Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent 2b - Romans 4:13-25

Romans 4:13-25
Abraham “is the father of us all” is how Paul puts it. Three faiths claim what Paul proclaims. Father Abraham and Mother Sarah birthed Judaism through Isaac. Islam’s claim came through Ishmael, the son of Sarah’s slave. And Christianity only got included by adoption. I wonder if God intended us to consider the children of the father of many nations as extended family. I don’t mean all branches of the family tree are able to hope against hope as the adopted children do. The legitimate children depend on who they are and what they do to be acceptable in the God of Abraham’s sight while we who didn’t have a prayer to be included recognize (I hope) our fortunate son and daughter status is due to what has been done for us. Therefore we hope against hope because truth is we were as good as dead before the mercy and grace of God appeared in the Christ, who was handed over to death for our rebellion and raised for our justification.  Given the grace extended to us there may be room within our faith tradition to embrace the entire human family as brothers and sisters and work towards the good of all so that the faith of the adopted child becomes the way the other children of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar can also hope against hope and be reconciled to Abraham's God by the only legitimate Son who is Abraham’s Lord.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lent 2b - Psalm 22:23-31

Psalm 22:23-31
The Gospels only record Jesus crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) but I imagine he recited the rest of Psalm 22 under his breath. That is because His cry of dereliction was for our deliverance as the people yet unborn who through his death and resurrection would hear the proclamation; “The Lord has acted!” But I wonder if it wasn’t for himself as well. Hanging naked, bleeding, dying while the multitudes mocked him Jesus sought out the psalm that both spoke to his agony “a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet; all my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.” (vs. 16, 17) and strengthened his resolve “the Lord does not despise or abhor the poor and the Lord’s face is not hidden from them; when they cry out, the Lord hears them.” So it is with us when faced with suffering and sorrow beyond our ability to bear. Just like Jesus we pour out our complaints to God trusting God hears so that commending our spirits into God’s tender mercy we are confident God will deliver on the promise of peace in the here and now and the forever future.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent 2b - Genesis 17:1-16

Genesis 17:1-16
Ninety-nine is not too old for a new life and a name change, though Abraham might have preferred to be circumcised as an infant. I’m just saying. Of course Abraham wouldn’t be the father of many nations without Sarah and even if Isaac is named for her laughing at the thought of a child in her golden years it should be noted that Abraham laughed out loud at the thought as well. But that’s the way it is when you’ve spent a lifetime waiting for a promise to come true only to be disappointed time and again. And I imagine it became more difficult after Hagar bore Ishmael for then there was no doubt as to who was to blame for Sarah’s barren womb. But somehow through all the years Abraham and Sarah endured the sideways glances and whispered comments for the sake of the promise they barely believed. When the promise came true they were just as surprised as everyone else and we are as blessed by their laughing as their believing for if God allows room for disbelief in the mind of father Abraham and mother Sarah perhaps our believing has room for the doubtful laugh.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent 1b - conclusion

Lent has always been my favorite season of the church year. It could be because from a very early age my father fed us on a constant diet of sad country western songs and Lent like a sad country song somehow makes me feel better. Maybe it’s because feeling sad is better than not feeling at all. I don’t mean depression or the debilitating sorrow of tragic loss, even though some would say Lent is depressing enough, thank you very much, and I’ll grant you it ends in a tragedy of cosmic proportions that of course turns out to be good news. No, the point is I think Lent allowed or maybe encouraged Lutherans to feel something when looking at the cross draped in purple and singing O Sacred Head Now Wounded which does not come naturally to Germans and Scandinavians. So for six weeks I felt the faith I could explain during the rest of the year by the catechism I memorized. The lesson of the flood begins the time of fasting and penitence by reminding us of the consequence of wanton wickedness and the mercy of God. The psalm pleads for a forgetful God who none-the-less remembers to be merciful. Peter sees the flood as a foreshadowing of baptism where dying to sin is rising to new life. And in the Gospel Jesus enters our life of temptation and wilderness wanderings so that we might hear the Good News and live the kingdom come.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent 1b - Mark 1:9-15

Mark 1:9-15
When immediately after hearing “You are my Son, the Beloved” you are driven into the wilderness where Satan and the wild beasts hold sway the temptation is to doubt one’s “Beloved” status. Satan doesn’t have to do much more than ask the question in the same way Satan asked the first humans, “Did God really say…?” The question sowed doubt in their minds and it may have in the Beloved’s as well. But where the first humans gave doubt its due, the Beloved let the voice “You are my Son” speak louder than his hunger or the tempter’s deceit or the wild beasts in the wilderness. We are tempted in the same way when we find ourselves driven into the wilderness of circumstances beyond our control or difficulties by our own design. Doubting our “beloved” status leads us to live in ways that devalue self and others so that we buy the lie and lose the paradise of peace and joy and love. The good news is that Jesus abandoned paradise to live in the wilderness of our world so that in "the kingdom of God has come near" we might repent and believe the Good News. We are loved.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent 1b - 1 Peter 3:18-22

1 Peter 3:18-22
Pr. Kyle, Intern Alex and I stood outside the Richland Hills train station before sunrise to offer ashes to commuters on their way to work. There were truck drivers and construction workers, business men and women, young couples, Merry Maids and food truck cooks, families with young children all who came to be  reminded of their mortality (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return) and be marked with the ashes of repentance in the sign of the cross. I’m sure some were meeting whatever religious requirement the days holds for them or maybe reconnecting with their Roman Catholic roots. Some just said thank you and blessed us with a smile and a wave as they drove off.  One man ran to me to get ashes and then ran to catch the train. Another drove up and thanked me for being there but when I offered ashes said, “No thanks, I don’t do lent.” And then there was the woman who rolled down her window and asked if the ashes were a Christian thing and when I assured her it was said, “Well then do me too.” But there were a few who wept upon hearing the words and receiving the blessing. In some ways a priest in the early morning light meeting you on a street corner where you’d least expect the good news to be proclaimed in the reminder of mortality and the ashes of repentance is a cause for tears in the same way the “imprisoned spirits” who were disobedient long ago wept upon meeting the risen Christ in the darkness and hearing the Good News – Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous so they too might be brought to God.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lent 1b - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
“Do not remember the sins of my youth” is the psalmist 's plea to God for the sins the psalmist cannot forget. It is often true for us as well. The sins of the past haunt the present and color the future a darker shade of grey. Even those of us who claim grace abounds and that God forgives and forgets find ourselves mired in the mud of the past where we willfully stepped off the path of the Lord and rejected the ways that were made known to us. But God, mindful of mercy, is always present to shed light on that which we prefer to hide so that in the confession of regret and guilt and shame God might make “a new beginning from the ashes of our past.” (We Are Baptized in Christ Jesus by John Yilvisaker) When God instructs sinners in the way the first lesson is that whoever we were and whatever we may have done or left undone has been forgotten and no longer defines our present or predicts our future for when we put on Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lent 1b - Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis 9:8-17
It is not stated plainly but I think “never again” carries with it a certain amount of regret. Or if not regret at least a determination that extinguishing all life on the planet earth by drowning is not the final solution to the reality of evil. Our time is no more or less evil even if the scripture states that in Noah’s time “the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11)  Surely there were innocent children in Noah’s age?  And what of the multitude of animals that didn’t win the two by two lottery?  The evil of every age has always presented the righteous with a dilemma. Isn’t flooding the earth and killing every living creature on it as evil as whatever prompted such a response? That is why in an equally evil age God remembered the covenant and chose to do the dying himself rather than making the whole world the scapegoat for sin. Not as an excuse for evil but an invitation for the righteous to live in such a way that invites others to climb aboard the ark of salvation that is life in the Lord.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Transfiguration - conclusion

Transfiguration is the last festival Sunday before Lent and the lessons reflect the mystery and majesty of God. The chariot of fire whisks away the end time prophet who will turn up in the Gospel for a meeting on the mount with Moses and the transfigured Christ. The psalm praises the God who in fire and tempest controls the course of time through the rising and setting of the sun. Because God shines forth the minds of believers see what is hidden from everyone else. And in the moment of glory that terrifies the disciples Jesus takes back what he gave up. Maybe the most important thing about the story is that he gave glory up again to walk down the mountain with dimwitted disciples knowing that in the end he would have to climb a hill all alone and be transfigured through death on a cross.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Transfiguration Year B - Mark 9:2-10

How did Peter, James and John know it was Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus without the benefit of Facebook profile pictures? And what were Moses, Elijah and Jesus talking about? Of course when you ask those kinds of question you miss the point of the story. This is a theophany (Greek for God appearing) which is something beyond knowing because the holy and the profane have nothing in common. That is why Isaiah cries out “Woe is me” when he sees the Lord high and lifted up. And that is why Peter blurts out the offer of three dwellings, as if Jesus the Beloved, shining like the Sun, and the ancient law giver and the end time prophet needed to be housed in habitations made by human hands. When the light show was over and the familiar Jesus returned a question remained. “What could this rising from the dead mean?” We have the benefit of the post resurrection perspective that the three disciples coming down the mountain did not, but maybe the question remains for us as well for even in the light of the resurrection we see through a mirror dimly. But by the grace of God we who know in part know enough to still the terror and return us to the familiar for in Jesus the Holy and the profane meet as the One who knew no sin was made to be sin so those in bondage to sin might be set free. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Transfiguration Year B - 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I think sometimes the minds of unbelievers see the Gospel more clearly than those who have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Of course they don’t know what they are saying or doing is what the Gospel is all about and in that sense they are near sighted and in need of the Christian lens. It is only because the image of God lived and died in the flesh that you and I dare to believe and proclaim that God is desperately and ultimately in love with the people who inhabit this planet. The god of this world that blinds the minds of unbelievers and believers alike also inhabits human flesh, namely yours and mine. You don’t need to look any farther than the human heart to find the devil inside. But the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” is more than able to overcome our love of sinning in all its devious forms so that what we become is the lens through which unbelievers see the Christ.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Transfiguration Year B - Psalm 50

The God far off comes near in fire and smoke and tempest to judge those who think their sacrifices will keep the righteous judge at bay. It is a common complaint of God. “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” God is done with the sacrifices that have no heart and tired of those who recite the statutes but fail to live the covenant. So God rebukes those who hate discipline and live without a concern for the consequences of deceitful lives. But “the Gospel is always bad news before it is good news” (Friederich Buechner) and for the sake of the creation gone horribly wrong the perfection that came out of Zion was abandoned by the faithful and disfigured by the cross only to shine forth from the empty tomb. Because of God's self sacrifice our sacrifice that is pleasing to God is a contrite heart and a life of thanksgiving that honors the God of salvation.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Transfiguration Year B - 2 Kings 2:1-14

2 Kings 2:1-14
It is a strange story of whirlwinds and water partings and pregnant pauses – “Yes, I know: be silent." But when the moment comes Elisha sees the chariots and cries out, “Father! Father!” both for Elijah’s passing and the promise “if you see me… it will be granted." Tearing his clothes is a break with the past as picking up the mantle is embracing his future. The passing of the mantle is what the church has been doing for thousands of years. In many ways we inherit a double portion of what has been before as we build on the foundation of everyday prophets, saints and sinners, all the way back to the first witnesses of the resurrection. Even in this time of uncertainty and decline the story of “God with us” is more than able to preserve the traditions of the past while propelling us into the uncharted future. Even so some garments will be left behind having served their purpose. But when we invoke the name of the God of those who gifted us with their prophetic spirit the waters blocking our way will part and the church will cross over into God’s forever future.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Epiphany 6b - conclusion

It's not really a conclusion for this week but it is a sermon about healing and since I'm with my sister in Toledo I thought rather talk with her than blog.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Epiphany 6b - Mark 1:40-45

Mark 1:40-45
Some versions of the Bible translate “moved with pity” (or compassion) as “Jesus was indignant” due to one of those textual variants that keep Biblical scholars in business. Compassion is the most accepted translation but there may be some benefit in thinking that the desperation of the leper produced a visceral response in Jesus. He felt it in his gut, which is where the Greeks located compassion (splagcnizomai lit. moved in one’s bowels) “I do choose. Be made clean!” is driven by Jesus getting hit in the gut by the beggar at his feet. So Yeshua “God saves” is indignant when confronted by the pain and suffering and isolation and desperate need of one who is unclean and Jesus has to do something about it. The leper made well doesn’t have time for the priests or whatever Moses commanded because the same passion that drove Jesus to heal now possesses the made clean leper to spread the word. We too are to possess that indignant compassion that drives us to do something about the suffering in our world so that Jesus no longer stays hidden in our houses of worship but is brought openly into our everyday everywhere.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Epiphany 6b - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I’m running the Cowtown 5K at the end of the month and hoping to beat my personal best time of 26:04 though even then I’ll be at least 10 minutes slower than whoever wins. So I’m not taking Paul at his word since I figure a 26:03 is a winning time for me and even if I don’t run as fast as I hope I’ll still be happy for having run. That is why I don’t much care for the analogy of punishing my body and enslaving it as a model for the life of faith. Don’t get me wrong, I push this 55 year old body to the edge of my physical limits in LA Fitness classes six days a week, but I find the experience exhilarating not inhibiting. Of course Paul just wants to make the point that the life of faith requires effort and that the imperishable wreath we run for is worth winning and wearing. But I think running the race is as much a joy as winning the prize, which truth to be told was won for us already by the One whose body was punished on the cross and enslaved in the tomb by a world that didn't have a chance in hell to win any other way.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Epiphany 6b - Psalm 30

Psalm 30
Our son Joshua, in his second semester at Cisco Jr. College, posted this on FB.  “With everything going on Cisco has taught me to be mentally strong and persevere. With these and God I can accomplish and get through anything.” Psalm 30 would agree and Lisa and I are incredibly proud of the young man our boy has become. But it doesn’t happen without heartache does it? Weeping in the night sometimes does not go away with daylight and dancing is difficult when your feet are mired in the mud of life. But that is why we have each other and so the mental strength and ability to persevere comes to us through the God who gifts us with community, and FB certainly qualifies as a place where the Spirit encourages and strengthens us - not unlike what this preacher father and the folks at Calvary do on Sunday morning - a face to face time to get together to share a word from the Book and give thanks to the God who enables us to get through.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Epiphany 6b - 2 Kings 5:1-17

2 Kings 5:1-17
Healing happens in ways we least expect. Naaman’s servants understood what their master could not. “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult would you have not done it?” But then the most difficult thing to do is to be obedient especially when we continue to want to be the master or mistress of our own universe. But God through the prophet tells the commander to wash in a dirty stream and let go of his need to be in charge. We’d like to believe we can do whatever we like and be just fine but like Naaman we are infected with a disease that cannot be cured. So when we finally become desperate enough we will listen to the Servant and do the difficult thing made possible by the cross of the Master and bathe in the river of repentance for the healing of unclean lives.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Epiphany 5b - Conclusion

I never intended this week’s lectionary to be about me but in some ways there was no escaping it. (Hopefully there’s a word for you in the word to me) The Isaiah text is one of my favorites even if my “eagle wings” are sometimes lacking in lift which is why all my hope depends on the Lord. The psalm might not be one committed to my memory but I pray my life is pleasant praise for the Lord, even if I really do delight in the strength of my horse, Seraphina. Despite what Paul believes I am diminished by trying to be all things to all people but by being true to myself and the Christ within me I can be more than I am. And like Jesus departing to a deserted place getting away makes it possible for those called to draw near to continue to do so, which means we (and by we I mean I) need to do it more often.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Epiphany 5b - Mark 1:29-39

Mark 1:29-39
Jesus needed to get away for awhile just to pray. He wasn’t escaping from the burden of being a blessing to a feverish mother-in-law or a city full of sick folk or from the work of putting demons in their place. The whole city that gathered at his door at sundown would be back at sunrise and Jesus knew the healing he needed was to get away for awhile. He got up in the darkness and went to a deserted place so that he could commune with the One who sent him to be a blessing. We live in a 24/7 wired world and even when we are alone we tend to be distracted. But what we really need in our down time is holy time, by which I mean a silent sacred space to commune with the One who sends us to be a blessing. I don’t do it very well since it takes some practice, but maybe that’s the point. I don’t know if a 2012 Jesus would tweet or FB or blog but I’m sure if he did he’d find time to turn it all off in order to reconnect with the One who sent him to proclaim the “kingdom of God has come near” message. So if Jesus needed down time to fuel his up time it follows that people and pastors whose lives are a blessing to others need it as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Epiphany 5b - 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“I have become all things to all people” is not such a good thing to be unless it is “all for the sake of the Gospel” but even then it’s a dangerous thing to do. Of course proclaiming the Gospel is a noble and worthwhile endeavor, but I wonder how many professional proclaimers have sacrificed health and home by trying to be all things to all people while never being true to themselves. I’m not confessing.  I’m just asking the question. But truth is according to all sorts of surveys we clergy are a pretty unhealthy lot and it’s not because the devil is out to get us, we can get there without any help, thank you very much. I think it has something to do with the misapplication of this text by a demanding profession with high expectations (mostly unspoken) and low reward (at least in the way the world measures it) and more recently, diminished respect so that the clerical collar is often an object of ridicule in the wider culture. But there is a greater truth and that is that the obligation to proclaim cannot be escaped and “woe to me if I do not proclaim” means the call is not an option. That being said we can be better on both sides of the pew of being true to ourselves while being all things to each other for the sake of Gospel.