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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Feast of the Holy Trinity Year A - Genesis 1:1-2:4

Genesis 1:1-2:4
“In the beginning God created…” seems to divide the Trinity by function, the Father calling forth Creation while the Son and Spirit wait in the wings for the Cross and Pentecost. The two creeds we confess liturgically, the Apostle’s and Nicene, don’t help in that “I believe in God the Father” appears to give sole credit for creation to the first person of the Trinity. There was a time when we trotted out the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday but it’s fallen out of favor due most likely to its length and perhaps the damning to hell all things Arian. Arius argued that a son by definition must come from a father and so there is a time when a son (even the Son of God) is not.  Athanasius disagreed in no uncertain terms. God is and always was Father, Son, Spirit all at the same time in every way from before the beginning. We don’t have a lot of scripture to lean on as the doctrine of the Trinity was not as important in the beginning of the church as it came to be a century or so later. But you might have noticed that in the creation account God creates humankind in the image of “us” and while that is not proof for the doctrine of the Trinity you could read it that way, in which case Athanasius would applaud and Arius might understandably roll over in his grave. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - John 20:19-23

John 20:19-23
John’s Pentecost arrives with less fanfare than Luke’s but perhaps with greater weight. No rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no speaking in languages not learned, just Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on disciples. If Luke imagines the reversal of the tower of Babel (where language was confused) John wants us to go back to the very beginning where the breath of God animated the dust formed in God’s image. The disciples, formed in the image of Jesus, animated by the Spirit, are to forgive (or not) and their granting of forgiveness (or withholding) has the final say. That raises a few questions and we wish Jesus would have said a little more. On what basis is forgiveness offered or denied? What if I forgive someone who you don’t or vice versa? Is this earthly or eternal? Does forgiveness extend beyond the boundaries of the church or is this only pew to pew coverage? If you’re looking for me to answer my own questions you’re out of luck. All I will say is that when Peter asked Jesus a question to quantify the extent of forgiveness Jesus answered with mathematics. Forgiveness errs on the side of mercy at least 70 x 7 of time.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Spiritual gifts are given for the common good even if the Corinthians, puffed up with pride, can’t see the common good for the gifts. Focused on the cult of self they elevate tongues of angels above the language of love and miss the point completely. The whole body is weakened when one member claims to be more important than the rest. Variety is the spice of life and the strength of the church when we recognize it is the Spirit who allots to each the gifts that serve the common good. In the same way that grace is freely given so God gives  gifts not based on merit but on need, which means the proper response to being gifted is to say “thank you” not “look at me!” That being said and at the risk of contradicting the Apostle Paul, the spiritual gift that best serves the Lutheran common good is done by whoever makes the coffee on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - Psalm 104:24-34

Psalm 104:24-34
What might it mean that the Leviathan, formed to folic, is terrified despite its size when “you hide your face?” The psalmist imagines all creatures great and small recognize the ground of all being and forever connected to the source of life depend on the Almighty just as much as we do. Of course they praise God as they are able and in the case of the Humpback Leviathan give praise by breaking free of the sea for a moment. The psalm doesn’t say so but I imagine God laughs out loud at the sight of it. And so it is with much smaller mammals created in the image of God who breaking free of all that binds renew the face of the earth by mimicking the God who formed us out of the dust of the earth. The praise that is pleasing to the Lord is to open our hands and satisfy the hungry with good things and to sing the song of salvation with our whole life, laughing out loud at the wonder of God’s many works.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Feast of Pentecost Year A - Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21
Peter denies being drunk based on the hour of the day but when it comes to the Holy Spirit it’s always noon somewhere. Lutherans, as a rule, prefer to drink in private and tend to be suspicious of outward signs of spiritual intoxication. That’s the way the crowd responded when the rush of a violent wind blew down the doors of  the language barrier and men of Galilee started speaking like a Rosetta Stone® commercial. Amazed and perplexed the crowd none-the-less listened and by the end of Peter’s sermon a whole bunch were baptized into the new faith that was really a movement of the Holy Spirit to bring God’s vision into focus so the dream of God might come true in the here and now. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus. This present unity anticipates the future where one vast multitude of every tribe and race, creed and color, language and tongue sings the same language of praise. Even if you remain suspicious of some of the story, (tongues of fire and not a hair out of place) the point Peter made to the crowd is what we are to take away as well. The Spirit has been let loose and from now on sons and daughters and old men and women will be getting drunk on the Holy Spirit morning, noon and night.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Easter 7 A - John 17:1-11

John 17:1-11
It is a shame we haven’t lived the prayer of Jesus, “so that they may be one” in a way the world can see. Instead the church that Jesus prayed to be protected from the world might need to be protected from itself as denominations and non-denominations (which have become denominations unto themselves) divide and disagree to protect thought and word despite the fact that their deeds are often less than pure. And truth to be told even those who elevate unity above all else live less of it than they like to believe.  But then the people who were present as Jesus prayed didn’t do much better. Certain men from James, the brother of the Lord, criticized Peter (the Rock no less) for eating with non-Jews and he withdrew from doing what he knew was right. Paul didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure with the Jerusalem triad, those “reputed to be pillars” and his letters detail the difficulty believers had in making “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So I suppose we should not be surprised when the ways of the world creep into the culture of the church. That doesn’t mean we can’t live more fully into Jesus’ prayer, even while remaining loyal to the denominational lines we love. If we understood being one as singing together in harmony then every note in the Christian chorus has a place in the choir and as long as we don’t insist on our note being the best perhaps the world would hear a different tune coming out of the church and want to listen, or maybe even sing along.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Easter 7 A - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

1 Peter 4:12-14 5:6-11
In the middle of these passages about fiery ordeals, insults and roaring lions on the prowl is the passage that makes standing firm possible. “Cast all your anxieties on God who cares for you.” The ability to “cast” depends on our trusting that God cares for us despite all that tends to increase anxiety. For Peter’s people it was organized persecution intent on stamping out the followers of the crucified and now reportedly resurrected Jewish rebel. For us it turns out to be a tiny virus that none-the-less can roar like a lion and stamp out the most vulnerable. But even for those of us who are relatively safe the enforced isolation leads to relationships gone sour or at the least strained, jobs lost and/or threatened, more bills than income at the end of the month, and fears without and within. To lay the blame of our anxiety on the lack of faith merely adds to the anxious list which is why Peter reminds his people that “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” To humble oneself is to admit you can't go it alone which is why we’re in this thing together. Anxiety is diminished when it is shared as God intended it to be. Casting cares on Christ is a a communal exercise even when it is done online.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Easter 7 A - Acts 1:6-14

Acts 1:6-14
I am comforted by the thought of an eternal future where finally free of all that diminishes life we will live fully into the hopes and dreams and desires of God. But when the faith we preach is more about eternal reward than temporal reality the question might be asked of us, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Like most things Lutheran we do better when we balance what will be with what is. So we count on a day of redemption but it is not why we love the Lord. It is for the here and now that we believe, despite the gold standard of the Protestant work ethic, namely delayed gratification. Rather we, like the first disciples, are told to leave the mountain and go home because there is much to be done. Living the future in the present is to be devoted to the kind of constant prayer that spends more time on its feet than on its knees. And while hands clasped together might be more pious, hands open wide for service are more helpful.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Easter 6 A - John 14:15-21

John 14:15-21
I’m hoping “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” is based on a sliding scale otherwise most of us are toast. And of course the Father sending the Advocate to be with us forever is out of the question if the Spirit’s coming is based on merit. Without revealing any details, and as long as hating and lust violate commandments five and six, I believe I’ve broken all ten. Maybe you have as well which means we can’t treat this text literally because we who do not keep commandments really do love Jesus and believe he lives in us, at least as a frequent guest if not a permanent resident. So if being “loved by my Father” is more than a reciprocal arrangement based on how well we keep the commandments, especially the most difficult one to love our enemies, then “I will not leave you orphans” really is good news.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Easter 6 A - 1 Peter 3:13-22

1 Peter 3:13-22
Baptism, which Peter calls an appeal to God for a good conscience, has been the source of division in the church even though both those sprinkled as infants or dunked as adults claim to be baptized into one body. But since there are no step by step instructions in the scriptures as to when, where or how much water to use it’s been left to the church to fill in the blanks, which always means the body of Christ takes a beating. The adult dunkers dismiss the infant sprinklers baptism as invalid because of not enough water and besides babies can’t believe. The infant sprinklers defend themselves saying the adult dunkers are all wet and miss the anecdotal evidence in the scripture of whole households baptized or the meaning of Jesus’ command, “Let the little children come unto me.” I believe all of our rules and regulations surrounding this ritual miss the point that Peter is making.  Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, which is the opposite of a guilty one. The only thing that brings one to God is Christ dying once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Baptism is a sign, not the source of salvation. And if there was any doubt as to the extent of God’s mercy even the spirits in prison who were baptized in the flood – a little too much water if you ask me – get paroled.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Easter 6 A - Psalm 66:8-20


Psalm 66:8-20
This is a “Praise the Lord” psalm that remembers times of trouble. But not just any trouble, like waking up to a hot water heater leaking trouble that complicates life and blows budgets. It’s not like trouble you see coming but can’t stop from stepping in and making a mess of things. No. This is “God tested us” trouble. You put us in prison. You loaded burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads (presumably on horseback). Refined like silver, passed through fire and water, the God tested psalmist declares, “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” I think we heard it and it didn’t sound very praiseworthy. But then the people who penned and first sang the psalms gave God glory for everything, good, bad or otherwise. If we apply this psalm to our time the pandemic is a test. You killed our loved ones. You mad us shut down the nation. You refined us like silver? I have trouble with that. Not because God can’t do whatever God wants. God is God and we are not. But if the cross is how God chooses to be known then “God tested us” does not come as a virus that silently stalks its victims for in the cross of Christ the love of God is tested and through the empty tomb found more true than all the things that trouble us. What then of God testing? It is the cross for us as well. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Easter 6 A - Acts 17:22-31

Acts 17:22-31
A statue to an unknown god presented Paul with an opportunity to proclaim to the “extremely religious” Athenians the God “in whom we live and have our being.” It seems such an obvious mission strategy surely someone else had tried to slap a name tag on the god “yet to be named” pedestal but then maybe the Athenians were just as happy to allow this god to remain anonymous. Paul managed to persuade at least two people, Dionysius and Damaris, but the absence of a New Testament letter to the Athenians might be a measure of his success. A good number of people in our time prefer God remain unnamed even if they might go to God in times of crisis or for cultural rituals that still crop up even in decidedly secular societies. The God not served by human hands still desires humans to search and perhaps groping find the One who “is not far from each one of us.” It looks to me as if God leaves a lot up to chance so it hardly seems fair that a day would be fixed where ignorance is no longer bliss. On the other hand if the world is judged in righteousness by the man God appointed, and Jesus asked God to forgive even those who nailed him naked to wood, maybe the rest of God’s offspring have more than just a chance in hell to bump into the God who died to be found.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Easter 5 A - John 14:1-14


“Do not let your hearts be troubled” does not deny things that hurt the heart. That is why it is followed immediately by “believe in God, believe also in me.” An untroubled heart is not an act of strength or stone faced stoicism. It is as the apostle Paul writes to the Romans, a transformation brought about by the renewing of the mind. Even so “How can we know the way” and “Show us the Father” are legitimate questions and if disciples who saw “face to face” asked them how much more should we “who see as through a mirror dimly” be allowed times of questioning. Jesus didn’t say it explicitly but I’m certain it was part of the plan that when he went off to design dwelling places he meant the disciples to wait together so that hearts might help each other beat as one. “Do not let” does not lead to troubles or pandemics magically disappearing and long days and sleepless nights still wear down the body and the mind but believing the God of the cross has prepared a place of peace and comfort that comes with the Christ to hearts gathered as one is comfort for the afflicted and rest for the weary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Easter 5 A - Psalm 31

Psalm 31
“My times are in your hands” seems to be more true for us today than it was before Covid-19. But whether we were less aware of that truth before this pandemic it has always been true that we were born without being consulted and no matter the manner of our end there is only one way out. Living in-between birth and death we are continually pursued by all manner of enemies, even microscopic ones, as we have become painfully aware of. No matter their size they all mean to do us harm and sooner or later will catch up with even those who live, as they say, a charmed life. Resistance is futile and denial of death leads one to act in ways that may in fact hasten one’s demise. Like crowding onto Port A beaches this last weekend. But to say “into your hands I commit my spirit” in the midst of life means the in-between time that we are given belongs to the One whose unfailing love is a refuge, a rock, a fortress. I can live fully into the limitations of my life, and the isolation of stay at home orders, because the God I trust is limitless. The freedom found in the faithful God who dying our death denied death the last word is that we can let go of holding onto our times so tightly and in doing so live them more fully, more honestly, more faithfully. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Easter 5 A - Acts 7:55-60

Acts 7:55-60
The end of Stephen’s story is but the beginning for a young man named Saul. The first great persecution broke out as soon as Stephen “fell asleep” and Saul, who may have been a little too zealous even for the religious leaders who killed Christ, is sent to fight the good fight in Damascus. Of course it is on the road that Saul, full of hatred, has his own experience of God’s glory and soon afterwards Paul, “full of the Holy Spirit” is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The truth is if Stephen had not been so vocal in the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:9) he could have gone on serving tables while the apostles taught (Acts 6:2-5) and the yet unnamed body of believers might have been happy to stay in Jerusalem waiting for the Lord’s return. Unfortunately for Jerusalem Titus Flavius Caesar arrives first. In a strange twist of fate, which is often how the Holy Spirit works, the stoning of Stephen is the spark that fans the flames of Pentecost and the church scattered throughout Judea and Samaria will soon reach “the ends of the earth” just as Jesus told them they would. That’s the way it is with us when content to sit and wait something happens to get us moving and motivated, even when running away from something is really running towards something else.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Easter 4 A - John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10
“With you, O Lord” is one of my favorite songs from the Taize community in France. “With you, O Lord, is life in all its fullness and in your light we shall see true light.” There comes a moment in the repeated singing of this simple phrase when the song is more true for me than all the things that tend to diminish the abundant sufficiency of  “with you, O Lord.” By that I mean the seeking after vain illusions where life is measured by one’s possessions or accomplishments or status and on the flip side the devaluation of life that inevitably follows such seeking. Or life in that lonely place where putting on a happy face and keeping busy hides the deep pain or shame or sorrow that despite the practiced skill in hiding it from others is somehow always present with you.  The thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy does so by deception. The reason it works so well is because we are so good at it ourselves. All this less than sufficient life comes at the expense of significant relationships, most notably the one where “with you O Lord is life in all its fullness”. The good news is that the One who came that “they might have life and have it abundantly” continues to open the gate and call out our names.  Sometimes in ways we can recognize and respond to and other times when reaching the bottom the only way out is up we determine to do that which we’ve always known was in our best interest. No matter how it happens this abundant life is measured not by possessions but by peace. That peace within when even all around is not anticipates the day when life in all its fullness won’t only be experienced in moments of Spirit gifted clarity or conscience but in the fullness of forever. In the meantime there are places we can go to enter the place of peace in the present. A warm embrace, an act of kindness, forgiveness asked for and received or the sound of laughter or a song in the sanctuary sung again and again and again until it is as true as your heart always knew it was meant to  be.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Easter 4 A - Acts 2:42-47

In the first days of the church everyone got along so well they spent “much time together” at temple and table and shared all their possessions without complaining or comparing contributions to the common pot. The people of Jerusalem looked upon them kindly and with glad and generous hearts the church grew by leaps and bounds and everyone lived happily ever after. It would be nice if it were so but then this would be just another fairy tale with a make believe happy ending. Instead this is a story of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times who overcame incredible odds. Persecution from without and divisions from within followed quickly and the letters of Paul detail the cultural and religious difficulties of grafting Gentiles onto the Jewish vine. The faith we profess survived because of their devotion, despite overwhelming difficulty, to the story of Jesus that they were willing to die for, the community challenged to model the message by loving each other deeply from the heart, the meal that was the center of worship and daily prayer for all people. When these four marks of the faith are forgotten or neglected the church inevitably loses its way. We find ourselves in an extraordinary time where the church is called to embody the word as the early church did. To be devoted to the simple truth of the Gospel, “God so loved the world…”; to the fellowship where when one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice; to the communal gathering that celebrates the feast of the future in the present, and to a life of prayer that translates hearts that love into hands that serve. I don’t know if that means we’ll increase in numbers day by day but I am confident we will make a difference in the world and maybe that’s more important than filling pews with people.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Easter 3 A - Luke 24:13-49

Luke 24:13-49
“We had hoped…” is how Cleopas and his friend express the deep disappointment at what could have been but wasn’t. To have come so close to realizing the dream, all Jerusalem shouting as Zion’s King entered the city, just as Zechariah prophesied, made it all the more difficult. Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, cleared the temple of corruption, shut up Pharisees and Sadducees and the self-righteous big wigs with clever answers to tricky questions, and in word and deed set the city on edge with expectation. But people in power don’t give up that easily and while Jesus might speak mightily it turns out he’s a pushover and his followers are no match for a coup accomplished in the middle of the night. They woke to find the one who would redeem Israel already condemned and nailed to a Roman cross along with all their hopes for Zion. Heads hung in sorrow, Cleopas and his friend headed home to Emmaus only to meet a clueless stranger who turns out to know more about the story than they do. Hearts burning within them, they don’t want the conversation to end and pressing him to stay sit down to dinner. But then the stranger does something oddly familiar and before they can say a word Jesus vanishes into the breaking and blessing and passing of bread. Take and eat suddenly means more to them than it did on Thursday night and without waiting for morning they rush back to join the chorus, “The Lord has risen!” Maybe this is the best story for us as we commune during stay at home orders. Jesus disappeared into the bread to reappear in the upper room where the disciples were hiding. In the same way Jesus reappears when watching on line we hear the familiar words… in the night in which he was betrayed… and then turn to commune each other knowing that the same thing is happening in “upper rooms” all over the metroplex or indeed the world. In the oddly familiar Jesus appears to us at table wherever we are when bread broken is a sign of the promise fulfilled and anticipated. Jesus appears to us when walking together in our neighborhoods “Lo I am with you always” makes our hearts burn within us because it is truer than we can ask or imagine or believe.  And in the “necessary suffering” that we are experiencing the God far off has come near so that all suffering and sorrow and yes, even death itself, might one day disappear.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter 2 A - John 20:19-31

There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Easter 2 A - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9
There is a tendency in the Christian tradition towards stoicism, as in the proverbial British “stiff upper lip” or the Norwegian mantra “det kan bli verre”. (It could be worse) So while I agree that various trials can be seen as tests there are times, such as the one we are enduring now, when one is simply tired and could care less if faith is proved less precious than gold or not. “It is what it is” only works for so long and eventually “My God why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to the trouble that multiplies with every passing day. But it is precisely during uncertain and anxious times such as these that we are called to rejoice in and rely on the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. Kept for us and not by us this inheritance of hope is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means in practical terms we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, God forbid, a year, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming the failure of faith. The difficulty we face in this time of quarantine is that we were created for community where we support, encourage and embrace one another with the love of God. So while we have become more creative in order to remain connected truth to be told I am longing for more than a virtual hug. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter 2 A - Acts 2:14, 22-32

The first Sunday after Easter is often referred to as low Sunday by those in the pastor profession. It is the day when the church pews and parking spaces of the every week faithful are not occupied by the twice a year faithful. Of course this year is different and this "low Sunday" will look just like Easter 2020. On the other hand our ability to do virtual church might mean that those who are not in the habit of coming to church every week might watch church every week in their PJ's. Who knows? Either way Peter’s Pentecost sermon addressed to those who were hearing the story of salvation for the very first time is a fitting text for the first Sunday after Easter 2020. It was impossible for death to hold him in its power is how Peter puts it and I can’t imagine a more powerful message for a world held captive by the power of Covid-19. Resurrection is not a one time event or a once a year celebration with lilies and trumpets and choirs singing the Hallelujah chorus. No. It happens every day when you open your eyes and wake from sleep and thank God for the gift of another day And in a similar way it is a one time eternal event when from the sleep of death you open your eyes and see the One who death could not hold in it's power.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Matthew 28:1-10


Matthew 28:1-10
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Really? The first word of the resurrection is “hello”? Of course it was said with an exclamation point and I’m guessing a pretty big smile, even so “Surprise!” might have been more fitting for the occasion. After all the two Marys expected to find a dead friend and instead are met by an earthquake and an angel and a very much alive Jesus. There is no way to prepare for that and I’m surprised they didn’t respond like the guards and faint dead away at the sound of his voice. But maybe in the familiar salutation the crucified and resurrected Jesus was not so surprising. That’s true for those of us who have been schooled in this story from birth and cannot remember a time when we didn’t consider belief in the resurrection a matter of life and death. But for an ever increasing segment of our society this Sunday will come and go without so much as an Alleluia. That’s not to say the sale of Peeps and Chocolate bunnies will suffer but the real meaning of the day, at least the gathering that has defined Easter for you and me, has largely been lost. We can lament that fact, especially as it relates to our children, or blame someone, especially those who are not like us, or repackage the message in ever more creative ways, or preserve the status quo until the last one left turns out the lights. But then maybe the ancient story still has some life left in it and what turned the world upside down in the first century can shake up the twenty-first as well. It was not form or creed or convention that convinced people a crucified peasant preacher refused to stay dead and revealed the love of God for all creation. It was the conviction of two women who took hold of his feet and worshiped and then told the story to anyone who would listen, even disciples locked behind closed doors. As it was then so it is now. The first word of the resurrection is “Hello!”

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” the law demanded but could not accomplish, even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient, but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human. Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is to prefer life in the grave which makes no sense. Since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not to escape wrath but to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Psalm 118

Re-posted from Easter Year C 20101

On the morning of May 25th 2000 I was sitting in my brother’s backyard in Chicago drinking way too much coffee and nervously waiting for inspiration. Months before I had promised my dad I’d write a song for my grandmother’s memorial service. At that point all I had was “I hope” which was how Grandma Heinze described faith in Jesus. Not “I hope” as in “I wish” but “I hope” as in “I know.” So with grandma’s faith in Jesus on my mind I waited impatiently for a song that was scheduled to be sung that afternoon. And then I remembered a funeral the week before where I spoke the words of Psalm 118. “There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed" and within ten minutes I had three verses and a chorus in the key of E and a few hours later “Our Hope” was sung as promised. Of all the parts of the funeral liturgy Psalm 118, appointed to be read at the graveside, seems to fly in the face of reason. When it is obvious that our loved one has fallen and is not getting up again we claim that “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.” But that is the way of faith where the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone of “I hope.” Defeat is victory, loss is gain, and sorrow is prelude to joy. While it seems like the truth of “I hope” comes to us as suddenly as it did to me in my brother’s backyard the truth is the only thing sudden about it is that it is the end of waiting. It took Martha sometime to learn the song of Jesus but when she did she sang it with everything she had for her best friend, Jesus. And so like Timothy whose faith first lived in his grandmother Lois the faith of Martha is sung every Easter at Calvary Lutheran, Richland Hills, TX in three verses and a chorus in the key of E.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Acts 10:34-43

Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” It is as radical a statement as a Jew can make, even one who has been hanging out with the wrong crowd for three years. God showing partiality was precious to this people for they were set apart by a law and a land and out of all the nations of the earth they alone were God’s own. But now Peter has the audacity to proclaim God has opened the exclusive country club to anyone in any nation and has waived the application fee. The trouble I have with this text is that Peter (or Luke working off the transcript of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) just redefines God’s partiality. God appeared, not to everyone, but chose witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus and is partial to those who believe their testimony and fear God and do what is acceptable. And further, if Paul’s recollection of Peter’s progress in not showing partiality is accurate Peter himself pulls back from eating and drinking with Gentiles because James’s “people” exert partiality pressure. Even the first century church wasn’t completely convinced that God shows “no partiality” only that God was no longer limited to a single nation. Of course partiality is precious to the church of our day as well and we define what is acceptable to God by our doctrine and practice even excluding brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus because their way of believing is less than Orthodox or Pentecostal or Calvinist or Lutheran or whatever. But if the chosen people were so wrong about God that they killed the anointed One filled with the Holy Spirit by hanging him on a tree maybe our vision is partial as well. What if the cross really does mean God shows no partiality, period, end of sentence? I know the stakes are high and eternal futures are on the line, but if we believed that God shows no partiality we wouldn’t either and without rewriting the rules I think that might be acceptable to God.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Passion Sunday Year A - Matthew 26:14-27:66

The passion narrative according to Matthew begins with a plot to betray. Conspiracy theorists not withstanding there is no need to speculate on what motivates Judas. He is after all human and motivated by the same demon that possesses the entire race. Judas seeks to turn his intimate knowledge of the prophet into profit. Matthew is the only Gospel that records Judas’s regret and even though he finds no satisfaction in returning ill gotten gain Matthew wants us to know Judas was sorry. Maybe when you betray a close friend, even if it doesn’t lead to crucifixion, nothing short of dying will do, and so his tragic end seems to him the only way to pay, though given the chance Jesus who forgave his enemies surely would have offered the same consideration to one with whom he shared a meal. I hope that when the forever feast happens in the eternal future there will be a place at the table for the one who weakened by greed treated his friend with such contempt. Not because I am some sort of bleeding heart liberal who desperately desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but because if I am honest with myself (and by extension those of you who are reading this) I am more like Judas than Jesus and my only hope is that he will not treat me with the same contempt I have treated him.