Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pentecost 12a - Romans 13:8-14

Romans 13:8-14
It is not a debt we care to own up to as loving neighbor as yourself is not as sweet as it sounds. First of all we hardly love ourselves, although we like ourselves well enough to fulfill desires as if they were needs. We almost always neglect the “neighbor” as defined by the parable of the Good Samaritan and avoid contact with them when we can. We don’t even fully love those who love us, withholding a certain amount of capital in reserve, fearful that full commitment may lead to personal bankruptcy. That’s the truth. Fear drives the process and love demands more than anyone is willing to pay. If it came easy we’d be better at it and the Bible wouldn’t have to talk about it so much. But as it is we are reluctant to love fully, especially when it means we have to sacrifice time or energy or pay real dollars on the debt. There are some who recklessly disregard conventional wisdom and even if they had a rainy day fund would have spent it long ago on the needs of others. We call them saints and most of them are dead or in prison or live in ways the rest of us do not care to live, thank you, very much. They do inspire us, though, don’t they? Maybe enough to put ourselves on a payment plan to pay down the debt of love we can never repay. For the Jesus who inspires saints to live with and love neighbors not like themselves died to save us all and rose to pay the debt the law demanded.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pentecost 12a - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
The way of the Lord is life in all its fullness, but it doesn’t come naturally. Our hearts are more inclined to unjust gain and the falsehood of fooling ourselves with excuses. That is why the psalmist prays to be taught the ways of the Lord and led in the paths of righteousness and turned from falsehoods that promise much but deliver nothing. The Lord’s reproach is the truth about us, which is a good enough reason to dread it, but there is life on the other side of a just judgment which is why in our inmost being we long for the law of the Lord that is life.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pentecost 12a - Ezekiel 33:7-11

Ezekiel 33:7-11
God gives Ezekiel an incentive to warn the wicked, “you will surely die” by tying the prophet’s fate to speaking the difficult word of warning. The “prophetic” voices of our time need no such encouragement to preach against wicked behavior. Many of them make a lucrative career out of warning others, although they spend most of their time preaching to the choir. There are some who risk ridicule by standing on street corners, like those in downtown Fort Worth, TX last Saturday night warning wicked movie goers and diners of the error of their ways, although personally I think they are misrepresenting the Jesus who ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. The trouble is warnings fall on deaf ears without the benefit of a meaningful relationship and party poopers on street corners have little chance of saving anyone, save those who already considered themselves to be saved. But the Lord’s lament, “as surely as I live I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is not the same as “turn or burn” as the warning “why will you die?” is not as much a threat as it is an invitation to live. That is because the Jesus who spent a good bit of time cavorting with sinners decided dying for them was the only way the wicked and the ones who warn them would have a chance to live.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pentecost 11a - conclusion

Phillip Sheridan’s comment about the Lone Star State “If I owned hell and Texas I would rent out Texas and live in hell” hits a little too close to home this summer. Some folks are saying the record drought will forever change the face of rural Texas as ranchers sold all their livestock because they ran out of water in July. The Brazos and Guadalupe have run dry in places and as one preacher lamented in Llano, TX, “Good Lord, help us, even the Johnson grass isn’t growing!” One of the good things that came out of the ELCA assembly in Orlando last week is that some Lutherans from Iowa met some Lutherans from Texas and heard firsthand about hard times for ranchers in Miles and Avoca and so are sending truckloads of hay to help them out.  The people I’ve met from the Panhandle and Rolling Plains and West Texas embody the faith of Jeremiah, who despite the difficult nature of his call never gave up trusting in the Lord. And like David those who depend on the right combination of sun and rain rely fully on God’s faithfulness. The kindness of Iowa farmers to Texas ranchers is the real life example of Romans 12 – contribute to the needs of the saints and extend hospitality to strangers. And like the Good News of the Gospel “great suffering and death” can be faced with faith only because “and on the third day rise” is the last word for Jesus and for us. We hope and pray the rains will come soon and those who have been spending the summer in hell with General Sheridan will come back to Texas in the fall.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pentecost 11a - Matthew 16:21-28

Peter thinks “the rock” upon which the church will be built should have a say so about its foundation and undergoing great suffering and death is not a part of Peter’s plan. You would think “and on the third day be raised” might make a difference, but it doesn’t. He’s a Galilean fisherman sailing in uncharted waters. He has witnessed miraculous healings and feedings and the transfiguration but the wind and waves freaked him out and made him sink even though he walked on water. When he gets the promotion from “one of the twelve” to CEO he’s already cashed in the keys of the kingdom and is looking forward to living large. The rebuke must have come as a surprise with the “blessed are you” ringing in his ears and while the Gospels do not record his immediate response Peter’s denial in the courtyard would indicate that the “and on the third day be raised” still hadn’t sunk in.  It is true for us as well. We do not wish sorrow away by the power of positive thinking. We cannot revise reality by saying the half empty glass is half full. Half full is the same as half empty in that there is 50 % less to drink. And of course we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. No. The suffering is great. The death is real. Which is why only “and on the third day be raised” can address the very things to which Peter, and we ourselves, say, “God forbid it, Lord!” The power of the resurrection is that it is the only thing that can deny death the last word about us which is why we dare to lose our lives before death can speak.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pentecost 11a - Romans 12:9-21

This is Paul’s flesh and blood bullet list for the life of spiritual worship that is a holy and acceptable living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) It is a renewed mind conformed to the way of Christ and not the pattern of this world. But the living sacrifice life is a delicate balancing act. If we hold too fast to what is good haughtiness follows on its heels. If we do not hold fast enough we cling to what is evil and neglect what is good. Boot Camp Aubree (LA Fitness instructor, Hurst, TX) says that balance is an illusion the body is always making adjustments to maintain. I say when you’ve worked at it as long as Aubree the illusion is reality and when she stands on one foot (with the other on her head ) one cannot tell the difference between a thousand tiny adjustments and standing perfectly still. So it is with the practiced life of faith that depends on Christ to make adjustments to our natural tendency toward pride, envy, arrogance and greed so instead we might be conformed to the pattern of Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to grasp. The life of faith turns the world upside down rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, greeting strangers as friends, and treating the lowly like the mighty and the mighty like the lowly, though truth is we are all loved equally by the Lord. Boot Camp Aubree has us exercise upside down all the time and calls it inversion. She says we are creating new butts for ourselves and adding TEN YEARS to our life every time we do it, which means with or without the resurrection of Jesus Christ I am either going to live forever or die with a beautiful butt.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pentecost 11a - Psalm 26:1-6

Psalm 26:1-6
David may have penned the psalm but Jesus is the one who embodied it. His blameless life was cut short by wicked evil doers whose deceit did not triumph for the glory of the Lord, high and lifted up on the cross, was vindicated by the empty tomb. But what of David singing this psalm having raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah? (There is no choice when the king commands you come to his bed or go to war) Maybe the testing and the trying and the proving of David’s heart and mind is in the nature of his life which might have remained “blameless” as a simple shepherd but was destined for tragedy as a king. When by the prophet’s ploy “you are the man” God confronts David’s deceit and hypocrisy he does not defend himself but rather relies fully on the unfailing love of God who is just in judging and right in pronouncing guilt. Maybe in showing undeserved mercy to David God also repents of plucking a ruddy young lad out of a pastoral existence and sending him to slay a giant in the armor of his best friend’s father whose throne he will one day steal. I should quit before I entertain any more heresy but the good news is this; if God forgives David, who showed evil doers a thing or two about being wicked, then there is hope for the rest of us who rely on the one who led a blameless life on our behalf, Jesus Christ out Lord.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pentecost 11a - Jeremiah 15:15-21

The merrymakers do not want to hear what Jeremiah has to say and even he is getting tired of being a party pooper. The word that was the joy and delight of his heart has gone missing like a brook whose waters dry up in the summer heat. Mocked and discounted as a crazy old coot he lashes out at the Lord who has laid on him the weight of righteous indignation. But the Lord slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love has reached the limit of patience with the protesting prophet and reminds Jeremiah of his place, albeit with a promise. They will turn to you if you turn back to me. No one wants to be a Jeremiah but sometimes we have to tell a difficult truth and not count the cost, even if in truth telling we are accused of being false. How then do we know the difference between a precious word and one that is worthless? The worthless word lets us be even if that means we are left to be less than were meant to be. The precious word leads to life even if preceded by a word of necessary death, which of course no one welcomes but for which one will be eternally grateful.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pentecost 10a - conclusion

It has been quite a week for the Heinze household. Twenty years ago on the 17th, trusting the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 and a plan to prosper our relationship, Lisa and I said “I do” although the more significant vow was “in freedom and joy I bind my life to yours”.  A week later I said “I do and I ask God to help me” to the vows of ordination though twenty years after the fact I think Lisa needed to say “God help me” out loud as well. On our twentieth anniversary we moved Joshua, our first born, to Cisco, TX to start his college career, after which his sister Mary rejoicing in her “only child” status made an anniversary dinner for her parents who were too pooped to do it for themselves.  It is an adventure for us all and in spite of less than encouraging national and global news we like the prophet Isaiah recognize that God has blessed our beginning. With the psalmist we give thanks with our whole heart for God’s goodness in the past and trust God’s providence in the future. We marvel at our son who is a living sacrifice to God, as decent a man as any father could ever hope to have, although most of the credit goes to his mother. And finally with the Gospel we confess that the rock upon which we stand can never be shaken and is more than able to overcome times of turmoil for God has come down to be with us in the person of Jesus.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pentecost 10a - Matthew 16:13-20

Matthew 16:13-20
The church has been working diligently to accomplish what Jesus promises will forever frustrate the gates of Hades. It is at once a sign of our brokenness and God’s graciousness that we survive despite all our efforts over the ages to demolish the rock upon which we stand, the confession of faith that the way of Jesus is the way of God. The truth is you and I, who make up the institution of church, liberal and conservative, thrive in the shadow of Hade’s gates.  We have overcome the command to be set apart by the overwhelming desire to fit in, the message of peace with rationalizations for war, the plight of the poor with the gospel of prosperity, unity with division, godliness with greed and love with law. But God is not contained in the cathedrals of stone or doctrine or personal piety we have constructed to diminish a grace that defies our desire to disregard it. No. When God confers the keys of the kingdom on the church and declares it to be as solid as a rock it is only because God cannot be overcome by the gates of Hades or the hell on earth we seek to establish.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pentecost 10a - Romans 12:1-8

The pattern of this world is etched into our DNA which is why conformity with it comes so naturally. Even self-sacrifice and the renewing of the mind can mimic the world’s pattern as when pride in personal piety leads us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and less of others than sober judgment allows. But when motivated by the mercies of God the sacrifice of a contrite heart is holy and acceptable and capable of being transformed into something similar to Christ. To be like Christ is to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others without immediately judging them or on the flip side coveting them. Not all members of the body have the same function but all are necessary and of infinite value to the whole because all are loved equally by God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pentecost 10a - Psalm 138

Psalm 138
The psalmist gives thanks for deliverance in the days of trouble and though it might sound like a prayer “Do not forsake the work of your hands” already anticipates the purpose of the Lord being fulfilled. That is because the Lord on high bends down to whisper peace to the lowly but laughs out loud at the antics of the arrogant. For in days of trouble, when surrounded by enemies and weakened by strife, the cry of the needy will not fall on deaf ears for the love of the Lord is steadfast and endures forever. Therefore the little g gods will have to listen while the lowly praise the Lord on high and the kings of the earth hearing the song will come down from their thrones and join the choir.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pentecost 10a - Isaiah 51:1-6

Isaiah 51:1-6
The ransomed of the Lord returned unto Zion with singing (Isaiah 35) but their songs were soon silenced by the harsh reality of cities laid waste by war and neglect and the hostility of homesteaders reluctant to make room for the recently released. The ransomed of the Lord, wearied by the frustrations presented by freedom, were tempted to change their tune like their ancestors wandering in the wilderness and long to return to the relative comfort of captivity. In the midst of this crisis of identity God reminds them of the past and makes promises for the future to restore in them hope for the present. With eyes lifted to the same stars Abraham could not count they are reminded of their humble beginnings and comforted with songs of deliverance that promise a forever future of joy and gladness. Remembering God’s past faithfulness while anticipating God’s future providence is the song of forever freedom and the way we overcome whatever troubles, whatever frightens, whatever might lead us to become comfortable with captivity.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pentecost 8a - conclusion

My son Joshua is lamenting yesterday’s sudden drop in temperature that by three degrees and two days denied Fort Worth, TX the record set in 1980 of forty two consecutive triple digit days. The sentiment is not lost on me and truth to be told if you have to endure forty days of hell on earth you want to have some bragging rights in purgatory. But then records are set to be broken and if this one is like all the others I hope to spend the record setting summer in Alaska while my son sweats in west Texas singing Queen’s immortal rock anthem “we are the champions, my friends…” Isaiah imagines the record set by the Mosaic Law broken as those denied access to the God of Israel are given a home. The psalmist sings the prayers of farmers across Texas that the land refreshed by rain would yield its increase. Paul proclaims the divisions of creed and culture erased like a record broken and forgotten. And Jesus, a living parable, sets a new record no one thought could be broken except a desperate woman who for the sake of her daughter was willing to be called a dog, even by the Savior of the world.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pentecost 8a - Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28
I wonder if the Canaanite woman was present when Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides and then chided the disciples for being slow to understand. If so it may be that Jesus is the object of his own lesson. In the past I’ve preached desperation as the woman’s motivation. She is a mother whose daughter is possessed by a demon and she will not be denied even if it means being called a dog. That may still be true but it seems ironic then that the lesson Jesus wants the disciples to understand is the one she leads Jesus to learn. After all, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” are the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth. So unless you believe it is not slander to call a desperate mother a dog based on her ethnicity Jesus is as slow as his disciples to fully comprehend the implications of his own words. But before I delve any deeper into blasphemy what if God in trying to move us beyond ethnic divisions and inbred racism is willing to become a living parable? The Jesus who knew no sin becomes sin in the way this teacher of Israel embodies the prejudice of God’s chosen people destined to be a light to the Gentiles but instead hell bent on their extermination. And so Jesus in welcoming the woman is the vision of Isaiah 56 in flesh and blood. The foreigner and the outcast and yes, even the eunuchs, all have a seat at the table where previously they begged for crumbs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pentecost 8a - Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32
The irrevocable gifts and calling of God is Paul’s conclusion to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for “his kindred according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2) Even though the Christ Paul professes has been rejected by those who are imprisoned in disobedience, God will in the end be merciful to all. It is a daring statement that we diminish when we qualify it based on our limited knowledge. The point is the cross confirms the covenant and unlike people who God laments “honor me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13) the promise from God’s lips and the love of God’s heart is one in the same.  If Paul believes God’s mercy extends to descendants of Abraham who do not confess Christ, we might even dare to hope God’s mercy extends to those for whom we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish trusting that in the end mercy trumps judgment.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pentecost 9a - Psalm 67

Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us” is the prayer of all people who having plotted their own way find their plans are less than prosperous. Of course for a time “the wicked prosper” even if the prophet Habakkuk laments “How long, O, Lord?” Sooner or later the currency of prosperity, which may satisfy for a time, ends in bankruptcy. When the capital of life is not invested in a relationship with God and one another the return is always less than satisfying. But God through Jesus Christ has invested everything in us and despite unstable markets tossed to and fro by anxious investors the blessing of God is a sure bet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pentecost 9a - Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Isaiah 56:1-8
The lectionary cut out the verses of Isaiah 56 that instruct eunuchs not to say “I am just a dry tree” (v.3) but rather rejoice that they shall not be “cut off” from the Lord. (v.5) Instead they will be given a place within the house of the Lord better than sons and daughters. The Mosaic law makes no such exception as males emasculated by crushing or cutting (is there any other way?)”may not enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1) Isaiah died long before the provider of the promise was born into human flesh and even if he had been around he would have been surprised. The One who carried the promise wasn’t castrated but he was cut off by his own people. He wasn’t a foreigner but he was considered an outcast. But his death at the hands of the chosen and his resurrection orchestrated by God Jesus made possible the promise that restores those castrated by the Law of Moses to a new reality where foreigners have a home and divisions are erased and outcasts are included so that the house of God might be a place of prayer for all people.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pentecost 8a - Conclusion

It is too hot to ride our horses, the dogs are too hot to bark and our chickens are laying their eggs already fried and sunny side up. Of course if it hadn’t been for a hotter than H-E-double-hockey sticks July it would just be August in Texas which we gladly endure to avoid winters in Chicago. The texts for Pentecost 8a call us out of the frying pan and into the fire so to speak but with a promise of comfort that comes from faith. The zealous for the Lord Prophet has cooled to his call until God speaks in silence and sends him on a new mission.  The psalmist trusts in the promise of peace despite the difficult days of exile. Paul believes a new people united in the Lord will emerge from the inherent animosity between Jew and Gentile. And Peter sinking would be pleased to swim back to the boat but crying out to his Savior walking on water is just as happy for a helping hand. Hot or cold, a little faith goes a long way.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pentecost 8a - Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-33
I’m a little reluctant to argue with the Holy Scriptures but it seems to me a little faith goes a long way if it gets you to step out of a perfectly good boat in a storm. On the other hand what’s a little wind, even a strong one, when you are already walking on water? Maybe that’s the point. A little faith can get you out of the boat but it can’t keep you from sinking. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and suddenly the “Rock” was sinking like a stone. It is true for us as well when after a little while of enduring the storms of life, sorrow, pain, or loss, the winds of despair and the waves of grief lead us to doubt the goodness and the grace of God and we sink into the depths of despair. But in those times faith can cause one to cry out “Lord, save me!” so even when we are sinking a little faith goes a long way.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pentecost 8a - Romans 10:5-15

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek…” is as radical a statement as any Paul made. Israel was a nation specifically set apart to be God’s own people. The psalmist declares “God has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation…” (Psalm 147:19-20) They were distinct from other people through adherence to the Mosaic Law, through a restrictive diet, by the practice of circumcision. They were warned repeatedly to remain pure to avoid the ruin of the nation, by God’s own hand no less! But now Paul declares the “new thing” that was promised through the prophet Jeremiah that even he could not have anticipated. The law that set Israel apart has itself been set aside for the sake of nations long denied equal access to the God of Israel. In Jesus Christ “God come down” the Word is as close as our own breath and the beating of our own heart. Of course we have made new distinctions; defining exactly how someone must “call on the name of the Lord to be saved” or what must be believed in order to qualify as one who will not “be put to shame.” Maybe we need an equally radical expression of the grace of God who apparently after a thousand years or so with Israel was willing to be less exclusive when it came to who qualifies as “my people.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
There is no peace when righteousness is held captive to self and salvation is defined by personal piety devoid of compassion or mercy. Salvation near to you is near to me for the way faithful people turn their hearts to God is to turn to neighbor. You cannot love God without loving neighbor. So when steadfast love and faithfulness meet together righteousness and peace engage in PDA (public display of affection) and the people prosper. That’s not to say all paths are the pathways to God. Jesus, betrayed by a friend with a kiss, is the righteousness that goes before the Lord so that in “Peace be with you” faithfulness might spring up in the most unexpected of places, the human heart.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pentecost 8a - 1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19:9-18
In the previous chapter of 1 Kings, before the “very zealous for the Lord” Elijah crawled into the cave, he called down fire from heaven on wet wood that consumed both altar and sacrifice in a flash.  So why is he hiding in the hills? Maybe the “very zealous for the Lord” is not as zealous as he claims to be? So instead of fire and smoke on a mountain God speaks in a still, small voice, a whisper on the wind, to still the heart of the very zealous but fearful prophet. So it is with us who may have seen and believed the wonder of the Lord before but in a current crisis doubt that lightning can strike the same place twice. A still small voice, a whisper on the wind, calls to us to come out of hiding, to come out of fear, to come out of fretful forecasts of gloom and doom and believe that the Lord knows our need and will provide in the present as God has provided n the past.