Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15

So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while worrying about “the rest of the world is toast thief in the night day of the Lord?” Even if we are confident of our reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who do not know the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove tail with our own – at least for the “none” that we know – which is why waiting patiently is not the same as passively waiting.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Lent 2 B - Psalm 85

 Psalm 85

We could use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness, which is always an attitude before it shows up as behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

 Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin, but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language, so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) As a child it seemed a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics, which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than singing the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when our everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Feast of Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

                           

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us. When push comes to shove we would prefer to not be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves, which would be pleasing to the shepherd and sheep alike.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Lectionary 33 A - Psalm 90:1-8, 12

                                    

Psalm 90:1-8, 12
The Lord “our refuge from one generation to another” also knows our secret sins. No wonder the psalmist rightly fears God’s indignation. We prefer anonymity where sins are concerned and even though we suspect others are as consumed by sin as we are we like to believe no one suspects the same of us. But the Lord knows the things we hide even from ourselves. The memories that still make us shudder with shame. A lifetime of things done and left undone, said and left unsaid set before the Lord in whose anger “all our days are gone and our years come to an end like a sigh.” But the truth about us is not as great as the truth about God “our refuge” who knowing us full well still satisfies us in the morning with unfailing love teaching us the gift of each day so that our hearts weighed down by sin might be lightened by wisdom. And if by God's unfailing love we were made more wise we would no doubt spend less time with secret sins and more time dwelling with the Lord.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lectionary 33 A - Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28

                                     

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah was very popular with the “Save Fort Worth” people that used to spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Matthew 25:1-13

                                      

Ain Vares Art
Matthew 25:1-13
I think the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids should be called the parable of the tardy groom. And what about the bride waiting at the altar? I bet she was more than a little upset. “Midnight? Really?” Of course none of that is the point of the parable, well, except the tardy part. Mathew’s community is wondering what happened to Jesus. After all he said “this generation shall see my return” (Matthew 24:34) and that generation is almost all dead by the time this parable is written down. So the point of the parable is verse 13 and none of the details really matter except as a promise and on the flip side a warning. If you are awake and waiting faithfully you are wise and it doesn't matter how long it takes for the groom to arrive because your invitation is as good as gold. But if you grow tired of waiting and doubt the promise you are foolish and your lamp will go out and you’ll be left in the dark. So what does it mean for us over 2000 years later? I suppose the message is the same since we neither know the time or the date of Jesus’ return. But maybe more importantly the message is for us to use our waiting time wisely as Jesus will say at the end of this chapter. “When I was hungry you fed me, in prison you visited me, naked you clothed me, a stranger you welcomed me, thirsty you gave me drink.” We don’t just sit around in the glow of our lit lamps and sing Kum by Yah. We wait by living into the charge that is given to the baptized when the baptismal candle is presented. “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So let’s get busy waiting.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Psalm 70

                           

Psalm 70
The psalmist hopes that his rescue will be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Lectionary 32 A - Amos 5:18-24

                                       

Amos 5:18-24
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Matthew 5:1-12

                             

Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those” becomes “blessed are you” when you live the Beatitudes. By that I mean the “rejoice and be glad” not the persecuted for righteousness sake. In our everyday the "blessed are you" has a tough time overcoming the persecuted (period end of sentence). But the “blessed are you” is and was an invitation of what we are to be because they are a promise of what will be. That does not deny “persecuted for righteousness sake” as your reality. That’s pretty much a promise too. But to look beyond being poor in spirit, meek and mourning, starving for justice means one is a merciful, pure in heart peacemaker. As far as Jesus is concerned that is blessed indeed.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Revelation 7:9-17

                             

Revelation 7:9-17
These words were written to encourage and comfort people who were suffering terribly for the sake of the faith. Let’s put aside the thought that Revelation is a road map through Divine destruction with promises of paradise for a select few and consider that the God who wipes away the tears of a multitude too great to count might not want to poke the eyes out of everyone else. Maybe within the necessary narrative for a persecuted people there is a word that speaks to all humanity created in the image of the holy. There are innocents who suffer all of life as a great ordeal, starving for food or affection with no hope for happiness. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those less innocent who scarred by neglect or abuse suffer the great ordeal of lives doomed to misfortune and out of their pain visit it others. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those not innocent at all but acting out of selfish interest suffer the great ordeal that looks like prosperity but lacks love and mercy and kindness and if they knew perhaps they would weep as well. Will God wipe away their tears? Can God wipe away every tear from every eye and still be a God of justice? I don’t know but I hope so and not because I need a happy ending to the sad human story, but because I hope God does.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

                                    

John 8:31-36
Maybe if I knew what my “we are descendants of Abraham” was I would know what keeps me from being free. But the sad truth is that those who claim to be “truly my disciples” are often just as bound as those who could care less. The truth is not as easily defined as one might think and as soon as you “name it and claim it” you have lost it. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin - Me & Bobby McGee) might not be Gospel but it is truth. When you get to the place where what matters to you is not as essential as to what makes a difference so that nothing matters but everything is important you come close to freedom. It is not a freedom we fight for or protect as crazy as that sounds. No one has ever been freer than Jesus, but not when was healing or preaching or praying. Freedom for Jesus was the cross and the sad and wonderful truth is that it is the same for us.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

                                   

Romans 3:19-28

God is the one who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin, we don’t have to work at disobedience or doubt or self centeredness or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than human. No, sin is all about us, which is why the just one who justifies the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of human rebellion, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way which means we are free to be fully human.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Psalm 46

                                  

Psalm 46
To “be still” in the presence of shaking earth, falling mountains and roaring seas is not the natural response to natural disasters, unless being still is fainting dead away. In the same way that the uncertainty of nations in uproar and falling kingdoms typically lead us to circle the wagons and prepare for the worst by doing our best to make sure our piece of the earth doesn’t melt away. But the command is to “be still” while God does the heavy lifting of breaking bows and shattering spears. Being still in the face of personal and collective calamity only happens if we stand still on the foundation of faith which is the “know I am God” part of the equation. So being still doesn’t lead us to know God as much as knowing God allows us to be still.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
When will the “days are surely coming” finally get here? I know some will quickly point out “the days are surely coming” came with the new covenant signed and sealed by the blood of Jesus. But if that is true, and of course I believe it is, then the "days are surely coming" are not yet fully here. Even those who have the new covenant written on their heart and claim to “know the Lord” filter that knowledge through denominational lenses or personal experience and believe they have 20/20 vision while everyone else has to squint. The “days are surely coming” won’t get here until my “know the Lord” doesn’t deny the truth of your “know the Lord.” But surely there is a right and a wrong way to know the Lord? For something to be true something else is necessarily false. Well, yes but how can we tell the difference when everything we know is subject to our own bias, even the way we come to the scriptures? Maybe we can agree on this, at least for this text. God is the only actor and the people are passive for the heart of the promise is that God does not treat law breakers as they deserve but forgives iniquity and remembers sin no more. Maybe the day will surely come when we do the same.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Matthew 22:15-22

                                       

Matthew 22:15-22
You can’t trap Jesus. This text is not about taxes. There are no options save death when Rome demands it’s due and lawful or not, the tax collector doesn’t care what you think as long as you pay the bill. When we use any word about Jesus to support one political position over another we are like Pharisees making a deal with the devils of their day (Herodians) in order entrap Jesus. That’s not to say the scriptures don’t encourage all kinds of things that are emphasized on one side of the political line or the other. But the mission of Jesus is to reveal the God whose image is imprinted on the human heart and so for all the might and majesty mustered by Rome, a head on a temporal coin isn’t worth the metal it’s printed on. The lesson for us may be to measure our lives by the things that belong to God, love and life, which is eternal and unending and outside of our control. Jesus is perfectly willing to be entrapped for that mission and when his time comes he will not shy away from answering the question that for the sake of the world gets him nailed to the cross.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

                           

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
One reason Paul may be continually thankful for the church of the Thessalonians is because he is continually troubled by the church of the Corinthians. And in same way the Philippians and Ephesians may have helped him endure the “who has bewitched you” Galatians, present day overseers may balance the burden of their call by rejoicing in works of faith in one place while laboring with love for ministries that struggle. I don’t know because I’ve been in the same place for almost thirty years and the Calvary that I landed in, by the grace of God btw, was already a “friendly church serving Christ and community.” But all of us together are called to be church steadfast in hope and inspired by the Holy Spirit. So how do we help each other be the best we can be and sound forth the word in the Macedonia and Achaia that for us are the congregations in Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana and Durant, OK and Clovis, NM? What was then is now. We always give thanks to God for all of you and daily mention you in our prayers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Psalm 96

                                           

Psalm 96:1-13
What a lovely coincidence! I just did Psalm 96 this morning for my FB live devotion! The little g gods stand in awe of the Big G Only God as the trees shout while the sea thunders and the fields rejoice and all people sing the refrain, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” The new song that the whole earth sings is prompted by the big G God's promise to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with truth and equity. That is not good news for everyone as being judged in truth is a problem for those who prefer to live lies and despise righteousness. But if despite your sinfulness you are drawn to surrender to the beauty of God’s holiness being judged with equity is an invitation to finally be free of all that diminishes life and makes us less than human. And that is good news indeed, so sing to the Lord a new song to the Lord.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Lectionary 29 A - Isaiah 45:1-7

 Isaiah 45:1-7

Cyrus the Great was good to all the gods who had been displaced by the Babylonians returning “the images of the gods… to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes.” (The Cyrus cylinder 538 BC) Granted he hoped for something in return. “May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” But he was especially kind to the exiles from Judah and not only sent them home but funded the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. Not that he gave the God of Israel sole credit for making him “Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters...” But then Cyrus didn’t know he was a pawn in God’s game and that the little “g” gods couldn’t hear or answer any of his prayers. The lesson of Cyrus is that God’s good and gracious will is done with or without prayer (Luther’s explanation to the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer) so that sometimes even less than pious people perform holy acts.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Lectionary 28 A - Philippians 4:1-9

                                                      

Paul writing from prison encourages the Philippians with a lovely laundry list of “whatever is” which goes well beyond the power of positive thinking. It is, however, an attitude adjustment in the same way we are to have the mind of Christ who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited. Gentleness evident to all, and the double dip of rejoicing, is only possible because the Lord is near. It is for this reason that Euodia and Syntyche are to set aside whatever has come between them and remember the Gospel for which they both contend. Paul had no way of knowing his letter would be read by anyone after it had served its purpose and certainly could not have foreseen over 2000 years of church history. If he had he might not have called out these two women. On the other hand I wonder if the things that divide us would be as important if we knew our names would be forever enshrined in the scriptures.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Lectionary 28 A - Isaiah 25:1-9

                            

Isaiah 25:1-9
When the city is reduced to rubble and the fortified town turned into a ruin then the strong will honor God and the ruthless will revere the Lord. The only power the mighty respect is a more mighty power. In the end death silences the scepters sway and it doesn’t matter how ornate your tomb is when “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” is the only honest epitaph. Every knee shall bow because God is the only one left standing and the forever feast on the holy mountain is a celebration of God not the “all peoples” who are invited. I know there are plenty of scriptures that would confirm that God is just ruthless as we are but if that is the case then the wicked win.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lectionary 27 A - Philippians 3:4-14

                              

Philippians 3:4-14
Like the apostle Paul I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh. Born to Lutheran educators, baptized in my first month, memorized the liturgy before I could read, confirmed by my thirteenth year, graduate of a Lutheran grade school, high school, college, and seminary and served as a Lutheran grade school teacher, youth director and pastor. I know we’re saved by grace but surely a Lutheran pedigree like that counts for something? Of course it does and in many ways it is the reason I am able to press on to take hold of the Christ who took hold of me through the water of baptism and the faith of parents and teachers. Paul considers confidence in the flesh as loss but clearly values the heritage it represents and his brothers and sisters according to the flesh for whom he would sacrifice his salvation. (Romans 9:3) So while we place no confidence in our religious pedigree we are grateful for the formation that does not happen without the family of faith.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Lectionary 27 A - Isaiah 5:1-7

                                      

Isaiah 5:1-7
God’s lament sounds familiar because God’s sad song is so often ours as well. We invest time and energy and emotion into relationships that fail to produce hoped for results. Of course when human relationships go sour we say “it takes two to tango” while Isaiah envisions all the blame is on the vineyard God planted. It is true that sowing wild oats (grapes?) is common enough to be cliché but Israel, a small country situated between hostile empires, can hardly be blamed for trying to survive the place of its planting. Maybe that was the point all along. Trusting God was not supposed to be like all the other nations who sacrifice everything, including their first born, to appease the blood lust of their gods. The people of God were to reflect the same sort of care to the widow and the orphan and the sojourner as God showed to them. The fruit of righteousness was never meant to be about the sacrifice required by law but rather the law of living by love. In that respect God was dancing all alone, so I guess it does take two to tango.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Matthew 21:23-32

                         

Matthew 21:23-32
The chief priests and elders of the people are stuck between a rock and a hard place by Jesus’ question but will come up with a third option by the Friday we call “Good”. But then Jesus knew all along that “crucify” would be the only possible answer for the powers that be when pushed into a corner from which there was no escape. Stuck between the way of God we are unwilling to follow and the way of the world we are reluctant to resist the third way is the only option for us as well. Crucify God and maybe this time the persistent question will stay dead and we’ll be done with it. But like Jesus on the third day crucifixion is the beginning not the end. What needs to die is the part of us that is like the son in the parable who says “yes” but lives “no” so that the part of us that rises is like the son who said “no” but is finally free to live “yes”.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Philippians 2:1-13

                            

Philippians 2:1-13

The whole of the scriptures is expressed in Philippians 2:5-11 and if all we had was this ancient creedal hymn it would be enough to reveal the mind of the Divine. In Jesus it is God who is emptied into all of humanity and in servant form suffers a dreadful death designed by the children created in God’s own image. How is it possible that the church has such a sordid history of not finding any consolation in this expression of ultimate love, no compassion, no sympathy, demanding like minds be bound by hard cover catechisms where right belief matters more than loving fellow believers, let alone the world Jesus died to save? The promise is every knee will bow and every tongue confess that the Jesus emptied, serving, suffering and dying for creatures who could care less was what God was about all along. Being of like mind means be like Jesus who never met a sinner he didn’t love to death.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Psalm 25:1-9

                             

Psalm 25:1-9
David trusts that the rebellious sins of his youth will not be remembered by the Lord and I have no doubt that the same applies to the sins of one’s middle age as well. That is because the Lord, who is our all day long hope, does not need to be prompted to remember great mercy and love, for that is the character of the One who erases the record of everything about us that makes mercy necessary. Now if only we could do the same for others, and God help us, for ourselves. But the truth about us is that shame is our constant companion and we live with the memory of rebellious ways and youthful sins revisiting ancient history as if it happened yesterday. So maybe the instructions sinners need most is a lesson on forgiveness where charity begins at home.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Lectionary 26 A - Ezekiel 18:1-4; 25-32

                                      

Apparently the prophet is not familiar with family systems theory. The sins of the parents are always visited upon the children and sour grapes do not grow sweeter with more time on the vine. We are all shaped by our past and not in control of our future which makes our present an unpredictable place. So what if we were to say we are not responsible? I didn’t choose my family of origin and even though they did the best they could they carried with them the same sort of things that have made me less than I desire to be. And I say that from the perspective of having loving parents; kind, decent people who none-the-less lived their brokenness in ways they didn't like. Heaven help the children that welcome death because they live in hell. So are the ways of the Lord unfair? Of course they are. That is why the Lord, bound by our past with no pleasure possible, died naked and alone nailed to a piece of wood in order to secure a future for us where the life of the parent and the child would not be subject to the corruption inherent in our DNA.

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.