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.