Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter 2a - Conclusion

The second Sunday of Easter is where the faithful are found. After a week in the world we come back to participate in the familiar pattern of song sung, word read and explained and meal shared. Some are saying the weekly gathering in houses of worship already in serious decline will all but disappear in the future but I’m not so sure. I think seeking after the holy or the divine or the mystery beyond our knowing is hardwired into our DNA and even a secular desire to know and be known gives people of faith ample opportunity to live the Gospel we have for too long locked behind closed doors. Will whatever is coming look like what we know now? Probably not but that does not mean it will be any less faithful or meaningful or sacred. Like Peter preaching the new story to those who knew an older version or the psalmist seeking the path of life or loving that which you haven’t seen I trust Jesus will show up and offer hands and side as an invitation to touch and see and believe.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter 2a - John 20:19-31

There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter 2a - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9
There is a tendency in the Christian tradition towards stoicism, as in the proverbial British “stiff upper lip” or the Norwegian mantra “det kan bli verre”. (It could be worse) So while I agree that various trials can be seen as tests there are times when one is simply tired and could care less if faith proved less precious than gold or not. “It is what it is” only works for so long and eventually “My God why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble that multiplies with every passing day. But it is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice, albeit through tears, in the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. Kept for us and not by us this inheritance of hope, if you will, is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means in practical terms we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming the failure of faith. I think stoics live lonely lives even if they show great courage and fortitude. We were created for community, to be like the One we have never seen and yet still love, so the genuineness of faith is measured in the way we respond to the needs of each other. There are times when various trials couldn't be worse which is why we do not suffer them alone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter 2a - Psalm 16


Trinity Lutheran Church,Pottsville, TX

Pauline Hopper went home to heaven this week and the body she inhabited for ninety-one years was laid to rest this afternoon in Pottsville, Texas. The boundary lines have fallen for her in a pleasant place which was cause for our hearts to be glad and our spirits rejoice. That is not to say we gloss over grief or deny the reality of loss and pain. No. What we do is deny death the last word for our loved ones and in celebrating their passing, for ourselves as well. We do not grieve as those without hope. We will not be abandoned to the shadow existence of Sheol. We will know pleasures forevermore and the fullness of joy in God’s presence. In the meantime funerals remind us that we have been gifted with another day in the land of the living to make the present look a little bit more like the future as we wait for our boundary lines to fall in the most pleasant of places.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter 2A - Acts 10:22-32

Acts 10:22-32
Peter’s Pentecost sermon, addressed to those familiar with the story of salvation, is a fitting text for the first Sunday after Easter. Known by those “in the know” as low Sunday, it is the day when the pew and parking space of the faithful is not occupied by the twice a year crowd.  Maybe if the story was more dramatic people would stick around for another round sans trumpets, choirs, lilies and eggs hidden by bunnies, but the truth is the story could not be more out of the box. It was impossible for death to hold him in its power is how Peter puts it and I can’t imagine it gets more dramatic than that. The message has had over two thousand years to mature and so while preachers and every week pew people might be tempted to lament a Sunday with space we might be better served by going back to the beginning when even those who knew the story had to hear it again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - conclusion

It seems odd blogging on Easter texts during the week we call Holy and the Friday we call Good. On the other hand our adoration of the cross assumes the empty tomb. After all a Jew named Jesus was not the only criminal who died at the hands of the Romans. He’s just the only one who didn’t stay dead. So when Paul names his one sermon “We preach Christ crucified” he is speaking about the nature of the death as much as the death itself. Jesus didn’t die in his sleep, or in a bar room brawl. It wasn’t the cancer that got him or a heart that failed or a stumble and a fall that broke his neck. He was the innocent victim of a cruel method of torture employed by a repressive regime to keep the peace in a land prone to violent insurgence.  That’s the secular story of course. But the sacred story is not as far removed as one might think. I know we prefer a personal Jesus, going so far as to imagine that when He died I was on his mind. That’s all well and good as long as you understand that the “I” on his mind was bigger than you. So the punishment befits the crime and by that I mean all the ways that from the moment Cain killed Abel human beings have lived the “I” in ways that kill the “you”. He redeems not by appeasing a far off Father unable to look on sin but by dying a death that should shame all of humanity into crying out God forgive us. Not just for Jesus but for all the human lives wasted and ignored, brutally ended or starved into submission. And since he makes exception even for those who actually did the deed, “Father forgive them” Jesus dies for the “you” who rightly deserve hell and truth is have lived there all along. The surprise of the resurrection is in the unexpected cross. God dying instead of destroying so that in his rising the I and the you of all humanity might finally become us, which is to say, children of God.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Really? The first word of the resurrection is “hello”? Of course it was said with an exclamation point and I’m guessing a pretty big smile, even so “Surprise!” might have been more fitting for the occasion. After all the two Marys expected to find a dead friend and instead are met by an earthquake and an angel and a very much living Jesus. There is no way to prepare for that and I’m surprised they didn’t respond like the guards and faint dead away at the sound of his voice. But maybe in the familiar salutation the crucified and resurrected Jesus was not so surprising. That’s true for those of us who have been schooled in this story from birth and cannot remember a time when we didn’t consider belief in the resurrection a matter of life and death. But for an ever increasing segment of our society this Sunday will come and go without so much as an Alleluia. That’s not to say the sale of Peeps and Chocolate bunnies will suffer but the real meaning of the day, at least the gathering that has defined Easter for you and me, has largely been lost. We can lament that fact, especially as it relates to our children, or blame someone, especially those who are not like us, or repackage the message in ever more creative ways, or preserve the status quo until the last one left turns out the lights. But then maybe the ancient story still has some life left in it and what turned the world upside down in the first century can shake up the twenty-first as well. It was not form or creed or convention that convinced people a crucified peasant preacher refused to stay dead and revealed the love of God for all creation. It was the conviction of two women who took hold of his feet and worshipped and then told the story to anyone who would listen, even disciples locked behind closed doors. As it was then so it is now. The first word of the resurrection is “Hello!”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” the law demanded but could not accomplish, even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient, but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human.  Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is to prefer life in the grave which makes no sense. Since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not to escape wrath but to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Resurrection of Our Lord Year A - Psalm 118

Reposted from Easter Year C

On the morning of May 25th 2000 I was sitting in my brother’s backyard in Chicago drinking way too much coffee and nervously waiting for inspiration. Months before I promised my dad I’d write a song for my grandmother’s memorial service. At that point all I had was “I hope” which was how Grandma Heinze described faith in Jesus. Not “I hope” as in “I wish” but “I hope” as in “I know.” So with grandma’s faith in Jesus on my mind I waited impatiently for a song that was scheduled to be sung that afternoon. And then I remembered a funeral the week before where I spoke the words of Psalm 118. “There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed" and within ten minutes I had three verses and a chorus in the key of E and a few hours later “Our Hope” was sung as promised. Of all the parts of the funeral liturgy Psalm 118, appointed to be read at the graveside, seems to fly in the face of reason. When it is obvious that our loved one has fallen and is not getting up again we claim that “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.” But that is the way of faith where the stone the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone of “I hope.” Defeat is victory, loss is gain, and sorrow is prelude to joy. While it seems like the truth of “I hope” comes to us as suddenly as it did to me in my brother’s backyard the truth is the only thing sudden about it is that it is the end of waiting. It took Martha sometime to learn the song of Jesus but when she did she sang it with everything she had for her best friend, Jesus. And so like Timothy whose faith first lived in his grandmother Lois the faith of Martha is sung every Easter at Calvary Lutheran, Richland Hills, TX in three verses and a chorus in the key of E.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Resurrection of our Lord Year A - Acts 10:34-43

Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” It is as radical a statement as a Jew can make, even one who has been hanging out with the wrong crowd for three years. God showing partiality was precious to this people for they were set apart by a law and a land and out of all the nations of the earth they alone were God’s own. But now Peter has the audacity to proclaim God has opened the exclusive country club to anyone in any nation and has waived the application fee. The trouble I have with this text is that Peter (or Luke working off the transcript of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) just redefines God’s partiality. God appeared, not to everyone, but chose witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus and is partial to those who believe their testimony and fear God and do what is acceptable. And further if Paul’s recollection of Peter’s progress in not showing partiality is accurate Peter himself pulls back from eating and drinking with Gentiles because James’s “people” exert partiality pressure. Even the first century church wasn’t completely convinced that God shows “no partiality” just that God was no longer limited to a single nation. Of course partiality is precious to the church of our day as well and we define what is acceptable to God by our doctrine and practice, even excluding brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus because their way of believing is less than Orthodox or Pentecostal or Calvinist or Lutheran or whatever. But if the chosen people were so wrong about God that they killed the anointed One filled with the Holy Spirit by hanging him on a tree maybe our vision is partial as well. What if the cross really does mean God shows no partiality, period, end of sentence? I know the stakes are high and eternal futures are on the line, but if we believed God showed no partiality we wouldn’t either and without rewriting the rules I think that might be acceptable to God.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sunday of the Passion Year A - conclusion

In one week Jesus goes from palms to passion, hosanna to crucify, triumphal entry to excruciating exit. Theologian Frederick Buechner calls it the “magnificent defeat”. What appears to be the most dramatic fall from grace for the Galilean peasant preacher is the way God exalts the name of Jesus above every name. It’s not the way we would have done it which is why we keep trying to make the cross more respectable. Truth is it is as ugly an invention as humans can devise. All the imagination and ingenuity we can muster spent on creating an instrument of torture that takes its time so that death does not rob us of the pleasure of seeing someone suffer. And before you say “not me” even those who drive the speed limit and pay their taxes and say “please” and “thank you” are capable of turning a blind eye to evil done in the name of king and country. And so God says to these willful creatures brought into being on the sixth day, “do your worst” and they do. The good news is our worst was not good enough and the dead Jesus taken down from the cross by close friends is not out for the count.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Matthew 26:14-27:66

The passion narrative according to Matthew begins with a plot to betray. Conspiracy theorists not withstanding there is no need to speculate on what motivates Judas. He is after all human and motivated by the same demon that possesses the entire race. Judas seeks to turn his intimate knowledge of the prophet into profit. Matthew is the only Gospel that records Judas’s regret and even though he finds no satisfaction in returning ill gotten gain Matthew wants us to know Judas was sorry. Maybe when you betray a close friend, even if it doesn’t lead to crucifixion, nothing short of dying will do, and so his tragic end seems to him the only way to pay, though given the chance Jesus who forgave his enemies surely would have offered the same consideration to one with whom he shared a meal. I hope that when the forever feast happens in the eternal future there will be a place at the table for the one who weakened by greed treated his friend with such contempt. Not because I am some sort of bleeding heart liberal who desperately desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but because if I am honest with myself (and by extension those of you who are reading this) I am more like Judas than Jesus and my only hope is that he will not treat me with the same contempt I have treated him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11
Though he was in every way God, Christ Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be exploited but emptied himself of power and taking on the form of a servant was himself exploited by the cross. It is beyond our ability to comprehend for we are inclined to hang onto every shred of power we can get our hands on and take on the servant’s form temporarily anticipating a heavenly reward for our humble efforts. None-the-less Paul exhorts his Philippian “partners in the Gospel” and by extension all who read these words to have the mind of Christ that is described in what most believe is a hymn of the ancient church. To have the mind of Christ means more than playing nice or letting others have their way. Jesus emptied himself of the kind of power even the world recognizes to pick up the cross which in the end was the power of God no one anticipated or indeed, understood. In what appears to be defeat love conquers hate; light banishes darkness; life destroys death. All because Christ Jesus let go of being God in order to pick up our humanity. Which means the mind of Christ is the mind of God, and that is good news indeed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Psalm 31:9-16

Even well meaning, close friends have come to dread asking the psalmist weak with sorrow, consumed by anguish, “how are you?” The answer is always the same. “Not good.” Derided by neighbors, abandoned by friends, surrounded by enemies, as useless as a broken pot, the psalmist is forgotten as one long dead. And then after venting a laundry list of lament there is the word that denies despair the final say and brings some measure of comfort and not a little bit of hope to the psalmist’s desperate existence. But. But I trust in you. Why? Because my times are in your hands. Not the hands of my enemies, even if they manage to take my life. Not the hands of neighbors or friends to whom I have become an object of derision and dread. Not the hands of the sickness that saps my strength or the grief that grips my heart. No. I trust in you for my life is in the hands of your unfailing love that will not abandon me or flee from me in all my distress. Of course the faith that leads the psalmist to declare “But I trust in you” also allows for “But hurry up and help me, O Lord!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Isaiah 50:4-9

The teacher who sustains the weary with a word was himself a student of suffering. Gifted by the Lord God with the teacher’s tongue he endured spitting and insult. He gave his back to the whip and his cheeks to those who pull out the beard. But the word that sustains the weary is not in the suffering itself but in the confidence that despite trouble and trial the Lord God is not far off. Therefore the teacher endures the taunting of those whose power is temporary by trusting that his vindication will have the last word. It is “the Lord God who helps me”. We would prefer not to suffer at all and go to great lengths to avoid it, medicating our pain whenever possible. And the disgrace we experience is not due so much to the actions of others but rather our own rebellious ways. For this reason the innocent teacher was crucified as one guilty so that morning by morning the obedient Word made flesh might sustain all who are wearied by the world or their own rebellious ways. In the end the ones who breathed out threats and violence and consumed by hatred did their best to do him in have themselves been taught the lesson of love. The tongue of the teacher, Father, forgive them…” interceded even for his adversaries.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lent 5a - conclusion

I had a medical procedure this morning which meant I started the day on a gurney hooked up to a monitor and an IV. Normally I go into pre-op pastored up and say a prayer for the patient but this time I patiently prayed for myself. The texts for Lent 5a have us think in both / and terms. There is the resurrection that will be and there is the one we are gifted to live today. The dry bones of faith are reanimated by the Spirit in the same way our dead bones will one day be reanimated with flesh and breath. We are delivered from “out of the depths I cry to you” for our iniquities are left uncounted. We live under a new “no condemnation" clause in the covenant for we have been set free from the law of sin and death.  And finally we find healing in Jesus weeping with Mary and promise for our forever future when he surprises even faithful Martha, and no doubt her brother, with the words “Lazarus, Come out!”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lent 5a - 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” delaying two days 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.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lent 5a - 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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lent 5a - 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.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lent 5a - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The whole house of Israel held captive in Babylon has been living the twenty-seven 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 rebranding 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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lent 4a - conclusion

The obvious theme for Lent 4a is sight for the blind but since the sighted ones in the Gospel are blind and the man born blind sees it’s not as simple as it may seem. But that’s the way it is with God. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out God steps outside our theological boxes to do something new. Like choosing the youngest son of Jesse to be king of Israel even though the man after God’s own heart will break God’s heart more than once. God opens our eyes to see green pasture and still water in the worst of times because the shepherd does not abandon us even in valley of the shadow of death. The Ephesians have been called out of darkness by God’s grace (not by works lest anyone should boast- Ephesians 2:9) and have been made light which means whatever is pleasing to the Lord is also accomplished by grace. And in the Gospel the blind one sees what the sighted ones cannot. God will not be contained by our questions or our answers. I was blind. Now I see. April fools! It is as simple as that.