Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Matthew 20:1-16

                            

Matthew 20:1-16
The kingdom of heaven is a contradiction of the more common kingdom where fair play is measured by survival of the fittest and the winner is the one who dies with the most toys. The all-day workers sweating in the sun obviously deserve more wages than the slackers who sat around all day. You can bet that the next time the master went looking for workers the marketplace had become a right to wait state and expecting a full day’s pay for the last hour was the new normal. That is why the kingdom of heaven is like something no one ever does. And if we are not outright envious of God’s generosity we are at least stingier than Jesus when it comes to the “kingdom come” where last and first are reversed.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lectionary 25 A - Jonah 4:1-11

                                              

Jonah 4:1-11  Debate on the Book of Jonah is often focused on the detail of the “whale” and whether someone could be swallowed up and survive. Those who read the story as literal truth do so out of reverence for the scriptures as the source and norm of all doctrine and faith and believe if you doubt the literal truth of one story all the other stories are called into question. Those who read Jonah as a parable or allegory also reverence the scriptures as the source and norm of all faith and doctrine but believe a story does not need to be literally true to be true. The point of this story, which I am quite willing to swallow as literally true, is in chapter four. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would be merciful and forgive the enemies of Israel and that was “very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (4:1) God provided shade to cool Jonah’s jets but then struck it down to make a point and Jonah sitting in the hot sun and lamenting the burned up bush was “angry enough to die.” (4:9) With or without the big fish story this is the part of the text that is literally true about us, especially when like Jonah we care more about the bush of our own understanding than the “great city” of fellow believers whose fish story may be bigger, or smaller, than ours.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Matthew 18:21-35

                               

Matthew 18:21-35
It is obvious from Peter’s question that he is looking for a loophole and the offer of seven “get out of jail free” cards appears quite generous, especially if the seven times “sins against me” is for the same offense. Seventy-seven times must have come as quite a shock and the parable that follows does not soften the blow. Forgiving a brother or sister from the heart is not an option and there are no loopholes. I don’t know if a purgatory like punishment is the method of payment for those who have racked up a lifetime of debt by withholding forgiveness. If it is, a good bit of the church is in trouble, but then why not, for the church profits from the business of conditional forgiveness. That, of course, negates the cross of Christ and means payment is still required by adherence to the law, even if it is the law of love. Or in other words, same tune different verse. On the other hand those who count on the cross to forgive them and yet withhold mercy from others live in a prison of their own design from which they can never escape. Truth is if we apply this parable to ourselves we too cannot escape the sentence of torture. None of us are innocent. The reason we don’t forgive is because like the wicked slave we don’t value being forgiven. But if we are finally and fully convicted of our hopeless situation we will stop pleading for more time to make good on promises we cannot keep and stop requiring others to do what we cannot. Or in other (and better) words, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”  William Shakespeare - The Merchant of Venice

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Psalm 103:1-13

                                         

Psalm 103:1-13
This is a “bless the Lord, O my soul” psalm for all who are weighed down by the debt of their sin and held captive by the bill come due that cannot be repaid. That is not to say we do not need to hear God’s accusing voice or consider the anger of the Lord. No, our rebellious ways grieve God in the same way that a child’s willful act of disobedience troubles a parent. But God has determined to put aside righteous wrath in favor of mercy and compassion for God’s own sake because God’s soul is blessed when ours are set free. That is not to say we are set free to continue grieving God and add to our deficit.  As the apostle Paul says it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). The gift of beginning each day with “bless the Lord, O my soul” is to be embraced by the steadfast love that knows no limits remembering anew the benefits that bless us and heal us from the dis-ease of our sin. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Lectionary 24 A - Genesis 50:15-21

                                             

This is the happy ending to a story of sibling rivalry that led to violence and treachery and a father’s broken heart. It is as much our story as it is theirs. Like Jacob favoring Joseph because he grieves the death of Joseph’s mother Rachael, we often do not anticipate the chain of events that follow in the wake of our grief. While Joseph can’t be blamed for being thrown down the well it was his boasting that pushed his brothers over the edge. We often speak in ways unbecoming without considering others. The violence and deceit that broke Jacob’s heart is the tragic consequence of jealously unchecked. This too is our story as from Cain and Abel to the present human beings would seem to be predisposed to violence. But the happy ending is our story as well. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons before he dies and maybe repents of that colored coat and the misery it brought. Joseph, humbled by his journey from favored son to slave to master of Egypt’s grain, surprises his fearful brothers and the family torn apart by deceit is restored in shared tears. It might read like a fairy tale but the truly happy ending to this story flows from a Father’s broken heart over his children’s warring madness, that leads him to take on the form of a servant to suffer the harm of the cross in order to preserve more than just “a numerous people.” It is God’s hope that knowing what we know we would be more inclined to live the end of story than the part that comes more naturally to us.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Lectionary 23 A - Matthew 18:15-20

                                 

Matthew 18:15-20
The Matthew 18 step by step process for promoting harmony in the church is often cited but rarely followed, at least in the order Jesus intended. More often than not we stop speaking to the one who has offended us while “venting” to one or two others who then spread it around the church until it gets back to the source of the sin. Along the way some will side with the sinner and the church becomes embroiled in a conflict that was originally a private matter between two people. Meanwhile the pagans and tax collectors look on and laugh and wonder why in the world anyone would want to belong to such a dysfunctional family. But maybe that is where the trouble starts for us. We all say the church is made up of sinners but then seem surprised when members of the church sin against each other. Let’s just own our dysfunctional status and agree that conflict in the church is the inevitable result of putting sinners in the same room and expecting them to get along without telling the truth to each other. But Jesus hopes that his love for us will lead to our loving him and our loving him will inevitably lead to loving the other sinners in the room enough to do a difficult thing. The reason you go in private to the one who has sinned against you is because you love Jesus and Jesus loves the dysfunctional family that bears his name.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Lectionary 23 A - Romans 13:8-14

                         

Romans 13:8-14
It is not a debt we care to own up to as loving neighbor as yourself is not as sweet as it sounds. First of all we hardly love ourselves, although we like ourselves well enough to fulfill desires as if they were needs. We almost always neglect the “neighbor” as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan and avoid contact with them when we can. We don’t even fully love those who love us, withholding a certain amount of capital in reserve, fearful that full commitment may lead to personal bankruptcy. That’s the truth. Fear drives the process and love demands more than anyone is willing to pay. If it came easy we’d be better at it and the Bible wouldn’t have to talk about it so much. But as it is we are reluctant to love fully, especially when it means we have to sacrifice time or energy or pay real dollars on the debt. There are some who recklessly disregard conventional wisdom and even if they had a rainy day fund would have spent it long ago on the needs of others. We call them saints and most of them are dead or in prison or live in ways the rest of us do not care to live, thank you, very much. They do inspire us, though, don’t they? Maybe enough to put ourselves on a payment plan to pay down the debt of love we can never repay. For the Jesus who inspires saints to live with and love neighbors not like themselves died to save us all and rose to pay the debt the law demanded.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Lectionary 23 A - Psalm 119:33-40

                             

Psalm 119:33-40
The way of the Lord is life in all its fullness, but it doesn’t come naturally. Our hearts are more inclined to unjust gain and the falsehood of fooling ourselves with excuses. That is why the psalmist prays to be taught the ways of the Lord and led in the paths of righteousness and turned from falsehoods that promise much but deliver nothing. The Lord’s reproach is the truth about us, which is a good enough reason to dread it, but there is life on the other side of a just judgment which is why in our inmost being we long for the law of the Lord that is life.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Lectionary 23 A - Ezekiel

                             

Ezekiel 33:7-11
God gives Ezekiel an incentive to warn the wicked, “you will surely die” by tying the prophet’s fate to speaking the difficult word of warning. The “prophetic” voices of our time need no such encouragement to preach against wicked behavior. Many of them make a lucrative career out of warning others, although they spend most of their time preaching to the choir. The trouble with street corner preachers of gloom and doom is that their warnings fall on deaf ears without the benefit of a meaningful relationship and party poopers on street corners have little chance of saving anyone, save those who already considered themselves to be saved. But the Lord’s lament, “as surely as I live I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is not the same as “turn or burn” as the warning “why will you die?” is not as much a threat as it is an invitation to live. That is because the Jesus who spent a good bit of time cavorting with sinners decided dying for them was the only way the wicked and the ones who warn them would have a chance to live.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Lectionary 22 A - Matthew 16:21-28

                            

Peter thinks “the rock” upon which the church will be built should have a say so about its foundation and undergoing great suffering and death is not a part of Peter’s plan. You would think “and on the third day be raised” might make a difference, but it doesn’t. He’s a Galilean fisherman sailing in uncharted waters. He has witnessed miraculous healing and feeding and the transfiguration but the wind and waves freaked him out and made him sink even though he walked on water. When he gets the promotion from “one of the twelve” to CEO he’s already cashed in the keys of the kingdom and is looking forward to living large. The rebuke must have come as a surprise with the “blessed are you” ringing in his ears and while the Gospels do not record his immediate response Peter’s denial in the courtyard would indicate that the “and on the third day be raised” still hadn’t sunk in. It is true for us as well. We do not wish sorrow away by the power of positive thinking. We cannot revise reality by saying the half empty glass is half full. Half full is the same as half empty in that there is 50 % less to drink. And of course we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. No. The suffering is great. The death is real. Which is why only “and on the third day be raised” can address the very things to which Peter, and we ourselves, say, “God forbid it, Lord!” The power of the resurrection is that it is the only thing that can deny death the last word about us which is why we dare to lose our lives before death can speak.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pentecost 22 A - Romans 12:9-21

                         

This is Paul’s flesh and blood bullet list for the life of spiritual worship that is a holy and acceptable living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) It is a renewed mind conformed to the way of Christ and not the pattern of this world. But the living sacrifice life is a delicate balancing act. If we hold too fast to what is good haughtiness follows on its heels. If we do not hold fast enough we cling to what is evil and neglect what is good. So the practiced life of faith is a balancing act that depends on Christ to make adjustments to our natural tendency toward pride, envy, arrogance and greed so we might be conformed to the pattern of Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to grasp. The life of faith turns the world upside down rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, greeting strangers as friends, and treating the lowly like the mighty and the mighty like the lowly, though truth is we are all loved equally by the Lord.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Lectionary 22 A - Psalm 26:1-6

                                                     

Psalm 26:1-6
David may have penned the psalm but Jesus is the one who embodied it. His blameless life was cut short by wicked evil doers whose deceit did not triumph, for the glory of the Lord, high and lifted up on the cross, was vindicated by the empty tomb. But what of David singing this psalm having raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah? (There is no choice when the king commands you come to his bed or go to war) Maybe the testing and the trying and the proving of David’s heart and mind is in the nature of his life which might have remained “blameless” as a simple shepherd but was destined for tragedy as a king. When by the prophet’s ploy “you are the man” God confronts David’s deceit and hypocrisy he does not defend himself but rather relies fully on the unfailing love of God who is just in judging and right in pronouncing guilt. Maybe in showing undeserved mercy to David God also repents of plucking a ruddy young lad out of a pastoral existence and sending him to slay a giant in the armor of his best friend’s father whose throne he will one day steal. I should quit before I entertain any more heresy but the good news is this; if God forgives David, who showed evil doers a thing or two about being wicked, then there is hope for the rest of us who rely on the one who led a blameless life on our behalf, Jesus Christ out Lord.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Lectionary 22 A - Jeremiah 15:15-21

                                                     

The merrymakers do not want to hear what Jeremiah has to say and even he is getting tired of being a party pooper. The word that was the joy and delight of his heart has gone missing like a brook whose waters dry up in the summer heat. Mocked and discounted as a crazy old coot he lashes out at the Lord who has laid on him the weight of righteous indignation. But the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has reached the limit of patience with the protesting prophet and reminds Jeremiah of his place, albeit with a promise. They will turn to you if you turn back to me. No one wants to be a Jeremiah but sometimes we have to tell a difficult truth and not count the cost, even if in truth telling we are accused of being false. How then do we know the difference between a precious word and one that is worthless? The worthless word lets us be even if that means we are left to be less than were meant to be. The precious word leads to life even if preceded by a word of necessary death, which of course no one welcomes but for which one will be eternally grateful.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lectionary 21 A - Matthew 16:13-20

 



Matthew 16:13-20
The church has been working diligently to accomplish what Jesus promises will forever frustrate the gates of Hades. It is at once a sign of our brokenness and God’s graciousness that we survive despite all our efforts over the ages to demolish the rock upon which we stand, the confession of faith that the way of Jesus is the way of God. The truth is you and I, who make up the institution of church, liberal and conservative, thrive in the shadow of Hade’s gates. We have overcome the command to be set apart by the overwhelming desire to fit in, the message of peace with rationalizations for war, the plight of the poor with the gospel of prosperity, unity with division, godliness with greed and love with law. But God is not contained in the cathedrals of stone or doctrine or personal piety we have constructed to diminish a grace that defies our desire to disregard it. No. When God confers the keys of the kingdom on the church and declares it to be as solid as a rock it is only because God cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades or the hell on earth we have established.

Friday, August 21, 2020

                                     

The pattern of this world is etched into our DNA which is why conformity with it comes so naturally. Even self-sacrifice and the renewing of the mind can mimic the world’s pattern as when pride in personal piety leads us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and less of others than sober judgment allows. But when motivated by the mercies of God the sacrifice of a contrite heart is holy and acceptable and capable of being transformed into something similar to Christ. To be like Christ is to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others without immediately judging them or on the flip side coveting them. Not all members of the body have the same function but all are necessary and of infinite value to the whole because all are loved equally by God.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lectionary 21 A - Psalm 138

                         

Psalm 138
The psalmist gives thanks for deliverance in the days of trouble and though it might sound like a prayer “Do not forsake the work of your hands” already anticipates the purpose of the Lord being fulfilled. That is because the Lord on high bends down to whisper peace to the lowly but laughs out loud at the antics of the arrogant. For in days of trouble, when surrounded by enemies and weakened by strife, the cry of the needy will not fall on deaf ears for the love of the Lord is steadfast and endures forever. Therefore the little g gods will have to listen while the lowly praise the Lord on high and the kings of the earth hearing the song will come down from their thrones and join the choir.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Lectionary 21 A - Isaiah 51:1-6


                     

Isaiah 51:1-6

The ransomed of the Lord returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35) but their songs were soon silenced by the harsh reality of cities laid waste by war and neglect and the hostility of homesteaders reluctant to make room for the recently released. The ransomed of the Lord, wearied by the frustrations presented by freedom, were tempted to change their tune like their ancestors wandering in the wilderness and longed to return to the relative comfort of captivity. In the midst of this crisis of identity God reminds them of the past and makes promises for the future to restore in them hope for the present. With eyes lifted to the same stars Abraham could not count they are reminded of their humble beginnings and comforted with songs of deliverance that promise a forever future of joy and gladness. Remembering God’s past faithfulness while anticipating God’s future providence is the song of forever freedom and the way we overcome whatever troubles, whatever frightens, whatever might lead us to become comfortable with captivity.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Lectionary 20 A - Matthew 15:10-28

 

Matthew 15:10-28

I wonder if the Canaanite woman was present when Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and then chided the disciples for being slow to understand. If so it may be that Jesus is the object of his own lesson. In the past I’ve preached desperation as the woman’s motivation. She is a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon and she will not be denied even if it means being called a dog. That may still be true but it seems ironic then that the lesson Jesus wants the disciples to understand is the one she leads Jesus to learn. After all, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” are the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth. So unless you believe it is not slander to call a desperate mother a dog based on her ethnicity Jesus is as slow as his disciples to fully comprehend the implications of his own words. But before I delve any deeper into blasphemy what if God in trying to move us beyond ethnic divisions and inbred racism is willing to become a living parable? The Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin in the way this teacher of Israel embodies the prejudice of God’s chosen people destined to be a light to the Gentiles but instead hell bent on their extermination. And so Jesus in welcoming the woman is the vision of Isaiah 56 in flesh and blood. The foreigner and the outcast and yes, even the eunuchs, all have a seat at the table where previously they begged for crumbs.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Lectionary 20 A - Romans 11:1-2, 29-32


Romans 11:1-229-32
The irrevocable gifts and calling of God is Paul’s conclusion to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for “his kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2) Even though the Christ Paul professes has been rejected by those who are imprisoned in disobedience, God will in the end be merciful to all. It is a daring statement that we diminish when we qualify it based on our limited knowledge. The point is the cross confirms the covenant and unlike people who God laments “honor me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) the promise from God’s lips and the love of God’s heart is one in the same.  If Paul believes God’s mercy extends to descendants of Abraham who do not confess Christ, we might even dare to hope God’s mercy extends to those for whom we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish trusting that in the end mercy trumps

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Lectionary 20 A - Psalm 67

 

Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us” is the prayer of all people who having plotted their own way find their plans are less than prosperous. Of course for a time “the wicked prosper” even if the prophet Habakkuk laments “How long, O, Lord?” Sooner or later the currency of prosperity, which may satisfy for a time, ends in bankruptcy. When the capital of life is not invested in a relationship with God the return is always less than satisfying. But God through Jesus Christ has invested everything in us and despite unstable markets tossed to and fro by anxious investors the blessing of God is a sure bet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

 

Isaiah 56:1-8
The lectionary cut out the verses of Isaiah 56 that instruct eunuchs not to say “I am just a dry tree” (v.3) but rather rejoice that they shall not be “cut off” from the Lord. (v.5) Instead they will be given a place within the house of the Lord better than sons and daughters. The Mosaic law makes no such exception as males emasculated by crushing or cutting (is there any other way?)”may not enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1) Isaiah died long before the provider of the promise was born into human flesh and even if he had been around he would have been surprised. The One who carried the promise wasn’t castrated but he was cut off by his own people. He wasn’t a foreigner but he was considered an outcast. But his death at the hands of the chosen and his resurrection orchestrated by God Jesus made possible the promise that restores those castrated by the Law of Moses to a new reality where foreigners have a home and divisions are erased and outcasts are included so that the house of God might be a place of prayer for all people.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Lectionary 19 a - Romans 10:5-15

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek…” is as radical a statement as any Paul made. Israel was a nation specifically set apart to be God’s own people. The psalmist declares “God has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation…” (Psalm 147:19-20) They were distinct from other people through adherence to the Mosaic Law, through a restrictive diet, by the practice of circumcision. They were warned repeatedly to remain pure to avoid the ruin of the nation, by God’s own hand no less! But now Paul declares the “new thing” that was promised through the prophet Jeremiah that even he could not have anticipated. The law that set Israel apart has itself been set aside for the sake of nations long denied equal access to the God of Israel. In Jesus Christ “God come down” the Word is as close as our own breath and the beating of our own heart. Of course we have made new distinctions; defining exactly how someone must “call on the name of the Lord to be saved” or what must be believed in order to qualify as one who will not “be put to shame.” Maybe we need an equally radical expression of the grace of God who apparently after a thousand years or so with Israel was willing to be less exclusive when it came to who qualifies as “my people.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Lectionary 19 a - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
There is no peace when righteousness is held captive to self and salvation is defined by personal piety devoid of compassion or mercy. Salvation near to you is near to me for the way faithful people turn their hearts to God is to turn to neighbor. You cannot love God without loving neighbor. So when steadfast love and faithfulness meet together righteousness and peace engage in a PDA (public display of affection) and the people prosper. That’s not to say all paths are the pathways to God. Jesus, betrayed by a friend with a kiss, is the righteousness that goes before the Lord so that in “Peace be with you” faithfulness might spring up in the most unexpected of places, the human heart.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Lectionary 19 a - 1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19:9-18
In the previous chapter of 1 Kings, before the “very zealous for the Lord” Elijah crawled into the cave, he called down fire from heaven on wet wood that consumed both altar and sacrifice in a flash.  So why is he hiding in the hills? Maybe the “very zealous for the Lord” is not as zealous as he claims to be? So instead of fire and smoke on a mountain God speaks in a still, small voice, a whisper on the wind, to still the heart of the very zealous but fearful prophet. So it is with us who may have seen and believed the wonder of the Lord before but in this current crisis doubt that lightning can strike the same place twice. A still small voice, a whisper on the wind, calls to us to come out of hiding, (albeit with mask and social distancing) to come out of fear, to come out of fretful forecasts of gloom and doom and believe that the Lord knows our need and will provide in the present as God has provided n the past.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Lectionary 18 a - Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
“When Jesus heard this he withdrew to a lonely place…” What Jesus heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod. Overcome by grief Jesus needs to get away. And maybe the Messiah also realized John’s violent death meant his days were numbered as well and the powers that be would not be satisfied stilling the voice of the Baptist but would come for the One who John claimed was “greater than me.” But Jesus can’t get away for long as the crowds clamor for more miracles, more entertaining parables, more in your face confrontations with Pharisees and temple big wigs. Compassion for the crowd calls him out of his own need for healing. The disciples short on vision and compassion would send the crowds away to fend for themselves in villages already closed for the night but Jesus has one more trick up his sleeve and multiplying a meager meal makes a feast of five loaves and two fish. If Jesus is the self expression of God’s personality then this is not a God who demands payment upfront but whose own need for solitude and quiet and healing can be interrupted by crowds well fed who not long from now will forsake “hosanna” for “crucify”.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Lectionary 17 A - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Matthew 13:31-3344-52
Despite the disciple’s “Yes” what we understand about “all these things” is that we don’t really understand the kingdom. That is not to say we don’t know how to package new treasures in the old ones and keep the kingdom safely within the boundaries of what we know, which usually means we make the kingdom of heaven conform to the kingdoms we create in our own image, That is true for Christians on both sides of the aisle, those who make social justice the defining characteristic as well as those who see the kingdom through the prism of personal piety. Truth is the kingdom cannot be contained by human constructs and like a mustard seed produces more than one could image while like yeast it works unseen and hidden like a pearl waits to be found.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lectionary 17 A - Romans 8:26-39

 Romans 8:26-39
“All things work together for good” is a bold statement in light of the laundry list of laments that follows. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and being killed all day like sheep led to slaughter sounds like bearing the cross on steroids. I don’t think “all things work together for good” means we should attach some deeper meaning to the suffering that is part and parcel with the human condition. Troublesome times come to the faithful and unfaithful alike but for those who love God all things work together for good because of the “no separation clause” of the covenant. The good for which all things work together is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That means God cannot be separated from our suffering and endures hardship, distress, persecution, famine, etc, right along with us. We don’t desire difficult days or rejoice in our sufferings but we do find great courage and strength and enduring hope that even death cannot destroy the relationship we have with the One who sighs deeply for and with us.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Lectionary 17 A - 1 Kings 3:5-12

1 Kings 3:5-12
It is a smart prayer for a boy who doesn’t know how to come or go and one wonders how he thought to pray it. You would expect him to pray for the death of his enemies since the boy had so many. And a long life generally follows praying a shorter one for one’s enemies. Riches almost always makes it to the top of the wish list and despite his estimation of God’s people as great a little extra cash is always appreciated. God is surprised and certainly quite pleased that this second son of Bathsheba and David’s badly begun union turns out to be a king worthy of the title. God grants Solomon understanding and a discerning mind and all the rest as well and for a time there really is no king like him. Unfortunately for Israel and I suppose for God as well, Solomon gives up on the gift of discernment in favor of the counsel of foreign wives and the golden age of Israel ends with a kingdom divided between warring sons. It is the stuff of Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedies and more times than we care to admit our own tales of fortune and folly. It will take a long time but there will be a king who eclipses Solomon and all his splendor. He will never know riches and his life will be cut short by his enemies but in the end his poverty is our wealth and his death and resurrection the only hope for friend and enemy alike.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Lectionary 16 a - Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by it. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds in the same way it is for wheat. In the end the final job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming some ultimately good and others ultimately evil or dividing along the us and them line might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are weed and wheat, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Good soil does not happen by itself and even without the effort of cultivation is the result of flood or glacier or volcanic eruption. Something happens to make good soil. Hard path and rocky ground and thorn infested field take heart. It’s not your fault. Of course we all hope we are good soil, hearing and understanding and producing bumper crops. But if you are like me you have good soil days and bad, times of rejoicing in the word and times of spiritual drought, times of inner peace and contentment and times when choked by cares and concerns you’re doing well to get out of bed. The good news is that seed sown is not conditional on the state of the soil. That’s because the consistent sower sows seed as if it was grown on trees and doesn’t seem to understand or care about the economics of agriculture. You don’t waste seed where it doesn’t have a prayer to produce. Some would rename this parable the parable of the soils but I think it’s still all about the sower who recklessly scatters the seeds of hope and peace and love and life everywhere, no matter what, and hopes that on good days and bad we’ll do the same.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Lectionary 15 A - Isaiah 55:10-13

Isaiah 55:10-13
Isaiah 55 begins with a word that goes out from the Lord’s mouth as an invitation to the thirsty to come and buy, without money and without cost, food and drink that delights. It is a word for a recently released captive people returned to Zion and suffering under the weight of harsh conditions while attempting to rebuild a ruined country. As sure as the seasons, Isaiah tells them, God’s word will water your work and even the mountains and hills will sing while the trees and fields keep the beat.  It is a word that requires faith, which is not the same proof, but without the word of hope the wicked return to their ways  and the unrighteous their thoughts which leads inevitably to despair. To hope in the Lord, to trust the promise, is to anticipate the everlasting sign, which is not yet and at the same time already, which means we sing the future song even while the fields are choked by thistles and the hills covered with briers.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Pentecost 3 A - Romans 7:13-25

Romans 7:13-25
Ignorance is bliss and if not for the law we would be blissfully ignorant of sin. As it is the law makes us painfully aware of sin’s death grip around our lives as we with Paul lament “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But this confession is not the conclusion of the matter as if we were given a spiritual loophole for bad behavior. That is because Paul is not concerned primarily with the actions of the body but rather the inclination of the heart. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) is how God describes those who hide evil intent behind the mask of outward piety. Since the locus of the rebellious nature of the human being is a refusal to be fully human (and by that I mean to be satisfied with being creature without lusting after Creator status) then Paul’s cry, “wretched man that I am” is far more serious than simple behavior modification can resolve.  So where does that leave us? Some would say it leaves us in the lurch and we’ll live our whole lives struggling with temptations beyond our ability to control which in the end leads one to despise God or despair altogether. No. The conclusion of the matter comes in the verses that follow, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) We do not have to pay our way by penance or accept the way we are is the way we always will be or reject the system as a set up. The resolution of “wretched man that I am” is “there is now no condemnation” which is blissfully, a change of heart.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pentecost 3 A - Psalm 145

Psalm 145:8-14
If all of the Lord’s works praised and the faithful ones blessed and those who fell down looked to be lifted up the Lord wouldn’t need to be nearly as gracious and compassionate and slow to anger. As it is even the Lord’s own people push the Lord to the limit as if slow to anger did not have a tipping point. That doesn’t mean the Lord is stuffing until one day even the Almighty can’t help but vent all over creation. No, it means the Lord’s nature as gracious and compassionate is infinitely more patient with us than we are with each other or ourselves for that matter. The gracious and compassionate nature of the Lord overflows in steadfast love that will not abandon us despite our fickle nature and willful ways. So does the Lord have a tipping point? Not in the way that we do but there comes a time when the Lord leaves us to the destructive works of our hands and minds, a spiritual timeout if you will, until lost and alone, bowed down by the burden of our pride or malice or greed or envy or apathy or lust we turn back to the Lord and experience again the steadfast love that upholds and lifts us up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Pentecost 3 A - Zechariah 9:9-12

Zechariah 9:9-12
On the day that Jesus rode Zechariah’s vision into Jerusalem the daughters of Zion shouted “Hosanna!” and for a moment the prisoners of Roman rule and Pharisaical piety were released and returned to the stronghold of hope. A week later the triumphant and victorious king was humbled by the cross and the only blood of the covenant to be seen was his. But then kings riding on donkeys are consistently cut down by chariots drawn by war horses. What the dominions and the daughters could not imagine was that war horses and battle bows and the bars of the water-less pit could not contain this king who, breaking free from the grip of death, became for us the stronghold of hope to which we return again and again. If you trust in power you will be disappointed. If you trust in wealth you will be corrupted. If you trust in self you will be deceived. To be a prisoner of hope is to held captive to a vision of a king who is more humble than we are.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Pentecost 2 A - Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39
The less than gentle words of Jesus – whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me… are tempered by the hairs on our head numbered promise that we are of more value than any number of sparrows. That is not to say we should take Jesus’ challenge lightly. It is a fair criticism that in reading the Gospels through the lens of Paul we make Jesus more Gentile than Jew and lose the understanding of law as life and as gift. But in the same way that Paul’s admonition to holy living is grounded in dependency on unconditional grace Jesus demand for radical obedience depends fully upon the disciple being like the teacher. In the end the life we find in Jesus is better than whatever life we may lose. So we trust that we find our life when with hairs on our head numbered valued more than a two sparrow per penny we take up the cross and follow.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Pentecost 2 A - Romans 6:12-23

Romans 6:12-23
The “therefore” of Romans 6:12 is made possible by the new relationship with God that begins with death. Not the kind of death that in the end everyone dies. Not a “wages of sin” death either, the kind of death that withers the soul when as slaves to self we receive no advantage from things of which we should rightly be ashamed. No, the death that makes “therefore” possible is a death for life, if you will. Jesus dies first, as Paul writes in Romans chapter five, while we were weak, while we were still sinners, while were God-haters, so that reconciled with God we might also dare to die. Dying with Christ we die to self and are born into a life of righteousness, which is not nearly as narrow as some make it out to be. It is not a life bound by law, limited by piety, constrained by rigid rules. It is a life bound by justice, limited by kindness, constrained by humility. (Micah 6:8) Therefore, live as those who have died and have already been set free to live today the new life that is eternal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Pentecost 2 A - Psalm 89

Psalm 89
Psalm 89 is a love song to the Lord written by Ethan the Ezrahite, a cymbal player in Solomon’s temple band. But his hymn of rejoicing was penned during Israel’s golden age and one wonders if anyone was still singing such a song when Solomon’s kingdom split between the lines his sons established, neither of which would last forever. The Northern Kingdom fell first never to rise again and while the Southern Kingdom survived captivity it would never know the glorious days of Solomon’s reign. That’s the trouble with “I could sing of your love forever” and kingdoms and thrones established by the strength of sword and shield, even if the glory is given to God. To trust in God’s faithfulness forever is to sing, “I love you, Lord” when the enemy is at the gate and the city is overthrown and the temple is burned to the ground. That is true for us as well who love the Lord in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. If we claim God’s love for us is unconditional then it follows that our love for God must be as well.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Pentecost 2 A - Jeremiah 28:5-9

           
                      
Jeremiah’s “Amen!” should be read as an “Oh really?” because the weeping prophet knows none of the exiles are coming home and the things that were taken are gone for good. Hananiah may have had his reasons to hope or he may have just been blowing smoke but it doesn’t matter because in a year he’ll be dead and peace will still be a pipe dream for the people weighed down by the iron yoke of Babylon. When Jeremiah prophesies political events he is really speaking to the hearts and minds of individuals, calling them to turn back to the Lord, to forsake false hopes and not to trust in temporal power to save. Jeremiah is a truth teller and sometimes the most difficult thing to be told is the truth. 

Once again, and frankly for too many times in the past, we have been confronted with the truth that the sin of racism infects our country and indeed our planet. Truth is I need to be reminded that I was born with the privilege afforded to me by the color of my skin and the level of education of my parents. But since my grandfather, William Heinze, valued hard work above all else he lived into what Dr. King preached on the National Mall and judged people by the content of their character not the color of their skin. That was passed down to my father Rudy which is why we marched in Oak Park in the 1960's when black people who wanted to buy a house in Oak Park were not even shown the properties and if they managed to put a bid in it was never accepted.

"Many black families wishing to give their children a better education wanted a chance to move into the village, but because housing was not “open”, many families could not even get into a house to see it.  Some blacks were helped by white residents who looked at houses for them and reported back to them, even sketching pictures of the inside of the house." (Oak Park Museum)

"The fight for a fair housing ordinance heated up, pitting many villagers against each other.  In April 1968 a petition of 10,000 signatures called for a referendum on fair housing.  Following the passage of a national fair housing ordinance and after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Village of Oak Park , with the support of the real estate community, passed the Fair Housing Ordinance on May 6, 1968, by a 5-2 vote of village trustees." (Oak Park Museum)  

With the truth comes the opportunity to be renewed and reformed and restored. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 God promises to be found by the exiles who seek the Lord, even while living under the iron yoke of Babylon. And so it is with us when we live beyond our limited vision and live into the vision of God where all people have a home on the Holy Mountain and a seat at the banquet feast. (Isaiah 25) 

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20
I wonder how many disciples who “worshiped him” were included in the “some doubted” list. Since “some” is more than a couple and generally considered equal to if not slightly more than a few (which is five) almost half of the eleven, if not slightly more, are doubting worshipers. It’s not a very promising start for baptizing and teaching all nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded, which I’m guessing might include believe in me. Since I’m in such good company I’ll confess that I am no stranger to doubt and if I have to believe everything in the Bible as gospel truth I’m willing to acknowledge outright disbelief. But if the “some who doubted” disciples were willing to bet their lives on something they hadn’t quite figured out it must have been because they trusted the “I am with you always” without working out the details or understanding the how or the why which in the end is what worshiping faith is all about anyway. And that I do not doubt.