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.