Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 1b - conclusion

Seraphina got a Parelli® bit for Christmas which turned out to be a great gift for me as well, or anyone else who rides my Arabian mare. It’s like she’s a different horse although it may be that with this bit I’m a different rider. Lisa, love of my life, but sometimes annoying know it all equestrian (because she is) tells me it’s because “Phina” fought against the snaffle we were using since it put undue pressure on her tongue. The Parelli bit doesn’t do that and consequently she doesn’t act like she has a piece of metal in her mouth. I think there is something to be said for the practice of religion that does not put undue pressure on our lives so that we are always in some way fighting against it. Even very pious people that deserve our admiration and seem to have it altogether don’t appear to enjoy it very much. On the other hand those who live without boundaries hurt themselves and others and would benefit from a bit that curbs their enthusiasm. But when horse and rider are one there is nothing more exhilarating or beautiful. So is it is with the life of faith when we respond to the cues of the Lord when the bit is not a burden but a blessing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas 1b - Luke 2:22-40

Luke 2:22-40
This is another Biblical story I learned by means of the Lutheran liturgy before I could read. We sang the “Nunc Dimittis” (Latin for “Now Dismiss”) after communion (once a month in those days). Of course what I learned was that the service was almost over and we would be dismissed, for which I was always eternally grateful. Even so it was a story that captured my imagination. In my mind Simeon was an old man waiting his whole life for this moment and he died as soon as the song left his lips. But it wasn’t a sad story to me. He got what he wanted. Dismissed in peace having seen what he longed for, his life came to the hoped for conclusion. I am not so sure I know what I hope to be the conclusion of my life and finding myself in the difficult just past the “middle years” I’m can’t imagine my passing at this point would look anything like peace. But then Simeon’s ending is Jesus’ beginning and Jesus’ ending will turn out to be the beginning for Simeon. Which is why he could depart in peace and we will as well, no matter when our last song is sung.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 1b - Galatians 4:4-7

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, 1609
Galatians 4:4-7
The fullness of time is the pregnant pause in the history of humanity where God, born of Mary, inhabits human flesh only to be worn out like a garment on the cross and be re-robed in resurrection. It is usually lost on people of relative power and prestige – even the 99% enjoy some of the benefits of capitalism – that the Galatians were slaves or women without any rights or privileges. Galatians 4:7 is a big deal to those who have less than nothing. I think we treat it as a birth right and fully expect all the privileges associated with the royalty of the righteous. So maybe the lesson to be learned from this text is that we who hear it as a given realize we have siblings who have trouble believing it and therefore we need to hear it for ourselves as a gift and not a given. And if we act as if we are surprised and delighted by such a gift of grace maybe they will be as well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 1b - Psalm 148

Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is an all inclusive “Praise the Lord!” song but unless “Sweet Jesus!” or other less pastor- like expletives count as praise, I’ve not appreciated the song of tempestuous wind doing God’s will on Mustang Island, TX. But maybe that’s the point the psalmist wants to make. Even the things we think of as less than praiseworthy when they address us – fire, hail, creepy things, sea monsters – have to bend the knee, albeit a fin in the case of sea monsters, to the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.  Sun, moon, stars, mountains, hills, all creatures great and small, all of creation praises God because “the Lord has raised up strength for the people.” But here’s the thing even the creative psalmist could not imagine. God’s strength was made manifest in weakness. The praise of the princes, at least a Procurator named Pilate and a High Priest named Annas, was to silence God’s strength by nailing Jesus to a tree but even the grave itself was compelled to praise the One it could not hold. We are also compelled to praise the one we cannot contain or confine in our holy houses of wood and stone, theologies and rituals. That’s because God is always coming to us in new and surprising ways, not unlike a tempestuous wind that long ago blew through a house depositing fire on the heads of young men and maidens so they could praise God in languages they had never learned.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 1b - Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
It is hard to imagine righteousness and praise springing forth on this overcast day after Christmas in Texas but then I imagine it was easily more difficult for the “captives returned unto Zion” to find reason to rejoice when they first saw the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem. That is what makes the words of the prophet so powerful. We tend to keep silent in times of suffering – stiff upper lip and all that - but Isaiah sings with his whole being of what will be in the midst of what is. Not for his own sake but for the sake of those who cannot sing, who have no hope, who lament of life itself and long for the grave, if only to swallow up their sorrow. But Isaiah’s faith has the audacity to believe the ruins will be rebuilt, the city that is a byword among the nations will be made great and the whole world will be blessed by the beauty of their story. Their story is our story for once we were no people, condemned and cut off, but now we are God’s own people, holy and dearly loved. So do not be silent but in the midst of difficult days sing the sing of salvation in such a way that others will be compelled to join the song, or at least hum along.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Year B - conclusion

The Calvary Café is closed for the season but we did a special Choir Café on Wednesday (Braised Beef in Red Wine, Asiago Roasted Garlic Mash, sautéed vegetables and a Pastor Phil Salad) because the hand bells and sanctuary choir were practicing for the feast of music that will feed the faithful gathered on Christmas Eve. We invest a lot in a single night that could change the world if only the reason for the season inspired us to do more than just sing peace on earth. This Christmas “War Horse” will most likely be a box office bonanza but the more important and largely ignored story of that war to end all wars was captured in the 2005 film Joyeux Noel.  It tells the story of Christmas 1914 where along some sectors of the western front German, French and English soldiers met in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and play soccer and sing songs of peace. One wonders if that senseless war could not have ceased at that point except that the generals and politicians and those who profited from the call to arms could not imagine such a cease fire would accomplish what they desired – which had nothing to do with peace, or the reason for season for that matter. So let us sing joyfully of peace on earth tomorrow night but then let us resolve to live the song so far as peace depends on us. (Romans 12:17-18) Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Year B - Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-10
“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” because she didn’t have a clue as to what was coming. We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, but if the Gnostic Gospels are even partially true it wasn’t easy keeping Jesus' Son of God status hidden. The stories we do believe are more accurate – Jesus acting in ways that made his mother and (half) siblings nervous enough to beg him to stop - means she didn't have to ponder where his kingdom talk would land him. But on the silent night holy night she couldn’t possibly know she would one day be weeping at the foot of a Roman cross while her baby boy screamed in agony. Not a pretty picture for Christmas but then we treasure what Mary could not have known that night – it wasn’t his birth that was a treasure. It was his death. Of course she also got to see what we can hardly imagine. The first Easter moment when Mary was greeted by her baby boy resurrected, which is easily more marvelous than the O Holy Night she treasured.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Year B - Titus 3:4-7

Titus 3:4-7
“…when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared he saved us…”  It would be a lovely passage all by itself but is made even more beautiful by what follows “…not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…” That’s because if it were up to me I would always be wondering if I had done enough to be worthy of unconditional love. You see how silly it is? – doing something to make one worthy of what is already is. Of course what follows the beautiful bit depends on it - rebirth and renewal into the hope of eternal life – being justified by grace births us into the forever future that renewed in thought, word and deed we might live as people who are justified by grace. What goes around comes around. That is to say the goodness and loving kindness of God appears more fully in us the more we trust unconditionally that we are loved unconditionally.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Year B - Psalm 97

Psalm 97
The God of clouds and thick darkness, consuming fire and mountain melting majesty is born into human flesh in a hamlet in an occupied land to peasant parents. That seems to contradict the images of God hurling lightning bolts and making the earth and seas tremble. Of course God can smack down the wicked and do a number on the heads of those who bow down to little g gods but God chose to be revealed in manger and cross. We might be tempted to elevate one above the other but the faithful response is to hold the two images in tension which, by the way, is a very Lutheran thing to do. God is both weak and all powerful. God demands obedience and forgives unconditionally. God is both above the heavens and as close as our own breath. “He who fills the world lay in a manger, great in the form of God but tiny in the form of a servant; this was in such a way that neither was His greatness diminished by His tininess, nor was His tininess overcome by His greatness.” (St. Augustine, Sermon 187) The light that dawns upon the righteous and makes honest hearts rejoice is that God cannot be contained in any of our constructs and unlike the little g gods, which are easily contained, is more than able to save.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Year B - Isaiah 62:6-12

Isaiah 62:6-12
The back-story for Isaiah 62 is that Jerusalem’s grain was given as food for her enemies and foreigners drank the wine for which God’s people labored. This was God’s doing and it was not marvelous in their eyes. They became a byword to the nations and were seemingly forsaken and forgotten by God. But their cries ascended to the heavens as those who relentlesslyremind the LORD and give God no rest” until God remembered and relented. Then the rejected became the Redeemed and the forsaken the Sought Out. Jesus fleshed out Isaiah’s vision of a people who give God no rest in the parable of a widow who will give a judge no rest until she receives justice.  The lesson should not be lost on us that God invites the complaints of the forgotten and forsaken even when we are responsible for whatever prompts the complaint. We might be reluctant to complain, since it feels like whining which no one likes to listen to, but when circumstances call for it complaining means we have a “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” relationship with God and trust that God, our friend, our lover, our Savior, listens to our whole life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent 4b - conclusion

I read a New York Times article that said retailers are worried people are not keeping pace with what was a successful “Black Friday” start so they are running their Saturday before Christmas sales – the second biggest shopping day of the season – this Saturday. I never worry about how many Saturdays or shopping days are left until Christmas since I always wait until the eve of the season anyway. But while shopping I’m always reminded of the passionate sermon I preached one year against the material aspect of Christmas.  Jack Welty, who was a corporate manager for a retail chain, took me to task. He said he depended on the season – no matter what the reason – to provide not just for his family but all the families that depended on the sales he worked so hard to generate. He was right, of course. But then things are always more complicated than the simple solutions a preacher is tempted to offer in twelve minutes. The reason for the season understood that, which is why the “Black Friday” we call “Good” has nothing to do with sales.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent 4b - Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38
“How can this be?” There are many who will say “it can’t” or “it wasn’t” but then Mary is the only one who can say for sure. If Luke is half the historian my father is he will have checked his sources and I don’t doubt Mary could have been one of them. Of course we don’t just talk about the virgin birth we confess it and even though that might sound like the same thing it isn’t. Confessions are not explained; they are confessed which is to say, believed. Not like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy though some would say the virgin birth is a fairytale. Confessions are not constitutions though some would make them equally binding. But the Christian confession of faith doesn’t so much bind us to a set of beliefs as it identifies us as those who adhere to a particular story of what God is about in our world. This is the story of “God with us” which is “God for us” in every space and place and time, from before the beginning into the forever future. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary entered the story in a time and place where people threw rocks at unwed pregnant teenagers until they were dead. (God help us those places still exist) She accepted what would likely lead to her death because she trusted her life was in God’s hands. “Let it be to me according to your word.” There is no greater statement of faith in the scriptures and though she is venerated as “Theotokos” (God-bearer) her faith was worthy of praise even before the Spirit overshadowed her and the little Lord Jesus jumped in her womb. Faith bears God into the world even now so that you and I enter Mary’s story, which is God’s story, whenever in the face of an uncertain future we say, “Let it be to me according to your word.”


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent 4b - Romans 16:25-27

Romans 16:25-27
The secret kept hidden for long ages but now disclosed never-the-less remains a mystery. God in human flesh, not just as a disguise for the Divine but the Holy “in, with and under” the profane; the immortal, invisible, God only wise born into the little Lord Jesus who cried for Mary’s milk before he fell asleep on the hay. A mystery, yes, but not one beyond our ability to comprehend for it was love that came down and graced our world with beauty and truth and wherever compassion and mercy are made known God is fully present. But humans prefer gods of fire and smoke, of rigid rules and regulations, and by that I mean gods who are more predictable and in many ways more easily manipulated. This God brings about the obedience of faith by entering our reality, the good, the bad and the mundane. So that if we truly want to be about what God is about we have to be more connected to each other and not just the ones who are like us. Touch the leper. Eat with the tax collector. Welcome the sinner. The reverse is true as well as Jesus let a woman scorned touch his feet with tears and another quench his thirst and still another clutch his robe. He called dim disciples to follow him and deposited the kingdom into their hands. In the end a friend kissed him into captivity and he died for a world that continues to betray him. The mystery held secret throughout the ages is not such a mystery after all. God loves, period, end of sentence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 4b - Luke 1:46-55

The “great thing God has done for me” made Mary great with child without her betrothed's participation or consent. That is not normally a cause for rejoicing even if the child hidden in her secret place (though not for long) was the Messiah. Let’s be clear, Mary was not a member of the ruling class and the “servant Israel” of whom she sings was hardly a significant player on the world’s stage. But Mary is naturally naïve and believes in, or at least hopes for, the promise of God come true. And come to think of it, even the secular songs of this season seem wonderfully naïve in a world so full of woe. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” There is more power in hope than any other human emotion save love, although they are so closely related as to almost be the same thing. And miracles, like songs that imagine God come down to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry with good things, do not need to be fully realized to be more than true. When Mary’s boy was full grown the mighty she imagined cast down from their thrones lifted him up on a cross until crying out in agony he breathed his last and was sent empty away. But death could not still the song she sung when he moved in her womb and the refrain of His resurrection was just the prelude to the chorus that is sung even now in eternity. The Lord has done great things indeed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent 4b - 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
David may believe his desire to upgrade God from tent to temple is all about God but truth is David is embarrassed Israel’s God is housed in such a humble abode. More to the point, such a humbly housed God is a poor reflection on the new king on the block, which is why David needs God to move uptown into a temple of gold and stone and cedar. We lust after bigger buildings and consider churches that house ten thousand more significant than "two or three gathered in my name" who love the Lord with their whole lives. The church may be built to glorify God but it magnifies the power and prestige of the humans that build it. If bigger is better why did God choose a manger in a stable and an unwed teenage girl to birth the Messiah into a world that would despise his teaching so much it would attempt to shut him up by nailing him to wood? The upgrade God desires is not a church made of stone but a permanent dwelling place in your heart.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent 3b - conclusion

I am thankful to Neil and Debbie Krey who were blessed by Debbie’s mother, now gone on to glory, who gifted the Calvary kitchen with a side by side True Temp reach in refrigerator, a 20 quart mixer and an immersion blender. (the saws-all of kitchen equipment)  It reminds me that our 10 burner 50,000 BTU Imperial Range came to us to a large degree through the generosity of Cynthia Defrang’s parents and the knowledge and culinary connections of Stub Wilkerson. It might not be such a big thing in other congregations but the people of Calvary have become accustomed to a level of dining beyond the traditional Lutheran potluck and so the gifts of individuals bless the whole body in more ways than one. Isaiah encourages the captives with promises of “comfort, comfort” that like our weekly gatherings around fellowship tables and altar bind up the brokenhearted and set prisoners free. The Psalmist remembers laughing loud and long and prays that God might again restore fortunes like watercourses filled with spring rain. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances is a communal activity so that when one rejoices all rejoice; and the reverse is true as well and cause enough for giving thanks, for in the circumstances where when one weeps all weep. And in the Gospel John points to the one greater than he whose sandals he is unworthy to untie, even though Jesus will see it differently and even stoop so low as to wash his disciples’ feet.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent 3b - John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6-8, 19-28
Not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet (Moses not Mohamed) John is just a voice that makes straight the way for someone else. Of course that someone else is the Messiah pointed to by Elijah and the promises God made to Abraham and confirmed through the prophet. (Moses, not Mohamed) So called prophets in our day and age are always pointing to this or that but most often proclaim themselves and make a pretty good living at it. But John in his camel hair cloak (not cashmere) eating locusts and honey, baptizing with water, knows he is the prologue to a greater story that we find out later even he doesn’t fully understand. "Are you the one or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) That is good news for those of us who stand in John’s shadow and point to the one we are unworthy to speak for or about. In the light of that thought I suppose I would be more likely to remain silent except that the sandals John felt unworthy to untie were not ashamed to walk the earth we tread and in the end were removed so that feet nailed to wood might reveal the true nature of God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent 3b - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
I don’t know about you but there are very few things I do that can be followed by “always” or “unceasing” or “in all circumstances”; except sin, of course, but maybe that doesn’t count because it comes so naturally. I’m actually a little suspicious of those who claim to live this text and that behind all the smiles and the God is so good alleluias are lives of utter desperation wrapped in praise the Lord pastels. (BTW this is not an autobiographical post. I look best in Advent blue.) Rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Really? Isn’t that called denial? There are times when the most faithful response is a lament that curses the darkness. Which is why God’s will cannot be that we manage this on our own but rather depend fully on the One who sanctifies and keeps us sound in every and all circumstances. So rejoicing can happen even when we have every reason to weep and giving thanks can take place even when we have every reason to lament and prayers can happen always because the “Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) Not denial but acceptance that even in the worst of times the promise of God to be present is more than enough reason to give thanks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent 3b - Psalm 126

Psalm 126
The first four verses of Psalm 126 remember the dream come true as exiles returned home and mouths were filled with laughter and tongues tingled with joy. When the memory of the moment is recounted the psalmist is glad indeed. But apparently those fortunes have been spent and in the same way that the dry wadis of the Negev wait for the spring rain the psalmist asks that the past be repeated in the present. Restore our fortunes like the watercourses of the Negev so that tears sown will reap joyful songs. Faith remembers the joy of the past to endure the pain of the present by hoping in the promise of the future. You might be in a time of waiting and if so need to remember the times when rejoicing came easily and if you cannot perhaps there is someone who can. Which is why if you are so gifted as to be in a laughter, tongue tingling time of being glad indeed, give thanks to the Lord and do what you can to share your sheaves of joy with those who weep.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent 3b - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Isaiah 61:1-11
Isaiah 61 is the measure of whether one has been anointed by the spirit of the Lord or not. Good news for the oppressed, not narrow views that suppress life and love; healing words that bind up the broken hearted, not harsh speech that hurts; liberating words that free one from the fear that God is not ultimately and completely “for us.”  It does not mean there are no words of correction or constraint. Just the opposite. Right behavior flows from right relationship and right relationship flows from unconditional love. Or as Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out all fear” When we live more fully into the unconditional love of God we are less likely to withhold love from others or ourselves, which may actually be the harder of the two. The brokenhearted healed, the ones who mourn comforted, the faint of spirit made strong, are signs of the Spirit whose speech blesses the world with light and love and liberty so that good news for the oppressed is just as good for the oppressor.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2b - conclusion

Calvary Youth Feasting on the 2011 Mission Trip

I’ll be heading to Dallas shortly to get started on one of my gourmet meals we auction off to support various charities. This one was for last summer’s mission trip and was purchased by Tom and Madge Earnshaw, a wonderful couple we have served at least three times in the past. I’m starting with a Pissaladière; (a savory an onion tart with Niçoise olives, roasted tomatoes and really good anchovies – which some of you no doubt think of as an oxymoron) followed by Scallop Bourride (scallops with roasted red peppers in a garlic broth), Curried Roasted Parsnip Soup, Daube de Boeuf en Croute (Beef Pot Pie - but it sounds fancier in French), one of my French themed salads with Basil Honey Vinaigrette and finally a Raspberry Truffle Cake for dessert. A feast of fat things for sure! I think all the gloom and doom end times nonsense we hear spoken as if Gospel truth obscures the real message of the end, whatever time that may be. God will make things right once and for all and all the beauty and joy and warmth of human relationships will finally be free from that which tends to whither the soul and diminish what we were always meant to be, objects of God’s desire destined to celebrate the feast that has no end. “Comfort, comfort” is how Isaiah says it. The psalmist sings of lovers kissing, righteousness and peace in a tender embrace. Peter celebrates God’s patience, who does not want anyone to miss the party. And the beginning of the Good News of Jesus means the end of our story will be a happy one. Bon Appetit, Mes Amis!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent 2b - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which because of Jesus will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that shouts of victory will drown out cries of lament. But the end of the salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have otherwise been a tragic tale, the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of Jesus' death that forgave our sin. So we who benefit from John’s prophecy and baptized by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death, walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and unyielding as the ones they walked, but because the Good News has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone.