Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent 2b - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15
So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while worrying about “the rest of the world is toast thief in the night day of the Lord?” Even if we are confident of our reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who do not know the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove tail with our own – at least for the “none” that we know – which is why waiting patiently is not the same as passively waiting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 2b - Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

We could use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness, which is always an attitude before it shows up as behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent 2b - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin, but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is doubly consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent 1b - conclusion

Josh and I left Fort Worth in the very early morning for two days of father son beach camping and boogie boarding. Hopefully by the time you are reading this we’ll be catching some Gulf surf on Mustang Island. Mary Ruth and I had a father daughter date on Tuesday night to celebrate her sixteen years of life. We had a lovely dinner at Cat City Grill and a macchiato at Avoca and then got home in time for the Dancing with the Stars final. It’s a nice way to start Advent, a season to reflect on and be thankful for all God has done for us, even as we wait with eager expectation for the joy to the world that will come, and of course by that I mean the second coming, not Christmas. The texts for Advent 1b contain some frightening images if it were not for the promise found in each one. In the face of national calamity Isaiah counts on the Lord remembering “we are all your people.” The psalmist counts on being restored in the light of God’s salvation after being fed a steady diet of tears. Paul’s gracious salutation to difficult people counts on “the greatest gift of these is love” that is more than able to overcome divisions in the body of Christ. And the “stay awake” of the Gospel is an invitation not a threat for the One who will come on the clouds is the same One who was born in a stable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Advent 1b - Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I'm hoping that means despite the description of sun darkened, stars falling, heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent 1b - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
 It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But then the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts, like patience and forbearance and long suffering; not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus, who as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Advent 1b - Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19

Psalm 80
The psalmist does not stop talking to God even when fed on the bread of tears or drinking from the bowl of weeping. When life laughs at us and circumstances conspire to mock our hopes and dreams we tend to turn away and wonder what good is God. But I suspect the psalmist gives voice to what we know deep down – in the end there is nowhere else to go.  “Stir up your strength and come to help us” and the repeated refrain, “Restore us, O God” are prayed with a confident hope that God hears the prayer, even if God’s anger “fumes” over things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. Of course we know what the psalmist did not; the One at the right hand of God is the confident hope of all prayer, for His strength was made perfect in weakness and in the darkness of his death we see the light of our salavtion. 

While searching for images I found this Early Morning Prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Bob Hostetlers Prayer Blog.
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Advent 1b - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah 64:1-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” but not today, thank you. It’s my daughter’s sixteenth birthday and I’m sure that would ruin her day. Granted the apocalypse will have to land on somebody’s birthday, I just prefer it not to be Mary Ruth’s, or mine for that matter. I know there are those who look forward to the second coming, but I hope the second coming comes long after I am gone. It’s not that the planet and its people wouldn’t welcome something better than what we presently endure; it’s just that the peaceable kingdom doesn’t arrive, well, very peaceably. So we remind God, who often seems silent and hidden, “we are all the work of your hand” so “now consider; we are all your people.” God is present where judgment and mercy meet. We acknowledge that in our present condition we are not all we were meant to be or want to be or could be but even so God is forever connected to us as potter to clay, parent to child. So on this day in particular I am grateful for the work of God’s hand that is Mary Ruth: not perfect, mind you, but more than I deserve and everything I could ever hope for.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ the King Year A - conclusion

If you celebrate Christ the King Sunday you’ll probably sing Crown Him with Many Crowns. It was written in 1851 by Matthew Bridges, an Anglican who had converted to Catholicism. The hymn was based on Revelation 19:12 “and on his heads were many crowns.” He wrote six verses and the hymn became hugely popular. Godfrey Thring, a devout Anglican priest, was suspicious that Catholic theology was being sung in Protestant churches (heaven forbid!) so he wrote six verses of his own for use in Protestant circles. Over the years the twelve verses were used in varying combinations so that now most hymnals contain four, two by Bridges and two by Thring, but truth is no one can tell the difference. And Christ the King is pleased.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christ the King Year A - Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46
The sheep didn’t recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned stranger but they provided help anyway. The goats didn’t recognize Jesus either but it sounds like if they had they would have done something about it. That’s why this text is not about works righteousness and the reward, or punishment, is not about what you do. It is about who you are because “being” and “doing” is the same thing. The sheep were motivated by the obvious need of others and did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Jesus hidden in the sick and isolated. For whatever reason the goats were not motivated by the obvious need of others and so did nothing to help the Jesus hiding in plain sight. So if you see this text as primarily about gaining reward or avoiding punishment you’ve missed the point and perhaps the Jesus hiding in the need of others. But then it should not come as a surprise to those who claim Christ as King that God is interested in the welfare of those who live on the margins, after all Jesus was born into poverty and died a stranger, thirsty and naked imprisoned by nail and wood.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language, so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christ the KIng Year A - Psalm 90:1-7

I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) As a child it seemed a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics, which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than singing the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when our everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us for when push comes to shove we would prefer not to be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves, which would be pleasing to shepherd and sheep alike.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pentecost 22a - conclusion

My Morey Baja® boogie board arrived in the mail today ahead of schedule. Unfortunately the red tide has not left the Texas coast and water that kills fish is not something I want to wade in or ride on. It’s a shame since over the years we’ve weathered high winds and driving rain, a blue northern that dropped the temperature by 30 degrees and fog and mist that kept us in our tents praying the bet your bottom dollar sun would come out “tomorrow, tomorrow.” But we’ve also known days of endless waves, beautiful sunsets, gentle breezes and balmy weather to slow the pace of life and your heart rate at the same time. But you can’t weather red tide. You just have to stay away until it goes away. So I’ll put on my wet suit and sit on the couch with my Morey Baja® and watch Blue Crush and maybe God will see me and have pity and push a cold front through that will spare both the fish and our Thanksgiving vacation at the same time. The hope in Zephaniah for something different than destruction comes in the last chapter where the God offended in chapter one gathers a remnant from the offenders to be a pleasant planting and a people pleasing to the Lord. The psalm begins and ends with the Lord as refuge but the verses in between name the killing tide that is our willful rebellion. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to build each other up even though the Lord is going to tear everything down. And in the economics of the Gospel lesson those who have get more while those who have nothing get less than that but only because they believe God operates in such a manner. Like the risk everything five and two talent servants I’ll be watching the beach reports for the red tide to go out and even if I have to drive eight hours for one ride I’m catching a wave on my new board.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he does not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away, but then again the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules, not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pentecost 22a - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Therefore encourage one another” seems uncharitable at best considering the impending doom for everyone else where the “will come as a thief in the night” is a day of the Lord from hell. Surprise! And doesn’t the idea of an eternal from the beginning plan to make the biggest surprise of human history sudden destruction bother you? Even the most vicious small g god humans have invented is capable of that. So what if the surprise “thief in the night day of the Lord” is mercy not judgment? And staying sober is living in the light of radical love, the kind of eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners life that got Jesus killed so that the destiny of humanity would be salvation not wrath. Now that would be a surprise, wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Psalm 90

Psalm 90
The Lord “our refuge from one generation to another” also knows our secret sins. No wonder the psalmist rightly fears God’s indignation. We prefer anonymity where sins are concerned and even though we suspect others are consumed by sin we like to believe no one suspects the same of us.  But the Lord knows the things we even try to hide from ourselves. The memories that still make us shudder with shame. A lifetime of things done and left undone, said and left unsaid set before the Lord in whose anger “all our days are gone and our years come to an end like a sigh.” But the truth about us is not as great as the truth about God “our refuge” who knowing us full well still satisfies us in the morning with unfailing love, teaching us the gift of each day so that our hearts weighed down by sin might be lightened by wisdom.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pentecost 22a - Zephaniah 1:7:12-18

Zephaniah is very popular with the “Save Fort Worth” people that spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other, from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - conclusion

I’m going to order a new body board today for our yearly Thanksgiving week pilgrimage to Mustang Island State Park which means I’ll smell the salt air and ride the surf in my dreams tonight. It happens every year that as the day draws near to trade my pastored up shirt for a wet suit I’m able to be on the beach long before we get there. In theological terms we say that is future present which just means we live the promise before it’s fully realized. The Feast of All Saints would be a sad day indeed if it were only about remembering those who have died. But it is at the intersection of memory and expectation that the saints and we are most present. They with us in fond memory and we with them in hopeful expectation. In the same way the first lesson imagines the God far removed being so present as to reach out and wipe away tears. The psalmist already tasting the goodness of the Lord invites the still afflicted to hear and rejoice. In the epistle the hope that purifies is that we will be what we already are. And the Gospel promise is that “blessed are you” doesn’t wait for circumstances to change but lives the promise in the present. Surf’s up!   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Festival of All Saints Year A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are those” becomes “blessed are you” when you live the Beatitudes. By that I mean the “rejoice and be glad” not the persecuted for righteousness sake. In our everyday the "blessed are you" has a tough time overcoming the persecuted (period end of sentence). But the “blessed are you” is and was an invitation of what we are to be because they are a promise of what will be. That does not deny “persecuted for righteousness sake” as your reality. That’s pretty much a promise too. But to look beyond being poor in spirit, meek and mourning, starving for justice means one is a merciful, pure in heart peacemaker. As far as Jesus is concerned that is blessed indeed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - 1 John 3:1-13

1 John 3:1-3
The hope that purifies is that we are what God says we are, beloved children. I know the analogy to human parenthood falls short of the glory of God, but when I consider that God loves me in the way that I love my children, Joshua and Mary Ruth, I am purified from all that would make be believe I am less than I am; a beloved child of the creator of the universe. The love God has for us cannot be limited by all the things said and unsaid, done and left undone that limit our response to that love, in the same way that not a day goes by when I don’t marvel in the miracle and give thanks for the gift of my children. That is the hope that purifies, God giving thanks to God for the miracle and gift of a child that is you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Feast of All Saints Year A - Psalm 34:1-10

Psalm 34:1-10
Delivered from terrors and saved from troubles the psalmist rejoices in the goodness of the Lord. Sometimes the only way out of trouble is through it which is what the cross is all about. To fully bear the weight of human sin the cross must have struck terror in Jesus, if only for a moment. “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” But the terror of the cross is temporary and “into your hands I commend my spirit” is the beginning of the forever life that shines forth in radiance from the empty tomb to bathe the world in the light of resurrection hope. Because Jesus endured the trouble and terror of the cross we can sing “taste and see that the Lord is good” even when the days we face are not.