Friday, February 28, 2014

Transfiguration Year A - Matthew 17:1-9

Matthew 17:1-9
It’s only been six days since Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” for not understanding picking up the cross as the purpose of Jesus’ life and the only way for disciples to follow. Now blinded by the light Peter wants to stay put and dwell permanently on the mountaintop. It’s the voice, “LISTEN TO HIM” that shuts Peter up and overcome by fear he and his companions faint dead away. It takes the touch and voice of Jesus, “get up and do not be afraid” to wake them and then sworn to secrecy they descend to the less frightening and more familiar places on the plain. It’s a strange story but then that’s the nature of a theophany. The recognizable is transfigured into the mysterious as the Jesus who ate and drank with disciples in the valley glows like a nuclear reactor on the mountain top while talking to the long gone law giver and end time prophet about God knows what. So we who are comfortable with “What a friend we have in Jesus” also sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and hold the two in tension. The familiar and friendly Jesus is the One who in the beginning was the Word and in the end will be judge and jury of all. It may be that in our end, when we come face to face with that terrifying reality, we will faint dead away, but then I’m trusting that the Lord Jesus will touch us and “Get up and do not be afraid” will be the only Word we hear.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Transfiguration Year A - 2 Peter 1:16-21

2 Peter 1:16-21
It is a testimony to the conviction of the first disciples that anyone believed what must have seemed less a cleverly devised myth and more just outright nonsense. But people did believe the eyewitness testimony of these Galilean fishermen and then with equal passion proclaimed the crucified and resurrected Jewish peasant preacher Jesus, who they had never seen, to be the Beloved of God and Savior of the world. Whenever we are tempted to despair of the statistical decline of the church we would do well to pay attention to the lamp of their prophetic message shining in the darkness of our time; not because we fear some future final judgment, but because we are convinced that the same word that captured the imagination of first century people is equally relevant in the 21st. In that way the prophetic word is always present and working to capture our imagination and fill us with Holy Spirit passion to proclaim in word and deed the saving acts of God. So let us pray that the day will dawn and the morning star will rise in our hearts as it did theirs, and moved by the Holy Spirit we will make know the power and coming of our Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Transfiguration Year A - Psalm

Psalm 99
The psalm begins as one might expect. The Lord who is King, enthroned above angelic beings, terrifying in their own right, causes people to tremble as the earth quakes. Before the Lord who is exalted over everyone and everything, praise is not optional. Kings of the human variety, with far less power and majesty, tend to magnify themselves at the expense of their subjects. Not so with the Holy God, the lover of justice, who hears the cries of those who pleading for mercy receive forgiveness. But we might pause before we shout alleluia, for while the Holy One forgives the wrongdoer the wrongdoing must be avenged. Like it or not that’s the way equity is established. And as difficult and painful as that is, living outside the boundaries of God’s decrees is more so. The trouble is we always seem to find ways to bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable. So the Holy God who knew no wrong becomes a wrongdoer and is avenged with a vengeance. In that avenging of wrongdoing is our salvation and God’s hope is that one day we will love justice as much as God does.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Transfiguration Year A - Exodus 24:12-18

Exodus 24:12-18
Ancient stories sound odd to modern ears. The glory of the Lord in thick clouds and a devouring fire on the top of the mountain sounds a lot like lightning and even if a close one warrants an “Oh my God!” we understand lightning in scientific terms. The ancients saw God’s hand at work in the timing of what we know as a naturally occurring phenomenon. But then we “moderns” often do the same thing by giving extra-ordinary meaning to everyday events as when instead of turning left we turn right and a chance encounter bears blessings. So I guess I’m okay with the children of Israel camped before the mountain giving glory to the Lord for what may well have been Mt. Sinai having a little volcanic hiccup and spewing some smoke. It’s Moses entering the cloud of mountain top devouring fire that defies explanation. He was a reluctant leader in the beginning and even though he carried on a barefoot conversation with a burning bush he was always looking for a way out. Of course the Lord provided that through signs and wonders, not the least of which was the parting of the sea, but that’s not what Moses had in mind. In some ways God has worn down this reluctant leader so that when summoned to come up to the mountain and camp Moses obeys and does not complain. Maybe a faith that follows without complaining or seeking a way out has less to do with spiritual discipline and more to do with God wearing us down so that like Moses the only way out is really the only way in.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Epiphany 7 A - Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38-48
These are dangerous words and those who attempt to practice them don’t last very long. Evil doers not resisted are free to do evil to those who fail to fight back. Giving away coat and cloak, going the extra mile, giving to everyone who begs or wants to borrow means the giver goes without. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you means they win and you lose and no one wants to be a capital L loser. We’d much rather bring a world of hurt down on the head of those who mess with us and given the opportunity we utterly destroy our enemies and turn the table on those who persecute us making them rue the day they were born. We can always fall back on “saved by grace” and confess like the apostle Paul that the good we would do we don’t do and the evil we don’t want to do we do, although a more truthful confession is that loving enemies is the last “good” thing we’d ever want to do. Look at what being perfect and forgiving those who “know not what they do” got Jesus. If that’s what perfection leads to I want no part of it and if you are honest neither do you. So let’s resolve to be less than perfect and keep the practice of our faith safely inside the four walls of our sanctuaries and maybe a little charity on the side as long as it doesn't cost too much and the people who benefit from our generosity are sufficiently grateful. I trust Jesus will understand, after all he’s got to live by his own words and I’m begging I can borrow a little slack and get a free pass on loving my enemies and if that’s a slap in Jesus’ face I’m sorry, but I know he’ll turn the other cheek. That just sounds wrong doesn't it? It even makes me uncomfortable and I wrote it, but that’s what we do when we fail to take these words seriously and put them into practice. We call that failure sin and sin is never more deceptive than when it is practiced by the pious who insulate the life of faith from the life in the world, the world that Jesus died to save by a perfection that got him punished. So what do we do? Maybe perfection is a process and what I do today is the foundation for what I might do tomorrow and slowly but surely the life of faith has less to do with an hour on Sunday morning, as important as that is to many of us, and more to do with using the other waking hours of the days of our week to practice the perfection of mercy and kindness and love. God knows there are plenty of opportunities in a week to get it right. And all sarcasm aside we can always rely on grace without slapping Jesus in the face because Jesus has a robe of righteousness he’s more than willing to lend us.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Epiphany 7 A - 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
I am always grateful to God and not a little surprised when the foolish church works in wise ways. It is more often the case that God’s temple is adorned with the architecture of this world, jealously and envy, competition and pride, where each one believes their way is the only way. Or in religious terms, the church in it's zeal to be righteous lives the law which is secondary at the expense of love which is primary. That being said, unconditional love can be an excuse for excess and the love that comes from God does not last long when it is consumed by indulgence. Which is why the foundation of faith is not in us or in human leaders or denominational loyalty but is built solely on the foundation of God in Christ becoming one with a humanity easily deceived by self, wise in the ways of the world and enamored by futile thoughts. How is it we cannot get this right? How can we who know in our heart of hearts that we depend fully on God’s mercy for ourselves not extend it to others? It could be that we really don’t believe it for ourselves and run from God like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal or like the older brother stay home and work like a slave for that which already belongs to us. But when the party happens and everyone is invited the wise church acts in foolish ways and the grace of God that created such an unlikely gathering makes the future appear in the present and the one thing we get right makes up for all the things we so often get wrong.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Epiphany 7 A - Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me your decrees. Give me understanding. Direct me to delight in your commands that my heart might be turned from selfish gain and my eyes from worthless things. Fulfill your promise and take away the disgrace I dread. It would seem the psalmist has firsthand knowledge of the disgrace of selfish gain and worthless things as do we all. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to our own way”  is how the prophet Isaiah describes the time before we came to our senses to see how far we had strayed and in all our longing how secure we might be, if only… That “if only” is the pivotal point of these verses but the whole point is that the psalmist is wholly dependent on God to teach, give, direct, turn, fulfill and take away. The psalmist is wholly dependent on the Lord to turn the course of worthless wanderings to life preserving paths of righteousness. So what part do we play in all of this? The same part the psalmist plays which is to pray the longing of the heart to know and be known by God or to quote a Kris Kristofferson country classic, “Lord, help me, Jesus…”

Monday, February 17, 2014

Epiphany 7 A - Leviticus 19:1-18

Leviticus 19:1-8
I am not a big fan of Leviticus, in fact in my less pious moments I wonder if the Levites didn’t make a good bit of it up just to pad their pensions. And I question what seem to be arbitrary laws as I am highly suspicious of the tyranny of religious systems. On the other hand I cannot escape my Augustinian understanding of the depravity of the human creature, mostly because I know myself all too well. So what turns out to be saving grace for me in this lesson full of law is the refrain. “I am the Lord your God.” It’s not a threat. It’s a promise. It’s not conditional. It’s guaranteed. The grace that is found in the whole of scripture is God’s desire to be in relationship with us. And like all relationships of significance there are sacrifices made and a joining that calls for compromise. We who are less than perfect are made perfect in God and God who is more than perfect takes on imperfection for the sake of loving us. The part that we often miss or worse reject entirely is the prominent feature of Leviticus. To be “holy” has more to do with how we care for others, especially the neighbor, ones in our employ, the poor, the alien, the deaf, and the blind than the sacrifices we make to God because God’s holiness has everything to do with how God cares for us. So serving the other is serving God and the refrain “I am the Lord your God” is just another way of God saying remember “I love you”.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Epiphany 6 A - Matthew 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37
No one can escape this laundry list of sin but those who are angry with brothers and sisters can do so silently, whispering “You fool” under their breath. Those who fail to keep vows to the Lord keep it to themselves and the Lord isn't talking either. Those who look upon another with lust can do so without anyone being the wiser even the one being objectified. But those who carry the certificate of divorce, even when re-married, hear these words of Jesus differently. If Jesus knew the whole story, knew how painful and lonely and hurt I felt, and that I resisted divorce as long as I could because it was the wrong thing I never wanted to do but in the end was the only right thing I could do, what then Jesus, would you still condemn me? The church throughout the centuries has used these words of Jesus to condemn women, but some men as well, to a life of cut off hands and plucked out eyes demanding they deny themselves rather than divorce the one who beats them every night, or day after day makes them feel stupid or dirty or inadequate or simply unnecessary. We can sanitize these words of Jesus and say he’s speaking in hyperbole. We can say he means what he says and we better get serious about sin or suffer the consequence.  Or maybe the anger that destroys relationships, the lust that makes us less than human on both sides of the equation, the dishonesty of vows made and not kept and yes, the promise of the wedding day, so full of hope, so full of joy that ends under the cold hard light of the court is as much hell as anyone needs to know. So isn't there a day of judgment? Of course there is. And we’re all guilty for the way we have failed to live these words or tried to avoid them or worse, the ways in which we who claim the name of Christ have twisted them. Heaven help us. And of course heaven did, though for Jesus it was hell.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Epiphany 6 A - 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
I think it is worth noting that Paul never speaks critically of Apollos and since Paul never pulls his punches it must mean that Apollos did not encourage the Corinthian’s divided loyalty. According to Acts 18:24, Apollos was “an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures” while Paul describes his own abilities as possessing neither wise nor persuasive words. Sadly those who plant and those who water often do not value each other’s roles and promote their own position while demoting the other. Congregations can also sow the seeds of clergy competition, feeding preacher’s egos with flattery and before you know it divided loyalties have fanned the flames of jealously and quarreling. But when servant leaders working together recognize in each other the gift of unique abilities for shared mission and ministry the church is strengthened for the common purpose of blessing the world with the grace of God. That calls for a maturity of faith and the solid food of humility in the pulpit and the pew. That happens when both preacher and parishioner remember that “it is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community.” (D. Bonhoeffer Life Together) On a personal note I am blessed beyond measure to share ministry with a gifted pastor who is a trusted colleague and also a friend - except where there is a 5 K race involved.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Epiphany 6 A - Psalm 119:

Psalm 119:1-8
At first blush it looks like the psalmist believes the blessed walk according to the law in ways that are entirely blameless or that following the Lord’s ways means doing no wrong. But then verse four begins with an exclamation “Oh” that is really a lament. Oh, that my ways were steadfast. Oh, that I would not be put to shame. Oh, that I would consider your commands. Even the declaration, “I will obey” is followed by the plea, “do not utterly forsake me.” Now it may be that the psalmist really thought that doing no wrong was within the ability of the blessed but my experience of those who claim to be blameless is that they’re just passing the buck. Even as those who walk in ways that bring shame live the lament “Oh!” in ways that are utterly forsaken. But if these first eight verses of psalm 119 begin where we are, lamenting “Oh” and praying “do not forsake me” then we are walking the walk that seeks the Lord. And while seeking the Lord in honest lament and desperate plea is the beginning of blessing the real blessing is in the life of faith that follows; not a walk that does no wrong but an honest walk that depends fully on the blameless One not forsaking us. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Epiphany 6 A - Deuteronomy 30:

Deuteronomy 30:
“Choose life” (verse 19) seems an obvious choice and would be if death didn't wear all the cool clothes. By that I mean there must be something compelling about cursed ways of being that make them attractive otherwise we would all choose life and never engage in ways of living that cost more than they can deliver. But then these verses are not so much about personal piety as they are about a communal decision to enter a new reality according to the commandments, decrees, and ordinances of God. Of course the promise of prosperity to Israel was not good news to the people who possessed the land the “choose life” people of Israel were about to enter and in fact the people of God choosing life meant death for every man, woman and child who lived in the land God swore to give to the ancestors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Which means in the context of possessing the land choosing life for self was to choose death for others and choosing death for oneself meant choosing life for others. If we of the Christian tradition believe Jesus had any insight into what God meant by the commandments, decrees, and ordinances then “love God” and “love others” says it all. (Matthew 22:36-40) Maybe the children of Israel were okay with their decision to choose life for themselves and deal death for everyone else as they were desperate to get out of the desert but it seems to me that if choosing life for one’s self means death for everyone else the only God pleasing choice is life for others and death for self or in other words “we preach Christ crucified.” 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Epiphany 5 A - Matthew 5:13-20

Matthew 5:13-20
Given my passion for all things culinary I like to think that Jesus uses the image of being salt to mean we are to flavor the world not overpower it. After all the purpose of salt is to enhance a dish and bring out the flavors that would otherwise be missed. In the same way light illuminates what is already there by creating a contrast making an image more interesting. We are to flavor the world and shine light upon what is already there. Salt of the earth and light of the world celebrates the human spirit which is able to overcome insurmountable obstacles and endure hardship and suffering with courage and fortitude. These things are not exclusive to the Christian church though for too long in our arrogance we have acted as if salt were the whole dish and light existed for itself. That does not mean there are not bitter dishes that cannot be salvaged or darkness in the human heart that no amount of light can banish. But the salt of the Gospel flavors the best qualities of being human and the light of the Gospel shines on what is noble and good. In the same way that salt without a dish to flavor it is useless and light with nothing to illuminate serves no purpose the fulfilling of the law and the prophets doesn't add to what is already there, it just makes it more visible and if you like, more appetizing. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Epiphany 5 A - 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

1 Corinthians 2:1-16
The people living in Corinth in the first century AD were not that different from the urbanites living today in two thousand fourteen. Of course the Corinthians could not Google the answer to mysteries or consult Siri for all wisdom but they were in every way as sophisticated in their time as we are in ours. So the foolishness of proclaiming a crucified criminal in Judea as God was beyond believing for the Corinthians in the same way that people outside the shrinking Bible belt have come to question the facts of the Christian faith. At the same time we find those who hold onto the faith while denying the obvious inconsistencies in scripture. On the other side we find those who make no sense of the mystery of God and have little trouble living outside the boundaries of the conventional faith. I think God lives between the orthodox and the absurd and invites us to believe the absurd while clinging to the orthodox. Or in other words I determined to know “nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Epiphnay 5 A - Psalm 112

Psalm 112
Psalm 112 might be titled the “early to bed early to rise makes one healthy wealthy and wise” psalm. But it might also merit a Gospel title as in “to whom much is given much is required.” (Luke 12:48) So even if the psalm sees a direct correlation with “delight in the Lord’s commands” and “wealth and riches are in their houses” the righteousness of those well off comes from being gracious and merciful, honest and generous, by distributing freely to the poor and conducting their affairs justly. So their hearts do not skip a beat when evil tidings come knocking for they are secure in the knowledge that the Lord is infinitely more generous than they are. So I guess the best title for Psalm 112 might be from Romans 14:8 : Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Epiphany 5 A - Isaiah 58:1-12

Isaiah 58:1-12
I’m not a big fan of the theological conditional clause “If” which is why I lean towards the Lutheran understanding of saved by grace and even more to Karl Barth’s way of hoping that God’s ultimate plan is the salvation of all people. But then this text is not about eternal consequences and/or rewards just yet. This conditional clause is about the consequences of ignoring God’s “if” in the here and now as imagined long ago by the prophet Isaiah. The consequence of not sharing our bread with the hungry poor is that the poor go hungry. The consequence of not bringing the homeless into our house is that they have no shelter. The consequence of not clothing the naked is that they have no clothes. You get the picture. The consequences of our inaction are borne by those we refuse to help, house or clothe. But we suffer the unseen consequence as the life we think the Lord loves, namely ours, is not known by the Lord which makes all our fasting foolish and our claim to be followers of Jesus a mockery of the One we say we love and serve. But on the reverse side of the conditional clause if we heed the call to meet the needs of the lost and the least we will be what we thought we were all along, namely Christ like.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Epiphany 4 A - Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12
Those of us who have been forever contaminated by close contact to Monty Python’s movie “Life of Brian” are no longer able to listen to or read these verses without thinking of the line “blessed are the cheese makers.” I’ll risk an explanation for those of you who are still pure of heart as long as you agree to never ever watch the movie. In the movie those who are on the edge of the large crowd are having trouble hearing Jesus so one of them asks, “What was that?” The response is, “I think it was blessed are the cheese makers” which in turn prompts the response, “What’s so special about the cheese makers?” I don’t think many outside the church are offended by Life of Brian and probably laugh during it unless they find British humor too British. But I bet a good number of Christians think a movie that makes fun of the sacred story nothing short of blasphemy. So is it? I don’t think so and here’s the point. Satire cannot exist in a vacuum. The reason Monty Python is able to play games with these powerful words of Jesus is because those who follow Jesus have failed to live them. The movie is not a satire of Jesus but of us. To quote another British comedic saying, “It’s a fair cop.”