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.