Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Christmas 2 A - Jeremiah 3:7-14

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Jeremiah’s “great company” returning from captivity in the north includes the blind and lame, those with child and those in labor, hardly the kind of folks generally included in a great company. But that is the way of the Lord often missed, even by God’s own people. The One whose ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts has an affinity for those cast aside, those who receive no recognition or awards, who are wholly dependent on hoping in the Lord. So God will rescue the remnant from those too strong for them, turning mourning into joy, sorrow into gladness; comfort of the Lord for a people long oppressed. The young and old will make merry, the priests will get fat and the people will be satisfied. But more that, in the remnant returned the Lord who scattered Israel, because they refused to walk straight paths, is also restored for God suffered the separation as much as those who languished in exile. It takes two to tango even if God takes the lead.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas 1 A - Matthew 2:13-22


Herod, remembered by history as “the Great” for his architectural achievements, was also good at killing. His hit list included his first wife, his mother-in-law and two brother-in-laws, two sons by his first wife and numerous rabbis and priests and political rivals who got in his way. The slaughter of a few peasant children in a backwater town was hardly a stretch for Herod. In the end he pays a price for his cruelty dying a particularly nasty death described in great detail by the historian Josephus. But all that gives Herod more attention than he deserves. For all his scheming and evil acts the one child he intended to kill escaped. But what of Rachel’s weeping and loud lamentation? It is the lament sung throughout all of history and the Bethlehem babes are just one more example of innocent victims of violence beginning with Cain who kills his brother Abel out of envy. But that is precisely why the child is born and even though he escapes this time there will come a day when he will not and the babe of Bethlehem will be the man of Golgotha to take up the weeping that will not be consoled on behalf Rachel and her children, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” While not nearly as catchy as “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” the cry of Christ on Calvary is only thing that makes “Merry Christmas” possible.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas 1 A - Hebrews 2:10-18

Hebrews 2:10-18
During the summer of 1975 I was the wrangler at Camp Lone Star, LaGrange, Texas. Before the summer was over I had wrecked the rear end of my ‘68’ Chevelle racing a ‘69’ Mustang down a dirt road, chipped a bone in my elbow coming off a green broke colt (suddenly and involuntarily), broke my hand in another horse related incident and was bitten by a Coral snake. (I tried to pick it up because no one told me “red and black venom lack; red and yellow kill a fellow.) Strange as it may seem I still consider it the best summer of my life; maybe because I was a kid from Chicago playing cowboy in Texas and at 19 one does not live in slavery to the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:15) On the other hand (the one not broken) psychologist Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death” (Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction in 1974) would make the case that my reckless behavior during the summer of 1975 was a denial of the very real fear finite beings feel whether they acknowledge it or not. The church has been the place where the fearful faithful gather to be confident that death is but the gateway to eternal life and as long as one has a reserved seat by virtue of a personal relationship with Jesus there is no need to be afraid. But we miss the truth of the incarnation when we cast Jesus’ life and death and resurrection as a religious Ponzi scheme where only those who buy into the system are given a get out of (eternal) jail free card. If God in Jesus becomes like us in every way then God must also identify with those who are less than faithful and live out their fear of death in ways that are destructive to themselves and ultimately others. That is not to say bad behavior is excused. But having lived our life and died our death surely God must understand we were set up from birth into a closed system to live in denial of the thing we fear most because we cannot avoid it or in the end escape it. The hope of the scripture that proclaims a merciful God is that God became as we are so that we might become as God is. (St. Augustine) To that point the church is set free from the fear of death when the faithful fearful are as willing to enter into the suffering of others as Jesus was and like Jesus are not ashamed to call all members of the human family sisters and brothers. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas 1 A - Psalm 148

This is an “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir” praise the Lord psalm, though I’d rather not be included in the choir when sea monsters get to exalting the name of the Lord. But then psalm 148 doesn’t discriminate. Young and old, women and men, fire and frost, creeping things and flying birds, wild animals and domestic livestock, kings of the earth and peasants (you get the idea) all are commanded to exalt the name of the Lord who created sun and moon, stars and heavens, etc. etc. etc. But one wonders why the whole world should join the chorus if the horn raised up is only for the people who are close to the Lord. Is everyone else supposed to praise Israel’s God from a distance? This is the part of praise the Lord that the psalmist didn’t see coming. Simeon saw it when Joseph and Mary brought the horn “raised up” to the temple on the eighth day for the rite of purification. “Let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation… light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Apparently God does not discriminate either, but preparing for something beyond the psalmist’s imagination intended the horn raised up for Israel to be raised up for those outside Israel as well. It meant the end of things Israel thought essential to praising God; circumcision and keeping kosher to name but two. So what might that mean for us who also believe God has raised up a horn, formerly for Israel, but now exclusively for us who are close to God by virtue of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If God determined the law of circumcision and keeping kosher unnecessary for right relationship what else might be on the table? Well if the psalmist couldn’t see it coming neither will we. That’s the nature of God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe that’s why the psalm commands everything that is to praise the Lord. Bring it on sea monsters, just don't bite me when I'm boogie boarding.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas 1 A - Isaiah 63:7-9

The amazing thing to me is that this less than noteworthy nation on the world’s stage, even during its forty year golden age, in what is hardly a garden spot on the planet, recounted God’s favor for them even in times of captivity and national calamity and unfulfilled promises. The ransomed of the Lord may have returned to Zion with singing but the everlasting joy was only one verse and a chorus. Things are not going so well. The hard work of restoring national identity in a conquered land and rebuilding a city and temple in ruins, all in the context of a less than warm welcome by those who had been left behind by the Babylonians, is hardly a list of the Lord’s gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts. But then Isaiah doesn’t think in terms of rewards but the riches of a relationship with the Savior who is present with them in all their distress. Not a messenger. Not an angel. The presence of God saved them and lifted them up and carried them home. That is why the most gracious act of God is remaining present with children who, truth to be told, have a habit of dealing falsely with God, no matter what Isaiah says. God’s love and pity redeems them because these people, of all the people on the planet, are God’s own people. In the same way God continues to be present with us, in a restored relationship through the Christ, despite our less than honest ways. In light of that we too can recount the gracious deeds of God in times of personal captivity and calamity and the not yet nature of future promises unfulfilled.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent 4 A - Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25

Mary doesn’t need Joseph so why do we? It’s a fair question for a virgin birth. Is it just to provide cover once the baby is born? She’d be in just as much trouble as a single mother as she is betrothed and pregnant and claiming God did the deed. So what gives? Well if nothing else it’s for this dream sequence which asks Joseph to do just as much believing as Mary in Luke’s version of the visitation. Joseph, a righteous man, could be as righteous as the law allows and point to Mary’s swollen belly as proof of the pudding and pick up the first stone to cast as would be his right as a betrayed spouse to be. Instead he wishes her no harm, which might mean in a culture of arranged marriages where “What’s love got to do with it” is the signature song, Joseph sings “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” I like to think that, even if it goes well beyond what text allows. What if he wants to let her go quietly because he loves her even though when she said, “I’ve got something to tell you…” it must have come as quite a shock. “You talked to an angel who said what!?” And so God who loves lovers comes to him in a dream and gives him courage to do what he wanted to do all along, take Mary as his wife. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus or in other words, Merry Christmas, Joseph.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Advent 4 A - Romans 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7The letter to the Romans begins with a seven verse sentence all of which serves as preface to “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It could be that Paul, like this blogger, likes run on sentences because periods just waste time. It could be that grace to you and peace is easier said than done and needs a seven verse sentence to remind the Romans that while they are not nearly as conflicted as the Corinthians there are some hard feelings between Jewish and Gentile Christians residing in Rome. The promise beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures about the Son descended from David (think Jew) is also declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness for the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, so that both Jew and Gentile might be called “God’s beloved in Rome.” I think there a lot of things the church can get wrong and still claim the cross of Christ but living together in grace and peace as God’s beloved is not one of them. The inclusion of Gentiles into what was a Jewish religion goes beyond any of the denominational divisions that define the church today and we would do well to note that those outside the church see our inability to live together in grace and peace as proof the Gospel is not worth the paper it’s printed on. “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” or so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Does that mean the divisions that define us are not essential and we should all join hands and sing Kum by Yah? Well, why not? Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Or in other words, Kum by Yah.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Advent 4 A - Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a lament for the Northern Kingdom of Israel that in 722 BCE was conquered by the Assyrians. It started as a family feud between Judah and Israel but after Israel allied with Aram and threatened Jerusalem, King Ahaz of Judah sold his soul to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria and Israel was history. Of course the psalmist thinks God had something to do with it but the truth is this story is repeated throughout the history of the human race. The pride of kings inevitably leads to the bread of tears for common folk. It’s the poets and the prophets that give voice to the people’s pain pleading “Restore us, O God” and promising “then we will never turn back from you.” Sad to say Israel never does come back and Judah will eventually meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Not a very happy post for a Tuesday morning but then laments are meant to name the pain and not shy away from the reality of suffering albeit from the perspective of faith that holds onto hope that the God who is angry with the people’s prayers will hear their plea and regard their plight with pity. That is how not so happy posts can still be hopeful for laments give voice to faith in the face of sorrow and suffering, so that when scorned and derided by circumstances beyond our control, fed on a diet tears, we pray none-the-less “Restore us, O God!” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 4 A - Isiah 7:10-16

Ahaz is weary of prophets getting in the way of his politics and so even the offer of a sign as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol can’t get him to swallow his pride and ask the God of Israel for help. God wearied by Ahaz’s feigned piety offers a sign anyway, a sign that Matthew will apply to Jesus though Isaiah was most likely speaking of Hezekiah, neither of which are named Immanuel, by the way, but then that is the way of prophecies. They point to a truth larger than the literal one and the same word that finds fulfillment in Hezekiah and Jesus finds fulfillment in our everyday. Immanuel, God with us, is the point of the promise. God with us when we go our own way, choosing the evil and refusing the good. God with us when we feed ourselves with false promises and illusory hopes. God with us for the day when we tire of wearying God and turn again to the promise as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol and recognize that the hope of God with us is that we would choose to be with God. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Advent 3 A - Matthew 11:2-10

Matthew 11:2-10
John is confused by what Jesus is doing, or more accurately, by what Jesus is not doing. One can imagine the questions that led to “Are you the one who is to come…?” Where is the baptizing with fire and the Holy Spirit? Why is the threshing floor still occupied by Pharisee & Sadducee chaff? And the most perplexing question might have been, Why am I in prison if you are the Messiah? I’m your cousin, for God’s sake! But Jesus came to be what John had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near.” And John was right, it was more powerful then his message and with or without sandals to untie, no one was worthy of it. It was not to be “kingdom come” by smiting enemies within and without, wresting the temple from the dirty hands of the High Priest and kicking Roman butt from Jerusalem to Britannica. It shouldn’t surprise us that John asked the question. In some ways the early church suffering at the hands of those from within and without asked the same question. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the vision of Jesus’ return was imaged as violent and vengeful. Maybe this time the Messiah will get it right. This time we want a superman not a suffering servant. Listen, John the Baptist had plenty of scriptures to support the Messiah he was looking for and truth to be told that was the Messiah he wanted. When Jesus says “blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” he is telling John and us, for that matter, that he will come in whatever way he wants and our images will have conform to his. Granted that may mean he’s coming back angry and ready to put a hurt on the world that would make John the Baptist shake like a reed in the wind. But my guess is that Jesus is still outside our box, scriptural or not, and that the Messiah who the first time around pointed to the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the dead raised and the poor hearing good news as proof of the pudding might surprise us the second time as well. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Advent 3 A - James 5:7-10

James 5:7-10
We’ve been patiently waiting for almost two thousand years. Of course every now and then people find a way to profit from predictions of gloom and doom but then the point of patience is left behind. There is nothing you can do to hasten the day, or delay it for that matter, but you can make the wait weary for yourself and others by grumbling, judging, or connecting coincidences and claiming to know the time and place the Lord himself said is none of your business. No. We are called to wait as those James calls “Beloved” three times in four verses, which means we wait with a lover’s longing. And not only for ourselves but for the sake of those the Lord loves, which I’m guessing includes those we don’t. After all, the Judge who stands at the door is the same One who spoke “Father, forgive them” upon those whose fear and envy and self righteousness nailed him to the mercy seat in the first place. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Advent 3 A - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
This is the song of Zion, the song sung at the Christ’s conception, the song Jesus would sing with his life, the song that would condemn him to death. “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” is how the high priest Caiaphas justified the murder of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead. Power does not care for protest songs and will take any measure to silence them. But Mary’s song will not be silenced. The humble are lifted up. The rulers are brought down. The hungry are fed with good things. The rich are sent empty away. Sung by a peasant girl, impregnated by the Holy Spirit come upon her, she risks her life to carry the light of the world to term. Sooner or later some busy body in Nazareth will notice that Mary is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” and no one will be around to confess the virgin birth as an alibi. And yet she sings. She rejoices in God’s favor. She sings of the Savior mindful of her humble state who has blessed her for every generation. She sings rejoicing for her people because the Mighty One has remembered to be merciful. She sings the life within her before Bethlehem, before Golgotha, because Mary believes that in the conception of the Christ the future forever promise has already come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Advent 3 C - Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah 35 was written to the children of Israel in exile, weeping by the river of Babylon, tormented by their captors who demanded they sing happy songs of Zion. It is a vision of a better day, a promise for those worn down by adversity, weakened by suffering, feeble and fearful of heart, without help, without hope. In the vision cast by the waters of Babylon a new song of Zion is composed where the wilderness rejoices in the glory of the Lord revealed and a way is made through the burning sand and haunt of jackals so that even those who don’t have a lick of sense will not get lost on the holy highway. Of course a good portion of those whose hands were strengthened and knees steadied by the hope of the promise died by the river where they wept. But for their children born in Babylon the promise did come true and they returned to Zion singing the songs their parents taught them which would have been forgotten forever if their captors tormenting them had not demanded they sing them. As it was for them, so it is for us; a promise for unsteady hands and knees that give way, hope for all held captive to doubt and fear, trial and trouble, a promise that inspires holy imagination where sorrow flees from the promise of everlasting joy. So sing the songs of Zion, songs of hope and happiness, joy and peace, even if you are weeping by the waters of your own Babylon, for the children are listening and learning. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Psalm 72 - Advent 2 A

Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Psalm 72 concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse. It is a prayer for his son Solomon. In many ways David, the man after God’s own heart (who broke God’s heart time and again) is a tragic figure. Guilty of adultery and murder and intrigue the sword never left his house and while he was not “cast away from God’s presence” he experienced the penalty of his sin in heartbreaking loss, no more so than in the rebellion and death of his son Absalom. “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” His cry of grief for Absalom stands in stark contrast to his prayer for Solomon. Born out of the disappointments and difficulties of his reign David prays that Solomon would be a better king than he was. Make my son a just and righteous king who remembers the poor and delivers the needy from the oppressor, whose rule like rain on mown grass will bring peace and prosperity to your people. “Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by, and feed them on your dreams the one they picked, the one you’ll know by” (CSNY) David dreamed of a dwelling place for God in the midst of the city named Peace, a temple he was not permitted to build, but the son for whom he prayed would make the dream come true. David’s prayer that Solomon would do better than he is the prayer of every parent learning from the whole of life, wishing, hoping, praying their child will make fewer mistakes and know twice the joy and only half the pain they did and that well taught lessons and dreams picked will help the prayer come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Advent 2 A - Isaiah 11:1-10

It is one of my favorite visions of the future and I marvel at the heart and mind of the prophet who brought it to life by putting it to pen. The One who delights in the Lord will pair wolves with lambs, leopards with goats, calves with lions, bears with cows, infants with adders. It’s a recipe for carnage, but in the imagination of the prophet the predator lies down with the prey for a nap, not for lunch. The prophet envisions the accepted order of the natural world radically transformed by the One upon whom the Spirit of the Lord finds a resting place, who judges the poor with righteousness, who decides with equity for the meek and kills the wicked without breaking a sweat. This Sunday we will baptize Winifred Jean Klade into the vision of Isaiah and anoint her with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presence. It is no small thing to be birthed again in the midst of the assembly (especially when the baptism takes place at Kyrie in Shaw's Bar and Grill) and publicly joined with Christ and all who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Welcome to the kingdom, little one! Of course to be baptized into the vision is to be claimed by the future and called to live it in the present. The whole creation groans for us to do more than just recycle, as helpful as that is. It is a small planet we share and whatever we do to preserve and protect anticipates the peaceable kingdom in the “not yet”. And as we do the whole creation subjected to frustration because the first humans were not satisfied with paradise breathes a little easier even as it waits in eager expectation for the day when paradise lost is found and once again is home for all creatures of our God and King. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Advent 1 A - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It’s been one long night since the apostle roused the Romans from sleep. Of course we can all agree that salvation is nearer to us now than it was yesterday and it will be one day closer tomorrow but that doesn’t have quite the sense of immediacy that Paul used to exhort believers to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Given the long delay of the second coming we might be tempted to hit the snooze on holy living and roll over for forty winks of debauchery, though sooner or later the sun comes up on a life of licentiousness bringing a hangover of hurt. That being said the motivation for living honorably as in the day is not for fear of punishment or that the end is near but because the outstanding debt of love demands it. The debt of love that one owes the other is also owed to self and a life free from quarreling and jealousy is a life worth living for its own sake. So put on the Lord Jesus no matter how long the night lasts for fulfilling the law of love does no wrong to self or neighbor. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Advent 1 A - Psalm 122

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. In Hebrew Jerusalem means the City of Peace. In Arabic it means Holiness and in Greek the Holy City. Claimed by Jew, Moslem and Christian as the capital of their respective faiths the holy city of peace has seen more than its fair share of violence and bloodshed. But while the psalmist would pray for the peace of Jerusalem only for the sake of relatives and friends the holy peace that befits the Lord’s house is peace for the world. That kind of peace cannot be established by walls and towers. That kind of peace will not be found in military might. The peace that prospers and makes one glad will come when the human family recognizes that we all belong to each other and our destinies are inextricably linked. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Advent 1 A - Isaiah 2:1-5

“Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, gonna study war no more.” Down by the Riverside predates the War Between the States and sings the desire of all who have on the job training in the study of war. We are a warring species, sometimes for necessary and just causes, sometimes in self defense, sometimes to protect economic self interest, sometimes for ideology and sometimes, God help us, just because. But I cannot believe that given the opportunity by means of a just peace, or a trustworthy security, or some other mechanism to make war obsolete anyone would not willingly, joyfully, lay down sword and shield. That day has eluded the human race even though some have tried their best to live “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” It is because the only peace that has a chance is the promised peace of God’s path. Whenever we walk in the light of the Lord we give peace a chance to happen in our lives and the lives of those around us in anticipation of the final peace treaty of the forever future where swords and spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks will signal the end of the nations warring madness once and for all. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Christ the King Year C - Luke 23:33-43

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. The guilty one anticipates the kingdom of the innocent one. Without hesitating Jesus answers the prayer that is a plea with the promise of paradise, today. Of all the stories told of Jesus; walking on water, feeding five thousand, healing the blind, lame, and deaf, exorcising demons and yes, even raising a dead friend, this story at the end of Jesus’ life defines the royal character of Christ the King. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… I am among you as one who serves.” The one Jesus called Abba said it this way “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In light of God’s own stated preference how can one continue to hold onto the idea that the righteous rage of Abba could only be appeased by the blood sacrifice of the innocent Son dearly loved? No. In the promise of paradise to a criminal justly condemned, in forgiving those who sure as hell knew what they were doing, the character of God is revealed and by descending to the place of the dead we are guaranteed there will be no where God is not. Jesus. Remember me.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Christ the King Year C - Colossians 1:11-20

Colossians 1:11-20
The strength to endure everything patiently, while at the same time joyfully giving thanks, comes from investing our inheritance before fully inheriting it, which means we spend the profit of the future on the deficit of the present. This is where the last will and testament is challenged for while we have no objection to God in Christ being reconciled to us we question the “all things on earth” part for there are plenty on earth we’d rather not include in the reconciled to God inheritance. And therein lies the rub. If through the blood of the cross God is reconciled to all things, then we as one of the all things on earth must be reconciled to the other all things, whether we like it or not. So enduring patiently might mean enduring our own limited vision as much as the difficulties presented by other “all things on earth” not that happy about our being included in the inheritance. I imagine the only one laughing at the reading of the last will and testament of the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell will be God upon seeing the faces of the all things on earth surprised by who is included in the all things in heaven.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Christ the King Year C - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
This is a psalm for difficult days; a refuge and strength psalm for earth changing, mountain shaking, rock your world, waters foaming, troubled times. Of course troubled times don’t need to be that noisy. Difficult days are more often suffered in silence and those tottering on the brink of despair are “still” but not in the “Be still and know that I am God!” silence. The isolation of the stoic stiff upper lip in the face of those things that rightly make one tremble is not what “therefore we will not fear” is all about. No. God is in the midst of her, the city, the community, the body of Christ. The help that comes at break of dawn is the Lord of hosts with us, as in we not me. When one rejoices, all rejoice. When one suffers, all suffer. We’re in this thing together. So be still before the Lord, by all means, but do not be silent about the very present help you need in times of trouble.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Christ the King Year C - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I don’t know about the shepherds of Jeremiah’s time but the ones I know work like dogs to shepherd their people. But with the large population of aging sheep or sheep leaving small pastures for larger ones or sheep who’ve stopped grazing altogether, or worse, lambs who have never been brought to the pasture at all, shepherds find themselves the ones scattered and sometimes even destroyed. We hear this is the new normal of the post Christian era and that our decline is a done deal and nothing short of the second coming will restore the church to its former position of prominence. But then maybe this is just the time that is surely coming, when a post Christian age allows shepherds and sheep to see Christ raised again to the only prominent position that counts. “We preach Christ crucified,” is how the apostle Paul said it. Martin Luther offering advice to a fellow shepherd said it this way. My dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin." Christ the King crucified, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness by virtue of his suffering and death on the cross in every age, no matter what we call it. Perhaps the word that Jeremiah had for the sheep of his day might be the word needed for shepherds of today. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. I am your Shepherd. Take a day off.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Lectionary 33 C - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Ouch! Paul is not pulling any punches. Get to work you busybodies otherwise you are going on the idleness diet and you’ll lose more than a few pounds, I promise you. It should be some comfort to the church of our time that the church of Paul’s time, which included at least a few charter members of the resurrection, had to deal with conflicts. And not just doctrinal disputes but practical people problems which in many ways are more difficult to deal with. Who left the sanctuary AC on last week and why am I the only usher who knows the proper way to pass the plate? The good news is that the idleness conflict did not destroy the Thessalonians which is the reason the church of today is still around to deal with its own version of "brothers and sisters let us not grow weary in doing what is right."

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lectionary 33 C - Psalm 98

Psalm 98
Sea roaring, floods clapping, hills singing praise psalms suspend OSHA decibel regulations in favor of bringing a boatload of noise. In fact “make some noise” is the only way to recognize the marvelous memory of the Lord who does not forget people who appear forgotten, people down for the count, people whose only hope is the Lord’s memory of steadfast love and faithfulness. Our praise tends to be more proper, but perhaps should be more enthusiastic, even in difficult days, when we remember that God continually remembers us and in Jesus has made known the victory over death itself. Make some noise!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Lectionary 33 C - Malachi 4:1-2

Malachi 4:1-2
Ouch! These are not the sort of scriptures I like to read and while as a Lutheran I think I can apply the balm of Paul to the burn of Malachi the truth is there is a limit to God’s grace. Before you brand me a Baptist (I apologize for that reference but I couldn't resist the three b’s in that sentence) let me hasten to add that the limit to God’s grace is our free will which in a weird way is the ultimate expression of God’s grace. That means God is gracious only so far as we will allow God to be so. The arrogance of evil doers is that they create a world in their own image and even the “saved by grace” apostle Paul observes “as you sow so shall you reap”. (Galatians 6:7) You can’t plant weeds and expect to harvest wheat. The trouble is those who revere God’s name live in the same field as the wicked who consistently sow woe. The promise of healing wings is a shield from consuming fire for those who are troubled in the world of the wicked. In the meantime we who revere the name of the Lord are called to work against the ways of arrogance or at the very least not participate in them because you cannot revere the name of the One who did not consider equality with God something to exploit (Philippians 2:6) while you are trying to sit on God’s throne.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Lectionary 32 C - Luke 20:27-38

Luke 20:27-38
We miss the point of these verses if we get distracted by Jesus’ short discourse on the state of marriage in the forever future. The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection and so their silly construct of one bride for seven brothers doesn't deserve a serious response. But more to the point Jesus is letting us know that the relationships that foreshadow the forever future, like marriage, are just that – a shadow of a future reality so bright that it blinds our minds in the here and now to what will be in the there and then. What will be is nothing like what is or more to the point what is cannot possibly describe what will be. But less we lament the loss of forever love Jesus concludes his comments with an image even the Sadducees will recognize, the burning bush God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, a God of the living, who delights in individual identity. So of course you will recognize the one who slept next to you for 50 years and both delighted you and drove you crazy but in the kingdom come, marriage, or the lack of it, will be like comparing life in the womb to life in the world. One leads to the other but they are clearly not the same. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Lectionary 32 C - 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5; 13-17

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
“…do not be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed…” Whether they were quickly shaken or not the Thessalonians were certainly worried that they had missed the boat or at the very least wondered why the immediate return of the Christ was taking its own sweet time. Apocalyptic anxiety has come and gone ever since. Hal Lindsey predicted the late great planet earth would come and go before the turn of the last century but he was left behind by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins and didn't make nearly as much profit. I have trouble understanding why people still get worked up about this when the scriptures clearly tell us to chill. Listen. What will be will be whenever it will be and you and I have no part to play in it. We are to trust that no matter what happens whenever it happens God is for us and that our passage from the present to the future is already booked and paid in full. In the meantime the blessing of eternal comfort and good hope is given to us so that we engage in good works and words in the here and now without worrying about the there and then. Or in other words - Jesus is coming again. Look busy. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Lectionary 32 C - Psalm 17:1-9

Psalm 17:1-9
This prayer of the younger version of David gives voice to the plea of the innocent who looks to the Lord for vindication. If you try my heart you will find it pure. I haven’t cursed those who curse me nor returned violence for violence. I've stayed on the straight and narrow even when your path was not easy to discern and have not given up my hope in you despite the fact that the wicked have surrounded me and threaten my life. Of course the Lord did deliver David from the wrath of King Saul and God never abandoned him even though there came a time when David’s heart, consumed by lust and power, was no longer as pure as it was when he penned this prayer. So the man after God’s own heart who prayed to be the apple of God’s eye was vindicated not because of his innocence but because God’s steadfast love could not let go of the young man hiding in a cave even when he was an older man hiding his sin behind the curtain of the crown. To David’s credit he understood his deepest desire was for his Psalm 51 heart (Create in me a clean heart, O God) to be recreated so he could pray Psalm 17 again. Or as St. Augustine penned it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Monday, November 4, 2019

Lectionary 32 C - Job 19:23-27

Job 19:23-27
Job is the Shakespeare of the scriptures and if for no other reason needs to be read for the creative way the anonymous author addresses the age old question of why bad things happen to good people. Of course the answer is we don’t know or in Job’s words, “I've spoken of things I did not understand…” (Job 42:3) But in chapter 19 Job is still complaining and maintaining he is innocent (which ironically he is) and trying to figure out why God has taken everything from him so that even little children despise him. (19:18) But just when you think he’s finally going to listen to his wife’s advice (just curse God and die – 2:9) Job returns to the hope that even if everyone else has abandoned him God has not. Job is not so much a lesson about patience – unless patience allows for loud lamenting and bitter complaint – as it is about remaining in relationship with God even when everything indicates God no longer cares about you. It’s either faith or stubbornness but then maybe in Job's case they’re the same thing.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Luke 6:20-31

Luke 6:20-31
Luke’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a little more difficult to deal with than Matthew’s, depending on which side of Luke’s line drawn in the economic sand you are standing. Poor or rich, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, despised or rejected? Like many of the stories and sayings in Luke’s Gospel the plight of the poor gets special attention and the Good News for the poor is generally Bad News for the rich. But that’s not to say it’s all good news for the poor. After all the down payment on future rewards is rejoicing in being hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed all the while turning the other cheek and doubling down on coats taken away. As my seminary professor Walter Bouman liked to say about such things, “Yes, but will it play in Poughkeepsie?” So what do we, of the God loves everyone saved by grace party, do with such a seemingly partisan text? Unfortunately we have to say the Bible is very clear. God takes sides. We can choose to ignore that or soften it but we cannot escape it. On the other hand what if God’s taking sides is to counter the sides we take? It may be that God as ultimate parent is not that different from human parents who in loving their children equally attempt to create and maintain environments where siblings are encouraged to share. So no matter which side of the line on which you stand God’s ultimate purpose is for all of us to stand on the same side because in the end that is a parent’s greatest joy.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Ephesians 1:11-23

Knowing the hope to which you have been called is the inheritance we have obtained. It is more than a panacea for whatever present difficulties one might be enduring, like that old school practice of delayed gratification. Just wait for it. It is an “already” as in a present reality. But the hope to which we are called is also a “not yet”. It is why Paul gives thanks for the faith of the Ephesians which allows them to possess what is not fully realized. For the power of Christ is at work in this age in the same way it is in the age to come - at the very same time - for Christ is not bound by time or space. On All Saints we celebrate the reality that the saints in light are never far from us and that when in a dream, or a chance encounter, or a memory, or a vision, they draw even closer our not yet becomes an already and their already becomes, if only for an instant, a not yet. With the eyes of our hearts enlightened this hope to which we have been called transforms us to live in faith the not yet as if it were already, which, of course, in Christ it truly is.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Psalm 149

Psalm 149
The singing, dancing, melody making, tambourine praise the Lord psalm was going along quite nicely until the people in whom the Lord takes pleasure picked up two edged swords to execute vengeance on people for whom the Lord presumably holds no affection. One minute they’re singing for joy on couches and the next they’re binding kings and nobles with fetters and chains, which by the way always involves collateral damage aka people like you and me just trying to mind our own business and stay out of the way. I understand the historical context of a humble people picked on wanting to be adorned with victory but I’m just going to say “No” to verses 6 – 9 of Psalm 149; no to religiously justified violence; no to exacting revenge; no to an image of God who delights in some people and despises the rest. And the reason I can say no to that image is because God provided another. “Put away your sword,” is what Jesus said to Peter when the mob surrounded the King of Kings and bound him with iron chains to execute the judgment decreed. Crucify him! So I think it best to end the psalm with verse 5, even if that means I’m a liberal couch potato.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Feast of All Saints Year C - Daniel 7:1-18

I prefer the Year A lectionary text from Isiah to Daniel in Year C. There is nothing troubling or terrifying about the fine wine feast of fat things on God’s holy mountain in Isaiah 25:6-8. Unlike Daniel’s troubling visions, which misread, prompts people to preach terrifying versions of the future where God condemns the vast majority of humanity to eternal punishment while saving a pitiful few who possess the secret password to paradise. That troubles me because I think I’d prefer to be left behind than be a part of a vision that contradicts the cross of Christ – God so loved the world. But then maybe I’d hear it differently as a persecuted minority longing for home while held captive in a foreign land. The popular notion is that prophecy is prediction but it is first and foremost proclamation. This prophetic word is a promise to the holy ones, who in Daniel’s context are the lowly ones, a promise that despite their present circumstances they will possess the kingdom, while powerful kings who persecute them will be brought low. In that sense it is a word for all who live through overwhelming circumstances that trouble the spirit or terrify the mind in the lonely watches of the night. “Do not fear little flock,” is how Jesus spoke the same word to his disciples, “for the Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” “Has been pleased” as in already has given the kingdom. Jesus takes Daniel’s “wait for it” and proclaims the forever future kingdom in the present which means nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten, which of course is what we celebrate on All Saints.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36

The truth that sets us free is true whether we believe it or not because it depends on “if the Son has set you free you will be free indeed” and the “if” has nothing to do with us. That was true for the tradition bound Jews who “believed in him” but couldn’t understand how the truth of Jesus trumped the tradition of Abraham. We do the same thing when we think freedom depends on something other than the Word that says you are free, period end of sentence. It might be that we prefer the comfort of conformity wherein we are securely bound by rules and regulations that order our religious universe. Or maybe we trust the pedigree of our denominational heritage, or ironically in this day and age, our lack of it. But if we let God be God and say God will do whatever God will do while at the same time filtering all our “whatever God will do” talk through what God actually did (aka die on the cross) then the “Son has set you free” takes on a new dimension. Freedom is not the permission to do whatever one likes but the opportunity to do whatever God desires. In a word. Love. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

Romans 3:19-28
God is the one who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin, we don’t have to work very hard at disobedience or doubt or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than human. No, sin is all about us, which is why the just one who justifies the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of human rebellion, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way which means we are free to be fully human. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reformation Sunday - 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 that were 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 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.