Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pentecost 10b - Psalm 78:23-29

Psalm 78:23-29

Not satisfied with water from the rock the children of Israel wondered aloud about the ability of God to provide meat and make bread. (78:20) God was furious (78:21) and yet responded to the people’s complaint with manna (what is it?) and quail. They ate and were well filled for God gave them what they craved. Of course at the time they craved whatever would satisfy their hunger and it would not be long before they tired of quail and complained about detestable manna. Calvary’s Room in the Inn program hosted thirteen homeless men tonight in our family life center. One of the men offered the prayer before dinner and gave thanks for the goodness of the Lord with whom all things are possible and without whom nothing can be accomplished. It was profound yet simple prayer of faith and thanksgiving for the everyday miracle of God with us and the warmth of friendship. We heard again from our guests how much they appreciate Calvary and that our Room in the Inn has got serious street cred. (that’s a good thing)  I don’t think it’s primarily the food or the accommodations, as good as they are. I think it’s the hospitality and the genuine love expressed through smiles and conversation and generosity of spirit. When it comes right down to it that is what we crave and that is what God provides whenever God’s heart is expressed through human hands. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pentecost 10b - Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Exodus 16:2-15
Those who complain in the wilderness, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt” forget the family members who never made it out of Egypt and that the Egyptians didn't need the Lord’s hand to help kill them. But then we tend to reconstruct the difficult days of the past in the light of present troubles thinking that what was was not as bad as what is even though what is and what was are often the same thing. Dying at the hands of the Egyptians or of starvation in the wilderness is still dead. It is to God’s credit that this constant complaining does not lead God to “walk like an Egyptian” (The Bangles) and be done with the whole assembly. It is a preview of God’s struggle with a people whose “love is like the morning mist.” (Hosea 6:4) The God who provides manna and quail to ungrateful people will continue to give them bread to eat, even if it is the bread of tears, in the hope that they will recognize that freedom in the wilderness is better than slavery in Egypt. God’s hope for us is that in following the way of the Lord we would prefer to live in radical freedom, no matter how difficult it is, than to dwell in the comfortable prisons of our own design.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Pentecost 9b - conclusion

I’m blogging from the Longhorn Cafe, Harper, TX while waiting for my order of Migas with ham and chorizo. Clint Black is on the radio singing “The lights are on, but nobody’s home” while a table of ranchers sit in the corner catching up on the week’s events. A man in a John Deere cap stops to tell a farmer in overalls and his wife sporting an Aggie t-shirt that he “picked twenty-five pounds of tomatoes yesterday.” Apparently he would have had more if the goats had stayed out of the garden. The lone waitress stops at each table making chit chat and refilling coffee cups as no one seems in a hurry to go anywhere. The texts for Pentecost 9b are about abundance coming from meager means in the same way a bottomless cup of coffee keeps you sitting at the Longhorn even though chores are waiting and the goats are in the garden. The twenty loaves of barley and fresh heads of grain are multiplied by Elisha so that a hundred are well fed with some left over for the next day. The eyes of all wait on you, O Lord, only do so because those who wait believe the drought will not last forever and the “due season” will come in God’s time. The abundance of God’s love cannot be contained or explained or understood so that even when we dimly perceive how high and deep and wide is the love of God we've only just begun to know the riches of God’s grace. And Jesus feeding the five thousand foreshadows the day when the vast multitude will toast the Holy with fine wine and feast on rich food while God dines on death and swallows it up forever. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pentecost 9b - John 6:1-21

John 6:1-21
The feeding of the five thousand is found in every Gospel which means it was a big deal to the early church. My guess is it was the Galilean Woodstock of sorts (without the music and drugs) so that it occupied the popular imagination and even those who were nowhere near the mountain that day wished they were until the five thousand magically multiplied and everyone claimed to have been there for a bite of fish and a morsel of bread. Well, maybe not, but it really was a big deal. In fact those who actually were there ran around the lake to meet Jesus (who walked across) thinking that the one who provided supper might also make them breakfast. (John 6:26) Of course we do the same thing when with limited vision we value temporal needs over eternal truths. Not that God is disinterested in our everyday. But the miracle of the story is that God takes what is and multiplies it into what can be. We are tempted to tell the crowd to go away which devalues both our own resources and the multiplying effect of faith. But the story of the first century Galilean Woodstock is that what appeared to be too little was more than enough.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pentecost 9b - Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21
If we are able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus we have a clue as to what God can accomplish beyond the limitations of our imagination. Far too often we turn this all surpassing power into a temporal wish list thinking that what we ask is what God will provide. I think the clue to what God is about is in the “far more abundantly” clause of the contract rooted and grounded in love. Our vision is limited at best and more often than not myopically distorted so that what we want, need, or desire has little to do with the love that surpasses knowledge. But if we take our cues from Christ we might begin to understand that what God intends to accomplish is for us to act “far more abundantly” than we otherwise would so that every family in heaven and earth might experience the benefits of God’s grace.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pentecost 9b - Psalm 145:10-18

Psalm 145:10-18
"The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord" especially if those eyes run cattle or grow cotton in Texas. We've had more than one cotton farmer and cattle rancher in the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Mission Area Parish Lay Academy and I've always thought they have more to tell us about faith than we could possibly teach them. I’d like rain now and then so I don’t have to water my lawn, but they pray for rain to sustain their livelihood and then endure week after dry week moisture laden clouds that pass over them with nary a drop. I wonder how they can hold onto to the notion of a benevolent God when their crops are shriveled or when they have to sell their breed stock to save the farm that can’t survive without water no matter what they do. But then we of the wired world weary if our 4G slows down to 2G or heaven forbid, doesn't “G” at all. The closer you are to the land the more dependent you are on things you can’t control and the more we understand that there are things we depend on that we can’t control the more our eyes look to God.  It might not make it rain and it certainly won’t make our 4G download faster but as my cotton farming friends have taught me it will uphold you when you fall and sustain you when you are bowed down. Our eyes look to you, O Lord.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pentecost 9b - 2 Kings 4:42-44

2 Kings 4:42-44
Twenty loaves of barley and unnumbered fresh ears of grain that feed a hundred foreshadow a boy with five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand. Theologians apply eschatological significance to the feeding stories recorded in the Bible but they might not need to do that if we were more familiar with hunger. A good number of us are well fed enough to diet. But in these stories God provides real food not as some future kingdom come down but as a real need satisfied by real food in the real here and now. Again, some make sense of these stories by saying the real miracle is in the sharing and not some magical multiplying of meager resources, but however you do the math the meal was enough that the satisfied multitude asked for doggie bags. I’ve been on the receiving end of such sharing and it does not discount the miraculous moving of God to multiply what is not into what can be and in that miracle we are always well fed. Thanks for lunch, Chef Bob! (Flying Saucer, Fort Worth, TX) It was a foretaste of the feast to come that I will be copying for Calvary Cafe.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pentecost 8b - Conclusion

I’m heading to the Texas hill country on Sunday afternoon for my second week this summer at Ebert Ranch Camp. I’ll be chaplain to the staff, play guitar for worship and be low man on the wrangler totem pole. It is the last week of the camp season for the counselors who I am confident will act like it is their first week for the sake of the campers for whom it is their only week. For me it will be a “the days are surely coming… lead me beside still waters… brought near to Christ… all who touched him were healed” sort of week. Not that we can’t experience Holy Spirit refreshment at home. It’s just that going away often allows you to come closer to what is always near and being inspired by the gifts of others allows us to inhale deeply the fresh wind of the Spirit that is always closer than our own breath. Or in other words - Yee Haw. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mark 6:30-34

Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

The people of Gennesaret recognize Jesus because the Gerasene demoniac is in his right mind and wearing clothes and won’t stop talking about the One who set him free from the chains of insanity. (Mark 5:1-20) My guess is only the swine headers are sorry to see Jesus again. The apostles sent and returned have also experienced rock star status and along with Jesus are no longer anonymous. Of course it is not a good thing to have no leisure (even to eat) but it might be nice to be known once and awhile as a disciple of the Christ. We don’t have to have Holy Spirit power to heal or the ability to teach with wisdom and authority. The command of Christ is to love one another as we have been loved and love will get you noticed if we love consistently and without reservation. Even a chance encounter with a stranger affords us the opportunity to be friendly or generous or welcoming and although we might not see the result there is healing in a smile or a gesture of kindness. We have spent a good bit of time practicing the faith in and with the faithful. It’s time to get in our boats, so to speak, and cross to the other side, which today might mean the Starbucks across the street from the sanctuary. I wonder if anyone would recognize us? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pentecost 8b - Ephesians 2:11-22

Ephesians 2:11-22

I've read this passage more times than I can remember and have always celebrated it as good news and of course it is. But then I am a “citizen with the saints” who otherwise would have been an alien and a stranger cut off from the covenant with no hope and without God. I imagine it was read differently by those who saw the “dividing wall” as faithfulness and not hostility, who waxed poetic about the perfect law that revives the soul and makes the simple wise. (Psalm 19:7) Truth is even the apostle Paul resisted the new arrangement with violence, breathing “murderous threats” (Acts 9:1) against those who claimed the Christ as Messiah and Lord.  Years after Paul breached the wall the commonwealth of Israel was expelled from the household of God by the aliens and strangers who erected a new wall of hostility. I’m guessing God hoped for a different outcome, but like the “in the beginning” gone wrong in the garden this was a moment when all the possibilities of the perfect future were available in the present and humans chose to remain mired in the past. That does not mean we need to stay there. We can embrace this text from the other side of history and tear down the walls we have erected. We can stop defining “us” by denigrating “them”. We can choose to be people who proclaim peace to all who have been exiled to “far off” and by living the hope of the future be ourselves a holy “dwelling place for God.” 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pentecost 8b - Psalm 23

Psalm 23

Lisa and I have had more than one sheep and a few shepherds in our time, albeit of the German, Australian and Belgium variety, but then “the Lord is my shepherd” wasn’t thinking of a dog to get the job done. No, “the Lord is my shepherd” isn’t limited to a pastoral landscape or agrarian lifestyle. That may be why a culture specific song speaks to every time and place. We all know the valley of the shadow and have felt its cold grip about our necks. We have been surrounded by enemies who overturn our tables and drain our cups to the dregs.  Goodness and mercy have fled away and our heads have been anointed with scorn. The psalm is not spoken to those who lie on beds of ease or rejoice as in days of comfort. There is a reason the 23rd psalm follows the 22nd cry of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” For “the Lord is my shepherd” speaks as a finale to those who have walked through “the valley of the shadow”. Not that the rest of us can’t sing the song. It’s just that to fully appreciate the tune requires a minor key before the chord can be resolved. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pentecost 8b - Jeremiah 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6

It appears that the days that “are surely coming” still haven’t arrived as the righteous Branch raised up for David was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53) and crucified by the sheep he came to shepherd. Of course the righteous Branch was resurrected and the remnant gathered on Pentecost would proclaim the reign of the righteous Branch from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth. Unfortunately the empire figured out assimilation was the best way to stamp out the Holy Spirit fire as the remnant ruling did not remain true to the righteous Branch. And so even if there are days of righteousness and justice and wise dealings they don’t last as one tyrant is overthrown only to be replaced by another. So what shall we say about this promise as yet unfilled? Well maybe Jeremiah’s idea of what the Branch would accomplish and God’s “plans to prosper… with a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) were not exactly the same thing. In the temporal realm branches raised up are not like the capital B branch that comes humble and riding on a donkey and in the grand scheme of things we should not look to small b Branches to be anything more than twigs. We are citizens of a realm that exists simultaneously in the finite present and the infinite future and as such are free like Jeremiah to speak truth to “the powers that be” without counting the cost even if the cost is a cross. In that way the days that “are surely coming” have already arrived and are still pending as we work to transform what is into what will be, even while we wait with eager expectation the day when “they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” will have fully come.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pentecost 7b - conclusion

I’ve just returned from Ebert Ranch Camp, Harper TX. I spent the week working horses with Wrangler Kaitlyn and her assistant Blythe, and my assistants (smile) Pr. Mark and youth director Thane. I hung out with our youth, did devotions with the staff, played guitar at worship and learned to line dance, even though my line was squiggly. I always come away from camp inspired and more hopeful for God’s “kingdom come” on earth. I spent three summers as a camp counselor in the mid 70’s sharing the love of Jesus in quiet and not so quiet ways and I realize in 2012 not much has changed. The young people I met this week are a lot like the young person I was and (when they remind me) still am. Idealistic? Yes, of course, that is the nature of youthfulness. But it is idealism with legs. While laughing and flipping fiesta pancakes (red, green and plain pancake color) Blythe can talk about what it means to be a Christian today. “It means on a Wednesday morning you go to a shelter to serve breakfast to the homeless. It’s about what you do.” But they are not na├»ve. They understand the difficulty of what God has called them to because they live it. And so they are dedicated to the craft (even if they wouldn’t call it that). All week long they smile and sing and share and even if their life inside or outside of camp is anything but joyful they get campers to smile and sing and share and do silly things so that Jesus is more present. And the campers coming with hope and fear, (whose life might not be so joyful either) are transformed to be like the counselors they see and experience, who love Jesus in silly and very, very serious ways. I remember my summers of serving and guess it’s not that different today. The staff is able to do what they do because they know when the campers go home and the staff is alone together they can weep or chill or vent or sleep but by Sunday afternoon regroup because the campers who are coming haven’t been there all summer and count on their one week at Ebert to be the best ever. The staff does it because they love Jesus and love does not count the cost even if the cost is a cross. So you who read this pray for these young women and men and rejoice in the gift they are and give glory to God that the faith that inspires them to such sacrifice will guarantee that the future day of peace and joy and love has been made known in the here and now by their selfless and valiant service to youth and an (older) pastor who was touched and transformed by the kingdom come. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pentecost 7b - Mark 6:14-29

Mark 6:14-29
It is a gruesome story and a sad end for the Baptizer who made straight the way in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. I know Stephen is the first martyr of the church but John is the first one to die for the cause. That’s not to say he fully understood it even if in baptizing Jesus he recognized the one who was greater than he. While in prison John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another. Jesus sent them back to tell John “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matthew 11:5) Maybe Jesus’ response emboldened John to continue to be a voice in the wilderness, albeit confined in Herod’s prison, calling “that fox” (Luke 13:32) to get out of the hen house. But then John was not a “reed shaking in the wind” or one destined to wear fine clothes. (Matthew 11:7) He was born to be a prophet and “more than a prophet” but like so many prophets before him he paid the price for speaking the truth to power. Jesus will have his own day in court when the crowd demands its due and the prophet from Galilee suffers the same fate as those who went before him. The difference is that the Word made flesh could not be silenced, even by the grave. And John the baptizer was blessed to know he was included in the word that Jesus sent him. We stand in that prophetic tradition as those called to speak the truth and not count the cost for the word sent to John includes us. The dead are raised.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pentecost 7b - Ephesians 1:3-14

Ephesians 1:3-14

Chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the earth” is a long time to be loved. But we were destined for adoption for the good pleasure of God’s will. That means we are the object of God’s eternal affection so that love lavished upon us has as much to do with God’s desire to love as to be loved in return. It is a mutually pleasing arrangement. God gifts us with glorious grace and we live for the praise of God the giver’s glory. The mystery of God’s will made known to us through the apostle Paul is that God is somehow incomplete or unfulfilled without us. And we are less than we were destined to be without God. The church has not always done justice to describing this reciprocal relationship, casting God as a stern judge who merely puts up with us or excusing continued rebelliousness on our part by a cheap grace that that does not count the cost of our redemption to the Christ. But when we understand ourselves to be dearly loved children we can no more be afraid of God’s wrath than a child laughing while bouncing on the knee of a devoted parent. And in the same way we live to make God laugh with pure delight and joy just as we desire to please a beloved parent.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pentecost 7b - Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm 85:8-13
Because steadfast love and faithfulness embrace righteousness and peace are bold to come out of the closet and engage in PDA (public display of affection) so that faithfulness springs forth and the righteousness of heaven rains down upon the earth. But before these delightful verses the psalmist pleads for God’s displeasure to be put away and God’s anger to dissipate so that the people might be revived. Therefore the most important verse of the psalm is verse 8. “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying…” Revival happens when God responds to the people’s pleading and they listen and act on what they hear. Then the righteousness that springs forth to be kissed by peace is found in acts of kindness and mercy that mimic the ways of the Lord. And like a sweet embrace or a passionate kiss the world blushes at first but in the end is blessed by the PDA of God's faithful people.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pentecost 7b - Amos 7:7-15

Amos 7:7-15
I’m blogging from the front porch of the Lela Haus at Ebert Ranch Camp in the Texas Hill country. We’ve had a little bit of rain today and the cloud cover and breeze make for a pleasant afternoon for putting your feet up and relaxing. It’s not very good for having something to say about the Lord hijacking Amos to speak a harsh word against Jeroboam and “my people Israel.” But then the harsh word is sometimes the only word left to say for one cannot continue to abandon the truth and expect there will never be a consequence for living the lie. The Lord is merciful and slow to anger but there comes a day when even the steadfast love of the Lord is compelled to say to the wicked, “Thy will be done.” There is loss for God as well, like a parent of wayward child or the partner of an unfaithful spouse, the Lord goes into exile and all the hopes and dreams begun in the desert exodus – I will be your God and you will be my people – are for naught. But then God’s anger does not burn eternally as God’s desire for intimacy cannot withstand exile forever. Long after Israel is abandoned and Judah captured and returned God will write a new covenant on the hearts of humans. The true nature of God will revealed in Jesus living and dying and rising and creating for himself a people to bear witness to the grace of God. The desert will bloom like the Texas Hill Country after a rain and the dry land will rejoice and the people will prosper, not because we fully abandon rebellious ways but because God will not fully abandon us.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pentecost 6b - conclusion

I preached in my hometown pulpit in 1995 during the 100th anniversary year of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois. I left Grace in 1979 to begin my career as a Lutheran grade school teacher and youth director but there were plenty of people in the pews who knew a few things about me, some of which I’d rather not remember. I didn’t do any deeds of power and if I spoke with wisdom it was the Gospel that did all the talking. The prophet Ezekiel is sent to preach the truth whether the people like it or not because only the truth can set prophet and people free. The psalmist looks to the Lord for the word of mercy that speaks more loudly than the contempt of the proud. The all sufficient grace that made Paul perfect in weakness allows him to be content in hardship and encourage the Corinthians to do the same. And Jesus, the hometown boy who is prevented from doing mighty deeds of power by the unbelief of neighbors and family, still sends out disciples two by two to proclaim the kingdom come and turn the world upside down.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pentecost 6b - Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6:1-13
The home town crowd is astounded at Jesus’ teachings and deeds of power. Jesus is amazed that it doesn’t make a difference. He is still the carpenter, the son of Mary, even if he can cast out demons and heal the sick and speak with wisdom the origin of which defies explanation. To be fair Jesus is asking neighbors and relatives to suspend logic and move beyond anything they could imagine about him. That is the difference between knowing and believing. They can see that there is something different about him and even name it but they cannot (or will not) believe he is more than the Jesus they have always known. That is what happens to the twelve sent out two by two as well. Called and commissioned to proclaim “the kingdom come” they do the things that Jesus does, casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching the Jesus sermon. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” And they receive the same reception as Jesus does. Aren’t you James and John, the fishermen, the sons of Zebedee? There is no indication that Jesus did any dust shaking when rejected so perhaps the instruction to shake the dust off their sandals has as much to do with the disciples not being discouraged as it does the house that will not welcome. But like the disciples sent out the message received is meant to move one from knowing to believing to doing. We might know a thing or two about Jesus and be able to recite the tenants of the faith as described in creeds and catechisms just like the home town crowd knew about Jesus. Faith calls us to move beyond what we know in order to believe what cannot be known. Or in other words what you know becomes who you are and who you are becomes more like the One you know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pentecost 6b - 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Power made perfect in weakness” is not a pleasant sort of life even if Paul is content to boast of his long list of calamities. Indeed it would seem that the thorn in his flesh is the least of his worries. But then the lesson to be learned is that the ability to endure all things does not come from a position of strength as if all one had to do was double down on spiritual steroids or stoically channel your inner Norwegian - if you happen to be Lutheran. No. It is grace that allows weakness to be strength. That means one can be content and still lament of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” (aka - channeling the inner Dane) It means that even though you pray for what you want (three or more times if you like) there comes a day when you accept what is and there is some measure of contentment in acceptance. But that is not the end of the story. The grace that is sufficient points us to the “things that are not to be told” so that the future balm for present woes might be applied to the wounds made by thorns in the flesh. In that way “my grace is sufficient for you” transcends whatever keeps us from being too elated in the present with the promise of whatever waits for us in the paradise that only “God knows”.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pentecost 6b - Psalm 123

Psalm 123
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we have had more than enough contempt from the proud and those who are at ease except that in our context “we have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo) Not that we are the “indolent rich” only that in comparison with the vast majority of those who inhabit the planet we have won the lottery a few times over. So if we were to translate the lament of the psalm it might be that we have had more than enough of lusting after the lifestyle of the rich and famous (Robin Leach) Or keeping up with the Joneses. Or competing to be the “winner is the one who dies with the most toys.” When with eyes lifted up to the heavens we search for God’s mercy we are set free from the allure of possessions and the siren song of power. In that way we have had more than enough of the ways of this world and long for the day when with eyes lifted up we shall see the salvation of the Lord.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pentecoat 6b - Ezekiel 2:1-5

Ezekiel 2:1-5
This is not the sort of job description one wants to receive but then it seems to be the prophet’s lot. Ezekiel is sent to speak truth to a nation of obstinate and stubborn rebels. Isaiah is sent to a people “ever hearing but never understanding… ever seeing but never perceiving.” (Isaiah 6:9) Jeremiah is made to be a “fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall” to stand against the kings of Judah, the officials, the priests and the people of the land. (Jeremiah 1:17) I’d prefer to be a kinder, gentler prophet like the “Comfort, comfort, ye my people” Isaiah (40:1) or the “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord” Jeremiah. (29:11-13) But it appears healing words cannot not be heard unless harsh ones till the soil of stubborn souls in the same way that the “Thus says the Lord” truth to be told about us makes us receptive to the good news of the Gospel. “Come let us reason together. Though your sins are scarlet they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18) Bad news becomes good news when we receive the corrective word of the Lord as an invitation and not condemnation. Or as Ezekiel will say later  "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ” (33:11)