Saturday, March 28, 2020

Lent 5 A - John 11:1-45

John 11:1-45
Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was after he heard Lazarus was ill and the sisters know it. “If you had been here my brother would not have died” is just a polite way of saying “why didn’t you come when we called?” Mary, the one Jesus commended for choosing the better part, chooses to stay in the house. Martha, the one Jesus said was worried and upset about many things, comes out to see Jesus with one thing in mind. “I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  It is a bold statement of faith even if she cannot imagine how her dead brother could be brought back to life until the “roll is called up yonder.” But that might be beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend even if you believe your friend really is the Messiah. When Jesus calls for Mary it is Martha who goes to get her, no doubt with a few choice words about proper etiquette. Mary runs, but not for joy, and certainly not with the faith of her sister. She won’t even look at Jesus but sobbing vents her anger and her grief and her pain at the feet of her friend who neglected her in the time of her greatest need. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” And Jesus knowing what she says is true, weeps. Known for being the shortest verse in the Bible it may be the most powerful image of the God come down and especially because it is found in John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in control, even on the cross. But here the “in the beginning was the Word” is faced with a friend’s frustration and anger and grief and pain because the “Word made flesh” delayed two days and allowed her brother to die. And even though there is a happy ending to what would otherwise be a sad tale I think the image of John’s Jesus weeping is where the healing happens for the losses we experience. It means our sorrow, our suffering, our loss and yes, even our anger does not fall on deaf ears for when Jesus wept God was crying.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Lent 5 A - Romans 8:1-11

Mathematical symbol for Therefore (or connect the dots for the Trinity?)

The eighth chapter of Romans begins with a capital T “therefore” that should be underlined, highlighted and printed in bold. Therefore there is no condemnation… which leads Paul to declare by the end of the chapter that he is convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In between the beginning and the end Paul exhorts the Romans to live fully into this new reality. One of the ways we weaken this capital T “therefore” is to think of it only in terms of what we get or maybe what we get away with. “All we like sheep have gone astray” but it’s okay because Jesus paid the price for our wandering ways (what we get away with) so that one day we will go to heaven. (what we get) That way of way of thinking (even if it is biblical) makes the capital T “therefore” all about me, or in your case, you. But God’s plans are for us, and by that God always means more than just you and me as in “God so loved the world…” Secondly by focusing the life of the Spirit on “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home” (as comforting as that may be) we neglect the greater gift. Namely, the life of the Spirit in “there is therefore no condemnation” is for the here and now. God saves us for today so living as those loved by God we set our minds on the Spirit and the gifts the Spirit gives, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and yes, self control. Therefore in the time between your beginning and your end live the underlined, highlighted, printed in bold life of love confident that nothing, not even our own weak willed ways, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lent 5 A - Psalm 130

Psalm 130
I’ve done my share of out of the depths watching for the morning through a night that refuses to end. It may be the loneliest place on the planet even when you share your bed with someone and therein lies the problem. When I kept silent, as another psalm says, my bones wasted away. The psalmist waiting more than those who silently watch for the morning is not quiet in the night but crying out confesses the iniquity that if the Lord were counting would buckle the knees and make standing impossible. Confession, good for the soul, blesses the body as well and while sleeping like a baby might have to wait for another night a waiting soul quieted by confession hoping in the steadfast love of the Lord is redeemed before the dawn.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lent 5 A - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The whole house of Israel held captive in Babylon has been living the thirty-six chapters of judgment God speaks through Ezekiel before getting around to some good news. It’s no wonder Ezekiel doesn’t have an  answer to “Mortal, can these bones live?” It’s beyond his ability to imagine dry bones animated by flesh and breath in the same way captivity in Babylon with no end in sight has become the nation’s new normal. But those cut off completely whose hope is lost, long dead and dried up, will be animated by the breath of the Spirit, the irrevocable promise of God. Not even the grave can long hold the people God claims as “mine”. We are not yet a church of dry bones, though some suggest we’ve got one foot in the grave. Nor are we held captive, cut off completely with all hope gone. Even so perhaps we are living the judgment brought about by cultural complacency, or entrenched traditionalism or constant re-branding because “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan) The good news that followed judgment was the promise of return and rebirth which breathed new life into captive people so that even the grave could not cut them off completely and destroy all hope. The promises of God are irrevocable and the breath of the Spirit is always blowing somewhere through the people of God to animate the church once again. Listen, then, for the noise and the rattle of bones putting on the sinews and flesh of Gospel for the sake of the world for we are God’s own people, always the same and forever new.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Lent 4 A - John 9:1-41

The Pharisees ask Jesus to name the sin responsible for the man’s blindness even though the way they see it the parents are to blame.  Bad things happen to people who do bad things and only a literal reading of Psalm 51, “Behold, I was sinner from my birth” could place the blame on a fetus sinning in utero. Jesus chooses the third way and blames God. I mean if we push the answer to its cynical conclusion the man’s blindness affords Jesus the opportunity to heal him so that God’s work might be revealed in him; though I bet the man would have preferred God gifted sight a little earlier in life. I’ll argue a less cynical and better way to see it is that Jesus rejects sin as cause and effect for the way world works. It is what it is. People are born blind and biology is to blame. And while the physical healing appears to be the place where “God’s works are revealed in him” it is in the transformation of the man who had endured years of condemning comments whispered within earshot that the real miracle of sight takes place. For the first time the question, “whose fault was it?” doesn’t matter and he sees sin for what it is. His own parents having endured the blame for his blindness all these years cannot give thanks for the miracle in front of their very eyes and abandon him for fear of losing even their back seat in the synagogue. The respectable rabbis revile him because the way he received his sight doesn’t fit their view of the world even though they know “If this man was not from God he could do nothing.” With nowhere else to go he finds the only one who will welcome him and seeing clearly for the first time, “Lord, I believe” is where God’s works are revealed in him.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lent 4 A - Ephesians 5:8-14

I don’t think we have to do much soul searching to find out what is pleasing to the Lord in the same way that we know full well the difference between the unfruitful works of darkness and living as children of light. The difficulty is in the doing. Paul writing to the Romans laments,”I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) Living as children of the light is not accomplished by our will but by the One whose light shines into the darkness of our soul exposing shameful thoughts, words and deeds. The freedom of life in the light begins by banishing the darkness where we hide from our true self – in the Lord you are light. Like waking from sleep living into our true identity as eternal creatures destined for the light of the eternal future is a moment by moment decision. The good news is that God does not abandon us even though we hit the spiritual snooze alarm again and again but waiting patiently continues to call to us, “Sleeper awake!”

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Lent 4 A - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The comfort of Psalm 23 is found in “I shall not want” which is only true when one allows the Lord to be “my shepherd.” That is easier said than done for we are creatures driven by desire with a list of wants a mile long. Living with that list we are never satisfied and seeking greener grass on the other side of the fence we wander into dark valleys masquerading as pastures that promise everything and in the end deliver nothing. The good news is that even when we are overshadowed by the deaths we die every day in that dark place we are not alone and comfort is only a cry for help away. The Lord, who would make us lie down in green pastures of goodness and mercy, rescues us in the dark valleys of our own design so that when we finally surrender to the shepherd’s will our stilled souls are fully satisfied.  I shall not want because there is only one thing I need; the Lord as my shepherd.  

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lent 4 A - 1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord does not judge by outward appearance or the height of one’s stature even though Samuel feels compelled to tell us Jesse’s youngest son was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes. Maybe his GQ good looks made David the shepherd prone to wander despite the desires of the heart only God could see. He doesn’t suffer Saul’s fate but handsome David, consumed by his passions, doesn’t get away scot free. The sword of conflict never leaves his house and he will have as many enemies within his own palace as without. So what is it that makes David a man after God’s own heart? Most will quote Psalm 51, his act of poetic contrition after Nathan nails him with a story of rich man who steals a poor man’s perfect lamb. “You are the man!” David, like so many of us, is capable of self deception on a grand scale until confronted by the truth that there is nowhere to hide. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is as much an appeal to God’s own heart as it is David’s desperate desire for his heart to return to the relationship he had with God before his weak will threatened to ruin it all. And therein likes our hope. In the cross of Christ we have every reason to trust that God’s heart is inextricably bound to ours and that with or without ruddy good looks our wandering ways cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Lent 3 A - John 4:5-42

 Nicodemus, hiding from prying eyes, seeking answers, looks for Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman, hiding from judgmental eyes, seeking water, is found by Jesus in the heat of the day. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, doesn’t step out into the open until Jesus is dead. The unnamed woman at the well gains the courage to be exposed as a believer in a single encounter. Of course Nicodemus had a lot to lose while the woman at the well never had anything to begin with. Even so she is just as confused over the meaning of living water as the teacher of Israel was about being born again. But where Nicodemus goes away perplexed everything comes into focus for her when Jesus tells her, “I am he.” She says she came to believe because “he told me everything I had ever done” but I imagine the people of Sychar kept track of her history and reminded her of it on a regular basis. It must be that Jesus told her story differently than the people of Sychar she was avoiding. Jesus knew all the things that labeled her as less than respectable but spoke to her as if none of that mattered. Without knowing it she was drinking deeply at the well of living water. When she realized her thirst was quenched she did what Jesus did. He did not hold her infidelity against her and she did not hold their hatred against them but went to find those who made her draw water in the heat of the day with the good news, “everyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again.” No doubt she went back to the man who wasn’t her husband. There were not many options in the first century for a woman married five times. But then the woman who went to the well at noon was not the same woman who came home that night and one hopes the city of Sychar, noticing the difference, was changed as well.    

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Lent 3 A - Romans 5:1-11

Since it is God’s love that is proved in the death of Christ whatever Paul means by being “saved from the wrath of God” cannot be understood as an angry God needing to be appeased or there will be hell to pay. It just doesn’t follow that a wrathful God initiates the action to be reconciled to us (humanity) while we were weak, while we were sinners, while we were God’s enemies, as if God just needed to kill something in order to spare humanity. I know Paul says that the blood of Jesus justifies but the entire religious world of his day practiced ritual sacrifice as a means of motivating the gods or in the case of the Jews atoning for sin. To be sure there are those who hold to a classic doctrine of atonement where God’s holiness does not allow for mercy without payment due but that seems to make God subject to our religious systems. Again if it is God’s love that is proved surely God is free to forgive with or without the cross. So what is the purpose of Jesus death? I affirm it is for the forgiveness sins but not to appease a wrathful God but rather to transform us so that what Paul preaches in Romans five might be accomplished. Peace with God means we no longer live as God’s enemies but instead our love for God is proved when we boast not in our strength or our piety but in our hope. That hope is not illusory but tested by suffering, proved by enduring, confirmed in our character. It is the way we live the faith that justifies us and is the only hope of peace for the humanity God loves.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Lent 3 A - Psalm 95

"Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)" - Salvador DalĂ­ (1954)
Psalm 95
Those of us who were born into Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pews some fifty years ago will remember Psalm 95 as the Venite in the Order of Matins. It was printed on pages 33 and 34 of The Lutheran Hymnal in such a way that one had to flip back and forth throughout the singing of it. We frowned on user friendly worship in those days. Venite is Latin for “Come” and served as the call to worship, though if I remember correctly we left out the threats at the end where God loathing the “they do not regard my ways” people swore to lead them in circles until every last one of them died in the desert. There is no doubt that the hardening of the heart leads to spiritual cardiac arrest but I have difficulty imaging that God loathes those on spiritual life support. The consequence we suffer for not listening to the Lord’s voice is that we are on our own. That does not mean we suffer the hatred of God who in anger despises the “people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” who don’t toe the line. Rather for the sake of “a people whose hearts go astray” the shepherd “was led like a lamb to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7) O come let us worship and bow down for the Lord was put to the test and the proof of God’s intention for every generation of hardened hearts was the cross.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Lent 3 A - Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7
The congregation of the Israelites is a pain in the Lord’s you know what. And poor Moses standing between this quarrelsome people and a God who when push comes to shove is not to be trifled with no doubt regrets the day he listened to a burning bush. To be fair, dying of thirst in the desert drives people to do all sorts of crazy things including provoking the Lord Almighty with complaints. But even in their desperation they had every reason to trust the Lord for when they complained of hunger manna and quail arrived in time for dinner. But these people have a short memory, forgetting the Lord’s faithfulness in the past in light of their present pressing need. We tend to be more polite in our relationship with the Almighty predicating our “demands” with please, but whether one complains or pleads ultimately the question is the same. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Our dry times of trouble call for patient trust so that our present pressing need does not speak more loudly than the memory of deliverance when in the past “the Lord among us” was like water flowing from a rock.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Lent 2 A - John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17
 Some of us familiar with faith, comfortable in the pew of our choice, are more like Nicodemus than we care to admit. Not ready to come out of the church closet where we suspect our concrete answers rest on shaky ground, we do our seeking at night, so to speak, so as not to be exposed as doubters. But the same Spirit that drove Nicodemus to risk his standing in the Sanhedrin drives us. There is something more to Jesus than our catechisms can contain or explain. So as Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, seeks out the peasant preacher at night to ask the question that is most on his mind, “who are you?” we come with our own questions. Jesus, who is not one to give an easy answer, is surprisingly straight forward. “God so loved the world…” is all one needs to know. It is the same world (cosmos) that loving the darkness “knew him not”. (John 1:10) The same world that John tells us hated Jesus, the world in which one will have troubles, the world from which disciples will need to be protected, etc. etc. The feel good John 3:16 on coffee cups and t-shirts and banners in the end zone cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing  that the world God loves, hell bent on destruction, is not interested in anything God has to offer.  It is for that reason that God allowed the world to do its worst so that in his dying the world might receive life, whether it wants it or not. But isn’t there a choice to make? Of course there is and God was the one who made it. We live God’s choice when loving God we love the world. It takes some time but eventually the love of God in Nicodemus sees the light of day and he risks everything to ask Pilate for the body of the crucified Christ. What he didn’t know then, but of course knows now, is that Jesus (God saves) made Nicodemus (the people’s victory) possible.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Lent 1 A - Matthew 4:1-11

It is right after Jesus’ baptism when The Voice from heaven declared “You are my beloved Son” that the Spirit led him into the wilderness for the time of testing. Famished after fasting, the tempter’s first attempt appeals to Jesus’ stomach. “Turn theses stones into bread” is an appetizing option after forty days and nights without food.  But Jesus is well fed on the word of God and trusting The Voice that declared him The Beloved, he is not as hungry as the devil thought. The consummate con man changes tactics and using “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” tempts Jesus to give a demonstration of his trust. This temptation is trickier than it appears because proof negates trust but Jesus knows that testing The Voice denies the truth that he is The Beloved.  Believing the third time’s the charm the devil goes back to the basics and uses the temptation that worked so well in the garden. It is a temptation to take power from The Voice who called him The Beloved, even though it appears in bowing down Jesus would have to give power away. But the devil is offering an option, a discount if you will. Bow down on a high mountain or climb a hill to the place called the skull. It’s your choice, Jesus, and don’t let some Voice tell you different. To which Jesus replied, “Nice try.” And the devil said, “damn you” and left knowing he’d have to meet Jesus on the hill and there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going to fool the Beloved there. And the angels came smiling, laughing, rejoicing, as Jesus breathed a sigh of relief and rested in their arms.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Lent 1 A - Romans 5:12-21

The fifth chapter of Romans articulates the great reversal we make conditional by claiming it cannot be fully accomplished without our assistance. If Adam’s sin did me in and I had nothing to do with it why does Jesus need my help to undo what Adam did? Some would say that Jesus only covers Adam’s deed (original sin) and therefore I am responsible for what I’ve added to the mix. But if I was flawed from the get go I didn’t stand a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks to get it right, and even less of a chance without the benefit of being born to Christian parents in a Christian country in an age when not being Christian was less of an option than it is today.  If you hold onto a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the password to paradise you must accept that the vast majority of humanity that has ever lived suffers eternally in hellish torment beyond what even the most demented human mind can devise.  But if “the free gift is not like the trespass” surely we can trust that in the end Christ is more effective than Adam. So is there no consequence for sin? Of course there is and we live it every day in things done and left undone, in things said and left unsaid. Judgment does not wait for a future day but is present in every word, thought and deed that diminishes the life of love, the life the Creator intended for us. The final future belongs to God and if the cross is any indication I’m betting God will be more merciful than you or me. “The free gift is not like the trespass” or in other words grace trumps judgment.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lent 1 A - Psalm 32

My guess is that we have all lived through more than a day and night of “when I kept silence my body wasted away.” Of course some are better at holding up under the heavy hand of the Lord than others but sooner or later the soul longs for relief, and confession, good for the soul, also blesses the body. That we resist so long, or at all for that matter, speaks to our stubbornness to submit to a Higher Power and conform our lives to the life of our Lord. But the consequence of silence is that we will be overcome in times of distress, and trouble, like the rush of mighty waters, will overwhelm us. The hiding places of our own design are not helpful and the deliverance we experience is an illusion. The “happy are those” only happens through absolute honesty with self and the Lord. However, (and here’s the part I don’t like) the Lord is not silent either, but speaks through flesh and blood faithful friends we know we can trust to tell us the truth. That’s because we can confess a thousand times over to the Lord and no one’s the wiser. But if we confess what troubles us to a faithful friend our hiding place will be less lonely and the deliverance will be more permanent.  

Monday, February 24, 2020

Lent 1 A - Genesis 2:15-3:21

However you read this story, as literal truth or origin myth, it is dead on about humanity’s fatal flaw.Despite living in paradise the first humans were not satisfied, wanting just one more thing. The serpent gave voice to the doubts already in their minds about the One who walked and talked with them but withheld that one thing. It was their lust for the fruit, a delight to the eye and desirable for knowledge, that led them to roll the dice and bet paradise they’d gain more than they would lose. Of we course we know they lost everything, except the One who walked with them in the first place. Even though the ultimate consequence is death God clothes them to cover their shame and protect them from the harsh reality of life outside the walls of paradise. That’s the grace in this story for them and for us.  Despite our rebellious nature, our own lusting after power or possessions, or our devaluation of self through destructive behaviors or relationships, the One we have offended bears the offense of the cross, clothing us in righteousness, so that in our final end we return to that perfect beginning.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Feast of the Transfiguration Year A - Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew 17:1-9
It’s only been six days since Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” for not understanding that picking up the cross was the purpose of Jesus’ life and the only way for the disciples to follow. Now blinded by the light Peter wants to stay put and dwell permanently on the mountaintop. It’s the voice, “LISTEN TO HIM” that shuts Peter up and overcome by fear he and his companions faint dead away. It takes the touch and voice of Jesus, “get up and do not be afraid” to wake them and then sworn to secrecy they descend to the less frightening and more familiar places on the plain. It’s a strange story but then that’s the nature of a theophany. The recognizable transfigured into the mysterious as the Jesus who ate and drank with disciples in the valley glows like a nuclear reactor on the mountain top while talking to the long gone law giver and end time prophet about God knows what. So we who are comfortable with “What a friend we have in Jesus” also sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and hold the two in tension. The familiar and friendly Jesus is the One who in the beginning was the Word and in the end will be judge and jury of all. It may be that in our end, when we come face to face with that terrifying reality, we will faint dead away, but then I’m trusting that the Lord Jesus will touch us and “Get up and do not be afraid” will be the only Word we hear.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Feast of Transfiguration Year A - 2 Peter 1:16-21

2 Peter 1:16-21
It is a testimony to the conviction of the first disciples that anyone believed what surely must have seemed less a cleverly devised myth and more just outright nonsense. But people did believe the eyewitness testimony of these Galilean fishermen and then with equal passion proclaimed the crucified and resurrected Jewish peasant preacher Jesus, who they had never seen, to be the Beloved of God and Savior of the world. Whenever we are tempted to despair of the statistical decline of the church we would do well to pay attention to the lamp of their prophetic message shining in the darkness of our time; not because we fear some future final judgment, but because we are convinced that the same word that captured the imagination of first century people is equally relevant in our time. Perhaps the church grew complacent for a time, satisfied with the status quo, but the prophetic word is always present and just waiting for those who believe to give it voice. So let us pray that the day will dawn and the morning star will rise in our hearts as it did theirs, and moved by the Holy Spirit we will make know the power and coming of our Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Feast of Transfiguration Year A - Psalm 2

Psalm 2
Let me start by kissing the Lord’s feet and acknowledge that God is God and I am not, so if God wants to speak with wrath and fury to break the nations and smash the people to pieces that is God’s prerogative. But I have some trouble with this text where God laughs at and then with terrifying fury uses his servant to destroy kings who exalt themselves. That’s because people without power perish right along with princes and the king God set on Zion’s hill broke a long list of nations with an iron rod and spared no one, not even women and children. And secondly it would appear the trembling foot kissers taking happy refuge in the Lord are only doing so to avoid being destroyed themselves, for God’s wrath is quickly kindled if proper respect is not shown. So what do we do with the second psalm? We can say there is truth in these words and there are good reasons to destroy rulers of the earth who exalt themselves, Adolf Hitler being a prime example. But when it comes to the nature of God this is not the truest word. The truest word about God’s nature is that instead of kissing the Lord’s feet we nailed them to wood and “Father forgive them” was clearly not a second psalm response.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Feast of Transfiguration Year C - Exodus 24:12-18

In some ways the ancient stories sound odd to modern ears. The glory of the Lord in thick clouds and a devouring fire on the top of the mountain sounds a lot like a Texas size storm and even though the closest strikes might warrant an “Oh my God!” I understand lightning in scientific terms. The ancients saw God’s hand at work in the timing of what we know as naturally occurring phenomenon. But then we “moderns” often do the same thing by giving extra-ordinary meaning to everyday events as when instead of turning left we turn right and a chance encounter bears blessings. So I guess I’m okay with the children of Israel camped before the mountain giving glory to the Lord for what may well have been Mt. Sinai having a little volcanic hiccup and spewing some smoke. It’s Moses entering the cloud of mountain top devouring fire that defies explanation. He was a reluctant leader in the very beginning and even though barefoot he carried on a conversation with a burning bush he was always looking for a way out. Of course the Lord provided that through signs and wonders, not the least of which was the parting of the sea, but that’s not what Moses had in mind. In some ways God has worn down his reluctant leader so that when summoned to come up to the mountain and camp Moses obeys and does not complain. Maybe a faith that follows without complaining or seeking a way out has less to do with spiritual discipline and more to do with God wearing us down so that like Moses the way out is really the only way in.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Epiphany 4 A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
Those of us who have been forever contaminated by close contact to Monty Python’s movie “Life of Brian” are no longer able to listen to or read these verses without thinking of the line “blessed are the cheese makers.” I’ll risk an explanation for those of you who are still pure of heart as long as you agree to never ever watch the movie. (Except for the clip I’ve posted on today’s blog, of course)  In the movie those who are on the edge of the large crowd are having trouble hearing Jesus so one of them asks, “What was that?” The response is, “I think it was blessed are the cheese makers” which in turn prompts the response, “What’s so special about the cheese makers?” I don’t think many outside the church are offended by Life of Brian and probably laugh during it unless they find British humor too British. But I bet a good number of Christians think a movie that makes fun of the sacred story nothing short of blasphemy. So is it? I don’t think so and here’s the point. Satire cannot exist in a vacuum. The reason Monty Python is able to play games with these powerful words of Jesus is because those who follow Jesus have failed to live them. The movie is not a satire of Jesus but of us. To quote another British comedic saying, “It’s a fair cop.”

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Epiphany 4 A - Psalm 15

Psalm 15
These are not requirements for entering the tent of the Lord but a description of what happens to those who abide there. Ones who slander and do evil to friends, despising their neighbors, who charge for favors and take bribes to pervert justice, prefer mansions in the valley do not have a place in the tent on the hill. Doing what is right and speaking the truth from the heart, walking the blameless way, is produced by proximity to the One who pitches the tent in the first place. It is not a heavenly hill, but it is none-the-less a “hill far away”. The One who really was blameless stood by his oath to save and in a suffering death made the hill where the wicked had their way, holy. There is a transformation then which takes place when one consistently sees the sunrise from that Holy Hill and days are spent not in pursuing selfish desire but sacrificial love, as in standing by an oath, even when it hurts.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epiphany 4 A - Micah 6:1-8

The controversy God has with the people of Micah’s time is that they prefer ritual righteousness to righteous acts, though truth to be told they’re wearied by rituals as well. God takes Israel to court to work out a settlement to renew the covenant and get Israel back on a payment plan. The surprise is that the sacrifice for the sin of the soul will not be more of the same, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, or God forbid, the first born fruit of one’s body. Instead the righteous rituals of the new deal will be to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The difference is ritual righteousness; sacrifices that take the place of or pay the penalty for the sin of the soul can be and are often superficial. Offering at the altar might cost the pocketbook and take some time but ultimately nothing has to change. You pay the fine, take the points on your driver’s license and still ignore the speed limit. But if the sacrifice for the sin of soul is to do justice the soul that oppresses is healed. If it is to love kindness the soul that is mean is mended. If it is to walk humbly with God the arrogant soul far from the Lord is restored to a right relationship. That doesn’t mean the sin sick soul can’t turn Micah 6:8 into a slogan and stamp it on t-shirts and hats and posters and coffee mugs and bumper stickers and like wearing a WWJD bracelet feel good about taking stand while not doing a damn thing to do what God demands and make a difference in this world. Truth is this remedy for the sin of the soul is a cure but few are willing to swallow the pill for fear it will mean a significant lifestyle change, which of course it will, but that’s the whole point isn’t it?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23
I don’t want to burst any Bible balloons but Matthew’s call of the disciples is quite different from the Gospel of John. I’m guessing most people don’t notice week to week the discrepancies that crop up in the scriptures but surely this week someone in the pew will listen to the preacher read the Gospel according to Saint Matthew the fourth chapter and remembering last week’s Gospel according to Saint John the first chapter raise an objection. They can’t both be right, can they? In the past I would have suggested they were two different and unrelated accounts of the same story and we shouldn’t make them do what they didn’t intend to do, namely agree. Matthew written before John didn’t read John and John written after Matthew thought there was more to say. But what if – and here I apologize to all my New Testament seminary professors unless my “what if” is original and makes sense in which case I want credit – what if John’s story written last comes first and Matthew recounts a calling of Andrew and Simon (called Peter) who’ve known Jesus for some time? So this is the timeline. Last week’s Gospel comes first. Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, follows Jesus to where he is staying bringing his brother Simon who Jesus renames Peter. There is “not recorded time” when Andrew and Peter keep fishing dividing their time between John and Jesus. And then when John is arrested the Jesus in Matthew comes calling and says “follow me” which they do because the one who invites them is known to them. That makes more sense to me than two fishermen leaving their nets to follow a perfect stranger. That’s how it is with us, isn’t it? We risk the following, just like they did, but only because we know the one who invites us. They didn’t know where he would lead them or even what fishing for people meant but in the unrecorded time between Andrew’s inviting and Simon’s renaming they had come to know that the only place they wanted to be was with Jesus.   

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Okay, so I got ahead of myself last week and skipped over Paul’s introductory remarks about sanctified saints enriched in speech and knowledge to get to the conflict I knew was coming. It is amazing how many Spirit filled, stockings stuffed with manifest gifts, Bible believing Christians who know the Corinthian correspondence chapter and verse miss Paul’s point altogether. On the other hand I remember when the wind of the Spirit rocked my world and set me on fire for the Lord. I scorched more than a few friends and neighbors with my new found personal relationship with Jesus piety. There’s nothing worse than a reformed sinner who only remembers the moment of conversion and forgets how many conversions it took to get one to finally stick. But then the Corinthians are not so much reformed back-sliders as they are religious junkies who revel in the novelty of ecstatic speech and hedonistic excess justified by grace gone wild. And even though Chloe’s people report some follow Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas or Christ, truth is the Corinthians are following their own desires. Preferring the tongues of angels they neglect the language of love and empty the cross of its power because they trust their own wisdom and manufacture whatever truth suits their fancy. This is the week of prayer for Christian unity and yet divisions in Christendom continue to be common as those destined to spend significant time together in eternity can’t seem to set aside the petty differences of the present to be the one in Christ people, by the grace of God, they were meant to be. Instead the church puffed up with pride, thinking its primary purpose is to be the sole gate keeper to heavenly bliss, has finally reaped the reward of its arrogance and become irrelevant to those who know what legitimate love looks like without any help from the church, thank you very much. If those inside the church can’t get along with each other why would anyone outside the church want to “come and see”? We spend a lot of time and effort defining ourselves by what divides us. I belong to Luther. I belong to Calvin. I belong to Wesley. I belong to Rome. I belong to Canterbury. And yes, I belong to Christ. But the foolish message of the cross is that in Christ we belong to each other.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
The confidence celebrated in Psalm 27 is not due to the absence of things of which one might rightly be afraid. In fact the psalmist anticipates a day of trouble and even now is surrounded by enemies. So this is not a “you’ve got to accentuate the positive eliminate the negative” sort of psalm. That denial of true trouble cannot long withstand the onslaught of all that destroys hope and robs us of well being. But I believe it to be true that songs sung and music made in the midst of trouble, even through clenched teeth and weeping eye, diminish the darkness and encourage confidence, for in the light and salvation of the Lord we see the sanctuary of hope and gaze upon the beauty of peace that is the face of Christ. One my favorite songs of the monastic community in Taize, France is Nada te turbe. “Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God will never go wanting. God alone fills us.” It is the way of faith to remember when in the past God our helper lifted our head above all that troubled, all which frightened, so that when we experience difficult days in the present we can by memory sing the song that anticipates the time of rejoicing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Epiphany 3 A - Isaiah 9:1-4

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - 3 April 1968, Memphis, Tennessee)



Isaiah 9:1-4
Isaiah 9:1-4 is a timely text for the day that remembers the light that dawned in this country when the voice of a twentieth century prophet, Martin Luther King Jr., cried out to lift the yoke of burden from the shoulder of African Americans and break the rod of oppression that kept them enslaved to systems that denied them basic civil rights. I hope that no matter where we stand on the political spectrum we can agree that denying people equal access to seats on a bus or at a lunch counter or the right to vote or what school one can attend based on the color of one’s skin violates the very principles upon which this country was founded. And therefore no matter what we think of Dr. King I hope we can acknowledge he was a man of great courage and conviction whose commitment to justice changed our country for the better. But of course that’s not what Isaiah had in mind when he penned this prophecy as the “he” who brought the land of Zebulun and Naphtali into contempt was the same “he” who would later make glorious their way to the sea. What seems ironic to me, in light of my introductory remarks, is why these two tribes were brought into contempt in the first place. When the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were given the prettiest land in Palestine they didn't obey God’s command and kill the resident Canaanites but lived among them, which meant at some point a Zebulun Romeo fell in love with a Canaanite Juliet and that was not kosher. Of course that’s not the reason the Assyrians brought anguish to these two lands, that happens much later, but it would seem that the very thing that Dr. King preached about having “been to the mountaintop” is at odds with God’s demand for racial purity in the conquest of the original Promised Land. But then the prophet who penned the prophecy could not fully foresee the future that was being promised. The great light that would shine over deep darkness did not come from Jerusalem but from the land corrupted by Romeo and Juliet’s romance. The “he” that would make glorious the way of the sea would lift the yoke of burden and break the rod of the oppressor not by ethnic cleansing but by bearing the anguish of the cross on his shoulders and banishing the deep darkness of death with the light of resurrection dawn. So maybe it is a timely text for a twentieth century prophet who knew himself to be a sinner but by the grace of God a saint as well, a man who like most prophetic voices resisted the call at first but once claimed by the vision did not withdraw even when he knew it would lead to his death. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Epiphany 2 A - John 1:29-42


How is “Rabbi, where are you staying?” an answer to “What are you looking for?” unless of course what the two disciples are looking for is a place to stay. In that case “Come and see” is exactly what they want to hear and before you know it at least one of the two disciples of John the Baptist, namely Andrew, has moved in with Jesus and found a spot on the couch for his brother Peter as well. Six chapters later Andrew will find a boy whose mother packed him a sack lunch and bring him to Jesus and Jesus will turn the boy’s five small barley loaves and two sardines into a feast for more than 5000. That’s what happens when “Where are you staying?” is really “Can we come with you?” and “Come and see” is really “Follow me.” It’s not any different today, although the Gospel makes everything except the crucifixion sound easier than it really was. Andrew leaves the familiar to follow the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and Simon, whose name means “to hear”, listens to his brother without any evidence that what Andrew is saying is true and subsequently becomes Peter “the “rock” on whose confession the church is built, though that will get him crucified just like the Christ he confesses. I do not believe God orchestrates all the details of our lives but like the two disciples of John I do believe God can be found in the timing of chance encounters and overheard conversations that lead those of us who have found a dwelling place in the Christ to step out of our comfort zone and for a moment be Andrew inviting those who God has put in our path to “Come and see.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Epiphany 2 A - 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
It is a lovely beginning for a difficult letter to the Corinthian church. They are not lacking in any spiritual gift but they are puffed up with pride and like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are guilty of neglecting the greatest gift of love. But that comes later. Here in the beginning of the letter Paul calls the Corinthians sanctified saints, together with all those in every place who call on the name of Christ, so that enriched in speech and knowledge by the grace of God they might be blameless on the day of Jesus Christ. Of course in the verses that follow this introduction Paul gets down to business and names the divisions reported to him by Chloe’s household appealing to them in the name of Jesus to agree with one another. We should not be surprised by divisions in the church twenty one centuries later given that they existed in the beginning and at least some of those who neglected the law of love had a personal relationship with the real Jesus. Maybe we should be surprised, and certainly grateful, when we who are church play nice and actually enjoy being together and more to the point live the hope of our calling where the confession of our faith is conveyed by the character of our communities.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Epiphany 2 A - Psalm 40:1-11

Psalm 40:1-11
I don’t mean to question the psalmist’s recollection but most people don’t wait patiently while sinking in a slimy pit. Of course when one has been rescued and is standing on a rock with a new song to sing the days of desperation might be remembered as patient waiting rather than a daily struggle to hold on to hope. But then maybe the psalmist’s patient waiting is not meant to be in the style of Norwegian stoicism or the British stiff upper lip. No, the psalmist’s cry from the mud and mire was loud and long enough for the Lord to finally hear. If that is true than patient waiting is not silent but is making the Lord your trust even when there is no end in sight and you can’t sink any lower in the pit of circumstances that have conspired against you. Patient waiting means continually crying out until the Lord’s ear is inclined in your direction. And when at last one is rescued the crying out in desperate days becomes a new song of salvation and we tell the glad news of deliverance for the sake of those who are still waiting for a firm place to stand.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Epiphany 2 A - Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1-7
“You are my servant” is a dialogue between the “Holy One” and the “polished arrow” who wonders aloud if it was all for nothing. “I have labored in vain…” The one hidden away in the quiver is only as good as the One who draws the bow which is why the arrow expresses confidence in the archer. “My cause is with the Lord…” Even so the plan for vindication before kneeling kings and prostrated princes would not be without pain. God does not work outside the boundaries of our human experience and chooses to use what is weak to shame the strong and what is foolish to confound the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27) That is not to say God’s way of working does not have real life human consequences and for no fault of their own the lives of the “deeply despised” lit up the night skies of Auschwitz; but then that is why God was nailed to wood and died screaming like a wounded animal. You want pretty? Go somewhere else. God does not offer solutions to human savagery that deny human free will to act in ways that are less than human. In the end humans are responsible for what happens in this world. Salvation is revealed when you and I recognize it is not too light a thing for us to be servants who make a choice for a different world. It might mean crucifixion. No. It will certainly mean crucifixion. But then in the dialogue between what is and what will be crucifixion always anticipates resurrection. “Is it too light a thing that you should be my servant…” 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Matthew 3:13-17
Matthew’s version of Jesus’ baptism has more dialogue than Mark or Luke but all three end in the same way. God declares Jesus the beloved Son with something like a dove coming out of heaven to “alight” on him after which Jesus is driven (Mark) or led (Matthew, Luke) into the wilderness to be tested, tried and/or tempted for forty days. The point is not to be missed. Jesus baptism is followed by forty days of fasting followed by three temptations that target the very words that sustained Jesus through the forty days. “You are my beloved Son.” Our baptisms are intended to give us the same confidence so that like Jesus being tempted after suffering solitary silence in the wilderness we might declare, “I am baptized!” as a statement of defiance against all that would make us believe we are less than loved. It doesn't mean all will go well with us in our everyday but rather that we might claim the promise of the future - “Do not fear. I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) in the present - “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The promise of God that operates outside of human institutions allows those of us who were baptized before our ability to remember to none-the-less name the day we were saved as the moment when the Spirit of God alighted upon us and declared us beloved. But that is only because In the end “I am baptized” is not about our decision but rather God’s declaration, “You are my beloved.”