Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Mark 6:14-29

Mark 6:14-29
It is a gruesome story and a sad end for the Baptizer who made straight the way in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. I know Stephen is the first martyr of the church but John is the first one to die for the cause. That’s not to say he fully understood it even if in baptizing Jesus he recognized the one who was greater than he. While in prison John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another. Jesus sent them back to tell John “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5) Maybe Jesus’ response emboldened John to continue to be a voice in the wilderness, albeit confined in Herod’s prison, calling on “that fox” (Luke 13:32) to get out of the hen house. But then John was not a “reed shaking in the wind” or one destined to wear fine clothes. (Matthew 11:7) He was born to be a prophet and “more than a prophet” but like so many prophets before him he paid the price for speaking the truth to power. Jesus will have his own day in court when the crowd demands its due and the prophet from Galilee suffers the same fate as those who went before him. The difference is that the Word made flesh could not be silenced, even by the grave. And John the baptizer was blessed to know he was included in the answer that Jesus sent him. We stand in that prophetic tradition as those called to speak the truth and not count the cost for the answer sent to John includes us. The dead are raised.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Ephesians 1:3-14


Ephesians 1:3-14
Chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the earth” is a long time to be loved. But we were destined for adoption for the good pleasure of God’s will. That means we are the object of God’s eternal affection so that love lavished upon us has as much to do with God’s desire to love as to be loved in return. It is a mutually pleasing arrangement. God gifts us with glorious grace and we live for the praise of God the giver’s glory. The mystery of God’s will made known to us through the apostle Paul is that God is somehow incomplete or unfulfilled without us. And we are less than we were destined to be without God. The church has not always done justice to describing this reciprocal relationship, casting God as a stern judge who merely puts up with us or excusing continued rebelliousness on our part by a cheap grace that that does not count the cost of our redemption to the Christ. But when we understand ourselves to be dearly loved children we can no more be afraid of God’s wrath than a child laughing while bouncing on the knee of a devoted parent. And in the same way we live to make God laugh with pure delight and joy just as we desire to please a beloved parent. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
Because steadfast love and faithfulness embrace righteousness and peace are bold to come out of the closet and engage in PDA (public display of affection) so that faithfulness springs forth and the righteousness of heaven rains down upon the earth. But before these delightful verses the psalmist pleads for God’s displeasure to be put away and God’s anger to dissipate so that the people might be revived. Therefore the most important verse of the psalm is verse 8. “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying…” Revival happens when God responds to the people’s pleading and they listen and act on what they hear. Then the righteousness that springs forth to be kissed by peace is found in acts of kindness and mercy that mimic the ways of the Lord. And like a sweet embrace or a passionate kiss the world blushes at first but in the end is blessed by the PDA of God's faithful people.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Lectionary 15 B - Amos 7:7-15

Amos 7:7-15
There comes a time when the harsh word is the only word left to speak for one cannot forever endure those who continually abandon the truth and expect no consequence for living the lie. And so the Lord hijacks Amos from dressing vines to speak a harsh word against Jeroboam and the vineyard that is “my people Israel.” Even if the Lord is merciful and slow to anger there comes a day when the steadfast love of the Lord is compelled to say to the wicked, “Thy will be done.” There is a loss for God as well, like a parent of wayward child or the partner of an unfaithful spouse, as the Lord goes into exile and all the hopes and dreams begun in the rescue from Egypt – I will be your God and you will be my people – are for naught. But God’s anger does not burn eternally as God’s desire for intimacy cannot withstand exile forever. Long after Israel is abandoned and Judah is exiled and returned God will write a new covenant on the hearts of humans. The true nature of God will be revealed in the living and dying and rising of Jesus who creates for himself a people to bear witness to the grace of God. The desert will bloom like the Texas Hill Country after a rain and the dry land will rejoice and the people will prosper not because we abandon rebellious ways but because God refuses to abandon us.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - 2 Corithians 12:2-10

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Power made perfect in weakness” is not a pleasant sort of life even if Paul is content to boast of his long list of calamities. Indeed it would seem that the thorn in his flesh is the least of his worries. But then the lesson to be learned is that the ability to endure all things does not come from a position of strength as if all one had to do was double down on spiritual steroids or stoically channel your inner Norwegian - if you happen to be Lutheran. No. It is grace that allows weakness to be strength. That means one can be content and still lament of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” (aka - channeling the inner Dane) It means that even though you pray for what you want (three or more times if you like) there comes a day when you accept what is and there is some measure of contentment in acceptance. But that is not the end of the story. The grace that is sufficient points us to the “things that are not to be told” so that the future balm for present woes might be applied to the wounds made by thorns in the flesh. In that way “my grace is sufficient for you” transcends whatever keeps us from being too elated in the present with the promise of whatever waits for us in the paradise that only “God knows”.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - Psalm 123

Psalm 123
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we have had more than enough contempt from the proud and those who are at ease except that in our context “we have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo) Not that we are the “indolent rich” only that in comparison with the vast majority of those who inhabit the planet we have won the lottery a few times over. So if we were to translate the lament of the psalm it might be that we have had more than enough of lusting after the lifestyle of the rich and famous (Robin Leach) Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or competing to be the “winner is the one who dies with the most toys.” When with eyes lifted up to the heavens we search for God’s mercy we are set free from the allure of possessions and the siren song of power. In that way we have had more than enough of the ways of this world and long for the day when with eyes lifted up we shall see the salvation of the Lord.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lectionary 14 B - Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel 2:1-5
This is not the sort of job description one wants to receive but then it seems to be the prophet’s lot. Ezekiel is sent to speak truth to a nation of obstinate and stubborn rebels. Isaiah is sent to a people “ever hearing but never understanding… ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Isaiah 6:9) Jeremiah is made to be a “fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall” to stand against the kings of Judah, the officials, the priests and the people of the land. (Jeremiah 1:17) I’d prefer to be a kinder, gentler prophet like the “Comfort, comfort, ye my people” Isaiah (40:1) or the “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord” Jeremiah. (29:11-13) But it appears healing words cannot not be heard unless harsh ones till the soil of stubborn souls in the same way that the “Thus says the Lord” truth to be told about us makes us receptive to the good news of the Gospel. “Come let us reason together. Though your sins are scarlet they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18) Bad news becomes good news when we receive the corrective word of the Lord as an invitation and not condemnation. Or as Ezekiel will say later  "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ” (33:11)