Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 2c - Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi 3:1-4

The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem have been less than pleasing and have wearied the Lord. Blind, lame and sick animals are substituted for lambs without blemish and the Lord would rather the temple doors be closed and locked than endure the stench of such dishonest offerings. The priests participate and profit from the scheme while the workers are oppressed, widows and orphans are not cared for and the alien is thrust aside. Perhaps it was because God seemed distant and the rules and regulations of the covenant relationship seemed arbitrary and economically oppressive. What’s a blind lamb to an invisible God? And so corners are cut and liberties taken and before you know it the relationship that enriched the people and God has impoverished both. Therefore God will pay a visit to the temple and do some housecleaning. With overturned tables and coins of money changers scattered the refining fire speaks the word of judgment, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers!” Not a week later the fullers’ soap speaks the cleansing word from a hill above the temple, “It is finished.” We who are more like Judah and Jerusalem than we care to admit need to hear the word of the refiner when our offerings are less than the best and corners that count are cut. And like Jerusalem and Judah in the days of old and former years the cleansing word will make our offering pleasing to the Lord.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Advent 1c - Conclusion

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

So here we go again. Pastors will find people in the pews wondering why we have to sing On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist Cry instead of Christmas carols and for the next four weeks while most people are anticipating Christmas we’re getting ready for the end of the world. And this year the end of world is only one year closer which isn’t all that important if we’ve got a thousand or more to go. But the truth is we don’t know and that might be the best thing about Advent. And maybe recognizing the end might come as a thief is more important to consider when it is closer to home. Not the end of the world as we know it but my end up close and personal. If all I might have is today the Lord is my Righteousness is all my hope for the day that is surely coming. If all I might have is today I need not waste time remembering the sins my Lord has forgotten. If all I might have is today then to trust I will blameless before the Lord Jesus is to live today unburdened by guilt and shame. If all I have is today then the springtime of the future is anticipated not through fear but faith.

Advent 1c - Luke 21:25-36

Luke 21:25-36

So is the future day a Christian version of 2012 or can we get out of this thing with a little less noise? I’m afraid it may just be hard wired into our anxious DNA to believe that the temporal realm, including our own personal stake in it, is not giving up without a fight and rather than going gently into the dark night it will curse and rage until the cows come home. It would also seem to be a part of our nature to divide the world into those who faint from fear at the end of all things and those who stand up and cheer. While there is no question that Jesus used the language of apocalypse to speak of the end of all time, all the Gospels contain such speeches, how can the Crucified One come back to save a few only to crucify the rest with vengeance? The first time around the Kingdom of God contained some unlikely subjects, tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and people of questionable character why would they be less than welcome in the second? When I think of the end of all things I am not weighed down by the worries of this life but the thought I might not escape what comes next. So I find some comfort that Jesus uses the image of spring to talk about the signs. Despite the roaring of the seas and signs that make one faint it will be like daffodils that pop up through the snow. Despite the signs in the sky it will be like Lady Bird’s legacy of Bluebonnet blanketed Texas highways. Maybe the best way to escape all the things that will take place and stand before the Son of Man is to trust He will look a lot like Jesus did the first time around.

Advent 1c - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Thessalonians were worried that the day of the Lord had come and gone and they had been left behind or it hadn’t come and those who had already died had missed the boat. At any rate what was lacking in their faith was a confident hope that despite their present circumstances of wondering when the day would come their future was still secure. Sometimes a face to face is the only way to restore confidence and so Paul prays day and night that he might visit those for whom his love abounds. But he had other congregations that demanded his attention and were not nearly as receptive and presumably not as much fun and so it would take some time for his day and night prayer to be answered. In the meantime he writes what is most likely the first letter of the New Testament. To those in doubt he writes encouraging words for abounding love and strengthened hearts that are a word for us as well. May you believe the unbelievable that despite what you know about yourself you will be blameless before the Lord Jesus and the cloud of witnesses that will accompany his return.

Advent 1c - Psalm 25

Psalm 25

Be mindful of your mercy and your steadfast love but do not remember the sins of my youth, but in the forgetting of my sin don’t forget me. It is the prayer of the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and fully aware of his own guilt asks to be remembered. Jesus, remember me when you reach the place where memory of mercy and forgetfulness of sin matter the most. It does not mean there are no consequences for sins of our youth or middle age for that matter. We are not as forgetful as God and sins of the past and present have a way of accusing us that we are not worthy of God’s forgetting. That is why we lift up our soul to the One who instructs us to forget what has been forgiven and remember the path of what is right which is to remember the consequence of youthful sins long enough so as not to repeat them.

Advent 1c - Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah 33:14-16

We’ve spent the week of Thanksgiving camping on the Texas gulf coast for years and as our departure grows closer I can practically smell the salt sea air and taste the shrimp and Red fish and oysters. I can hear the surf and I know there’ll be at least one big wave with my name on it. I hesitate to confess that I have stepped into my wet suit once or twice this week and picked up my boogie board while watching surf movies on DVD. Dude!
The days are surely coming is a promise that the time of waiting will one day be over and the long expected Savior of the nations will come. Of course we’ve had a sneak peak at what is coming while the house of Israel and Judah held onto the promise in the dark. We’ve seen and celebrate the Righteous Branch born in a stable, crucified on a cross, raised on the third day.
And so now we wait for something more, when what is old will become new and what is broken will be made whole. Sorrow will turn to joy, wailing into dancing, and death itself will be swallowed up by life that is unending when that day surely comes. In the meantime we anticipate that day best by putting on the future in the present through acts of kindness and mercy and living in love. Sort of like putting on your wet suit to watch Blue Crush. Dude!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christ the King Year B - Conclusion

Christ the King Year B – Daniel 7:1-18; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37

I have been an every Sunday Lutheran since I was baptized and I don’t remember when Christ the King became a Sunday with a name. If you Google it you’ll find it was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and at one point was known as Christ the King of the Universe Sunday which sounds even more impressive in Latin. I don’t know about you but it seems to me that Jesus took pains to be a small k King and that we’re the ones who want to make sure he wears proper shoes. After all the Christ the King of the Universe we worship was born in a stable to an unwed mother, ate with tax collectors and sinners, washed disciples dirty feet and died naked on a cross. Why would we dress up such a king in the purple robes of the world unless we didn’t trust our small k King to be a big G god? So if you should sing Crown Him with Many Crowns this Christ the King Sunday remember the crown we depend on was made of thorns.

Christ the King Year B - John 18:33-37

John 18:33-37

“What is it you have done?” It could have been the name calling. You brood of vipers. You white washed tombs. You blind guides. It could have been the consistent breaking of Sabbath laws. It could have been the incident in the temple. Or we could take Caiaphas at his word, “it is better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish." Fear is a powerful motivator and even a nation under Roman occupation seeks at all costs to hold onto the illusion of being in control. But Jesus is doing something else. If we take him at his word, He lays down his life only to take it up again to draw all people to himself, because the world will perish unless one man dies. Of course we who are on the side of truth often feel more secure in the here and now and for all sorts of practical reasons make Jesus’ kingdom look more like Pilate’s. But the greater truth of this Christ who is the King, handed over to a puppet politician by self righteous religious rulers, is that he dies for them as well. Talk about going rouge. That really is a kingdom from another place.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christ the King Year B - Revelation 1:4-8

Revelation 1:4-8

The letter that vividly describes a violent and final end for so many begins rather nicely for the seven churches. Of course this good beginning was written to seven churches facing an even more imminent end themselves. That is helpful to remember because I don’t think we can fully comprehend what the word from the One who is and was and is to come meant to the rightful recipients of John’s letter. I think I know what we’ve done with it and even though the best selling series Left Behind was red hot I think God might put it in the lukewarm category for God's sake. So how do we hear a word for us even though it is clearly addressed to them? First of all one does not need to be persecuted or enslaved by temporal powers in order to desire freedom. We are all in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. And while some may face an imminent end all of us face an inevitable one and can find comfort that the first born from the dead opens a way for those who will follow. And finally the promise of Jesus’ coming on the clouds, whether one wails or not, is a promise that the world as we know it will come to an end. And maybe that is the best news of all.

Christ the King Year B - Psalm 93

Psalm 93

The Lord is more majestic than the waves of the sea. By this time next week I will be sitting on a Texas beach watching the waves or in the surf catching one and the more majestic the better. Granted North Padre is nothing like Pipeline in Hawaii but then Pipeline is nothing compared to the power and strength of the Lord robed in majesty. That is because God exists outside the boundaries of our imagination and is always greater than any image we employ, even rising floods and mighty waters and majestic waves. The psalmist celebrates the awesome power and strength of God and while it is certainly true, more often than not the rising floods and noisy waters and crashing waves of life need a God who is a little closer than established from old and majestic on high. So through a “less than” who is Christ the King, God draws near to us; the floods subside, the thunder of water is quieted, the waves slow to a gentle swell and the Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise inhabits human flesh. That is the sure decree we can trust and the holiness we touch and in the less than I always experience God as greater than.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Christ the King Year B - Daniel 7:1-18

Daniel 7:1-18

“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me and the visions of my head terrified me.” There is endless commentary and web pages dedicated to the terrifying visions that prompted Daniel’s troubled spirit offering detailed explanation of what will be, although a good deal of it seems dedicated to further troubling and terrifying. If you want to see some interesting art work just do an image search on Daniel 7! But then apocalyptic writings seem to encourage fanciful thinking. Dreams and visions beg for explanation for we are far more curious than the cat, especially if we think some advantage may be gained in the knowing. But the ultimate purpose of this apocalyptic vision is to provide a message of hope. The simple truth of Daniel is this: the four arrogant kingdoms hell bent on devouring will themselves be devoured and those they threaten will endure. For all the hope of the people and nations and languages is in the One presented before the Ancient of Days. Not a talking horn king but the King of Kings who comes not to devour but to bless. This One given dominion and glory and kingship is not arrogant or rude, jealous or boastful, but full of mercy and compassion. Is it necessary then, or even helpful to speculate as to future applications of Daniel’s dream of kingdoms and talking horns? I don’t think so for when we focus on end times imagination we often neglect the present and the very people the King of Kings came to save, which makes us more like an arrogant horn than the One we seek to serve.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pentecost 24b - conclusion

Pentecost 24b – Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

Do not be alarmed. This word of Jesus is the faithful response to alarming events that fascinate and terrify and is the thread that ties these lessons to each other. Do not be alarmed by a time of anguish the likes of which the world has never seen for your deliverance is near. Do not be alarmed by the threat of the grave for your path of life leads to joy in God’s presence and eternal pleasures that defy description. Do not be alarmed by the memory of sins for God has sworn an oath to remember them no more. Do not be alarmed by wars and rumors of wars for the birth of something new is only beginning. To not be alarmed despite events beyond our control and circumstances that threaten means we do not chase after other gods and for a false sense of security multiply our sorrows. To not be alarmed redirects our thoughts and energies from trying to escape this world to provoking one another to love and good deeds for the sake of this world. Do not be alarmed. There's work to do.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lectionary 24b - Mark 13:1-8

Mark 13:1-8

I imagine years later upon reading the Gospel of Mark the unnamed disciple was relieved he remained anonymous. After all moments before Jesus had elevated an invisible widow and two small copper coins above offerings of excess from those who, like large stone buildings, made themselves hard to ignore. Of course we too are enamored by an impressive edifice of flesh or stone, more often than not our own. But the temple was more than just an extraordinary piece of architecture. In the mind of the people it was the only place where heaven and earth met, where the Holy consecrated the profane, where the presence of God hidden behind a curtain kept watch over Israel. The temple had become more important to the faith than the One it was built to house and so Jesus directed the disciple to look more closely. Do you see…? God does not dwell in a house made by human hands but in the heart of a widow. It is a word for us who might be impressed by stone structures of denominations or distressed at their possible demise. Do you see…? It applies to the beginnings of the birth pangs as well, which might indeed be cause for alarm but for the promise at the end of this chapter “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not.” Do you see…? It is a question for all who are alarmed by personal conflicts within and without, by divisions, by everyday disruptions that make one hunger for something stable and trustworthy. Do you see…? It is in this different way of seeing that God is found for when it appeared all was lost for Jesus all in fact was won. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” the prelude to “It is finished” as the pangs of the old, as alarming as they may be, anticipate the birth of something new. Do you see?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lectionary 24b - Hebrews 10:11-25

Hebrews 10:11-25

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds… It reminds me of “I double dare you” on the grade school playground although that usually involved provoking one another to dangerous deeds that were never very good and certainly not well thought out. The Greek word is paroxysm, which means a sharpening. The only other time the word is used is for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that resulted in their parting company. So we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds with the same intensity as a sharp disagreement. This won’t be easy for Lutherans because we prefer a more polite approach that includes the magic word “please” or “If it’s not too much trouble…” If that doesn’t work we still don’t provoke. We motivate one another the old fashioned way aka Lutheran guilt. But the writer of Hebrews provocation is based on confidence, full assurance and unwavering hope in the faithfulness of God. The provocation to love is a response to God’s love, as good deeds are a response to the good deed done for us by Jesus who has opened a new and living way into heaven itself. Now that sounds like something that might motivate a Lutheran. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and do some good deeds today. I double dare you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lectionary 24b - Psalm 16

Psalm 16

This is a psalm of confidence as opposed to a confidence psalm. By that I mean the psalmist is confident in God who counsels and makes one secure and promises eternal pleasures while those who run after other gods reap the rewards of a Ponzi scheme. The only thing multiplied by their investment is sorrow. The other gods of psalm 16 are the Canaanite deities like Ba’al. I’m confident that the worship of Ba’al is not a great temptation today but running after other gods still is. Martin Luther defines other gods like this: “whoever trusts and boasts great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor has also a god...” So when we run after possessions or power or prestige or pleasure we do so at the expense of investment in the One who makes the heart glad and the tongue rejoice and the body rest secure. The other gods call us to run after them while the true God pursues and precedes us for God’s promise is backed by the security of the One who abandoned to the grave made even death obedient to Him. It is because God is ahead of us in death and behind us in life that we with the psalmist can say we will not be shaken. So make a wise investment today, stop running after other gods and let the Lord catch up to you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lectionary 24b - Daniel 12:1-3

Daniel 12:1-3

The only trouble with writing a daily lectionary based blog is you can’t pick the easy scriptures or avoid the more difficult ones. So let me say first that doom and gloom scriptures with everlasting judgment trouble me even if I count myself one of the wise. And there are plenty of scripture passages that will support the idea that the chance of being one of the wise shiny ones is akin to winning the lottery which is even more troubling because I never win anything. Later verses in the 12th chapter of Daniel are considered by some to be the key to unlocking the riddle of the time of tribulation in the Book of Revelation where most people have a losing lottery ticket and are left behind. That is not to say God cannot do whatever God wants, even sentence the whole lot of us to shame and everlasting contempt. But in light of the cross I find that unlikely and the cross is the key to unlocking the mystery of scripture. There are certainly things worthy of judgment and I count myself guilty on all counts, but as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say judgment is a penultimate word, or the word that comes before the ultimate word which is the cross which is grace and mercy and God’s self sacrifice for wise and foolish alike. The truth of Daniel is more apparent in its immediate context. It is a word for persecuted people held captive in a foreign land and more than one of their loved ones are sleeping in the dust. It is a promise that the scales of justice will be balanced and despite a time of unprecedented anguish deliverance will have the final say. Does it mean that everyone will shine and no one will be eternally ashamed? I don’t know, but God does and somehow knowing that the God of the cross has the final say makes even doom and gloom scriptures less troubling.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lectionary 23b - Conclusion

Pentecost 23b - 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

The texts for Pentecost 23b are connected by the unexpected. The jar that should be empty and the jug that should be dry continue to provide for a widow and her son who had planned to eat one last meal and die. The psalm praises God’s plan for the poor that is more trustworthy than the plans and power of princes. Hebrews declares the One condemned by the High Priest for blasphemy against the Holy One of Israel is the One whose death makes Israel holy once for all. And in the Gospel the widow’s two pennies are worthy of note while offerings from abundance are not. These texts should remind us that God is always showing up in the unexpected. And expecting the unexpected we might be more generous with what we have because Jesus, like the widow, gave us all he had.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pentecost 23b - Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44

I remember attending a Christmas Eve mass at the Anglican Cathedral of Liverpool and being absolutely captured by the pageantry of the high church liturgy. The procession began with the Grand Organ's introduction to O Come All Ye Faithful that shook the very foundations of the sanctuary. As a thousand voices strained to sing above the chords the crucifer appeared at the entrance to church. Behind him came acolytes carrying torches, the lector with a jewel incrusted Bible, multiple choirs, various officers of the church in ceremonial robes carrying gold maces, the clergy in all their finery and finally at the very end the Archbishop in a gold gilt chasuble and miter holding a crosier in one hand and a small child in the other. The music and the majesty of the moment brought tears to more than one eye including my own for it seemed as if we had been transported to heaven itself. But as much as I treasured the moment there was a part of me that thought the babe in Bethlehem might think it more appropriate to celebrate his birth by finding a room in the inn for people who like his mother were left out in the cold.

I’m not trying to infer that given a different time and place Jesus would have had the same criticism of high church Anglican services as he did for the pomp and ceremony of his own but it does seem as if the church in its effort to anticipate singing with the heavenly chorus might undervalue two pennies in the plate. Of course the value of that offering was not the amount and Jesus’ observation that day was not a challenge to the wealthy to give all they had, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief. But before getting too comfortable with this text we’ll have to look deeper than our pocket books and wallets. Jesus was speaking about the attitude of the heart and in doing so made a clear contrast between those who like to walk around in long robes and those who wear rags, between those who like to sit in the best seats and those who don’t have a place at the table, between those who for the sake of appearance say long prayers and those who in their desperate need pray, Lord save me. God sees the value of the widow’s offering and it is not the two pennies but the widow herself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pentecost 23b Hebrews 9:24-28

Hebrews 9:24-28

Once for all, that is the way the writer of Hebrews describes the sacrifice of Jesus. Instead of the high priest repeating the sacrifice time and time again with the blood of bulls or lambs or doves Jesus’ blood is once for all. While that is something I know and believe I will have to admit that when it comes to my own sin I operate more like the high priest than Jesus. And I’m not even a very efficient high preist for often the sins of the past haunt my present and I find I have to offer the sacrifice of guilt or shame time and time again. As much as we might struggle with forgiving others it is forgiving ourselves that presents the bigger challenge. When Martin Luther felt the pangs of guilt and shame for sins of his past or present he would exclaim I am baptized to be reminded that he was loved by God and forgiven of sins past, present and future. So if you are troubled today by the sins of the past and tempted to offer the sacrifice of guilt one more time take these words to heart. Once for all.