Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pentecost 3a - Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

Even John who “came neither eating nor drinking” wondered about his cousin Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) but then Messiahs are held to higher standards than mere mortals. The people who institutionalized the Exodus, ritually recounting God’s intervention through plagues and parted sea, expected the great I AM to show up in the same way the second time round, but the mold of the Passover was broken by the perfect Lamb who turns out to be a drinking man, friend of tax collectors and sinners. Oh vey! What was God thinking? It is clear that in Jesus God is operating outside the religious box of his day, which should give the wise and intelligent of our time reason enough to rethink the ways we try to make the one accused of being a glutton and drunkard more respectable. Not that wisdom is vindicated by excess in food or drink but rather in extravagant hospitality that befriends even those who burdened their own people for a profit or whose lifestyle made them ritually clean. There is no where God will not go to invite the weary and heavy burdened to come and find rest and in doing so hopes Pharisees of every generation will do the same.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pentecost 3a - Romans 7:13-25

Romans 7:13-25
Ignorance is bliss and if not for the law we would be blissfully ignorant of sin. As it is the law makes us painfully aware of sin’s death grip around our lives as we with Paul lament “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” But this confession is not the conclusion of the matter as if we were given a spiritual loophole for bad behavior. That is because Paul is not concerned primarily with the actions of the body but rather the inclination of the heart. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) is how God describes those who hide evil intent behind the mask of outward piety. Since the locus of the rebellious nature of the human being is a refusal to be fully human (and by that I mean to be satisfied being creature without lusting after Creator status) then Paul’s cry, “wretched man that I am” is far more serious than simple behavior modification can resolve.  So where does that leave us? Some would say it leaves us in the lurch and we’ll live our whole lives struggling with temptations beyond our ability to control which in the end leads one to despise God or despair altogether. No. The conclusion of the matter comes in the verses that follow, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) We do not have to pay our way by penance or accept the way we are is the way we always will be or reject the system as a set up. The resolution of “wretched man that I am” is “there is now no condemnation” which is blissfully, a change of heart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pentecost 3a - Psalm 145:8-14

Psalm 145:8-14
If all of the Lord’s works praised and the faithful ones blessed and those who fell down looked to be lifted up the Lord wouldn’t need to be nearly as gracious and compassionate and slow to anger. As it is even the Lord’s own people push the Lord to the limit as if slow to anger did not have a tipping point. That doesn’t mean the Lord is stuffing until one day even the Almighty can’t help but vent all over creation. No, it means the Lord’s nature as gracious and compassionate is infinitely more patient with us than we are with each other or ourselves for that matter. The gracious and compassionate nature of the Lord overflows in steadfast love that will not abandon us despite our fickle nature and willful ways. So does the Lord have a tipping point? Not in the way that we do but there comes a time when the Lord leaves us to the destructive works of our hands and minds, a spiritual timeout if you will, until lost and alone, bowed down by the burden of our pride or malice or greed or envy or apathy or lust we turn back to the Lord and experience again the steadfast love that upholds and lifts us up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pentecost 3a - Zechariah 9:9-12

Zechariah 9:9-12
On the day that Jesus rode Zechariah’s vision into Jerusalem the daughters of Zion shouted “Hosanna!” and for a moment the prisoners of Roman rule and Pharisaical piety were released and returned to the stronghold of hope. A week later the triumphant and victorious king was humbled by the cross and the only blood of the covenant to be seen was his. But then kings riding on donkeys are consistently cut down by chariots drawn by war horses and humility is not the chief characteristic of one who commands nations to “study war no more”. What the dominions and the daughters could not imagine was that war horses and battle bows and the bars of the waterless pit could not contain this king who breaking free from the grip of death became for us the stronghold of hope to which we return again and again. If you trust in power you will be disappointed. If you trust in wealth you will be corrupted. If you trust in self you will be deceived. To be a prisoner of hope is to held captive to a vision of a king who is more humble than we are.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pentecost 2a - conclusion

I write a song for our mission trip Bible verse every year. In recent years I’ve written words to existing songs like Green Day’s “Holiday” or Train’s “Hey Soul Sister”. This year I heard my son Joshua playing Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his ukulele and wrote new lyrics based on Micah 6:8. You can give it go if you like.

    What does the Lord require of you today?
    Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God

Do justice means we start to act
In ways we would not but for Christ who’s gone before
And then he’ll have you go where you don’t want to
but you know that’s where you’ll always find Him - chorus

The world is not a pretty place
that’s full of love and life and grace but Christ is there
So kindness is the way we show Christ’s love to all
And that is where we’ll always find Him - chorus
To walk with God the humble way
is without doubt in harmony with Christ our Lord
And so we live not for ourselves but everyone who’s looking still
so they will find Him 

It seemed an ironic choice of melodies for the work we were doing but then in many ways the children of the Nelson Center dream of a place where dreams that you dare to dream really do come true and. As is so often the case the texts for Pentecost 2a could not have been more fitting for our week. Jeremiah’s tell it like it is and don’t sugar coat the reality of captivity means we can sing with the Ethan the Ezrahite of the Lord’s love forever even when lives are less than lovely. And the new relationship of freedom in the Romans text is the reward of offering a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, though truth to be told we were the ones who were thirsty.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pentecost 2a - Matthew 10:37-42

Matthew 10:37-42
“…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…” I’ve been living this text with our youth (which includes my son Josh and daughter Mary Ruth who btw I love at least as much as Jesus) while on our annual youth led mission trip. This year we built a privacy fence and a covered deck and ran a Vacation Bible School at The Nelson Center in Denton, TX. The center serves severely emotionally disturbed children many of whom have experienced extreme physical, emotional and sexual abuse. You might think in serving we’ve taken up the cross to follow but I think it’s the cross that took us up. We lost our lives for Jesus’ sake to children who are thirsty to not be defined by what’s been done to them. In many ways we are incredibly na├»ve to think that one week can make any kind of difference but the truth is finding the life Jesus talks about happens incrementally for all of us. Every moment of grace, no matter how brief, is its own reward. I know we’ll go home tomorrow changed by this experience and we hope and pray that our serving was worthy, not of Christ, but of the children which of course is the same thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pentecost 2a - Romans 6:12-23

Romans 6:12-23
The “therefore” of Romans 6:12 is made possible by the new relationship with God that begins with death. Not the kind of death that in the end everyone dies. Not a “wages of sin” death either, the kind of death that withers the soul when as slaves to self we receive no advantage from things of which we should rightly be ashamed. No, the death that makes “therefore” possible is a death for life, if you will. Jesus dies first, as Paul writes in Romans chapter five, while we were weak, while we were still sinners, while were God-haters, so that reconciled with God we might also dare to die. Dying with Christ we die to self and are born into a life of righteousness, which is not nearly as narrow as some make it out to be. It is not a life bound by law, limited by piety, constrained by rigid rules. It is a life bound by justice, limited by kindness, constrained by humility. (Micah 6:8) Therefore, live as those who have died and have already been set free to live today the new life that is eternal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pentecost 2a - Psalm 89:1-4; 15-18

Psalm 89
Psalm 89 is a love song to the Lord written by Ethan the Ezrahite, a cymbal player in Solomon’s temple band. But his hymn of rejoicing was penned during Israel’s golden age and one wonders if anyone was still singing such a song when Solomon’s kingdom split between the lines his sons established, neither of which would last forever. The Northern Kingdom fell first never to rise again and while the Southern Kingdom survived captivity it would never know the glorious days of Solomon’s reign. That’s the trouble with “I could sing of your love forever” because of kingdoms and thrones established by the strength of sword and shield, even if the glory is given to God. To trust in God’s faithfulness forever is to sing, “I love you, Lord” when the enemy is at the gate and the city is overthrown and the temple is burned to the ground. That is true for us as well who love the Lord in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. If we claim God’s love for us is unconditional then it follows that our love for God must be as well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pentecost 2 - Jeremiah 28:5-9

                                      The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall - 1968
Jeremiah’s “Amen!” should be read as an “Oh really?” because the weeping prophet knows none of the exiles are coming home and the things that were taken are gone for good. Hananiah may have had his reasons to hope or he may have just been blowing smoke but it doesn’t matter because in a year he’ll be dead and peace will still be a pipe dream for the people weighed down by the iron yoke of Babylon. Not a very bright beginning for a Monday morning blog, but it’s not necessarily a doom and gloom vision like so much commentary on the state of the economy or the health of the planet or prospects for peace in the Middle East. Jeremiah prophesies political events but he is really speaking to the hearts and minds of individuals, calling them to turn back to the Lord, to forsake false hopes and not to trust in temporal power to save. Jeremiah is a truth teller and sometimes the most difficult thing to be told is the truth. But with the truth comes the opportunity to be renewed and reformed and restored. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 God promises to be found by the exiles who seek the Lord, even while living under the iron yoke of Babylon. And so it is with us when we live beyond our limited vision and trust the plans God has for us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trinity Sunday Year A - Conclusion

Trinity Sunday is the only festival on the liturgical calendar dedicated to a doctrine and not a very easy one to understand at that. It was a hot topic in the fourth century, especially for those on the losing side of the conversation, but then the teaching of the unity of Father Son Spirit has been a major source of division, most famously the break between the Eastern and Western church in 1054. Today we confess the creed without much thought to the difficulty of defining three persons with one essence though this Sunday preachers will try to explain the mystery in such a way as to make it less mysterious, while hopefully avoiding any number of heresies. At Calvary we make our interns preach on Trinity Sunday just in case they are heretics in pastor clothing. Maybe letting the mystery of Father Son Spirit remain unexplained is the best way to celebrate the God beyond knowing whose unconditional love is revealed in creation and cross and confession of faith.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Trinity Sunday Year A - Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20
I wonder how many disciples who “worshipped him” were included in the “some doubted” list. Since “some” is more than a couple and generally considered equal to if not slightly more than a few (which is five) almost half of the eleven, if not slightly more, are doubting worshipers. It’s not a very promising start for baptizing and teaching all nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded, which I’m guessing might include believe in me. Since I’m in such good company I’ll confess that I am no stranger to doubt and if I have to believe everything in the Bible as gospel truth I’m willing to acknowledge outright disbelief. But if the “some who doubted” disciples were willing to bet their lives on something they hadn’t quite figured out it must have been because they trusted the “I am with you always” without working out the details or understanding the how or the why which in the end is what worshipping faith is all about anyway. And that I do not doubt.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Trinity Sunday Year A - 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
These are the last recorded words of Paul to the contentious Corinthians. The beginning of this short chapter anticipates a third visit to Corinth and warns of harsh words for those who refuse to reform their willful ways. Paul doesn’t pull any punches and promises not to spare “those who sinned earlier or any of the others.” He asserts this authority from God for the building up of this gifted congregation, not for its tearing down, and makes one last appeal for them to put aside differences and live at peace with one another. Paul’s last words to the Corinthians are the first words we speak in the liturgy to remind us that we gather in the name of the God of love and peace. There are some things that are not optional for those who claim the name of Christ. The holy kiss may have fallen out of use (except between couples sharing the same pew) but if we are going to be the church the sharing of peace never can.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trinity Sunday Year A - Psalm 8

Psalm 8
The God of majesty and might, who flung the stars and moon into the sky and with imagination gone wild created all creatures great and small, is mindful of mortals. It’s a good thing because the crown of creation has chaffed at being a “little lower than God” and desiring more glory and honor has generally made a mess of things. Being mindful does not mean keeping an eye on us, as if the majestic name needed to worry. But the works of God’s hands could use a little relief from human domination and I imagine a good bit of creation “under our feet” wishes we would walk a little more softly. Maybe we should be more mindful of things created a little lower in the same way God does.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trinity Sunday Year A - Genesis 1:1-2:4

Genesis 1:1-2:4
“In the beginning God created…” seems to divide the Trinity by function, the Father calling forth Creation while the Son and Spirit wait in the wings for the Cross and Pentecost. The two creeds we confess liturgically, the Apostle’s and Nicene, don’t help in that “I believe in God the Father” appears to give sole credit for creation to the first person of the Trinity. There was a time when we trotted out the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday but it’s fallen out of favor due most likely to its length and perhaps the damning to hell all things Arian. Arius argued that a son by definition must come from a father and so there is a time when a son (even the Son of God) is not.  Athanasius disagreed in no uncertain terms. God is and always was Father, Son, Spirit all at the same time in every way from before the beginning. We don’t have a lot of scripture to lean on as the doctrine of the Trinity was not as important in the beginning of the church as it came to be a century or so later. But you might have noticed that in the creation account God creates humankind in the image of “us” and while that is not proof for the doctrine of the Trinity you could read it that way, in which case Athanasius would applaud and Arius might understandably roll over in his grave. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pentecost Year A - conclusion

A few weeks ago I started getting emails from my RunKeeper app. I hadn’t run with the Keeper for two weeks and the RK app was wondering if it could help by offering motivational strategies for getting back on track. If RK were a person I could have told it I was running the treadmill because it’s June and I live in Texas but instead I deleted the messages and changed my settings to keep the Keeper quiet in my absence.  The Day of Pentecost comes as a reminder of all that Jesus said and motivated by wind and fire there was no stopping the disciples from speaking. The psalm reminds us even the great Leviathan needs the Lord who provides for all of creation’s wonderful works. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good so that one encourages the other to stay with the program. And Jesus in John literally inspires the disciples, breathing on them the Spirit which is the only motivation faith ever needs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pentecost Year A - John 20:19-23

John 20:19-23
John’s Pentecost arrives with less fanfare than Luke’s but perhaps with greater weight. No rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no speaking in languages not learned, just Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on disciples. If Luke imagines the reversal of the tower of Babel (where language was confused) John wants us to go back to the very beginning where the breath of God animated the dust formed in God’s image. The disciples, formed in the image of Jesus, animated by the Spirit, are to forgive (or not) and their granting of forgiveness (or withholding) has the final say. That raises a few questions and we wish Jesus would have said a little more. On what basis is forgiveness offered or denied? What if I forgive someone who you don’t or vice versa? Is this earthly or eternal? Does forgiveness extend beyond the boundaries of the church or is this only pew to pew coverage? If you’re looking for me to answer my own questions you’re out of luck. All I will say is that when Peter asked Jesus a question to quantify the extent of forgiveness Jesus answered with mathematics. Forgiveness errs on the side of mercy at least 70 x 7 of time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pentecost Year A - 1 Corinthians 12:3-13

1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Spiritual gifts are given for the common good even if the Corinthians, puffed up with pride, can’t see the common good for the gifts. Focused on the cult of self they elevate tongues of angels above the language of love and miss the point completely. The whole body is weakened when one member claims to be more important than the rest. Variety is the spice of life and the strength of the church when we recognize it is the Spirit who allots to each the gifts that serve the common good. In the same way that grace is freely given so God gives  gifts not based on merit but on need, which means the proper response to being gifted is to say “thank you” not “look at me!” That being said and at the risk of contradicting the apsotle Paul, the spiritual gift that best serves the Lutheran common good is whoever makes the coffee on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pentecost Year A - Psalm 104:

Psalm 104:24-34
What might it mean that the Leviathan, formed to folic, is terrified despite its size when “you hide your face?” The psalmist imagines all creatures great and small recognize the ground of all being and forever connected to the source of life depend on the Almighty just as much as we do. Of course they praise God as they are able and in the case of the Humpback Leviathan give praise by breaking free of the sea for a moment. The psalm doesn’t say so but I imagine God laughs out loud at the sight of it. And so it is with much smaller mammals created in the image of God who breaking free of all that binds renew the face of the earth by mimicking the God who formed us out of the dust of the earth.  The praise that is pleasing to the Lord is to open our hands and satisfy the hungry with good things and to sing the song of salvation with our whole life, laughing out loud at the wonder of God’s many works.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pentecost Year A - Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21
Peter denies being drunk based on the hour of the day but when it comes to the Holy Spirit it’s always noon somewhere. Lutherans, as a rule, prefer to drink in private and tend to be suspicious of outward signs of spiritual intoxication. That’s the way the crowd responded when the rush of a violent wind blew down the doors of  the language barrier and men of Galilee started speaking like a Rosetta Stone® commercial. Amazed and perplexed the crowd none-the-less listened and by the end of Peter’s sermon a whole bunch were baptized into the new faith that was really a movement of the Holy Sprit to bring God’s vision into focus so the dream of God might come true in the here and now. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for all are one in Christ Jesus. This present unity anticipates the future where one vast multitude of every tribe and race, creed and color, language and tongue sings the same language of praise. Even if you remain suspicious of some of the story, (tongues of fire and not a hair out of place) the point Peter made to the crowd is what we are to take away as well. The Spirit has been let loose and from now on sons and daughters and old men and women will be getting drunk on the Holy Spirit morning, noon and night.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Easter 7a - conclusion

Last night, June Holden, a dear saint of God and tireless worker in the kingdom, peacefully entered the hope that sustained her throughout this life. She was surrounded by her children, who despite the sorrow of separation, sped her on her way with tears and kisses and well wishes. Now we with limited sight and knowledge, peering through the mirror dimly, can only wonder at what she sees clearly - beauty beyond description, peace beyond imagination, perfect love beyond comprehension.  We are left like the disciples standing on the mountain where just a moment ago Jesus disappeared into a cloud. Not quite sure what to do they stood still and stared until an angel reminded them there was work to do while they waited for Jesus to return.  We too after having said goodbye for a time to those we love have work to do until our time to cross comes. The psalmist sings of that work where God provides for widows and orphans and the lonely through the people refreshed and rejoicing.  Peter reminds his people the family of faith throughout world shares their suffering so casting anxieties upon the God who cares is a communal exercise. And when we live more fully into Jesus’ prayer “may they be one” we anticipate the day where with perfect harmony we will sing the forever future song. Well done, June, good and faithful servant. Enjoy the promised rest.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Easter 7a - John 17:1-11

John 17:1-11
It is a shame we haven’t lived the prayer of Jesus, “so that they may be one” in a way the world can see. Instead the church that Jesus prayed to be protected from the world might need to be protected from itself as denominations and non-denominations (which have become denominations unto themselves) divide and disagree to protect thought and word despite the fact that their deeds are often less than pure. And truth to be told even those who elevate unity above all else live less of it than they like to believe.  But then the people who were present as Jesus prayed didn’t do much better. Certain men from James, the brother of the Lord, criticized Peter (the Rock no less) for eating with non-Jews and he withdrew from doing what he knew was right. Paul didn’t hold back from expressing his displeasure with the Jerusalem triad, those “reputed to be pillars” and his letters detail the difficulty believers had in making “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So I suppose we should not be surprised when the ways of the world creep into the culture of the church. That doesn’t mean we can’t live more fully into Jesus’ prayer, even while remaining loyal to the denominational lines we love. If we understood being one as singing together in harmony then every note in the Christian chorus has a place in the choir and as long as we don’t insist on our note being the best perhaps the world would hear a different tune coming out of the church and want to listen, or maybe even sing along.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Easter 7a - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

1 Peter 4:12-14 5:6-11
In the middle of these passages about fiery ordeals and insults and roaring lions on the prowl is the passage that makes standing firm possible. “Cast all your anxieties on God who cares for you.” The ability to “cast” depends on trusting God cares for us despite all that tends to increase anxiety. For Peter’s people it was organized persecution intent on stamping out the followers of the crucified and now reportedly resurrected Jewish rebel. Our anxieties are not produced by persecution but that doesn’t mean we do not experience them as fiery ordeals or roaring lions. Relationships gone sour, jobs lost or threatened, more bills than income at the end of the month, cells that rebel and multiply, fears without and within, all of it produces anxiety that steals our sleep and colors our world in shades of gray until we despair of life itself. To lay the blame on lack of faith merely adds to the anxious list which is why Peter reminds his people “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” To humble oneself is to admit you can't go it alone which is why we’re in this thing together. Anxiety is diminished when shared as God intended casting cares on Christ to be a communal exercise.