Friday, July 29, 2011

Pentecost 7a - conclusion

It’s late in the day and I’m fixin to go ride my mare Seraphina as soon as the temperature drops below 100 degrees, which means I might be riding in the dark. Of course I wouldn’t mind giving up the ride if the clouds that have been gathering all day actually contained some rain. The texts for Pentecost 7a are all about God providing. Isaiah imagines captives with little or no resources feasting on bread and milk and wine without spending a dime. The psalmist sings of the gracious and compassionate God whose hands open wide provide food at the proper time. Paul would sacrifice himself for the sake of his kindred and by chapter 11 in Romans concludes God has done the same for the sake of Israel. And Jesus gives up his solitude to heal the clamoring crowd and before the day is done feeds 5000 and more as well. So pray that the promises contained in the Pentecost 7a texts might seed the clouds with rain that the parched land of Texas might once again rejoice.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pentecost 7a - Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21
“When Jesus heard this he withdrew to a lonely place…” What Jesus heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod. Overcome by grief Jesus needs to get away. And maybe the Messiah also realized John’s violent death meant his days were numbered as well and the powers that be would not be satisfied stilling the voice of the Baptist but would come for the One who John claimed was “greater than me.” But Jesus can’t get away for long as the crowds clamor for more miracles, more entertaining parables, more in your face confrontations with Pharisees and temple big wigs. Compassion for the crowd calls him out of his own need for healing. The disciples short on vision and compassion would send the crowds away to fend for themselves in villages already closed for the night but Jesus has one more trick up his sleeve and multiplying a meager meal makes a feast of five loaves and two fish. If Jesus is the self expression of God’s personality then this is not a God who demands payment upfront but whose own need for solitude and quiet and healing can be interrupted by crowds well fed who not long from now will forsake “hosanna” for “crucify”.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pentecost 7a - Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9:1-5
Despite Paul’s difficulties with his own people at whose hands he was stoned, beaten, whipped, imprisoned etc. he would still be willing to trade heaven for hell for their sake. Evangelism motivated by great sorrow and unceasing anguish with a willingness to be completely cut off from Christ for the sake of someone else embodies the mind and heart of Christ. He was cut off from the land of living, despised and rejected, a man of sorrow and familiar with grief for the sake of those who betrayed, denied, mocked and crucified him. Too often we act out of spiritual superiority, protecting sacred cows, human institutions and traditions, or personal piety etched in stone which even when well intentioned obscure the simple truth that the faith is mostly about mercy and a relationship with Christ is worth sharing for the sake of the relationship itself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pentecost 7a - Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Desires can be tricky, especially when having them fulfilled turns out to not be desirable at all. But the desires the Lord fulfils are not like the desires that promise much and deliver little, that satisfy self at the expense of others, that cost more than they are worth. The desire the Lord fulfills satisfies fully, for the deepest desire is to have the kind and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love Lord near to us. In times of plenty and in times of want, when having fallen we need to be upheld or bowed down we need lifting up, the Lord opens wide the nail scarred hands that could not be destroyed by the wicked to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And as with most things good and noble and praiseworthy our desires and the Lord’s are the same for the deepest desire of the Lord is simply to be near us.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Easter 7a - Isaiah 55:1-5

Isaiah 55:1-5
Isaiah encourages recently released captives who doubt the promises that motivated them to leave Babylon to hope in an offer they should remember. Rebuilding the ancient ruins will not be an easy task but the same promise that delivered them through the wilderness the first time around will deliver them now. Those who had nothing then were given everything so those who have nothing now should expect the same. But you don’t have to be poor to be thirsty as even those who have money to spare find themselves lacking the peace and comfort riches promise to afford. So we find in this word a promise to which we who have never known captivity come running for the Holy One of Israel who offers water, bread, wine and milk without price or cost is not restricted to a single nation but is a witness to all people.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pentecost 6a - conclusion

We’ve just come back from a family gathering on Table Rock Lake in Branson, MO to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. We had marvelous meals, enjoyed fun and games, worship and prayer and on Thursday morning baptized my brother-in-law Bob in the lake. It was in every way a kingdom come time for which we are all grateful. In the texts for Pentecost 6a Solomon asks for the wisdom to discern between good and evil and is rewarded with riches and long life as well; the psalmist living in God’s mercy and loving the Lord’s commands weeps for those who neither understand or obey; the Spirit interceding for the saints means even the worst of times work together for good when the good is “nothing can separate” one from the love of God; and the parables of the mustard seed and yeast and hidden pearl are the wisdom Solomon sought, the life the psalmist lived and longed for others and the way God remains always present in things unexpected, things unseen and things worth having above all else.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pentecost 6a - Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Despite the disciple’s “Yes” what we understand about “all these things” is that we don’t really understand the kingdom. That is not to say we don’t know how to package new treasures in old and keep the kingdom safely within the boundaries of what we know, which usually means we make the kingdom of heaven conform to the kingdoms we create in our own image, That is true for Christians on both sides of the aisle, those who make social justice the defining characteristic as well as those who see the kingdom through the prism of personal piety. Truth is the kingdom cannot be contained by human constructs and like a mustard seed produces more than one could image while like yeast it works unseen and hidden like a pearl waits to be found.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Easter 6a - Romans 8:26-39

 Romans 8:26-39
“All things work together for good” is a bold statement in light of the laundry list of laments that follows. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and being killed all day like sheep led to slaughter sounds like bearing the cross on steroids. I don’t think “all things work together for good” means we should attach some deeper meaning to the suffering that is part and parcel with the human condition. Troublesome times come to the faithful and unfaithful alike, but for those who love God all things work together for good because of the “no separation clause” of the covenant. The good for which all things work together is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That means God cannot be separated from our suffering and endures hardship, distress, persecution, famine, etc, right along with us. We don’t desire difficult days or rejoice in our sufferings but we do find great courage and strength and enduring hope that even death cannot destroy the relationship we have with the One who sighs deeply for and with us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pentecost 6a - Psalm 119:129-136

Psalm 119:129-136
I think the psalmist weeps because the nature of God’s statues is not understood. They are not meant to be burdensome or arbitrary or restrictive of liberty. They are wonderful because they enrich relationships within the human community which is the way God is blessed. The law of the Lord is about living with each other in peace and harmony, celebrating the good gifts of life while together enduring difficulties with dignity and patience and enduring hope. A community living in the light of the Lord, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, is redeemed from human oppression which is self centered and judgmental, quick to anger and consumed by hatred. But even secret sins we keep politely hidden diminish relationship and rob us of the joy of living the freedom the law offers. So the psalmist praying for mercy and panting for the commands of the Lord weeps streams of tears for those who do recognize the gift that God offers in the law.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pentecost 6a - 1 Kings 3:5-12

1 Kings 3:5-12
It is a smart prayer for a boy who doesn’t know how to come or go and one wonders how he thought to pray it. You would expect him to pray for the life of his enemies since the boy had so many. And a long life generally follows praying a shorter one for one’s enemies. Riches almost always makes it to the top of the wish list and despite his estimation of God’s people as great a little extra cash is always appreciated. God is surprised and certainly quite pleased that this second son of Bathsheba and David’s badly begun union turns out to be a king worthy of the title. God grants Solomon understanding and a discerning mind and all the rest as well and for a time there really is no king like him. Unfortunately for Israel and I suppose God as well, Solomon gives up on the gift of discernment in favor of the counsel of foreign wives and the golden age of Israel ends with a kingdom divided between warring sons. It is the stuff of Shakespeare and the great Greek tragedies and more times than we care to admit our own tales of fortune and folly. It will take a long time but there will be a king who eclipses Solomon and all his splendor. He will never know riches and his life will be cut short by his enemies but in the end his poverty is our wealth and his death and resurrection the only hope for friend and enemy alike.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pentecost 5a - conclusion

I’ve been blogging all week from Ebert Ranch Camp in the Texas Hill Country. Most of my day was spent helping the wranglers with the horses and encouraging confirmation youth to keep their hands on the reins with heels down and heads up. Back in the day, as they say, I was a camp counselor so I truly appreciate the young women and men who give up their summer to work long hours for little pay to share the love of Jesus with 7th and 8th graders. This year the community that was formed by their efforts and the work of the Holy Spirit was truly a foretaste of the feast to come and although the Hill Country was so dry it was fixin to blow away it was still a little slice of heaven. “Do not tremble and do not be afraid” is a good word when sitting on a horse or traversing the Ebert Ranch high ropes course, but truth is God’s word is for all of life’s ups and downs. The psalmist's “save me” is not the same as “whoa Nelly” but none-the-less believes the compassionate and gracious God will deliver. Like the apostle Paul and the church in Rome we experience the hope of the future in community shaped by the Spirit of God. And while some horses may act as weeds among the wheat a good wrangler can make a difference, which come to think of it is what Christ does with us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pentecost 5a - Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
The first hearers of this word were no doubt encouraged by them. Justice will be done and love wins as good will triumph over evil. It is a good word for all who weary of a world infested by evil and the misery it causes, even if one hopes God’s judgment is tempered by mercy for weeds as well as wheat. In the end the job of judging between wheat and weeds is none of our business and naming good and evil us and them might just mean we have some weeds in our wheat as well. Maybe that is the point of the parable on a more personal level. We are weed and wheat, saint and sinner, and only God can pull out one without uprooting the other.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pentecost 5a - Romans 8:12-25

The sufferings of the present may not be worth comparing with the glory of the future, but when subjected to futility we groan as in labor, waiting patiently is not as easy as Paul would make it seem. Which is why we are in debt to hope, charging to the future what we cannot afford in the present so that these bodies decaying day by day might anticipate the forever future banquet long before the party has started. The nature of faith is to look past the present difficulties, without denying that they cause us to groan, by keeping our eyes on the prize, which is the day when sorrow and sighing will flee and groaning will cease. In the meantime we wait with eager expectation, albeit patiently, by going deeper in debt to hope.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Easter 5a - Psalm 86:11-17

The psalmist looks to the Lord, gracious and full of compassion, in the face of violent people intent on doing bodily harm. Maybe it’s not such a good thing that God is slow to anger and full of kindness when the arrogant rise up against you. One might be better served by a great God of might to smite the evil doers. But then all that is needed is a sign of God’s favor that those who hate will be put to shame, which truth to be told, is where redemption begins for us as well. Not the kind of shame that leads to destructive behavior or self loathing. No, it is the sign of God’s favor that exposes the self that is less true than self on the other side of shame. Arrogance is shamed by humility, violence by peace, hatred by love so that the wicked forsake their ways and set their eyes on the Lord. There is only one sign that can accomplish such things, the sign upon which the child of the Lord’s handmaid was crucified.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 5a - Isaiah 44:6-8

The God of Israel is throwing it down in the deity ring. The first, the last, there is no other like me, is laying claim to big G god status. Even though the golden age of Solomon was not solid 14 K and compared to the great civilizations of history hardly merits mention, the Word of the Lord declares otherwise. The One who says “there is no other” is telling the truth. Maybe the proof is that today we praise the God of Israel and not the gods of Assyria or Babylon or Rome. The word for the small and of no account is “do not be afraid” which is the way this God is like no other. Small g gods are magnified by great civilizations. The big G god magnifies a nation and people of no account.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pentecost 4a - conclusion

This is the sower and the seed and the good soil Sunday, speaking of which, I’ve got 128 cubic feet of composting horse manure looking for a home. Pastor Kyle said I should sell it as Pastor Phil’s Holy S##t, but I’d be glad to give it away and will even deliver it to your door.  In the Isaiah text the people of God composted through the hardship of captivity will return home rejoicing to blossom like a well tended garden. The psalmist sings as transgressions that overwhelm are forgiven and the people of God are graced like fields rich with harvest.  For Paul the “there is no condemnation” clause leads one to set the mind on the Spirit where life is made possible by the death of Christ. And in the Gospel seeds are sown without regard to the state of the soil although we trust that the by-product of producing crops is hard paths softened and shallow soil deepened and thorns weeded out. Speaking of by-products…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pentecost 4a - Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Good soil does not happen by itself and even without the effort of cultivation is the result of flood or glacier or volcanic eruption. Something happens to make good soil. Hard path and rocky ground and thorn infested field take heart. It’s not your fault. Of course we all hope we are good soil, hearing and understanding and producing bumper crops. But if you are like me you have good soil days and bad, times of rejoicing in the word and times of spiritual drought, times of inner peace and contentment and times when choked by cares and concerns you’re doing well to just get out of bed.  The good news is that the seed is sown despite the state of our soil. That’s because the consistent sower sows seed as if it was grown on trees and doesn’t seem to understand or care about the economics of agriculture. You don’t waste seed where it doesn’t have a prayer to produce. Some would rename this parable the parable of the soils but I think it’s still all about the sower who recklessly scatters the seeds of hope and peace and love and life everywhere, no matter what, and hopes that on good days or bad, we’ll do the same.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pentecost 4a - Romans 8:1-11

Romans 8:1-11
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” even when those who are in Christ Jesus continue to set their minds on the things of the flesh. That is because the “no condemnation” clause is due to “thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 7:25) and not a result of anything we have done or not done as in “I do not understand my own actions. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) However, the experience of “life and peace” is a direct result of setting the mind on the things of the Spirit. This “setting of the mind” is an orientation towards one thing or another. Either you believe you are loved by God period end of sentence or you don’t. Behavior follows belief not vice versa. So to live fully into the Spirit begins with a confidence that the “no condemnation” clause remains in effect even when our minds are hostile to God. That is the radical nature of grace and the risk God takes in dying for ungodly, God-hating sinners before getting a prenuptial. (Romans 5:6,8,10)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pentecost 4a - Psalm 65

White Crucifixion - Marc Chagall - 1938 

“When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us” we look to the Lord to forgive our transgressions and “save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore”. (God of Grace and God of Glory - vs. 4 - LBW 415) The psalmist could not have imagined the awesome deed by which God would get the job done and so sings of God girded with might, whose strength established the mountains and silenced the roaring of the seas. But it was God in Christ Jesus who was overwhelmed by our transgressions as the One who established the mountains and silenced the seas struggled to climb a hill where with his last cry the whole world was stilled. But if that is where it ends it would hardly be a source of hope. As it is death could contain the One who established the earth and breaking free from the grip of the grave set us free as well so that we might be overwhelmed by grace and God might "cure your children’s warring madness and bend our will to your control.” (God of Grace and God of Glory vs.3)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pentecost 4a - Isaiah 55:10-13

Isaiah 55:10-13
Isaiah 55 begins with a word that goes out from the Lord’s mouth as an invitation to the thirsty to come and buy, without money and without cost, food and drink that delights. It is a word for a recently released captive people returned to Zion and suffering under the weight of harsh conditions while attempting to rebuild a ruined country. As sure as the seasons, Isaiah tells them, God’s word will water your work and even the mountains and hills will sing while the trees and fields keep the beat.  It is a word that requires faith, which is not the same proof, but without the word of hope the wicked return to their ways  and the unrighteous their thoughts which leads inevitably to despair. To hope in the Lord, to trust the promise, is to anticipate the everlasting sign, which is not yet and at the same time already, which means we sing the future song even while the fields are choked by thistles and the hills covered with briers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pentecost 3a - conclusion

I’ve been going to H2 Burger Co (taking burgers to a higher level) on Fridays for lunch. It’s located in the Red Goose Saloon on Houston and according to a recent review “When you first enter, be prepared – it is a bar…” I keep going back because the chef comes up with a specialty burger every week. Today was the H2 burger topped with Quail sautéed in cognac with pancetta and juniper berries and topped with Mission Fig jelly, micro mustard greens and Cabernet cream reduction sauce. I don’t know if it qualifies as a Jesus joint, but it’s as close as this sinner can get to burger heaven. The Gospel sets the stage for engaging the world where it lives rather than remaining separate as Jesus ate and drank in ways that made the respectable folks call him a glutton and drunkard. But if Zion’s daughters are to rejoice and the works of God’s hands experience grace and compassion then not a single “wretched man that I am” can be left out, which of course includes those who spend as much time inside the church as outside.