Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent 1 C - conclusion

Advent 1c – Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

So here we go again. Pastors will find people in the pews wondering why we have to sing On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist Cry instead of Christmas carols and for the next four weeks while most people are anticipating Christmas we’re getting ready for the end of the world. And this year the end of world is only one year closer which isn't all that important if we've got a thousand or more to go. But the truth is we don’t know and that might be the best thing about Advent. And maybe recognizing the end might come as a thief is more important to consider when it hits closer to home. Not the end of the world as we know it but my end up close and personal. If all I might have is today the Lord is my Righteousness is all my hope for my last day that is surely coming. If all I might have is today I need not waste time remembering the sins my Lord has forgotten. If all I might have is today then to trust I will blameless before the Lord Jesus is to live today unburdened by guilt and shame. If all I have is today then the springtime of the future is anticipated not through fear but faith.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advent 1 C - Luke 21:25-36

Luke 21:25-36
So is the future day a Christian version of 2012 or can we get out of this thing with a little less noise? I’m afraid it may just be hard wired into our anxious DNA to believe that the temporal realm, including our own personal stake in it, is not giving up without a fight and rather than going gently into the dark night it will curse and rage until the cows come home. It would also seem to be a part of our nature to divide the world into those who faint from fear at the end of all things and those who stand up and cheer. While there is no question that Jesus used the language of apocalypse to speak of the end of all time, all the Gospels contain such speeches, how can the Crucified One come back to save a few only to crucify the rest with vengeance? The first time around the Kingdom of God contained some unlikely subjects, such as tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and people of questionable character, so why would they be less welcome the second time around? When I think of the end of all things I am not weighed down by the worries of this life but by the thought I might not escape what comes next. So I find some comfort that Jesus uses the image of spring to talk about the signs. Despite the roaring of the seas and the signs that make one faint it will be like daffodils that pop up through the snow. Despite the signs in the sky it will be like Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy of Bluebonnet blanketed Texas highways. Maybe the best way to escape all the things that will take place and stand before the Son of Man is to trust that the second coming Christ will be like Jesus the first time around.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent 1 C - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Thessalonians were worried that the day of the Lord had come and gone and they had been left behind or it hadn't come and those who had already died had missed out on the second coming. At any rate, what was lacking in their faith was a confident hope that despite the doubts and fears about the end times their ultimate future was still secure. Sometimes a face to face is the only way to restore confidence and so Paul prays day and night that he might visit those for whom his love abounds. But he had other congregations that demanded his attention and were not nearly as receptive and presumably not as much fun and so it would take some time for his day and night prayer to be answered. In the meantime he writes what is most likely the first letter of the New Testament. To those in doubt he writes encouraging words for abounding love and strengthened hearts that are a word for us as well. May you believe the unbelievable that despite what you know about yourself you will be blameless before the Lord Jesus and the cloud of witnesses that will accompany his return.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent 1 C - Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25:1-10
Be mindful of your mercy and your steadfast love but do not remember the sins of my youth. Which is to say, in the forgetting of my sin don’t forget me. It is the prayer of the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and fully aware of his own guilt asks to be remembered. Jesus, remember me when you reach the place where memory of mercy and forgetfulness of sin matters the most. It does not mean there are no consequences for the sins of our youth or middle age or even our golden years. We are not as forgetful as God and sins of the past and present have a way of accusing us that we are not worthy of God’s forgetting sin and remembering mercy. That is why we lift up our soul to the One who instructs us to forget what has been forgiven and remember the path of what is right which is to remember the consequence of youthful sins long enough so as not to repeat them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Advent 1 C - Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days “that are surely coming" seem to have taken a detour or at the very least got stuck in the traffic jam of history. By that I mean that even if you count the Christ as the righteous branch that “sprang up” He did not execute righteousness and justice in the land in any lasting way and Jerusalem was less secure after his coming than it was before his birth. So what do we do with prophecies that leave us wanting more? In theological speech we say the promised fulfillment is “already but not yet” (aka the proleptic reign of God) which might be called the religious version of having your cake and eating it too. But what if the days that are surely coming really came and the only reason we have to add “not yet” to “already” is that we are not willing to live as if “already” trumps “not yet” period end of sentence. What if we have been given everything we need to execute justice and righteousness in the land and make every city live in safety? I’m sure this version of the righteous branch is like sitting on the wrong end of a shaky limb but then I wonder if the Lord expects us to fulfill a few prophecies on our own in the "already" while we wait for the Lord to finish the "not yet" in the day that will surely come. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christ the King Year B - conclusion

Christ the King Year B – Daniel 7:1-18; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37

I have been an every Sunday Lutheran since I was baptized and I don’t remember when Christ the King became a Sunday with a name. If you Google it you’ll find it was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and at one point was known as Christ the King of the Universe Sunday which sounds even more impressive in Latin. I don’t know about you but it seems to me that Jesus took pains to be a small k King and that we’re the ones who want to make sure he wears proper shoes. After all the Christ the king we worship was born in a stable to an unwed mother, ate with tax collectors and sinners, washed disciples dirty feet and died naked on a cross. Why would we dress up such a king in the purple robes of the world unless we don't trust our small k King to be a big G god? So when you sing Crown Him with Many Crowns this Christ the King Sunday remember the king we depend on was crowned with thorns.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Christ the King Year B - John 18:33-37

John 18:33-37

“What is it you have done?” It could have been the name calling. “You brood of vipers. You white washed tombs. You blind guides.” It could have been the consistent breaking of Sabbath laws. It could have been the incident in the temple. Or we could take Caiaphas at his word, “it is better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish." Fear is a powerful motivator and even a nation under Roman occupation tries to hold onto the illusion of being in control by any means available. But Jesus is doing something else. If we take him at his word, He lays down his life only to take it up again to draw all people to himself because the world will perish unless he dies. And the greater truth of this Christ who is the King, handed over to a puppet politician by self-righteous religious rulers is that he dies for them as well. That really is a kingdom from another place. Granted the clash of kingdoms continues even though the life laid down and picked up is a done deal. But that is the nature of life in the “already but not yet” so that even those who know the truth that sets people free are in bondage to the sin that would make Jesus’ kingdom look more like Pilate’s. But one day the kingdom from another place will be the only kingdom there is. Whenever and wherever we resist the allure of earthly kingdoms and listen to the truth that draws all people to Jesus the “other place” kingdom breaks into our world and the future is truly present.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Christ the King Year B - Revelation 1:4-8

Revelation 1:4-8

The letter that vividly describes a violent and final end for so many begins rather nicely for the seven churches. Of course this good beginning was written to seven churches facing an even more imminent end themselves. That is helpful to remember because I don’t think we can fully comprehend what the word from the One who is and was and is to come meant to the rightful recipients of John’s letter. I think I know what we've done with it and even though the best selling series Left Behind was red hot for a while I think God might put it in the lukewarm category. So how do we hear a word for us even though it is clearly addressed to them? First of all one does not need to be persecuted or enslaved by temporal powers in order to desire freedom. We are all in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. And while some may face a more imminent end all of us face an inevitable one and can find comfort that the first born from the dead opens a way for those who will follow. And finally the promise of Jesus’ coming on the clouds, whether one wails or not, is a promise that the world as we know it will come to an end. And maybe that is the best news of all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christ the King Year b - Psalm 93

Psalm 93

The Lord is more majestic than roaring floods or mighty waters or the crashing waves of the sea. That is because God exists outside the boundaries of our imagination and is always greater than any image we employ, even rising floods and mighty waters and majestic waves. The psalmist celebrates the awesome power and strength of God and while that is certainly true, more often than not the rising floods and noisy waters and crashing waves of life need a God who is a little more accessible than the One who was “established from old” and “majestic on high”. It is through the “less than” image of the one familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53) that the God far off draws near to us; the floods subside, the thunder of the waters is quieted, the waves slow to a gentle swell and the Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise inhabits human flesh. That is the sure decree we can trust and the holiness we touch. That is to say it is in the God who is “less than” that we experience the God who is “greater than” anything we could imagine.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christ the King Year B - Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Daniel 7:1-18
The lectionary leaves out the bulk of Daniel chapter seven, including Daniel’s own commentary. “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me and the visions of my head terrified me.” (7:15) There are endless web pages dedicated to the terrifying visions that troubled Daniel’s spirit. They offer detailed explanation of what will be which, truth to be told, only seem to serve the purpose of further troubling and terrifying. If you want to see some interesting art work just do an image search on Daniel 7! But then apocalyptic writings encourage fanciful thinking. Dreams and visions beg for explanation as we are far more curious than the proverbial cat, especially if we think some advantage may be gained in the knowing. But the ultimate purpose of the apocalyptic vision of the future is to provide hope in the present. The simple truth of Daniel is this: the four arrogant kingdoms hell bent on devouring the weak will themselves be devoured and those they threaten will endure. All the hope of the people and nations and languages is in the One presented before the Ancient of Days. Not a talking horn king but the King of Kings who comes not to devour but to bless. This One given dominion and glory and kingship is not arrogant or rude, jealous or boastful, but full of mercy and compassion. Is it necessary then, or even helpful, to speculate as to future applications of Daniel’s dream of kingdoms and talking horns? I don’t think so for when we focus on end times imagination we often neglect to provide in the present for the very people the King of Kings came to save, which makes us more like an arrogant horn than the King we seek to serve. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pentecost 25b - conclusion

Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

Do not be alarmed. This word of Jesus is the faithful response to alarming events that fascinate and terrify and is the thread that connects these lessons to each other. Do not be alarmed by a time of anguish the likes of which the world has never seen for your deliverance is near. Do not be alarmed by the threat of the grave for your path of life leads to joy in God’s presence and eternal pleasures that defy description. Do not be alarmed by the memory of sins for God has sworn an oath to remember them no more. Do not be alarmed by wars and rumors of wars for the birth of something new is only beginning. To not be alarmed despite events beyond our control and circumstances that threaten means we do not chase after other gods and for a false sense of security multiply our sorrows. To not be alarmed redirects our thoughts and energies from trying to escape this world to provoking one another to love and good deeds for the sake of this world. Do not be alarmed. There's work to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pentecost 25b - Mark 13:1-8

Mark 13:1-8

I imagine upon reading the Gospel of Mark the unnamed disciple was glad he remained anonymous. Only moments before the disciple exclaimed “Look teacher!” Jesus had elevated an invisible widow and two small copper coins above the offerings of excess from those who, like large stone buildings, made themselves hard to ignore. Of course we too are enamored by an impressive edifice of flesh or stone, more often than not our own. But the temple was more than just an extraordinary piece of architecture. In the mind of the people it was the only place where heaven and earth met, where the Holy consecrated the profane, where the presence of God hidden behind a curtain kept watch over Israel. The temple had become more important to the faith than the One it was built to house and so Jesus directed the disciple to look more closely. Do you see…? God does not dwell in a house made by human hands but in the heart of a widow. It is a word for those who might be impressed by stone structures of denominations or distressed at their possible demise. Do you see…? It applies to the beginnings of the birth pangs as well, which might indeed be cause for alarm but for the promise at the end of this chapter “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not.” Do you see…? It is a question for all who are alarmed by personal conflicts within and without, by divisions, by everyday disruptions that make one hunger for something stable and trustworthy. Do you see…? It is in this different way of seeing that God is found for when all appeared lost for Jesus all in fact was won. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” is the prelude to “It is finished” in the same way that the birth pangs, as alarming as they may be, anticipate the advent of something new. Do you see?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pentecost 25b - Hebrews 10:11-25

Hebrews 10:11-25

"Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…" It reminds me of “I double dare you” on the grade school playground although that usually involved provoking one another to dangerous deeds that were never very good and certainly not well thought out. The Greek word is paroxysm, which means a sharpening. The only other time the word is used is for the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that resulted in their parting company. So we are to provoke one another to love and good deeds with the same intensity as a sharp disagreement. This won’t be easy for Lutherans because we prefer a more polite approach that includes the magic word “please” or “If it’s not too much trouble…” If that doesn't work we still don’t provoke. We motivate one another the old fashioned way aka Lutheran guilt. But the writer of Hebrews provocation is based on confidence, full assurance and unwavering hope in the faithfulness of God. The provocation to love is a response to God’s love, as good deeds are a response to the good deed done for us by Jesus who has opened a new and living way into heaven itself. Now that sounds like something that might motivate a Lutheran. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and do some good deeds today. I double dare you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pentecost 25b - Psalm 16

Psalm 16

“I have no good apart from you” while those “who choose another god multiply their sorrows.” I’m afraid we often turn “I have no good apart from you” into “another god.” By that I mean we build walls around the boundary lines of the “pleasant places” so that we become the landlords of the Lord’s lot and deny others the grace we freely accept for ourselves. That doesn't mean there are not drink offerings that should not be drunk or names of false gods that are better not uttered. But if we listen to the instruction of the Lord and obey the counsel of the Christ our delight and fullness of joy will lead us to care for those who have chosen to go down to the pit in such a way that they might choose to step out of the Sheol of their own design and onto to the path of life that is the light and love of the Lord. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pentecost 25b - Daniel 12:1-3

Daniel 12:1-3
The only trouble with writing a lectionary based blog is you can’t avoid difficult passages. So let me say first that doom and gloom scriptures with everlasting judgment trouble me even if I count myself as one of the wise. And there are plenty of scripture passages that will support the idea that the chance of being one of the wise shiny ones is akin to winning the lottery which is even more troubling because I never win anything. Later verses in the 12th chapter of Daniel are considered by some to be the key to unlocking the riddle of the time of tribulation in the Book of Revelation where the vast majority of people hold a losing lottery ticket and are left behind. That is not to say God cannot do whatever God wants, even sentence the whole lot of us to shame and everlasting contempt. But in light of the cross I find that unlikely and for me the cross is always the key to unlocking the mystery of scripture. There are certainly things worthy of judgment and I count myself guilty on all counts, but as my theology professor Walt Bouman liked to say judgment is a penultimate word, or the word that comes before the ultimate word which is the cross which is grace and mercy and God’s self-sacrifice for wise and foolish alike. The truth of Daniel is more apparent in its immediate context. It is a word for persecuted people held captive in a foreign land and more than one of their loved ones are sleeping in the dust. It is a promise that the scales of justice will be tipped in their favor and despite a time of unprecedented anguish deliverance will have the final say. Does it mean that everyone will shine and no one will be eternally ashamed? I don’t know, but God does and somehow knowing that the God of the cross has the final say makes even doom and gloom scriptures less troubling.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pentecost 24b - conclusion

“Just one-half of one percent of Americans served in uniform at any given time during the past decade -- the longest period of sustained conflict in the country’s history” (American Forces Press Service Report) "Our work is appreciated, of that I am certain, but I fear (civilians) do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” (Retired Admiral Mike Mullen) Like the widow in the Gospel of Mark who gives everything she has in two copper coins those we will remember and thank in prayer or parade this Veteran’s Day gave all that they had. It’s been said by those who know more than I do that you might enlist to fight for your country but you die for your brother (or sister) who is fighting next to you. Those of us who have never sacrificed personal freedom to wear the uniform of freedom’s cause might do well to limit our wearing of flowing robes or sitting in first class seats in the marketplace when we talk about the “full weight” we do not comprehend, and before we go gung-ho into conflict we should ask the warrior class if they think it’s worth their life. It may be that the one-half of one percent see the world differently than the blissfully unaware ninety-nine and a half percent but it should be noted that the original Veteran’s Day was established not just to remember those who died in the First World War but more importantly to “show our sympathy with peace and justice” (Woodrow Wilson). Truth is no one wants peace more than the one who had to fight for it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pentecost 24b - Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44

As one who walks around in a long robe once a week and sits up front in the sanctuary and at the head table and is often greeted in public with a nod and a “Morning, Father” I must admit there is some truth to Jesus description of “pastored up” pride. The designation (in some Lutheran circles) of “Herr Pastor” did not come about without cause. That being said there is also a great sense of humility that comes from being “a steward of the mysteries of God” and bearing the burdens of God’s people “not because you must but because you are willing” (ordination vows) because no one takes those vows without repeating the refrain “…and I ask God to help me”. The only help (and hope) of the poor widow comes from God as she is neglected by the institution that requires her copper coins (the temple tax) even though support for widows and orphans and the poor and "the sojourner in your midst" was required of the institution as a reminder that “once you were slaves in the land of Egypt”. Maybe the greater condemnation received by the outwardly pious and proud is that when the doors of the banquet of the future are closed to them the widow at the head table will ask Jesus to let them sit next to her. And maybe Jesus will ask, “are you sure?” And she’ll say, “Yes, and I ask God to help me.” 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pentecost 24b - Hebrews 9:24-28

Hebrews 9:24-28

Jesus’ “once for all” is a done deal, a fait accompli, and yet our religious practices are such that the once would appear to not be enough, or if it is, it is not for all. Even if all we add is “eager waiting” Jesus self-sacrifice is not “once for all” self-sufficient in and of itself. That is not to say “eager waiting” is not important, only that it adds nothing to what the Christ has done “once for all”. Otherwise we are just another version of the high priest putting Christ into play week after week, day after day, by the sacrifice we make for ourselves or require of others. But if God has determined to do what we could not by replacing the blood of bulls and lambs and doves with God’s own life then God no longer needs to be appeased (if indeed God ever did) and we are free to live as those loved by God. If our piety reflected that truth we would be more like Jesus and less like high priests.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pentecost 24b - Psalm 146

Psalm 146
I don’t know how it happens but sometimes the lectionary and the events of the day or week line up in ways that are ironic if not prophetic. “Do not put your trust in princes…” might be both for an Election Day. I want to quickly point out that “princes” is plural which means it is a bipartisan critique on those “in whom there is no help.” It is because their breath is as fleeting as ours so that whether one lives in a red state or a blue we all occupy the same place when the earth reclaims us as its own and mortal plans perish. There are no partisan politics six feet under. Dead is dead. Not a very comforting thought. On the other hand there is a prince who can help, whose plans do not perish, who is worthy of trust. The plan of this prince is justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind. To lift up those bowed down and watch over the stranger and the widow and the orphan while bringing the ways of the wicked to naught. It appears from the scriptures that God’s very nature is to care for those the world despises or ignores so that the banquet hall of the forever future feast will be filled with those who like Lazarus at the rich man’s gate had no place at the table in this life. That is not a political agenda as God’s vision is not a party platform. It is how God ushers the future into our present so that whenever and wherever mercy, love and peace are found the joys of heaven are known. We who have been claimed by Christ are free to vote today for whatever prince we want but our trust can only be in the Prince of Peace whose plans will never perish and whose faithfulness is forever. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pentecost 24b - 1 Kings

1 Kings 17:8-16

This always reminds me of a fairy-tale fable where the poor farmer shares his last meal with a stranger who turns out to be an enchanted prince who then rewards the farmer for his generosity. I suppose this story is just as surprising in that the widow is a foreigner who owes no allegiance to the Jewish prophet Elijah. She has accepted the grim reality that awaits her and her son and is convinced they both will die of starvation. But in Elijah's "do not be afraid..." she hears something to convince her that giving away the little she has will not simply hasten the inevitable. While we are not facing starvation we do experience times of spiritual, emotional or physical famine and resigned to our fate give up any hope that help will come in time. A loss of employment, or health, or relationships or struggling with more bills at the end of the month than income at the beginning we find ourselves in need of the  same words, "Do not be afraid..." I'm not suggesting there is a magic pot that won't run out of whatever it is we need but there is a place where courage and strength to overcome can be found, a place where the cup is never empty and the plate is always full and it is never too late to hope in the promise of God. When we come to the table of grace, the meal of mercy, there is refreshment for weary and weak souls that are replenished in the sharing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Feast of All Saints Year B - John 11:32-44

Weeping Jesus - St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 
John 11:32-44

The “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” weeps when Mary cannot contain her grief. It may be that Jesus regrets his late arrival (if you had been here my brother would not have died) or maybe it is the only thing a “God so loved the world” can do when the objects of Divine affection are overwhelmed by sorrow. Since John imagines a Jesus who is in control at all times this shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” is significant. Soul distressed weeping is the opposite of being in control and even though the story has a happy ending, “Lazarus, come out!” the greater miracle may be that God “comes out” from behind the “in the beginning was the Word” to share Mary’s sorrow.