Monday, October 31, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17
These words were written to encourage and comfort people who were suffering terribly for the sake of the faith. Let’s put aside the thought that Revelation is a road map through Divine destruction with promises of paradise for a select few and consider that the God who wipes away the tears of a multitude too great to count might not want to poke the eyes out of everyone else. Maybe within the necessary narrative for a persecuted people there is a word that speaks to all humanity created in the image of the holy. There are innocents who suffer all of life as a great ordeal, starving for food or affection with no hope for happiness. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those less innocent who scarred by neglect or abuse suffer the great ordeal of lives doomed to misfortune and out of their pain visit it others. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those not innocent at all but acting out of selfish interest suffer the great ordeal that looks like prosperity but lacks love and mercy and kindness and if they knew perhaps they would weep as well. Will God wipe away their tears? Can God wipe away every tear from every eye and still be a God of justice? I don’t know but I hope so and not because I need a happy ending to the sad human story, but because I hope God does.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Year A - conclusion

It’s early in the morning on Reformation Sunday. I’m sipping a tall bold at my Starbucks. On the way over here NPR was featuring a professor of religion who was discussing the current state of affairs in the American religious life. We’re still a spiritual nation but not quite as religious as we used to be. That’s not good news for “organized” religion but then we should be used to that by now. Even if Jesus said the church would be founded on a rock it has never been stationary. Even so the life of faith was never meant to be lived alone. It’s just in our nature to congregate and when we do organization inevitably follows. So the church goes through times of plenty and times of want, times that call for correction and times when we really do get it right. Today we’ll see a lot of red in the pews, even if you live in a blue state, and we’ll sing “A Mighty Fortress” with choirs and brass adding to the festival feeling and we’ll remember Martin Luther, the saint and sinner who got us started. But while it might seem Reformation Sunday only celebrates things Lutheran it’s really about the freedom found in the Gospel that, organized or not, is what our religion is all about.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reformation Year A - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
Maybe if I knew what my “we are descendants of Abraham” was I would know what keeps me from being free. But the sad truth is that those who claim to be “truly my disciples” are often just as bound as those who could care less. The truth is not as easily defined as one might think and as soon as you “name it and claim it” you have lost it. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin - Me & Bobby McGee) might not be Gospel but it is truth. When you get to the place where what matters to you is not as essential as to what makes a difference so that nothing matters but everything is important you come close to freedom. It is not a freedom we fight for or protect as crazy as that sounds. No one has ever been freer than Jesus, but not when was healing or preaching or praying. Freedom for Jesus was the cross and the sad and wonderful truth is that it is the same for us.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reformation Year A - Romans 3:19-28

Romans 3:19-28
God is the one who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin, we don’t have to work at disobedience or doubt or self centeredness or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than human. No, sin is all about us, which is why the just one who justifies the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of human rebellion, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way which means we are free to be fully human.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reformation Year A - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
To “be still” in the presence of shaking earth, falling mountains and roaring seas is not the natural response to natural disasters, unless being still is fainting dead away. In the same way that the uncertainty of nations in uproar and falling kingdoms typically lead us to circle the wagons and prepare for the worst by doing our best to make sure our piece of the earth doesn’t melt away. But the command is to “be still” while God does the heavy lifting of breaking bows and shattering spears. Being still in the face of personal and collective calamity only happens if we stand still on the foundation of faith which is the “know I am God” part of the equation. So being still doesn’t lead us to know God as much as knowing God allows us to be still.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Refomation Year A - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
When will the “days are surely coming” finally get here? I know some will quickly point out “the days are surely coming” came with the new covenant signed and sealed by the blood of Jesus. But if that is true, and of course I believe it is, the "days are surely coming" are not yet fully here. Even those who have the new covenant written on their heart and claim to “know the Lord” filter that knowledge through denominational lenses or personal experience and believe they have 20/20 vision while everyone else has to squint.  The “days are surely coming” won’t get here until my “know the Lord” doesn’t deny the truth of your “know the Lord.” But surely there is a right and a wrong way to know the Lord? For something to be true something else is necessarily false. Well, yes but how can we tell the difference when everything we know is subject to our own bias, even the way we come to the scriptures? Maybe we can agree on this, at least for this text. God is the only actor and the people are passive for the heart of the promise is that God does not treat law breakers as they deserve but forgives iniquity and remembers sin no more. Maybe the day will surely come when we do the same.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pentecost 19a - conclusion

This isn’t a proper conclusion to the Pentecost 19a texts but I wanted to promote my new blog Confessing the Lectionary. For those of you who don’t worship at Calvary I’ve been using lectionary based confessions for our 9:30 service that I wrote about ten years and decided a couple weeks ago to write new ones to go along with the RCL put them in a blog just in case someone else might like to use them. We use them as a part of our entrance rite by singing a chorus during the procession, this week it’s “I Love You Lord” then reciting the confession from the altar and then singing the chorus again. I post them early in the week. Feel free to cut and paste!

L              The Lord said to Moses: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:2, 18) Let us confess the ways we fail to reflect the image of God.

Silence for confession and reflection

L              O Lord

C             Keep us from walking in the counsel of the wicked and sitting in the seats of the scornful. May we delight in your law and remember your teaching! (Psalm 1:1-2)

L              The righteous are like trees planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper for the LORD knows the way of the righteous. (Psalm 1:3, 6)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pentecost 19a - Matthew 22:34-46

Matthew 22:34-46
It is a sign of our sinfulness that we sacrifice the second greatest commandment on the altar of the first. By that I mean we justify breaking the command to love neighbor as self if we believe the neighbor loves the Lord less than we do. Even theological next door neighbors are separated by mutual suspicion that their neighbor’s love of the Lord is either all mind and no heart or all heart and no mind or lacks the soul of service or the soul of morality or the soul of spirituality or the soul of (you fill in the blank).  And for those outside the neighborhood the convenient “love the sinner not the sin” allows us to hate both as sinners such as ourselves are incapable of distinguishing between the two. I know tough love has limits and lines must be drawn but Jesus does not qualify love of neighbor by how well one loves God and for good reason. The two greatest commandments are one. If you love God you love the neighbor God loves. If love your neighbor you love the God who loves your neighbor. The only ones who are required to love their neighbor as themselves are the ones who love God with their whole heart and mind and soul. The rest of us can go on hating the neighbors we don’t like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pentecost 19a - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

There are some scriptures that reveal the heart of Paul that is often hidden behind his stoic posture. We know he is able to endure all things, that he does nothing to satisfy self and even seems celebrate the long list of abuses he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. Sharing the suffering of Christ is the calling to which he aspires and ironically a good bit of that suffering comes from the congregations he established. But he has deep affection for the people God has given him, even the Galatians and Corinthians, although he’s not so gentle with the Galatians or very tender with the Corinthians. But he still cares for them in a way that is genuine and heartfelt. This deep affection is the relationship God desires between those who belong to the body of Christ, but especially between pastor and parishioner. The gift of the church to both is in the sharing of the Gospel in all its dimensions so that when one suffers all suffer, when one rejoices all rejoice.  When you stay in a place as long as I have, or like Pastor Eric before me, people become very dear to you. Of course I don’t know how it can be that I am baptizing the babies of babies I baptized! The gift of this place is in the relationship we share and the affection we have for one another. More and more I think I feel it most when missing those who have joined the great cloud of witnesses I remember their faces and hear their voices as if they were still right here with us, which of course they are. The great gift of the Gospel is that relationships begun in this life extend into the forever future because as much as we might care for one another we are even dearer to God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pentecost 19a - Psalm 1

Psalm 1
If the first psalm was written by David it must have been penned before he lingered on the balcony above Bathsheba or walked in his own evil counsel concerning Uriah the Hittite. Maybe the truth of “happy are they” can only be fully known when one has spent time with one’s own sinfulness and realized the seats of the scornful are hard and unforgiving which is what you become when you sit in them. In the end “the man after God’s own heart” was not blown away like the chaff in a west Texas wind but the sword never left his house and “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son” is as deep a lament as “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The truth about us is that we are all guilty of listening to less than fruitful counsel and we are comfortable in unforgiving seats. But like trees who had nothing to do with where they were planted we are fortunate to find ourselves drinking deep from the stream of living water that is Jesus, who though righteous was numbered with the wicked.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pentecost 19a - Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

The Law is given as gift to a people who will wander in the wilderness for forty years so that the relationship begun in Egypt might survive until the land promised. That doesn’t mean that everything in Leviticus is Gospel truth. It just means we cannot understand the command to be “holy” outside of “the Lord your God is holy.” The law reflects the personality of God. God does not render unjust judgments. God does not show partiality to the poor or preference to the great. God speaks the truth and does not hate so that even God’s reproach is an act of kindness. Of course it didn’t work with the people of Israel who proved to be rebellious and stiff necked or with us who share the same characteristics. That is why God living “love your neighbour” does not hold us accountable even though we violate the law and profit by his blood.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pentecoat 18a - conclusion

If the details of our everyday were not so important to our sense of wellbeing we’d find it easier to live into radical messages of freedom were nothing ultimately mattered except connecting to the eternal future and the divine spark that is in the DNA of humans created in God’s image whether they recognize it or not. But the captives suffered real pain and hardship and loss for seventy years before God tapped the master of the world on the shoulder and said send my people home. And while the psalmist might sing of the Lord who established the earth so firmly it cannot be moved I bet he’d duck for cover in an earthquake. I don’t doubt the Thessalonians received the word with rejoicing despite persecutions but I cannot believe they did not cry out and doubt when push became more than shove. And Jesus who dodges the Pharisees with a clever comeback will not be so witty when his hands and feet are fastened to wood. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We live in between what is and what will be and every moment we live more fully into the future by trusting freedom over captivity, firm footing over shaky ground, acceptance over persecution and life over death we are able to endure even the most difficult of our every days.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pentecost 18a - Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22
You can’t trap Jesus to brew your tea no matter what side of the party you sit on. This text is not about taxes. There are no options save death when Rome demands it’s due and lawful or not, the tax collector doesn’t care what you think as long as you pay the bill. When we use any word about Jesus to support one political position over another we are like Pharisees making a deal with the devils of their day (Herodians) in order entrap Jesus. That’s not to say the scriptures don’t encourage all kinds of things that are emphasized on one side of the political line or the other. But the mission of Jesus is to reveal the God whose image is imprinted on the human heart and so for all the might and majesty mustered by Rome, a head on a temporal coin isn’t worth the metal it’s printed on. The lesson for us may be to measure our lives by the things that belong to God, love and life, which is eternal and unending and outside of our control. Jesus is perfectly willing to be entrapped for that mission and when his time comes he will not shy away from answering the question that for the sake of the world gets him nailed to the cross.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pentecost 18a - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
One reason Paul may be continually thankful for the church of the Thessalonians is because he is continually troubled by the church of the Corinthians. And in same way the Philippians and Ephesians may have helped him endure the “who has bewitched you” Galatians, present day overseers may balance the burden of their call by rejoicing in works of faith in one place while laboring with love for ministries that struggle. I don’t know because I’ve been in the same place for twenty years and the Calvary that I landed in, by the grace of God btw, was already a “friendly church serving Christ and community.” But all of us together are called to be church steadfast in hope and inspired by the Holy Spirit. So how do we help each other be the best we can be and sound forth the word in the Macedonia and Achaia that for us are congregations in Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana and Durant, OK and Clovis, NM? What was then is now. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pentecost 18a - Psalm 96:1-13

Psalm 96:1-13
Trees shout while the sea thunders and the fields rejoice and all people sing the refrain, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” The new song that the whole earth sings is prompted by the promise to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with truth and equity. That is not good news for everyone as being judged in truth is a problem for those who prefer to live lies and despise righteousness. But if despite your sinfulness you are drawn to surrender to the beauty of God’s holiness being judged with equity is an invitation to finally be free of all that diminishes life and makes us less than human. And that is good news indeed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pentecost 18a - Isaiah 45:1-7

Cyrus the Great was good to all the gods who had been displaced by the Babylonians returning “the images of the gods… to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes.” (The Cyrus cylinder 538 BC) Granted he hoped for something in return. “May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” But he was especially kind to the exiles from Judah and not only sent them home but funded the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. Not that he gave the God of Israel sole credit for making him “Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters...” But then Cyrus didn’t know he was a pawn in God’s game and that the little “g” gods couldn’t hear or answer any of his prayers. The lesson of Cyrus is that God’s good and gracious will is done with or without prayer (Luther’s explanation to the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer) so that sometimes even less than pious people perform holy acts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pentecost 17a - conclusion

The Café menu for Wednesday was Pastor Phil’s “even better than mom’s” Meatloaf, Potatoes Elaine (mashed red potatoes with the skin) the classic Green Bean Casserole and a brand new salad that I’ve named Intern Alex’s BLT Salad. (you can view the recipe at It was a comfort food feast for the patrons of the café and as always a wild ride for the kitchen crew where almost everyone got burned including yours truly. The texts for Pentecost 17a are all about feasting. Isaiah dreams the feast of fat things for all people where God’s diet is death. The table prepared with cup overflowing is in front of enemies and in shadowed valleys, kind of like a midweek gathering at church for comfort food. Feasting and rejoicing go hand in hand and thinking on all things lovely gives strength to weary souls. And even if one guests comes undressed and is subsequently undone the rest of the guests enjoy the hospitality of the king. Maybe this is a case where the 99 are more important than the 1?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pentecost 17a - Matthew 22:1-14

The interesting twist to “many are invited but few are chosen” is that the choice belongs to the invited. Granted the poorly dressed one is dismissed in no uncertain terms but one can’t help but notice the guest list originally included those who declined and they did not suffer a similar fate. It was only after the A-list said, “No thank you” that the good and bad from the highways and byways were invited to fill the void. It could be that the “friend” in less than acceptable garments represents those who attending the banquet would have rather stayed home, but being tied hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness seems a little over the top for a dress code violation. We could read this text as a warning to dress up our lives in acceptable fashion or else suffer the consequence. But maybe we would be better dressed if we read it as an invitation to live life like a wedding reception where the party celebrates our very best hopes and dreams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pentecost 17a - Philippians 4:1-9

Paul writing from prison encourages the Philippians with a lovely laundry list of “whatever is” which goes well beyond the power of positive thinking. It is, however, an attitude adjustment in the same way we are to have the mind of Christ who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited. Gentleness evident to all, and the double dip of rejoicing, is only possible because the Lord is near. It is for this reason that Euodia and Syntyche are to set aside whatever has come between them and remember the Gospel for which they both contend. Paul had no way of knowing his letter would be read by anyone after it had served its purpose and certainly could not have foreseen over 2000 years of church history. If he had he might not have called out these two women. On the other hand I wonder if the things that divide us would be as important if we knew our names would be forever enshrined in the scriptures.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pentecost 17a - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
The table prepared is in the presence of enemies, which makes one wonder about the relative calm of green pastures and quiet waters. But maybe that is why this psalm is so often recited at funerals. While the dearly departed have passed through “the valley of the shadow” and experience heads anointed with oil and cup overflowing, we who mourn do so in the presence of death, the last enemy to be defeated. The table prepared is the promise that the shadow cast by death is not long enough to block out the light, for the evil death would do has been undone by the cross – the rod and the staff of the Shepherd. The green pastures and still waters happen whenever souls are refreshed, despite real loss and longing, by the sure and certain promise of a forever dwelling in the house of the Lord.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pentecost 17a - Isaiah 25:1-

Isaiah 25:1-9
When the city is reduced to rubble and the fortified town turned into a ruin then the strong will honor God and the ruthless will revere the Lord. The only power the mighty respect is a more mighty power. In the end death silences the scepters sway and it doesn’t matter how ornate your tomb is when “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” is the only honest epitaph. Every knee shall bow because God is the only one left standing and the forever feast on the holy mountain is a celebration of God not the “all peoples” who are invited. I know there are plenty of scriptures that would confirm that God is just ruthless as we are but if that is the case then the wicked win.