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.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Lectionary 29 C - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The trouble with itchy ears is you can’t hear very well and wandering into myths that distort the truth is bound to follow when one creates God in one’s own image. The God who is love, first last and always, also puts limitations on liberty and demands more than just the desire of one’s heart with consequences to come should one fail to live up to the sound teaching of the truth. Sound teaching doesn’t always sit well with us, partly because we prefer not to hear the truth about ourselves. But the sacred writings reveal the God who is both and. Both the one who is just and the one who justifies is how Paul puts it to the Romans. Which is why the sound teaching of the Lutheran doctrine of Law and Gospel is the cure for hard of hearing, itchy ears. The Law is not diminished by the Gospel rather it is the necessary first word about us and our world so that convicted by the just God we are drawn to the God who justifies. The Gospel trumps the Law and its demands and reveals the ultimate truth of God’s desire is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

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.