Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas 2a - conclusion

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147; Ephesians 1:1-14; John 1:1-18

This will be my 20th year in Texas, but even if I live here another twenty the true Texans will always let me know I am a small t Texan at best and even that is only because Lisa and I created two big T Texans to vouch for us. You’d never hear someone from O-HI-O speak like that even though Buckeyes are tough nuts to crack. No. Only Texans believe the Union joined them not vice versa. So some years ago I decided the only way to fit in was to wear a disguise. Not boots and a Stetson or saying ya’ll while speaking as slow as molasses, although all those things might help. No, to disguise yourself as a Texan you first have to feel like a Texan and the only way you can really feel like a Texan is to drive a pickup truck, the bigger the better. For the past five years or so we’ve been without the benefit of the state vehicle of Texas but no more. After briefly flirting with the idea of a convertible my big T Texas son, Josh, talked me into a 2011 Texas Edition Silverado Extended Cab. “That's right you're not from Texas…but Texas wants you anyway” (Lyle Lovett) The texts for Christmas 2a are about the identity that comes from belonging to the Lord. In Jeremiah the one who scattered Israel brings them back from the north and the ransomed of the Lord rejoice and sing once again in the land of Zion. In the Psalm Jerusalem delights in the Lord who controls the weather, even in Babylon, and enjoys favored nation status as God’s word and laws and decrees are revealed only to them. The Ephesians are beloved of the Lord, chosen before the foundation of the world, sealed by the Spirit and inheritors of all the riches of God’s grace. The In the Beginning Forever Word becomes flesh so that those who receive him by believing in his name might become the children of God. Wait a minute. Josh thinks he’s going to drive the Silverado. Not a chance, son, even if you were born in Texas and I only got here as soon as I could.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas 2a - John 1:1-18

This is John’s Christmas story, minus the manger, Mary and Joseph, angels singing, shepherds adoring, magi gifting or even the baby Jesus for that matter. You can tell from the very first verse that John’s Jesus is painted with bigger brushstrokes than the one on the canvas of Matthew, Mark & Luke. It’s called a “Christology from above” which means a word about Jesus that is focused more on his divinity than his humanity. (Calvary member Dr. Bob Machos calls it the magic Jesus.) That’s true throughout John, even at the end when he lays his life down and picks it up again with no help from anyone thank you very much. In some ways this picture of Jesus as the in the beginning forever Word who brings everything that is into being is far removed from the Christ whose cry of dereliction from the cross is proof the divine has fully entered the human condition and therefore is able to sympathize with our weakness. (Hebrews 4:15) John’s Jesus is always one step ahead of the opposition and clearly in control except for one brief moment midway through the Gospel when his friend Lazarus dies. Then the true light that banishes darkness, the Word made flesh full of grace and truth and the unchanging glory of the great I AM steps out from behind the smoke and mirrors and in two words the In the Beginning Forever Word becomes very human. “Jesus wept.” It might be that is Jesus at his most divine as well, at least I like to think so. Now that would be magic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2a - Ephesians 1:1-14

I couldn’t figure out what to say or even where to start with this passage that just goes on and on, so I gave up and thanks to Susie White’s Contemplative Journey blog “Strip down, start running… and never quit” I’ve just put a few miles of Trinity Park on my new ASICS GT 2160’s. My GT 2150’s served me well but too long so that my knees had intimate knowledge of the last 100 miles of pavement. Running in new shoes is like running on air and to be outside in late December by the Trinity River with the sun breaking through the clouds is as good as it gets, even if my diminished lung capacity after a week of coughing meant it was closer to a jog than I care to admit. Paul’s description of the Lord’s lavish love is as good as it gets, even if it does go on a bit. But behind this verbal extravagance is a deep and abiding affection for people who welcomed Paul into their hearts and homes. It is a gift to dear freinds persecuted and hard pressed holding onto the hope Paul describes in such abundance. They are chosen before the foundation of the world, predestined for perfection, adopted as God's own children, desirable objects of God’s affection, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever for the praise of God’s glory throughout all the ages in accordance with God’s good pleasure and will. You see it’s easy to get carried away when your heart is full, as when one you hold dear is more gracious to you than you deserve and in relationship restored through forgiving love your heart sings even as you weep for the sheer joy of it. It is like the sun banishing the clouds after a week of being sick while new running shoes do what they are supposed to do, protect old knees from too much knowledge of hard surfaces. At least I think that’s what Paul was trying say.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 2a - Psalm 147:12-20

I don’t mean to dispute the accuracy of the scriptures but according to “the weather in most of Israel is not extreme by any standard, so that the Israeli winter is at best what New Yorkers would call autumn. That means temperatures between 41° and 65° in Tel Aviv. However, Jerusalem can get as low as 34° at night. Brrrrrr! Who can withstand such an icy blast? Of course winter like autumn may be due to global warming and 3000 years ago Jerusalem was a ski resort. Or maybe snow like wool happened so rarely that the people of Jerusalem were like Texans who having never lived through a real winter that lasts from November to April think of snow as a novelty and not a nuisance. It does seem an odd reference for a warm climate unless we put it in the context of verses two and three; “The LORD builds up Jerusalem and gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” It can get very cold in Babylon and a tiny nation held captive might doubt their favored nation status. But if God controls the weather, even in Babylon, hurling hail like pebbles and stirring up breezes to make waters flow, then they are not a small people to be pitied by God’s own who alone are the keepers of God’s statutes and judgments. It is true for us as well who experience times of doubt, when brokenhearted we are held captive by circumstance and wonder when we will experience peace within our personal borders or be satisfied again with the finest of wheat. The word of encouragement to the exiles returned is a word of encouragement for us to whom the word of God has been revealed, not in an icy blast but in an infant’s cry, not in hail hurled like pebbles but in the child grown to be the Christ crucified and risen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 2a - Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Jeremiah’s “great company” returning from captivity in the north includes the blind and lame, those with child and those in labor, hardly the kind of folks generally included in a great company. But that is the way of the Lord often missed, even by God’s own people. The One whose ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts has an affinity for those cast aside, those who receive no recognition or awards, who are wholly dependent on hoping in the Lord. So God will rescue the remnant from those too strong for them, turning mourning into joy, sorrow into gladness; comfort of the Lord for a people long oppressed. The young and old will make merry, the priests will get fat and the people will be satisfied. But more that, in the remnant returned the Lord who scattered Israel, because they refused to walk straight paths, is also restored for God suffered the separation as much as those who languished in exile. It takes two to tango even if God takes the lead.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 1a - conclusion

Isaiah 63:7–9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10–18; Matthew 2:13–23

Some people welcome the temperature turning to a more “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” albeit the Texas version. I much prefer the Corona commercial of Feliz Navidad with palm trees waving in a warm breeze. Granted the sense of the season seems to be wholly winter wonderland where the more familiar hymns and songs are “frosty winds made moan.” (In the Bleak Mid-winter) But I’ve been there and for all the esthetic beauty of snow topped trees it is freezing cold, difficult to get around in and makes for one h-e-double hockey sticks of a mess when all that snow starts to melt. The texts for Christmas 1a ask us to enter the mess of the world while the lights of the Christmas still burn brightly. Isaiah declares the gracious deeds of the Lord in response to all the distress of the people. The whole world and then some declares the praise of God because of the horn raised up remembers people abandoned who are God’s own. The Christ comes to share our sufferings, inhabit our flesh and die our death to free those held in slavery by the fear of death. And the Gospel’s answer to Rachel’s weeping is for God to live the lament and through the cross and resurrection still the sound of sorrow once and for all. Feliz Navidad.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas 1a - Matthew 2:13-22

Herod, remembered by history as “the Great” for his architectural achievements, was also good at killing. His hit list included his first wife, his mother-in-law and two brother-in-laws, two sons by his first wife and numerous rabbis and priests and political rivals who got in his way. The slaughter of a few peasant children in a backwater town was hardly a stretch for Herod. In the end he pays a price for his cruelty dying a particularly nasty death described in great detail by the historian Josephus. But all that gives Herod more attention than he deserves. For all his scheming and evil acts the one child he intended to kill escapes. But what of Rachel’s weeping and loud lamentation? It is the lament sung throughout all of history and the Bethlehem babes are just one more example of innocent victims of violence beginning with Cain who kills his brother Abel out of envy. But that is precisely why the child is born and even though he escapes this time there will come a day when he will not and the babe of Bethlehem will be the man of Golgotha to take up the weeping that will not be consoled on behalf Rachel and her children, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” While not nearly as catchy as “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” the cry of Christ on Calvary is only thing that makes “Merry Christmas” possible.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 1a - Hebrews 2:10-18

Descent from the Cross, 1435 by Rogier van der Weyden(1399-1464)
I woke up this morning with a scratchy throat and the beginning of that peculiar tunnel vision fog of the flu. I know the pioneer of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings. I doubt very much I will be. The scriptures are silent on the subject but I imagine sharing our flesh and blood must have included a scratchy throat now and then. My good friend and colleague, The Reverend Ryan Mills (Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Ct.) has been known to describe Jesus becoming like us in every respect in graphic terms that include bodily functions of which I will spare you. Suffice to say the mystery of the incarnation is in the how and not the what. He inhabited human flesh fully, subject to physical needs and limitations. Sharing our life he suffers our death, for us, ahead of us, instead of us. And while we still may be held in fear by the process of dying, death itself has lost its hold on us because the grave could not contain Jesus. More than that, since he became like us in every way we believe we will become like him. “Changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place; till we cast our crowns before him lost in wonder, love and praise” (Love Divine All Love’s Excelling) But why wait? When we are merciful and faithful despite the trials and temptations of our flesh and blood lives we are already like him in the ways that truly matter for this life and the next. That being said I don’t think Jesus would object if I medicate my sufferings this morning with a shot of Dayquil.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas 1a - Psalm 148

This is an “all God’s creatures got a place in the choir” praise the Lord psalm, though I’d rather not be included in the choir when sea monsters get to exalting the name of the Lord. But then psalm 148 doesn’t discriminate. Young and old, women and men, fire and frost, creeping things and flying birds, wild animals and domestic livestock, kings of the earth and peasants (you get the idea) all are commanded to exalt the name of the Lord who created sun and moon, stars and heavens, etc. etc. etc. But one wonders why the whole world should join the chorus if the horn raised up is only for the people who are close to the Lord. Is everyone else supposed to praise Israel’s God from a distance? This is the part of praise the Lord that the psalmist didn’t see coming. Simeon saw it when Joseph and Mary brought the horn “raised up” to the temple on the eighth day for the rite of purification. “Let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation… light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Apparently God does not discriminate either, but preparing for something beyond the psalmist’s imagination intended the horn raised up for Israel to be raised up for those outside Israel as well. It meant the end of things Israel thought essential to praising God; circumcision and keeping kosher to name but two. So what might that mean for us who also believe God has raised up a horn, formerly for Israel, but now exclusively for us who are close to God by virtue of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If God determined the law of circumcision and keeping kosher unnecessary for right relationship what else might be on the table? Well if the psalmist couldn’t see it coming neither will we. That’s the nature of God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe that’s why the psalm commands everything that is to praise the Lord. Bring it on sea monsters, just don't bite me when I'm boogie boarding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas 1a - Isaiah 63:7-9

The amazing thing to me is that this less than noteworthy nation on the world’s stage, even during its forty year golden age, in what is hardly a garden spot on the planet, recounted God’s favor for them even in times of captivity and national calamity and unfulfilled promises. The ransomed of the Lord may have returned to Zion with singing but the everlasting joy was only one verse and a chorus. Things are not going so well. The hard work of restoring national identity in a conquered land and rebuilding a city and temple in ruins all in the context of a less than warm welcome by those who had been left behind by the Babylonians is hardly a list of the Lord’s gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts. But then Isaiah doesn’t think in terms of rewards but the riches of a relationship with the Savior who is present with them in all their distress. Not a messenger. Not an angel. The presence of God saved them and lifted them up and carried them home. That is why the most gracious act of God is remaining present with children who, truth to be told, have a habit of dealing falsely with God, no matter what 3rd Isaiah says. God’s love and pity redeems them because these people, of all the people on the planet, are God’s own people. In the same way God continues to be present with us, in a restored relationship through the Christ, despite our less than honest ways. In light of that we too can recount the gracious deeds of God in times of personal captivity and calamity and the not yet nature of future promises unfulfilled.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4a - Conclusion

Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

I had a new massage therapist this morning who in that little bit of chit chat that happens before I get down to some serious relaxing asked me if I was retired. No tip for her that’s for sure. It made me think that even though I often think I’m much younger than I am, looks don’t lie. Not that I’m close to retirement age, but maybe it’s time for Grecian Hair Formula for Men. The texts for Advent 4a are about people thinking one thing and being told another. Ahaz is going to make a deal with the devil to save his sorry hide but the prophet tells him God “wearied” is going to raise up a leader from the womb of the young maiden who knowing the difference between right and wrong will choose wisely. The psalmist lamenting the downfall of the Northern kingdom, fed on a diet of tears, scorned by neighbors, derided by foes, none-the-less cries out “Restore us, O God” and trusts that the light of God’s face will save. Grace and peace transform Jew and Gentile in Rome into one people, God’s beloved. And finally Joseph seeing one thing is told another and takes the young girl he had planned to divorce quietly as his wife. A Merry Christmas indeed. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent 4a - Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25

Mary doesn’t need Joseph so why do we? It’s a fair question for a virgin birth. Is it just to provide cover once the baby is born? She’d be in just as much trouble as a single mother as she is betrothed and pregnant and claiming God did the deed. So what gives? Well if nothing else it’s for this dream sequence which asks Joseph to do just as much believing as Mary in Luke’s version of the visitation. Joseph, a righteous man, could be as righteous as the law allows and point to Mary’s swollen belly as proof of the pudding and pick up the first stone to cast it as would be his right as a betrayed spouse to be. Instead he wishes her no harm, which might mean in a culture of arranged marriages where “What’s love got to do with it” is the signature song, Joseph sings “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” I like to think that, even if it goes well beyond what text allows. What if he wants to let her go quietly because he loves her even though when she said, “I’ve got something to tell you…” it must have come as quite a shock. “You talked to an angel who said what!?” And so God who loves lovers comes to him in a dream and gives him courage to do what he wanted to do all along but couldn’t, take Mary as his wife. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus or in other words, Merry Christmas, Joseph.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent 4a - Romans 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7
The letter to the Romans begins with a seven verse sentence all of which serves as preface to “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It could be that Paul, like this blogger, likes run on sentences because periods just waste time. It could be that grace to you and peace is easier said than done and needs a seven verse sentence to remind the Romans that while they are not nearly as conflicted as the Corinthians there are some hard feelings between Jewish and Gentile Christians residing in Rome. The promise beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures about the Son descended from David (think Jew) is also declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness for the obedience of faith among the Gentiles, so that both Jew and Gentile might be called “God’s beloved in Rome.” I think there a lot of things the church can get wrong and still claim the cross of Christ but living together in grace and peace as God’s beloved is not one of them. The inclusion of Gentiles into what was a Jewish religion goes beyond any of the denominational divisions that define the church today and we would do well to note that those outside the church see our inability to live together in grace and peace as proof the Gospel is not worth the paper it’s printed on. “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” or so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Does that mean the divisions that define us are not essential and we should all join hands and sing Kum by Yah? Well, why not? Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Or in other words, Kum by Yah.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent 4a - Psalm 80:1-7;17-19

Psalm 80 is a lament for the Northern Kingdom of Israel that in 722 BCE was conquered by the Assyrians. It started as a family feud between Judah and Israel but after Israel allied with Aram and threatened Jerusalem King Ahaz of Judah sold his soul to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria and Israel was history. Of course the psalmist thinks God had something to do with it but the truth is this story is repeated throughout the history of the human race. The pride of kings inevitably leads to the bread of tears for common folk. It’s the poets and the prophets that give voice to the people’s pain pleading “Restore us, O God” and promising “then we will never turn back from you.” Sad to say Israel never does come back and Judah will eventually meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Not a very happy post for a Tuesday morning but then laments are meant to name the pain and not shy away from the reality of suffering albeit from the perspective of faith that holds onto hope that the God who is angry with the people’s prayers will hear their plea and regard their plight with pity. That is how not so happy posts can still be hopeful for laments give voice to faith in the face of sorrow and suffering, so that when scorned and derided by circumstances beyond our control, fed on a diet tears, we pray none-the-less “Restore us, O God!” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent 4a - Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz is weary of prophets getting in the way of his politics and so even the offer of a sign as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol can’t get him to swallow his pride and ask the God of Israel for help. God wearied by Ahaz’s feigned piety offers a sign anyway, a sign that Matthew will apply to Jesus though Isaiah was most likely speaking of Hezekiah, neither of which are named Immanuel, by the way, but then that is the way of prophecies. They point to a truth larger than the literal one and the same word that finds fulfillment in Hezekiah and Jesus finds fulfillment in our everyday. Immanuel, God with us is the point of the promise. God with us when we go our own way, choosing the evil and refusing the good. God with us when we feed ourselves with false promises and illusory hopes. God with us for the day when we tire of wearying God and turn again to the promise as high as the heavens and as deep as Sheol and recognize that the hope of God with us is that we would choose to be with God. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 3a - Conclusion

Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Can it be Advent 3 already? I dimly remember a day when Advent took a month of Sundays, but then a month of Sundays seemed to last longer than four weeks. It’s taken a while for the Lord to return as well and while it may seem as if the day is closer than ever we’ve no way to know for sure. What we can say is that the dream Isaiah penned in the 35th chapter is as much our hope as it was those who first heard it. The ransomed of the Lord return with singing to the place of promise while sorrow and sighing flee from the sound of everlasting joy. In the same way our hope is given voice with the young girl overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, bearing in her secret place “the hopes and fears of all the years” singing the forever song even though the Holy One has done a dangerous thing to her. We wait as those called beloved three times in four verses which means we wait patiently and do not weary ourselves or others with grumbling. And finally we are blessed by not taking offense at the Christ who comes on his own terms which the first time around was good news for a whole bunch of people not on the A-list of their day or ours. So whether Advent 3 has taken you by surprise or taken a long time to arrive the prayer is the same. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent 3c - Matthew 11:2-10

Matthew 11:2-10
John is confused by what Jesus is doing, or more accurately, by what Jesus is not doing. One can imagine the questions that led to “Are you the one who is to come…?” Where is the baptizing with fire and the Holy Spirit? Why is the threshing floor still occupied by Pharisee & Sadducee chaff? And the most perplexing question might have been, Why am I in prison if you are the Messiah? I’m your cousin, for God’s sake! But Jesus came to be what John had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near.” And John was right, it was more powerful then his message and with or without sandals to untie, no one was worthy of it. It was not to be “kingdom come” by smiting enemies within and without, wresting the temple from the dirty hands of the High Priest and kicking Roman butt from Jerusalem to Britannica. It shouldn’t surprise us that John asked the question. In some ways the early church suffering at the hands of those from within and without asked the same question. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the vision of Jesus’ return was imaged as violent and vengeful. Maybe this time the Messiah will get it right. This time we want a superman not a suffering servant. Listen, John the Baptist had plenty of scriptures to support the Messiah he was looking for and truth to be told that was the Messiah he wanted. When Jesus says “blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” he is telling John and us, for that matter, that he will come in whatever way he wants and our images will have conform to his. Granted that may mean he’s coming back angry and ready to put a hurt on the world that would make John the Baptist shake like a reed in the wind. But my guess is that Jesus is still outside our box, scriptural or not, and that the Messiah who the first time around pointed to the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the dead raised and the poor hearing good news as proof of the pudding might surprise us the second time as well. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent 3c - James 5:7-10

James 5:7-10
We’ve been patiently waiting for almost two thousand years. Of course every now and then people find a way to profit from predictions of gloom and doom but then the point of patience is left behind. There is nothing you can do to hasten the day, or delay it for that matter, but you can make the wait weary for yourself and others by grumbling, judging, or connecting coincidences and claiming to know the time and place the Lord himself said is none of your business. No. We are called to wait as those James calls “Beloved” three times in four verses, which means we wait with a lover’s longing. And not only for ourselves but for the sake of those the Lord loves, which I’m guessing includes those we don’t. After all, the Judge who stands at the door is the same One who spoke “Father, forgive them” upon those whose fear and envy and self righteousness nailed him to the mercy seat in the first place. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent 3a - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
This is the song of Zion, the song sung at the Christ’s conception, the song Jesus would sing with his life, the song that would condemn him to death. “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” is how the high priest Caiaphas justified the murder of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead. Power does not care for protest songs and will take any measure to silence them. But Mary’s song will not be silenced. The humble are lifted up. The rulers are brought down. The hungry are fed with good things. The rich are sent empty away. Sung by a peasant girl, impregnated by the Holy Spirit come upon her, she risks her life to carry the light of the world to term. Sooner or later some busy body in Nazareth will notice that Mary is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” and no one will be around to confess the virgin birth as an alibi. And yet she sings. She rejoices in God’s favor. She sings of the Savior mindful of her humble state who has blessed her for every generation. She sings rejoicing for her people because the Mighty One has remembered to be merciful. She sings the life within her before Bethlehem, before Golgotha, because Mary believes that in the conception of the Christ the future forever promise has already come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent 3a - Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah 35 was written to the children of Israel in exile, weeping by the river of Babylon, tormented by their captors who demanded they sing happy songs of Zion. It is a vision of a better day, a promise for those worn down by adversity, weakened by suffering, feeble and fearful of heart, without help, without hope. In the vision cast by the waters of Babylon a new song of Zion is composed where the wilderness rejoices in the glory of the Lord revealed and a way is made through the burning sand and haunt of jackals so that even those who don’t have a lick of sense will not get lost on the holy highway. Of course a good portion of those whose hands were strengthened and knees steadied by the hope of the promise died by the river where they wept. But for their children born in Babylon the promise did come true and they returned to Zion singing the songs their parents taught them, which would have been forgotten forever if their captors tormenting them had not demanded they sing them. As it was for them, so it is for us; a promise for unsteady hands and knees that give way, hope for all held captive to doubt and fear, trial and trouble, a promise that inspires holy imagination where sorrow flees from the promise of everlasting joy. So sing the songs of Zion, songs of hope and happiness, joy and peace, even if you are weeping by the waters of your own Babylon, for the children are listening and learning. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2a - Conclusion

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

I am anticipating a warm reception when I go to Pittsburgh next week, from the people, not the weather. I am sure “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” in Pittsburgh, PA unlike sunny and seventy Fort Worth, TX. Having spent the first half of my life in the north the “looking like Christmas” anticipates the day in a way that wearing shorts in December does not. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer to be surprised by Christmas a hundred times over than endure a season of “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” If anything I think in retirement I will have to move farther south to find a place where the average temperature will keep pace with my advancing years. The texts for Advent 2a are beginning to look a lot like the future as they anticipate the change that will take place when the One who was, and is, returns. Isaiah sees the whole creation transformed where even predators do not hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain. David hopes and prays that Solomon will be a better king and reign over a time of peace and prosperity for God’s people that will endure as long as the sun and moon. Paul encourages Jew and Gentile to live the future by praising with one voice the Root of Jesse in whom the whole world will hope. And finally John crying out in the wilderness calls for fruit that befits repentance so that human hearts not worthy might be made ready for the One who baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent 2a - Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1-12
It appears to me the Pharisees and Sadducees should at least get points for trying. Instead John verbally attacks them for being all repentance and no fruit. (All hat and no cattle) But to what end? Granted, the Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the law and keepers of the temple, come out together overcoming their natural animosity towards each other and they give up their respective positions of power to be subject to the poor people’s prophet, but it’s just a weekend excursion for them. The diet of locusts and honey and camel’s hair clothes with leather belt identify John as one who has forsaken the world for the wilderness, which is always the place of preparation for Israel. So when the city slickers come slumming he calls them on it. Who warned you to flee? Confession by itself is not worth the words used to say I’m sorry unless accompanied by a change of heart and hand. That is John’s point. You can’t come out to do a wilderness weekend of wailing and then go back to the city of business as usual. To bear fruit worthy of repentance is to live into the conclusion of confession – the amendment of the sinful life. The One who is coming after will do something more than John and though he will burn the same Pharisees and Sadducees with words like blind guides and brood of vipers and white washed tombs he will gather them in with “Father, forgive them…” And so it is for us. Our confession needs a word of judgment before absolution so that we will not be satisfied with an “I’m sorry” that does not in some measure lead to “I can do better.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent 2a - Romans 15:4-13

Romans 15:4-13
The instruction and encouragement of the scriptures were meant to reveal the God of hope so that inspired by the living word we might abound in what the God of hope is all about… which is hope, of course; but what kind of hope? If the incarnation of God in the Christ is any indication of what the God of hope is all about then there is nothing God will not do, nowhere God will not go, to be reconciled to us so that reconciled to God we would be reconciled to each other. Or in other words, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another…” And again, “whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) For this reason Christ became the servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth and the mercy and hope of the Gentiles so that with one voice Jew and Gentile would glorify God. Or as Paul will write to the law bound Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...” (Galatians 3:28) So if in Christ God has erased the dividing lines of race, status, and gender might it be a safe bet that God’s brightest and best hope is that we would do the same?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent 2a - Psalm 72:1-7;18-19

Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Psalm 72 concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse and is a prayer for his son Solomon. In many ways David, the man after God’s own heart (who broke God’s heart time and again) is a tragic figure. Guilty of adultery and murder and intrigue the sword never left his house and while he was not “cast away from God’s presence” he experienced the penalty of his sin in heartbreaking loss, no more so than in the rebellion and death of his son Absalom. “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” His cry of grief for Absalom stands in stark contrast to his prayer for Solomon. Born out of the disappointments and difficulties of his reign David prays that Solomon would be a better king than he was. Make my son a just and righteous king who remembers the poor and delivers the needy from the oppressor, whose rule like rain on mown grass will bring peace and prosperity to your people. “Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by, and feed them on your dreams the one they picked, the one you’ll know by” (CSNY) David dreamed of a dwelling place for God in the midst of the city named Peace, a temple he was not permitted to build, but the son for whom he prayed would make the dream come true. David’s prayer that Solomon would do better than he is the prayer of every parent learning from the whole of life, wishing, hoping, praying their child will make fewer mistakes and know twice the joy and only half the pain they did and that well taught lessons and dreams picked will help the prayer come true. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 2a - Isaiah 11:1-10

It is one of my favorite visions of the future and I marvel at the heart and mind of the prophet who brought it to life by putting it to pen. The One who delights in the Lord will pair wolves with lambs, leopards with goats, calves with lions, bears with cows, infants with adders. It’s a recipe for carnage, but in the imagination of the prophet the predator lies down with the prey for a nap, not for lunch. The prophet envisions the accepted order of the natural world radically transformed by the One upon whom the Spirit of the Lord finds a resting place, who judges the poor with righteousness, who decides with equity for the meek and kills the wicked without breaking a sweat. Yesterday at Calvary twin sisters Reagan Grace & Ryan Elizabeth were baptized into the vision of Isaiah and anointed with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presence. It is no small thing to be birthed again in the midst of the assembly and publically joined with Christ and all who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Welcome to the kingdom, little ones! Of course to be baptized into the vision is to be claimed by the future and called to live it in the present. The whole creation groans for us to do more than just recycle, as helpful as that is. It is a small planet we share and whatever we do to preserve and protect anticipates the peaceable kingdom in the “not yet”. And as we do the whole creation subjected to frustration because the first humans were not satisfied with paradise breathes a little easier even as it waits in eager expectation for the day when paradise lost is found and once again home for all creatures of our God and King. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Advent 1a - conclusion

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 24:36-44
I wrote this week’s blogs last week in anticipation of our yearly pilgrimage to a week of camping on the gulf of Mexico at Mustang Island State Park, TX. My thanks to Pastor Kyle who has been posting them for me each day, probably from his iphone! (Note to self – thou shalt not covet.) Hopefully the sun and surf has been good and we’re packing up with fond memories of a week on the beach as this is being posted. The texts for Advent 1a are like last week was for me. I had a lot to prepare in order to get ready all the while anticipating the sun and surf and campfires and quality time with family and friends. Isaiah envisions preparing for such a day as has never been where peace will be the new normal and war forgotten. The psalmist praying for peace can’t wait to ascend the hill to Jerusalem and camp out in the Lord’s house. Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to take advantage of the day and live in the light of the Lord. And the promise from Jesus is that one day we will be surprised by the very thing we’ve been hoping and praying for all along. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Advent 1a - Matthew 24:36-44

I don’t mean to burst anyone’s Martin Luther bubble but recent scholarship can find no evidence that he ever said “If I believed the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.” It’s too bad because it’s a great quote and if it wasn’t already well known I might claim it as my own. Of course I don’t think whoever said it meant the last day is a good day to plant a tree, rather the last day should not change the way one lives every day given that one should live each day as if it was the last day. But instead of tree planting as the proper way to be ready people get goofy on this end time stuff coming up with all kinds of theories as to the day and hour that Jesus himself says only the Father knows. They should plant some trees for all the paper wasted on books better left behind in their imaginative minds. The way to be ready for the second coming is to live in the love and grace of the first appearing. I doubt very much that the God who so loved the world the first time round has decided it was a mistake and what the world really needs is a good thrashing. Therefore with every tree planted we pray, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Advent 1a - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It’s been one long night since the apostle roused the Romans from sleep. Of course we can all agree that salvation is nearer to us now than it was yesterday and it will be one day closer tomorrow but that doesn’t have quite the sense of immediacy that Paul used to exhort believers to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Given the long delay of the second coming we might be tempted to hit the snooze on holy living and roll over for forty winks of debauchery, though sooner or later the sun comes up on a life of licentiousness bringing a hangover of hurt. That being said the motivation for living honorably as in the day is not for fear of punishment or that the end is near but because the outstanding debt of love demands it. The debt of love that one owes the other is also owed to self and a life free from quarreling and jealousy is a life worth living for its own sake. So put on the Lord Jesus no matter how long the night lasts for fulfilling the law of love does no wrong to self or neighbor. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advent 1a - Psalm 122

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. In Hebrew Jerusalem means the City of Peace. In Arabic it means Holiness and in Greek the Holy City. Claimed by Jew, Moslem and Christian as the capital of their respective faiths the holy city of peace has seen more than its fair share of violence and bloodshed. But while the psalmist would pray for the peace of Jerusalem only for the sake of relatives and friends the holy peace that befits the Lord’s house is peace for the world. That kind of peace cannot be established by walls and towers. That kind of peace will not be found in military might. The peace that prospers and makes one glad will come when the human family recognizes that we all belong to each other and our destinies are inextricably linked. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Advent 1a - Isaiah 2:1-5

“Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, gonna study war no more.” Down by the Riverside predates the War Between the States and sings the desire of all who have on the job training in the study of war. We are a warring species, sometimes for necessary and just causes, sometimes in self defense, sometimes to protect economic self interest, sometimes for ideology and sometimes, God help us, just because. But I cannot believe that given the opportunity by means of a just peace, or a trustworthy security, or some other mechanism to make war obsolete anyone would not willingly, joyfully, lay down sword and shield. That day has eluded the human race even though some have tried their best to live “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” It is because the only peace that has a chance is the promised peace of God’s path. Whenever we walk in the light of the Lord we give peace a chance to happen in our lives and the lives of those around us in anticipation of the final peace treaty of the forever future where swords and spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks will signal the end of the nations warring madness once and for all. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christ the King - Year c - Conclusion

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-44

Jesus takes pains to describe his kingship as anything but. He is not like the kings of the Gentiles who puffed up with pride lord it over their subjects. His kingly procession into the holy city is on a borrowed donkey. He wore a purple robe but once, and then only for the amusement of his executioners. His kingdom is not of this world, but if he wanted to he could rain down a boatload of hurt on Pilate’s head. Unless we reject the image of a larger than life, kick down the door, superman savior, our celebration of Christ the King Sunday is more about us than the one to whom we sing “Crown him with many crowns.” He only wore one crown and it hurt. He was crowned for sheep whose shepherds like those described by Jeremiah destroy and scatter the flock. He was crowned for people who like the psalmist are in need of a very present help in times of trouble. He was crowned to rescue people like the Colossians ensnared by the power of darkness to transfer them to the kingdom of light and love. And he was crowned Christ the King for you and me when in desperation we pray the prayer of the criminal that is plea, Jesus, remember me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chrisr the King - Year c - Luke 23:33-43

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. The guilty one anticipates the kingdom of the innocent one. Without hesitating Jesus answers the prayer that is a plea with the promise of paradise, today. Of all the stories told of Jesus; walking on water, feeding five thousand, healing the blind, lame, and deaf, exorcising demons and yes, even raising a dead friend, this story at the end of Jesus’ life defines the royal character of Christ the King. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… I am among you as one who serves.” The one Jesus called Abba said it this way “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In light of God’s own stated preference how can one continue to hold onto the idea that the righteous rage of Abba could only be appeased by the blood sacrifice of the innocent Son dearly loved? No. In the promise of paradise to a criminal justly condemned, in forgiving those who sure as hell knew what they were doing, the character of God is revealed and by descending to the place of the dead we are guaranteed there will be no where God is not. Jesus. Remember me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christ the King - Year c - Colossians 1:11-20

Colossians 1:11-20
The strength to endure everything patiently, while at the same time joyfully giving thanks, comes from investing our inheritance before fully inheriting it, which means we spend the profit of the future on the deficit of the present. This is where the last will and testament is challenged for while we have no objection to God in Christ being reconciled to us we question the “all things on earth” part for there are plenty on earth we’d rather not include in the reconciled to God inheritance. And therein lies the rub. If through the blood of the cross God is reconciled to all things, then we as one of the all things on earth must be reconciled to the other all things, whether we like it or not. So enduring patiently might mean enduring our own limited vision as much as the difficulties presented by other “all things on earth” not that happy about our being included in the inheritance. I imagine the only one laughing at the reading of the last will and testament of the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell will be God upon seeing the faces of the all things on earth surprised by who is included in the all things in heaven.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christ the King - Year C - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
This is a psalm for difficult days; a refuge and strength psalm for earth changing, mountain shaking, rock your world, waters foaming, troubled times. Of course troubled times don’t need to be that noisy. Difficult days are more often suffered in silence and those tottering on the brink of despair are “still” but not in the “Be still and know that I am God!” silence. The isolation of the stoic stiff upper lip in the face of those things that rightly make one tremble is not what “therefore we will not fear” is all about. No. God is in the midst of her, the city, the community, the body of Christ. The help that comes at break of dawn is the Lord of hosts with us, as in we not me. When one rejoices, all rejoice. When one suffers, all suffer. We’re in this thing together. So be still before the Lord, by all means, but do not be silent about the very present help you need in times of trouble.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christ the King year c - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I don’t know about the shepherds of Jeremiah’s time but the ones I know work like dogs to shepherd their people. But with the large population of aging sheep or sheep leaving small pastures for larger ones or sheep who’ve stopped grazing altogether, or worse, lambs who have never been brought to the pasture at all, shepherds find themselves the ones scattered and sometimes even destroyed. We hear this is the new normal of the post Christian era and that our decline is a done deal and nothing short of the second coming will restore the church to its former position of prominence. But then maybe this is just the time that is surely coming, when a post Christian age allows shepherds and sheep to see Christ raised again to the only prominent position that counts. “We preach Christ crucified,” is how the apostle Paul said it. Martin Luther offering advice to a fellow shepherd said it this way. My dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin." Christ the King crucified, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness by virtue of his suffering and death on the cross in every age, no matter what we call it. Perhaps the word that Jeremiah had for the sheep of his day might be the word needed for shepherds of today. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. I am your Shepherd. Take a day off.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pentecost 25c - conclusion

Malachi 4:1-2; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Lisa and I went to Embargo on 8th street for free salsa dance lessons last night, not that the instruction helped me find my inner Latin. I’m a German. We march. We don’t shimmy. But Lisa, love of my life, was patient and not too critical, unless you count “What’s wrong with you?” as less than constructive. The texts for Pentecost 25c contain criticism for those who can’t or won’t follow the steps and instruction and promise for those who dare to dance. The arrogant evil doers in Malachi are warned of impending doom while the humble are healed. The new song sung in Psalm 98 has floods clapping, seas roaring and I imagine people jumping for joy. The Thessalonians are to follow Paul’s steps and work for their bread, not sit around as idle busybodies. And the promise to those who inhabit temples of flesh and blood is do not be afraid to testify in the time of trial for the Lord will provide all you need to know. Just dance.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pentecost 25c - Luke 21:5-19

We tend to treasure temples adorned with things that in the end are temporary because we think, or at least hope, temples we treasure will last indefinitely. I’m at that stage of life when I realize that the less than apocalyptic societal events predicted to take place at some future date (like flying cars) will likely take place without me. So Jesus’ 2000 year old prediction of an end that has yet to take place, despite the regular recurrence of wars, insurrections, famines, plagues and portents, doesn’t bother me nearly as much as my own prediction that my temple, adorned as it is, will not last another fifty-four years. The people who heard Jesus speak the words recorded by Luke didn’t need to wait for them to come true. They were hated and betrayed and put to death because of the testimony that could not be contradicted. We learn something from their having already endured the end and therefore I think it a mistake to make Jesus’ words a blueprint for predicting Armageddon. The end is always happening somewhere on the planet when temples of flesh and blood in testifying to the truth are adorned with suffering and yes, even death. And so the word to those who heard it from Jesus himself and those who today live the end he predicted, like the martyrs of Sayidat al-Nejat Church, Baghdad, is do not be terrified, for the stone rejected by the builders has become the chief cornerstone of a temple that can never be thrown down.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pentecost 25c - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Ouch! Paul is not pulling any punches. Get to work you busybodies otherwise you are going on the idleness diet and you’ll lose more than pounds, I promise you. It should be some comfort to the church of our time that the church of Paul’s time, which included at least a few charter members of the resurrection, had to deal with conflicts. And not just doctrinal disputes but practical people problems which in many ways are more difficult to deal with. Who left the sanctuary AC on last week and why am I the only usher who knows the proper way to pass the plate? The good news is that the idleness conflict did not destroy the Thessalonians which is the reason the church of today is still around to deal with its own version of "brothers and sisters let us not grow weary in doing what is right."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pentecost 25c - Psalm 98

Psalm 98
Sea roaring, floods clapping, hills singing praise psalms suspend OSHA decibel regulations in favor of bringing a boatload of noise. In fact “make some noise” is the only way to recognize the marvelous memory of the Lord who does not forget people who appear forgotten, people down for the count, people whose only hope is the Lord’s memory of steadfast love and faithfulness. Our praise tends to be more proper, but perhaps should be more enthusiastic, even in difficult days, when we remember that God continually remembers us and in Jesus has made known the victory over death itself. Make some noise!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pentecost 25c - Malachi 4:1-2

Malachi 4:1-2
The arrogant evil doers in Malachi are identified in chapter one as priests who show contempt for the Lord’s name by offering sacrifices of blind, lame and diseased animals on the altar of the Lord. In chapter two the priests have wearied the Lord with words and their lying lips have turned from the teachings that preserve knowledge. In chapter three they have robbed the Lord by withholding tithes and offerings so that the storehouse that should be full stands empty. Therefore, says the Lord, a day is surely coming… So I guess that means unless you are a priest in postexilic Judah (or a present day pastor?) you can breathe a sigh of relief. Well maybe not entirely for this is a word about maintaining a right relationship with God. When we are less than faithful our spiritual life is like stubble with neither root nor branch. But the word of judgment is always an invitation. “Return to me and I will return you.” (3:7) Which is followed by a word of promise, “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (3:10)

Friday, November 5, 2010

All Saints Year c -conclusion

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
My good friend, Pastor John Foster of Shepherd of Life Lutheran Church, planned his funeral service years ago but at some point decided he’d like to be there so every year on the Sunday closest to his birthday the people of Shepherd of Life celebrate John’s service while he is still in the flesh. I suppose it’s not that different from Lisa, love of my life, saying the only person she wants to hear preach at my funeral is me. In many ways All Saints Sunday is about celebrating the future in the present as we remember the saints who’ve gone on before as if they’re still here, which of course they are. On the other hand All Saints is about being saints before being saints, if you know what I mean. Despite Daniel’s troubling visions one trusts the kingdom come. The praise the Lord psalm ends on the couch and not with the two edged sword. The Ephesians eyes of the heart enlightened live the hope of the future in the present. And the Blessed are you anticipates what will be while living what is.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Saints Year c - Luke 6:20-31

Luke 6:20-31
Luke’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a little more difficult to deal with than Matthew’s, depending on which side of Luke’s line drawn in the economic sand you are standing. Poor or rich, hungry or well fed, weeping or laughing, despised or rejected? Like many of the stories and sayings in Luke’s Gospel the plight of the poor gets special attention and the Good News for the poor is generally Bad News for the rich. But that’s not to say it’s all good news for the poor, for the down payment on future rewards is rejoicing in being hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed, all the while turning the other cheek and doubling down on coats taken away. As my seminary professor Walter Bouman liked to say about such things, “Yes, but will it play in Poughkeepsie?” So what do we of the God loves everyone, saved by grace party do with such a seemingly partisan text? Unfortunately we have to say the Bible is very clear. God takes sides. We can choose to ignore that or soften it but we cannot escape it. On the other hand what if God’s taking sides is to counter the sides we take? It may be that God as ultimate parent is not that different from human parents who in loving their children equally attempt to create and maintain environments where siblings are encouraged to share. So no matter which side of the line you currently stand God’s ultimate purpose is for us all to stand on the same side because in the end that is a parent’s greatest joy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Saints Year c - Ephesians 1:11-23

Knowing the hope to which you have been called is the inheritance we have obtained. It is more than a panacea for whatever present difficulties one might be enduring, like that old school practice of delayed gratification. Just wait for it. It is an “already” as in a present reality. But the hope to which we are called is also a “not yet”. It is why Paul gives thanks for the faith of the Ephesians which allows them to possess what is not fully realized. For the power of Christ is at work in this age in the same way it is in the age to come - at the very same time for Christ is not bound by time or space. On All Saints we celebrate the reality that the saints in light are never far from us and that when in a dream, or a chance encounter, or a memory, or a vision, they draw even closer our not yet becomes an already and their already becomes, if only for an instant, a not yet. With the eyes of our hearts enlightened this hope to which we have been called transforms us to live in faith the not yet as if it were already, which, of course, in Christ it truly is.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All Saints Year c - Psalm 149

Psalm 149
The singing, dancing, melody making, tambourine praise the Lord psalm was going along quite nicely until the people in whom the Lord takes pleasure picked up two edged swords to execute vengeance on people for whom the Lord presumably holds no affection. One minute they’re singing for joy on couches and the next they’re binding kings and nobles with fetters and chains, which by the way always involves collateral damage aka people like you and me just trying to mind our own business and stay out of the way. I understand the historical context of a humble people picked on wanting to be adorned with victory but I’m just going to say “No” to verses 6 – 9 of Psalm 149; no to religiously justified violence; no to exacting revenge; no to an image of God who delights in some people and despises the rest. And the reason I can say no to that image is because God provided another. “Put away your sword,” is what Jesus said to Peter when the mob surrounded the King of Kings and bound him with iron chains to execute the judgment decreed. Crucify him! So I think it best to end the psalm with verse 5, even if that means I’m a liberal couch potato.