure what to think about this. I’m not saying I’m possessed; unless we’re talking about pride which more often than not is just the disguise worn by self-doubt. Truth is we are all possessed by unclean spirits from overeating to overwork to sleeping one’s life away and as it turns out present day pastor scribes are no different than people in the pew especially when they pretend to be as holy as people in the pew might want them to be. I know I am taking this story in a direction it never intended to go but it occurs to me that the life in Christ was understood by the unclean spirits and rejected by the scribes. The unclean spirits “obeyed him.” The scribes crucified him. The good news for scribes with unclean spirits is that the Holy One of God did not come to destroy us but to give us life and love and freedom by calling us to come out of our places of possession. What is this? A new teaching? Maybe so. So obey and be free.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it is a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. It may be a confession even if I’m just asking the question. The truth, according to all sorts of surveys, is that we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil is out to get us, we can get there without any help, thank you very much. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a demanding profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (by some parishes) and acts of ridicule from the wider culture. But the vast majority of hard working, faitthful, pastored up people live fully into the obligation to proclaim what cannot be escaped for “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we could do better on both sides of the pew by being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel. Just sayin.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Epiphany 4 B - Psalm 111

Psalm 111
The gracious and merciful Lord is ever mindful of his covenant, which is to say God remembers us even if we forget to give thanks with our whole heart. Of course the covenant is a two way street even if God does most of the heavy lifting.  And while we are always on the receiving end of God’s forever covenant of redemption it is God’s intention that in remembering us we would remember God and grow in grace becoming the faithful and just works of God’s hands. When we practice the beginning of wisdom, which is to recognize God in the everyday and the extraordinary, God rejoices and our whole life is transformed into praise.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Epiphnay 4 B - Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I speak “a word” about God everyday without worrying about the Deuteronomy consequences. But maybe in light of the warning (and even within the relative safety of the scriptures as the sole rule and authority and the constraint of the creeds) I should pause before speaking any more “words” about God as Gospel truth. After all God is beyond knowing and anything I might say about God is from my limited knowledge – we know in part and prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:9) But then how can God be known unless we speak (Romans 10:14) So if I have misrepresented God in my preaching and teaching I hope I have erred on the side of mercy and not judgment and I am betting my life that the cross will cover a multitude of my misspeaks and though I have no doubt this prophet will one day die I pray God (given my recent through the roof BP readings) not any time soon.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Mark 1:14-20

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus has a one sentence sermon that says it all. The time is fulfilled – which means the future has come into the present. The kingdom of God has come near – which means God has come down to dwell with people and the reign of love is as close as your own breath. Repent – which is to say stop living in ways that deny the forever future reign of God can be realized today. Believe the good news – which means live like you trust it is true. The trouble is we have one foot firmly planted in the world while we tap a toe into the life of the forever future and never fully repenting of the past we never fully embrace the future. However, there are moments when random acts of kindness soften a harsh world or times when walking with a loved one right up to the edge of life death really does look like birth or when we become convinced of God’s love for us and others so much that we give ourselves and others a break and rejoice in the wonder of each moment. Or in other words one sentence says it all.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - 1 Corinthians 7:21-31

1 Corinthians 7:21-31
I don’t want to question the Apostle Paul’s timeline but did he believe “the appointed time has grown short” would go on for 2000 years or more? And if he thought the “grown short” time was longer than a lifetime would he have encouraged people to live as if the present form of the world passing away was a tomorrow come today? Truth is he got it wrong. But then so did a lot of the early Christians. I suppose we could blame it on the Gospel writers who remembered Jesus saying one generation “shall see my return”. (Not the same thing as blaming Jesus) I don’t know what Paul meant but I think the eminent end time stuff gives people an excuse to not live in the present. And if I could dare to speak for Jesus I think that would tick him off royally – since he is the King who calls us to make a difference in the present. Which means we can live the future in the present and not worry about the things that concerned the apostle Paul.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Psalm 65:5-12

Psalm 62:5-12
Waiting in silence is not something that comes naturally to most people especially when unsteady circumstances call for a rock and salvation stronghold that cannot be shaken. Perhaps “pour out your hearts” should begin the psalm and “wait in silence” end it. Or maybe the two can be considered the same thing when one trusts that the God who searches hearts and minds knows what we need before we do. And even if our lives are relatively stable neither those of high degree nor low estate can long delay the inevitable for like a fleeting breath the span of life doesn’t even tip the scale of eternity. But if we trust our lives are in the hands of the One to whom steadfast love belongs we are able to endure even the specter of our inevitable end where we will be repaid according to our deeds for we believe that because the rock of salvation was crowned with a cross “Lord have mercy” will not fall on deaf ears. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Epiphany 3 B - Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah 3:1-10
God’s mind was changed but Jonah's heart was not. In the beginning of the story Jonah tries to avoid going to Nineveh because he believes God’s word and is counting on it. If the people of Nineveh do not repent they will be destroyed and since Jonah would like nothing more than that he goes in the opposite direction hoping to force God’s hand. But God trumps Jonah and has a great fish swallow him to get him to the church on time. Since the people of Nineveh worship a fish god in the form of a man Jonah doesn’t have to cry out very loudly to get the pagans to pay attention. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than endure God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies but then God is always more willing to forgive than we are. I know Lyle Lovett wasn’t thinking of this story when he wrote God Will but it seems to me if Jonah sang country he could put his heart into this song.  

“And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me.
Of course for those who believe the “difference between God and me” is Jesus there is no difference for all who have been forgiven are called to forgive.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51
Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn’t count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14)  In the knowing Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)  Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will know the Good that came from Nazareth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Corinthians 6:11-20

1 Corinthians 6:11-20
Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, (1 Corinthians 5:1) even made the pagans blush. So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do whatever I want.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run up a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead us to an amendment of our sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Epiphany 2 B - 1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Samuel 3:1-20
The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel receives indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels, stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners. We are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our actions or inactions don’t have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters; which is to say what the Lord would have us do begins with listening. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Mark 1:4-11

Laughing Dove - Range includes Israel
Mark 1:4-11
I’ve always thought the Holy Spirit descending like a dove was an odd way for the Holy Spirit to appear. Some Dove lovers may disagree but I don’t think doves make a very graceful descent. There’s a lot of flapping involved and their landings look a little unsteady to me. Of course the theological connection with baptism is the dove’s association with purity and innocence and the dove of the flood who returns with the olive branch to let Noah know all is well. (Matthew 10:16). On the other hand I like the idea of the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove as opposed to a Red Tailed Hawk (which when circling overhead makes the chickens in my yard very nervous) So the Spirit descends on the Son this way and that with a lot of flapping and not like a ballistic bird missile with claws at the ready. And the Voice from heaven declared what John the Baptizer and everyone else had been waiting for. “When the time had fully come…” is how Paul describes it, the Beloved born of Mary was born again in water and word. That’s good news for those of us who in remembering our baptism (even if we can’t) find a sure and certain hope that God comes to us as a Dove and not a Raptor and as far as God is concerned we too are beloved.