Friday, September 28, 2012

Pentecost 18b - Conclusion

I’m running the Rahr Brewery 5k tomorrow morning. The run supports Habitat for Humanity and runs out of the brewery past a sign that reads “my beer belly runs faster than yours.” Last year the two things that slowed my belly down were the multiple turns right before the finish line and the smell of bacon wafting like a cloud out of the Paris Coffee Shop at the two mile mark. This year they've taken out the turns and the Paris happens within the first mile. On the down side the reverse direction means the hill on Eighth Street is up. The children of Israel hoped for an easy Exodus but leaving Egypt and working your way through the wilderness depended on trust, which they were not so good at. The law of the Lord warns the psalmist in the same way that downloading a course map helps one anticipate the uphill that last year was down. The powerful and effective prayer does not happen without practice which is why one trains for a run, even if it’s only a 5k. And while it’s not the same as removing the offending hand, foot or eye a beer belly is not something a runner wants to carry. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pentecost 18b - Mark 9:38-50

Mark 9:38-50

I’d rather not give up my hand, foot or eye even if the consequence of keeping what causes me to sin is hellish. That’s the literal truth of this passage and one that is not that hard to understand. Giving up what causes us to sin is as difficult as cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye. The fact that the text makes us uncomfortable is a good indication that we know we have grown accustomed to stumbling through life and are not all that anxious to do the painful but necessary work of removing from our being the thoughts, words and deeds with which we harm ourselves and others and ultimately offend the Lord.  But when the word of the Lord salts us with fire we hear both the truth about our faltering footsteps and the invitation to be free from whatever impedes peace within ourselves and one another and the Lord. Which is how law and gospel works, or in other words, what sounds like bad news is actually good news.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pentecost 18b - James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20

I am confident Elijah was a human being but I’m not so sure about “quite like us.” On the other hand he was fully dependent on God for rain or lack thereof in the same way that those who suffer pray and the cheerful rejoice. There may be some who think it is the prayer of the righteous that determines the outcome but I prefer to believe the “powerful and effective” nature of the prayer has more to do with persistence of prayer in the face of circumstances beyond our ability to control. We know that we were not meant to live forever in bodies of flesh and blood and bones and so the healing that happens in the temporal is not nearly as “powerful and effective” as the healing that allows one to take life as it comes without being overcome by whatever one must endure. So Elijah was indeed just like us, even though some folks that farm in the Midwest might like to have his ability to make it rain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pentecost 18b - Psalm 19:7-14

Psalm 19:7-14

We tend to think of the law as limiting, maybe for good reasons, but restrictive none-the-less. The psalmist sees the law as the kind of freedom that revives, rejoices and enlightens. That is because the law of the Lord reveals the truth about the One who desires all good things for us including clearing us from hidden faults, which may not be all that pleasant per se (there is a reason our faults prefer to be hidden) but it is certainly a good thing to know oneself well enough to avoid being dominated by errors that are not easily detected.  So when we embody the perfect law of the Lord we live the love of the Lord which Jesus said is what the law and the prophets is all about. Love God. Love others. Such words and thoughts of the heart are always pleasing to the Lord, our rock and redeemer.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pentecost 18b - Numbers

Numbers 11:4-29
The children of Israel, fairly well fed on manna and quail, weep in the wilderness because they long for the days when they imagine they dined with dignity.Truth is the Egyptians stopped giving them straw to make bricks so it is unlikely their task masters gave them fish to eat “for nothing”. We tend to color the past in ways that fill in the blanks of our present complaints. Sometimes we imagine the past better than it could have been. Often we imagine it worse than it was. But either way we are not satisfied with whatever is and therefore long for what never was. And so the children of Israel throw a tantrum and Moses becomes despondent and the Lord becomes very angry and the dysfunctional Exodus family tries to figure out how to live together in the desert when no one is happy. When the very angry Lord calms down the despondent Moses is instructed to share the load and the solution to the people’s displeasure is the Spirit of the Lord resting upon the seventy appointed along with two others who were not approved which is often how God acts because the Spirit of the Lord cannot be contained or easily explained. The person who is most moved is Moses which means he will refrain from complaining, “why have you treated your servant so badly?” at least for the time being and get back to leading which is what God called him to do. And the children of Israel will quiet down and be grateful they have something to eat, even if it is “what is it” (manna) and a small bird with not much meat. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pentecost 17b - conclusion

My conclusion didn’t get posted and even though it seems to be a moot point on a Sunday morning before 7 am I thought I’d send it out anyway. I presided at a funeral and a wedding this week. Florence Greer went to her reward on September 15 which just happened to be her 93rd birthday. Her husband Jim had gone on a couple years before so this year they’ll get to celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary together. Derek and Ashley are just starting out on their journey. They are young and in love and smile a lot. I have a sense that given the chance they will continue to do so for as long as Florence and Jim did. The life lived together, whether in marriage or family or community of faith enable us to stand despite all the schemes life might devise against us, or the troubles of the everyday that conspire to diminish hope. The life together is a life of submission to each other which is how we submit to the Lord. The devil cannot long withstand such cooperation. And the lesson of the little child is that is God is not interested in who is first or last or in-between which is how we order things. God desires life lived well for and with the other, like a marriage that lasts 67 years on earth and continues in whatever form the future has in store for those loved by God.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pentecost 17b - Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30-37

On Christmas Eve 1988 I worshipped at the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool, England. I sat somewhere in the middle of what is the second longest cathedral in the world that houses the largest pipe organ in the United Kingdom. The organ lived up to its reputation while over a thousand voices sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” and choirs and cantors and canons processed down the center aisle with considerable pomp and circumstance. At the very end of the liturgical parade, resplendent in garments of gold and crowned with jeweled miter while leaning on an ornate shepherd’s crook, the bishop of Liverpool walked with a small child in his arms. I don’t mean to speak poorly of the church, and truth is December 24, 1988 might be my favorite Christmas Eve ever, but I’m guessing the bishop of Liverpool carrying a borrowed baby is not what Jesus meant by “whoever wants to be first must be last…” I’m just saying. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pentecost 17b - James 3:13-4:8

James 3:13-4:8

If it were as easy as James makes it sound “submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” the devil would be forever on the run. But then it’s the first part “submit yourselves to God” that is the most difficult to do which is why we are always dealing with “the devil inside.” (INXS) We might be tempted to think God holds back until we act “draw near to God and God will draw near to you” which is why submitting to God would seem to be all about us. But if submitting to God is predicated on the belief that God gifts us with wisdom from above then what we become in submitting is what God already is – “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” and the devil cannot long endure such good gifts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pentecost 17b - Psalm 54

Psalm 54 The lectionary often skips over verses that call for the destruction of enemies even if there is good reason for enemies to be destroyed. Repaying evil with evil doesn’t seem to fit the pattern of following the Christ who instructs disciples to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute them. There is good reason to follow Christ in a world where pious people believe acting in ruthless ways to defend the honor of a prophet is justified. But the psalmist does not advocate for actively striking his enemies and even though his prayer is not for their welfare he leaves vindication in the hands of the Lord. (Romans 12:19) That is because “vindicate me” assumes that the psalmist is in relationship with the Lord and that in their rising against the righteous the ruthless are rising against God as well and God is more than able to defend God's honor, thank you very much. We can and should pray for the ruthless to experience consequences for what they have done to others if for no other reason than to spare the innocent from the designs of the insolent. But in the spirit of the Christ we might also pray that the ruthless be freed from the ways of deceit and violence for their own sake for a merciless life hell bent on the destruction of others will reap what it sows. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pentecost 17b - Jeremiah 11:18-20

Jeremiah 11:18-20 Jeremiah gives voice to the cry and complaint of the un-numbered and un-named throughout human history who led to the slaughter have looked to God, (or anyone who will listen) for help. But help does not always arrive in a timely fashion as Jeremiah himself will find out when his story of lament and complaint ends in silence. Despite all indications to the contrary we believe justice will have its day and the cause of the righteous will be upheld by the God who judges the heart and the mind. However, it may be that we who pray forgiveness for things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid, who have waited for God to act on behalf of those who suffer while God waited for us to act, will be judged equally guilty. “It was the Lord who made it known to me” means we are God’s agents of mercy and justice in a world that devises evil schemes against the weak and powerless. Too often Christian backs bristle at slights against the practice of our individual piety while the plight of those literally “led to the slaughter” hardly registers a reaction. Granted, the world will not conform to the kingdom of God and works against the principles of God’s reign, but when we are silent in the face of suffering we acquiesce to the evil schemes that would cut off the word of life from the land of the living.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pentecost 16b - conclusion

I can’t say I’m suffering today but I am a little sore. Lisa’s horse Desperado decided he was done riding and I thought differently so when I went left he went right. It’s not quite the same as being thrown outright but you still land on your butt which is obviously more fun for the horse than it is for the rider. The effects of yesterday’s yahoo is a stiff neck and a sore elbow which is not much considering what can happen when horse and rider part company unscripted. Isaiah’s tongue of the teacher recounts the days of distress so that those who are weighed down and weary might get back in the saddle or at least get off the ground. The psalmist loves the Lord because the “brought low” psalmist has been lifted up by the Lord who loves those who cry out. James suggests not many should presume to teach, or ride for that matter, because pride goes before the fall. And in the Gospel Jesus’ idea of Messiah and Peter’s are polar opposites in the same way that I wanted to go around the arena one more time and Desperado was headed for the barn. Of course like Jesus dialogue with Peter I rebuked the stubborn gelding and got back on for a few more turns around the barn before I got off on my own terms.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pentecost 16b - Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38 If Jesus thought of his generation as adulterous and sinful what would he say of ours? I know there are a number of well-meaning people of faith who think we've gone to hell in a hand basket and fear it’s fixin’ to get worse. But since the rebellion in the garden there has never been a time in human history when we have not been an adulterous and sinful generation. That doesn't mean there are not degrees of separation when it comes to what was meant to be and what is. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens) Peter publicly confesses the Christ; “you are the Messiah” and then privately rebukes Jesus when Jesus defines what it means to be Messiah in a way that does not conform to Peter’s preconceived notion. Messiahs are not meant to undergo great suffering and be killed, even if they promise to rise again. If Peter missed the Messiah boat before the resurrection we are more likely to do so on the other side of the empty tomb and so cast Jesus in our own image of power and glory. No one is ashamed of a mighty Messiah coming in majesty to smash the enemies of God to pieces. But if we preach Christ crucified, the King of Glory is never far removed from the place where the world was saved. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was God’s design that the Messiah should be stripped naked and nailed to wood by religious authorities and Roman soldiers so that the Jewish rabbi from the Gentile region of Galilee could change all our ideas about power and prestige. Our problem is that we belong to an adulterous and sinful generation that holds onto to this life with a death grip and denies everything except ourselves believing we understand the divine mind when truth to be told we remain mired in human thinking.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pentecost 16b - James 3:1-12

James 3:1-12

James does not mean to discourage “my brothers and sisters” to become teachers, nor does he expect them to be perfect, he just wants them to be aware that teachers (and preachers) are held to a higher standard by virtue of the task they have taken on. I’ve had some great teachers in my life but one of my favorites was Miss Kruse. She was my fifth grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, Illinois and years later I had the great gift of being her student teacher. She was a remarkable educator, well ahead of her time, but more importantly she embodied this text. I imagine there were days that were more difficult for her to be gracious and kind but as far as I could tell her way of being was her way of saying. That is, you cannot simply decide to be more disciplined in your speech while harboring anger and resentment in your heart. In the same way springs of water draw from what is down deep and not from what is on the surface. So if Miss Kruse is the bar for who should presume to teach we should all look for some other work. But because Christ is the well she drew from we can all tap into the same source and be as gracious and kind, not that we will ever be as remarkable.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pentecost 16b - Psalm 116:1-9

Psalm 116:1-9

Do we love the Lord because we are heard or are we heard because we love the Lord? It sounds like the psalmist would opt for the former but then there are plenty of passages (including this week's Gospel) that lean toward the latter. I’m going to do the Lutheran two-step and say it is both and. We love the Lord because the cords of death that choked the life out of us have been loosened. But then we wouldn’t have called on the name of the Lord in our anguish and distress if we didn’t trust the Lord to hear. And trust is just a five letter word for love. The Lutheran song is that the Lord loves us regardless of whether we love the Lord or not (the melody of grace) but maybe the Lord is equally adept at dancing the two step both and. The Lord answers because we love the Lord and the Lord loves because we ask. Grace certainly exists apart from the call and response relationship of love but it is not nearly as noticeable as when faith two steps with the Lord.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pentecost 16b - Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9

The word that sustains the weary is that the teacher knows a thing or two about suffering. He has endured far more than verbal ridicule and yet morning by morning remains confident of God’s presence and help. It is one thing to suffer and quite another to suffer alone. That is a disgrace the teacher could not long endure which is how laments become songs of praise even when one continues to suffer at the hands of the unjust. The teacher who endured the cross for the sake of the world is more than able to sustain us with a “morning by morning” word of peace that surpasses the world’s ability to understand. Therefore, like the One who teaches us, we do not turn back or rebel against difficult things done for the sake of the weary. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pentecost 15b - conclusion

I will be officiating at the wedding of Rachel Herring and David Perlich on the beach at Mustang Island State Park this afternoon. It has been a favorite place for the Herrings (at least the younger ones) and the Heinzes for a long time. So it makes sense for Rachel to “tie the knot” in the sand and surf even if it’s 100 degrees and the West Nile Mosquitos are on the guest list. (Ask Craig Loest about beach camp) But folks will fly down for a day and this pastor will perform the ceremony and turn around to drive home for a big Sunday because we love Rachel and we trust David does as well. The lessons for Pentecost 15b start with one of the great chapters in all of scripture. Isaiah envisions the promised restoration of the people and plant. The psalm continues the theme of revival where the hungry are fed and the oppressed are set free. The healing stories in the Gospel reveal the God come down who makes good on the promises celebrated by Isaiah and the psalmist. But in the passages from James we are the ones who act as the hands and feet of the promise. “What good is it my brothers and sisters…” might read as a corrective but it is really an invitation to participate in the promise come true. If faith without works is dead then so are we. But when by faith we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, free the oppressed, heal the sick, care for the planet and creatures that populate it we are the ones who come alive. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pentecost 15b - Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7:24-37
It is a difficult story to deal with if you wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called the desperate woman a dog. She didn't object to the insult because her daughter was possessed and there was nowhere else to go for help. Jesus recognizes the kind of need that leads one to bow down low and accept ridicule and insult for the sake of someone you love and so he banishes the demon from her daughter. The second story is similar as the deaf man with slurred speech is helped by those who beg Jesus to heal their friend. Spit and speech (Ephphatha!) do what doctors could not. Astounded beyond measure the crowds marvel at everything done well. Jesus' “everything done well” won’t be remembered when he is accused of being in league with the devil he dispossessed from the desperate woman's daughter. (Matthew 9:34) And it won’t be long before people hurl more than insults at him as they strip him naked and nail him to wood. But when the world is possessed and you have nowhere else to go you’ll go to the cross to save those you love.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pentecost 15b - James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17

What good is it my sisters and brothers if you supply the bodily needs of those who are hungry and do not wish them well by warming them with the sharing of peace? What good is that? I’m taking some liberties with the word from James but only because there is a tendency for well-meaning people to provide for people in need without ever getting to know or appreciate the person in need. Calvary’s participation in the Room in the Inn ministry attempts to meet both the relational and physical needs of the guests who spend the night in our family life center and if you ask them I think they appreciate the relational aspect as much as the physical. Case in point; Pastor Phil’s made to order omelets are an often mentioned breakfast with the RITI crowd but others provide wonderful egg casseroles with the same ingredients so I think the difference must be in the ability to choose. There is a huge difference between eating from a predetermined menu and having a choice, especially when most decisions in your day to day are determined by someone else. The homeless need help, no doubt, but I think what they long for is dignity and that doesn't come to anyone as charity. It can only be found in true friendship and genuine love that looks past possessions or lack thereof to value another person as a human being created in the image of God. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pentecost 15b - Psalm 146

Psalm 146

Trusting in the temporal is no help at all when what one hopes for is eternal. That doesn’t mean we do not put stock in the here and now. The Lord does not care for the stranger or sustain the orphan and widow or frustrate the wicked without help. Even opening the eyes of the blind and lifting up the bowed down calls for the loved by the Lord righteous to be involved. But when I’m finished praising the Lord “as long as I live” I hope there is a refrain that follows my life long singing. That means we live our lives anticipating what will be while being fully engaged in what is. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pentecost 15b - Isaiah 35:4-7

Isaiah 35

Isaiah 35 begins with the parched land rejoicing and ends with the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion with song as they are overtaken by joy and gladness. In the in-between are feeble hands and weak knees and fearful hearts that long for redemption. But since the chapter begins and ends with a promise Isaiah can say, “Be strong” to the feeble and weak and fearful of heart instead of “suck it up”. The ability to “be strong” comes from anticipating the promise as if it already was so that hands and knees become steady even when the ground is shaking. The blind are still blind. The deaf still cannot hear. The lame still limp and the dumb are still speechless. It is as simple and as difficult as that because we are more accustomed to “suck it up” than “be strong” or perhaps think they are the same thing and therefore are always running too fast in the present for the future to catch up. But when God’s ultimate vision becomes our eternal imagination the future bursts into the present like a rainstorm in the desert and the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame leap and the dumb shout for joy. What will be already is when by faith we stop “sucking it up” and allow the future gladness to overtake us.