Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Easter 3 A - Psalm 116

Psalm 116
I find “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice” most comforting when followed by “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the faithful.” Truth is if God healed all who cried out “save my life!” the planet would be crowded beyond capacity. So while we pray for healing, even when the pangs of death surround our loved one, we offer the sacrifice of praise no matter what happens because we believe “whether we live or whether we die we belong to the Lord.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Easter 3 A - Acts 2:14, 36-41

Acts 2:14, 36-41
“What should we do?” It is the question for our lives and even if it is not on the same level as being cut to the heart for crucifying the Lord and Messiah of God the answer we arrive at matters. It is the question for relationships gone sour. It is the question for lives diminished by loss and pain and sorrow and grief. It is a question that continues to be asked and never finds an answer that fully satisfies.That those who hear Peter ask it is significant. They were the keepers of the covenant and the people of the plan and yet it was their piety that drove them to kill the promise because he did not fit the pattern of what the law demanded. And so the rule breaker was done away with and the only wrinkle in the plot was that he came back and his foolish followers wouldn’t stop talking about him. So saving oneself from a corrupt generation cannot be about adherence to the law, obeying the rules, toeing the line, following the straight and narrow. It must be about whatever Jesus did. Like forgiving those who put hammer to nail and fastened his hands and feet to wood? What shall we do with that? It may be that despite Peter’s concrete answer we all need to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) trusting that in Jesus “what should we do” is a moot question.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter 2 A - John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
There are those who say faith dare not doubt while others claim faith without doubt is no faith at all. I’m not sure I care to enter the debate. Thomas had good reason to wonder at this word, “We have seen the Lord!” and as the ten weren’t blessed until they had seen I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. Truth is there are times when I wonder at this word and question whether everything written is the Gospel truth. I don’t think that is as much a function of doubting as it is the product of the God given ability to think critically. God is not threatened by our questions and does not punish us for asking them.  Touch and see was what Thomas needed to do and touch and see is what Jesus offered him. And what seems like Jesus rebuking Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me?”  is really an encouragement to those of us who given the opportunity would do anything to “trade places with Thomas and touch those ruined hands.” (Friederich Buechner – Peculiar Treasures) So we who live by faith and not by sight are free to question and in whatever way doubt and faith intersect find the place where the life of believing lives comfortably with questions.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter 2 A - 1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9
There is a tendency in the Christian tradition towards stoicism, as in the proverbial British “stiff upper lip” or the Norwegian mantra “det kan bli verre”. (It could be worse) So while I agree that various trials can be seen as tests there are times when one is simply tired and could care less if faith proved less precious than gold or not. “It is what it is” only works for so long and eventually “My God why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble that multiplies with every passing day. But it is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice, albeit through tears, in the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. Kept for us and not by us this inheritance of hope, if you will, is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means in practical terms we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming the failure of faith. I think stoics live lonely lives even if they show great courage and fortitude. We were created for community, to be like the One we have never seen and yet still love, so the genuineness of faith is measured in the way we respond to the needs of each other. There are times when various trials couldn't possibly be worse which is why we do not suffer them alone.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter 2 A - Psalm 16

Psalm 16
I wrote this three years ago but since I drove past Pottsville I thought I'd take a day off and reblog. 

Pauline Hopper went home to heaven this week and the body she inhabited for ninety-one years was laid to rest this afternoon in Pottsville, Texas. The boundary lines have fallen for her in a most pleasant place which was cause for our hearts to be glad and our spirits rejoice. That is not to say we gloss over grief or deny the reality of loss and pain. No. What we do is deny death the last word for our loved ones and in celebrating their passing for ourselves as well. We do not grieve as those without hope. We will not be abandoned to the shadow existence of Sheol. We will know pleasures forevermore and the fullness of joy in God’s presence. In the meantime funerals remind us that we have been gifted with another day in the land of the living to make the present look a little bit more like the future as we wait for our boundary lines to fall in the most pleasant of places.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter 2 A - Acts 2:14, 22–32

Peter’s Pentecost sermon addressed to those familiar with the story of salvation is a fitting text for the first Sunday after Easter. Known by those “in the know” as low Sunday, it is the day when the pew and parking space of the faithful is not occupied by the twice a year crowd.  Maybe if the story was more dramatic people would stick around for another round sans trumpets, choirs, lilies and eggs hidden by bunnies but the truth is the story could not be more out of the box. It was impossible for death to hold him in its power is how Peter puts it and I can’t imagine it gets more dramatic than that. The message has had over two thousand years to mature and so while preachers and every week pew people might be tempted to lament a Sunday with space we might be better served by going back to the beginning when even those who knew the story had to hear it again.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Really? The first word of the resurrection is “hello”? Of course it was said with an exclamation point and I’m guessing a pretty big smile, even so “Surprise!” might have been more fitting for the occasion. After all the two Marys expected to find a dead friend and instead are met by an earthquake and an angel and a very much living Jesus. There is no way to prepare for that and I’m surprised they didn't respond like the guards and faint dead away at the sound of his voice. But maybe in the familiar salutation the crucified and resurrected Jesus was not so surprising. That’s true for those of us who have been schooled in this story from birth and cannot remember a time when we didn't consider belief in the resurrection a matter of life and death. But for an ever increasing segment of our society this Sunday will come and go without so much as an Alleluia. That’s not to say the sale of Peeps and Chocolate bunnies will suffer but the real meaning of the day, at least the gathering that has defined Easter for you and me, has largely been lost. We can lament that fact, especially as it relates to our children, or blame someone, especially those who are not like us, or repackage the message in ever more creative ways, or preserve the status quo until the last one left turns out the lights. But then maybe the ancient story still has some life left in it and what turned the world upside down in the first century can shake up ours as well. It was not form or creed or convention that convinced people a crucified peasant preacher refused to stay dead and revealed the love of God for all creation. It was the conviction of two women who took hold of his feet and worshiped and then told the story to anyone who would listen, even disciples locked behind closed doors. As it was then so it is now. The first word of the resurrection is “Hello!” 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Colossians 3:1-11

Colossians 3:1-4
Paul’s resurrection perspective “if you have been raised with Christ” might be better understood as “since” you have been raised…” Of course the laundry list of behaviors and attitudes to be put to death reads like the “Thou shall not” that the law demanded but could not accomplish (even with the threat of God’s wrath raining down on the disobedient) but I think that misses the point of these passages. Being raised with Christ is a done deal. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Jesus), and through him to be reconciled to all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19, 20) In the new reality of the resurrection all the old ways of being have no place. Even the divisions of race and creed and culture have been erased. That’s because the earthly ways all hearken back to the disobedience in the garden where wanting to be “like” God meant we became less than human.  Dwelling on earthly things that have been put to death is like trying to live life in the grave which makes no sense. But since we have been raised with Christ our humanity has been restored and getting rid of earthly things is not a way to escape wrath but the only way to embrace grace and therefore not a measure of self discipline but the exercise of true freedom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Feast of the Resurrection Year A - Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
“There are shouts of exaltation in the tents of the righteous for the strong arm of the Lord has triumphed” is spoken during the graveside service so that “I shall not die but live” might be true for the dearly departed as well as the “blessed are they that mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) That is the only way that the day you lay a loved one to rest could possibly qualify as “this is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it”. That is not to say our rejoicing denies the real loss we experience but that our hope in the chief cornerstone denies death the last word for us and for the one we commend to Almighty God. So we grieve, yes, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) I had the incredible privilege to witness such a death today as David Ball passed away peacefully surrounded by those who loved him. There was no denying the real grief of the last two days or the overwhelming sorrow as it became clear the only real option left to his family was to let him go. But it was the love of those who surrounded his hospital bed that turned a Baylor ICU room into a sanctuary, a sacred place, holy ground, where the saints on this side of the divide prayed and cried and sang David over to the saints on the other. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Shouts of exaltation? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” It is as radical a statement as a Jew can make, even for one who has been hanging out with the wrong crowd for three years. God showing partiality was precious to God's people for they were set apart by a law and a land and out of all the nations of the earth they alone were God’s own. But now Peter has the audacity to proclaim God has opened the exclusive country club to anyone in any nation and has waived the application fee. The trouble I have with this text is that Peter (or Luke working off the transcript of Peter’s Pentecost sermon) just redefines God’s partiality. God appeared, not to everyone, but to a few witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus. And God is partial to those who believe their testimony and fear God and do what is acceptable. And furthermore, if Paul’s recollection of Peter’s progress in not showing partiality is accurate, Peter himself pulls back from eating and drinking with Gentiles because James’s “people” exert peer pressure. (Galatians 2:12) Apparently even the first century church wasn't completely convinced that God shows “no partiality”. Of course partiality is precious to the church of our day as well and we define what is acceptable to God by our doctrine and practice by excluding brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus because their way of believing is less than Orthodox or Pentecostal or Calvinist or Lutheran or whatever. But if the chosen people were so wrong about God that they killed the anointed One filled with the Holy Spirit by hanging him on a tree maybe our vision is partial as well. What if the cross really does mean God shows no partiality, period, end of sentence? I know the stakes are high and eternal futures are on the line, but if we believed God showed no partiality we wouldn't either and without rewriting the rules I think that might be acceptable to God. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Passion Narrative According to Saint Matthew

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The passion narrative according to Matthew begins with a plot to betray. Conspiracy theorists not withstanding there is no need to speculate on what motivates Judas. He is after all human and motivated by the same demon that possesses the entire race. Judas seeks to turn his intimate knowledge of the prophet into profit. Matthew is the only Gospel that records Judas’s regret and even though he finds no satisfaction in returning ill gotten gain Matthew wants us to know Judas was sorry. Maybe when you betray a close friend, even if it doesn’t lead to crucifixion, nothing short of dying will do and so his tragic end seems to him the only way to pay, though given the chance Jesus who forgave his enemies would surely have offered the same consideration to one with whom he shared a meal. I hope that when the forever feast happens in the eternal future there will be a place at the table for the one who weakened by greed treated his friend with such contempt. Not because I am some sort of bleeding heart liberal who desperately desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but because if I am honest with myself (and by extension those of you who are reading this) I am more like Judas than Jesus and my only hope is that he will not treat me with the same contempt I have treated him. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11
Though he was in every way God Christ Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be exploited but emptied himself of power to be found in human likeness and ultimately be exploited by the cross. Letting go of God status is beyond our ability to comprehend for we are inclined to hang onto every shred of power we can get our hands on and only take on the servant’s form temporarily anticipating a heavenly reward for our humble efforts. None-the-less Paul exhorts his Philippian “partners in the Gospel” (and by extension all who read these words) to have the mind of Christ that is described in what most believe is a hymn of the ancient church. To have the mind of Christ means more than playing nice or letting others have their way. Jesus doesn’t give up to give in but willingly takes on the cross so that his act of being emptied might fill the world with the light of a new creation where love conquers hate; light banishes darkness; life overcomes death. It is because Christ Jesus let go of being God in order to be hands free to pick up our humanity that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus’ way was and is God’s way, which is good news indeed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sunday of the Passion Year A - Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:9-16
Even well meaning, close friends have come to dread asking the psalmist weak with sorrow, consumed by anguish, “how are you?” The answer is always the same. “Not good.” Derided by neighbors, abandoned by friends, surrounded by enemies, as useless as a broken pot, the psalmist is forgotten as one long dead. And then after venting a laundry list of lament the psalmist gives voice to the one word that denies despair the final say and brings some measure of comfort and not a little bit of hope to a desperate existence. But. But I trust in you. Why? Because I trust my times are in your hands. Not the hands of my enemies even if they manage to take my life. Not the hands of neighbors or friends to whom I have become an object of derision and dread. Not the hands of the sickness that saps my strength or the grief that grips my heart. No. I trust in you for my life is in the hands of your unfailing love that will not abandon me in my time of distress. Of course the faith that leads the psalmist to declare “But I trust in you” also allows for “But hurry up and help me, O Lord!”

Monday, April 7, 2014

Passion Sunday Year A

Isaiah 50:4-9
The teacher who sustains the weary with a word was himself a student of suffering. Gifted by the Lord God with the teacher’s tongue he endured spitting and insult. He gave his back to the whip and his cheeks to those who pull out the beard. But the word that sustains the weary is not in suffering but in the confidence that despite trouble and trial the Lord God is not far off. Therefore the teacher endures the taunting of those whose power is temporary by trusting that vindication will have the last word. It is “the Lord God who helps me”. We would prefer not to suffer at all and go to great lengths to avoid it, medicating our pain whenever possible. And the disgrace we experience is not due so much to the actions of others but rather our own rebellious ways. For this reason the innocent teacher was crucified as one guilty so that morning by morning the obedient Word made flesh might sustain all who are wearied by the world or their own rebellious ways. In the end the ones who breathed out threats and violence and were consumed by hatred did their best to do him in have themselves been taught the lesson of love. The tongue of the teacher, 
Father, forgive them…” interceded even for his adversaries.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lent 5 A - John 11:1-45

John 11:1-45
Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was after he heard Lazarus was ill and the sisters know it. “If you had been here my brother would not have died” is just a polite way of saying “why didn’t you come when we called?” Mary, the one Jesus commended for choosing the better part, chooses to stay in the house. Martha, the one Jesus said was worried and upset about many things, comes out to see Jesus with one thing in mind. “I know even now God will give you whatever you ask.” It is a bold statement of faith even if she cannot imagine how her dead brother could be brought back to life until the “roll is called up yonder.” But that might be beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend even if you believe your friend really is the Messiah. When Jesus calls for Mary it is Martha who goes to get her, no doubt with a few choice words about proper etiquette. Mary runs, but not for joy, and certainly not with the faith of her sister. She won’t look at Jesus but sobbing vents her anger and her grief and her pain at the feet of her friend who neglected her in the time of her greatest need. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” And Jesus knowing what she says is true, weeps. Known for being the shortest verse in the Bible it may be the most powerful image of the God come down and especially because it is found in John’s Gospel where Jesus is always in control, even on the cross. But here the “in the beginning was the Word” is faced with a friend’s frustration and anger and grief and pain because the “Word made flesh” delaying two days allowed her brother to die. And even though there is a happy ending to an otherwise sad tale I think the image of John’s Jesus weeping is where the healing happens for the losses we experience. It means our sorrow, our suffering, our loss and yes, even our anger does not fall on deaf ears for when Jesus wept God was crying.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lent 5 A - Romans 6:8-11

Romans 8:6-11
The eighth chapter of Romans, following Paul’s confession “wretched man that I am”, begins with a capital T “therefore” that should be underlined, highlighted and printed in bold. “Therefore there is no condemnation…” which leads Paul to declare by the end of the chapter that he is convinced that the capital T “therefore” means nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In between the beginning and the end of the chapter Paul exhorts the Romans to live fully into this new reality. So to set one’s mind on the flesh in spite of this new “nothing can separate us” reality is to live as if death still had the last word which is to give death more than its due. The trouble is we still live in the land where death appears to have more power than life no matter where one’s mind is focused so that even when we believe our minds are fully set on the Spirit our lives have little peace. So what is a mind to do? Well maybe a little less thinking about what happens in the middle of chapter eight in favor of letting the beginning and the end have its way with us. Therefore nothing (not even our minds set on the flesh?) can separate us from the love of God. Peace.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lent 5 A - Psalm 130

Psalm 130
The depths from which psalm 130 cries out have not descended to the level where one doesn't care if the Lord remembers sin or not. Instead we are encouraged to hold onto the hope that the Lord hears our cry no matter how far we have fallen. That is not to say the darkness of our night will soon give way to the sunrise – the psalmist waits for the Lord more desperately than those who wake at 2 AM and know without a doubt there will be no going back to sleep. But to cry out to the Lord in the loneliness of the long night is to trust that the Lord knows we are lost in that loneliness. This is not a panacea to the real problems we face but rather a promise that we are not alone in the depths and that there is a good chance that you will hear me crying out to the Lord, or maybe I’ll hear you, and the steadfast love of the Lord will be revealed when the long night of waiting will be made more bearable when we wait for the dawn together. In the end the light of the Lord, who is forgetful of what we remember (sins) and who remembers what we forget (God’s faithfulness) will make all things new when we forget how to love sin and the Lord remembers what it was like in the beginning to walk with us when we didn't love sin. Or in other words God's long night of desperate waiting will finally be over.