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.