Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Ephesians 1:3:14

Ephesians 1:3-14
It is one thing to be chosen but being chosen by God before the beginning of time is on a completely different scale. Truth is it doesn't get much better than that. Of course a good number of people who identify with these passages have been familiar with first choice status most of their lives myself included. But these passages were first penned to those who had little choice about anything in their life as they were slaves and women within the Roman Empire. Of course there were some exceptions but the vast majority of Christians in the first century would have heard these words as a stark contrast to their everyday lives of institutional servitude. The history books claim that Constantine saw the sign of the cross that would conquer and made the choice for Christianity but the truth is the women and slaves had come to believe their first choice status no matter what the empire said and maybe Constantine just recognized the handwriting was on wall. In a sad twist of fate his choosing to make Christianity the religion of the empire meant that those who were first in the radical faith of Christianity went back to being last in the official faith of the Empire. I don’t know for sure but I’m thinking the second time that Jesus wept was when Constantine conquered the cross by painting it on his soldier’s shields.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Psalm 147:12-20

Psalm 147:12-20
The law of the Lord was a gift to Jacob and Israel even if they failed to abide by all its decrees. We tend to think of laws as restrictions that limit freedom even if some limit to freedom is a good thing. But the people of Israel thought of the law in terms of relationship. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Set free from bondage in Egypt God gave them the law as an identity that made them unique among the nations and set them apart as a treasured possession of the Most High. If the law was God’s gift to the children of Israel then the children of Israel were the gift that God got. Perhaps God is not so unlike us in that respect. God desires the intimacy of human relationship that is freely given and received. Of course it was not all love and kisses as on more than one occasion God grew tired of the people called God’s own. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist…” (Hosea 6:4) But as much as the law and decrees kept the people of Israel connected to God it was God’s promise to Abraham that kept God in the game. Even if they were children who misbehaved they remained God’s children. And so it is with us whose identity is found in the law of Christ which is the law of love. Love God. Love Neighbor. We might fail on both accounts but God’s love endures forever.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, proclaims a different sort of weeping for the “great company” destined to return to Zion by brooks of water along straight paths of no stumbling. I’ve always felt badly for Jeremiah as one who was destined to be a bearer of bad tidings. If I had my druthers I’d choose to be Second Isaiah who gets mostly good bits even if he is writing from captivity in a Babylonian garden. But even if most of Jeremiah’s book is grim, as was his lot, there are these wonderfully bright bits of promise that must have given the prophet a reason to be glad, if only for a moment. “The young women rejoice in the dance and the young men and old shall be merry.” Our troubles pale in comparison to what Jeremiah’s people endured but because all troubles are personal I believe comparisons have little value. There will always be someone who has it worse than we do until at some point we stand at the end of the line and look to the left (or right) and realize we are at the end of the line. So this word of promise speaks to every life scattered by circumstances beyond one’s control, put down by hands too strong to resist, languishing in prisons of sorrow and suffering. It may be that we have more mourning to endure before sorrow is turned into joy but if we believe the promise then God is always waiting on the other side of whatever troubles us to tend to us as a shepherd gathers sheep or comfort us as a parent embraces a child. Point is the God beyond knowing knows our plight and in the Word Made Flesh did something about it. Emmanuel. God with us.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Luke 2:22-40

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7
When my time had fully come at 3 AM on December 24 the flu put me out for the count. 48 hours of wracking cough, aches and pains, fever, and fitful sleep. Not good timing when my plan that morning was to make omelets to order for our homeless ministry Room in the Inn guests (including a lobster option no less – thank you to the cooking crew that covered for me) and then four services that night (thank you to the pastor crew that covered for me). I foolishly thought if my fever broke I could still preach at 11 PM and even worked out a way I could use the flu to talk about the incarnation which I will do for you now so as not to let my drug induced imagination go to waste. (Take that Pastor Ethan – even on Nyquil I can rock the pulpit) When the time had fully come Jesus was born into a body like mine. No, not my size, shape or color but born into a body that could be laid low by a microscopic virus. Born into a body that was susceptible to the elements, to hunger, to thirst, to lack of sleep, to all manner of physical maladies. But more than that; born into a body wracked by grief (Jesus wept). Born into a body that ached for the lonely and the lost (he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd) Born into a body that felt the pain of a creation gone horribly wrong (he came to that which was his own but they knew him not) But unlike my time in the crucible of the flu Jesus body did not recover from what was done to him. He was sent to those who were under the law to redeem them but they treated him with cruel contempt, mocking him in his suffering and ultimately robbing him of his life by stripping him naked and nailing him to wood. Not a Merry Christmas story but then I’m jacked up on Nyquil (just kidding) and what I need is a Savior who can defeat the virus of my sin not a no crying he makes baby in a manger. The latter is our fairy tale. The former is God’s plan. When the time had fully come God put on our flesh, died our death and then kicked it in the butt so that we would never, ever be laid low by death. Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 1 B - Psalm 148

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas 2 B - Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3
The ransomed of the Lord’s “return unto Zion with singing” (Isaiah 35:10) song was stilled when they saw the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem. That is what makes the words of the prophet so powerful. We tend to keep silent in times of suffering – stiff upper lip and all that - but Isaiah sings with his whole being of what will be in the midst of what is. Not for his own sake but for the sake of those who cannot sing, who have no hope, who lament of life itself and long for the grave, if only to swallow up their sorrow. But Isaiah’s faith has the audacity to believe the ruins will be rebuilt, the city that is a byword among the nations will be made great and the whole world will be blessed by the beauty of their story. Their story is our story for once we were no people, condemned and cut off, but now we are God’s own people, holy and dearly loved. So do not be silent but in the midst of difficult days sing the sing of salvation in such a way that others will be compelled to join the song or at least hum along.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:26-38

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent 4 B - Romans 16:22-27

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent 4 B - Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:46-55
The “great thing God has done for me” made Mary great with child without her betrothed’s participation or consent. That is not normally a cause for rejoicing even if the child hidden in her secret place was the Messiah. But let’s be clear. Mary is not a member of the ruling class and the “servant Israel” of whom she sings is hardly a significant player on the world’s stage. But Mary is naturally naïve and believes in, or at least hopes for, the promise of God come true. And come to think of it even the secular songs of this season seem wonderfully naïve in a world so full of woe. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” There is more power in hope than in any other human emotion save love although they are so closely related as to be the same thing. And miracles, like songs that imagine God come down to lift up the lowly, do not need to be fully realized to be more than true. When Mary’s boy was full grown the mighty she imagined cast down from their thrones lifted him up on a cross until crying out in agony he breathed his last. But the song she sung when he moved in her womb could not be stilled and the refrain of His resurrection was just the prelude to the chorus that is sung even now in eternity. God has done great things indeed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent 3 B - John 1:6-8;

If the Pharisees were playing a game of hangman with John they’d be losing but truth is they don’t care about his answers as long as they can hang him. A voice crying in the wilderness always means trouble for those who color their religion within the lines and questions like “who are you?” are a set up for a take down. But John doesn't care about their questions because he knows he is pointing to something greater than anyone can imagine. And if we believe Matthew’s account of John’s question for Jesus (are you the one or should we look for another?) even the voice in the wilderness wondered if he got it right. That’s because John was also in the dark even though he was tasked with pointing to the light. He thought himself unworthy of untying Jesus’ sandals while Jesus considered washing his disciple’s feet the true measure of a master. That’s not to say John and Jesus weren't on the same page when it came to calling out the Pharisees and teachers of the law  – You brood of vipers – but Jesus does something John could not imagine the Messiah would do. He dies. But the light of Jesus was not extinguished by death rather it lit up hell like a Christmas tree and banished the power of darkness and death once and for all. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent 3 B - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent 3 B - Psalm 126

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

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

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Isaiah 61 is the measure of whether one has been anointed by the spirit of the Lord or not. Good news for the oppressed not narrow views that suppress life and love; healing words that bind up the broken hearted not harsh speech that hurts; liberating words that free one from the fear that God is not ultimately and completely “for us.”  It does not mean there are no words of correction or constraint. Just the opposite. Right behavior flows from right relationship and right relationship is established by unconditional love. Or as Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out all fear” When we live more fully into the unconditional love of God we are less likely to withhold love from others and ourselves which may actually be the harder of the two. The brokenhearted healed, the ones who mourn comforted, the faint of spirit made strong, all are signs of the Spirit whose speech blesses the world with light and love and liberty so that good news for the oppressed is just as good for the oppressor as freedom for the captive is ultimately freedom for the captor.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent 2 B - Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-18
The beginning of Jesus’ story anticipates the end of our story which because of Jesus will not be as final as it otherwise might have been. And like the messenger who prepared Jesus’ way through the wilderness Jesus makes straight our crooked paths so that our crying out will be shouts of victory and not cries of lament. But the end of our salvation story does not deny the hard path walked by John or Jesus. Both paid dearly for their proclamation of the truth and while resurrection is certainly a happy ending to what would have been a tragic tale the marks of suffering remain to remind us that it was the baptism of His death that forgave our sin. So we who benefit from John’s prophecy and by virtue of our baptism by the Holy Spirit are joined to Jesus’ death walk on paths that are sometimes as hard and unyielding as the ones they walked but because the Good News begun has walked all the world’s paths we never walk them alone. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent 2 B - 2 Peter 3:8-15

2 Peter 3:8-15
So how are we to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” while worrying about “the rest of the world is toast thief in the night day of the Lord?” Even if we are confident of our own reserved seat in the forever future we can hardly sit still when it comes to those for whom God’s infinite patience will one day run out. Lives of holiness and godliness are only holy and godly in so much as they are lived for the sake of those who do not know the peace and patience of God. And so God’s desire that none perish may dove tail with our own – at least for the “none” that we know – which is why waiting patiently is not the same as waiting passively.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent 2 B - Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Psalm 85
We could use a long embrace with steadfast love and faithfulness and more public displays of affection between righteousness and peace. That’s because when God’s people live as “sin blotted out” forgiven folk, fortunes are restored, hearts rejoice and the land itself yields an increase. But when envy kisses bitter strife and hatred and selfish ambition embrace everyone suffers. And so God speaks peace by forgiving sin to turn hearts towards the pathway prepared by righteousness, which is always an attitude before it shows up as behavior. It would be a lovely thing if the church could fall madly in love with righteousness and peace and act like a school girl or boy giddy with the first blush of young love. Imagine what we could accomplish by throwing caution to the wind and recklessly engaging in PDA of the sort that would make those outside the faith long for the same sort of relationship we have with each other and the God who whispers, "Peace."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2 B - Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort, comfort” is a doubly welcome word when it feels like you’ve paid double for whatever it was that required you to pay a penalty in the first place. In the same way being fed and gathered and carried and gently led is welcome relief to those who like grass and flowers wither and fade. More often than not we are fully responsible for the painful predicament produced by our sin but there is also a good bit of life’s consequences that operate outside the boundaries of cause and effect. I imagine there were a good number of those carted off to captivity in Babylon that could not trace a clear line between what they had done and what was being done to them. So in the middle of the captivity, when the memory of Jerusalem was fading, or worse when the memory of its destruction was like a recurring nightmare, the prophet speaks God’s words of hope and healing. “Comfort, comfort” is what was needed to endure the everyday abuse of captors who mockingly demanded, “sing us songs of Zion” as if joyful songs could be conjured up like some cheap parlor trick. God visits us in the worst of times to remind us that the best of times can be experienced when anticipated through hope. The valley of despair will be lifted; the mountain of desperation will be brought low, the uneven and rough places of sorrow and suffering will be made smooth because the word of the Lord is consistent. “Comfort, comfort.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent 1 B - Mark 13:24-37

2000 years is a long time to stay awake so I can understand how the church has dozed off now and then. It is true for you and me as well. We have times when wide awake to God, to others, to ourselves, we live each day as if it were the last; while there are other times we sleep walk through the daily routines lulled into complacency by the checklist of one thing after another. Living each day as if it were the last is to be profoundly grateful for each moment, giving thanks for each breath, each beat of the heart, fully aware of the gift that is our life. And that means we are more open, more generous, more care-full with all our relationships, but especially the relationship with the One who will come on the clouds with great power and glory. Not because we are afraid of what will happen, even if we should take a nap, but because being awake to Jesus gives meaning to all our living. And the good news for those who are sound asleep and snoring is that the One who will come on the clouds with power and great glory is the same One who prayed “Father forgive them” for those who knew what they were doing when with nails they pinned him to wood and gloated while he died in agony. I’m hoping that means despite the description of the sun darkened, the stars falling, the heavens shaking the second coming will be more like waking to a dream than being lost in a nightmare. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Advent 1 B - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
It is a gracious beginning for a letter dealing with divisions in the body of Christ prompted by people puffed up with spiritual pride. But then the history of the church has been rife with divisions of one sort or another so I suppose it really should not surprise us when they occur. Maybe we should be surprised when the church actually works as it was intended to and those enriched with gifts use them for the benefit of the body and not to draw attention to how gifted they are. But the church is populated with sinners and that presents some problems when it comes to being blameless on the day of the Lord. Perhaps being blameless has less to do with being perfect and more to do with love that expresses itself in the less demonstrative spiritual gifts, like patience and forbearance and long suffering; not a product of pride or rigid piety but true fellowship with Jesus who, as Paul will tell the Philippians, emptied himself to take on the form of a servant. Fellowship with Jesus - that is the greatest gift the body possesses because you can't have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other believers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Advent 1 B - Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The psalmist does not stop talking to God even when fed on the bread of tears or drinking from the bowl of weeping. When life laughs at us and circumstances conspire to mock our hopes and dreams we tend to turn away and wonder what good is God. But I suspect the psalmist gives voice to what we know deep down – in the end there is nowhere else to go.  “Stir up your strength and come to help us” and the repeated refrain, “Restore us, O God” are prayed with a confident hope that God hears the prayer even if God’s anger “fumes” over things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. We know what the psalmist did not; the One at the right hand of God is the confident hope of all prayer. He was made strong for God's sake though that strength was made perfect in weakness and in the darkness of his death we see the light of our salvation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advent 1 B - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah 64:1-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” but not today, thank you. I know there are those who look forward to the second coming but I hope the second coming comes long after I am gone. It’s not that the planet and its people wouldn't welcome something better than what we presently endure; it’s just that the peaceable kingdom doesn't arrive, well, very peaceably. So we remind God, who often seems silent and hidden until push comes to shove “we are all the work of your hand” so “now consider; we are all your people.” But God is always present where judgment and mercy meet. We acknowledge that in our present condition we are not all we were meant to be or want to be or could be but even so God is forever connected to us as potter to clay, parent to child. So whenever God tears opens the heavens and comes down we pray that God remembers we are the works of God’s hands and so remain connected to God forever.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christ the King Year A - Matthew 25:31-46

The sheep didn't recognize Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned stranger but they provided help anyway. The goats didn't recognize Jesus either but it sounds like if they had they would have done something about it. That’s why this text is not about works righteousness and neither the reward nor punishment is about what you do or don’t do. It is about who you are because “being” and “doing” is the same thing. The sheep were motivated by the obvious need of others and did what they could to alleviate the suffering of the Jesus hidden in the sick and isolated. For whatever reason the goats were not motivated by the obvious need of others and so did nothing to help the Jesus hiding in plain sight. So if you see this text as primarily about gaining reward or avoiding punishment you've missed the point and perhaps the Jesus hiding in the needs of others. It should not come as a surprise to those who claim Christ as King that God is interested in the welfare of those who live on the margins, after all Jesus was born into poverty and died a naked, thirsty stranger imprisoned by nail and wood. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Christ the King Year A - Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul writes more run on sentences than I do and sometimes his thoughts and mine can be lost in the language so let me keep this simple. This is the hope I want to know. I want to know a hope where God makes all wrongs right. I want to know a hope where all questions are answered. I want to know a hope that includes more rather than less. I want to know a hope that is more merciful than I am. I want to know a hope where fear and doubt and self-loathing disappear into perfect peace. Of course that is the hope of the cross; we just tend to run on about it until the simple meaning is obscured. You do not have to be afraid of a God you can strip naked and nail to a piece of wood. I hope the cross of Jesus Christ is everything I hope it is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Christ the King Year A - Psalm 95:1-7a

Psalm 95:1-7a
I can’t read psalm 95 without thinking of the Venite from the Office of Matins in the Lutheran hymnal of my youth. (The 1941 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod red book – the hymnal preferred by God and the angel choirs) It was a long song sung every Sunday and was printed on two pages that required flipping back and forth to sing the next verse. Of course we all had it memorized so the flipping was just liturgical calisthenics which in some ways is the whole point of liturgy. It’s like breathing, something that generally goes unnoticed but is essential for life itself. The Venite wasn’t very interesting musically and it would be hard to think of it as shouting with joy to the rock of our salvation but it became so familiar that fifty years later it reminds me of so much more than the song. That sort of foundational memory is present even when everyday memory fades and in that way the great God who made the seas and molded the dry land is always present until the last song of this life becomes the first of song of the next and we enter God’s face to face presence with thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christ the King Year A - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep - pushing with flank and shoulder and butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us for when push comes to shove we would prefer not to be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the stray, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair they would be well watered and fed on the good pasture of hope and no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves which would be pleasing to shepherd and sheep alike. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lectionary 33 A - Matthew 25:14-30

The servant who is given one talent believes his master is harsh, reaping where he did not sow and gathering what he did not scatter, while the first two servants take advantage of the master’s generosity to the benefit of both master and servant. It could be that the one talent servant reaps what he sows and gets the harsh master he imagines. Even so it hardly seems fair that from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away. On the other hand the image of God as a harsh master can be found throughout the scriptures and would give us good reason to fear judgment and bury our lives in rigid rules not risking anything lest everything be taken away. But there is a more profitable image of God as one whose “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” compassion compelled him to reap the harvest of our sin that he did not sow and gather those scattered by their own rebellious will. To live that vision means we take advantage of God’s generosity and risk the kind of things Jesus did by investing the five and two and one talent of the Gospel in our everyday and everywhere so that in the end God might reap a harvest of abundance beyond our one talent servant imagination.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lectionary 33 A - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

"Thief in the Night"
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Therefore encourage one another” seems uncharitable at best given the impending doom everyone except the Thessalonians will experience when the “will come as a thief in the night” comes as a day of the Lord from hell. Surprise! And doesn’t the idea of an eternal from the beginning plan to make the biggest surprise of human history sudden destruction bother you? Even the most vicious small g god humans have invented can do that. So what if the surprise “thief in the night day of the Lord” is mercy not judgment? And staying sober is living in the light of radical love, the kind of eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners life that got Jesus killed so that the destiny of humanity would be salvation and not wrath. Now that would be a surprise, wouldn't it? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lectionary 33 A - Psalm 90:1-8, 12

Psalm 90:1-8, 12
The Lord “our refuge from one generation to another” also knows our secret sins. No wonder the psalmist rightly fears God’s indignation. We prefer anonymity where sins are concerned and even though we suspect others are as consumed by sin as we are we like to believe no one suspects the same of us. But the Lord knows the things we hide even from ourselves. The memories that still make us shudder with shame. A lifetime of things done and left undone, said and left unsaid set before the Lord in whose anger “all our days are gone and our years come to an end like a sigh.” But the truth about us is not as great as the truth about God “our refuge” who knowing us full well still satisfies us in the morning with unfailing love teaching us the gift of each day so that our hearts weighed down by sin might be lightened by wisdom. And if by God's unfailing love we were made more wise we would no doubt spend less time with secret sins and more time dwelling with the Lord.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lectionary 33 A - Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-28
Zephaniah is very popular with the “Save Fort Worth” people that sometimes spend the weekend standing on Sundance Square street corners warning of impending doom for having too much fun. I must admit I don’t find much worth saving in Zephaniah’s graphic description of the day of great distress and anguish. The violence visited on people just like you and me and our children and the image it evokes of God acting out of a fit of jealous rage is offensive. Of course God has every right to punish people resting “complacently on their dregs” who treat God with disdain. You’d be jealous too and might be tempted to express your righteous indignation violently. But that would be wrong wouldn’t it? We might even call it sin. So how is it sin for us to kill someone who treats us with contempt while God can destroy a whole city; men, women, children, animals and call it justice?  And even if the Jerusalem elite were worthy of the most dreadful death the Babylonians didn’t discriminate as the guilty and innocent shared the same fate. Of course years later the Persians did the same thing to the Babylonians. And so the story goes. Maybe the prophetic word is about the destruction we visit upon each other from Cain and Abel to the Holocaust. So even if the faith of Zephaniah requires him to give God the credit it’s always humans who do the dirty work.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lectionary 32 A - Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew 25:1-13
I think the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids should be called the parable of the tardy groom. And what about the bride waiting at the altar? I bet she was more than a little upset. “Midnight? Really?” Of course none of that is the point of the parable, well, except the tardy part. Mathew’s community is wondering what happened to Jesus. After all he said “this generation shall see my return” (Matthew 24:34) and that generation is almost all dead by the time this parable is written down. So the point of the parable is verse 13 and none of the details really matter except as a promise and on the flip side a warning. If you are awake and waiting faithfully you are wise and it doesn't matter how long it takes for the groom to arrive because your invitation is as good as gold. But if you grow tired of waiting and doubt the promise you are foolish and your lamp will go out and you’ll be left in the dark. So what does it mean for us over 2000 years later? I suppose the message is the same since we neither know the time or the date of Jesus’ return. But maybe more importantly the message is for us to use our waiting time wisely as Jesus will say at the end of this chapter. “When I was hungry you fed me, in prison you visited me, naked you clothed me, a stranger you welcomed me, thirsty you gave me drink.” We don’t just sit around in the glow of our lit lamps and sing Kum by Yah. We wait by living into the charge that is given to the baptized when the baptismal candle is presented. “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So let’s get busy waiting.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lectionary 32 A - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Thessalonians were worried that those who died before Jesus returned would be left behind. Paul assures them that God has everything under control and whether one is awake or asleep at the time of Jesus’ coming their hope of salvation is secure. I don’t believe Paul is any more informed than I am about the details and even though he shares his version of the timeline his point is verse 18. “Encourage one another with these words.” The words he meant as encouragement are that those who have died will be included in the future final feast. We don’t worry about the same thing as the Thessalonians trusting that our loved ones are already with the Lord. We even imagine how they are spending their time. Grandpa's gone fishing. Unfortunately these encouraging words have been used to support a less than encouraging theology where a select few are caught up in the clouds (rapture) while the vast majority of people are left behind to endure horrors beyond imagination, although humans are pretty good at imaging and inflicting horrors on each other. I think the true horror is that rapture theology makes the God of grace look like every other god humans have created in their own image. So maybe the encouraging word for us – who no longer worry about where our loved ones are – is that a God who would suffer and die for humanity is not a God who thinks like we do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lectionary 32 A - Psalm 70

Psalm 70
The psalmist hopes that his rescue would be pleasing to the Lord which displays a radical confidence in the gracious mercy of the Almighty Big G God. The small g gods always ask, “What’s in it for us?” They have no time for the poor and needy and only provide salvation for those who can pay. But the Big G “God is Great” listens to the laments of the lowly. The Big G God helps those who cannot help themselves and delivers those who have nowhere else to turn because it is pleasing to God. Or in other words it is for God’s sake that the sake of the poor and lowly gets a hearing in the halls of heaven and we would do well to pay attention to the people God attends to for when God determined to enter fully into human history it was through the life of one who may have prayed this psalm more than once. That God entered the psalm of lament may be the biggest thing about the Big G God. No. It is most definitely the Biggest Thing about God.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lectionary 32 A - Amos 5:18-24

Amos 5:18-24
This text should bring a permanent ceasefire to the worship wars that often consume the church. Contemporary vs traditional vs blended vs emergent vs whatever will come next. Projection screens or hymnals? Long teaching sermons or liturgical based sermons? Narrative lectionary or Revised Common? Communion every Sunday or less often? Arguments over hymns or styles of worship are intensely personal because, well, they are personal. But in all the arguments I've never heard anyone ask about God’s preference. That’s not to say personal preference doesn't have a place in the pew or the pulpit only that God doesn't care about what we think about worship when we argue about it. But more to the point when what we like or dislike about worship takes center stage in our spiritual life we act in opposition to what pleases God and therefore our worship is no longer worshipful. That is because it is all about us and God desires us to think about others in the same way God does. We cannot do the work God intended the church to do if all our work is centered on the way the church works. I could quote endless scriptures on that topic but this one will do. The song that God loves is the hungry belly filled and the parched throat quenched. The melody that makes God smile is the laughter of the oppressed set free and the sigh of the outcast welcomed as friend. So by all means seek out worship that pleases you but only if it inspires you to worship in the way that pleases God which, I’m sorry to say, has almost nothing to do with what pleases you. Ouch or Amen? Or both?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Feast of All Saints - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
On All Saints Sunday we will sing these lyrics to the tune of Wild Mountain Thyme (Lord of the Rings) “There are saints who light the darkness and the world cannot contain them for the love of God sustains them and they will never be forgotten; we are blest to have them with us and we praise the God who made them. There is no way to repay them and so we simply do applaud them as they shine like the sun.” (John Ylvisaker – Shine Like the Sun) The saints who light the darkness are ever close in our memory and yet always beyond our imagination as they dwell in the place of perfection while we struggle (hopefully well) in the place of “not yet.” By that I mean we can sense the saints who light the darkness when our hearts and minds quicken as we anticipate joining them in the future final peace. Even so in the here and now we are the poor in spirit, mourning meek who hunger and thirst for things to be more just and fair and right than they are. But before we claim the gifts of being “blessed are you…” we are duty bound to confess that we are not passive participants in the things that are less than blessed. Hating violence we none-the-less revel in a really well produced shoot em up on the silver screen. Desiring equality we still cling to positions of power. We are less than merciful, hardly pure in heart and believe peace can only be achieved by an aggressive posture backed up by the ability of our firepower to shock and awe. I am not playing politics. I am suggesting you and I live in the difficult “not yet” place where “blessed are you” is not as neat as the beatitudes. So what do we do? Maybe we begin by applauding the ones we cannot repay because we believe they made it to the other side despite the fact that they were no better than we are. Which means the one who deserves our applause is the God who made them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Feast of All Saints - 1 John 3:1-3

1 John 3:1-3
The hope that purifies is that we are what God says we are, beloved children. I know the analogy to human parenthood falls short of the glory of God but when I consider that God loves me in the way that I love my children, Joshua and Mary Ruth, I am purified from all that would make be believe I am less than I am; a beloved child of the Creator of the universe. The love God has for us cannot be eliminated by all the things said and left unsaid, done and left undone that limit our response to that love in the same way that not a day goes by when I don’t marvel in the miracle and give thanks for the gift of my children. This is the hope that purifies; God giving thanks for the miracle and gift of the child that is you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Feast of All Saints - Psalm 34:1-0,22

Psalm 34:1-10, 22
“Taste and see” is an odd turn of the phrase. How is tasting seeing? On the other hand see and taste is not uncommon for someone who is familiar with the culinary arts. I can taste a recipe before I open the pantry and put a pan on the stove. In the same way we are able to bless the Lord at all times even when times are less than blessed when we anticipate that one day we will be delivered from all trouble. That is not to say the troubles of the day are not difficult only that we believe deliverance will be the last word for us which is to say trouble is temporary and delivery is eternal. Even so we do endure the present in such a way that we don’t look for relief from the here and now terrors that truly terrify. We would like to taste and see today even if we have a reserved seat at the promised future feast. More to the point when we are blessed to experience the angel of the Lord encamped around us we are called to increase the size of the circle by making every effort to be a refuge and relief for those who taste only bitter tears and see nothing but suffering. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Feast of All Saints - Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17
These words were written to encourage and comfort people who were suffering terribly for the sake of the faith. Let’s put aside the thought that Revelation is a road map through Divine destruction with promises of paradise for a select few and consider that the God who wipes away the tears of a multitude too great to count might not want to eternally poke everyone left behind in the eye. So maybe within the narrative of a persecuted people there is a word that speaks to all of humanity created in the image of the holy. There are innocents who suffer all of life as a great ordeal starving for food or shelter or affection. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those less innocent who scarred by neglect or abuse suffer the great ordeal of lives doomed to misfortune and out of their pain visit it others. Will God wipe away their tears? There are those not innocent at all but acting out of selfish interest suffer the great ordeal that looks like prosperity but lacks love and mercy and kindness and if they knew how impoverished they were perhaps would weep as well. Will God wipe away their tears? Can God wipe away the tears from every eye and still be a God of justice? I don’t know but I hope so and not because I need a happy ending to the sad human story but because I believe and hope God does.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation Sunday - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose; Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free” (Janis Joplin – Me & Bobby McGee) is a great line until she sings “I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for a single yesterday” which is to say a freedom of nothing left to lose that is inextricably bound to the past is no freedom at all. “We are descendants of Abraham” depends on the past in a way that the God of Abraham never intended for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of the living and not the dead (Matthew 22:32) So these words spoken to those “who believed in Jesus” were meant to move them from the single yesterday into the tomorrow that Jesus came to establish. “If the Son has set you free you are free indeed.” We might be tempted this Sunday to claim we are descendants of grace and have never been slaves to the law but that would not be the truth. We justify ourselves by our piety and heritage and interpretation of the scriptures in the same way other traditions justify themselves by claiming to be more faithful and true than we are. I’m not saying we should stop singing “A Mighty Fortress” or embossing our bulletins with Luther’s seal or wearing red on Reformation Sunday. But continuing in the word for us means we allow the Word to shape us so that reliance on the past is not as important as living into the future in such a way so as living Christ means we trade yesterday for living tomorrow today. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reformation Sunday - Romans 3:19-28

Romans 3:19-28
God is the one who is just and the one who justifies; period, end of sentence. So why do we work so hard for what is none of our business? I don’t mean sin, we don’t have to work at disobedience or doubt or self-centeredness or disregard for the needs of others or neglect of the planet or any of the ways we are guilty of being less than human. No, sin is all about us, which is why the just one who justifies the creation gone its own way enters the fray to contend with the inevitable consequence of human rebellion, death. Faith does not activate or complete what God has already done in entering the human story. Faith means we enter God’s story in the Christ and stop working for what is already ours because we no longer doubt what is beyond our comprehension. We are already justified, made right with God, because God won’t have it any other way which means we are free to be fully human.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reformation Sunday - Psalm 46

Psalm 46
To “be still” in the presence of shaking earth, falling mountains and roaring seas is not the natural response to natural disasters unless “being still” is fainting dead away. The uncertainty of nations in uproar and falling kingdoms typically lead us to circle the wagons and prepare for the worst by doing our best to make sure our piece of the earth doesn’t melt away. But the command is to “be still” while God does the heavy lifting of breaking bows and shattering spears. Being still in the face of personal and collective calamity only happens if we stand still on the foundation of faith which is the “know that I am God” part of the equation. So being still doesn’t lead us to know God as much as knowing God allows us to be still.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reformation Sunday - Jeremiah 31:31-34

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming… when Lutherans might give up celebrating Reformation Sunday because it’s all about us and remembering Martin Luther and the 95 thesis as a festival liturgy is not as important as embracing a new covenant where confessing Christ is the common denominator that erases denominational lines. But the days have not surely come and every brother and sister teaches the knowledge of the Lord in her or his own way insisting that compliance to human traditions has divine meaning that is superior to all others. Now I’m not suggesting that we should not remember the past or celebrate the gift of our heritage but the days envisioned by Jeremiah can only come when the knowledge of the Lord unites the least and the greatest in a way that overcomes our natural tendency to divide and conquer. In the meantime Lutheran’s will sing “A Mighty Fortress” this Sunday and wear red (like a Lutheran version of St. Patty’s Day) and claim that grace was a Lutheran invention. Okay I apologize for that last sentence even if it was fun to write. When Jeremiah’s vision is fully realized the divisions of the past will disappear into the day that will surely come where all people will be full of the knowledge of the Lord and act accordingly.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lectionary 29 A - Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22
This text is not about taxes. There were no options when Rome demanded it’s due and lawful or not the tax collector didn’t care what you think as long as you paid the bill. So Jesus isn’t making a statement about the separation of church and state or the two kingdom principle or anything remotely political. He is turning the table on hypocrites who aren’t interested in his answer as long as it traps Jesus and gets him killed. But their trick question gets a trick response and they go away marveled even if they were cursing under their breath. When we try to trick Jesus into taking sides by using any word about Jesus to support one political position over another we are like Pharisees making a deal with the devils of their day (Herodians) in order entrap Jesus. That’s not to say the scriptures don’t encourage all kinds of things that may or may not be emphasized on one side of the political line or the other. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:26) and is apolitical. In the end all of our life belongs to God whose image is imprinted on our hearts and the only thing lawful for us is the law of love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lectionary 29 A - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
“We always give thanks for you…” It think it is the most important element of pastoral ministry – especially when the ministry is not pastor or parishioner pleasing. That is because God has called both parishioner and pastor into a relationship for the sake of the Gospel so that their mutual work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope might be made known in the Macedonia and Achaia and the other places of our day and age. Truthfully we cannot serve the living and true God unless we turn from the idols of judgmental attitudes, personal preferences and intransient positions. It does not mean we agree on everything or one side always has to give in to the other or that the way to an attitude of gratitude will be easily achieved. It does mean we accept and acknowledge that we are all equally and dearly loved by God and act accordingly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lectionary 29 A - Psalm 96:1-13

Psalm 96:1-13
Trees shout while the sea thunders and the fields rejoice and all creatures sing the refrain, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” The new song that the whole earth sings is prompted by the promise to judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with truth and equity. That is not good news for everyone as being judged in truth is a problem for those who prefer to live lies and despise righteousness. But for those who despite their sinfulness are drawn to the beauty of God’s holiness being judged with equity is an invitation to finally be free of the laundry list of all that diminishes life and makes us less than human. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lectionary 29 A - Isaiah 45:1-7

Isaiah 45:1-7
Cyrus the Great was good to all the gods who had been displaced by the Babylonians returning “the images of the gods… to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes.” (The Cyrus cylinder 538 BC) Granted he hoped for something in return. “May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” But he was especially kind to the exiles from Judah and not only sent them home but funded the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. Not that he gave the God of Israel sole credit for making him “Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters...” But then Cyrus didn’t know he was a pawn in God’s game and that the little “g” gods couldn’t hear or answer any of his prayers. The lesson of Cyrus is that God’s good and gracious will is done with or without prayer (Luther’s explanation to the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer) so that sometimes even less than pious people perform holy acts. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lectionary 28: A - Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 28:1-14
The lesson of a parable is in the punch line and this one has the perfect set up. Just when we think the story is over - with a happy ending for the people of the streets no less - Jesus throws a sucker punch and the poor schmuck with the rented tux is throw out into the proverbial place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. And since kingdom parables are always about the nature of God the tossed out wedding guest without a suit and tie presents us with some difficulties. Which is to say can we trust that God’s invitational love is unconditional or is there a value added tax to the free gift of grace? There were no instructions as to attire for the good and the bad that were gathered as it appears as if the blanket invitation was for the sake of the king who was upset (and embarrassed?) by an empty hall at the wedding banquet for his son. We tend to be troubled by the one thrown out thinking it unfair but if we think about the king in the story it changes our perspective. What if the parable punchline reveals a God who is more inclusive than we are? What if the one not well dressed was wearing a tux and objected to the good and bad hanging out together at a royal wedding? Maybe what made the servants originally invited not worthy is that they refused to accept an invitation from a king who was willing to invite whoever as long as the hall was filled. Which may mean heaven is crowded and hell is a lonely place.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lectionary 28 A - Philippians 4:1-9

Philippians 4:1-9
“Do not be anxious about anything” is a tall order in a world where anxiety producing events abound. From Ebola to the Islamic State to the persistent drought in California to ice caps melting and ocean temperatures rising to Russian aggression in the Ukraine to a weakened world economy the worry list goes on and on. But truth to be told we are fragile creatures on a fragile planet and we have in many ways always been at risk. Which is why Paul follows up “don’t be anxious” with an exhortation to give God your anxious thoughts through prayer and petition trusting that God is intimately aware of our deepest needs. “The Lord is near.” And if we follow his advice in the second chapter of this letter – let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus – then our minds let go of anxious thoughts in favor of the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It's not simply the power of positive thinking. It is the peace of God that dispels anxiety when one realizes the Lord is near and has written our names in the book of life with a permanent marker. So do not be anxious about anything is not simply the power of positive thinking – it is the faithful response to trusting one's heart and mind is guarded in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lectionary 28 A - Psalm 23

Psalm 23
Goodness and mercy following us all the days of our life is a good thing – a really good thing – but we have to slow down so that the goodness and mercy can catch up with us. That means we have to be satisfied with the Lord as our shepherd and not be distracted by the seemingly greener pastures that tempt us from the other side of the fence. So to be satisfied with still waters means we allow ourselves to slow down and be comfortable with what might appear to be “less than” in the midst of a culture that is never satisfied and always seeks to super-size. It means that the table “prepared for us” does not deny that the table is set “in the presence of my enemies” but rather trusts that the light of the Lord will illuminate the darkest valley especially if that valley is death itself. In the end the rod and the staff that comforts us is the cross upon which the Good Shepherd died for the sheep in a religious culture where sheep did the dying every day to make up for sins of shepherds. Which is to say "the Lord is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing."