Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Lectionary 29 C - Psalm 121

Psalm 121
Sometimes even lifting one’s eyes to the hills to ask the question, “from where is my help to come” is more than we can manage. Worn down and weary of weeping, abandoned by friends and surrounded by foes (real or imagined) the hope of help seems a cruel joke. But it is precisely when we cannot go on and maybe no longer even care that the promise is most present, whether we recognize it or not. That is because the promise does not depend on our asking or our recognition. It depends fully on God’s desire to deliver and the nature of the help is that God always present exists beyond the reality of our sorrow and suffering. That means when our ability to believe is passed out on the floor of doubt God is wide awake and preserving for us the life that endures forever.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Lectionary 29 C - Genesis 32:22-31

Genesis 32:22-31
Jacob knows a thing or two about wrestling having held onto to Esau’s heel long enough to take away his brother’s birthright. And even if Laban thought he had a choke hold on his nephew it was Jacob who pulled a reverse and pinned Laban to the mat. Jacob is no stranger to struggle and so when he gets ready to meet an angry brother he may be more ready than most for the surprise cage match at the Jabbok. We tend to be more polite with God and even if we wrestle by rivers of own decision we cry “uncle” far too soon. So what does it mean to strive with God and not give up? Maybe it means we wrestle with our limited understanding of who God is for us in the face of our own fear and doubt and not let go until we are blessed. Of course as with most “God things” it turns out the blessing is in the striving itself. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Lectionary 28 C - Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19
The ten lepers meet the Lord in the land between religiously unclean Samaria and racially unclean Galilee of the Gentiles. They are nine Jews and one Samaritan bound together by their disease for in leprosy there is neither Jew nor Samaritan for all are equally unclean. Keeping the required distance they cry out for mercy. Jesus does not disappoint, though “Go and show yourselves to the priests” must have seemed premature as they are not healed until they turn and do as they are told. The one who turns back is the hero, of course, the dirty foreigner more clean than the nine Jewish ex lepers and Jesus makes a point of it but not just as a reminder to be thankful and praise God. It has more to do with a plea for mercy when living lost in the land between. The faith that restored the one restored the nine as well because the cry for mercy from Jesus the master was the act of faith and the turning to go and show was obedience even before healing happened. But the turning back one knows it and the nine do not. The benefit in knowing is that even when skin is clean and health restored one can still live lost in the land between. So faith to be made well is not about skin condition but about the condition of one’s soul which is well when the mercy of God is recognized and praised. And when the soul is well the whole body is clean.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Lectionary 28 C - 2 Timothy 2:3-15

(Uncle Ernest at Peace Lutheran, Columbus, Nebraska)
2 Timothy 2:3-15
"Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3)
Until my son-in-law, Erin Soltis, enlisted the only solider in our family that I knew of was my mother's brother Ernest Smith who was a chaplain in Korea. Uncle Ernest gave me his army cap that had ear flaps because apparently you need ear flaps to suffer like a good solider through the Korean winter. Truth is I don’t know anything about what it means to be a solider but I know a thing or two about suffering and my guess is you do as well. Not that I like sharing it all that much and therein lies the problem for me and for you. We suffer stoically or silently or medicated rather than recognize that suffering is as much a part of life as celebration. But the heart of the Christian message is that the Christ entered fully into the suffering of human history so that we could share in the salvation that will happen when “gladness and joy overtake us and sorrow and sighing flee away”. (Isaiah 35:10) But you cannot have one without the other. No one likes to suffer, or share it for that matter, but if the choice is walk together or go it alone I’m thinking our shared sorrow might just make our ultimate joy more complete. So when life is cold put your ear flaps down by all means but keep your life open to those whose care and concern will keep you warm. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Lectionary 28 C - Psalm 111

Psalm 111
The last verse of Psalm 111 should come first as “the fear of the Lord” or better, the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is not to say it is unwise to be afraid of the Creator of the Universe only that the small g gods have the terror market cornered and truth is any two bit god can make a mortal tremble. But to reverence the Lord with a holy fear is to have a proper perspective on the order of things. God is God and you are not. So the wisdom that comes with reverence, as opposed to terror, is that God does not delight in our being fearful but rather desires us to be in right relationship which in a word is to be faithful. To be afraid of someone, be it God or anyone else for that matter, is not helpful or healthy. But when we stand in awe of the One who is “full of majesty” because the “power of his works” are “faithful, just and trustworthy” we live wisely. Jesus’ baby brother James will say it this way: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” And that sort of wisdom “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:13, 17) Fear of the Lord indeed. I hope I’m shaking in my boots.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Lectionary 28 C - 2 Kings 5:1-15

She is a minor character, not even named; a little girl stolen from home and made a slave in the house of her enemy. But she has pity on her mighty master afflicted with a skin disease that diminishes all his accomplishments. At her bidding he goes to her little land with big gifts expecting to be greeted royally but the little girl’s prophet sends his servant to give instructions to the mighty man. Insulted, he would leave as he came but his servants convince him to do what he was told; wash and be clean in a dirty, little river. Humbled by his disease, desperate to be clean, he obeys and is made whole. The little girl sends the mighty man to a little country with a mighty prophet so the mighty man might regain the skin of a little boy. It is as Jesus said. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Lectionary 27 C - Luke 17:1-10

Luke 17:1-10
“Increase our faith” is a reasonable request and in the asking the disciples are obviously hoping for an answer in the affirmative. Instead Jesus appears to rebuke them. If you would use the faith you have you wouldn't ask for more. The mulberry tree uprooted and planted in the sea means even the smallest amount of faith can accomplish what otherwise appears impossible, or even foolish, for who would plant a tree in the sea? Luke doesn't record the disciple’s response but I imagine they were disappointed by Jesus’ answer and maybe a little confused as to what Jesus meant by commanding trees to be uprooted and planted in places that trees are not meant to be. Years later with mustard seed faith they would understand that doing what they were commanded to do was not so much about faith as obedience. Speaking the truth by the command of Christ their mustard seed faith would move an empire to be planted in the faith it once tried to uproot. So what might this mean for those of us who are accustomed to compliments for faithful service? It might mean that increasing in faith is not a prerequisite for using what we have and that in the exercise of mustard seed faith we are uprooted from the familiar and safe places and planted in the sea. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Lectionary 27 C - 2 Timothy 1:1-14

2 Timothy 1:1-14
The sincere faith that first lived in Lois and Eunice might not be the best thing to rekindle in Timothy given the suffering Paul is experiencing. But something about that faith was so compelling that a presumably loving grandmother and mother believed Timothy would be better off confessing the faith even though it might lead to imprisonment or death. The spirit of power and of love and of self discipline was not for cowards in the first century. According to church tradition Timothy was beaten, dragged through the streets of Ephesus and stoned to death for preaching what Lois and Eunice and Paul persuaded him was sound teaching of which one should not be ashamed. In twenty-first century America participation in the sound teaching of faith and love carries no threat of persecution and yet according to a decade worth of polls is in serious decline among those in both the Eunice and Timothy age demographic. A whole generation has been lost to the holy calling of God’s purpose and grace and Lois is wondering why. It could be that the most dangerous threat to the faith was to neuter it by making it mainstream until a majority of people could claim to be Christian without practicing or participating in any communal expression of it. So what do we do? We do what Paul preached to his beloved child Timothy - rekindle the gift of God, the sound teaching of the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Move out of the mainstream and into the marketplace. Do not be ashamed to give a reason for the hope that you have and with gentleness and respect be people of persuasion for the good treasure entrusted to us is worth sharing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Lectionary 27 C - Psalm 37

Psalm 37:1-9
Waiting patiently for the Lord generally takes more time than we are willing to commit which is why we invest so much effort in fretting. Go figure. Maybe it is because fretting gives us something to do even if we know pacing back and forth is not an effective form of exercise for the body or the soul. It should also be obvious to us that fretting doesn’t fast forward the Lord’s clock or make any difference to anyone unless they happen to live with us in which case it leads to more fretting. But if our soul takes a deep breath before the Lord we might begin to delight in the desire of the kind of heart that longs for the things that do not disappoint. I know the psalm equates that with material things like living in the land and security and while I hesitate to disagree with King David I think the desire that does not disappoint is a rich relationship with the God who prospers us with the peace that passes the world’s understanding. The apostle Paul will say it this way. “The present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed…” (Romans 8:18) Or as Jesus said in his sermon on the hill, “Do not worry…” 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Lectionary 27 C - Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Habakkuk cries out his complaint into the silence of God and wonders “what’s the point?” I wonder the same thing when evil events paint a cruel caricature of the human race. But the truth is I know more decent people than the depraved ones that dominate the news and even though good people do not make the headlines they make the world a better place simply by being in it. Even so Habakkuk’s complaint is that God is not doing enough to see that the wicked are diminished and the decent flourish. God’s response is to give Habakkuk something to do. “Write a vision on tablets a runner can see.” Our “make a sign a runner can see” means we speak God’s “wait and see” in the face of all that troubles us and put all our effort and energy into transforming this world to look more like the world God promises is coming. In that way we act out the hope that God’s deliverance does not delay whenever decent people act decently.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels - Luke 10:17-20

Luke 10:17-20
I wish my demons submitted to me but I’ll confess it’s more often the other way around. My guess is there are times you might make the same confession as well. It is not so much a question of if but when, even for the best of us. That’s because demons aren't as obvious as snakes and scorpions waiting to be stepped on. (Not that they sit still mind you – shiver!) Rather those things done to us and those things we've done to ourselves and those things we've done to others hunker down in the recesses of our mind and work their will quite unnoticed doing their dirty deeds in secret so that we fail to see we act out of the injury of our past as if it were our only option in the present. But when someone gifts us through friendship or insightful wisdom or enduring love with what is our God given authority to name the damaging darkness within us and expose it in the light we return to our true self with joy. It’s not as easy as all that of course. We still have to be willing to listen to the friend or counselor or lover and act on what they can see which unfortunately is our blind spot. I hate that but at the same time thank God because I know I am better for it. So rejoice even if your demons have you in a death grip because in the end we have a Friend, Counselor, Lover, and Savior who has given us to each other for better or for worse in the here and now and in the forever future has written our names in heaven in the indelible ink of His own blood.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Saint Michael and All Angels - Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 12:7-12
Why doesn't God just dispatch the dragon? I mean if God is God and there is no other then the dragon is just another lizard and God could squash it like a bug, if you’ll pardon the mixed zoological metaphors. And if there is no room in heaven once the battle is won why not cast the dragon somewhere where no further harm can be done instead of just making him really, really angry and setting him loose on the earth? And by the way even a short time on a planet with a pissed off dragon is way too much time. But then this is Christian mythology and as such not meant to make sense in a literal fashion. The point of these few verses and indeed the whole book of Revelation is that the cosmic battle of the pre-creation past anticipated the cosmic battle on Calvary which insured that in the final future good triumphs over evil because love is stronger hate. That means in the present we do not live in fear of the Dragon but by faith in Jesus who did not cling to life even in the face of death on a cross. 

Saint Michael and All Angels - Psalm 103

Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22
Saint Michael and all the angels “bless the Lord” because they obey God’s spoken word and do whatever God tells them. We are reminded to bless the Lord for all the benefits God gives us even though we do not obey God’s spoken word and resist doing whatever God tells us. But God still satisfies us with good things like forgiveness and healing and redemption and love and mercy and ultimately life beyond the boundaries of this temporal existence. That is because God is mindful of us, made a little lower than the angels, (Psalm 8) and has crowned us with the glory and honor of being called children of God. When we remember that benefit the voices of our souls and all that is within us joins the vast angelic host to bless the Lord and the Lord is blessed indeed.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Feast of Michael and All Angels - Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
My favorite angel movie is “Michael” starring John Travolta and rightly so since it was filmed in Texas. (Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Corn Hill, county roads near Walburg and the iconic Gruene Hall no less!) Michael, the Great Prince and protector of God’s people in Daniel’s vision has nothing in common with the vacationing come to earth one last time Travolta version but then most of our imaginings take liberties with whatever God had in mind when angelic beings were created. Close proximity to the real deal causes fear and trembling while Travolta’s less than angelic Michael smokes cigarettes, smells like fresh baked cookies and drives women wild. On the other hand he gives up the last of his allotted miracles to bring a dead dog back to life and what’s not angelic about that? Truth is we lose sight of God’s purpose when we focus on the details (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?) or try to figure out from Daniel’s dream what time the end time will begin. I dare say the world has experienced times of anguish “such has never occurred” a thousand times over with no end in sight and some are experiencing “such has never occurred” even as I type these words. But the chief of princes is not dispatched for a last hurrah on earth or to deliver a message of doom and gloom. No. Michael is sent to proclaim the good news of deliverance to desperate people in the same way the angelic chorus sang over a barn in Bethlehem, “Peace on earth. Good will to those with whom God is pleased.” But because I've loved and lost multiple dogs I choose to believe God might also like the version of Michael where Sparky barks again as much as I do.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lectionary 25 C - Luke 16:1-13

I don’t know what Jesus was thinking as friends made by dishonest wealth are more than likely “friends in low places” (Garth Brooks) and one wonders what sort of eternal home they own. But that’s the problem with this parable. It doesn’t fit any of the familiar parable patterns where the characters are clearly defined and the conclusions to be drawn are obvious. In this case compound cheating with interest is commended and the children of light are encouraged to imitate the children of this age. But maybe we are not to put much stock in the master’s admiration of the dishonest steward, after all the steward is still without employment and there is no guarantee that the friends gained by dishonesty will prove trustworthy. What if we are not meant to put this story into a neat parable package that can be filed away and forgotten? Maybe the point of the parable is in the unsettling nature of it and the lesson to be learned is that it reveals the truth about our attempt to serve two masters by neither hating wealth nor fully loving God.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lectionary 25 C - 1 Timothy 2:1-7

1 Timothy 2:1-7
Can we make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for a king, or in our time elected officials, while at the same time engaging in the time honored American tradition of treating those voted into high positions with disdain or outright contempt? The first Christians had no such choice. The kings and people in high places for whom they were urged to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings were actively seeking to put them into the low place of the grave and frankly their most ardent prayer was simply to be left alone. The wisdom of this pastoral letter is not about temporal politics but eternal destiny. God’s most ardent desire is for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If our practice of politics contradicts a quiet and peaceable life then we are to choose godliness and dignity above partisan positions for the sake of the One who gave himself as a ransom for all. Even so this text does not prohibit passionate engagement in the political process. It just reminds us that what is right and acceptable is to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for those in high places, even if we're praying for them to step down, keeping in mind that God passionately loves the person we might disagree with as a politician.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Lectionary 25 C - Psalm 113

Psalm 113
It is hard to sing this psalm if your home is still on the ash heap. That is the reality we dare not discuss when praising the Lord depends on the Lord providing because truthfully the poor vastly outnumber the princes and “the prince and the pauper” only happens in Hollywood movies. That is not to say God does not provide only that psalms such as this state the hope of the future in present terms as if “this time on” and “forevermore” were the same thing. So what does that mean for princes and the poor in the here and now? If God’s plan for the future is that the poor and princes dine together then praising the Lord depends on what we do as much as what God provides.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Lectionary 25 C - Amos 8:4-7

Amos 8:4-7
How you hear this text depends on which side of the bed you rise as some who lie on beds of ease truly care about those who never will. But Amos has harsh words for those who consider their place of privilege a right and sing idle songs without considering the songs of lament sung by others. So what you have is not as important as what you do with it or as Jesus will say, to those whom much is given much is required. That is not to say there is something God pleasing about being poor or that pleasing God makes one rich. God exists beyond the economic, racial, and gender lines we draw. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28) Rather God cares about everyone in the human family and will do whatever it takes for us to do the same.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Lectionary 24 C - Luke 15:1-10

I wonder if there was someone in the grumbling crowd who thought the carpenter from Nazareth would make a lousy shepherd. No one leaves the ninety-nine to fend for themselves in the wilderness to search for the one who is lost unless you don’t mind losing at least a few of the ninety-nine. But then with Jesus the point is always in the punch line. There is rejoicing in finding the one who is lost. So Jesus will lose more than a few Pharisees and scribes in order to find a lost tax collector or sinner. But that isn't the point either is it? I don’t believe Jesus is being sarcastic when he refers to Pharisees and scribes as righteous. No. If he meant to criticize he’d call them a brood of vipers or white washed tombs. (Matthew 23:13 ff) Here he acknowledges the hard work of righteous piety that requires no repentance but in typical Jesus fashion I think it is a set up for what comes next. The story that follows the lost sheep and the coin is the one about two lost sons and a waiting father. The hard working stay at home first son who doesn't realize all the father has is already his and the lost and found younger son who didn't know what he had until he’d left it all behind. It is for these two lost children that Jesus comes. The righteous Pharisee who works so hard for what is free and the tax collector who gives away everything of value to get what is worthless. But of course the point is in the punch line and when the righteous ninety-nine find the lost sinner and the lost sinner finds the righteous ninety-nine then both are found by God because there is as much joy in being found as in finding.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Lectionary 24 C - 1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17
Ignorance is a bliss I cannot claim when it comes to receiving God’s mercy. As we confess on Ash Wednesday, “I have sinned by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault” so it is for the other 364 days of the year. We sin on purpose and the only ignorance we can claim is that our most grievous sin masquerades as self-righteousness. Maybe the “utmost patience” of God extended to us is greater than what Paul, the blasphemer, persecutor and man of violence claims for himself. If so it would be the first time Paul gave room for anyone else to be foremost. I’m just saying.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lectionary 24 C - Psalm 51:1-10

King David did not pen Psalm 51 without persuasion. It’s not that he didn't know what he had done. He just thought he'd gotten away with it. It began when glancing over the balcony he caught sight of Bathsheba bathing and “look don’t touch” was not enough to satisfy his lust. But his sweet emotion soon turned sour when “the rabbit done died” (Aerosmith) and the consequence of his carnal knowledge with another’s wife threatened to show. As with most people in power honesty is the last option to be exercised so the offense is compounded as Uriah the righteous husband refusing to cooperate is killed to protect the throne. David might have been able to live with the lie for a long time, most of us can, were it not for the prophet Nathan who tells the story of a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb and King David unaware that he is the subject of the story demands the death of the offender. “You are the man” is the end of Nathan’s sermon and the beginning of David’s confession. “Against you only have I sinned” might appear to put Bathsheba into the backseat again, save for the understanding that violating the sanctity of another human being is always a crime against the One to whom all life is precious. That might be the one thing that David gets right and in the end makes him the man after God’s own heart. If our confession acknowledges God as the one we wrong when we harm another, including self, maybe the only persuasion we need in order to be honest with ourselves and others is the desire to return to the God who “cherishes our original innocence” (Erik Johansson) and wants nothing more than to continually create in us clean hearts.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Lectionary 24 C - Exodus 32:7-14

Exodus 32:7-14
God might be regretting the promise made to Abraham right about now and in a more irreverent moment one might even imagine the Lord uttering Homer Simpson’s exclamation of resignation… D'oh!!! In the end the Lord’s mind is changed to protect the Lord’s name and preserve the promise to the dysfunctional patriarchal family tree so that the disaster visited upon the stiff necked people won’t turn the Lord into the subject of an Egyptian joke. It is a very human image of God that any loving parent of a willfully disobedient child might recognize. God is stuck with these people brought out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched hand and throughout the wilderness wandering will have to be talked down from the precipice of hot wrath burning against ungrateful people again and again. No other God puts up with such disrespect or is as long suffering as the God of Israel. I wonder if through the changing of the mind God’s mind becomes fixed to forgive in a far more dramatic way when disaster visited upon the Christ means God’s mind cannot be moved away from mercy no matter how many golden calves are created by God’s own people. Oh but surely there is a consequence for worshiping false idols? Of course there is. The idol you worship is false. Or in other words; you can’t get milk or mercy from a golden calf.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Lectionary 23 C - Luke 14:25-33

Luke 14:25-33
It is obvious to me, as it should be to you, that we do not take these words of Jesus literally or if we do we don’t literally live them. I don’t have a lot of possessions but I lock my house when I’m not there to make sure they don’t walk away. The commandment with a promise of long life commands honor for father and mother which seems to contradict the command to hate mom and dad. And the only cross I have is the one I wear around my neck as the life size version is hard to find and more difficult to carry. It is fair to say that Jesus used shock theology to challenge the religious leaders of his day but this word was spoken to the crowds that wanted to hear him and were willing to follow, at least as long as there was a fish fry at the end the speech. (The feeding of the five thousand – Luke chapter 9) So Jesus may just be culling the herd as they say in Texas. Those first century followers who chose to stay with Jesus faced hardship, persecution and crosses that were carried to real places of crucifixion. We largely ignore or simply spiritualize these hard sayings which allows us to continue to go wherever we want while claiming to follow Christ. So what can we do? I suggest we take Jesus at his word and like the king with the smaller army ask for terms of peace from the King of Kings. The terms of peace always favor the more powerful but in this case the One who is mighty became weak so that the weak might become strong. It might sound like a Lutheran solution to a difficult passage but then Luther may have understood this text in a way that is instructive for us. “Were they to take our house, goods, fame, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom’s ours forever.” (A Mighty Fortress) It comes down to loving Jesus more than anyone or anything else and if we love Jesus above all we possess all we need to be a disciple.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lectionary 23 C - Psalm 1

This a reprint from 2013 because it is a memory from my ministry I will always treasure.

Psalm 1 
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)

I’m blogging late today because I got up very early in the morning to drive to Houston. I had a date with the loveliest little girl, Allyson Josephine Morbach, who cooed when I cradled her and seemed as delighted with me as I was with her.  Allyson is the 3 month old granddaughter of Calvary members Joe and Kathy Morbach. Allyson’s parents, Ed and Nikki, had planned on having Allyson baptized this Sunday at Calvary but Allyson was born with what is commonly called “blue baby syndrome” and tomorrow will have open heart surgery at Children’s Medical Center to correct the problem. Other than objecting to blood being drawn (who doesn’t?) she was as pleasant as could be and even at three months possesses a personality that will no doubt do some future heart healing for others. So I spent some time talking with Ed and Nikki – incredible, loving parents btw – about this and that and then because there was a sink in the room and there was nothing to prevent us (Acts 8:36) we baptized Allyson into the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We didn’t baptize her because we were worried about Allyson’s future, as if baptism was some kind of insurance policy for salvation. We did it because the water and the word are a visible sign of God’s promise to all the baptized, “I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) We did it because the water and the word reminds anxious parents and grandparents and a pastor, whose heart has been been captured by a cuddle, of the promise “God with us” whether surgery is involved or not. More than that we did it so that Allyson Josephine, reborn today on the 20th floor of Children’s Medical Center, Houston, TX could put her little roots down into streams of living water. Tomorrow we will trust the gifts of the medical team at Children’s and the prayers of the faithful and the mercy of God so that Allyson will grow into the life of the Spirit poured out upon her today - the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in God’s presence. And so we welcome, Allyson Josephine, into the Lord’s family and look forward to the life she will live delighting in Lord.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Lectionary 23 C - Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
If it were as simple as choosing between life and death, prosperity and adversity we’d all be “living large.” But to choose life and prosperity is to choose obedience and that is the deal breaker. The children of Israel about to enter the land will all voice their choice for life and promise to obey, (Joshua 1) but God knows better and has already predicted the inevitable. “…these people will soon prostitute themselves to foreign gods... they will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.” (Deut. 31:16) So why make the offer if you know the people won’t be able to afford the payments? I think there must be an eternal optimism in the heart of God, an undying hope; or maybe it is just the unconditional commitment of a tough love parent who is willing to suffer silently while waiting for the day when adversity brought about by disobedience will bring the rebellious child back to the bargaining table. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be scarlet they shall be white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Of course even that turns out to be a temporary fix for fickle creatures who are not inclined to obey anyone save their own self interest. So when the options were exhausted God sat down at the table and chose death so that the calamity visited upon the Christ might be our prosperity. How can you say no to such a thing? Choose life this day for God has already taken death off the table.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Lectionary 22 C - Luke 14:1,7-14

Jesus ate and drank with Pharisees as much as he did with tax collectors and though they would not eat and drink with each other they had one thing in common. Jesus. The Congregations that left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2010 and formed the North American Lutheran Church do not recognize the church they left but we still have one thing in common. Jesus. My Missouri Synod Lutheran brothers and sisters who practice “close” communion, which closes the communion rail to all but those who are in full doctrinal agreement, believe they are protecting those who might otherwise eat and drink in an unworthy manner and do damage to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28) but whether we eat and drink at the same table or only the ones we recognize Christ communes with us all. We have one thing in common. Jesus. I know denominational lines are important, otherwise why would we spend so much time and energy drawing them, but I am going to suggest that God is not glorified when we exclude each other from the place of grace by thinking we preserve the Gospel by holding onto the letter of the Law. If there is one place Pharisees and Tax Collectors should meet it is at the table of mercy. While we argue over who is more holy or who is more enlightened and create more institutions to preserve the integrity of our respective tables the poor have no home, the crippled can’t stand, the lame stumble and the blind cannot see. It may be too much to expect this side of the resurrection of the righteous but if we would humble ourselves perhaps the poor, crippled, lame and blind would want to eat at the table we are so keen on preserving. You might think I prefer one side over the other but that would miss the point. The table belongs to the Lord and whether we recognize each other or not the Lord has one thing in common. Us. God help Him.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Lectionary 22 C - Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
When the human heart is healed by hospitality the angels are entertained and in our restoration they rejoice. The hospitable life of Hebrews is found in mutual love expressed by loving the stranger, which is the literal meaning of the Greek. It means we remember those in prison as if we were in their place. It means one’s own being is tortured by the thought of another’s body violated, as well as one’s own soul grieving for the soul of the one who devises and inflicts pain upon another. Honoring marriage, resisting the lure of wealth, contentment within one’s self, being thankful for faithful leaders, doing good and sharing what you have are all expressions of the hospitable life in which the angels rejoice and God is pleased. So entertaining angels unaware is not a chance encounter with a cherub but a life encountered and changed by Jesus, the same yesterday, today and always. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lectionary 22 C - Psalm 112

Psalm 112
Evil tidings tend to strike fear into the heart, whether global as in warming or war, or closer to home as in loss of health or employment or relationship. Even the most optimistic must admit we live in an age of uncertainly, but then every age is in its own way insecure. The response of the righteous to uncertain times is not to circle the wagons, retreating behind walls of stricter laws and harsher penalties, nor do the righteous long for an earlier less uncertain time, which is in truth a seeking after Shangri-La. The response of the righteous to evil tidings in every age of uncertain times is to be gracious and merciful. Hearts that are steady in unsteady times distribute freely to the poor, lend themselves and their resources generously and deal justly with all in every circumstance. The wicked see it and scoff, but will gnash their teeth and melt away the longer the righteous persist in being righteous. Whether wealth and riches follow remains to be seen, or perhaps the righteous know that wealth is fleeting and seeking after riches vain glory and like the desire of the wicked comes to naught. Steady hearts that do not fear live today as if the “I make all things new” endless age was an already here though a not yet present reality. And of course it is and will be whenever and wherever the righteous act righteously.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Lectionary 22 C - Proverbs 25:6-7

Proverbs 25:6-7
The first thing to say is that whatever we say about this proverb it was obviously written to people who had the ability to put themselves forward in the presence of the king. The closest I've come to royalty is the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and since the royal standard wasn't flying above the royal apartment the Queen was being royal somewhere else. Apparently no one told her I was coming. I don’t think I’ll be using Solomon’s sage advice anytime soon. So what can we say about two verses that have no application to those of us who are not likely to stand or sit in the place of the great? “Don’t think of yourselves more highly than you ought” is how the apostle Paul might have applied this text to his audience, the vast majority of whom would never get an audience with the king unless they were being martyred in the coliseum. But it is to those white robed martyrs that the King of the universe says come up here while the kings of the earth, and queens for that matter, are put down from their thrones. I am pretty sure that is not what Solomon meant to say in this proverb, but then my guess is that he might want to follow his own advice when ushered into the presence of the KING of KINGS.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Lectionary 20 C - Luke 10:13-17

Luke 10:13-17
The woman set free from her aliment praises God while the synagogue ruler standing up straight is actually quite bent over by the rules and regulations he is so keen on keeping. This daughter of Abraham knew her need and for eighteen years had endured the stares and whispers of those whose religious perspective placed the blame squarely on her shoulders. Bad things happen to bad people. This son of Abraham holding a position of prestige and power had no idea that the very things he held as holy prevented him from doing the one thing that would make him holy. God said it this way more than once, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” If the Sabbath is meant to return one to the place of rest modeled by the Creator on the seventh day, then the Sabbath is meant to reconnect one to the God who commanded that rest be observed. Jesus said it this way more than once, “The Sabbath was meant for you. Not you for the Sabbath.” So the Sabbath that reconnects us to the One who commanded it begins with an attitude of care and concern for all of creation, beasts of burdens and daughters and sons of Abraham, and everyone else for that matter, which leads one to actions that bring healing and peace and justice seven days a week. Or in other words: Sabbath sacrificed for mercy praises God while mercy sacrificed for Sabbath is no rest at all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Lectionary 20 C - Hebrews 12:18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29
Accept the grace of God or else get burned. Not the best way to start a Wednesday afternoon, but then this text is not about nice. It’s about the living God, a consuming fire that shakes things up. I will admit I prefer the “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” image of God, so of course I will try to paint the “our God is a consuming fire” warning from heaven in a more friendly light. It may not be that hard if the mediator of the new covenant, whose blood speaks a better word than Abel, speaks for us. Then maybe a consuming fire and a warning from heaven, from which we cannot escape, is good news even if we don’t heed the warning. For we do not come to a mountain of fire and smoke that makes one tremble and faint for fear but to a holy hill where the God who is a consuming fire was himself consumed by the cross so that those who do not heed warnings might become the righteous made perfect. So what’s the point of a warning word if everyone gets a free pass? That misses the point. No one gets a pass on judgment for the truth is we are all guilty to one degree or another. But judgment is the penultimate word, which is just a fancy way of saying it is not the last word. The last word, the ultimate word, is that God will remove created things fatally flawed so that gifted with a new kingdom that cannot be shaken we might worship with reverence and awe the living God who is a consuming fire forever connected to the creation by Divine love.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Lectionary 20 C - Psalm 103

Psalm 103:1-8
The “all that is within me” (or you for that matter) includes that which is less than praiseworthy so how can the “all of me” praise God’s holy name? It seems to me that the somewhat schizophrenic nature of Pauline theology – old Adam (Eve) cohabiting and competing with the new Eve (Adam) has the unfortunate consequence of a theology that does not allow for the “all of me” to praise God’s holy name. But what if we were to accept the fact that the “all of me” is comprised of the sum total of everything about us and that the aspects of me and you that are less than praiseworthy are none the less worthy of praising God’s name if for no other reason than the fact that God knows and loves the “all” of you and me. And if the “all of me” and the “all of you” can praise God’s holy name just as we are maybe we can stop hiding from ourselves and each other and realize the biggest benefit that we are not to forget is that God loves the “all of me” and the “all of you” so that we can love each other in the same way. Which as it turns out is the way that God desires to be praised. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lectionary 20 C - Isaiah 58:9-14

Isaiah 58:9-14
We live in a time when Sabbath rest hardly happens, even when we sleep. But before you blame the 24/7 wired world take note that Isaiah 58 is written to people living in the sixth century before God engaged the world through the Christ and yet they appear to be plenty busy on the day God set aside for rest. It is what occupies one’s ultimate concern that matters to God so if your wired world is all about you in the same way that serving one’s own interests in the sixth century before “Silent Night” superseded the Sabbath then God is not pleased. So we who celebrate God’s mercy to us should not be surprised that the way God would have us keep the Sabbath is to be merciful to others. Offer your food to the hungry. Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Stop pointing the finger and refrain from speaking evil. Sabbath rest is important to one’s well-being but resting from Sabbath work is not. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Lectionary 19 C - Luke 12:49-56

Luke 12:49-56
This is not a “What a friend we have in Jesus” Jesus text, but then Jesus is more complicated than any single hymn or Gospel text or bracelet that lets the wearer determine What Would Jesus Do? Jesus may have died to save us from our sins but he was crucified for being a trouble maker. That is not to say his offense was primarily political even though the Romans were happy to crucify another trouble making Jew between two common criminals. Jesus’ “crucify him” worthy crime was ultimately a religious offense to people whose history made them worry about anyone who colored outside the God defined lines. Remember the Babylonian captivity? So the Romans killed him because he messed with the law and order that they maintained to ensure a steady stream of tax revenue. The more complicit of the Jewish leaders condemned him to death because he messed with the profitable religion that the Romans allowed them for contributing to the system. But the pious cried crucify because Jesus named the God who could not be named, Abba, and there is nothing that breeds more bitter hatred than someone who says they know your God better than you do. God help us we have been crucifying each other over that since the beginning of time and will do so until the end of time when God decides it is finally time for everyone to get out of the pool. But until the last cloud rises in the west or the last south wind blows maybe we could interpret the present time in light of the future time and allow that Jesus is more complicated than a single hymn or Gospel text or personal preference WWJD bracelet and that the divisions Jesus talks about in Luke 12 are our own doing and not God’s design.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lectionary 19 C - Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
The great cloud of witnesses commended to us for their ability to endure were less than perfect examples of faithful witnesses. The ones who passed through the Red Sea made the golden calf. The ones who circled the walls of Jericho until they fell down fell prey to greed and kept some of the “dedicated things” from the forsaken city. Samson may have torn down the temple but he also dallied with Delilah and David would have liked to build the temple but for that fling with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite. The point is the great cloud of witnesses is remembered because God remembered them despite their tendency to forget God. So we are surrounded by a great cloud of folks a lot like us and the encouragement they offer is that God gifted them with a reward they could not create and did not deserve. That is why we look past the cloud and fix our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith who for the sake of the joy that was set before him – that would be the world he came to save – endured more than the whole cloud of witnesses put together. So by all means run with perseverance the race set before you but recognize that when you stumble and fall the crowd will cheer you on but it will be Jesus who picks you up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Lectionary 19 C - Psalm 82

Psalm 82
God doesn't care about the poor because they are poor but because they are people and God loves people. The trouble is people do show partiality, fawning over the powerful while neglecting those with the greatest need, i.e. the weak and the orphan; the lowly and the destitute. But in God’s design for human community those who wield the greatest power have the greatest responsibility to act justly in the same way that “to whom much is given much is required.” (Luke 12:48) When Jesus half-brother James wrote about works produced by faith he put it in the context of providing for the poor. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15, 16) Of course the wishing well is as important as the providing for basic needs. That is one of the reasons I make eggs to order for our room in the inn guests because when it comes down to it having the choice of sunny side up or over easy or scrambled is of equal if not more value to the one being served than the egg itself. It’s all about relationship. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lectionary 19 C - Jeremiah 23:23-29

Jeremiah 23:23-29
The dreaming prophets were good at prophesying pleasantries to the people because the truth would not have been well received. Jeremiah didn't fit the profile of the prophet dream team because the Lord had placed him in the unenviable place of speaking truth to power and most of the time Jeremiah appeared to be the one God had forsaken. But while God may have appeared far off it was the people who were uninterested and disengaged from the God who had always remained near-by. Of course Jeremiah was vindicated when the bad news he proclaimed came true and the dreaming prophets and the people put to sleep by their lies woke up to the nightmare of the Babylonian captivity. Not a happy story but then that’s why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet. So what lesson might we learn from a sad story? I suppose one possibility is to double down on the law and preach morality to avoid the wrath of a near-by hammer come down God. Another might be to bet the bank on the Gospel and preach the dream of a near-by God whose righteous fire doesn't really burn. But if you are a prophet of the Lutheran persuasion the truth is in the waking dream where the Law is not diminished and the Gospel is not neglected but working in concert they reveal the God far off come near in Christ Jesus. Which means we strive to preach and teach a moral life that takes sin seriously and at the same time recognize the only way one can be fully moral is to obey the law of love which always counts relationship with the sinner as the way one lives God’s dream.